The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
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  1. #1

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    Here's a short description of someone's (not me) definition of the difference between music theory and harmony.
    I'm curious what you think of this. If one agrees with this, then the majority of the threads in the Theory section
    on this forum should be in the (non-existent) Harmony section.

    Serious question. Not trying to be a wise guy.


    Differences between music theory and harmony, guitar lesson

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    I have no formal education in music, but it seems the author conflates "theory" with notation and "harmony" with ears. My lay definition of theory is why harmony and rhythm works or not.

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by P4guitar
    I have no formal education in music, but it seems the author conflates "theory" with notation and "harmony" with ears. My lay definition of theory is why harmony and rhythm works or not.
    Yes, the ‘why’ is what makes it theory for sure

    So in the days of yore I get the feeling it was more like ‘check out the Db7 chord instead of G7 it sounds hip.’

    That to me is not theory - it’s a rule of thumb, and a resource that you can use. Why it works is not addressed.

    Theory would be more like ‘if you use a bII7 on a V7 chord you stress the b5 and b9 tensions on the V7 chord implying the altered scale, while the 3rd and 7th are common but exchanged for both chords, which means they both function as the same dominant even though they have different roots ’

    The latter case is how we tend to teach right away these days, and while I think the info is correct and can be useful to the student, it’s a lot up front.

    I would tend to go with just getting used to applying the rule and getting used to the sound first and then learn the why later on (if at all). However we tend to teach a lot of theory up front these days and people get used to being told why.

    it’s also the model of modern education.

    I’m not convinced it’s always that helpful to be asking why as an artist; it’s good to be concerned with effects rather than causes. One can spend a career studying the why of music and not play a single gig if that’s your thing. OTOH as a player if you can hear it and sing it or play it who cares about why it works?

    This is what I mean when I say I’m in two minds about theory. Like Rick Beato I think a lot of what gets taught is a direct byproduct of the academic accreditation of jazz schools back in the 70s but that’s another story.

    In a sense if it’s actually useful it’s probably not really theory haha.
    Last edited by Christian Miller; 07-24-2022 at 01:51 PM.

  5. #4

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    But not everyone thinks of theory that way btw.

    If you sit Graded ABRSM music theory exams in the UK, a lot of it is about understanding notation (later grades are more about harmony, counterpoint and figured bass etc). I would regard a lot of it as pretty practical but as it’s an exam done with a pen and paper - theory. Like driving theory I guess.

    Otoh just because you know how to add up durations in a bar and give the correct time signature or transpose an oboe part to concert does not mean you can sight read…. although it would certainly be practically helpful to a budding composer. Soooo

  6. #5

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    Einstein's Relativity is a theory. It made predictions about our physical world which were verified later. So, the theory was generally accepted. It remains subject to revision or dismissal, depending on evolving evidence and thinking.

    Music theory is not a theory in the same sense. For one thing, it isn't addressing an unchanging physical world. What sounds good to people is a moving target over time.

    It is difficult even to clearly articulate a segment of music theory that makes a reliable prediction, although I think this can be done. Tritone sub for V7 leading to Imaj is a simple example, but there are situations in which making the substitution is detrimental. You can add those situations to the "theory", but, at some point it's just a list of what works and what doesn't.

    What would be a theory is a deep understanding of what is good jazz and what is not, with predictions to be verified later regarding music still to be created. Or something. Good luck with that.

    When I think about this topic, modal borrowing comes to mind. There are explanations of harmony based on borrowing chords from other modes. But, if you list the full range of possibilities, it turns out that some sound good, some don't and the "theory" doesn't distinguish between them afaik. I don't claim expertise, so maybe somebody will explain why I'm wrong.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    Einstein's Relativity is a theory. It made predictions about our physical world which were verified later. So, the theory was generally accepted. It remains subject to revision or dismissal, depending on evolving evidence and thinking.

    Music theory is not a theory in the same sense. For one thing, it isn't addressing an unchanging physical world. What sounds good to people is a moving target over time.

    It is difficult even to clearly articulate a segment of music theory that makes a reliable prediction, although I think this can be done. Tritone sub for V7 leading to Imaj is a simple example, but there are situations in which making the substitution is detrimental. You can add those situations to the "theory", but, at some point it's just a list of what works and what doesn't.

    What would be a theory is a deep understanding of what is good jazz and what is not, with predictions to be verified later regarding music still to be created. Or something. Good luck with that.

    When I think about this topic, modal borrowing comes to mind. There are explanations of harmony based on borrowing chords from other modes. But, if you list the full range of possibilities, it turns out that some sound good, some don't and the "theory" doesn't distinguish between them afaik. I don't claim expertise, so maybe somebody will explain why I'm wrong.
    yeah, in fact the more possibilities you have the less good many of them with sound, while the more constrained a theory is the more it leaves out. Meaningful theory is a balance between letting too much in and excluding too much.

    the way I look at it is that any theory always necessarily involves a simplification of actual music to try and distill some understanding of an aspect of it.

    For instance to choose a really obvious example, scales are simplified melodies, you line up the notes in order of pitch and remove the duplications and then you can classify what kind of scale you are left with. And you can see theoretically what a lot of well known Western melodies, for example, have in common.

    But it can’t tell why one Ionian melody is a well known popular song and another one just sounds forgettable.

    So the theory of modality tells you something these melodies have in common but it’s only one aspect.

    There’s another level of theory that aims to explain what a good melody is, talking about intervals, balance of phrases, outlining harmonic progressions and so on, and may even do so reasonably well, but even then you can’t crank the handle of the hits machine and let the coin flow in. Even AI can’t do that yet and actually I don’t expect it to be able to.

    and so on. Theory uses simplification to distill understanding of specific aspects of music. It can only focus on certain aspects of it and in the end the human ear and soul grasps music in its totality.

  8. #7

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    Are you sure your not a wise guy...LOL

  9. #8

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    I think any objective and comprehensive definition of music theory must contain these two components:
    - It's a collection of musical techniques observed over a period of time, and therefore considered common practice within a style or across many styles.
    - It's a set of tools (notations, structures, concepts) to encode, communicate, study and analyze these techniques.

    There are other definitions but those generally personal interpretations or not broad enough to capture the general concept of music theory.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reg
    Are you sure your not a wise guy...LOL

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reg
    Are you sure your not a wise guy...LOL
    Well, I'm not ALWAYS a wise guy. That's more accurate.

    I guess what bothered me about the link is it sounds like theory and harmony are two completely separate things.
    Maybe they are?
    I don't see how you can have one without the other.
    Maybe you can?

    Theory is a study based on the observation of musical works.
    Rules in theory are really just suggestions...

    Harmony is a process of joining musical notes together.
    The joining is done, whether simultaneous or consecutive using nothing more than your ears.
    Rules in harmony are if it sounds good it's good.

  12. #11

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    "Well, I'm not ALWAYS a wise guy. That's more accurate".... cool.

    So are you well versed in Maj/min functional theory/ harmony... and do you understand it?

    That would be the starting place... vanilla etc... then we are on a Jazz Forum, so I can easily help you go from there. If your really interested... no problems if your not.
    I tend to like the last 50 years of understandings of Jazz Theory, which tends to be broken down into musical components or fundamental elements which eventually all become an understanding, a theoretical understanding of how and why jazz works. How to create analytical possibilities of jazz.

    I like to try and keep it simple and short.

  13. #12

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    So are you well versed in Maj/min functional theory/ harmony... and do you understand it?

    I'm semi-versed but not well versed. I think there are holes do to being self taught.

    so I can easily help you go from there. If your really interested... no problems if your not.

    I just bought the Berklee book of Jazz Harmony. I'm going to see how things go with that.
    And I'm always open to help of any kind. Thanks! What do you recommend?

    And it's you're not your(wiseguy alert)

  14. #13

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    Thanks... I do that a lot.

    The short road might be Leon Dallin's Techniques of Twentieth-Century Composition: A Guide to the Materials of Modern Music
    When I was at UCLA he was still at CSULB, we meet a few times before he passed. Brilliant man. Book is easy and helps bridge gap between Maj/Min. Functional theory and current common practice. Then from that you could move on to jazz common practice.

    There are 5 or 6 traditional music theory books from the stone age... but they're really slow LOL.

  15. #14

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    The premise of the article is false. Harmony is a subset of theory.

  16. #15

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    However once you start speaking about scales, intervals and chords, it is not anymore music theory but harmony. We sometimes find the concepts of harmony in music theory books. Example: the C scale. You have to read the notes to play this scale, which corresponds to knowing the music theory. But don't be mistaken: simply speaking about this scale corresponds to harmony.


    I think this page was translated from French by a machine.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmy Smith
    The premise of the article is false. Harmony is a subset of theory.
    That's what I thought also.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reg
    Thanks... I do that a lot.

    The short road might be Leon Dallin's Techniques of Twentieth-Century Composition: A Guide to the Materials of Modern Music
    When I was at UCLA he was still at CSULB, we meet a few times before he passed. Brilliant man. Book is easy and helps bridge gap between Maj/Min. Functional theory and current common practice. Then from that you could move on to jazz common practice.

    There are 5 or 6 traditional music theory books from the stone age... but they're really slow LOL.
    Thanks for the recommendation.
    Looking for a used copy. It seems it's out of print.

    As for the stone age theory books, I do have a copy of Walter Piston's Harmony. I think it's a great book.
    I love the four part harmony examples.

  19. #18

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    Yea... there are still used copies around for not much.
    And yea... Piston has a few books along with Persichetti etc... but I was implying more in the direction of Rameau, Riemann, Grout and then on to Schoenberg as the Stone age understandings of Music. Then there are the modern versions... but that takes a lot of time and most need help putting the bigger picture together. Piston, Persichetti etc... are more like modern teaching versions of the stone age stuff. (still great and I have most of them LOL)

    Leon's book was and still is a great help for transitioning or expanding from Maj/Min functional music to Jazz Functional understandings of Music.

    If you have a set of Groves or access to Groves etc... there is most of the information in shorter or outline form.

    Then eventually you need to start make analysis of music.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by MrCoconut
    Here's a short description of someone's (not me) definition of the difference between music theory and harmony.
    I'm curious what you think of this. If one agrees with this, then the majority of the threads in the Theory section
    on this forum should be in the (non-existent) Harmony section.

    Serious question. Not trying to be a wise guy.


    Differences between music theory and harmony, guitar lesson
    I don't agree with the definition (theory is the collection of explanations of how music is made; harmony is a subset of that, as is notation, rhythm, etc.). But I do agree that most of the discussions of theory around here are discussions of harmony as are, TBH, a large percent of nearly all the sub-forums. This reflects the reality that there are not actually firm boundaries between the various topics that go into making music, and the sub-forum divisions are kind of contrived.
    Last edited by John A.; 07-26-2022 at 01:28 PM.

  21. #20

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    from a view far away from today (past or future)

    for me theory is trying to explain what harmony is and what it can (or can not) do

    harmony first..ok..thats logical..it is the basic material that is the focus of theory ..

    harmony says.. I like these two notes when played together

    theory says..ok now I will tell you why you like them

    in the past some notes played together were considered (wrong bad evil)

    today we accept nearly all intervallic pairs .. thanks to experimental travels and/or just..rules be dammed

    in the future it is probable that the harmony we consider "fixed" will be altered to degrees (via computer enhancements..and creative daring) will be accepted by the ears of
    artists and their adherents..and the harmony and theory of the new sounds will align with them

    ahh yes.. the "flat five"..its not just a note anymore..its now a chord !

  22. #21

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    Here’s a good Nadia Boulanger/Paris conservatoire-ism

    ‘Harmony is a fairy story told about counterpoint’

    Stravinsky

    ‘Harmony is dull, but counterpoint, very interesting.’
    Last edited by Christian Miller; 07-26-2022 at 05:49 PM.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller

    So in the days of yore I get the feeling it was more like ‘check out the Db7 chord instead of G7 it sounds hip.’



    Theory would be more like ‘if you use a bII7 on a V7 chord you stress the b5 and b9 tensions on the V7 chord implying the altered scale, while the 3rd and 7th are common but exchanged for both chords, which means they both function as the same dominant even though they have different roots ’ .
    it’s been five years and I can still feel myself losing interest when I read the latter.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by AllanAllen
    it’s been five years and I can still feel myself losing interest when I read the latter.
    I find the latter hugely valuable and useful info.

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by AllanAllen
    it’s been five years and I can still feel myself losing interest when I read the latter.
    When I was 18 I would have thought that sort of stuff was deep. I was (and am) an unutterable dweeb of course.

    I think sentences like that attract a certain type of crowd to jazz.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    Here’s a good Nadia Boulanger/Paris conservatoire-ism

    ‘Harmony is a fairy story told about counterpoint’

    Stravinsky

    ‘Harmony is dull, but counterpoint, very interesting.’
    I should say through the years of following the forum - you are extremly good at supporting the point of view you are holding to at the current period of time)