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  1. #51

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    Quote Originally Posted by OneWatt
    Clearly, the musical genius of Bach and Mozart blossomed through their firm grasp of theory - more precisely, how harmony functions.

    Herr Reimann composed more terminology than inspiring music. Moreover, labeling stuff after the fact should not be confused with creating underlying concepts.

    Today, 300 years later, Bach's 2- and 3-part inventions and Mozart's concerti bring me to tears. I don't have a favorite Reimann tune.

    Though we disagree, I continue to respect your point of view.

    Peace.
    Well of course, because they were above all musicians. They weren't theorists. Theorists will try to explain why Mozart brings you and I to tears, and what makes 'good music' and they will always fail (Kant realised this), but that's another thread haha.

    This is getting into the woods philosophically, but I'm not sure how underlying concepts exist without being named or described. Certainly it seems a stretch to call such intuitive understandings 'theory' in any usual sense. Conversely, to imagine that Reimann had some special insight into uncategorised concepts in the minds of Mozart and Bach credits seems to be to appeal to some sort of Platonic idea that music theory ideas are discovered rather than invented. I don't personally buy this.

    (OTOH, we actually have some idea of the musical upbringing of 18th century composers which seems to me maybe more relevant to that music.)

    Anyway, it's not my point of view; it's my attempt to relate Robert Gjerdingen's professional opinion based on his research of that era. If these ideas provoke you, the interview above might be worth listen. I'd like to know your thoughts.

    I'm neither a classical composer/improvisor, nor an expert on this era of music although I am reasonably familiar with it (but not as a professional performer), but I do find his ideas relate very strongly to what I do as a jazz musician, educator, and as a postgrad student of music education. They have to me 'the ring of truth.' He might be completely wrong of course, or more likely, partially true.

    Over the years I've had a lot of my opinions and ideas about music radically change as I learn more and more.The idea that it may be worth really making a strong distinction between what is useful to a improvisor and composer and what is of more academic interest directly useful is an idea that's been forming in my head for a long time. Partly, because I want to teach in an uncluttered and focussed way.

    My current thinking is that we give far too much theory to starting students of improvisation and composition IMO; what is actually needed is raw materials. Barry provides that, for example.

    Most of my students already know more theory than they will ever need. It's usually the hours of practice and listening that are lacking.
    Last edited by christianm77; 10-23-2020 at 10:36 AM.

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  3. #52

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    @christianm77: I appreciate your latest post.

    No doubt, as the thoughtful educator you are, you see up close how theory and practice compliment each other in learning. To quote that great philosopher, Yogi Berra: "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is."

    On balance I tend to credit practitioners with creating theory. Not the other way 'round.

    Shakespeare's grasp of the nuts 'n bolts of language was deep and wide... yet he toiled away without a copy of the Oxford or Roget's thesaurus on his shelf... because those good folks hadn't come along for a few more centuries. They then looked at what already existed and gave it labels.

    Either we give Shakespeare his due or we're left to embrace the monkey & typewriter theory of creativity. To my mind, same goes for Bach and Mozart.

    Thanks for continuing to add to the discussion in stimulating ways.

  4. #53

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Most of my students already know more theory than they will ever need. It's usually the hours of practice and listening that are lacking.
    I think this is the root of the disagreement. Most of the young musicians/students I come across know no theory. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I can sense your frustration with theory heavy students who haven’t put in the time. But that’s hardly a universal truth.

    As I said before, whether you put in your time applying your theory or put in your time playing licks by rote, you have to put in your time. I disagree that only by copying other musicians licks can you become a great musician yourself.


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  5. #54

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    Quote Originally Posted by rlrhett
    I think this is the root of the disagreement. Most of the young musicians/students I come across know no theory. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I can sense your frustration with theory heavy students who haven’t put in the time. But that’s hardly a universal truth.

    As I said before, whether you put in your time applying your theory or put in your time playing licks by rote, you have to put in your time. I disagree that only by copying other musicians licks can you become a great musician yourself.


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    For what it‘s worth, here is my experience:

    I‘ve tried to learn to play the altered scale for about a year now. From the theory I got (mainly on this forum), I couldn‘t put together a decent altered phrase to save my life. I then came across a video where two dudes were throwing licks at each other, transcribed a few, and - there you go! But what‘s really funny: I used to play the saxophone, put it away for ten years, took it out the other week and found out that without even trying, I was already playing all that altered stuff that decades ago became embedded in my fingers without me knowing what it was - just from listening to Miles, Sonny and Dexter.

    Now if I could translate that to the guitar I‘d be a happy man.


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  6. #55

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    Quote Originally Posted by rlrhett
    I think this is the root of the disagreement. Most of the young musicians/students I come across know no theory. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I can sense your frustration with theory heavy students who haven’t put in the time.
    OK, if you don't read anything else I post, please read this:

    I am NOT frustrated at my students. I don't get cross with them for not putting in the time. Everyone has the time they have available to work on the art they love.

    Sometimes I get frustrated by my limitations as a teacher, but what frustrates me is they have already spent so much of their precious, limited time on stuff that won't give them what they want, which in basically every case is to be able to play lines that sound like jazz.

    You have to start gentle with the ears thing. Riffs and simple melodies. Build up confidence and competence. Some people find the idea of using their ears very scary, and it's up to me to show them that it is not, and that it is both really fun and the best possible thing you can be doing with your time.

  7. #56

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    Ok, if you read nothing else from my posts read this:

    Knowing theory doesn’t prevent you from listening to music. Or playing music.

    For some people, knowing theory is the gateway to active listening. Understanding what you are hearing helps you to hear more deeply.

    You seem committed to the idea that understanding music makes it so you can’t hear music. I do not doubt you have had that experience either for yourself or your students.

    I am here to say that is not the case for everyone. I have had the experience that sharing a little theory with beginning musicians has helped open their ears, as it helped open mine.

    Not your experience? Fine. But I think you are making a mistake if you are didactically telling other musicians that it cannot be their experience.


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  8. #57

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    If you are going to respond, can you please take the time to properly read my posts. Thanks.
    I would ask the same of you. And as you seem to have hugely invested your ego in being “right” on this, I’ll bow out and let have the last word.


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  9. #58

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    I think I am trying make a quite subtle and nuanced point that isn't quite communicating for some reason.

    Probably best not to get into it too much. I've said as much as I should probably on the subject.

    But I'll rephrase what I said above. What people often call theory (which is often not), such as convenient names for musical objects such as chord progressions and scales etc is not bad. Categorising things is not bad.

    In fact I think its essential and inevitable if you check out enough music. Those we say 'no know theory' I think have their own private systems.

    How we do it and to what end is important.

  10. #59

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    Quote Originally Posted by rlrhett
    I would ask the same of you. And as you seem to have hugely invested your ego in being “right” on this, I’ll bow out and let have the last word.


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    Sorry that was a bit rude, and I hoped you didn't see that. We are talking past each other and I don't think we disagree that much in fact. It's frustrating because I feel you are characterising my argument as something it isn't. I feel I am basically repeating myself trying to make it clear.

    probably my fault for not communicating better.
    Last edited by christianm77; 10-23-2020 at 04:11 PM.

  11. #60

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    Much more important to me is that people don't think I am frustrated with students who don't 'put the time in' and so on.

    I really try not to blame students for my failings as a teacher.

    I'm not having a go at you for saying that, but its super important to me that I nip that one in the bud.

  12. #61

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    Look, it's this simple (surely?) : If you are lucky enough to be "shown" how to play in a Jazz style by someone who knows how to teach in a way that involves little or no theory, then that's probably the fastest way to learn, and in that sense Christian is right.

    But most here are autodidacts, so we need to connect the dots ourselves... and there's simply no way to do that without some understanding of what goes on under the hood. And yes, unfortunately that means some of us take it too far (when there's no-one around to tell us we are wasting precious time), but if you do learn how to put together a motor before you learn to drive, that will have it's advantages. You will have learned to build, or compose your own fit for purpose engines, and the ability to keep tweaking it as your needs change.

    But yeah, if the aim is to be a top Formula 1 driver by the time you're 25, then the more time behind the wheel next to a good instructor (and not under the hood on your own), the better...

  13. #62

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    The driving analogy; you need to know how to steer, how to change gears (unless you are American) and the Highway Code and how to deal with common situations such as roundabouts, junctions and so on, and how to stay observant for the actions of other drivers.

    You don’t need to know how the internal combustion engine works.

    That’s what I mean by ‘understanding.’ It’s not bad to know how cars work, but it is not necessary to drive one.

  14. #63

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    Poor analogy, IMO.

  15. #64

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    Yeah, I can think of some problems with it.

    I prefer the language analogy.

  16. #65

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    My question is what defines musical theory. Knowing what an altered chord is and how to play it in various positions and inversions is definitely needed for playing. So at which point does this stuff become theory?


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  17. #66

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    Even knowing the name of a chord is theory already, isn't it?

  18. #67

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    Quote Originally Posted by TOMMO
    Even knowing the name of a chord is theory already, isn't it?
    Not the way I mean theory.

    The words aren’t very helpful? Most guitarists would think of the recipe for constructing a Cmaj7 or a G7b5 chord as theory.

    I’m saying for the purposes of my argument that knowledge is a different type from learning why a Cmaj7 chord sounds chilled, and a G7b5 doesn’t.

    The first type of knowledge is helpful to musicians. The second, while interesting is not directly relevant.
    Last edited by christianm77; 10-27-2020 at 05:20 AM.

  19. #68

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eck
    My question is what defines musical theory. Knowing what an altered chord is and how to play it in various positions and inversions is definitely needed for playing. So at which point does this stuff become theory?


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    Its not black and white but my definition of music theory proper is that theory is interested in explaining music rather than simply categorising or describing it.

    Again it’s not that that type of music theory is bad, it’s more that it’s not really relevant to learning how to play music.

    so for instance, categorising chord progressions is one thing, but going into theory that explains why the progressions function the way they do is less directly connected with playing music.

    My proof? There are many many musicians historically who did just fine without it.

    (The classical examples above I just brought up to show that tonal music was written without the complete theory of functional harmony we take for granted today. It seems that this ‘why’ understanding was unnecessary; probably more connected to music aesthetics, criticism and academia than the craft of music itself...)

    YouTuber 12 Tone for instance, fun channel, but very much an example of the explaining music type of music theory, also I find those sorts of explanations quite unsatisfying anyway. Adam Neely is also interested in music theory on his channel in that sense, but more connected to the science of music.

    Theres obviously some overlap. It IS useful to us to know that the Am7b5 chord is an inversion of Cm6 for example. (Although this is something one could appreciate from fretboard chord shapes, or the piano keyboarders without reference to a textbook.) So theoretic ideas that have direct applicability to the music are part of this ‘practical knowledge’ thing.

    You are not looking to apply some general laws of music and come out with music; rules of thumb and isolated ideas are often much more useful for music making than some grand overall conception.

    One big snag I hit with students is they seem to want to understand what they are doing harmonically all the time. When they are improvising on a melody for example. To get them out of that mindset and see theory as simply a set of possible resources and ideas rather than needing to apply a set of laws to generate music is often a real journey.

    And yeah, i think helpful rules and theory ideas are best learned through learning and playing the music first. Which I don’t think is a controversial statement?
    Last edited by christianm77; 10-27-2020 at 05:29 AM.

  20. #69

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Its not black and white but theory that becomes too interested in explaining music rather than simply categorising it.

    Again it’s not that that type of music theory is bad, it’s more that it’s not really relevant to learning how to play music.

    so for instance, categorising chord progressions is one thing, but going into theory that explains why the progressions function the way they do is less directly connected with being a player.

    (The classical examples above I just brought up to show that tonal music was written without the complete theory of functional harmony we take for granted today. It was unnecessary.)

    YouTuber 12 Tone for instance, fun channel, but very much an example of the explaining music type of music theory, also I find those sorts of explanations quite unsatisfying anyway. Adam Neely is also interested in music theory on his channel in that sense.

    Theres obviously some overlap. It IS useful to us to know that the Am7b5 chord is an inversion of Cm6 for example. So theoretic ideas that have direct applicability to the music are part of this ‘practical knowledge’ thing.

    You are not looking to apply some general laws of music and come out with music; rules of thumb and isolated ideas are often much more useful for music making than some grand overall conception.

    One big snag I hit with students is they seem to want to understand what they are doing harmonically............... ?
    I should take lessons. Right now I’m reworking the chords to good ole Autumn Leaves, with as much as possible 5s as lowest note, and as many 9s and 13s and trying to minimise the change from one chord to the next. A lot of working out, while a teacher could probably just show me...


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  21. #70

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eck
    I should take lessons. Right now I’m reworking the chords to good ole Autumn Leaves, with as much as possible 5s as lowest note, and as many 9s and 13s and trying to minimise the change from one chord to the next. A lot of working out, while a teacher could probably just show me...


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    That sounds like a helpful thing to be doing. Chord connections are great.

    I don’t know if you are doing lines or voicings, but if it’s the former be sure to vary the direction rather than simply going up/down on every chord. Try leaps and skips and even going up or down through a couple of chords if you are able.