Music theory has been a core part of making both classical and contemporary music. Yet, there is a consensus saying it can get pretty intimidating.
I believe that studying a bit of music theory will benefit you greatly in your music production journey.
What is Music Theory?
So let’s start with answering the first question. “What is music theory?”
Music theory is the way musicians conceptualize and make sense of musical phenomena.
By creating a formula, musicians can understand and hand out their ideas for others to comprehend.
Why People Avoid Learning Music Theory
Now that that’s settled, let’s go over some reasons why people avoid learning music theory.
Learning music theory can get pretty intimidating. It’s understandable to feel so when going about any subject.
There are a plethora of technical terms that can get confusing to memorize and apply. Not to mention the different rules and strategies to master and then translate into actual music.
These examples alone are enough to dissuade beginners from learning music theory.
The best way to combat this is to take things one step at a time. Don’t jump in head first when approaching something new, especially when there are many terms you are unfamiliar with.
Start with the basic definitions, and try not to move to the next topic until you are familiar with those concepts.
Once that is done, you can advance to the next step and work your way up. Take it slow, easy, and at your own pace.
I’ll later discuss the basic concepts of music theory in a way that is easy to comprehend and apply.
The following reason is more of a common myth that gets passed around. This myth talks about how learning music theory is detrimental to the creative process.
The rules presented when learning music theory supposedly chain musicians down to following standards and procedures, which hurt the creative process.
They are now unable to freely express their ideas and creations and are now just limited to rules and regulations.
This paints a bad picture whenever people claim that music theory practitioners are controlled by these rules when making music. This can be further from the truth.
A much healthier way of viewing music theory is seeing it as more of a guide than a set of rules. They are there, but you have the ability to discern whether or not you can or should follow them to a T.
Before you can decide whether to follow a rule or not, you have to know about the rule first.
Following such steps can restrict your creativity, but avoiding them can also limit your knowledge and experience.
Now are there benefits to learning music theory? Yep, there are.
Why Learn Music Theory?
Now you can get away with learning an instrument or making a song without knowing any music theory. However, if you want to expand your knowledge and craft proficiency, then you should consider learning music theory.
Learning music theory can broaden your horizons and musical ability.
Having concepts by your side will do wonders when making your next new song. If you want to progress in your musical instruments or in the nuance of songwriting, then learning some concepts is the way to go.
Studying any theory can get complicated, and music is no different. Although it will have some challenges, it is most definitely worth it if you want to improve as a musician and producer
Music Theory and Music Production
Okay, so you’ve sold me on learning an instrument, but what about music production? Will I need to learn music theory if I’m gonna be making my music using a laptop and a midi controller?
I mean, shouldn’t I be thinking about stuff like “should I buy usb microphones?” or “how to work with digital effects plug-ins?”
Don’t worry, as it has its benefits in this field as well.
Even if you are writing midi notes on your computer, you will still need to know what chords or melodies to write.
The basic concepts of music theory don’t just apply to traditional instruments like guitar, drums, or piano. Even in the digital space of music production, you will most definitely benefit from learning the concepts of music theory and applying them to your project.
Most digital audio workstations (DAW) come with a piano roll. This is where you write midi files. So even if you aren’t necessarily playing the piano, you will still need to know what chords are and which chords fit best with the song.
Music Theory Concepts
Let’s start with the basic fundamentals of music theory to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
The first thing to learn is melody, harmony, and rhythm.
Melody is a string of tones and semitones tied together.
Harmony refers to the dynamic of notes and/or chords played at the same time.
Rhythm is the equivalent of time when measuring a musical piece.
These will serve as the backbone of studying music theory.
The next thing you will need to study is rudiments.
Rudiments are the application of music theory. Regardless of what instrument you play, you will see these rudiments pop up when learning.
The rudiments are scales, keys, chords, and notation.
Scales refer to the sequential pattern of notes which consists of tones and semitones. The pattern is what defines the characteristics of the sound.
For example, the pattern of a major scale is different from that of a minor scale. Because of this, they sound distinctly different from one another.
The scale impacts choosing which notes and chords to use when forming the sound of the song.
The following important rudiment is chords.
Chords are a group of individual notes played together. When you combine different chords in a certain pattern, you form a chord progression.
The way notes are combined to make chords and the relation of one chord to another serve the sonic identity of any song.
The best way to think of a musical key is a template for what chords and melodies to use.
In a way, it defines which chords and notes to play that fit with the key of the song.
How do you identify what key your song is in? The simplest way is to see where the first note lands on. If the first note is a C, it is on the key of C.
The next step is to find out what kind of C scale it is. That will be dependent on the pattern of tones and semitones present. If it follows the major scale sequence, it is a C major scale. If it follows the minor scale sequence, it is a C minor scale.
These are just some notable examples of the basic terminologies and concepts in music theory. There are many more, but having an understanding of these first is important before jumping into the next steps.
Advanced Music Theory Concepts
Here are some advanced concepts that will broaden your understanding with music and will help make your next tracks sound more exciting.
Transposing is the act of shifting a song’s key signature. This could be done to higher or lower the key of the song.
Songwriters and producers do this as a way of adding variety into the sound by shifting a section of the song, usually at the end.
This is also a good way of gauging whether or not you are able to sing the song you are creating in its intended key. If not, then you can transpose the song to a lower key to make it easier for you to sing.
This is when notes in a chord change positions. This can be useful for coming up with different harmonies to help make your tracks sound more exciting and fresh.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need to have formal training?
Not necessarily. The typical way of learning music theory is to have a music teacher be the one to teach you. While it is recommended to have someone teach you in person, there are more options to master it.
Thanks to the internet, you can look up detailed explanations towards music theory.
Do you have to be a master in music theory to venture into music production?
Nope. What’s important to remember is that learning music theory and music production is a journey. You don’t need to be a full-on master at the theory and craft to go start making music.
The best way to learn is to keep making music. The only way to get better at it is to keep learning and applying what you have learned.
How can it benefit me in beat-making?
What if I’m just making beats? Can music theory improve my beat-making skills?
It sure can. Whether you are using acoustic drums or just programming them on your laptop, you will definitely benefit.
Rhythm is an essential part in learning music theory. This is something you will need when playing percussive instruments, like drums.
Can it benefit me even in adding effects (like delay and reverb)?
Some effects require knowledge in melody and rhythm. Take delay for example. Knowing the tempo of the song and its rhythm is needed in order for you to know how much delay to put in without making it sound like a mess.
How can it benefit me even if I am just mixing and mastering?
Another thing you will learn from music theory are dynamics, which refers to how to play a note. Common dynamics include “pianissimo,” “forte,” and ‘allegro.”
You will commonly find dynamics in sheet music, but this is also vital in understanding whether an instrument should be played louder or softer.
Music theory has been around for some time. It has helped musicians communicate their ideas and present them in their craft. This can also be true for music production. You will still find yourself seeing these terms in the context of producing, mixing, and mastering. Don’t worry. They will be sure to guide you as you continue making music.
Rather than viewing music theory as a thing to avoid for fear of losing creativity, see it as a guide to better enhance your creativity and proficiency in your music.