The Beatles- Music Theory?

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
Interesting content, Jeremy. It's important to keep in mind that sometimes application trumps theory, not the other way around. I've collaborated with great musicians who can't identify time signatures but who execute them with immense expertise nevertheless. I've also worked with a few phenomenal guitarists who don't know the difference between C and G. They dominate the guitar neck but can't label its notes. You don't need in-depth knowledge of theory to be a competent musician. You just need to be able to play.
 

MrInsanePolack

Platinum Member
Interesting content, Jeremy. It's important to keep in mind that sometimes application trumps theory, not the other way around. I've collaborated with great musicians who can't identify time signatures but who execute them with immense expertise nevertheless. I've also worked with a few phenomenal guitarists who don't know the difference between C and G. They dominate the guitar neck but can't label its notes. You don't need in-depth knowledge of theory to be a competent musician. You just need to be able to play.
Funny you mention this. I know a guitar player I cant work with because of this. He is a theory genius, and plays pretty spectacularly. He is so stuck in theory he cant let it go and just play. Everything must be analyzed, made to fit something theory wise, disassembled, reconstructed differently, rearranged, blag blah blah. And he thinks I have any idea what he is talking about. I thought he was calling me a retard one day when he just wanted a section to slow down. It's too bad because I like the guy but just cant work with him.
 

NouveauCliche

Senior Member
Interesting video discussing their knowledge of theory at the time of writing and recording...

That's pretty cool - I think the more interesting thing to think about is how big of an influence they had in music in general compared to their knowledge of theory. It's a funny thought that someone who has very basic theory concepts down can be such a heavy influence for popular music for decades and basically alter the history of music in general. I guess that speaks to trying to quantize art.


Interesting content, Jeremy. It's important to keep in mind that sometimes application trumps theory, not the other way around. I've collaborated with great musicians who can't identify time signatures but who execute them with immense expertise nevertheless. I've also worked with a few phenomenal guitarists who don't know the difference between C and G. They dominate the guitar neck but can't label its notes. You don't need in-depth knowledge of theory to be a competent musician. You just need to be able to play.
I have to be honest - I only think this true to a certain extent. I've been in PAINFUL sessions with song keys need to be changed and people can't keep up because they don't know their theory - and those are the people that don't get calls back.

Not to say that there aren't good players that don't know a lot of theory - but professionals who take the time to learn and study what they are doing will always have a leg up in navigating songs or the speed in which they learn new songs or compose solos, etc. Unless you're talking about an absolute freak of nature - which totally exist - that have perfect ears.

Music is a language - it really is - and if you don't understand grammar, or spelling, etc...then you really can't speak or write effectively - or AS effectively as someone who does.

I know you aren't saying that you shouldn't learn theory - but I think it's important to recognize the work and talent of people that do put in the work to learn and do put in the time to effectively put it into practice.

Yes you can be competent ENOUGH - but you could be so much moreso with some work.

This is always a point of point I have in clinics or when we do workshops - there's SO much more freedom that you can explore when you understand the structure of what you are doing....whether that be time signatures or chords, etc. If you know that you are XY key and XY mode or XY scale can get you from point A to point B and then you can transcend that and put AB scale or chord over it because theory has taught you why that makes sense....you're so much better than someone feeling their way through it and happening to hit good stuff every now and then.

Not saying you can't write a beautiful song without knowing what you're doing....but I'm speaking more from a player perspective.

EDIT:
one final thought:
The above is probably less true for drummers - but very true for instruments with actual notes :) haha
 
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C.M. Jones

Well-known member
That's pretty cool - I think the more interesting thing to think about is how big of an influence they had in music in general compared to their knowledge of theory. It's a funny thought that someone who has very basic theory concepts down can be such a heavy influence for popular music for decades and basically alter the history of music in general. I guess that speaks to trying to quantize art.




I have to be honest - I only think this true to a certain extent. I've been in PAINFUL sessions with song keys need to be changed and people can't keep up because they don't know their theory - and those are the people that don't get calls back.

Not to say that there aren't good players that don't know a lot of theory - but professionals who take the time to learn and study what they are doing will always have a leg up in navigating songs or the speed in which they learn new songs or compose solos, etc. Unless you're talking about an absolute freak of nature - which totally exist - that have perfect ears.

Music is a language - it really is - and if you don't understand grammar, or spelling, etc...then you really can't speak or write effectively - or AS effectively as someone who does.

I know you aren't saying that you shouldn't learn theory - but I think it's important to recognize the work and talent of people that do put in the work to learn and do put in the time to effectively put it into practice.

Yes you can be competent ENOUGH - but you could be so much moreso with some work.

This is always a point of point I have in clinics or when we do workshops - there's SO much more freedom that you can explore when you understand the structure of what you are doing....whether that be time signatures or chords, etc. If you know that you are XY key and XY mode or XY scale can get you from point A to point B and then you can transcend that and put AB scale or chord over it because theory has taught you why that makes sense....you're so much better than someone feeling their way through it and happening to hit good stuff every now and then.

Not saying you can't write a beautiful song without knowing what you're doing....but I'm speaking more from a player perspective.

EDIT:
one final thought:
The above is probably less true for drummers - but very true for instruments with actual notes :) haha
I agree all around. Don't get me wrong; knowing theory is generally a big boost to your expertise and flexibility as a musician. I've spent years studying it myself and would never discourage anyone from doing so. There are no disadvantages to theoretical mastery in my book. It's a valuable boost to one's musical makeup.

At the same time, I've encountered musicians who are all theory and no feel, just as I've come across others who are all feel and no theory. I'd rather play with the all feel guys, though the ideal is to possess both attributes in equal proportion.
 

NouveauCliche

Senior Member
I agree all around. Don't get me wrong; knowing theory is generally a big boost to your expertise and flexibility as a musician. I've spent years studying it myself and would never discourage anyone from doing so. There are no disadvantages to theoretical mastery in my book. It's a valuable boost to one's musical makeup.

At the same time, I've encountered musicians who are all theory and no feel, just as I've come across others who are all feel and no theory. I'd rather play with the all feel guys, though the ideal is to possess both attributes in equal proportion.
I agree 100% - good feel is king - the absolute best of us wrap it all up in a nice package (Vinnieeeeeee).
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
Funny you mention this. I know a guitar player I cant work with because of this. He is a theory genius, and plays pretty spectacularly. He is so stuck in theory he cant let it go and just play. Everything must be analyzed, made to fit something theory wise, disassembled, reconstructed differently, rearranged, blag blah blah. And he thinks I have any idea what he is talking about. I thought he was calling me a retard one day when he just wanted a section to slow down. It's too bad because I like the guy but just cant work with him.
It can be a real tragedy when an otherwise monster of a musician is manacled to his own education. Being able to recognize a pattern is one thing; being enslaved by that pattern is quite another. In the words of Mark Twain, "It is good to obey all the rules when you're young so you'll have the strength to break them when you're old."
 
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johnwesley

Silver Member
Louis Prima asked if he could read music. His reply, "I can read a little bit, but not enough to hurt me." I think that sums it up. Theory is just that....theory. We could all sit around for hours discussing how to do this, does this note add to or take away from blah blah blah, what if I play an arpeggio in C and you're in a minor scale. Do my triplets clash with the 8th notes you're playing? To my knowledge, none of the Beatles studied music theory, they were just great innovators and musicians. George Martin who produced them however is a different story. I maintain that orchestras, and big bands need scores to keep 30 or so people on the "same page" so to speak. A group of 3, 4 or even 10 musicians playing rock, pop, country, jazz, etc., just need unity through improvisational rehearsals and agreement on the outcome. If you want to write it all out for posterity or because you have a bad memory go ahead. Ask yourself. Am I a musician or a reader? Do I really need to intellectualize the music experience or just enjoy it as an art form?
 

GOOSE72

Well-known member
Steve Harris. I know what "crotchet and a quaver" is, but that's about it.

On scales
I don't know what scales are.
 

Yamaha Rider

Well-known member
Louis Prima asked if he could read music. His reply, "I can read a little bit, but not enough to hurt me." I think that sums it up. Theory is just that....theory. We could all sit around for hours discussing how to do this, does this note add to or take away from blah blah blah, what if I play an arpeggio in C and you're in a minor scale. Do my triplets clash with the 8th notes you're playing? To my knowledge, none of the Beatles studied music theory, they were just great innovators and musicians. George Martin who produced them however is a different story. I maintain that orchestras, and big bands need scores to keep 30 or so people on the "same page" so to speak. A group of 3, 4 or even 10 musicians playing rock, pop, country, jazz, etc., just need unity through improvisational rehearsals and agreement on the outcome. If you want to write it all out for posterity or because you have a bad memory go ahead. Ask yourself. Am I a musician or a reader? Do I really need to intellectualize the music experience or just enjoy it as an art form?
Of course, George Martin decided that Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields needed editing out of Sergeant Pepper. A fine example of over-thinking.
 

Yamaha Rider

Well-known member
How much 'theory', notation, tuning and quality instrumentation did the original blues men have?
And they pretty much invented the entire genre...
 

basset52

Senior Member
Interesting content, Jeremy. It's important to keep in mind that sometimes application trumps theory, not the other way around. I've collaborated with great musicians who can't identify time signatures but who execute them with immense expertise nevertheless. I've also worked with a few phenomenal guitarists who don't know the difference between C and G. They dominate the guitar neck but can't label its notes. You don't need in-depth knowledge of theory to be a competent musician. You just need to be able to play.
Up until a couple of years ago I visited a remote Aboriginal Community in central outback Australia every few months for 6 years. English is their second and sometimes their 3rd language. I had the priviledge to jam with a lot of the community musicians on occasions , bass, 6 string electric or acoustic and drums. They were an amazing talented group who would create and sing their own compositions in their own language ( Pitjantjatjara - a central Australian dialect) None of it was written down . All played by ear and memory. They played, a bit of rock, reggae, metal, country - all with equal expertise. Communication in the sessions was interesting to say the least- they spoke virtually no English, I spoke virtually no Pitjantjatjara. We would jam for 30 mins or so then they would swap instruments. They were a bit amazed initially when they learnt I only played drums - not guitar or bass as well.
 

Woolwich

Silver Member
No one I've ever played with has taken a formal musical education and we've all learned "on the job". Switching keys etc has never been an issue, perhaps someone might use the language of a "step" or "half a step" more but it never gets in the way of them playing.

I'm reminded of a story I've shared here before. December 1983 my band was down to play two songs at the school 6th Form Christmas Concert and the following tableau was played out. My self taught mate with his Flying V guitar was stood in the school common room showing an A level Music student the scales in different keys as she didn't know them/couldn't get to grips with them. Whether or not he was as quick as a flash with the note names I genuinely can't remember but he knew exactly where to plant his fingers next.
 

johnwesley

Silver Member
Up until a couple of years ago I visited a remote Aboriginal Community in central outback Australia every few months for 6 years. English is their second and sometimes their 3rd language. I had the priviledge to jam with a lot of the community musicians on occasions , bass, 6 string electric or acoustic and drums. They were an amazing talented group who would create and sing their own compositions in their own language ( Pitjantjatjara - a central Australian dialect) None of it was written down . All played by ear and memory. They played, a bit of rock, reggae, metal, country - all with equal expertise. Communication in the sessions was interesting to say the least- they spoke virtually no English, I spoke virtually no Pitjantjatjara. We would jam for 30 mins or so then they would swap instruments. They were a bit amazed initially when they learnt I only played drums - not guitar or bass as well.
What a bunch of BS. There's no way, absolutely no way a group of people that can't speak each others language well enough to have deep conversation, can't or won't read music, refuse to even think about time signature, arpeggios, major versus minor key orchestration, or how polyrhythmic variations affect the eating habits of the non aboriginal community can "magically" play music in a cohesive way. Either you're not being honest or there was something else going on prior to your group's playing together. AND you claim everyone swapped instruments? Are you crazy? What you claim is utterly impossible without years of formal training and even then many people would just end up quitting due to the extreme difficulty of understanding how music works. You can't do music without a degree, and that degree tells you/us at what level your music ability really is. Quit telling such tall tales. You're not fooling any of us. You have to be formally trained to play music. Much like Keith Richards.
 

oldskoolsoul

Silver Member
To have a music degree, is not telling me that much..

I can think of a few examples of people who claim to have a music degree and they are the shittiest players i ever saw in my life..

On the other hand, someone like Dennis Chambers can not read music at all, as far as i know..

Would anyone who has a music degree call Dennis Chambers a shitty player..?

Because i certainly would not..
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
Here's a perspective that might not be received with warmth and open arms. Sometimes -- certainly not always but sometimes -- a music degree is pursued to accommodate a lack of natural talent. I've known musicians with degrees in music who can discuss theory with encyclopedic expertise but whose playing is pedestrian at best. On the contrary, some of the most capable musicians I've worked with know next to nothing about theory. Music is intuitive to them. They make it happen in ways no one else can. They don't talk about music; they play it. They're vessels of innate execution, not parrots of textbook erudition. Music surges through their DNA. Classes aren't needed.

Clarification: I'm not undermining music degrees. Lots of truly great players have them. So do lots of thoroughly unimpressive ones.
 

johnwesley

Silver Member
Case in point. Pete Townshend has NO music degree, yet his rock opera (1st one ever) is one of the most artistic, musical compositions in all of rock music. Not only is it structurally sound, but the dynamics of the 4 musicians is unequalled IMO. Even his short little pop songs are exemplary. Stuff like "Happy Jack", "Little Billy", "Tattoo", "Glow Girl", "Baba O'Reilly", "I Can See For Miles", "Substitute", not to mention "Won't Get Fooled Again". The only member of the Who with a degree was Keith Moon and he had a Masters AND PHD in both mischief AND insanity!!!!
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Good players are pretty rare, so maybe simply knowing basic things about music, or not knowing basic things about music, isn't really an indicator of playing ability. I guess a bad player who can read can at least cover a part, whereas a bad player who can't read is useless-- there's that.

Virtually all of the people I play with-- professional players who can sound great in a wide variety of situations-- have some kind of education. The ones who don't, usually can only do their one thing-- they'll do one or two kinds of gigs, and don't have a lot of flexibility to do other things.

Typically, people who are good at a thing are not the ones who shrink from doing the hard things-- like learning high-level theory like "what is a quarter note" or "what are the names of the notes." "How do you read music." People who want to have a career in music learn that kind of stuff.

You also can't really claim to have the approval of John Lennon or Buddy Rich or whoever just because he didn't read music and neither can you. Like there may be one or two other significant differences between the average drumming forum user and Buddy Rich.

Music is a language - it really is - and if you don't understand grammar, or spelling, etc...then you really can't speak or write effectively - or AS effectively as someone who does.
You don't find many professional writers who don't know what a noun is. They may not know every technical detail-- that's what editors are for-- but they're going to be extremely serious about knowing about language.
 
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