Music Theory or Not, That Is The Question

I’ve heard some people say things like, “I don’t know any theory, I just play by “feel”. I don’t want to learn theory because it will mess up my “feel”.”

I’ve heard other people say things like, “If your “feel” couldn’t handle a little bit of theory, it must have not been that strong of a “feel” to start with…”

Both of these sentiments make me chuckle, and together they help us to see the middle road we want to walk down as musicians. Knowing as much theory as we need to be able to express ourselves well with maximum impact, and never allowing the intellectual side of things to dominate the magic and emotion that made us fall in love with music in the first place.

If you know me at all, you know that I am a theory Nerd with a capital “N.” I love it. Since I was a kid, music has been an obsession for me. If I wasn’t playing it, I wanted to be reading about it or meditating about things I’d been practicing or reading about.

In my personal experience, when it’s time to get on stage and play in front of a crowd, or it’s time to press record in front of a microphone, theory goes out the window, and I become lost in emotion.

Charlie Parker, whom many consider to be one of the greatest innovators and improvisers of the 20th century is quoted as saying, “First you learn the instrument, then you learn the music, then you forget all that sh*@ and just play. ”

I think this is great advice. Let’s be open to learning all the theory we can, all the while remembering that the theory of music is not music itself.

Your thoughts?


I highly agree, feeling and theory are equally important.

As I have mentioned before, I’m in my beginner stages as a musician, though I am not completely unfamiliar to music. I used to be able to play a few melodies on piano, and I can name all the keys on one as well as read simple sheet music.

But I’m still learning to just being able to just play what I think sounds good, and I think that’s essentially one of the question music theory answers. Like why does some chords sound good together, while playing two keys (on the piano) next to each other sound not so good.

I personally think the harmonica is excellent in conveying both theory and feeling, since it’s a easy instrument to carry around, whilst also being very diverse in it’s ability to create sounds.

I hope I am making sense :slight_smile:

That all makes perfect sense, and I agree wholeheartedly!