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I think something music theory misses is the unexplainable aspects of consciousness. Like the fact that there is a word "unexplainable" signifies that within consciousness there are things that cannot be measured, quantified. The fact that you just thought of something that cannot be measured or quantified proves my point I think. I think an aspect of composing that is missed is the state of consciousness itself. The ability to let go and flow free. To feel deeply. That is why I think an important part of becoming a better musician is meditation and transcending the ego. Surprised nobody really talks about that

Edited by Left Unexplained
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I wouldn't say the there's a problem with music theory, but rather your approach to it. I used to feel the same way, because what drives me as a musician is this ridiculous need to convey the sounds that I hear in my head to portray what I want to say. I used to start with music theory and try and fit ideas into it, but then I started letting that mental voice take charge, and using music theory to figure out where it's trying to go and what the actual goal is. 

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3 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

I wouldn't say the there's a problem with music theory, but rather your approach to it. I used to feel the same way, because what drives me as a musician is this ridiculous need to convey the sounds that I hear in my head to portray what I want to say. I used to start with music theory and try and fit ideas into it, but then I started letting that mental voice take charge, and using music theory to figure out where it's trying to go and what the actual goal is. 

 

I thought the title was too edgy I didn't mean it to be like an all out attack on music theory, just pointing out that there are things that we can't explain, especially about ourselves

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“When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.” - Bruce Lee

also:

"Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own." - Bruce Lee

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When I compose, I rarely ever think about music theory - actually, though I took lessons in medium-to-advanced theory when I was younger, I know only the most basic music theory: not to use parallel fifths, what the inversions are called, what some seventh chords are called, a little bit of polyphony, that sort of stuff. What I think about when I compose is really what works for the music emotionally, proportionately, melodically, and harmonically, and I try not to write in formal structures too much, unless that's my intention. My personal philosophy is that expressivity is more necessary for music than form, and that theory is just there to catalogue and taxonomize common mannerisms in music.

Historically, this question seems to have been an issue for a while now, namely the Wars of the Romantics. You can observe this in the music of the Brahmsian faction vs. the Lisztian-Wagnerian faction, where the former seems to have valued theory and form before everything else, while the latter valued emotional expressiveness and weight to formal structure (though both sides had members who did things characteristic of the opposing front). At this point in time, though, it really boils down to what you feel is right for your music; for some it may be that form gives them more ground than fluidity, and vice-versa. As you continue writing music, you will learn what you feel is best for your music and you will adapt it into your writing. This is one step forward for you, learning that music is not all theory.

And, just to remain consistent,

24 minutes ago, gmm said:

Well, that's just, like, your opinion,man - GIF - Imgur

just as all of what I have said is mine. 🙂

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Music theory cannot explain that because that concept is A. Extremely abstract. B. Doesn't actually have anything to do with music lol

17 hours ago, Theodore Servin said:

theory is just there to catalogue and taxonomize common mannerisms in music.

Why do those common mannerisms exist if not because they sound good or otherwise have utility that was worth cataloging to begin with?

I've heard this sort of argument for many years now. Effectively that or sometimes literally "Theory is an analytical tool", except the big problem with that is that historically music theory texts were specifically written with the intention of teaching the reader how to write good music. That has always been what theory is about: Teaching how to write or play music and to do that requires the concepts be put into a universal language. That is what theory is.

The Gradus Ad Parnassum is still basically the definitive manual on counterpoint. It is "music theory", one of the most famous texts. What is the purpose of the book? To teach you how to write good counterpoint; how to keep independence and such among the voices. In other words, it is meant to teach you how to compose something.

The treatise on harmony by Rameau is perhaps the most well-known theory text. What does it do? Describes tonal music and how to compose it using the contemporary understanding of the major and minor keys. From the beginning of the classical period onward, its teachings have remained true.

 

The point of all the arts, as was understood by all our ancestors before modernists made their way into academics and media in the 20th Century, was that it wasn't about what you have "to say" or some sort of subversive social commentary or whatever. The point of it was to create something that is beautiful, inspiring, and uplifting in a way that rivals the sense you get witnessing the beauty of nature herself. However, to do that requires craft.

Music theory is how that craft can be taught. It is analogous to color theory and the golden ratio in painting, or choreography in dance — and I've never heard anyone say those are "analytical" tools.

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21 minutes ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Music theory cannot explain that because that concept is A. Extremely abstract. B. Doesn't actually have anything to do with music lol

Why do those common mannerisms exist if not because they sound good or otherwise have utility that was worth cataloging to begin with?

I've heard this sort of argument for many years now. Effectively that or sometimes literally "Theory is an analytical tool", except the big problem with that is that historically music theory texts were specifically written with the intention of teaching the reader how to write good music. That has always been what theory is about: Teaching how to write or play music and to do that requires the concepts be put into a universal language. That is what theory is.

The Gradus Ad Parnassum is still basically the definitive manual on counterpoint. It is "music theory", one of the most famous texts. What is the purpose of the book? To teach you how to write good counterpoint; how to keep independence and such among the voices. In other words, it is meant to teach you how to compose something.

The treatise on harmony by Rameau is perhaps the most well-known theory text. What does it do? Describes tonal music and how to compose it using the contemporary understanding of the major and minor keys. From the beginning of the classical period onward, its teachings have remained true.

 

The point of all the arts, as was understood by all our ancestors before modernists made their way into academics and media in the 20th Century, was that it wasn't about what you have "to say" or some sort of subversive social commentary or whatever. The point of it was to create something that is beautiful, inspiring, and uplifting in a way that rivals the sense you get witnessing the beauty of nature herself. However, to do that requires craft.

Music theory is how that craft can be taught. It is analogous to color theory and the golden ratio in painting, or choreography in dance — and I've never heard anyone say those are "analytical" tools.

 

Im not saying it's useless, I just think mental flow is a mysterious, mystifying concept that we can't fully explain. I think music theory helps you to understand music but if you're coming from your head and not your heart it can get you in all sorts of trouble. I just believe that learning to enter a flow state is an important part of being a musician, but nobody talks about it.

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21 hours ago, Left Unexplained said:

I think something music theory misses is the unexplainable aspects of consciousness. Like the fact that there is a word "unexplainable" signifies that within consciousness there are things that cannot be measured, quantified. The fact that you just thought of something that cannot be measured or quantified proves my point I think. I think an aspect of composing that is missed is the state of consciousness itself. The ability to let go and flow free. To feel deeply. That is why I think an important part of becoming a better musician is meditation and transcending the ego. Surprised nobody really talks about that

Have you heard of the famous psychologist Carl Gustav Jung?  What you're talking about is tapping into the subconscious/unconscious forces behind your psyche and using that in music.  In psychology first and foremost it's enough simply to try and interpret the unknown - and he called the forms of the unconscious mind the "archetypes".  I've read a whole book about them and they still don't even explain anything to me really.  Artists have been tapping into their unconscious forces since art began and you don't need to know anything about psychology to really do that - you do that all the time.  Some people do it through their dreams like Paul McCartney (I don't remember which song he dreamt the melody for).  Others, like Rachmaninov go to a therapist and repeat the phrase "I will compose my Symphony ... I will compose my Symphony" a hundred times.  Or you could meditate ...

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1 hour ago, PaperComposer said:

Have you heard of the famous psychologist Carl Gustav Jung?  What you're talking about is tapping into the subconscious/unconscious forces behind your psyche and using that in music.  In psychology first and foremost it's enough simply to try and interpret the unknown - and he called the forms of the unconscious mind the "archetypes".  I've read a whole book about them and they still don't even explain anything to me really.  Artists have been tapping into their unconscious forces since art began and you don't need to know anything about psychology to really do that - you do that all the time.  Some people do it through their dreams like Paul McCartney (I don't remember which song he dreamt the melody for).  Others, like Rachmaninov go to a therapist and repeat the phrase "I will compose my Symphony ... I will compose my Symphony" a hundred times.  Or you could meditate ...

 

also I have learned about carl jung but havent really read anything by him, I started one of his books.

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12 hours ago, Left Unexplained said:

I think music theory helps you to understand music but if you're coming from your head and not your heart it can get you in all sorts of trouble.

The two concepts are not mutually exclusive: You can write music that you're really passionate about, but still demonstrates mastery craftsmanship from a technical standpoint.

 Like, I'm not a "materialist" generally but it's the whole "it comes from the heart" thing that actually gets one into trouble, because it allows one to rationalize any lack of progress in their work, quality, etc. with romanticism. 

Romantic idealism should be an inspiration to create but not the source of creation itself. That's how you get abstract conceptualist nonsense. Craft has to be the means by which to actually make something into being, and this can be objectively defined.

You just don't see this mentality in so many other things. If you bake a cake for your wife's birthday, will she care that it comes from the heart if the cake tastes like @$$? Like, maybe she'll appreciate the effort, but surely, if you really love your wife and this cake is coming from the heart, then you'll want her to love that cake. You'll want it to be the best damn cake she's ever stuffed in her face hole. In order to do that, you're going to need a recipe. If you're going to come up with your own, that recipe needs to be informed by previously successful recipes and the general knowledge that has developed in baking for thousands of years now. One might say there are "theories" involved in baking that one should understand if they want to make a cake that both is aesthetic and really tasty. The cookbooks and Gordon Ramsay screaming in your ear aren't there to help you merely "understand the cake", they are there to actually teach you how to make the cake and become one with the ^%#$in' kitchen. 

It's the same when you want to compose a piece of music or paint a picture.

If what you're making "comes from the heart" but you don't have the "head" ability to actually realize what the heart wants and will actually sound good, then does it even matter? No.

12 hours ago, Left Unexplained said:

So you don't think your state of consciousness has anything to do with the music you make lol?

Not beyond deciding exactly what style of piece I want to write, no. 

 

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw
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On 8/25/2020 at 6:17 AM, PaperComposer said:

“When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.” - Bruce Lee

also:

"Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own." - Bruce Lee

 

Love this. I agree.

 

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12 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Not beyond deciding exactly what style of piece I want to write, no.

thats interesting. My way of doing things isn't the right way of doing things, wasn't trying to project onto people just sharing my thoughts. It's great that there are people that are different than me

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12 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

You just don't see this mentality in so many other things. If you bake a cake for your wife's birthday, will she care that it comes from the heart if the cake tastes like @$$?

Well I think I make pretty good music and I do it all by ear and feeling, are you saying my music sucks?

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1 hour ago, Left Unexplained said:

Well I think I make pretty good music and I do it all by ear and feeling, are you saying my music sucks?

No I am not saying that, and it's obvious by listening to it that you do understand more of the theoretical concepts than you would appear to let on. Whether you know exactly what they're called or not.

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11 minutes ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

No I am not saying that, and it's obvious by listening to it that you do understand more of the theoretical concepts than you would appear to let on. Whether you know exactly what they're called or not.

 

ok im sorry for that then. Thank you. I was just making sure everything was staying civil 🙏

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13 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

The two concepts are not mutually exclusive: You can write music that you're really passionate about, but still demonstrates mastery craftsmanship from a technical standpoint.

 Like, I'm not a "materialist" generally but it's the whole "it comes from the heart" thing that actually gets one into trouble, because it allows one to rationalize any lack of progress in their work, quality, etc. with romanticism. 

Romantic idealism should be an inspiration to create but not the source of creation itself. That's how you get abstract conceptualist nonsense. Craft has to be the means by which to actually make something into being, and this can be objectively defined.

You just don't see this mentality in so many other things. If you bake a cake for your wife's birthday, will she care that it comes from the heart if the cake tastes like @$$? Like, maybe she'll appreciate the effort, but surely, if you really love your wife and this cake is coming from the heart, then you'll want her to love that cake. You'll want it to be the best damn cake she's ever stuffed in her face hole. In order to do that, you're going to need a recipe. If you're going to come up with your own, that recipe needs to be informed by previously successful recipes and the general knowledge that has developed in baking for thousands of years now. One might say there are "theories" involved in baking that one should understand if they want to make a cake that both is aesthetic and really tasty. The cookbooks and Gordon Ramsay screaming in your ear aren't there to help you merely "understand the cake", they are there to actually teach you how to make the cake and become one with the ^%#$in' kitchen. 

It's the same when you want to compose a piece of music or paint a picture.

If what you're making "comes from the heart" but you don't have the "head" ability to actually realize what the heart wants and will actually sound good, then does it even matter? No.

Not beyond deciding exactly what style of piece I want to write, no. 

 

 

I respect you, I don't think you are wrong. I just know there is something to the concept of flow that people don't really talk about. Whether that's my being a romantic beginner or not, I don't want to lose that feeling of pure joy

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  • 6 months later...
On 8/26/2020 at 5:39 PM, Left Unexplained said:

the concept of flow

Ah yes, the lavender flow. darnit, why are there so many interesting threads here on YC, I really should at least be pretending to work even though my boss has no view into my COVID....er...apartment paradise. so, a few "drive-bys""

1. one approach is to study your donkey (editing now, thinking "donkey? wtf is THAT and how did IT get in here, now realizing that the YC censor, bless its beautiful head, has raised it beautiful head, AGAIN, changing my original donkey to "donkey") off on theory and then forget about any "explicits" when composing time comes 'round. seems to me that if that instruction was any good that you will retain it at all times and make use of it even if you don't directly try to do that.

2. (actually, will leave it at that for now, "work", so-called, calls me now). 

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As AngelCityOutlaw said, it started out as a set of guidelines to help would-be composers act with good musical taste. Although I don't think much about it now it's proved most useful in developing my inner ear, in controlling where I want to get a lot faster than just blind experiment and keep trying things would; and it taught me to be tidy in things like don't just leave parts hanging, terminate them properly. 

Later (I suppose) academies latched onto it and saw a way of making money - so it came up with rules which could be the basis of examination. 

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12 hours ago, Gyugcac said:

the only Buddhist composer I know is John Cage and he sucks

 

That's because your listening expectations are the classical conventions of "music". Cage was foremost a philosopher using sound in a way that most of us would call experimental. It's designed for those willing just to listen. His famous 4'33" for instance was to prove there's no such thing as silence. To him, the sound of traffic or a building site was an ongoing indeterminate "composition". 

I'm not fond of his music except in certain applications. Being a fan of the (equally innovative) dancer Merce Cunningham I can appreciate Cage writing the sound for his ballets. There are still good and bad. "Pond Life" holds me entranced even though I'm watching just one performance fixed in time. "Biped" doesn't. "Xover" is among the most beautiful of human kinetic art works (to me). Those who prefer Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky probably wouldn't agree.

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