There are two things that I used to absolutely hate about music: practicing and theory.
Thankfully, I have overcome my aversion to practicing. I have come to the point where it’s actually a relief to set aside an hour or so every day to get away from studying and homework and just play.
It’s relaxing to turn on a metronome and rerun passages of fast sixteenth notes at a sluggish pace (no, I’m not being sarcastic).
While this appreciation is beneficial to me and my playing, the more surprising change in recent years is my sudden interest in music theory.
In lower and middle school, my piano and violin teachers would require me to complete music theory workbooks and to practice ear training (the process of getting one’s ear to recognize different notes, intervals between notes, and rhythms).
I remember instances where I would purposefully leave my workbooks at home so that I wouldn’t have to do the exercises.
Along with my transition into high school, however, has come a musical transition towards an appreciation and interest in music theory.
I don’t know for sure what brought this sudden attraction on, but I have a few guesses.
First, my current violin and piano teachers do not require me to do theory exercises. Perhaps this lack of theory lessons in my life has left me wanting more in-depth structure in my music.
More likely, my understanding of music and the composition of it has increased enough that I need the theory to make further connections. Not to mention it makes you sound very intelligent when you are talking to other musicians (assuming they don’t know more than you, of course).
No matter what the reason, I have come to find theory fun.
I love going through pieces with various parts and looking at all the different notes to find the dominant chords. Better yet is taking those chords and determining the chord progression and how it relates to others later on in the piece.
I’ve come to think of music theory as the English class for musicians.
Music is essentially its own language. You spend your early musical years becoming fluent in the language of music. After this basic proficiency you can go further by utilising music theory, phrasing, and musicality in general.
This is similar to an English class where one uses mastery of the language to dissect and find meaning in literature.
The two are even more related than is obvious at first.
Both study expression and the ways that people achieve it.
Playing notes on a page is just that, playing notes on a page. It’s just noise. Only when you add phrasing and emotional expression do you get music.
Gustav Mahler, one of my favorite composers, explains the importance of passion and feeling in music quite well.
“If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.”
The goal of music is to make your emotions and the notes on the page one. When you reach this point, you have created real music.
But, to get to this point you have to master everything that comes before it. That means that proficiency in everything from reading notes to knowing music theory is required to make true music.
Perhaps this is the reason that I have taken to scouring my music for melodic themes and repetitions, trying to find some meaning behind it all, then willing myself to turn that meaning into something beautiful.
Despite my progress appreciating music theory, I’ll admit I still do dislike putting that theory into action by composing. I guess some things will never change.