Should You Learn Music Theory?

So…you’re wondering if you should learn music theory?

Learn Music TheoryDominant 7th Sharp 5, modes of the harmonic minor scale, tritone substitutions…Blergh!!!

I’m just kidding, but music theory is a sore subject for a lot of us. So many of us have such a bad relationship with the thought of  having to learn music theory that we don’t think about and learning any of it.

It can seem like a daunting, insurmountable task.

Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everybody should learn everything about music theory.

But I’m not going to say that nobody should learn anything about it either.

It’s all a question of what you want to do…

Learn Music Theory (2)If you’re just getting together in your garage with a couple of friends every once in a while and playing some tunes, your need to learn music theory will be pretty low.

You may even be able to get by without knowing any of the names of the notes on your bass – and that’s great!!!

However, if you want to make a living as something more than an amateur musician, you should probably get to know the basics of music theory.

Not everything! I’m not saying you have to dedicate huge amounts of time and effort to it. If you put in just a little work, it will let you speak to other musicians in a ‘common tongue’ which will make things a lot easier.

I’ve witnessed some unbelievably frustrating conversations taking place between musicians who knew the music theory language and others that didn’t.

Thankfully, I’m well versed in both languages so most of the time, I was able to translate. (I didn’t learn any music theory until I had been playing for years)

Having a small knowledge of theory will also make songwriting a lot more satisfying. The more knowledge you have, the options you are giving yourself when it comes to creating music – songs and basslines.

But let’s assume that you’re going to take the plunge and have a crack at learning some of this theory stuff…

Three Important Things To Remember When Starting To Learn Music Theory

#1 – It’s music theory, not music fact!

Nothing is absolute. There are contradictions all over the world of music theory so if you find something that seems to contradict itself, don’t worry. There will almost certainly be a way to explain it, but don’t get too concerned about it.

Just accept it and move on – you can always come back to it later…

#2 – Theory has always followed music – THE MUSIC CAME FIRST!!!

Learn Music Theory (4)

"I like major chords...Can there be more of those?"

Music theorists didn’t have a big meeting in a secret room and make decisions about how music should sound.

Musicians were always at the forefront. Musicians played new sounds that they liked and then the theorists came through afterwards to try and explain what they were hearing.

It all started with the music. There are exceptions to this rule, but in general, the music came first.

This leads to point number three…

#3 – If it sounds good, it is good

Learn Music Theory (3)If you like the sound of what you’re playing – great! Keep playing it, and don’t let theory bog you down!

If something you’re playing can’t be explained by the theory that you know right now, either (1) You’ve stumbled upon a completely new sound nobody has ever played ever before or (2) You just don’t know the piece of theory that can explain what you’re playing.

I’m guessing it would be the second one…

Wrapping Up…

Is music theory essential for everyone? No!

Can it be beneficial? Yes!

Put it this way: It won’t hurt you to know a little theory, but you could be at a disadvantage if you don’t know any.

I want to hear about your experience with music theory. Has it helped you? Hindered you? Do you know lots or none?

If you have any questions about anything music theory related, leave a comment below. You can also contact me directly and I’ll help you out as best I can.

With gratitude,




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One Response to Should You Learn Music Theory?

  1. Rico January 1, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    THANK YOU! I’ve been wondering about this forever =)

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