• Music Theory: The “Why” Behind The “What”

    in Beginners,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    In this lesson, we’ll be looking at the importance of music theory.

    In a couple of decades being a musician, I’ve come across musicians who are theoretically-oriented and others who are practically-oriented. Irrespective of the league you belong to, the theory of music is important.

    This is NOT to play down on the practical aspect of music theory. Yes! The practical aspect of music is important. However, our focus in this lesson is on the importance of music theory.

    Before we go any further, let’s refresh our minds on music theory.

    “What Is Music Theory?”

    Music is a practical thing and musicians are art practitioners.

    However, nobody can just jump into the art of music without understanding its theory; which is “a system of ideas that explains all the principles of music practice”

    Using music theory, the art of music is not only understood but is preserved. For example, almost every aspect of theory that’s available to us today in the 21st century were developed several centuries ago and systematically preserved and passed down.

    The Ionian mode:

    …and the key of C major:

    …have been preserved and passed down to us today from musicians who lived several generations ago.

    Also, musicians of this age and generation who have come up with theories and principles that explain the art of music not only contribute to music learning, but in the preservation of the art.

    So, music theory is simply a system of ideas that explains all the principles of music practice.

    Attention: To learn more about music theory, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    Music Theory: The “Why” Behind The “What”

    In this segment, we’ll be looking at the importance of music theory and also showing you why it’s important for you to go behind what top players are playing to see why they’re playing it.

    The “What” Vs The “Why”

    If you’re interested in learning the secret to the sound of the top players in the industry, you must NOT only look at “what” they’re playing; you will have to figure out “why” they’re playing it.

    I’m very certain that you’ve been in the company of musicians who are phenomenal with their instrument (or voice). It’s also possible that you (reading this) have (at one point or the other) dazzled people around you with your performance on your instrument.

    Although what is played is important, but knowing, explaining, and even teaching why it is played is even more important.

    Those soulful melodies and mind-blowing harmonies are great and part of the “what” and beyond the what is a why.

    What really happens when someone goes beyond the “what” (of your musicianship) and asks any of the following question (or something similar):

    “Why are you playing the C major triad as the 1-chord in the key of C major?”

    “Why is F# the sixth tone in the key of A major?”

    …is that the focus shifts from the what to the why.

    At that point, the “what” CANNOT explain the “why” because in actuality it is the “why” that explains the “what.”

    Attention: To learn more about music theory, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    The Importance Of Music Theory

    Behind every what is a why.Therefore, it is important for every musician to look through what is played (the art) and understand why it is played (the theory).

    While playing is important, there are principles that you have to learn, understand, and internalize as a musician that will give you a deeper perspective and also a better understanding of the application of a particular music concept.

    According to Kenny Werner, music is 95% mental and 5% physical. Whether you agree to this or not, one thing you can’t dispute is the fact that playing music is a mental activity.

    Due to the mental dimension of music (which accounts for about 95%), there’s need to feed the mind with principles and ideas (music theory).

    Also, music theory helps in the transfer of information or knowledge. So many great players who are not theoretically sound find it difficult to teach up and coming musicians what they’re doing on their instrument.

    While teaching, they show you “what” they’re playing, but they aren’t able to show you “why” they are playing it because theory is required in the breakdown of certain principles.

    Ever heard lines like these:

    “Yeah! That’s the chord. Although I don’t know its name, it fits into the song perfectly…”

    “Don’t worry about the name of the lick/run or where it’s derived; as long as it sounds great…”

    “I don’t know how to explain how this works. Feel free to play it, I know it works…”

    If you have, then it’s probably from people who are not theoretically sound enough to tell you the “why” behind “what” they’re playing and this would affect you or anyone who is learning from them.

    Final Words

    The importance of music theory cannot be over-emphasized and that’s why every serious musician (especially professional ones) must endeavor to study music theory.

    In a subsequent lesson, we’ll cover other important aspects of music theory ranging from tonal principles to rhythmic principles.

    See you then!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 5 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 geometrydashfree.com

    If you’re interested in learning the secret to the sound of the top players in the industry, you must NOT only look at “what” they’re playing; you will have to figure out “why” they’re playing it….

    Reply

    2 Carolyn

    Thanks, I have bought all kinds of books on how to understand music theory, but none was of any benefit to me. I bought the secret to playin by ear and it helped me to understand why I played certain notes, it were just laid out that I quickly understood the 1-4-5 chords. I constantly read it every week to stay refreshed. I you don’t have The Secret To Playing By Ear, you should invest. You will understand everything so plainly. The book is by Jermaine Griggs. God bless you Jermaine

    Reply

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