Theory, a bad thing?
Another effort to not hijack an thread.
VMurphy just asked for a ‘zouk book and was directed to Chris Smith. I have it and agree that it’s largely about theory. (As important is the need to be intimately familiar with the fingerboard of whatever instrument you play). That me starting me thinking. Western music ( the larger context and not old Hank Williams songs) is to me, about theory, the math of music. There is nothing special or unique about any of it, including Irish Trad that separates one genre from another except for the way we apply, or adapt, the math, the theory, to self-imposed limitations unique to the genre. Each genre has "rules". You can follow them or creatively break them, but they are indeed there. A simple example here, the Dominate 7 Sharp 9 chord. Jazz players use it all the time. Jimmy Hendricks made a career out of it. Yet if you put it into an Irish tune, even where it nicely fits, someone would "get a rope". Same theory, different application. So how does that work here?
Simply put, by learning about theory ( you don’t have read music to learn this but it helps) you have solid starting place from which you can start to put things together, You may choose to go to the solid, safe, I-IV-V, pattern, the ubiquitous Am-G, and so on, or thrown in a iii, ix, or vi, or an inversion of any chord. Point is, there is a theoretical basis for it and you can "hear" it before you play it. Without a working knowledge of theory every tune is a re-invention of the wheel , a repetition of every other (similar sounding) tune, or recalled from memory. Theory is what lets you spontaneously create a new voice to a tune. Note: this new voice may or may not work, but you have some ideas about that before you play it. Not everyone in the group will agree with the sound, but that has as much to do with their notion of the right or wrong sound as anything else. (Re-read the discussions on fusion). Theory is what lets a competent if uninspired, backer play about 80+% of this music with only 8 chords. Theory is what lets melodies flow smoothly, or clash wonderfully. It’s why some drones and some passing notes work, or not. The application of theory is what brings out the joy and creativity of the music and keeps it from being yet another string of sounds adding to the din.
Many players, myself included, played long before we had any familiarity with theory and where limited by it. I only suggest that anyone who aspires to be a musician learn something about theory, about why some sounds work together and some don’t, about how to use music to create and resolve tension. It’s all in the theory and learning about it gives you a "leg up". There are many, many good players who are not musicians, and many musicians who are not good players . Best of all are the great musicians who are great players. I posit the notion that it’s theory plus talent that makes it happen.
Sound like a love-affair with theory? Yeah, it kinda is. I feel quite strongly about it, but I’m not going to start a fight over it. I have way too much respect for the different ways each of us approach music and life. For that end I’m gonna stay out of the rest of this discussion. No arguments here. Still I am curious about just how others look at how theory applies, or not, to their own playing. Do you care to share your thoughts?