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Thread: 'Essential' or useful Music Theory for amateurs to enhance enjoyment of music?.

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    Default 'Essential' or useful Music Theory for amateurs to enhance enjoyment of music?.

    For those who don't play, compose or conduct are there elements of music theory / musicology which are useful to enhance enjoyment of music?
    What aspects of music theory are "essential" to hold one's own (blag it) in a discussion of music with people who know what they are talking about?

    As school though I played and was taught an instrument I was taught no musical theory other than monkey read monkey play and the blues scale. Nothing in general music class either.
    I met a music teacher a few months back and speaking of my absolute lack of music theory knowledge they said they do teach everyone some things such as 'The 8 elements of music'
    They taught us nothing about form, types of ensembles which are of definite interest when buying recorded music, modals, history.
    What else did they not teach us?

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    Senior Member Richannes Wrahms's Avatar
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    I'd say the most general recognisable thing is probably form.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Learning to recognise motifs may enhance your appreciation. You could then follow their development and transformations in a sonata or symphony as it progresses.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Sep-16-2021 at 14:17.

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    Being able to identify whether a note is higher or lower than the preceding note! I have had fun with friends when I have played a note on the flute then another note and asked them if the second note was higher or lower. I was amazed at how many of them had a poor or non-existent sense of pitch and couldn’t be accurate every time. They all enjoyed music but weren’t big fans and had negligible collections. Maybe a few CDs of popular music. I imagine there might be a connection.
    Last edited by Barbebleu; Sep-16-2021 at 16:36.
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

    ‘When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!‘

    ‘It will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end!’

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    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    Being able to identify whether a note is higher or lower than the preceding note! I have had fun with friends when I have played a note on the flute then another note and asked them if the second note was higher or lower. I was amazed at how many of them had a poor or non-existent sense of pitch and couldn’t be accurate every time. They all enjoyed music but weren’t big fans and had negligible collections. Maybe a few CDs of popular music. I imagine there might be a connection.
    Relative pitch?

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FrankE View Post
    Relative pitch?
    Just so. xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

    ‘When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!‘

    ‘It will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end!’

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    I believe that a person can thoroughly enjoy classical without any training - I know I did. And there are clearly things that improve one's appreciation: knowledge of the instruments, for example. Peter and the Wolf isn't popular without reason - it achieves its goal beautifully. So does Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

    Knowledge of form really helps, too. It lets a novice learn the terrain of a work. A working knowledge of music history and the styles really helps, too. But knowing things like how "the composer modulates to the subdominant key" is useless - I don't know any musicians who talk that way. But one thing to not do: don't ever try to bluff your way around a discussion of music with pros unless you really know your stuff. Just shut up, listen, and learn. Learn from the experts. Of course, that old saying always is in the back of my mind: The Experts Usually Aren't.
    "It is surprising how easily one can become used to bad music" - F. Mendelssohn

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    I learned to play piano without any formal training in music theory. What I knew of music theory was the bare minimum needed to learn and play music flawlessly.

    I've acquired a great bunch of music theory, some being a Music Major in college, but most of it was through experience.

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    FrankE, I taught music theory professionally for many years and have a master's degree in the subject that included theory pedagogy and supervised teacher training.

    If you are interested in classical music your distinction between theory and musicology is a good one. Many of the above good suggestions apply to Music Appreciation (or an equivalent term), which is kind of the beginning of the musicology line -- e.g. instruments and ensembles, types of music, form (from the level of motifs to whole compositions), and music history by era.

    Basic music theory for classical music of the Common Practice Tonality (CPT) era (18th and 19th century*) is precise -- don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Much, but not all, of it applies to popular music too. If you can read music, it continues from there with Rudiments: scales, intervals, chords, basic rhythm and meter, transposition, and musical terms. One topic builds logically upon another. Long ago I it learned from a British-type manual in a community class; nowadays there are courses online as well. Some people learn Rudiments as they go through instrumental training. Otherwise, I have never met anyone seriously interested in music -- classical or popular -- who regretted taking a good Rudiments course.

    *For the 20th and 21st centuries there is no Common Practice, but there is much that can be learned as extensions of 18th-19th century practice, and much else that can be learned logically on its own. Incidentally, on TalkClassical Edward Bast is an expert in music theory.

    As for listening in the sense of Ear Training (which note is higher than another, relative pitch, etc.) please PM me. If one has an inquisitive mind and a positive attitude music theory can lead to good things.

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    Member Michael122's Avatar
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    For playing music, learning theory is a waste of time.
    For composing music, understanding theory is vital.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael122 View Post
    For playing music, learning theory is a waste of time.
    For composing music, understanding theory is vital.
    I have a different view in that I think performers should have some basic theoretical background and depending on the music, sometimes a more profound and practical knowledge. The keyboard works of Bach for example need to be informed and performed with some knowledge of contrapuntal technique. Jazz players need to be able to improvise over extended compound harmony and its substitutions, including modality.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Nov-14-2021 at 14:12.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    The keyboard works of Bach for example need to be informed and performed with some knowledge of contrapuntal technique.
    Why would they need to? If they don't improvise on the works.
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Nov-15-2021 at 01:49.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    Why would they need to? If they don't improvise on the works.
    I suspect it depends if they are played on harpsichord or piano, where any line can or can't be emphasized over others.
    "But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying..." Peter Sinfield

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    I suspect it depends if they are played on harpsichord or piano, where any line can or can't be emphasized over others.
    Nowadays I think that's nonsense cause emphasizing certain lines over others is something Bach never instructed in his keyboard music. I know there are people who like their favorite performers' ways (eg. Gould) to emphasize lines in Bach, but it's all subjective. And the idea that having knowledge to avoid parallel fifths somehow gives you better understanding which line to emphasize at any point of a Bach work is absurd.
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Nov-16-2021 at 02:02.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    Nowadays I think that's nonsense cause emphasizing certain lines over others is something Bach never instructed in his keyboard music. I know there are people who like their favorite performers' ways (eg. Gould) to emphasize lines in Bach, but it's all subjective. And the idea that having knowledge to avoid parallel fifths somehow gives you better understanding which line to emphasize at any point of a Bach work is absurd.
    You've gone off on the wrong tack HK, I wasn't suggesting something like the bolded above is a requirement, although that particular rule about fifths is so famous I wonder if many haven't heard of it.

    Rather, I meant that recognition of thematic material and any transformations is interpretatively significant for the solo performer. Spotting a theme in a dense a5 environment that may be in augmentation or diminution, or noticing that a fugal episode is related to a prior one because of the inverted triple counterpoint can be gleaned without an in-depth understanding of how it was achieved technically. Emphasis (subtle preferably) or none is optional, although in dense textures for me, some emphasis certainly aids cognition by providing a musical focus when listening to Bach on a piano.

    Imv, I feel it's important for a performer (specifically a soloist) to be able to understand and if need be, be able to analyse what they are playing, if only for their own edification and nobody elses. The performers musicianship benefits from such an informed approach, as does their enjoyment and ultimately, their interpretative performance.

    EDIT...this from my Alma Maters website (my bolded).

    Academic study

    Academic study is essential to your creative and intellectual development. Core modules in Aural, Analysis and History reinforce your awareness as a listener, develop your interpretative abilities and extend your knowledge and imagination.


    https://www.ram.ac.uk/study/about-ou...aduate-courses
    Last edited by mikeh375; Nov-16-2021 at 13:20.

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