Why are people so afraid of Music Theory?

Though I have an admitted tendency/ desire to reduce any topic to its most basic form, maybe the root cause of the “intimidation factor” is the traditional use of the term, “theory”. I have a long standing aversion to theories of any kind and prefer to deal in facts and figures. Especially since the principles and relationships are factual, established and the parameters are well quantified, how about (as a prior post suggested) the more approachable terms “toolbox” or “road map” in lieu of “theory”, following the example of the great instruction books by Belloff & Sokolow?

And, for what it’s worth, such a rebranding exponentially increased demand for Chinese gooseberry, which (fun fact) is now known worldwide as Kiwifruit🤣!

EDIT: As you may have concluded, my hypothesis is that we - collectively within the UU community - abolish the word "theory" in combination with "music" from this day forward. :eek:
 
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Being afraid certainly seems like the wrong term according to most of the replies. I'm one of those who is completely satisfied strumming and singing. I also play bass uke and focus much more on patterns on the fretboard than what notes go with other notes, though I did learn 1-5 and walks from the 1 to the 5, so I do know some theory, but only as it applies to the bass pattern on the fretboard.
 
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Revisiting this thread has made me realise that I understand a lot more theory than I thought, I tend to brand all the highly complex things that make my brain hurt as “theory” and the rest of it (rhythm, circle of fifths, keys etc) is just “stuff I know”. I suspect this might be true for quite a lot of people.
 
Interesting stuff.
I know a lot of music theory but have massive gaps. (applying scales and modes for example. Bored yet?)
For years I pondered how much music theory should be taught to middle school choir students. The national education standards i.e. what you are supposed to teach, has theory that would blow many of you away. For years I did what I was supposed to do and at the end of the year kids took a test that included tons of musical terms, symbols and how to interpret standard music notation. Yuck. I had 11-14 year olds memorizing all the key signatures. I think some of you were in my class and now hate the concept of theory. I eventually made a better experience for the kids AND me by doing project-based learning and giving just enough theory for them to get a start in high school music groups where they will be immersed in theory.

Figuring out songs you want to learn is much easier with a little music theory knowledge as is playing on the fly with others. If the song is in the key of F you can know what chords you are likely to use or not use.
 
I am writing this comment about "music theory" in hopes of helping readers relatively new to music.

"Music theory" can be thought of as "music education." Education can be divided into pre-school, nursery school, primary school, middle school, high school, college, graduate school, post-doctoral studies, waiting on tables, and so on. I have all of that, except I skipped post-doctoral studies and went directly to waiting on tables.

Music theory can be compared to the very thick, minutely detailed book, The Chicago Manual of Style, which is one of the go-to sources of information for writers, editors, publication designers, and publishers. Maybe you've never heard of it. Still, you can write lots of different things: lists, letters, invoices, and—if the right person came along—maybe even a poem or a song. You probably don't need the The Chicago Manual of Style for anything you currently do, just like most people.

Who does use The Chicago Manual of Style? Only those people who have questions that they think the The Chicago Manual of Style can answer. This would include writers, editors, publication designers, and publishers. But they typically use it only when they think it will help them with their work and save them time. They most certainly don't need to to memorize the book before they start their writing, editing, etc.

It's the same with "music theory." It is only of use to those people—performers and composers—who think it will help them with their work and save them time. Nobody else has to think about it or comment about it.

Simple things like reading music or tablature, learning the circle of fifths, learning to count various rhythms, and learning basic harmony are part of pre-school though elementary school music education. They are enough or more than enough for most performers and composers.
 
I think people are 'afraid' like they are afraid of sailing or polo or dressage. It's not something that most can have the opportunity to learn when young or pickup when older. Music finds its way in to people in cheaper faster ways though. Blues and punk wasn't performed behind a music stand.
 
...."Music theory" can be thought of as "music education." Education can be divided into pre-school, nursery school, primary school, middle school, high school, college, graduate school, post-doctoral studies, waiting on tables, and so on... Simple things like reading music or tablature, learning the circle of fifths, learning to count various rhythms, and learning basic harmony are part of pre-school though elementary school music education. They are enough or more than enough for most performers and composers.
I remember preschool like it was, well, today. It's just as fun now.

As a Granddaughter said tonight at dinner, "I got a pretty good grade for what I know!"
 
Parroting, [paraphrasing?] what has been said, most folks absorb more about the basic mechanics than they realize just by being involved in music beyond just listening to it. I think it's the details required for a formal music education that is implied by "theory" that puts people off.

Most of what I know can be done using one hand and in remembering/knowing 4 things:
!- the chromatic scale [which is all half steps],
2- whole step, whole step, half step, times two, the pair separated by a whole step. [The pattern for a major scale, WWH W WWH]
3- chords don't change, C chord is always CEG, Am chord is always ACE, etc.
4- how to count to 8 [or more] on the fingers/thumb of one hand.

Here's how;
A key scale,
Thumb [T] = 1st [root] note or 6th note [which is the 1st note of the associated relative/natural, minor scale]
Pointer [P] = 2nd note or 7th note
Middle [M] = 3rd note or 8th note
Ring [R] = 4th note
Pinky [Pi] = 5th note

The three primary chords for a scale = T-R-Pi.

Major chord, T-M-Pi, eg, DF#A
Minor Chord = T-M [back a half step], Pi; eg. DFA
7th [dominant] = T-M-PI-T [back a whole step], eg. DF#AC
minor 7th = T-M [back a half step]-Pi-T [back a whole step], eg. DFAC
Major 7th = T-M-Pi-T [back a half step] eg. DF#AC#
sus2 = T-P-Pi eg. DGA
sus4 = T-R-Pi eg. DEA
6th = T-M-Pi-T [as #6] eg. DF#AB
Just learned the last three. :)
I use the first four all the time [seniors memory] and I don't look too closely at the way, or why, it all works.

Now, a final tidbit, modes are nothing more than a re-arrangement of the notes in a diatonic [8 note] scale. eg. C Maj = CDEFGABC [ionian] to A [natural] minor = ABCDEFGA [aolean].

That's it folks! Almost everything I know about music mechanics. Hmmmm, not much there, I thought I knew more. :)

I hope that wasn't too painful.
 
I think people are 'afraid' like they are afraid of sailing or polo or dressage. It's not something that most can have the opportunity to learn when young or pickup when older. Music finds its way in to people in cheaper faster ways though.
Plus, music has the huge advantage that you’re unlikely to fall off a ukulele and drown, or break your neck. It’s a win-win.
 
Nobody else has to think about it or comment about it.
Can you expand on the analogy? What are some things that can go both ways, akin to a Oxford comma?
 
Can you expand on the analogy? What are some things that can go both ways, akin to a Oxford comma?
I just meant that the various aspects or levels of "music theory" are simply tools for understanding music as it has been written past and present, and that only people who think they can benefit from them need concern themselves with them. They aren't something everybody needs to be thinking about or forming opinions about. "Music theory" is less about rules and more about understanding the conventions that various musicians have used. People can (and often do) create new conventions. For example, all the various ways modern composers use to try to get musicians to perform the ways they (the composers) want their compositions performed. If these new ways catch on, they will be added to the conventions of music theory of the future.

My main instruments were classical guitar and Renaissance lute. There were five basic ways you could notate the music: French/English tablature, Italian tablature, Spanish tablature, German tablature, and standard musical notation. People who use these various forms can argue all they want about which they think is better and why. But people who never even heard of them before don't need to form any opinions about them. Most importantly, no one needs to know any of these forms of notation to play the guitar.

How important are the differences between the various forms of tablature? I learned French/English tablature (which uses letters) and I could read Spanish Tablature because it is the same as French/English tablature except it uses numbers. I never learned Italian or German tablature. One day my teacher started to put a new piece on the music stand, and she asked me if I could read Italian tablature. I said, "No." And she said, "Sure you can, just turn it upside down and play it backwards." It wasn't exactly easy, but it was doable.

Is knowing anything about music theory important? I don't know. I have had more than 50 years of musical performance experience. Four stand out, all involved women, and none involved music theory whatsoever.

(FWIW I always use the Oxford comma.)
 
I just meant that the various aspects or levels of "music theory" are simply tools for understanding music as it has been written past and present, and that only people who think they can benefit from them need concern themselves with them. They aren't something everybody needs to be thinking about or forming opinions about. "Music theory" is less about rules and more about understanding the conventions that various musicians have used. People can (and often do) create new conventions. For example, all the various ways modern composers use to try to get musicians to perform the ways they (the composers) want their compositions performed. If these new ways catch on, they will be added to the conventions of music theory of the future.

My main instruments were classical guitar and Renaissance lute. There were five basic ways you could notate the music: French/English tablature, Italian tablature, Spanish tablature, German tablature, and standard musical notation. People who use these various forms can argue all they want about which they think is better and why. But people who never even heard of them before don't need to form any opinions about them. Most importantly, no one needs to know any of these forms of notation to play the guitar.

How important are the differences between the various forms of tablature? I learned French/English tablature (which uses letters) and I could read Spanish Tablature because it is the same as French/English tablature except it uses numbers. I never learned Italian or German tablature. One day my teacher started to put a new piece on the music stand, and she asked me if I could read Italian tablature. I said, "No." And she said, "Sure you can, just turn it upside down and play it backwards." It wasn't exactly easy, but it was doable.

Is knowing anything about music theory important? I don't know. I have had more than 50 years of musical performance experience. Four stand out, all involved women, and none involved music theory whatsoever.

(FWIW I always use the Oxford comma.)
Cool. Thanks for the perspective!
 
In my experience previous to participating in this forum I have found the resistiveness to theory to have two major causes:

1. people think that theory is just a bunch of rules and formulae which preclude creativity
2. people have this desire to instantiate the pose of "naturalness" to gain some leverage for their self-esteem. "I don't know theory; I just feel the music."
 
I wonder if the moderators get a kick out of how many people made use of the new'ish "Ignore Thread" button on this one.

Just kidding! 😉

I tried to catch up on this thread and found that there's a ton of good info and great opinions on the subject. But also found myself skimming and scrolling more than reading in detail and busting out my uke to try things out.

My someday ukulele dream would be to play like Corey and Kalei. I wanna be able to jam with whoever and jump in and solo*. That's gna take theory and it's gna take work.

I like videos! Craig and Sarah do a nice intro video for free!


*When I told Corey this goal, he said all I need is the Fretboard Roadmaps book and practice. He said he went thru it front to back and it taught him everything he knows. I'm sure this isn't true, but it's worth a shot. I'm dusting off my copy and getting back to chapter 3!

I'm as far as "I see notes, I play notes". I was given some help on moveable chord shapes by a very knowledgeable UU user
Chapters 3 to 6!! Craig goes over it his video above too. You can pause and go back as much as you want!
20230516_194335.jpg

Good luck for anyone on this journey and congrats to those of you who are already there or we'll on your way!

LFG!!!
 
I was idle and thinking about this topic and for me the difference is that I only learn what I need to. I never learned theory systematically from A to Z. That might be intimidating and a reason to be afraid of theory.

You don't have to read the whole dictionary when you're looking up a word.

I consulted theory for help on specific things I was working on, like keys or scales or how to gussy up a blues progression. I have amassed some knowledge because of my multiple inquiries but I also have gargantuan holes in my knowledge. Luckily those holes correspond to issues that I don't care about (yet) so it is all to the good. Perhaps that is why theory doesn't scare me. It isn't a hill of information to climb; it is just a reference guide that I can consult if I want to.
 
Interesting stuff.
I know a lot of music theory but have massive gaps. (applying scales and modes for example. Bored yet?)
For years I pondered how much music theory should be taught to middle school choir students. The national education standards i.e. what you are supposed to teach, has theory that would blow many of you away. For years I did what I was supposed to do and at the end of the year kids took a test that included tons of musical terms, symbols and how to interpret standard music notation. Yuck. I had 11-14 year olds memorizing all the key signatures. I think some of you were in my class and now hate the concept of theory. I eventually made a better experience for the kids AND me by doing project-based learning and giving just enough theory for them to get a start in high school music groups where they will be immersed in theory.

Figuring out songs you want to learn is much easier with a little music theory knowledge as is playing on the fly with others. If the song is in the key of F you can know what chords you are likely to use or not use.
I like the idea of your "project-based" approach. Theory feels far less abstract, confusing and pointless if while you're learning it you're actually using it to make music!
 
A lot depends on what a person wants from playing a ukulele.

The more structured and complex, the more music theory comes into play.

If a person is playing a re-entrant tuned ukulele, it is almost a 3 string instrument, with the added high g for effect and sometimes transition in a melody; campanella excepted.

When I started playing the earlier, and the easier, Jake Shimabukuro pieces, I realized they were basically the same.

As long as I know the keys that are best for instrumentals on a ukulele, everything is about the same.

Now if I go to linear tuning and play traditional/classical pieces it is an entirely different instrument.

It all comes down to whether I want to put in the effort.

So far I enjoy playing without the extra effort. After years of just coming up with shapes up the neck that work, most are the same, I haven’t needed to know the why.

The crazy thing is non-musical people don’t seem to realize I’ve playing the same thing for the last 30 minutes.

John
 
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