So I'm doing a course design presentation for my Music Theory Pedagogy class and I need your help. Just answer the following the questions. Thanks in advance.

  1. How much formal/informal music theory training do you have?
  2. If you have music theory training, did you find it relevant to you as a composer? Why or why not.
  3. If you do not have any theory training, do you think it will benefit you as a composer or hinder you? why or why not.

Please just answer the question and refrain from responding to each other in this thread. thank you.

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  • 1. I have a small amount of informal training, and no formal training (by circumstance, not by choice).

    3. I think that my lack of knowledge of theory is the biggest hindrance to my composing. Although creativity and inspiration also play vital roles, theory is needed in the development of these ideas for their growth into pieces.  

  • Good thread, Tyler.

    1) I currently hold ABRSM Grade 7 theory. I will be taking my grade 8 in February. This was mostly done by my own personal choice, as opposed to official training. I would seek help from my college tutor if I needed it but theory "sessions" weren't directly given.

    2) Yes. Theory is incredibly important as a composer, in my opinion. Theory alone won't make you a composer, that's for sure but it is a vital element if you want to be successful. Just like a successful artist has to study form, lighting, anatomy - the theoretical elements that make a great painting - a successful composer must study music theory. Theory is also relevant when studying other composers works. You cannot make a meaningful analysis of a piece without understanding theory, nor will you fully understand someone else's analysis if you don't understand the theoretical elements they're talking about.
    I reiterate - theory alone will not make you a composer but to grow as a composer and improve, you need theory as a foundation to build upon. 

    I hope this response, and hopefully the coming responses, will help you in your presentation, Tyler.

  • 1 - No formal training. I'm learning on my own from books & online.
    2 - n/a
    3 - I think it benefits me very much. I think it could become a hinderance if you overthink it though.
  • 1. 3 years of compulsory harmony cource, needed to get the piano degree. Involved basic chords and voicings, 7ths, 9ths, basic modulations to close and a bit of distant keys, special chords like the napolitan 2nd and so on. Pretty much classical period harmony. Some skimming of harmony books, especially Schoenberg's Structural functions of harmony. A few quick looks in counterpoint books as well, supported by playing some bach.
    2. Yes. It takes a few years of fiddling with writting things and playing the piano to really make that knowledge yours and intergrate it to your personal writting and thinking style. It gave me an insight on how my harmony moves, where it is and where it is going. I couldn't tell you the "rules" by heart, but I instictly apply them while writting, if that is that sound I am looking for. But above all it has given me an organised way of thinking, which I find it applies a great deal on other styles as well (for example, Jazz).
    For the composer harmony is not a rule list, and should not be taught as such. Its a way of analysing your thoughts and a way to understand what voicing, progression and so on you need to get the particullar sound you are looking for.
    If I were to suggest something for the potential teacher, I'd say you include many many examples of real works, from the original score (and not a reduction to block chords and melody). Listen to what that thing sounds like, then see what gave it that great feel. Let the students observe how harmony was utilised in terms of writting real music for a real instrument and not a block chord with a melody above it. Ask the students to take a harmony exercise they have already solved and turn it into a period for the instrument they play, then ask them to demonstrate it in the class (if there is no practical problem with that), and have the rest comment on it.
    Do not make harmony a big mathematical problem-ask your students to hear what they write, and solve the themes on a piano and compare various possible solutions in the class, let them listen to the difference.
  • I had some music theory as a piano student throughout my early education age 7 - 18.  When I went to college I had some version of theory (including counterpoint) every semester for all 5 years of my time as an undergraduate. My first 2 years it was the required 4 semesters of basic harmony plus another two of keyboard harmony (at the same time -- first 2 years).  Then I had upper division classes in counter point, modern serialism, baroque style (which was both performance and theory) and score analysis.  After I graduated I then took private composition lessons which reviewed all of the above in greater detail and with writing of samples in each period. 

    At first I thought theory irrelevant and was impatient, but the more I studied it the more I valued it.  To the point now, that all my private students, regardless of being in voice or keyboard, have elements of theory incorporated in their lessons from the very beginning.

  • pitty there isn't a "like" button on comments!   Consider your's "liked"

    Fredrick zinos said:

    1) I have some formal training in music theory
    2) Its incredibly important, I wish I had more
    3) Anyone serious about the composition will soon find that training in theory ranks right up there with being awake
  • Breaking the rules keeps it interesting.  Being a composer is similar to being a lawyer in that, the more you know about the laws, the more ways you can find to get around them.  Agreed, a "like" button would be nice.

  • I find it odd this concept of rules and rule breaking.   Do you really think Bach or Beethoven or any of the "majors" set out to make or break rules?   They worked with what worked, what sounded, what expressed their thought well.  It is only in hindsight we call what they did "rules."  Rules?  I prefer the term practice.  By knowing and studying best practice we can observe and learn.  I am of the opinion that if we understand the practice of the time and they way a "major" used it, we can observe a composer's mind at work, and we can learn things that apply regardless of time or idiom.  Unfortunately the way harmony is taught reduces it to "rules" and people either fall in the camp of rule followers and rule breakers.   Seems to miss the point entirely to me.

  • Actually I believe the "rules" or as I prefer "observation of effective practice" are fairly universal in the larger sweep.  Even if the sonority is different (pentatonic, ragas, etc.) there are still many things that are part of the common set musical tools.  The fruitful study of harmony doesn't have to be just western structures.  Consonance and dissonance still are functional sound realities.  Composers still have to think about them and manage them regardless.  Rhythm, pulse,  timing, counter themes, repetitions, development, the weaving of different strands of sound to create a unity -- these are all tools that are fairly universal to any work of music.  Learning how a master composer treats these element is always helpful. 

  • 1. I had two basic music theory classes in college long ago, and have learned a little on my own along the way. But I fear that my music theory knowledge is rather slim.


    2. The little bit of formal theory I had has proved helpful. I do most of my composing on an instrument and by ear, but I have learned that I can compose more diverse compositions if I, for example, purposely use less common scales and/or chord progressions.


    3. This is similar to the question of is it better for a musician to play by ear or read music, and my answer is the same. Both are useful. I mean that I think that more theory would give me useful tools to play with during composition but that I should not be so dependent on those tools that I forget to play.


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