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Thread: Theory absolute or possible guidelines ?

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    Default Theory absolute or possible guidelines ?

    Learning Music theory and someone said something like: "to compose we have to forget theory.."

    There are many rules like ending at Tonic. Why? Is this Tonic not bashed into our brain after many many years and we just get used to it so much that it sounds off / strange if it does not end at Tonic?

    Is it actually possible to compose music without any theory, just by ear? but by doing so , a composer might find the wrath of theory purists not?

    So, what's your thoughts about theory strictly or by ear? or an combination of both?

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    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    Many have composed music without any formal training in theory. But I would imagine the more complex and ambitious you aspire to make your creation, the harder it is to achieve without theoretical grounding.
    Alan

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    No one writes quality music without theory and training. It may be explicit notation-based theory or it may simply be learned and internalized from being part of some tradition.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    ...the main point about theory imv is that it gives you experience in how to handle notes whilst at the same time inculcating one's own musicality as one practices and learns. You need experience like this in order to find your artistic/creative preferences and develop your way of doing things.

    I define theory here pretty much like Bwv1080 above and believe that if one does not study and practice, no matter the source of knowledge, they might not reach their fullest potential.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Jul-21-2021 at 13:13.

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    There are composers who had/have little music theory; but to make their music work they needed the assistance of trained musicians: Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers. There have been pop musicians who can't read music - Bobby Goldsboro, Clay Walker, Glen Campbell. Even Paul McCartney. He didn't really write the Liverpool Oratorio; Carl Davis did all the work. At some point, to get anything done the lack of theory background bites you in the butt. You can play by ear all you want, but what a handicap!

    Rimsky-Korsakov realized early his own deficiencies and took matters into his own hands and learned theory; he even admitted that he was only ahead of his students by a day or so.
    "It is surprising how easily one can become used to bad music" - F. Mendelssohn

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    Senior Member BachIsBest's Avatar
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    I would imagine it's like most things; the more knowledge you have, the more likely you are to do something great and there is some base level of knowledge required to have a non-minuscule chance of creating something decent. I have never composed, so take this with a large grain of salt.

    On your question on tonality, the whole "must end on the tonic note" is only partly arbitrary. Just like our sight picks up on some visual patterns more easily and some visual aspects are near-universally pleasing, e.g. symmetry, there are some sound patterns that the human ear picks up on more easily. Tonality (in a broad sense; not just the specific European tonal system), which pervades virtually all traditional music, is quite possibly the pattern of sound that is best recognised, intuitively, by humans. In fact, for a large portion of history one could argue most human cultures associated their term for "music" with "tonal sounds". So in this sense tonality is something humans have a biological predisposition for and thus is not arbitrary. However, using the specific tonal system the 18th century Europeans came up with, rather than making music more in the style of India or even Renaissance era modality, is probably to some extent arbitrary.

    I don't want this to go off-topic into yet another atonal-tonal debate so I just want to explicitly note that none of this means that there aren't other non-tonality based ways of making sounds that people may classify as music and enjoy.
    Last edited by BachIsBest; Jul-24-2021 at 06:52.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    I would imagine it's like most things; the more knowledge you have, the more likely you are to do something great and there is some base level of knowledge required to have a non-minuscule chance of creating something decent. I have never composed, so take this with a large grain of salt.
    Good observation. More knowledge equates to more technical options being available to explore creatively and will offer multiple solutions to problems that arise during the course of writing.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Jul-24-2021 at 09:10.

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    Senior Member Enthalpy's Avatar
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    JSBach had not learned composition.
    Eugène Ysaÿe neither.
    You just write French exactly like you spell it. Very simple!
    In the Navy, one must salute everything that moves and paint the rest.
    I wish so dearly Mozart were still alive! And his music already dead.

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    Senior Member BachIsBest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthalpy View Post
    JSBach had not learned composition.
    Eugène Ysaÿe neither.
    This is complete hogwash.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
    Johann Sebastian Bach[n 1] was born in Eisenach, the capital of the duchy of Saxe-Eisenach, in present-day Germany, on 21 March 1685 O.S. (31 March 1685 N.S.). He was the son of Johann Ambrosius Bach, the director of the town musicians, and Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt.[6] He was the eighth and youngest child of Johann Ambrosius,[7] who likely taught him violin and basic music theory.[8] His uncles were all professional musicians, whose posts included church organists, court chamber musicians, and composers.[9] One uncle, Johann Christoph Bach (1645–1693), introduced him to the organ,[10] and an older second cousin, Johann Ludwig Bach (1677–1731), was a well-known composer and violinist.[9][n 2]

    Bach's mother died in 1694, and his father died eight months later.[11] The 10-year-old Bach moved in with his eldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach (1671–1721), the organist at St. Michael's Church in Ohrdruf, Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg.[12] There he studied, performed, and copied music, including his own brother's, despite being forbidden to do so because scores were so valuable and private, and blank ledger paper of that type was costly.[13][14] He received valuable teaching from his brother, who instructed him on the clavichord. J. C. Bach exposed him to the works of great composers of the day, including South German composers such as Johann Caspar Kerll, Johann Jakob Froberger and Johann Pachelbel (under whom Johann Christoph had studied); North German composers;[15] Frenchmen, such as Jean-Baptiste Lully, Louis Marchand, and Marin Marais;[16] and the Italian clavierist Girolamo Frescobaldi.[17] Also during this time, he was taught primarily theology, Latin and Greek at the local gymnasium.[18]

    By 3 April 1700, Bach and his schoolfriend Georg Erdmann—who was two years Bach's elder—were enrolled in the prestigious St. Michael's School in Lüneburg, some two weeks' travel north of Ohrdruf.[19][20] Their journey was probably undertaken mostly on foot.[20] His two years there were critical in exposing Bach to a wider range of European culture. In addition to singing in the choir, he played the school's three-manual organ and harpsichords.[21] He came into contact with sons of aristocrats from northern Germany who had been sent to the highly selective school to prepare for careers in other disciplines.
    Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
    Born in Liège, Ysaÿe began violin lessons at age five with his father. He would later recognize his father's teaching as the foundation of everything he knew on his instrument, even though he went on to study with highly reputed masters. At seven he entered the Conservatoire at Liège studying with Désiré Heynberg (from 1865 to 1869), although soon afterwards he was asked to leave the conservatory because of lack of progress. This was because, in order to support his family, young Eugène had to play full-time in two local orchestras, one conducted by his father.

    Eugène went on playing in these ensembles, though he studied by himself and learned the repertoire of the violin. By the time he was twelve, he was playing so well that one day he was practicing in a cellar when the legendary Henri Vieuxtemps, passing in the street, was so impressed with the sound of his violin that he took an interest in the boy. He arranged for Ysaÿe to be re-admitted to the conservatory studying with Vieuxtemps's assistant, the noted Henryk Wieniawski. Ysaÿe would later also study with Vieuxtemps, and both "master and disciple", as Ysaÿe would call the roles of teacher and pupil, were very fond of each other. In his last years, Vieuxtemps asked Ysaÿe to come to the countryside just to play for him.

    Studying with these teachers meant that he was part of the so-called Franco-Belgian school of violin playing, which dates back to the development of the modern violin bow by François Tourte. Qualities of this "École" included elegance, a full tone with a sense of drawing a "long" bow with no jerks, precise left hand techniques, and bowing using the whole forearm while keeping both the wrist and upper arm quiet (as opposed to Joseph Joachim's German school of wrist bowing and Leopold Auer's Russian concept of using the whole arm.)
    Last edited by BachIsBest; Jul-27-2021 at 06:01.

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    Senior Member Enthalpy's Avatar
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    Hi BachIsBest, your two citations support my claim:
    JSBach had not learned composition.
    Eugène Ysaÿe neither.
    You just write French exactly like you spell it. Very simple!
    In the Navy, one must salute everything that moves and paint the rest.
    I wish so dearly Mozart were still alive! And his music already dead.

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    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthalpy View Post
    Hi BachIsBest, your two citations support my claim:
    JSBach had not learned composition.
    Eugène Ysaÿe neither.
    What is it, then, to "learn composition"?
    Alan

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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthalpy View Post
    Hi BachIsBest, your two citations support my claim:
    JSBach had not learned composition.
    Eugène Ysaÿe neither.
    Learning music theory...
    There's the theory of how the intervals and resolutions affect the human brain and how those affectations came about (speculative/theoretical).

    There's the music theory coming from the history of music. The sequence of the 'discovery' of fifths and fourths then major thirds and what could be done with them. And then later minor thirds and all those higher harmonies.

    If you can't read music I don't see how you can study music theory. But maybe you can. But anyway it's just like any other language, it takes a few years at the minimum (to train your brain).

    People who can play well by ear have a difficult time learning to read and employ music theory. Because it's so easy for them to play without it. Erroll Garner is a good example. He really wanted to learn to read music and he tried for years according to the accounts of friends. Other jazz pianists greatly admired his facility, but they could easily see what he was doing and they could tell that he didn't study theory. The problem is you can mostly only play what comes out of yourself and your own imagination, for the most part. This can be very limiting for the less 'talented'.
    Last edited by Luchesi; Jul-28-2021 at 19:22.
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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    Senior Member BachIsBest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthalpy View Post
    Hi BachIsBest, your two citations support my claim:
    JSBach had not learned composition.
    Eugène Ysaÿe neither.
    If studying music at "the prestigious St. Michael's School in Lüneburg" for two years still means you never learnt composition, pray tell, what would learning composition amount to?

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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    If studying music at "the prestigious St. Michael's School in Lüneburg" for two years still means you never learnt composition, pray tell, what would learning composition amount to?
    I guess you can teach yourself higher math on your own (wow!), but probably not weather theory (atmospheric dynamics).
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Is learning to read music the same as learning music theory in people's minds?

    Learning to read music is akin to learning to read any language, It takes a lot of time and exposure.
    And it's not at all like you thought it would be, when you finally become proficient. It's not easy to 'teach' except very indirectly (like other languages). I think this is because it's not just the brain, but the muscle movements in conjunction with the hearing of the relationships.
    Albert Einstein, "I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

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