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Originally Posted by Jethro
I don't think literate versus illiterate is a good analogy or maybe it is, but it surely can make a point. I was a very strong with grammar in high school and college courses. Scored high 90's or 100s in all my tests in high school and straight A's in college. Ask me now if I remember what a past participle is or to identify the adverbial phrase in a sentence. I knew it back that like that back of my hand but today I have no idea what those terms mean but I remember they were concepts I had to know. Does this make me illiterate? When it comes to music some of us desire or only have the time to know only what we need to know based on the musical goals WE are trying to achieve- such as appreciating or playing the pieces that we want to play.

Just knowing all the rules of grammar really well does not mean you are going to be a great writer if that's what your goal is. Nor would knowing all the rules of music make you a great pianist nor enable you to learn advanced pieces nor even make you a great musician. Both gooddog and myself for example know how to read music (even quite advanced music) just as I imagine both of us can read War and Peace and still understand basically what the writer's intentions were without remembering all the grammatical rules in creating that masterpiece. If we have to understand something we look it up or ask our teachers and learn it when we need to learn it. Some here, possibly teachers, possibly professional musicians know much more than we do simply because they have to. Everyone has different goals when it comes to music.

Just as when we were learning English as children we had to learn all the rules of grammar because having that knowledge helps in our development. Do I use that knowledge now on a daily basis, of course not. It's the same thing with music theory. I learned it all the way through college. I forgot a lot of it, but I'm not going beat my head against a wall over it. As I said my personal goal is to brush up on music theory with time but not at the cost of piano practice time or running my business, or having a life.

I see your point with the term "literate." I was using it with a "competence and knowledge" definition, not an "able to read and write" definition. As an exact analogy, it falls apart pretty quickly; I do see that. I was an English major in college, and my facility with grammar is not exemplary, to be honest. Still, people who are literate in English don't converse expressly using the terminology of grammar; musicians, however, often do converse using theory language.

Also, I don't think anyone needs to know "all" the rules of music theory to get something out of it. Not at all. Nor do I think that any amateur musician necessarily needs to plow through theory textbooks to be a good musician. If you want to, sure. Is it necessary? No.

All I would argue is being at least somewhat familiar with what I'd consider the absolute basics of music theory (e.g., key identification, Roman numerals, knowing and being able to hear a I-IV-V-I chord progression) is pretty important (though again not absolutely essential).

Knowing all the rules of grammar wouldn't necessarily make you a good writer (there's a lot more to being a good writer than that), but good writers almost certainly have some grasp of the rules of their language. And knowing lots of theory doesn't make you a good musician, but I do think most really good musicians at least have some grasp of it.

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I've been thinking about what happened during my piano lessons with four very different teachers over the decade when I was a student.

Not a single one ever used the word "modulation" or talked about the key of whatever I was playing, not even my last teacher who was preparing me for my diploma exam. (Though they all knew I know what I know whistle).

In other words, even if I knew nothing of musical theory (apart from the bare essentials used in music notation), I'd still have absolutely no problem during my piano lessons. For instance, if my teacher asked me to try emphasizing the beginning of something interesting in the score with a change of voicing or dynamics or whatever, she/he would just point to the spot in the score rather than the somewhat cumbersome: "Try a sotto voce where the music modulates briefly into C flat major with that sharpened leading note, which, as you know, is B enharmonic which will lead you into the perfect cadence to get you back into E major.....blah, blah, bah."

Just as after I learnt English grammar, I never had to use my knowledge of it again, in any shape or form. Which is quite different from my multiplication and division tables....... smirk


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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I guess my teacher is just a major theory geek then? I mean, I know he is. And I know he is of the fervent opinion that it's useful. So maybe he just incorporates more of it into my lessons because he knows I might get what he's saying?

Is it all in my weird, serious-musician-wannabe mind that if serious/professional musicians had a cocktail party, there might be fun boozy party games like: "Guess the key!" (for those perfect pitch people), "Transpose this!" (attempt to play, say, Bach's Prelude in C major in a different key), or "Name that inversion!" (one person plays a 7th chord inversion on the piano, and first person to guess the inversion AND how that would be written in Roman numerals gets a prize)?

I'm a hardcore introvert and hate things like cocktail parties, but if they involve musicians? I'm in.

I'm only half kidding when I say: Isn't theory knowledge something all the cool kids have? Not like you're not cool if you don't, but it was always my impression that you're more a member of the club if you do? And maybe that matters more to me than it does to other people? I honestly thought it was a requirement for membership.

Hmm. This is really making me think.... Maybe I've been making too many assumptions, having only started studying piano as an adult?

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Originally Posted by quodlibet
Is it all in my weird, serious-musician-wannabe mind that if serious/professional musicians had a cocktail party, there might be fun boozy party games like: "Guess the key!" (for those perfect pitch people), "Transpose this!" (attempt to play, say, Bach's Prelude in C major in a different key), or "Name that inversion!" (one person plays a 7th chord inversion on the piano, and first person to guess the inversion AND how that would be written in Roman numerals gets a prize)?
Well, when my musical friends and I got together as students, we either improvised on pop tunes in the most outrageous manner possible (e.g. gradually turning a pop classic - assuming there's any pop which is a 'classic' - into Baa, baa) or tried to outdo each other in who can play the fastest and loudest double octaves......though eventually that would turn into who can play Rach 3's big cadenza fastest and loudest (never mind the right notes, just admire the power and velocity cool).

But maybe that's just because we were less intellectual (as in intellectually-challenged) and more testosterone-fuelled smirk . BTW, did I mention that we didn't do alcohol?

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Maybe I've been making too many assumptions, having only started studying piano as an adult?
Probably whistle.

I've certainly noticed that many of the learners in ABF jump straight in and learn masses of theory (which have no application to what they were playing) before they've learnt the basics of keyboard skills.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by quodlibet
Is it all in my weird, serious-musician-wannabe mind that if serious/professional musicians had a cocktail party, there might be fun boozy party games like: "Guess the key!" (for those perfect pitch people), "Transpose this!" (attempt to play, say, Bach's Prelude in C major in a different key), or "Name that inversion!" (one person plays a 7th chord inversion on the piano, and first person to guess the inversion AND how that would be written in Roman numerals gets a prize)?
Well, when my musical friends and I got together as students, we either improvised on pop tunes in the most outrageous manner possible (e.g. gradually turning a pop classic - assuming there's any pop which is a 'classic' - into Baa, baa) or tried to outdo each other in who can play the fastest and loudest double octaves......though eventually that would turn into who can play Rach 3's big cadenza fastest and loudest (never mind the right notes, just admire the power and velocity cool).

But maybe that's just because we were less intellectual (as in intellectually-challenged) and more testosterone-fuelled smirk . BTW, did I mention that we didn't do alcohol?

Oooh, that sounds fun. I couldn't do any of it, but it sounds fun to watch. Alcohol + piano does not always mix; I know from experience. Closest I got to boozy piano party fun was attempting to play Solfeggietto (sp) after a glass of wine. I still cringe when I remember it.

This thread has been very useful in helping me see another side of things. Until now I would have assumed that all advanced pianists--pro or amateur--possess and apply the same knowledge. I have been honestly surprised that this is not the case. Glad the thread has been so active. I love discussions like this.

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Think of it as just reading the notes printed in the score and playing them as written without any thoughts of "that's" a whatever it chord progression - the sounds speak for themselves far more eloquently (in my opinion, of course) than their names. The composer, bless him or her, has done the hard graft for us after all.
Of course over time we recognise trends and patterns - and when they become more 'samey' we move on to different composers to assimilate more, seeking a new experiences but (hopefully) not letting go of the old stuff and gradually expanding our experience. Great fun!


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Originally Posted by Jethro
[quote=gooddog]I'm beginning to think we were separated at birth!
laugh
Originally Posted by Jethro
I don't think literate versus illiterate is a good analogy or maybe it is, but it surely can make a point. I was a very strong with grammar in high school and college courses...Just knowing all the rules of grammar really well does not mean you are going to be a great writer if that's what your goal is. Nor would knowing all the rules of music make you a great pianist nor enable you to learn advanced pieces nor even make you a great musician. Both gooddog and myself for example know how to read music (even quite advanced music) just as I imagine both of us can read War and Peace and still understand basically what the writer's intentions were without remembering all the grammatical rules in creating that masterpiece. If we have to understand something we look it up or ask our teachers and learn it when we need to learn it. Some here, possibly teachers, possibly professional musicians know much more than we do simply because they have to. Everyone has different goals when it comes to music.

Just as when we were learning English as children we had to learn all the rules of grammar because having that knowledge helps in our development.

I'm glad you brought up grammar, but I don't agree with you that as children we learned the rules of grammar. I believe we first learned how English is supposed to sound. It wasn't until much later that we learned the rules in school. Because my mother was the daughter of immigrants, she took pride in speaking and writing properly and constantly nagged me about the correct way to express myself. She never explained the grammatical rules; she never parsed a sentence. She just made me listen. As a result, my grammar was correct even before I could read and knew the rules of grammar. Was it necessary for me to know grammatical rules to speak properly? No. Did knowing the rules improve my grammar? Well, no. Is it necessary to understand the theoretical structure of music to be a good musician? I think no. Does knowing theory make it easier and faster to learn. Probably yes.


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Whenever I'm tempted to pretend to be intellectual (not that I'm ever thus, but I do try smirk ), I remember good ol' Igor - you know, the guy who called Rach a "six-and-a-half-foot scowl" - pummelling out the most discordant chords he could find, tone clusters and all, on his battered old piano to get the sounds he wanted for his Rite, before writing them down. Did he ever think that this or that chord is D#m6dim7aug9?

Nope:



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Originally Posted by gooddog
Originally Posted by Jethro
[quote=gooddog]I'm beginning to think we were separated at birth!
laugh
Originally Posted by Jethro
I don't think literate versus illiterate is a good analogy or maybe it is, but it surely can make a point. I was a very strong with grammar in high school and college courses...Just knowing all the rules of grammar really well does not mean you are going to be a great writer if that's what your goal is. Nor would knowing all the rules of music make you a great pianist nor enable you to learn advanced pieces nor even make you a great musician. Both gooddog and myself for example know how to read music (even quite advanced music) just as I imagine both of us can read War and Peace and still understand basically what the writer's intentions were without remembering all the grammatical rules in creating that masterpiece. If we have to understand something we look it up or ask our teachers and learn it when we need to learn it. Some here, possibly teachers, possibly professional musicians know much more than we do simply because they have to. Everyone has different goals when it comes to music.

Just as when we were learning English as children we had to learn all the rules of grammar because having that knowledge helps in our development.

I'm glad you brought up grammar, but I don't agree with you that as children we learned the rules of grammar. I believe we first learned how English is supposed to sound. It wasn't until much later that we learned the rules in school. Because my mother was the daughter of immigrants, she took pride in speaking and writing properly and constantly nagged me about the correct way to express myself. She never explained the grammatical rules; she never parsed a sentence. She just made me listen. As a result, my grammar was correct even before I could read and knew the rules of grammar. Was it necessary for me to know grammatical rules to speak properly? No. Did knowing the rules improve my grammar? Well, no. Is it necessary to understand the theoretical structure of music to be a good musician? I think no. Does knowing theory make it easier and faster to learn. Probably yes.
I get what you are saying but I was using the example of learning to read text as analogous to learning to read music scores. We were taught grammar, spelling, and syntax in order to be able to read, but must we be able to regurgitate all the grammar lessons we learned in high school to be considered literate? That was my point.


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Originally Posted by gooddog
Picture this: you are standing in a field of flowers. You can appreciate their beauty, their unique shapes, their color, their scent. You select some of these flowers to make a gorgeous arrangement that uplifts your spirit. You can do this all without knowing their Latin names, what wavelength of light produces each color or how photophosphorylation and the electron transport chain transform light energy into chemical energy.

I am not saying there is nothing to be gained by studying harmony. I am sure there is. What I am saying is that some of us seem to be able to understand and play beautiful music without it.

Your analogy, like all analogies, has its limit. The limit is that harmonic principles is not a fundamental science like the quantic physics. It is a practical set aimed at giving people tools to better understand how a piece is structured and also of course to write music. Somebody said you dont need to know what is the participe passe to speak it, but that is actually not true. Learning the grammar has allowed to understand how to form phrases. This knowledge is then fully internalized. We use it without even thinking about it, just like in music once we have understood something, it becomes second nature, so some people may think they dont really use when they ado. And I guess part of the issue is that you dont know what you dont know.

In fact every bit of knowledge helps you to better play a piece. Understanding the historical context and style of the music is a must. Understanding the type of instruments and sound that the composers were working with gives you also highlights. Harmonic, form, phrase structure gives you additional information about how to play the piece. Being able to compose simple pieces in counterpoint helps also. There are things that only your ears can not detect, because there are multiple possibilities, but the composer had specific ideas and the typical way he structured his score according to the practice of the time along with harmonic elements gives you additional information about how to play. The notes do not contain all the information we need to decide how to play a piece, and there are a lot of different ways to play a given score.

In fact, consciously or unconsciously we rely and apply a ton of information that we have gathered. No one faced with a piece of music like a Beethoven sonata would know how to play it, acording to its style, just reading the score and its ears or sensitivity. We have learned the style usually with teachers who guided us, thus by acquired knowledge. We use recordings to give us examples, and so on. But how do know how to play Beethoven ? How do we know that that the last note of a slurred group should be played shorter and softer. We know that because people have studied external sources other than the scores and built a core set of knowledge which is then being taught in conservatories. How do you think your teacher knows what he does ? How do we know Bach must be played non legato ?

Why do people need teachers ? it is for technical reasons certainly, but also to learn how to play in the style and musically. None of that is innate and ears are not suffisiant. They need to be guided and supported by knowledge. Music is a complex interaction of technicality, earing sensitivity, knowlege and intellect.

Now granted, none of that is going to help you be a better player in the technical sense. And at this stage you are already an accomplished pianist with an excellent ear which helps you navigate well enough in the pieces and you enjoy what you are doing the way you are doing it. So the only question is really does it worth the effort for you, like for some other people, to spend a lot of time learning something that will give you additional tools but at the expense of a lot of effort (and it seems also learning something you are not really interested in) ? Personally i dont think so. For amateur musicians, adult beginners, who are looking mostly at enjoying themselves with limited available time, it is a fair balance to reach between learning what is important but not too much to avoid waisting time with something they may never really need to use at their level.

We all admire great composers who all were accomplished musicians, accomplished pianists for many of them, with extraordinary ears and they also all (almost all) had excellent theoretical knowledge. So of course theory is necessary and important. But for amateurs musicians, it is a balance to be achieved.

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Now granted, none of that is going to help you be a better player in the technical sense. And at this stage you are already an accomplished pianist with an excellent ear which helps you navigate well enough in the pieces and you enjoy what you are doing the way you are doing it. So the only question is really does it worth the effort for you, like for some other people, to spend a lot of time learning something that will give you additional tools but at the expense of a lot of effort (and it seems also learning something you are not really interested in) ? Personally i dont think so. For amateur musicians, adult beginners, who are looking mostly at enjoying themselves with limited available time, it is a fair balance to reach between learning what is important but not too much to avoid waisting time with something they may never really need to use at their level.

We all admire great composers who all were accomplished musicians, accomplished pianists for many of them, with extraordinary ears and they also all (almost all) had excellent theoretical knowledge. So of course theory is necessary and important. But for amateurs musicians, it is a balance to be achieved.

Well said. I agree with you, Sidokar.

(The following is not directed at you, Sidokar...I'm referring to other comments in this thread.) I do take some umbrage, however, at assertions that amateurs in particular don't need theory because it takes precious time away from making music, or it's "boring,", or it's just some set of dry facts that threatens to diminish the sublimity of art. I'm not at all a math or science person, so I was skeptical that I could even learn or understand theory. But for me it's opened up a world of beauty within the beauty of music I already was passionate about. Looking at music I loved through the theory microscope has only served to enhance its wonder. I remember the first time I heard Beethoven's Op 111 sonata, and I was completely in love with the Arietta. Then when I sat down to look at it, I remember actually being IN TEARS noticing that the beginning of it, which I was so moved by, was simply I, IV, and V chords in C major. The simple realization of what immense beauty can be crafted out of the simplest, most basic material just floored me. I certainly could, and did, enjoy it without knowing that. But the discovery just made it seem like a miracle to me. So that's why I tend to defend theory when it's characterized as dull and dry, but I recognize that not everyone would find "the theory microscope" to yield such revelations. But it did--and does--for me.

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Originally Posted by quodlibet
.... or it's just some set of dry facts that threatens to diminish the sublimity of art.

I can remember when I thought like that, in my late teen years. Of course, the era (late 1960s) had something to do with it - there was a general sense of distrust of the intellectual component of all sorts of things. But the idea that music theory would somehow constrain and deaden my "natural" musical ability was a big part of my thinking, half-baked though it was. Now, it's somewhat embarrassing to admit I ever subscribed to it, because of all the obvious evidence to the contrary. I mean, if the composers whose music I loved typically were whizzes at theory and relied on it to write that music that I thought was so great, how could it be a hinderance? Kind of a no-brainer, it seems to me now.

Nowadays, I wish I'd kept more on top of the theory I learned in college. For one thing, it can be just plain fun to understand theoretical aspects of music I play or listen to. But I think it also brings me closer to the thinking of the composer, and that seems like a good thing. Another good thing is that, even analysing in the haphazard and partial way I do it now, it helps to focus the music in my mind - it is pretty much the opposite of what I once feared would happen. It supports whatever natural ability I have, I think, rather than getting in the way.

That said, when I get into "the zone", all bets are off - theoretical stuff may or may not be consciously present. And it doesn't matter, either way. But that's a fairly rare state for me these days, sadly.

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