Which approach to music theory?
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Music Theory & Composition Questions & comments about composition, arrangement, and music theory. Music rules and how to follow or break them.

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Old 06-03-2016, 08:04 AM   #1
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Which approach to music theory?

There is a conservatory of music here in victoria, from what I know it's a school offering diplomas in classical and modern music theory. I will be learning piano at the same time (I'm assuming you learn both theory and how to play).

I've looked at online Berklee schols who offer more elaborate programs in theory, playing and performance but it seems more effective for me to go to a separate building and de with people in person to really engrave it in my brain (I have a slight learning disability/a bit slow to learn).

What I sense is classical theory can be hard on ones inspiration but has more substance. Contemporary approach might be more inspiring but maybe less substance, which could be good if your given the tools to learn the rest at your own leisure as opposed to having excess, unused information which classical would teach entirely. Again, this is all ignorant speculation.

My manager is a piano teacher (too busy to teach me himself) as well as a judge for graduates at the conservatory and he says I am composing above graduate level, but of course I don't understand what I am doing and the further I get into it the more I realize if I understood what I'm doing I could better figure out where I'm trying to go.

I just don't know what there is to learn and if there is maybe just a little piece that I need to know to go where I need to go. Once I get recognition for what I'm doing Id just like to be able to understand what I'm doing that I like that others like so I can build upon that because it's a balance of enjoying writing music and also creating something people can connect with.

Not sure if this helps but if anyone has been where I am and have found a success or things they wish they had avoided in learning music id be very grateful if you shared some of your experience or guidance that may get me to where you think I'm trying to get to.

Thanks
D

P.s. Just for fun here's a pic of the conservatory


Last edited by Dhji; 06-03-2016 at 01:25 PM..

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Old 07-03-2016, 12:52 AM   #2
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Re: Which approach to music theory?

PREFACE: Take this with a bit of salt, as it is indeed an overgeneralization. Tons of this will depend on your teachers and peers, as well as your own interests. I also missed tons of crap and so on, but this should be a good starting point, or a list of things to consider. I also assume that the difference is Classical/Contemporary as in Contemporary stands for more popular music. If it is older classical vs contemporary classical, the difference is smaller. As far as my qualifications: I am a musicologist, so not the best at this, but I do study with people that are training to become music teachers and I've picked up a thing or a dozen.

Classical
:
The classical route may seem stifling at once, due to dozens of traditions, and it might feel that learning so much rules might boggle you down. Still, classical music theory contains multiple surprisingly contrasting viewpoints and techniques, and it is a rather rich framework to build on. Keep in mind that it is largely about understanding what decisions certain classical composers would do, why would they do it, and it might feel a bit formulaic, or that you are simply recreating the work that others have done.

Common exercises:
Writing some formulaic things, fugues are particularly common.
Writing music in specific musical forms.
Analyzing classical music pieces
Trying to emulate styles of famous composers
Finishing unfinished pieces
Writing preludes/overtures to other works
Creating arrangements for other instruments
How scales are built, the theory behind tuning systems

Popular/Contemporary: Contrast that with popular music theory (which I assume the other one is), and it really feels a bit like "watered down" version. That may not be a bad thing - less theoretical framework leaves you more time to practice on your own. Popular music theory also puts a much larger stress on improvisation, and "stylistically appropriate" improvisation. Probably the more "hands-on" of the two.

Common exercises:
Improvising melodies on top of chord structures.
Practicing conventions of jazz improvisation. (You will see lots of jazz)
Writing shorter, but complete pieces of your own.
Analyzing musical solos.
Learning to memorize songs by ear. (learning by imitation)
Arranging music in different styles (Jazz in rock-style, or so on.)

P.S: Whichever path you choose, you will end up regretting the skillset the ones that picked the other path will posses.

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Old 07-03-2016, 07:11 PM   #3
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Re: Which approach to music theory?

I have taken a couple online Berklee classes. They aren't bad. If you get a degree from Berklee, there is (or was) a lot of industry cred associated with that. Degrees from conservatories don't matter at all in the industry. I can't imagine an online degree would give you anything like the experience of working hands-on tho so I doubt it counts for much. I would say do your research to figure how much Berklee matters anymore, and if it still does matter, attend it in person.

Not to be blunt but there are three paths in academia => the Industry connections path where you spend hours and stress polishing boring music for lemmings; the classical path where you learn how to perform the masterworks of the past for blueblood patrons; the contemporary classical path where the only real progress in music is coupled with stifling traditions and you are kept alive by government support.

If you want to learn theory in order to make actual music, and that's all you want to do in life, then the third path in spite of all the bullshit is probably the best way. Canada seems to me to be a great place for contemporary music. I don't know about the conservatory you're talking about but McGill in Montreal is deep into it, for example, in all the right and wrong ways

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Old 07-03-2016, 08:23 PM   #4
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Re: Which approach to music theory?

I've had a bad impression of Berklee.. It seems like they are trying too hard to be contemporary. Maybe it's just because I associate Berklee with Dream Theater, which I consider to be god awful.

In my opinion "contemporary" theory is contained in classical theory. Classical theory is like "let's label every way that we can move between harmonies and let's change the tonal center all the time" contemporary (to me) is like.. "Hey.. What if instead of changing the tonal center all the time.. We just stay on this chord for a really long time and then have a huge build up and go to this chord because it sounds cool"

I hear tons of people talk about classical theory like its some crazy thing that you have to go to some amazing conservatory to learn. Not remotely true. Once I got to where I was seeing the big picture with theory I was like... "this is it!? Seriously!?" You should be able to learn music theory at any decent university. If you do all your homework for 3-4 semesters you should have a good grasp. If you practice analyzing some scores and pop songs based on what you've learned during your breaks.. You'll likely have a terrific grasp on things.

By the end of the 19th century, composers had explored basically every way of modulating harmonies. So then they just started doing a bunch of goofy shit that a 5 year old would think of if he knew some music theory. "Hey what if I put a pair of d minor chords an octave apart and just start chromatically moving them towards each other.. That would probably sound cool." Turns out it sounds like crap and nobody cares but they went ahead and put it in theory books because nobody had done it before.

Just learn classical theory. I don't think it's boring or stiff. If you find harmony interesting, you will find it fascinating and constantly be having moments where you say.. "So THATS what that sound is!" plus, if you take what's going on in 4 bars of Bach and fart around with the harmonic rhythm and form you have enough material for a handful of "contemporary" compositions.

Mix that with some study of jazz theory and "extending" harmony.. And you will be good to go.


Now studying composition itself.. That's a whole different story. Now we're talking about form and texture and orchestration and taste and blah blah.. That's when the artistry comes in to play. But that is very different from just studying music theory.

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Old 08-03-2016, 02:18 AM   #5
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Re: Which approach to music theory?

Good read
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Old 08-03-2016, 09:29 PM   #6
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Re: Which approach to music theory?

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Originally Posted by saneliv View Post
Not to be blunt but there are three paths in academia =>
Pretty heavy simplification there. I know this will piss some people off, and others will just come to complain that "oh but it is so wrong what about...", but we have to do this before anyone actually enters the academic world. Let's clear this up and get one fact out there: There is only one path in academia.

People just have the expectation that when they get a degree they can just do whatever and people will treat it as though it has value. Music as an academical career path is just like everything else - you're not going to get a dream job right away. You're going to pay your dues, earn some respect, gather a following and then do your experimental crap - and it'd better be good. Or if you're lucky, someone credible is already doing experimental crap similar to what you would want to do anyway, and you get to jump the bandwagon hoping it floats.

Music has styles and general theorems just as much as other fields. It is not a free-for-all academic field where everything goes. If it was, it would not be an academic field. Academica is by definition structured and built around canonized works. You cite the work that came before, you build upon them, and so on. People that claim that they make something "completely original" are often wrong, and it just ends up pissing up a lot of people that can actually tell where the track drew inspiration, even if the person who wrote it was relatively unaware.

Then there is the issue that a lot of people do not understand that academica judges works by a completely different set of merits than, say the internet or the billboard charts. Academic works, by very definition, are something that needs to be possible to replicate. Do you think it's a coincidence that Stockhausen wrote numerous books on the train of thought leading up to his works, and that he is one of the more celebrated figures of contemporary classical music.

A musical piece ungrounded in the framework is, no matter how good it sounds or how popular it gets, of trivial interest to academics unless it becomes something truly remarkable. Even then, if it is actually a work that can be shown to be strongly derivative (read: All pop-music, nearly all EDM), it will be dismissed as just a continuation of a trend rather than something new worth researching (in case of pop music, baroque music theory, in case you were wondering). Early jazz and contemporary Gamelan are examples of something that were remarkable enough to become academic institutions. There is also some research on Noise music, and slight interest towards IDM/breakcore.

If you just want to do whatever and hope to get academic recognition, you best be one of the few artists that starts a wave of something as widespread as Jazz music. In other words, you get need to get big enough that the academic world cannot ignore you. And we are experts at ignoring stuff. Thousands of years of cumulative experience on that.

:problemofficer:

Someone just getting their music degree and wanting to do some random project with no grounding in theory just seems the same as a new economics graduate yelling "HEAR MY OPINIONS ON WORLD POLITICS!" while standing on top of a building and waving their qualifications on a printout. Naive, ignorant, brash, unreliable, sensationalist. No actual economist would take them seriously, and there is no exception in music as an academic path.

Music as an academic path is, after all, an academic path.

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Originally Posted by mnkvolcno View Post
Classical theory is like "let's label every way that we can move between harmonies and let's change the tonal center all the time"
Yes, because that's exactly what happens in most baroque era and renaissance era music. You're even completely dismissing the fact that varied tuning systems have been used, and the ways to modulate between certain keys and intervals formed when doing so would not be same as when using 12-TET.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mnkvolcno View Post
contemporary (to me) is like.. "Hey.. What if instead of changing the tonal center all the time.. We just stay on this chord for a really long time and then have a huge build up and go to this chord because it sounds cool"
I know right, that perfectly describes Clapping Music and Artikulation for example. And Metastasis.

Last edited by Blingley; 08-03-2016 at 09:55 PM..

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Old 24-03-2016, 11:58 PM   #7
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Re: Which approach to music theory?

Just my personal experience and opinion. Like another poster said take it with a grain of salt.

Classical is better suited for working in a piano roll based program. Just my personal opinion and preference. Modern theory seems more based on a band setting.
I guess it depends on how you write your music. If you write your music by jamming out tracks on your synth or keyboard or whatever maybe modern theory is better suited.
If you write mostly by writing in the piano roll I think classical is better suited. Classical for a large part is based on the score system. Which is very comparable to a piano roll.
Modern theory is for a large part based on jazz, which is really something you play, not something you write down on a score.

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Old 16-06-2016, 05:38 AM   #8
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Re: Which approach to music theory?

great conversation.

I've been self taught for the first 20 or so years of my life, musical infancy if you will.
like an infant, I've learned to speak by myself, trying to imitate and emulate what I've heard.

I was an instrument nazi as a teenager, music had to be done on "real" instruments or it wasn't "real music". Got burnt out, bought a set of turntables and began to get into electronic music and hip hop. Best learning experience of my life as I understood that music wasn't only notes and chords, but it was also about tones and grooves.

Then I got into jazz and learned a bit of harmony theory. It's like when you're a child, and learn, at school, about grammar, vocabulary, syntax. It allows you to express more complex ideas and feelings.

A few years ago (I'm 37 now) I got into classical, romantic music. And I've always thought that jazz was where the ultimate creativity was. Boy, was I wrong. Romantic music really opened up an infinite realm of possibilities. And listening and practicing (I'm trying to play mahler's symphonies on the piano for a few years now, and I'm horrible at it, still) classical, especially romantic music, really helped me put my whole own music together at depths I didn't think possible, not for me at least.


Music is a mean of expression
Like talking, language, you never begin by learning grammar, you begin by expressing basic ideas, then, as you grow and keep learning, you become able to both have, and express deeper ideas and concepts as your vocabulary and syntax, and grammar, and life experience get better.
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Old 16-06-2016, 07:37 AM   #9
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Re: Which approach to music theory?

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Originally Posted by Emmanuel G. View Post
Music is a mean of expression
Like talking, language, you never begin by learning grammar, you begin by expressing basic ideas, then, as you grow and keep learning, you become able to both have, and express deeper ideas and concepts as your vocabulary and syntax, and grammar, and life experience get better.
Well said!

Theory is most definately interesting but should IMHO only be taken as a rule you can brake at will.
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Old 16-06-2016, 12:27 PM   #10
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Re: Which approach to music theory?

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Originally Posted by Lepstok View Post
If you write mostly by writing in the piano roll I think classical is better suited. Classical for a large part is based on the score system. Which is very comparable to a piano roll.
your piano roll argument doesn't really stand imo, because music isn't just about pitch, especially not in electronic music. Contemporary music has done a lot of work putting the emphasis on other aspects such as rhythm, timbre, and conceptual parameters such as randomness; even the aesthetics of contemporary music I think are very interesting to study when making electronic music. Composers such as Steve Reich and Stockhausen (for the big names) really expand your idea of what a piece of music can be.

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