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Music theory/ear training help

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So I've more or less taken 2014 off from serious music making for various reasons, but the most significant being that I've felt considerable doubt in my musical work, and was thus drawn to other art forms that I'm better at (photography).

Upon reflection I think my work has suffered from two things: first a lack of understanding the musical language. I feel i need to learn music theory if i am to improve. Secondly, I need to improve my ear, so as to be able to take an idea and understand what notes and sounds I'm hearing in my head. Remixing would also be easier as i would no longer NEED midi stems like i do now.

So Tldr, What are some learning resources that you may have to study music theory, and/or ear training? as usual, i don't mind if its an app, a book, a website, anything really, even personal tips help.

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One of the best ways to develop your ear is to play the music you listen to on an instrument of some sort. The simplest, easiest and cheapest way would be to do it on a midi keyboard with simple left hand harmonies and right hand melodies.

As far as theory goes there are a bunch of videos on youtube but you really don't need to know a ton of it to make music. Just as you don't need to know the grammar of the language you speak in order to speak it. It just makes getting the desired results much much easier. What you should know without any doubts are Key Signatures, Time Signatures, the differences between Compound and Duple meters, TRIADS(!!!)Scales (Major, Minor, and Pentatonic at the minimum)and Modes. Once you know those you can look up some sheet music and start doing proper analyses of them.

...or you could just do 99% of all modern dance music and never leave the tonic chord. :)

ever.

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Theory may not work for everyone. I personally know the bare minimum about theory (scales, chord names, etc.) and I don't feel like I really need more than that; it's weird, but I've made music with harmonies I can't explain, which I honestly am okay with as long as I like it.

I would read a manual on your synth, try to figure out what the knobs do, and recreate some sounds to refine your sound design imagination. Maybe try to transcribe simple songs by ear and write your own harmonies to them, see what works, and see why it works (note relationships, like basic intervals, even). Maybe imagine chords in your head, write them out, and see if it matches what you thought. Listen for other peoples' chords and try sequencing out what you hear.

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Theory may not work for everyone. I personally know the bare minimum about theory (scales, chord names, etc.) and I don't feel like I really need more than that; it's weird, but I've made music with harmonies I can't explain, which I honestly am okay with as long as I like it.

I would read a manual on your synth, try to figure out what the knobs do, and recreate some sounds to refine your sound design imagination. Maybe try to transcribe simple songs by ear and write your own harmonies to them, see what works, and see why it works (note relationships, like basic intervals, even). Maybe imagine chords in your head, write them out, and see if it matches what you thought. Listen for other peoples' chords and try sequencing out what you hear.

Well, the thing about theory is that not everything about it is essential knowledge to composition or whatever. It depends on the context. Like, knowing the difference between chord tones and non-chord tones is useful, but knowing the individual non-chord tone names isn't. Knowing the basic triads you can form off the scale is important, knowing the names of every possible extension and alteration...not so much.

It's like reading music. If you were a copyist or orchestrator that is massively important knowledge, but for the purpose of composing and performing in the context of popular music it's pointless for most people.

That being said, it's not rocket science to learn these things...and you never know when it will come in handy.

As for ear training, honestly, the only real way to get better at it is to simply do it. As long as you have a basic understanding of the major and minor scale and how the modes you get from them sound on their own, it's simply a matter of practice.

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw

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Well, I've always enjoyed your PRC entries, your SF2 Drive track and others, and always thought you have a recognizable sound to your music, so I'd definitely say keep going, keep going. =)

But yeah, I've too felt for a long time getting more into music theory would be immensely helpful for me, so I can relate to that I guess. Ear-training, I can heartily recommend just trying to transcribe compo stuff by ear. When it comes to VGM arranging (especially in this community), since you don't need to get everything down how it was in the original, I've figured just getting a part of the source figured out and expanding & differentiating from there is enough. I think I've gotten a lot more accurate and faster the more I've done it. Transcribing something that plays in my head has become easier too.

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The common misconception is that theory is "how to write music", when in fact, it's a tool for analysis. Theory won't help you write anymore than your frequency analyzer will help you EQ (you have to know how to respond to what you're analyzing, it's not enough to be able to just see it and magically your music is better.) What it does help you do is listen to existing music and break it down, so you can see how it works. Then it's up to you to imitate what you like or whatever after seeing its building blocks.

Often what many people do is treat music theory concepts like rules, try to write to those rules, create shitty music, and then complain that music theory ruined their creativity. It would be tragic if it wasn't stupid.

Also, contesting that theory isn't important for arranging; this is the worst error in thinking. Arranging is the most important application of theory. How can you possibly bring out the best of something if you don't understand what makes it tick? How can you arrange a song with notes outside the key? How can you arrange a VG tune that uses extended chords? How can you write solos that aren't just diatonic?

Case in point, for the Shovel Knight remix competition, I went up against DusK with this song:

The melody contains a #4 in a i -> II progression. DusK didn't know music theory, though. Every time he hit the #4 melody note, he had no idea what chord to put with it, and as a result, every time he hit that note, it sounded like a wrong note because it didn't harmonize with the chord at all. On the other hand, in my remix, all I did was use the same chord progression that Virt had for it, and my remix sounded harmonious even with the #4 note as a result. Why? I studied music theory and learned how to recognize these things and use them to my advantage. It also taught me a lesson; want to make a creepy graveyard theme? Use #4! Thanks Virt!

Edited by Neblix

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Also, contesting that theory isn't important for arranging; this is the worst error in thinking. Arranging is the most important application of theory. How can you possibly bring out the best of something if you don't understand what makes it tick? How can you arrange a song with notes outside the key? How can you arrange a VG tune that uses extended chords? How can you write solos that aren't just diatonic?

Yeah, it seems counterintuitive to say that you can do something that brings out the best of what you can do, even if you don't know music theory to the extent that you would need it if you were to use it while composing something, but the fact is, I wrote this without extensive theory knowledge on complex chords and effective chord progressions. That's just how it went. Maybe it's an exception, but that's what happened. It has plenty of chords above the complexity of basic triads, all of which are sensible. You don't have to write notes outside the key in a theoretically interesting way to have a good song. It can sound cool, but few people without the theory to understand it won't get why it works, and truly why you love it.

So no, theory is not necessarily important for arranging. It's helpful, if you put in the effort and understand it and can apply it, but it's not absolutely crucial to realizing the best of what you can do. I know I'm not a conventional person when I say I don't rely on theory to compose harmonically complex music, but oh well. That's who I am.

Edited by timaeus222

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:banghead: I feel like my post went over your head.

You're getting trapped in this frame of thought where you're like "I made something complicated without knowing theory". You obviously do know theory if you understood how to harmonize those notes and make them sound good.

If you don't think you know theory, I don't think you know what music theory actually is.

You said "How can you possibly bring out the best of something if you don't understand what makes it tick?" Well, it's true, I can't explain what I did there, but I did it anyway. That's my point. I get that it works and I know how to tweak it so that it works, but I can't write out in words why. All I can say is that it sounds good, and if it sounds good, that's what matters for me. Maybe I ought to be :banghead: back at ya. :lol:

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You said "How can you possibly bring out the best of something if you don't understand what makes it tick?" Well, it's true, I can't explain what I did there, but I did it anyway. That's my point. I get that it works and I know how to tweak it so that it works, but I can't write out in words why. All I can say is that it sounds good, and if it sounds good, that's what matters for me. Maybe I ought to be :banghead: back at ya. :lol:

You don't have to know how to say it in words. Music theory isn't about writing papers, it's about surveying musical techniques. It's pretty clear that you understand that the things you did are in fact things you can do (otherwise, why would you have done them), and that's you knowing theory. You can discover it for the first time while writing, that doesn't magically make it *not* theory. I've discovered plenty of things in the moment, and then now they're part of my vocabulary. You can discover them on your own or from other music, but the ability to take them in and use them is you "doing" music theory.

I mean, keep arguing, but basically this is an argument between you saying you're musically unintelligent and me saying you're musically intelligent, so I would re-evaluate your interest in this discussion. ;-)

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You don't have to know how to say it in words. Music theory isn't about writing papers, it's about surveying musical techniques. It's pretty clear that you understand that the things you did are in fact things you can do (otherwise, why would you have done them), and that's you knowing theory. You can discover it for the first time while writing, that doesn't magically make it *not* theory. I've discovered plenty of things in the moment, and then now they're part of my vocabulary. You can discover them on your own or from other music, but the ability to take them in and use them is you "doing" music theory.

I mean, keep arguing, but basically this is an argument between you saying you're musically unintelligent and me saying you're musically intelligent, so I would re-evaluate your interest in this discussion. ;-)

Okay. All I'm saying is that going out and outright learning music theory and taking it ermahgerdsupersrs could work, but if it seems like a bit much to take in at the time, it could be better to just either wait on it, or try learning the ideas more by intuition than by straight reading and applying and just "do" music theory. ;-) I don't find it a bad thing that I'm trying to be humble, but thanks.

Edited by timaeus222

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Okay. All I'm saying is that going out and outright learning music theory and taking it ermahgerdsupersrs could work, but if it seems like a bit much to take in at the time, it could be better to just either wait on it, or try learning the ideas more by intuition than by straight reading and applying and "do" music theory.

No one said you had to. Studying music is not something you do in a day, it takes years. Whether you do it on your own or by going to school for it, the point is that you develop a more advanced vocabulary over time if you can absorb things. You have been making music for a long time, and so you have absorbed these things over time. Whether you did by reading textbook or by sitting in the studio is *irrelevant*. However, doing it "academically" makes the process much faster, and the years you would spend doing it by intuition are reduced to weeks by comparison. I wasted years making remixes not knowing theory, and I've learned more about basic musical function in the past year than I did in the past 6 years of the intuition "it sounds good" approach.

Intuition even disables you from knowing how to make something sound the strongest it possibly can. Let's say you want to switch to a certain chord. You end up doing it by plopping the notes into a pad, and it sounds good, but what if you swapped the order of the notes in a certain way? It would carry the effect much stronger, but you wouldn't really know that by intuition. You would've stopped at "it sounds great" and that's it. If you don't care, and your audience doesn't care, that's fine. But some people do care.

Edited by Neblix

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I think of it like this.

I was a competitive swimmer as well as a coach for many years. Did I have to know exactly what degree of angle to best slide my hand into the water for least resistance at the end of a recovery for a freestyle stroke? Of course not. My brain did it automatically by "feel" and muscle memory.

However, as a coach, I did have to deconstruct a swimmer's technique and think about exactly what was going on (or more accurately, what was causing problems). I had to watch and see things like "okay, your body is riding too low in the water because you're not getting enough push when your hand is at this position", yada yada.

In short, swimming was like walking, while teaching someone to swim was like having to think about "bend left knee to lift leg leg up, roll on ball of right foot, straighten left leg, catch fall with left leg..."

Writing music, for me at least, is mostly like walking or swimming. I don't think about the technical stuff. It's all happening of course, in my mind, but it's intuitive. As you guys have been saying, it's "wordless".

However, if I get stuck or something's not working, sometimes it's good to have the theory knowledge to see what alternatives are available to me or to quickly work it out instead of having to waste time "playing around" until it's fixed. That's just like with swimming. At the national level, you have to constantly tweak your stroke to squeeze every ounce of speed and efficiency that you can (not unlike tweaking a comp or mix). In that case, I would allow myself to get more technical, break my stroke apart, and think about what my body position is, where my hands are and what amount of thrust they're providing at certain points of my stroke, etc. So 95% of the time, I was in intuition-mode. But that 5% I spent with the technicalities was critical.

So to wrap this up, this is pretty similar to Neblix's point in that you can get good at things just by doing it without the theory, but it usually takes longer and when problems or opportunities for a better sound do come by, you either might waste time trying to figure them out through intuition or miss the opportunity completely.

I've barely touched the one music theory book I have on my shelf and I have an advanced counterpoint video course downloaded but unplayed. I know it would benefit me to spend time with either, but I always feel like my time is better spent actually writing music, especially with deadlines. Kind of ironic. :P I swear I'm going to force myself to balance the two!

Edited by Neifion

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it usually takes longer and when problems or opportunities for a better sound do come by, you either might waste time trying to figure them out through intuition or miss the opportunity completely.

Yeah, it's weird to think of it as if intuition about theory can work just as satisfactorily as reason about theory can work, eh? If I get stuck, however, I don't go look up the theory on how I can write this in a technically correct way; I hum the bass line that works with the melodic contour I'm writing at the time (usually in one or two tries) and from there I just hear the chords in my head that work, and I write it out. Yeah, it takes a bit more time, but in my case I don't feel hindered. Freaky!

Edited by timaeus222

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Hey, I'm with you there completely. I don't think it's freaky or surprising, I do the same thing and I think many do as well. In fact, my post was pretty much exactly what I DON'T do, but maybe should now and then. I'm always like "naw, I'll just figure it out." And I do, and I like it. But maybe in my stubbornness to "write it my way and not the book's way", there could have been an option I didn't see and wouldn't have. So what I think they always say is true: knowing theory really only helps (that is, unless, you make music completely for academic proficiency. And I know there are people who do this; they don't care about how it actually sounds, just that it's theoretically perfect. That's not music to me. But back to the topic...)

I have to be honest, part of the reason why I still haven't dug into theory at all is because of the stubbornness that I want it to be "all my music". It's exactly like when I play a video game. No hints! No cheats! And truth be told, I get pride from the fact that I crafted a song purely from feeling and intuition. And for many situations, this is ideal; getting that raw, instinctual, from-the-heart quality. But I'm recently (just now, in fact, lol) starting to realize that it's not someone else crafting the music for me. It's knowledge; tools that I'm gaining that I engage when I want and need to. Back to the swimming analogy, I never felt like I didn't earn a medal just because I had a coach. Sure, he helped, but I'm the one who hauled my ass across the pool. ;)

Besides, when you think about it, once the theory is out of the book and into your head, then it becomes your intuition.

Edited by Neifion

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Back to the swimming analogy, I never felt like I didn't earn a medal just because I had a coach. Sure, he helped, but I'm the one who hauled my ass across the pool. ;)

Just like you don't need to know that the normal force of the ground pushes back at the force your feet apply at an angle to the ground, allowing you to move forward when you walk! :< #nerdcore

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That being said, trying to work out without understanding freebody forces and anatomy will get you hurt. Cue most deadlifters breaking their back.

however, I don't go look up the theory on how I can write this in a technically correct way

I didn't know there were technically correct ways to do things. Please explain, because I've never encountered anything like that while studying music.

Edited by Neblix

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I didn't know there were technically correct ways to do things. Please explain, because I've never encountered anything like that while studying music.

Sure you have.

...in my [shovel Knight] remix, all I did was use the same chord progression that Virt had for it, and my remix sounded harmonious even with the #4 note as a result. Why? I studied music theory and learned how to recognize these things and use them to my advantage.

In other words, you wrote that remix while recognizing the music theory concepts you had learned about [in your musical studies] that happened to be applicable in this context, and so you see that you wrote something atonal [within that remix] that was technically correct, i.e. valid under the concepts of music theory.

Edited by timaeus222

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In other words, you wrote that remix while recognizing the music theory concepts you had learned about [in your musical studies] that happened to be applicable in this context, and so you see that you wrote something atonal that was technically correct.

Do you even know what atonal means?

Anyways, it wasn't "technically correct", I just happen to like the sound of consonance (I am socially conditioned to like it, because I grew up in a world where most music is consonant). I could've easily not have consonantly harmonized it and left it dissonant. But I don't like doing that, because I don't like it, and neither does my audience. I didn't do it because it was technically correct, I did it because I liked it; there were many other chord choices I could've implemented there and maintained consonace. I could have done so many things, but I didn't. I liked what Virt did, because II in a minor key is a bold move.

But some people are into that, cue post-modern classical music. No "technically incorrect" stuff there, just a different approach to designing harmony (as grating on the ears as possible).

Edited by Neblix

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Do you even know what atonal means?

Anyways, it wasn't "technically correct", I just happen to like the sound of harmony. I could've easily not have consonantly harmonized it and left it dissonant. But I don't like doing that, because I don't like it, and neither does my audience.

But some people are into that, cue post-modern classical music. No "technically incorrect" stuff there, just a different approach to designing harmony.

Yeah, it means not in an explicitly definable key or mode. Someone like Schoenberg writes/wrote that stuff. You basically said it yourself that you think it's smart when people write music that has notes outside of the key, which under that definition is temporarily atonal during that outside-the-key excursion (besides, in that remix, you had a piano solo that went out of the main key).

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This is *not* what atonal means.

Atonal is defined as a lack of a tonal center.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonality

I can write a tonal song in C where I use every mode of C but retain the tonic of C. It will still be tonal.

Using notes outside of the key is not atonal, it's just called using accidentals. If accidentals yielded atonality, then you just called more than half of all classical music atonal.

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This is *not* what atonal means.

Atonal is defined as a lack of a tonal center.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonality

I can write a tonal song in C where I use every mode of C but retain the tonic of C. It will still be tonal.

uh

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=atonal

not written in any key or mode.

unless Google is wrong

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yeah dude

no need to keep posting definitions. It's just less clear what key you're actually in if you have to listen for the tonal center to realize it's still a particular key. So yes, I do know what atonal music is. Schoenberg and Webern and such wrote it. I learned that last semester. And no, it doesn't imply I'm calling much of classical music atonal, just tonally unconventional.

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yeah dude

no need to keep posting definitions. It's just less clear what key you're actually in if you have to listen for the tonal center to realize it's still a particular key.

It's not very difficult to discern a key of a song with accidentals provided you have ample ear training. Understanding the function of accidentals as well makes it easier.

This reminds me of the time someone thought a VG song was in no discernable key because it had a leading tone in minor.

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