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Author Topic:  To music theory , or not to music theory ?
Cody Coombs


From:
Washington, USA
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 1:40 am    
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If I could get some opinions on music theory

I know some of basic stuff theory , but I've been thinking about diving deeper into it and I was wondering how much of it would apply to the pedal steel ( e9th neck and the c6th neck ) for example when playing and practicing , thinking about theory and how it all works could the fretboard with all the pedals and levers be seen better ? I hope that makes sense that's the only way I can think of phrasing that question . I feel without the knowledge it's just playing what sounds right rather than knowing what it is about to played based on how it all works together .

I suppose my question is how beneficial would learning theory be ? If it could be of good use in learning and understanding , what areas should he focused on more than others , and if anyone could maybe place a small example of how one might apply music theory in a situation to the pedal steel that would be great ,

Thank you

Cody Coombs
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 2:05 am    
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its a language, if only learning a couple of words in a language gets you by , then all is good. It really just depends on how much of the language we may already know. None is not good, some may be real good, a lot is even better .

Both the E9th and the C6th with Peds and levers have an entire theoretical world sitting right in front to us, waiting for us to recognize it and apply it.

How beneficial would it be to learn more ? Only you can answer that.

Many say "I know some theory". What does that mean ?

IF we understand the musical numbers system and then can look at the E9th or C6th tuning and visualize where those numbers are ( lay on the fretboard) in relationship to the root then that would be a good start .

We all know that on an E9th guitar, pick any fret position. No Peds is the root, AB peds IN is the 4 chord and B Ped with the E lower lever is the 5 chord. We didn't even move the bar ! Thats actually quite incredible ! Are we playing the Steel or is the Steel playing us ? Actually, the AB Peds on the E9th can make us a very lazy theory player , its automatic. Move the bar to the root position and we don't even have to think about the rest while playing a 3 chord song.

But what if we do understand the theoretical number system and how it relates to our instrument, then moved the bar to relative positions to access the music ? The entire world opens up.

RE: If we understand what a 1,6,2,5 is and can apply it on the E9th or C6th, knowing which fret positions, peds,levers and string grips to use , any key, that would be BIG. IF we don't know what 1,6,2,5 is then that's going to be the stumbling block, not the instrument. The instrument is mechanical , its the tool.

Think of it this way, every player from Emmons to the brand new novice has the same Instrument. The difference is the player not the instrument.

Regarding theory , the very first thing to understand is that it is the same for EVERY instrument. First we learn some of the language, then we apply it to our individual instrument.

I'm personally not a theory wiz but I know enough to be REAL DANGEROUS ! I can connect the dots but don't ask me to sight read Flight of The Bumble Bee ! Very Happy
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Last edited by Tony Prior on 19 Jan 2020 3:10 am; edited 6 times in total
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 4:16 am    
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Theory is the sense that music makes. It can be argued that it's not necessary to know for the enjoyment of music,
but knowing what you play and why increases the enjoyment of playing, and broadens your ability to play what you hear.

Counting frets or counting keys--it's numbers, relative to each other, as Tony implies. How to play 1,6,2,5 is basic and necessary.
Things begin to make sense when you can see (and hear) the root chord, its relative minor, the two minor (or major), and the dominant (the 5 chord).
You'll hear the five chord called out by a player because the shorthand is unbeatable. If he calls out "2,4,5" you'll know that pattern.

You can't learn too much theory. You won't have to worry about that because you'll use what you've learned and will never reach the end of what is known.
You'll be able to suss out what is known on your own.

Welcome to the Forum. There are some guys here that know a lot of theory, and I don't think they'd say it's too much.
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 5:54 am    
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Charlie McDonald wrote:


Welcome to the Forum. There are some guys here that know a lot of theory, and I don't think they'd say it's too much.


Excellent assessment !

I have a lifelong friend, Bass player Chip Jackson , his career, he has toured the world with many many famous "A" team artists and singers, Gary Burton, Woody Herman, Chuck Mangione, Andy Williams, Liza Minnelli, Dr Billy Taylor and so on and so on .

To perform with many of them requires a theoretical skill set beyond what I can even comprehend, but when he got together with me last year for a reunion show of our band from years back, I doubt he needed much more theory application other than I,II, IV and V ! We played Beatles and Hendrix, I don't even think there were 4 chords !


So did he learn too much ? I doubt it, he learned what he needed to play in the MAJOR League !
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John Spaulding


From:
Wisconsin, USA
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 6:13 am    
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Cody-

Here are some blog posts from Paul Franklin about that. Worth a read.

Musician's Honey-Do List

Thinking In Intervals
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Donny Hinson


From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 6:56 am     Defining music "theory"
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As I understand it, the number-system is a very new development in music. I'm curious to know if most professional musicians even consider the number-system as part of "music theory"? Isn't it just a kind of shorthand tool developed in the recording studio to help with transposition and speed up the recording process? To me, true music theory goes much deeper, and deals with things like chord building and substitution, harmony and arranging, syncopation and timing, and the thematic components and structure of a composition.
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Pete Finney


From:
Nashville Tn.
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 7:55 am     Re: Defining music
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Donny Hinson wrote:
As I understand it, the number-system is a very new development in music. I'm curious to know if most professional musicians even consider the number-system as part of "music theory"? Isn't it just a kind of shorthand tool developed in the recording studio to help with transposition and speed up the recording process?


In my understanding the idea that the number system was "invented" in the Nashville studios has never been entirely accurate. It is an ingenious practical application for recording sessions of a system that is rooted in age-old theory practices. Using Roman numerals to designate the function of chords in a progression (as opposed to the name of the chord) i.e. "I" for the root, "IV" for the subdominant etc. goes back centuries. This is sometimes known as "figured bass."

As several of the above posts point out, of course it's very useful to learn to think in terms of 1, 4, 5, 2m, 6m etc. and how chords work in a progression (or how notes work in a scale). Most working musicians I know instinctively think this way, and it's absolutely a part of basic music theory; thinking in terms of intervals.

The brilliance of what Neal Matthews, Charlie McCoy and others did was to take this common sense approach as the way of writing charts for fast-moving Nashville sessions. They substituted standard numbers for Roman numerals, but it's the exact same idea.


Last edited by Pete Finney on 19 Jan 2020 8:12 am; edited 1 time in total
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Jack Hanson


From:
San Luis Valley, USA
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 8:03 am    
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With music, as with anything else, whatever you learn cannot be taken away from you.
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 8:14 am    
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While I certainly don't pretend or profess to be any sort of music major, I do however view the numbering system however it is written, to be a dominant factor in understanding music and the theory surrounding it, for me. I don't make a habit of sight reading ( I can but please don't ask me to ) but have been playing from numbered charts for years.

When I first took formal lessons way way back we always talked in numbers, thats how I learned to build chords. Counting from the root.


I guess it just depends how we view it or how we make sense if it. How do we interpret the numbers. I take a song for ex Wagon Wheel, A,E,F#M and D, while of course we all know this but I also look at it and see 1, 5 , 6M and 4 and on guitar I visually see how its laid out across the fretboard.

I dunno, but it's like a little game taking place inside the music ! Then you change fretboard positions and the game changes. Over on some guitar forums people ask me why I play Wagon Wheel and how is it possible to enjoy playing it. I respond by saying, I'm not playing Wagon Wheel, I'm playing 1,5,6M, 4 and having fun with it. Changing positions and seeing if I can keep up in real time be it solos or chord changes ! Laughing

I play guitar out of 3 fundamental chord forms and scale forms, Mel Bay calls them Form 1, Form II and Form III. Playing in and out of those forms inside the numbering system is like a huge crossword puzzle , no different than on the Steel taking the root from 3 or 4 fretboard positions and approaching the number system from each root position. Totally different intervals and sounds . Its how we make music interesting, hopefully !

Does this make any sense Question
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Asa Brosius


Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 8:34 am    
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Are you talking about standard musical notation? Nashville numbers?

To your questions- Understanding intervals and their relationship is very useful for me- want to know why this note works over these chords, where else you can play that note with different harmonic possibilities, or to hear something and immediately know how to play it on your guitar? Most importantly, it's a shared language- if you'll ever be communicating with other musicians about music, I'd recommend learning some things. So, I'd say it depends on your goals.
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Bob Hoffnar


From:
Austin, Tx
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 8:34 am    
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Along with what Pete said in my experience the more understand about the music I’m playing the more I can hear. It is difficult to hear something and react to it if you don’t have a word for it. Theory can help with that language and understanding. As my knowledge increases the deeper my ability to express myself and communicate with other musicians becomes.
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Pete Bailey


From:
Seattle, WA
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 10:02 am    
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Tony Prior wrote:
Over on some guitar forums people ask me why I play Wagon Wheel and how is it possible to enjoy playing it.

I have never understood that kind of attitude from musicians. I've played some songs literally thousands of times and can still find enjoyment with something new to play or something old to improve on my part every time.

I've been a "theory guy" for a long time now, ever since I started wondering why SATB vocal lines were going where they were going back in junior high school.

It's never hurt my ability to appreciate the music, and I can't count how many times it's gotten me gigs over someone who might play a little better but glazes over when someone asks for a different inversion.

Not to mention, as Bob points out, how much theory informs the choices you make as a musician and how much pure personal satisfaction can be gained by understanding it more deeply.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 10:47 am    
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If you learn theory, it will help you understand pedal steel tuning logic and fretboard layout. It will also shed light on why some things sound better to your ear than others, if you are at all curious. It won’t make a master player out of you, but theory and technique work hand in hand toward that goal. There are Master players who can’t begin to account for the concepts behind their playing, but they are the exceptions.

The Nashville number system (as well as the Roman numeral system, and letter-naming system) for chord charting will make much more sense with a basic understanding of music theory.

You don’t have to read music notation to get theory. I would venture a guess that most of us here couldn’t sight read a page of music if our lives depended on it. But learning some basic reading skills definitely helped me, especially with rhythm, which I was not born with.
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Roger Rettig


From:
Naples, FL
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 11:39 am    
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I love to know WHY harmonic patterns work or why, for example, does the half-diminished (m7b5) work so well as a leading chord to the 3-major (and on to the relative minor). 'Theory' provides the logic and I will understand those devices better as a consequence.

While I do sight-read (not terrifically well, but I've had to improve for the occasional 'Broadway' shows I've done on guitar/banjo), I have found the number system a great help.

Perhaps this is a unique application for it, but if I'm on, say, the 'Always, Patsy Cline' show and I'm unable to wriggle out of being included in the backing-vocal parts (my pet 'hate'), then I will jot down my assigned vocal part on a scrap of paper (I'm long past the point of needing a music-stand on that show) using the number system ('Three Blind Mice' being 3,2,1, for example). It's far easier than dealing with staves on manuscript and it's more compact, too.

All I need to know for vocals on any song can be contained on a post-it note. Smile
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 12:23 pm     Re: Defining music
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Donny Hinson wrote:
As I understand it, the number-system is a very new development in music.

The practice of numbering the notes of the scale goes back at least to the early 18th century. Composers such as Bach used "figured bass" (bass line with numbers beneath) for keyboard accompaniments, leaving the voicing and decoration to the player. A modern rhythm chart is basically the same, although we write chord symbols over the bass whether it's the root or not. Figured bass tells you what intervals to play above the bass regardless of whether it's the root of the chord, so learning to spot all the various inversions at sight requires practice. For instance in the third bar below, Bb,6 means Gm/Bb. B,6,5 means G7/B. And so on for 300 years...


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Franklin


Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 2:30 pm    
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Pete,

Great back story to the origin.. Charlie and Neal altered the Roman Numeral system...

The Roman Numerals indicate diatonic harmony. The Nashville system does not, it is actually interval based derived from the major scale formula...R W W H W W W H.

Reading Roman Numerals

i is always the root
ii is always minor
iii is always minor
iv is subdominant
v is dominant
vi is always minor
vii is always diminish

Nashville Numbers

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 are all major chords unless otherwise notated.

Paul

edited to correct my roman numerals.


Last edited by Franklin on 21 Jan 2020 6:04 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 3:26 pm    
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Yes, important distinction.
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Roger Rettig


From:
Naples, FL
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 3:56 pm    
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Paul:

I'm assuming you mean 'vi is always minor, vii is always diminish'.
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Joel Jackson


From:
Detroit
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 5:31 pm    
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Cody, learn music theory. It applies to every piece of music and every instrument, and there's no reason not to!
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Russell Adkins


From:
Louisiana, USA
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 5:39 pm    
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If you can play a single song on your guitar then you already know some music theory , Knowing where it all comes from is essential either by ear or buy your knowledge of it all, For instance lets take a single key and break it down a bit G for instance why and where here are the notes in the G major scale G next would be a whole step to A next would be another whole step to B next you would take a half step to C next would be another whole step to D next would be a whole step E next another whole step to f# Then finish it off with another half step to g which completes you G scale that makes one octave G to G Like what was mentioned earlier w w 1/2 step w w w !/2 step Now the chords inside the g scale are as follows g major Aminor b minor c major D major E minor F# diminished and G major this is just a small bite of musical theory my advice is learn as much as you can I think I said all that right .
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Cody Coombs


From:
Washington, USA
Post  Posted 19 Jan 2020 7:05 pm    
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Thank you so much everybody I understand it has its uses and doesn't seem to do any harm to learn it so for all these years of playing guitar by ear I think learning what it is I'm really playing could help a lot with learning new stuff as well , and learning this monster with pedals and levers all over the place that flip strings up and down I'm thinking it could really help too , I'm a slow reader so I'm gonna have to sit down and read all of this but it looks like a lot of helpful stuff so thank you very much everyone
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Dave Hopping


From:
Colorado, USA
Post  Posted 20 Jan 2020 1:06 pm    
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Although I'm mostly an ear guy,I've been lucky enough to play with a number of schooled musicians who knew theory.The work I did with them made me a better player.
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Mark van Allen


From:
Watkinsville, Ga. USA
Post  Posted 20 Jan 2020 7:47 pm    
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As a young player, I avoided “theory” as academic and too much like math. I just wanted to learn licks and “be better”. Fortunately I came around, and my study and application of theory is the best thing I did for my playing. I would say I play “by ear” in every situation, but my “ear” is informed, expanded, and inspired by theory at every turn. There’s always more to learn and apply, so the potential for growth and improvement is endless. Exciting!
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Joel Jackson


From:
Detroit
Post  Posted 20 Jan 2020 10:03 pm    
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Mark van Allen wrote:
As a young player, I avoided “theory” as academic and too much like math. I just wanted to learn licks and “be better”. Fortunately I came around, and my study and application of theory is the best thing I did for my playing. I would say I play “by ear” in every situation, but my “ear” is informed, expanded, and inspired by theory at every turn. There’s always more to learn and apply, so the potential for growth and improvement is endless. Exciting!


There you have it. Well said!
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Jeff Harbour


From:
Western Ohio, USA
Post  Posted 21 Jan 2020 5:28 am    
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I would say definitely learn theory, but I caution you to NOT get lost in it. I wasted many years thinking too much about the mathematics, and not enough time actually listening. In the end, the more theory you know, the easier you will remember what works and what doesn't. But, never lose touch of the reality of what you're hearing.

I wish I had realized that a couple decades ago...
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