Music Theory is one of the most commonly avoided topics of study for nearly all music students, but it doesn't have to be that way. In this post, I’m going to run through five popular "thought and belief" errors that students are either told about Music Theory or that they just flat out believe about Music Theory...

I'll discuss how to never think incorrectly again about theory and I'll give you fixes for five of the most common music theory mistakes that hold players back from using music theory to its full advantage. 

Whether you currently know a lot of music theory, or if you struggle through the most basic music theory concepts, you’ll find this video incredibly helpful. And, I guarantee that you will be interested in doing a lot more with music theory by the time that this video is over.


Today we’re talking about learning and using music theory and my one and only goal is to make sure that you’re not learning and using theory in a way that limits you as a musician.

I don’t care if you’re very weak with music theory or if you’re more advanced, if you avoid the 5 things I’m going to discuss here and adopt the alternatives that I’m going to suggest, I promise you that, you’re going to have an easier time applying every music theory concept that you ever come across. Let’s get right into the first one...

1). Never Think Music Theory Won't Offer You More Choice
To explain this topic I’m going to use chords as an example. Every chord has another chord that is related to it and that related chord will both share notes and it will offer new notes. And, this exists across many subjects of music. Take for example a, “Dm” chord. 

More Choice from One Chord:

It has the notes of; “D, F, A.” But, two of the notes from that "Dm" chord are also found in the chord of “F maj.” Those are called "shared" notes.

The shared notes are the “F and the A,” notes. If we add the “D” root from our “Dm” chord into the “F maj.” chord we get a chord called “F maj.6.” And, if we add the “C” note into the notes of our “Dm” we get a chord called “Dm7.”

All of these chords are related and that’s because the notes of the key can be accounted for in more than one way. There’s notes that fit in the key and notes that don’t – which brings us to our next point. Wrong notes in a key are not always wrong notes in a song.

2). Never Believe Music Theory Creates Note or Key Limits
Just because a song might be composed in a specific musical key - it does not mean that other notes couldn’t be added to the song which do not fit inside of the key.

In fact, this is one of the oldest and most important rules of composing music, “if it sounds good, then leave it in the song.”

For example, if we had a song in the key of “E,” and, we decided to add a note that doesn’t exist in that key, (but it sounded good), that doesn’t mean that anything is wrong.

In fact, there’s a music theory term for doing exactly this idea, and that term is, “Non-Diatonic.” A note that does not exist within the key you’re working in. 

Here’s a typical riff idea (it’s in the key of “E”), and it uses the notes of; “E, G#, B, and D.”

Riff with Diatonic Notes:

Now, here’s a variation on that riff using a “non-diatonic” note placed into the mix - the note of “G natural.”

Riff with Non-Diatonic Note Added:

 As you can tell, the use of “G natural” along with that “G#” actually sounds pretty cool. And, this brings us to our next idea which is, “to learn and use theory by going with your sense of creativity first and focusing on what sounds cool, and then using your knowledge of theory to analyze everything later.”

3). Never Think that Music Theory Sets Creativity Rules
Music theory is a great help for understanding what has occurred within a piece of music. But, if theory were to be used to compose the theory would place walls around how a musician was thinking.

Since that approach would stifle creative thought, most musicians don’t use music theory as a method for composing their songs.

Musicians tend to compose using inspiration and creativity. Then, afterward, they would likely double-back (to their music theory knowledge), as a way to analyze what they’ve composed.

That looking back approach would work as a way to learn something more about the song structure that they’ve dreamed up.

Music theory is an amazing tool to be able to use as a way to deconstruct musical ideas and as a way to help understand more about a song that you’re practicing.

But, if theory gets learned and used as a way to compose music, you’ll (more than likely) end up with music that comes across as sounding kind of uneventful or maybe even boring.

And, this brings us to our next idea which is Music Theory is not a start or an end it’s a map.

4). Never Consider Music Theory as a Barrier to Creativity
When students are learning music theory - as they learn and study (and start to understand a few principles), they begin thinking of those principles as though they are rules that music is bound to.

And, that simply isn’t the case. As you learn new music theory principles, don’t think of them as a bed to lie in and never get up out of.

Instead, think of each new music theory principle as a new rung on a ladder to take you someplace else, (to take you someplace new).

Always remember that Music is an art-form, and just like we find across any other form of art, there’s no such thing as “Never” or “Always.”

Music is art, and it’s about creativity and where you take it should always be your own unique vision of it. Which brings us to our final point.

Learning and using Music Theory is nothing more than taking the music in our mind (or the music around us), and giving it a sensible strategy…

5). Never Think Music Theory Comes BEFORE Expression
The musical experience needs to come first and this means that the study of music theory needs to come from a focus on the characteristics of sound and keeping the sound expressive.

When it comes to the study of music, character of sound is the objective in every sense. Music theory may be a way of teaching and learning about it, but it won’t allow a musician to reach; melody, harmony or rhythm with color and texture.

In fact one of the most powerful tools for success in music is mistakes. When we make mistakes (during composing or improvising or even performing), those mistakes act as one of the best teachers possible.

The mistakes teach us what doesn’t fit in our music, and each mistake allow us to search for options and to become more flexible as musicians so that we can more quickly figure out what does work.

This is often referred to as musical sensitivity, and when done with integrity it is an incredible learning tool for musicians.



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