Why would you learn music theory?

A lot of people don’t like music theory, they say that it’s boring, difficult and not necessary, because:

  1. it prevents you from being creative
  2. it takes away all spontaneity while playing music
  3. it’s only for jazz musicians and musicians that play classical music. I play rock/blues/reggae/hip-hop…, so I don’t need music theory
  4. music theory is totally unnecessary: there is software that does all the music theory for me
treble clef with piano keyboard

And you hear even more arguments against music theory.

Why do I think that music theory IS important?

To answer that question, let me discuss the arguments mentioned above.

  • It prevents you from being creative
    Some musicians believe that by some sort of ‘divine intervention’, they receive musical ideas and that music theory only gets in the way of this ‘magic’ reception of those musical ideas.
    I rather believe that it’s the other way around: by knowing your music theory, you will get musical ideas easier and quicker. You know which notes ‘work’ and which won’t, in stead of just trying to guess the right note by trial and error.
  • It takes away all spontaneity while playing music
    Here, the same arguments apply as for #1: by knowing what ‘works’ and what won’t, you can play with much more spontaneity and you also reduce the risk of playing mistakes.
  • it’s only for jazz musicians and musicians that play classical music. I play rock/blues/reggae/hip-hop…, so I don’t need music theory
    In every musical style, chords and scales are used, not only in classical music or in jazz.
    For example, in almost all styles of popular music the pentatonic scale is used.
    When you start to learn to play a certain musical style, you’re actually learning the music theory that applies to that musical style.
  • Music theory is totally unnecessary: there is software that does all the music theory for me
    Computer programs exist for almost everything…with the exception of creativity.
    Real creativity, real innovations only arise from the human brain, not in a computer program.

Even more arguments

Besides the above mentioned arguments, there is more to say in favor of knowledge about music theory when you play an instrument.

Imagine that you play in a band and the bass player tells the saxophone player: “We play in D minor“, and you have no clue of what he actually means by that, then the whole band has to stop to explain to you which notes you have to play in a D minor chord. When you finally understand how to do that, then all creativity and spontaneity will have disappeared like snow in the sun.

You can see from this example that music theory also acts as a language, as a means of communication between musicians. When you don’t know this ‘language’, you will perhaps still be able to play music, but not in a very efficient way.

When you know music theory, you will understand the relationship between all the elements in music. For example, you understand why you have to play a particular note and not another, you know how to form chords and why chords are formed in that way.

And what about reading music?

Is it possible to be a musician without being able to read notes?
Yes, it’s possible!
You could compare this situation with real life and ask yourself: can you live without being able to read?
Ans also here the answer would be: yes, it’s possible!
But imagine that you couldn’t read. In our today’s society you would have a big handicap, because you wouldn’t be able to read anything, so no books, no information on the Internet, you wouldn’t know the price of a product in the supermarket, and so on…

So this is the same with reading music. If you’re a musician who can’t read notes, you might be able to produce some nice music, but you can’t read music of others, and you can’t write down your own music.

So if you want to learn a new piece, you’ll have to wait till someone explains you how to play it, or you have to be very skilled in playing by ear. But even if you know all that, it’s still much more quick and efficient if you could have read the music from notes in sheet music.

Is it difficult to learn music theory and how to read notes?

Some people say that they don’t want to start learning music theory and reading notes because it would be too difficult.
And actually, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Especially when it’s well explained.
When music theory is well explained and presented in small pieces, then everyone who wants can learn music theory.

And fortunately, you’ve come to the right place, since on pianotheoryexercises.com you will find a good and clear explanation of music theory and reading music for (total) beginners, and all this explained by a teacher with more than 25 years of experience.
All the lessons are completely free.
In addition, on pianotheoryexercises.com you can do interactive exercises in which you can practice the theory and reading notes.

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Martin Cohen

Martin Cohen is a science and piano teacher. He is also a jazz musician and composer.

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