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Using Music Theory to Communicate Your Musical Ideas

There’s a persistent myth in the songwriting world that the more music theory you know, the more your songwriting will suffer. If you believe this, you’re missing out on truly understanding what music theory is, and how you could be using it to your advantage.

If you want some evidence for the power of music theory, you should know that most of the world’s greatest classical composers (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) were masters of music theory. And it would be quite a stretch to try to assert that their music suffered from their theory knowledge. (If only Mozart hadn’t had his creativity stunted by theory, he would have written some pretty good stuff, I suppose.)

What is music theory? It starts with understanding the basic structures of music, gathered together and organized in an easy-to-understand way. So when you study theory, you’re studying how to create scales, how to name intervals, how to build chords, and so on.

But that’s just the start. Those important structures would come under a subheading that we call the rudiments of music, and they’re important. Even if you hate the notion of learning music theory, you know how important scales, chords rhythms and intervals are to your ability to write good songs.

Theory Gives You a Way to Communicate

If you were studying theory in a university setting, you’d be analyzing symphonies, and using your understanding of the rudiments of music to come to a clearer understanding of why those compositions work.

As a songwriter, though, you’ll find that an understanding of theory will give you the words to communicate your musical ideas to others. Basic vocabulary may not seem that important, but it can save an enormous amount of rehearsal time if you can clearly and succinctly explain yourself to your bandmates.

Theory gives you another important skill: it improves your ear, giving you the ability to listen to other great songs and come closer to identifying why the good bits sound so good. (“Oh, that’s an added 9th in that chord… nice!”)

Easy Music Theory with Gary Ewer - Songwriter and Performer EditionIf you’ve always wanted to know more about music theory, but don’t know how to go about learning it, I’ve developed a video-based course — “Easy Music Theory by Gary Ewer” — that’s perfect for musicians who don’t have a teacher. The course is divided up into 25 lessons, with worksheets, quizzes and answer sheets. It’s a self-directed course that really works.

And as you work on the materials, I’m only an email away if you get stuck or don’t feel you’re understanding what you’re working on. I’m always happy to help.

Go to the “Easy Music Theory” page to see the list of lessons, and read more about the power of understanding music theory.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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