The role of theory

Posted by: drjay9051

The role of theory - 01/24/12 10:10 AM

I'd like some advice from any piano teachers in this forum. I am new to music. I wish to play some blues, jazz, standards and a small bit of classical. Due to location I will be taking "on line " lessons. I have already purchased two books on theory and am learning a bit. I know time signature,treble and bass clefs as well as other very basic stuff. My piano does not arrive for another week. Question is how much theory?? If I am able to read sheet music and have the basics of rhythm, fingering etc is it enough theory to know intervals my major, minor chords and other basics. Need I know how to identify key, circle of fifths, transposition?

I am in my late 50s and am looking to become proficient to the degree I can play for personal enjoyment. Is there any point to delving deep into theory? Will knowledge of complex theory improve my playing or is actual hands on the path to improvement?

Do I need to know all the modes etc. I suppose my overall question is what is a good balance?

I realize that to improvise in jazz I need more than major minor chords but I have no visions of fame or being an accomplished artist. Just a desire to play some beautiful music.

Thanks for the help.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: The role of theory - 01/24/12 10:52 AM

Theory helps you understand the how and why of what you're doing. Knowing you're playing a C chord, for example, but inverted, or arpeggiated, or broken, or closed/open, will ease and speed your learning. Conversely, you'll understand your theory better as your playing improves. Symbiotic relationship here. BTW, good luck with your learning.
Posted by: PianoStudent88

Re: The role of theory - 01/24/12 11:54 AM

Surely you need to know key to play a piece correctly, to know which notes are sharped and flatted. By knowing the name of the key, in addition to simply reading off the notes that are sharped and flatted, it will also tell you what the "home" note is, where phrases end to have a feeling of closure.

Knowing the circle of fifths makes standard chord progressions make more sense. Why, for example is "ii V I" a common progression? (E.g. Dmin G C in the key of C). Because it is travelling around the circle of fifths.

Enjoy your playing!
Posted by: Gary D.

Re: The role of theory - 01/24/12 03:46 PM

Originally Posted By: drjay9051
My piano does not arrive for another week.

Do you mean you don't yet have *any* instrument?
Posted by: Scott Coletta

Re: The role of theory - 01/24/12 04:00 PM

Originally Posted By: drjay9051
I am in my late 50s and am looking to become proficient to the degree I can play for personal enjoyment. Is there any point to delving deep into theory? Will knowledge of complex theory improve my playing or is actual hands on the path to improvement?

...I have no visions of fame or being an accomplished artist. Just a desire to play some beautiful music.


I would say that theory is as "hands on" as it gets. Of course you have to play the theory for it to benefit you, but anything you play without theoretical understanding is missing the point. I would say it's like painting a picture using color by number. If you want to paint your own picture, you need to understand how to put together the colors, shades, lines, textures, etc. and practice doing it over and over and over.

A short answer... if you can't play the way you want, learn more theory.

I would say the hard part is knowing what theory to learn. This is where the right teacher comes in. Otherwise, it just takes alot of time and patience. smile
Posted by: drjay9051

Re: The role of theory - 01/24/12 06:18 PM

Originally Posted By: Gary D.
Originally Posted By: drjay9051
My piano does not arrive for another week.

Do you mean you don't yet have *any* instrument?


Correct.I have only been playing in my mind. Will be getting a Kawai digital piano.

Never played a note before but willing to devote at least an hour a day to learn
Posted by: drjay9051

Re: The role of theory - 01/24/12 06:28 PM

Originally Posted By: Scott Coletta
Originally Posted By: drjay9051
I am in my late 50s and am looking to become proficient to the degree I can play for personal enjoyment. Is there any point to delving deep into theory? Will knowledge of complex theory improve my playing or is actual hands on the path to improvement?

...I have no visions of fame or being an accomplished artist. Just a desire to play some beautiful music.


I would say that theory is as "hands on" as it gets. Of course you have to play the theory for it to benefit you, but anything you play without theoretical understanding is missing the point. I would say it's like painting a picture using color by number. If you want to paint your own picture, you need to understand how to put together the colors, shades, lines, textures, etc. and practice doing it over and over and over.

A short answer... if you can't play the way you want, learn more theory.

I would say the hard part is knowing what theory to learn. This is where the right teacher comes in. Otherwise, it just takes alot of time and patience. smile


Thanks, Scott. great analogy. i do want more than to paint by numbers. Appreciate your input.

BTW: Nice take on Blue Monk !! I don't believe I will be at that level by next year LOL.

J
Posted by: RonO

Re: The role of theory - 01/24/12 06:46 PM

Above all, and in all things, seek understanding. When you understand what you are doing you will not only be able to do it better, you will get far more enjoyment and satisfaction. Why would you want to limit your knowledge? When would you decide you have learned all you need to know? There is a lot to learn but you don’t have to learn it all this month or even this year. It will take the rest of your life and even then you won’t be finished.

If you wish to play styles like blues and jazz where improvising is important then a good knowledge of theory will give you a great advantage.

Don’t think of theory as a necessary evil. It is not dry and boring. I am sure that when you get into it you will discover it is an absorbing and fascinating subject. Don’t be overwhelmed by the scope of the subject, but be content with taking small steps and making slow but sure progress.

I have been studying music theory with varying periods of intensity for 70 years and I know I still have so much to learn.