Have you ever had anyone tell you that music theory will stifle your sense of creativity? That’s a common fear, but in fact the exact opposite is true. A knowledge of the rudiments of music will actually improve your imagination and make you far more creative.
You need to look no further for evidence of this than the great composers of the classical music world. Not only were Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and other composers geniuses of musical composition, they were also known for their understanding and mastery of music theory.
It would be ludicrous to think that if only Mozart had not known anything about theory, he’d have been an even better composer. Mozart used his understanding of theory to help create his masterpieces. I would argue that understanding music theory will make you a better songwriter.
So how does that work? How can an understanding of music theory make you a better songwriter?
Speeding Up the Songwriting Process
If you are a songwriter, you already possess a certain skill that you might even be unaware of: your ability to hear something, and then replicate it in your own music. This isn’t to say that you hear a great line in an Adele song, and then copy it note-for-note in your own song.
But you do hear bits of music from your favourite songwriter, and in your own way, using your own notes, chords and lyrics, add some of those ideas to your music. This isn’t plagiarism I’m talking about; this is normal activity for any good composer of music. It’s why most songs from any one genre, at any one time, have a certain sameness about them. The trick is to be innovative enough that no one notices the similarities.
It’s that hearing and identifying something in someone else’s music that makes an understanding of the rudiments of music such a powerful tool. With theory in your back pocket, so to speak, you can speed up that part of your songwriting process.
Without theory, you might hear a certain chord, a certain catchy rhythm, or a particularly interesting bit of melody, and wonder what that is. How did they do that? What is it that I’m hearing? How can I do something similar in my own songs? Just the wondering, and then the experimenting to find the answer can take ages, and by the time you’ve found it, you’ve wasted a lot of time.
With an understanding of the basic rudiments of music, you can hear and then quickly identify what’s going on. Understanding the basic structures of music make it more likely that you’ll be able to identify those structures by ear, and that’s the main benefit of understanding theory.
If you’re someone who’s purposely avoided learning theory because you’re afraid it will stunt your creative powers, I hope you feel confident to toss that idea aside. The stifling of creativity idea is something usually propagated by people who have a fear of theory.
My own course, “Easy Music Theory With Gary Ewer”, is one I developed 20 years ago, and it’s designed to be self-directed (i.e. you don’t need a teacher), and it really is easy. Each lesson includes a video of me teaching a particular concept, and also includes instruction sheets, worksheets, and quizzes so that you can check your own progress. It’s a course that’s designed to be completely user-friendly, and one that I think you’ll enjoy.
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