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The Argument for Music Theory

The Argument for Music Theory

Welcome back to Signature Sound’s weekly blog article series! I’m your host, Jambot, and today we will be making the case for why you should add at the very least a minimal, functioning knowledge of music theory to your tool belt if you are working in the music industry.  We will be discussing how music theory helps us to speak the musician’s language, fix what is broken, and create a strong finish to the song at hand. Let’s get started!


Speaking the musician’s language

If you are working in a studio session either as an engineer or a producer, you need to be able to understand the idea your artist/musician is trying to convey to you. They may have an idea for a song and start speaking in terms of melody, harmony, key signature or time signature and COMPLETELY LOSE YOU in the process. At this point, communication starts to break down and frustration takes the place of creative inspiration.

Please don’t mistake what I am saying… not every artist or musician will be a master in music theory or even care all that much about it, but those who do will certainly be thinking in music theory terms, and they expect you to be able to track with their thought process. I understand that some people just have “an ear” for music and feel like they do not need music theory, but I would argue that music theory is an incredible tool that will greatly expand your abilities no matter how good you already are without it.


Fixing what’s broken

The beauty of music theory is it is a logical approach to song formation; it helps to explain how the song started, where it is taking you and where it could logically end. This is crucial to helping you fix sections of a song that simply are not working. A lot of times, something will sound off in the song progression, and you may or may not know why it isn’t working. With a functioning knowledge of music theory, you can analyze several things that may be affecting the section, such as:

-whether or not this section is in the key of the song?

-what chord led you to this transition in the song?

-what are you hoping to accomplish with this section?

-how do you plan on progressing to the next section of the song?

These questions and others can be answered quite simply with the fundamentals of music theory. Once we have fixed our trouble spots in a song, we can move on to how we want to create a strong and meaningful finish.


Creating a Strong Finish

One of the great things about music theory is the fact that music scales establish strong, dominant chords, which dictate where you can and should end your song in order to resolve it properly. This does not mean you have to follow these rules, but a working knowledge of music theory will show you several viable options you have for proper song resolution. In music scales, there are “dominant chords,” which can be used to lead you back to the root note of the scale, as well as “leading tones,” which help you logically move on to the next chord you have in mind.

I am not arguing that you absolutely need music theory training to succeed in the music industry, but I am suggesting that it will give you a leg up on your competition and a more thorough understanding of what makes a song successful. You do not need to be a master in music theory to use it effectively… simply having a working knowledge of what key the song is in, what notes are in the scale, and what chords are formed from the scale will take you very far.

I hope this article helps you to move forward in your own development as a musician and industry professional. If you have any topics you would like to see addressed in upcoming weeks, contact me at @iamjambot, and it may be our next article!