Music Theory for the previously wilfully ignorant

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TimmyOTimmyO Frets: 3095
I'm going to chart my foray into learning music theory - as much as a record for me but would be pleased if any others felt like joining in.  As well as capturing the trials and tribulations I'm going to post links to articles and videos I find interesting or useful along the way.



I asked for some recommendations via Facebook for book-based material and got a whole range of suggestions (I am fortunate to know (mostly in real life) some amazingly knowledgeable people/pros so there was no shortage of interesting suggestions)

First some caveats/bits of background:

1. I don't 'need' to be able to read - certainly it's not a focus at this point. That may change should I get to a point I'm happy with and fancy a new area of pursuit.
2. Primary goal for now is to understand the nuts and bolts of music to help rather than hinder creativity and songwriting (rather than trial and errors chords and finger shapes :-)
3. They types of music I'd like to create lie far more in songs that get sung, chords, nice chord harmony and voicing etc than it does in spicy lead playing or modal excursions. Each to their own :-) 

Some of the suggestions I got from my FB chums look to be aimed at the more experienced musician, or the very serious student of the art, and/or are presented in a way that assumes you'll be learning to read everything as you go. For me this is likely to lead to frustration and may turn me off so I've decided to go for things more populist in presentation for now.


So where am I starting?
First up I grabbed this cool iOS app - https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/waay-music-theory-for-songwriting/id974357313?mt=8



https://vimeo.com/132273102

It starts VERY simple - perfect. The exercises at each stage can be gone back and taken again and again and it generates the questions fresh each time

I also loved the novel presentation of Hooktheory - so I have grabbed the iPad version of their book Hooktheory 1 : https://www.hooktheory.com/music-theory-for-songwriting ;



I think this and Waay will cover overlapping ground and I like seeing the same concepts covered differently.

As I was in a bit of a buying frenzy (come on, we all do it when excited to start something new) I also found myself grabbing the Kindle version of this https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00CLNXGH8/ref=oh_aui_d_detailpage_o02_?ie=UTF8&psc=1  
I probably could have done without that one but I was on a roll ;-) 


The recommendations I got
As I say, these varied enormously. The ones that felt not like "me" I sidelined for now, but a few people, all of whom are very solid on both their professional practice and teaching, recommended a couple of the Associated Board books so I have grabbed 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1854724460/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1



(arrived this morning - thanks Prime) 

and https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1860960901/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1  

(arriving more slowly, non-Prime :-(  ) 



I've been using Waay for a couple of days and like it, and I'm going to spend a few days also looking over my other material and decide whether to spread my time across them or stick to just one. At the same time I've dug out a cool book I bought years ago on fretboard learning (am also aware of the various Youtube guides to exercises for this)

I've kept a note of all the other recommendations I got, and will (fingers crossed) start to feed them in when I have the fundamentals understood so that they can be of more help.

Phew.

Capturing it all here may end up being something purely for my own amusement and reflection, but that's ok. If anyone *does* feel like chiming in/joining in/commenting though that'd be awesome. 


"Congratulations on being officially the most right anyone has ever been about anything, ever." -- Noisepolluter knows the score
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  • TimmyOTimmyO Frets: 3095
    And as threatened - here is a video I saw today that I found really useful/basic enough to be interesting ;




    "Congratulations on being officially the most right anyone has ever been about anything, ever." -- Noisepolluter knows the score
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  • VimFuegoVimFuego Frets: 6275
    one thing I will say about learning to read notation, for me it helped me understand the fretboard much more and helped/forced me to get away from shapes and think about the fretboard in terms of the actual note. This was partially as where I play I may be the only guitarist there and we learn tunes by ear. So whoever is teaching won't say, 1st string 2nd fret, they will say f#. Now, you could do this without actually learning notation, but for me I needed the triple reinforcment of reading the note on paper, V etc.

    I'm not locked in here with you, you are locked in here with me.

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  • TimmyOTimmyO Frets: 3095
    VimFuego said:
    one thing I will say about learning to read notation, for me it helped me understand the fretboard much more and helped/forced me to get away from shapes and think about the fretboard in terms of the actual note. This was partially as where I play I may be the only guitarist there and we learn tunes by ear. So whoever is teaching won't say, 1st string 2nd fret, they will say f#. Now, you could do this without actually learning notation, but for me I needed the triple reinforcment of reading the note on paper, V etc.
    Yeah I can see that. 
    "Congratulations on being officially the most right anyone has ever been about anything, ever." -- Noisepolluter knows the score
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  • TeetonetalTeetonetal Frets: 6038
    edited April 2017
    If now me was teaching younger me theory now. . My first step would be to learn intervals. What they are, what they are called, how to play them on pairs if strings and how they sound. I'd then do a lot of ear training. 1st over 1 octave, then over 2.

    This is the building block to all theory. It's the skeleton.  Everything else is the flesh. 
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  • mike_lmike_l Frets: 5671

    Ringleader of the Cambridge cartel, pedal champ and king of the dirt boxes (down to 21) 

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  • TheBlueWolfTheBlueWolf Frets: 1444
    Yeah, start with intervals; what they are, which ones make certain chords, scales, etc. You can do it without the need to learn standard notation too......every interval has a certain distance on the fretboard too.
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  • ArchtopDaveArchtopDave Frets: 466
    I would suggest that you do start to learn to read music notation, as I think it helps to tie the theory to the practical art of playing guitar. You have only to learn one Clef for guitar after all, unless you playing Bass Guitar as well. I agree with what @VimFuego says above.
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  • VimFuegoVimFuego Frets: 6275
    I would suggest that you do start to learn to read music notation, as I think it helps to tie the theory to the practical art of playing guitar. You have only to learn one Clef for guitar after all, unless you playing Bass Guitar as well. I agree with what @VimFuego says above.

    for me (and I realise not everyone thinks like this) it really helped seeing how the notes interact on the paper, seeing the intervals. TAB is great, no doubt, but it doesn't show the intervals in such a clear and linear manner. I don't think you necessarily have to be a great sight reader, but for me it was a useful skill. OFC there are, on this very forum, players and musicians who are significantly better players and have a much better grasp of theory than me who can't read notation, so it's not the be all and end all.

    I'm not locked in here with you, you are locked in here with me.

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  • Danny1969Danny1969 Frets: 3657
    Personally I would like to be able to read proper music notation at full speed, that would be a great skill to have. However I'm not so sure it's as handy a skill to have as instant recognition of intervals is. The ability is recognize a chord or note progression is the key to being able to play anything you hear and transpose it into any key you like.

    Don't think in terms of frets, try to see the guitar in notes rather than frets .... you don't want to do any work that's specific to guitar only. All your mental work in terms of scales, intervals and substitution should be just thought of in notes ... not frets. 

    The simple steps are 

    Learn where every note is on the guitar \ banjo \ piano or whatever instrument 

    Learn the intervals to build the 2 common scales 

    tone  \ tone  \ semitone \ tone  \ tone \ tone \ semitone  is the major

    tone \ semitone \ tone \ tone \  semitone  \ tone \ tone  is the minor

    You can learn all the modes just by starting at a different point in the major scale ...... to get the Dorian mode start your interval building the 2nd note in the major scale so now you got 

    tone \ semi \ tone \ tone \ tone \ tone \ semi  \ tone 

    If you wanted the next mode, the Phrygian you would start the third note along to build it 

    semi \ tone \ tone \ tone \ semi \ tone  \ tone etc

    Personally I think in all my playing in covers and tributes the modes are generally not that useful and not something I think about when solo'ing although I know them .... there are things we all do instinctively though like making a solo a bit more bluesy by injecting a bit of Dorian mode into it  ... whether we know it or not....

    After many years of just playing by ear I took the time to do a bit of theory and I must say it's helped me tremendously in terms of communicating with other muso's. It's something I wish I had done sooner too 


    www.2020studios.co.uk 
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  • CarpeDiemCarpeDiem Frets: 117
    Danny1969 said:
    Personally I would like to be able to read proper music notation at full speed, that would be a great skill to have. However I'm not so sure it's as handy a skill to have as instant recognition of intervals is. The ability is recognize a chord or note progression is the key to being able to play anything you hear and transpose it into any key you like.

    Don't think in terms of frets, try to see the guitar in notes rather than frets .... you don't want to do any work that's specific to guitar only. All your mental work in terms of scales, intervals and substitution should be just thought of in notes ... not frets. 

    The simple steps are 

    Learn where every note is on the guitar \ banjo \ piano or whatever instrument 

    Learn the intervals to build the 2 common scales 

    tone  \ tone  \ semitone \ tone  \ tone \ tone \ semitone  is the major

    tone \ semitone \ tone \ tone \  semitone  \ tone \ tone  is the minor

    You can learn all the modes just by starting at a different point in the major scale ...... to get the Dorian mode start your interval building the 2nd note in the major scale so now you got 

    tone \ semi \ tone \ tone \ tone \ tone \ semi  \ tone 

    If you wanted the next mode, the Phrygian you would start the third note along to build it 

    semi \ tone \ tone \ tone \ semi \ tone  \ tone etc

    Personally I think in all my playing in covers and tributes the modes are generally not that useful and not something I think about when solo'ing although I know them .... there are things we all do instinctively though like making a solo a bit more bluesy by injecting a bit of Dorian mode into it  ... whether we know it or not....

    After many years of just playing by ear I took the time to do a bit of theory and I must say it's helped me tremendously in terms of communicating with other muso's. It's something I wish I had done sooner too 


    I think this is good advice, and something I also wish I'd learned sooner. A classically trained singer has just joined our band, which is forcing more conversations around transposing.
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  • TimmyOTimmyO Frets: 3095
    Righty-ho, here is what I have been up to : 

    I started by using the "Waay" app I mentioned earlier. It is really very well done. I found though that each session I needed to go back and re-do some of the previous exercises otherwise I was lost (basically this stuff is still floating round in my short term memory rather than ingrained) 

    Major and Minor scales, Circle of fifths


    Using Waay I have been introduced to note order and intervals, with exercises drilling distances between notes that are either half, one, or on-and-a-half steps. 

    Then we did construction of the major scale, with exercises to write them out from all sorts of random tonic note. 

    Then there were a couple of lessons looking at the various major scales, and showing that if we stack them in order of sharps they are a fifth apart, leading on to the circle of fifths. 
    Then a lesson showing the order of notes in the circle, and how to more speedily concoct correct major scales by knowing how many sharps, and what order to add them.

    Then exercises to consolidate that. (I last did those a couple of days ago - I'd struggle now, so am about to go and re-drill those)

    Then it went onto Minor scale formula teaching, exercises, then pointed out the cycle of 4ths, how to construct minor scales more quickly using the circle of 5ths/4ths, then exercises on that. 

    All that ^ pretty much gets you to the end of the Waay course on scales, and is, I think, a really nicely done course on that material. I'll review and revise over the coming weeks so that it sticks.

    There is an in-app purchase (£4.99) which moves on to harmony and chords. I'm considering getting that too as I really like the presentation and exercise format. 

    I have also been nosing idly in the AB books I got, kind of digesting the material covered above presented in a different (dryer) way. 


    The Fretboard 

    Another app: this one is called FretWiz https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/fretwiz-guitar-fretboard-trainer/id558187930?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo=4
    It starts with the 5th fret and just drills you on it, sprinkling in anything you are slow or wrong on more frequently. It drills then test, then once you pass you move on to 7th fret - same deal. Then it tests you on both of those, in a couple of different ways. If you pass, it's on to fret 1, then fret 3 (etc etc) 

    I've always been terrible at this, but that is slowly improving (well, for certain frets so far ;-)
    Ongoing.


    Ear Training


    EarMaster ! Another very cool app https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/earmaster-music-theory-ear-training/id1105030163?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo=4
    This thing is brilliant - it is a free download with the early part of the beginner course included, then you need to purchase later material. I sprung for the (huge) bundle of all the beginner lessons, and there are other much more advanced bundles too.
    It is brilliantly presented - it has you identifying unison/2nd intervals first (starts slowly), then has you sing back interval exercises (at this stage they are very simple ones) and it listens to make sure you are getting it right.

    Next was some rhythm notation and identifying rhythm patterns and matching to notation, and then clapping/tapping notated rhythms. 
    Looking through the lesson headings there is a mountian of material here. 


    Piano

    What? Yeah I know.
    As some of the theory stuff started to threaten to sink in I was thinking about how bloody unhelpful the physical layout of the fretboard is in understanding and seeing the concepts. So I nipped in the eldest lad's room to use his piano while he was at school and dusted off an old piano tutor book I bought yonks ago but never used. It was quite fun. I may or may not continue doing that. 
    "Congratulations on being officially the most right anyone has ever been about anything, ever." -- Noisepolluter knows the score
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  • TimmyOTimmyO Frets: 3095
    <bumping in light of other recent thread> 
    "Congratulations on being officially the most right anyone has ever been about anything, ever." -- Noisepolluter knows the score
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