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  • Understanding theory and making the connections

    What are some tricks/tips and ways to start training my brain to understand theory? I've spend hours reading books and googling scales and while I am capable of doing the scale or completing the "homework" in the book I don't understand what it all means!

    I know the basic string notes, I get that. I understand my basic (and not so basic) chord shapes, barre chords, some power chords etc.

    I just picked up electric and I REALLY want to be able to play it well, and if possible learn small lead bits. I'm a rhythm player at heart, I love driving the song with a hardcore punch and its easy to do on acoustic, but I have always wanted to do it on an electric and I'm realizing I need to up my musical knowledge.

    How do you guys do it?
    <div class="signaturecontainer">&quot;You've got to dig it, to <u>dig</u> it. Ya dig?&quot; - Thelonius Monk</div>

  • #2
    For me, i got a teacher to explain it.
    And i still do when it goes over my head.
    <div class="signaturecontainer">Good Deals with: Brim &amp; hemispheres</div>

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    • #3
      That would be optimal however, student/musician trying to pay for nursing school AND payoff my gear money is tight.
      <div class="signaturecontainer">&quot;You've got to dig it, to <u>dig</u> it. Ya dig?&quot; - Thelonius Monk</div>

      Comment


      • #4
        Learning it on keys was when it really sunk in for me. The keyboard being linear makes it easier. And I don't mean playing keys, but just for a visual reference.
        <div class="signaturecontainer"><div class="bbcode_container">
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        <img src="images/misc/quote_icon.png" alt="Quote" /> Originally Posted by <strong>GW348</strong>
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        <div class="message">I just let the pee flow. The places I play, no one notices or have peed themselves too.</div>

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        </div> <br />
        RIP Wayne Murray<br />
        <br />
        **************** YOU CANCER!!</div>

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        • #5
          I think you have to keep playing and learning, and you'll see the ways theory describes what's happening, then it will start making sense. It's one of those things, in my opinion, that doesn't make any sense without application. Once you start seeing what it means in the context of music you're playing, then it makes a lot more sense. Learning to read music also helped a lot of things sink in a little bit.
          <div class="signaturecontainer">Multiple award winning blues/rock/country at <a target="_blank" href="http://www.zeyerband.com">http://www.zeyerband.com</a> or <a target="_blank" href="http://www.reverbnation.com/zeyer">http://www.reverbnation.com/zeyer</a>.<br>Check my solo (instrumental rock) projects at: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.reverbnation.com/vincedickinson">http://www.reverbnation.com/vincedickinson</a><br><br><br>&quot;Music is like the English language - it's just full of rules that need to be broken or you aren't hip.&quot;</div><br>&quot;It doesn't take talent to upgrade your playing. It takes patience&quot; - Kenny Werner

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          • #6
            If a teacher is out of the question, then I'd suggest doing what I did might be worth a try. I was playing guitar for some years before I decided I cared about learning any theory and like you, lessons were not an option due to cost.

            I decided to grasp just ONE piece of theory - how to construct chords using the Major scale. I already knew lots of chords, but had no idea HOW they were put together!

            There are lot's of lessons on this both written and on YouTube..so I'm sure you'll find one.

            The thing is, that learning that ONE bit of theory unlocked a ton of other doors!..including improving my lead playing by about a 1000%.

            Try it!
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            <img src="images/misc/quote_icon.png" alt="Quote" /> Originally Posted by <strong>Jimmy James</strong>
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            <img src="images/misc/quote_icon.png" alt="Quote" /> Originally Posted by <strong>Phlat Phive</strong>
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            <img src="images/misc/quote_icon.png" alt="Quote" /> Originally Posted by <strong>goodusername</strong>
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            Mosiddiqi is a prick, btw. <img src="http://img3.harmony-central.com/acapella/ubb/redface.gif" border="0" alt="" title="Embarrassment" class="inlineimg" /></div>

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            • #7
              What are some tricks/tips and ways to start training my brain to understand theory?


              Uhm... "understanding" is different that "knowing" is different than "using"

              There is not a lot to understand about theory. Most you need to understand is that a song (or in longer compositions, a section of the whole song) is in a specific key. Such key is simply the set of all notes "allowed" to be played by any instrument during that song. There are only 12 notes in music, since after 12 notes (separated by a distance we call a "semitone") the music repeats itself, so all notes which are not in your current key are "disallowed". Make sure you understand the choice of key is totally in YOUR hands, so being "allowed" to play those notes is a rule you are setting for yourself.

              Now that you know what notes are allowed... any and every chord you and the rest of the band are going to play at a certain moment while in that key, will be made by picking some of the notes in the key, but never a note that is out of key. Similarly, and more obviously, all melodies, phrases and solos played/sung will be using only the notes of the key.

              This is the most basic concept to understand in theory, but let me tell you it goes a long way

              ------------------------------------

              Then there is the mundane work of getting to know more theory. I see this is comprised mostly of 3 types of things to know:

              - music construction practices: there is knowledge "about chords are built", you can find plenty of reference around, but there isn't really that much to understand here, only to "know" i.e. to become aware that these are traditional ways of thinking about the basic blocks used for composing songs. Anyway, pretty much all musicians learn this kind of things, because they make good reference for making music whether your choice is to use them (if you want to make easy, accessible music) or to purposefully avoid them (if you want to make more awkward, creative music), therefore it will become some sort of syllabus for talking with other musicians, but you don't need to rush into these topics

              - symbols and language of music: knowing how to read a music score is undoubtedly useful and undoubtedly hard to learn, particularly if you want to be able to sight-read in real time. I think knowing at least the meaning of any common symbol on the pentagram, notes and duration, and the names used for chords is necessary. Sight-reading quickly is truly important only if you make music as a job, but requires a great deal of exercise, so don't kill yourself over it

              - sheer material, i.e. more strange scales, modes and chords: this is pretty much quantitative knowledge with nothing really to understand about. The best favour you can do yourself is GO SLOW, add new stuff gradually and focus more on learning how that stuff "sounds and feel" so that you can realize how/if you are going to use it in your music. Too much stuff too fast is deadly, and leaves you with the feeling that you'll never make it. HINT: remember that 99% of the music is after all made with the usual major scale, and most of it uses the same 3 chords

              -----------------------------------

              Now the biggest point is that you have at some point use all of the above material collected. This is the hardest part because it literally never ends...

              It's about learning the "musical meaning" of something, such a certain chord taken from its key... how does it sound? When is it good to use it, at the beginning or at the ending of a passage/progression? Once you have a key chosen, each note of that key has a meaning, and a feeling, so go figure how many combinations (simultaneously as in chords, or sequentially as in phrases) exist, each with potentially different feeling and uses.

              There is only one way I know for learning how to use, and that is... use! When practicing, try as much as possible to listen to the things you try. When composing, make experiments with changing/substituting/modifying different elements of your music, and see what difference it makes.

              You can of course also learn something from reading books, particularly books on composition. Your first-hand experience cannot be substituted for by written books, but the books have an edge of their own: they are written by someone who's been there / done that before you, and anyway they summarize the experience of A LOT of others, compensating for you own limited time and giving you hints on where to look for.

              Comment


              • #8
                What are some tricks/tips and ways to start training my brain to understand theory? I've spend hours reading books and googling scales and while I am capable of doing the scale or completing the "homework" in the book I don't understand what it all means!

                I know the basic string notes, I get that. I understand my basic (and not so basic) chord shapes, barre chords, some power chords etc.

                I just picked up electric and I REALLY want to be able to play it well, and if possible learn small lead bits. I'm a rhythm player at heart, I love driving the song with a hardcore punch and its easy to do on acoustic, but I have always wanted to do it on an electric and I'm realizing I need to up my musical knowledge.

                How do you guys do it?
                Theory is only names for sounds. Music is a language that you can learn entirely by ear if you want. Most successful rock musicians do just that (or at least without knowing much more theory than you already know, ie names for chords etc.).

                Certainly, transferring your acoustic rhythm skills to electric needs no theory at all! The chords are exactly the same.

                I suggest you learn as many songs as you can - even just riffs or parts of songs, anything you like. The rules about how things all fit together will gradually become apparent (what kinds of chords go together, how it sounds to be "in a key", etc).
                Everything you need to know is contained in songs.
                Studying theory is fine, but (following what Li Shenron said) it can encourage you to think that certain things are "not allowed". You will see songs all the time which contain notes or chords that don't "belong" to the key they are supposedly in. They are not breaking any rules by doing that, just following other (more complicated) rules.
                Whatever sounds good is right. Don't let theory suggest anything else. The music comes first; theory comes later.

                Having said that, I totally agree with Mo - the best foundation in theory is to study the major scale, and how chords are derived from it. That should switch a few things on. Just don't expect songs to follow the simple rules. (Some will, most won't.)
                ...

                Comment


                • #9
                  If a teacher is out of the question, then I'd suggest doing what I did might be worth a try. I was playing guitar for some years before I decided I cared about learning any theory and like you, lessons were not an option due to cost.

                  I decided to grasp just ONE piece of theory - how to construct chords using the Major scale. I already knew lots of chords, but had no idea HOW they were put together!

                  There are lot's of lessons on this both written and on YouTube..so I'm sure you'll find one.

                  The thing is, that learning that ONE bit of theory unlocked a ton of other doors!..including improving my lead playing by about a 1000%.

                  Try it!


                  Thomas Jefferson said... "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." hmmm...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    As JonR describes, music theory is a language, a technical language that is used to describe and organize sounds for the purposes of classification. Music theory uses the intervallic structure of scales and chords as well as the harmonic structure of songs as a system to organize these things and more.

                    We teach ourselves to understand these things by learning to see (in terms of theory) what our ears already know (in terms of sounds). The theory provides a logical organization of the things we naturally feel on an emotional level.

                    For some this is far too dry and structured of an approach, but for those willing and able to delve deep enough, music theory provides a very robust mechanism to allow us to explore the mechanics of music and hence grow as musicians and instrumentalists.

                    If you've already read enough about music theory to know about the basics, then I'd recommend you look at how theory applies to songs that you already know and like. As Li Shenron said
                    "understanding" is different that "knowing" is different than "using"
                    Going this route will start to provide you with concrete examples of the things you are trying to understand.

                    I agree with Mosiddiqi that using theory to learn to understand (and eventually manipulate) where chords come from is a very valuable skill. But "connecting the dots" as it were is often a matter of being shown how theory is reflected in stuff you already know. Then you can use that knowledge to take what you know already a little bit further.

                    Of course for the above to work, you'll need to have a solid understanding of major scales, various keys, diatonic chords and basic cadences. Many people become frustrated that they cannot speak the language before they've bothered to learn the language.

                    cheers,

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      What are some tricks/tips and ways to start training my brain to understand theory? I've spend hours reading books and googling scales and while I am capable of doing the scale or completing the "homework" in the book I don't understand what it all means!

                      I know the basic string notes, I get that. I understand my basic (and not so basic) chord shapes, barre chords, some power chords etc.

                      I just picked up electric and I REALLY want to be able to play it well, and if possible learn small lead bits. I'm a rhythm player at heart, I love driving the song with a hardcore punch and its easy to do on acoustic, but I have always wanted to do it on an electric and I'm realizing I need to up my musical knowledge.

                      How do you guys do it?




                      If I understand you correctly, and your struggling with understanding the theory behind scale structure, I will offer a simple method I used to learn them. All standard 8 note diatonic scales (as well as 5 note pentatonic) share the exact same intervals and are merely the same scale reorganized depending on which root you start with. All patterns (the physical aspect you actually play) and theoretical structures (the way by which you communicate/write music) are effectively the same. If this sounds like something your trying to get a grip on let me know and I'll be happy to go into more detail.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Clueless advice? Train your ear. Know what sound is where on the fretboard. That's the Suzuki method. Learn theory as a tangent, not a focus, and plug it in later. Understanding theory and learning the instrument and how to play it are definitely mutually separable. The student needs only the latter to become a musician. The former is the stuff of composers, arrangers and maestros. If you ascribe to their level and you have the passion, you'll achieve it. But, one thing at a time. In the early stages of music training theory is the stuff of formal academics and fetching good grades. It has little to do with actually sight reading and playing music. Sight reading, as you know, is not the result of learning theory. Know where the notes are on the staff and ledger lines as they relate to the guitar, as well as what they sound like, and you will be hurdles ahead of the game.
                        <div class="signaturecontainer">Be back when I get back. TTFN.</div>

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                        • #13

                          I just picked up electric and I REALLY want to be able to play it well, and if possible learn small lead bits. I'm a rhythm player at heart, I love driving the song with a hardcore punch and its easy to do on acoustic, but I have always wanted to do it on an electric and I'm realizing I need to up my musical knowledge.

                          How do you guys do it?


                          How I do it: Play first. Ask Questions later. That's the simple answer with theory. Keep working on theory, but don't stress about understanding it. It just comes with time.

                          Reading this statement makes me want to know more about what you're trying to do on electric. Driving the song with a strummy acoustic vs. electric solo and texture bit are entirely different processes. Having a solid base in rhythm guitar will give you a serious advantage when taking on electric stuff. Many players skip that step!

                          What do you want to be able to do?
                          Thinking too much produces exactly the opposite of the intended outcome.

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                          • #14
                            <div class="signaturecontainer"><div class="bbcode_container">
                            <div class="bbcode_quote">
                            <div class="quote_container">
                            <div class="bbcode_quote_container"></div>

                            <div class="bbcode_postedby">
                            <img src="images/misc/quote_icon.png" alt="Quote" /> Originally Posted by <strong>GW348</strong>
                            <a href="showthread.php?p=47209583#post47209583" rel="nofollow"><img class="inlineimg" src="images/buttons/viewpost-right.png" alt="View Post" /></a>
                            </div>
                            <div class="message">I just let the pee flow. The places I play, no one notices or have peed themselves too.</div>

                            </div>
                            </div>
                            </div> <br />
                            RIP Wayne Murray<br />
                            <br />
                            **************** YOU CANCER!!</div>

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              How I do it: Play first. Ask Questions later. That's the simple answer with theory. Keep working on theory, but don't stress about understanding it. It just comes with time.

                              Reading this statement makes me want to know more about what you're trying to do on electric. Driving the song with a strummy acoustic vs. electric solo and texture bit are entirely different processes. Having a solid base in rhythm guitar will give you a serious advantage when taking on electric stuff. Many players skip that step!

                              What do you want to be able to do?


                              Well I am a rhythm guitarist by nature. I can play small licks like Blue on Black by KWS and The Joker but I want to be able to do more. I want to learn how to play lead and to do that I need (or think I need) to be able to hear and know the notes (that's an ongoing process, ear training as we speak) and know how they relate, and what shapes to play where, and which scales fit with other scales.

                              I don't know any scales except the pentatonic in A on the 5th fret. I really want to improve my playing by learning how theory works on a guitar so I can eventually front a band as a lead and not have to hire a lead guitar player.
                              <div class="signaturecontainer">&quot;You've got to dig it, to <u>dig</u> it. Ya dig?&quot; - Thelonius Monk</div>

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