Theory and the greats

lammie200

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The poster quotes Dave Markee as saying that any note harmonises with any other note as long as there is enough 'space' in between. That might be true in some situations, but potentially catastrophic in others. I don't get it.
To suggest any two notes in isolation will harmonise in any given situation as long as there is enough (presumably) interval space just seems a a little spurious. Thats what was confusing me. Basically its saying forget harmony theory - any note will work against any other as long as its at least an octave or two away.

I can't really read anything into that poster's post except that he may have meant "harmonizing intervals" (including unisons) instead of the vagueness of "enough space." Other than that I can't help.
 

Sjnoring

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The poster quotes Dave Markee as saying that any note harmonises with any other note as long as there is enough 'space' in between. That might be true in some situations, but potentially catastrophic in others. I don't get it.
To suggest any two notes in isolation will harmonise in any given situation as long as there is enough (presumably) interval space just seems a a little spurious. Thats what was confusing me. Basically its saying forget harmony theory - any note will work against any other as long as its at least an octave or two away.

Like the Hendrix chord.
 

Stratohacker

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Wes Montgomery discusses being a self taught musician (starts around 6:55). I think musical theory and knowledge are important but I don't think its a necessity for an artist to be great.




 

Kiwi_Neil

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Wes Montgomery discusses being a self taught musician (starts around 6:55). I think musical theory and knowledge are important but I don't think its a necessity for an artist to be great.

Very interesting clips...thanks for posting them.

Watching this confirms what I thought all along, that theory, while important, isn't the 'be all and end all' of making music!

People are quick to point out that BB King was known for his theory lessons and that's true....I've seen them myself long before I came to this forum. But that's not what I meant, and I thought it was obvious, but perhaps not. BB wasn't born with the theory knowledge, and I'm sure he was making great music before theory was ever explained to him, which he obviously grasped quickly and used from then on to his advantage, and our pleasure.

Today I went over to see my neighbour for coffee. Both he and his wife are in their 80's and are both sharp as a razor. They both are accomplished players on the piano and they have one in their lounge. So I asked Trevor the very same question that I asked here in post #1. It turns out that Trevor cannot read music and has no real grasp of theory. He doesn't and has never played scales and was never formally taught how to play. Yet, he plays, and still gigs, magnificently. Conversely his wife, Beverly, was formally taught and knows theory inside out. She also plays magnificently. They both have original material and as I say, both are really great to listen to. Trevor says that Beverly plays better because she has been taught the 'right' way. Beverly says that Trevor plays better because he is more free to play what sounds good to him and he has a good ear to pick things up very quickly.

So as far as I'm concerned, what you have said here is correct: " I think musical theory and knowledge are important but I don't think its a necessity for an artist to be great." I believe that is the case and I'm sure that Robert Johnson didn't know jack about theory....yet he made beautiful music.

Also, in the clips you posted, they talked about his thumb technique instead of the traditional pick technique. I have seen a thread here which spoke about Steven Segall and people here were mocking his using a very similar technique. I don't listen to Segall but he can play reasonably well, and just because he uses the thumb technique, it's not a reason to mock him. Take a look at the clip below and see the same thumb technique from (I think) Toy Caldwell and just be amazed at his playing towards the end of the song.

I see a lot of Fender snobbery here and now theory and even technique snobbery. I know that it's not everyone, but I'm disappointed.

Anyway, I appreciate your clips, they were really good. Here's the Marshall Tucker Band:


 

John E

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Which scientists? In modern times?
Probably the most influential one (and fitting to guitar playing as his experiments were on magnetism) was Michael Faraday. He was a mostly literary illiterate until his early teens when he was apprenticed as a book binder. And he was mathematically illiterate while he discovered much of what we know about magnetism. His experiments and findings went consistently against what his mathematical peers calculated as possible.
 

Larry F

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People are quick to point out that BB King was known for his theory lessons and that's true....I've seen them myself long before I came to this forum. But that's not what I meant, and I thought it was obvious, but perhaps not. BB wasn't born with the theory knowledge, and I'm sure he was making great music before theory was ever explained to him, which he obviously grasped quickly and used from then on to his advantage, and our pleasure.
Nobody is born with theory knowledge. BB learn to read and play clarinet early in his career. He was a lifelong student of the Schillinger System.

Howlin' Wolf took theory lessons from a professor at the Chicago Musical College, now Roosevelt University.

Albert King said later in his career, that he would like to study theory so that he could write horn charts.

I just don't see theory being all that mysterious and inaccessible to anyone. Blues musicians were not as cut off from theory as people sometimes wrongly assume. Theory isn't an arcane subject to a professional musician.
 

jazzguitar

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Both as a scientist and musician: Theory comes after experiment and ovservation.

Theory is a way to systematically organize knowledge. It often can explain a lot of why's but there may be questions never answered.

I am sure that all the old guys knew their music theory well in the sense they knew how to use it. As well as many present, good musicians without formal training.

They may not necessarily have the words for theory or even be aware of it, but all of them did a lot of hard work before they mastered their instrument and their trade!

To us players of the present: the advantage of learning and knowing theory is a shortcut, is good to avoid a lot of dead ends and wasted time. And theory can tell us what has been done before so we see what has not been explored yet!
 

SomeVelvetMorning

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It's funny, I originally learned guitar via 2.5 years of lessons. I learned the scales, the modes, all that stuff. Later, I forgot most of it and learned to play by ear/feel. I'm actually trying to relearn those things now, but mostly because it makes it easier to improvise.
 

rhythmos

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There's the frontman from Muse, who has come up with some pretty nice guitar work and solos, has written full orchestral sections, has a 30 second 20th century romantic era type piano solo on a song (since people here mostly play guitar I also left the guitar solo that comes right before), and he can't even read music - confirmed by conductors who have worked for him - and never had instrument lessons.

There's footage of him at the studio writing the piano arpeggio on the Stockholm Syndrome chorus and he does it by drawing a sequence of 4 dots going up and down.

I think theory will help you get there faster, if you have something in your head and need to get it out, but so will knowing your instrument well enough and you can do that without reading books.

I learned to play guitar by writing songs for example. I went as I needed, learned what I needed to have on X song, learned something else for Y song, and now I can play pretty well. At the end of the day there are all kinds of musicians. Personally I never dreamed of being a virtuoso, so I never sat on my bed doing scales for 6 hours every day, but by learning the guitar itself by writing songs I can move freely around it. I see it as having a repertoire of techniques.
 
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McCtelecaster

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Theory is a tool. The more tools and the better the tools the better work you can produce.

Many people know theory but in less than text book lingo. I've met guys who would say "...you know that there kind of substitution or whatever you call it..." They picked it up off some one else, a teacher, copping tunes by ear, literature, whatever.

I guarantee you the people you mentioned knew their majors from minors.

It is a dangerous and wrongful notion to propose that ignorance is somehow more powerful and artistic then skills, tools, knowledge, discipline, and hard work.

I once had a friend suggest that very thing to me. He said he didn't want to learn theory because he didn't want it to interfere with his artistry. Personally I view that as an excuse for laziness but I said this to him; who could build a better structure, a trained carpenter with a large array of professional tools at his disposal or a guy who knows nothing about carpentry with no tools? The answer is pretty obvious. And honestly, while I like the guy, his playing demonstrated he had no tools.

Well here I am, late to the party as usual. But then, I became a member fairly recently, long after this interesting thread was started. I just read the whole thing, and most of it is way over my head.

Having said that, I agree almost 100% with your post. However, who builds the most appealing structure? Is it the builder with all the best tools and building materials, and the knowledge and discipline to augment his hard work while constructing the most magnificent building ever built? Or is it the simple artist, full of passion and desire, with a basic hammer and chisel, creating a home and shelter for his family? And which one would you like to sit down and have a beer with?



We also have George Van Eps, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Pat Martino, Robert Fripp, Jerry Garcia, John Renbourn, Danny Gatton, Frank Zappa, Eliot Easton, Steve Vai, Vince Gill, Chet Atkins, Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, and countless others who were deep into it. Theory isn't a prerequisite, and for a lot of players it can get in the way, but there are plenty of great guitarists that don't have it (wasn't Wes Montgomery one of them?), and plenty that do! They make different kinds of music, but theory doesn't have to make one's playing cold and without deep expression.

Peace,

David

David, you're last point, "theory doesn't have to make one's playing cold and without deep expression." I think that every musician, whether they are well versed in musical theory or not, has the desire to express their deepest emotions as best they can.

There you have it. That is my modest opinion............Dave

PS........I really enjoyed the Wes Montgomery clips.
 
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Jack S

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Self-taught musicianship does not necessarily mean ignorant of theory. The musician may not understand terms or be able to describe something in common parlance what is going on, but someone like Wes Montgomery certainly did understand internally how to shape sounds, blending chordal structures, creating and resolving tensions, mathematical relationships to chords, etc. You do not need a formal education to learn these things.

It helps you to get to this knowledge much faster if you do study music, but self-discovery happens all the time, even with beginners. To play at Wes' level there is little doubt that he had a great understanding of theory within his own internal language or mode of expression.
 

klasaine

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I'm not sure how or where this idea that Wes Montgomery didn't know music theory came from - ? Here is a video of Wes from 1965 teaching some Dutch musicians how to play a tune they don't know. He explains it the way almost any jazz musician would. Have a look see ...



It is purported that WM wasn't much of a sight reader, which is very different than not knowing harmony and theory.
In my experience, most truly good musicians are humble and even self-deprecating. When they (guitar players) say that they "can't read" they're usually comparing themselves to brass, wind, string and piano players who read like mf's.
 

McGlamRock

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Call me jaded, but I think we're touching on the business end of the music business in this thread. It's much more appealing to the masses, to relate to a talented musician who is "self taught" and "cannot read music".
 

klasaine

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Call me jaded, but I think we're touching on the business end of the music business in this thread. It's much more appealing to the masses, to relate to a talented musician who is "self taught" and "cannot read music".

Bingo!

Even as far back as the middle ages it was frowned upon for the troubadours, trouveres, jongleurs, etc. to purposely not make a big deal about what they knew. Tell jokes sing 'bawdy' songs, juggle, do some magic but whatever you do ... don't make it look hard. You don't want to insult your alleged 'betters' (or god forbid - royalty) by possibly knowing something they don't. That ethic has absolutely held over to today. "I don't know man, I just make it up". Most of the time, that's complete BS.

*In fact, back in the late 60s and early 70s sax player Dave Liebman took a lot of strunz for actually detailing and talking about how jazz musicians improvise.
 

daddyplaysbass

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On piano, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart come to mind. I don't believe either one of them had "lessons". Watch Jimmy Swaggart on "Son Life Broadcasting Network". Before the service starts the SL Musicians play for about 30 minutes; it's obvious he never had lessons the way he hits the keys, but the order of the notes is terrific. You'll see at about 1:15.

 

Area51

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I think most top level guitarists know more than we may be giving them credit for. I read a Gilmore interview where he talked about learning theory while studying either sax or ?, cant remember for sure. He then made a comment about not being savant and he knows what he's doing. Just doesn't know what to call it anymore. I think that's true for a lot us. My brother in law who's a GIT grad hardly remembers the names of anything, but he can sure knows his way around even when the more off stuff comes along..
 

klasaine

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I was in London last summer and there was a Pink Floyd exhibit at the Victory and Albert museum. They had a couple of hand written 'charts' for Animals. Chords, bass notes and even scale suggestions for improvising. Written in standard notation.
 




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