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Music Theory and Technique Vs. Passion and Soul: An Epic Tag Team Battle!


SlickDaddySlick
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What do you think is more important when composing and performing music: Music Theory and Technique or Soul and Passion?

I had a little . . . fun argument with a member of another forum about this. I told him that without a good knowledge of music theory, having soul and passion over theory is bullshit and that it is rewarded to only those who spend their time studying theory and technique. The guy say that you need more soul and passion and that music theory and lessons isn't really needed to play an instrument, learn scales, and key signature.

So, what do you guys think.

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Well, the way the argument's structured is intentionally and needlessly divisive. Music theory is excellent and a great tool, and also isn't mutually exclusive from enthusiasm, so it's not like they can't and don't coexist. That being said, you don't need to know or be able to articulate music theory to create good music, and I've heard music theory "experts" put out boring material.

If you had to pick one, then enthusiasm wins, but I think it's short-sighted to, as your opposing POV implies, disregard the benefits of one side just to make the choice for the other. Especially if your choice is theory, which is the wrong choice. :lol: The moment one points out a successful composer without theory knowledge or the ability to write their own sheet music, your argument doesn't hold.

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I would have to say passion matters more. I mean, you don't need technical ability and insane knowledge in music theory to be a good musician. Sure you have more places to go with ability and knowledge but does that mean you can make good music? I mean, the majority of video game musicians use synthesizers and whatnot for making music. There's not a lot of technical ability there, and yet look at Stickerbrush Symphony from Donkey Kong Country 2. Beautiful song. Then there's the band Demons & Wizards. There's barely any technical ability there and yet they have some of the most emotional, passionate music I've heard from any band. Here's a prime example:

I think we know which wins here. (Though it is fun to watch people show off like Yngwe Malmsteen ;)

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Some artists with just technical ability will just be way too show offy and it won't be all that great.

DragonForce doesn't change their style at all in any song. It's just all a bunch of technical ability. Granted they're a good band (though not an essential one :|) but they're not all that creative.

But hey, some people show off well so I guess maybe you're right.

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Isn't using synthesizers just using a lot of computer programs and button pressing? If I misjudged this, I deeply apologize and feel very stupid :P

But technical ability means having skill with something. You know, practicing for years to get good at an instrument. If a synthesizer doesn't take that, then I can't really call it technical ability :\

But that's just what I think.

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I've found that a lot of well respected composers who claim to have no musical training or knowledge of theory are actually well-versed in the same conventions that general musical theory attempts to explain. Let's face it; most of us are exposed to the same music growing up, especially where movies and their soundtracks are concerned, and really the best understanding of theory comes from exposure and pattern recognition over time. You don't have to know what V-I is to know it sounds good or to use it yourself. You just hear it all the time so you're bound to be influenced by it.

Similarly, classical theory doesn't attempt to explain the VI-VII-i progression you hear in 99% of pop music (especially J-pop) and film scores, but it's a convention you pick up just from listening to a lot of those things.

So really there's no need to sit down and study textbook theory unless you want a classical understanding beyond what you pick up naturally.

Also consider that theory is more a way of explaining why something works rather than a source to draw ideas from. I've actually found a balance between the two where I would say I "feel" my way through composing a melody, and then use theory to enhance the counterpoint and voice-leading.

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Excuse me? Using synthesizers means you don't have technical ability?

Of course not. That would mean it's video game music or something.

In any case, the debate really should be about whether being able to articulate theory is critical to being a good musician. Good musicians have an intrinsic understanding of theory regardless. Not being able to articulate or understand theory literally limits the ability to communicate, but that's not part and parcel of being able to make good music as an individual.

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there's no need to sit down and study textbook theory unless you want a classical understanding beyond what you pick up naturally.

He's right, you know.

Not being able to articulate or understand theory literally limits the ability to communicate, but that's not part and parcel of being able to make good music as an individual.

Also right. But I didn't say all video game music lacked technical ability. Though most of it does. Some ReMixes here change that around.

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Hmm...but is using a synthesizer really difficult? No, noodling around and writing down what sounds nice is actual passion and writing ability, nothing to do with technical ability. Technical ability is being able to play really hard stuff. It could sound terrible but if it's hard to play, it's technical ability.

Now that you have said that, I don't really see what "technical ability" has to do with ability to compose good music.

I used to have "technical ability" at playing the trumpet, but I would be lying if I said I could regularly compose anything that was good sounding. I'm not really sure I could say anything I have written is even partially good. (you'd have to ask sadorf, if he even remembers who I am :P)

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Now that you have said that, I don't really see what "technical ability" has to do with ability to compose good music.

I used to have "technical ability" at playing the trumpet, but I would be lying if I said I could regularly compose anything that was good sounding. I'm not really sure I could say anything I have written is even partially good. :P

NOW you're getting what I mean. And you're right, you DON'T need technical ability to write good music, which is why passion and soul and actual writing talent always win.

And at least you HAVE technical ability at Trumpet. I was (and still am) terrible at it. Why? Because my 6th grade teacher failed to tell me that my mouth position was bad and now I have to practice all over again with a different mouth position. I hate middle school. And my middle school band teacher.

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From a composition standpoint, they go hand in hand. The emotional quality of a piece can be greatly augmented by a superb construction--and can be destroyed by a terrible construction.

Furthering that point, one can have all the technical ability in the world, but if you have no emotion or passion going into your music, then that music may be dull and lifeless. Its much like the links between history and memory (if that made no sense, look up Mark Raphael Baker's "The Fiftieth Gate", thats a great read).

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I think that there needs to be balance for the two. You could have all the soul and passion in your music that you want, but if you don't know any music theory, composition is that much harder. Likewise, If you know nothing but music theory, then it really limits the kind of music you can make.

Using guitar soloing as an example, when I was younger, it used to amaze me that guitarists could solo the way they could. I thought that playing a solo was random notes, and it wasn't until I started taking guitar and learning music theory that I realized that pretty much all guitar solos following one kind of scale or another. SCALES are music theory. Even if you know just the simple blues penatonic scale, a solo will sound infinitely better then passionately playing random notes. On the other hand, knowing 20 trillion scales won't help if you don't have any feeling in the music, and it comes out as a random string of notes.

Here's an example of theory without any soul.

Fantastic technique, but I wouldn't want to hear it in a real song.

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Passion: Any random jerk off hitting his fist against the side of an acoustic guitar, wailing at the top of their lungs about the woman that cheated on them.

Technique: Dragonforce, a band that won't matter in ten years' time, except for maybe inspiring a few guitarists.

Both: Bob Dylan, David Bowie, old Metallica, The Dresden Dolls, Nine Inch Nails, Nightwish, Dream Theater, Vanessa Mae, etc.

Mixing for the win.

ALSO! As a guitarist for the last 8 years, I can tell you outright that using a synth to perfection is just as difficult (if not moreso) than any other instrument. Aside from being (basically) an electronic piano, you also have to take abstract sounds and make them sound the way you want them to. That's really fucking hard, harder than sweep picking and just knowing a pentatonic scale and hitting every third note in it, in alternating reverse order like most metal guitarists do for giggles when they want to wank on stage. Maybe not as hard as 8 finger tapping, but pretty high up there.

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Working with synths is like building a guitar. Anyone can take a box and a plank and tie some strings to it, but you're not gonna make it sound pretty that way.

I have minimal formal music theory, I've learned pretty much everything by playing and writing music. When I read up on music theory, it's not as much about learning new things, it's more about finding words for the things I've learned and connecting my terms for things with the formal terms.

The grade school music theory I've got is in swedish, which doesn't really help much either.

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I think that there needs to be balance for the two. You could have all the soul and passion in your music that you want, but if you don't know any music theory, composition is that much harder. Likewise, If you know nothing but music theory, then it really limits the kind of music you can make.

Using guitar soloing as an example, when I was younger, it used to amaze me that guitarists could solo the way they could. I thought that playing a solo was random notes, and it wasn't until I started taking guitar and learning music theory that I realized that pretty much all guitar solos following one kind of scale or another. SCALES are music theory. Even if you know just the simple blues penatonic scale, a solo will sound infinitely better then passionately playing random notes. On the other hand, knowing 20 trillion scales won't help if you don't have any feeling in the music, and it comes out as a random string of notes.

Here's an example of theory without any soul.

Fantastic technique, but I wouldn't want to hear it in a real song.

Yeah, I remember the first time I saw that guy play on youtube, hes fast as fuck but he is so so obsesed with speed that he has no melodic skills what-so-ever, which actually proves my view on technique vs soul a valid point, which is that all the technique and knowedge of theory in the world is useless if you don't know how to use it, although I bet this guy has no knowedge of theory anyway.

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Isn't using synthesizers just using a lot of computer programs and button pressing?

You're a DT fan, albeit one who apparently favours Kevin Moore over Jordan Rudess. Think about the keyboard parts in the songs of theirs that you like. What makes them work? It's not just the technical ability of the player as a pianist/keyboardist; it's the work that goes into sound design, figuring your way around constrained hardware (ex: Jordan switched from one Korg keyboard to the Korg Oasys as his touring instrument a few years back because it has more onboard memory so he could load more samples in it). Keyboard players also have to think about how to organize the sounds: are they layering different sounds? Do they have several keyboards or synth modules and one or two master controllers where they have to think about MIDI to get it working right? Similarly, any hack with fast fingers can plug a guitar into an amp; part of the skill of being a guitarist is coming up with the right set of effects and using them correctly to craft the sound you want. Sound design is very much musical and is also very much technical.

As for software-based music tools, the same thing applies. Any hack can hit a bunch of buttons and call it a song. Virtual instruments and DAWs are no less instruments than guitars and keyboards, although for many they are ones that follow a different recording process and aren't easily performed live. Then again, it's not uncommon for artists to bring laptops with them on tour, if they want more versatility, and to play sounds live. Lyle Mays from the Pat Metheny Group is a great example. His stage setup on the last two PMG tours consisted of a few (maybe 3, not a lot) keyboards and synths, a MIDI grand piano, and a couple laptops. He controlled the software synths on the laptops from his other keyboards in realtime; I can think of only one song where they use any playback at all, and it's because the sounds are too electronic and too layered to have one person play them back live. Lyle had to do the sound design in software before the tour and then work with the software (via MIDI) while performing. The computer is becoming more and more of a "legitimate" instrument as technology improves.

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Yeah, I remember the first time I saw that guy play on youtube, hes fast as fuck but he is so so obsesed with speed that he has no melodic skills what-so-ever, which actually proves my view on technique vs soul a valid point, which is that all the technique and knowedge of theory in the world is useless if you don't know how to use it, although I bet this guy has no knowedge of theory anyway.

Theory includes sweep picking, which is mainly what this is.

And the reverse of your point is true: all the soul in the world is useless if you don't know how to use it.

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You're a DT fan, albeit one who apparently favours Kevin Moore over Jordan Rudess. Think about the keyboard parts in the songs of theirs that you like. What makes them work? It's not just the technical ability of the player as a pianist/keyboardist; it's the work that goes into sound design, figuring your way around constrained hardware (ex: Jordan switched from one Korg keyboard to the Korg Oasys as his touring instrument a few years back because it has more onboard memory so he could load more samples in it). Keyboard players also have to think about how to organize the sounds: are they layering different sounds? Do they have several keyboards or synth modules and one or two master controllers where they have to think about MIDI to get it working right? Similarly, any hack with fast fingers can plug a guitar into an amp; part of the skill of being a guitarist is coming up with the right set of effects and using them correctly to craft the sound you want. Sound design is very much musical and is also very much technical.

As for software-based music tools, the same thing applies. Any hack can hit a bunch of buttons and call it a song. Virtual instruments and DAWs are no less instruments than guitars and keyboards, although for many they are ones that follow a different recording process and aren't easily performed live. Then again, it's not uncommon for artists to bring laptops with them on tour, if they want more versatility, and to play sounds live. Lyle Mays from the Pat Metheny Group is a great example. His stage setup on the last two PMG tours consisted of a few (maybe 3, not a lot) keyboards and synths, a MIDI grand piano, and a couple laptops. He controlled the software synths on the laptops from his other keyboards in realtime; I can think of only one song where they use any playback at all, and it's because the sounds are too electronic and too layered to have one person play them back live. Lyle had to do the sound design in software before the tour and then work with the software (via MIDI) while performing. The computer is becoming more and more of a "legitimate" instrument as technology improves.

I do understand that there is a lot of sound layering there and stuff to think about, and I didn't mean to demean synthesizing. All I had meant by that was that they aren't hard to actually play, but now that I think about it can they actually be "played"? Thinking up innovative ways to use them can take skill.

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Theory includes sweep picking, which is mainly what this is.

And the reverse of your point is true: all the soul in the world is useless if you don't know how to use it.

You have a point about the sweep picking.

Ok, scratch what I said before, he does have knowedge of theory, as well as melody, as he does play in key at the begining of the video, but as soon as the sweep picking comes in... ouch :C

I guess the they all go hand in hand, you need technique and emotion in your playing and musicial knowedge to create good music. One completes the other.

I do think it is a shame that some guitarists today are just obsesed with speed nowadays, like this guitarist here, and herman li from dragonforce to name another. There is more than one way to play the guitar :(

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