I learned music sitting on the side of my bed, listening to music and trying like hell to figure out how to play what I was hearing. It wasn’t until 10 years later that someone informed me that chords and scales were related. In those days, it seemed like a magic trick if someone made up a chord progression that sounded good. So, I realized I was missing out and I started learning how music worked. Later on, I discovered this was called music theory.
1. Build Good Chord Progressions
Making up your own chords is one of the first things every musician tries to do. You can do it by ear, copying other songs you know. But, then all your progressions sound the same (or at least the same as the music you like listening to). Learning music theory – specifically how chords are built within a major or minor scale – illuminates the path to creating unlimited (and more importantly original) chord progressions.
2.Understanding Your Instrument
The first instrument I learned (guitar) seemed like the steepest climb. But, the subsequent instruments that I’ve learned have all been easier – thanks to music theory. Every instrument represents patterns – whether its on the fretboard or in the interplay between oscillators on a synthesizer. In the later example, music theory is a total boost to a player’s productivity! If a synth player understands the patterns between consonant and dissonant intervals then they will have the upper hand when they’re twiddling their synth’s knobs!
3.Developing Your Ear
Music theory IS an intellectual pursuit, but getting good at it will also train your ears – which is SUPER helpful! For example, how are you going to learn to play a scale on your instrument without doing it a million times? I’ll tell you… you won’t. So, there you are playing your scales over and over and of course your ears are there with you… listening! So, as you practice and implement your music theory knowledge, your ears will improve automatically in the background. I used to suspect that music theory would dull my ability to “just feel” the music. But, I can see now that my ears are my greatest “just feel it” tool – and they were trained by my music theory study.
4. Better Songwriting
This isn’t just true for writing, but also for learning songs that you love. Understanding that some chord progressions occur much more often than others, diminishes the challenge of figuring out songs from your iPod. Then, when it comes to writing songs, you’ll feel liberated to be more expressive AND original if you know how to figure out all the chords that might go together and then choose your favorites among them. In addition to the boost you’ll get to both learning and writing songs, music theory also boosts your appreciation of what goes into innovative and interesting songs (ones that think outside the box). That is more satisfying that you think!
5. Jam and Play With Others More Easily
Music is a really awesome way to get together with other people. But, unless you know what you’re doing, it is pretty stressful and even the most brave among us can wind up feeling dejected. So, why not learn some music theory – like scales and their relationship to chords? Then, when you’re jamming with others you can (1) quickly identify the key they’re playing and (2) quickly figure out the right way to contribute to the musical conversation. This is like knowing a language – it is awesome to feel like you can say what’s on your mind and join in.