VIOLINIST, EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER
VOTED #1 IN THE DOWNBEAT CRITICS POLL("RISING STARS/VIOLIN")

VIOLINIST, EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER
VOTED #1 IN THE DOWNBEAT CRITICS POLL("RISING STARS/VIOLIN")

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What is Music Theory and do you need it? I answer questions about music theory. See written questions & answers below.  Gotta question? Want my help? Go to christianhowes.com/education

Q: Isn’t it true that at some point in your violin career, your fingers basically know all the possible patterns that our only 4 fingers are capable of, therefore not really thinking of what notes you are playing, but using your ears to place those patterns in the correct place etc….


A:
With 12 notes in 4-ish octaves on the violin, I can only guess the math of the possibilities, and my assumption is that many lifetimes would not give us the ability to truly know all the sequences/patterns/iterations.

However, if the question is more meaning something to the effect “   Once we know a scale or a few chords pretty well, at some point we should be able to develop this confidence and a full enough Language with which to express ourself over at least certain types of rhythmic and harmonic forms or songs.  yes, I agree that this is true.  Furthermore, I believe many musicians can say ALOT with whatever language, theory, or technical ability they have. I played with Les Paul for 14 years, when he was between the age of 80-94.  He basically had 2 functioning fingers on his left hand and he made it work! He played a lot of music with those two fingers. 

This begs the question of “How much does a musician actually NEED to learn”.  I believe that often a musician can say a lot with what they have. But it does depend on Context.  For example, I may be comfortable playing over a rock groove because I Know that groove pretty well, but then, suddenly when I try to play over a bluegrass tune, I just haven’t learned that language yet.

Same is true of harmonic language. The guitar solo in Stairway to Heaven uses three chords that can easily be navigated using the A minor pentatonic scale.  One can basically play ANY note in the scale over that solo and it will always sound right. But this same strategy may not apply to Giant Steps.  So context is important, and often we need to learn different information (harmonic or rhythmic) to fit into different musical contexts.

#1 are you processing notes in your head or the latter (by pattern/;ear)

If I try to think about the ways I perceive a musical note, there are at least 4 ideas that come to mind


1. on the staff
2. on the violin fingerboard
3. a sound
4. a note name


These are four ways I could “call” “name” or “perceive” the same thing.    But whether I rely more heavily on one or another I’m not always sure.
It could be possible, if I had the ability to "see colors in sound” or had a higher degree of perfect pitch, that I would have OTHER ways of understanding the note. But I don;t have those abilities, so i rely on what I have,


If someone is Blind, similarly, then they go through life without that ability. But they strengthen other abilities (like hearing, smell). Musicians who do not Read music presumably develop stronger memories.We rely more or less on different perceptual abilities. Some more on reading, theory, or ears… the more we can strengthen any one of these, it will help us. But it could be difficult, and maybe not always worth the effort. On the other hand, it could be revelatory.
NPR did a piece the other day about a woman who had Aspergers’ syndrome. People with Aspergers are “missing” a function in the brain that let’s most of us “read into” the emotions and tone of social context in every day speech. When a Magnet was applied to this person’s brain, for the first time in 50 years, she could “read into” the tone of social speech such as sarcasm, irony, humor, etc… Suddenly she realized everything she had missed for 50 years… 


Musicians with less “theory” presumably have "Other Theory”


In other words, music theory may dictate that a chord is a “Major 7”.  A musician who does not know the name “Major 7” may have another Name for this chord. They may have some point of reference, either from their ears, the fingerboard, a Lick they learned, etc… that gives them an ANCHOR to somehow know what they want to do with that Major 7 chord.


Instead of calling this theory, let’s call it “applied theory”, or “functional theory”. i.e., “Anything that gives you an understanding and confidence in what you want to do musically in a given context”. 


Again, “Applied Theory" is Very contextual.    So a musician could have an understanding of how to navigate the harmony or rhythm of a funk tune, but not a famous Bossa Nova…In order to feel comfortable in that Bossa Nova, they may need to develop MORE/OTHER “applied theory”…  Whether that applied theory needs to come from a textbook, it may depend on that musician and/or the textbook.

 COntinued on my blog and email list....  My written answer was too long for youtube's allowed description length.!


Connect with me at christianhowes.com/education or reach out at chris@christianhowes.com

What is Music Theory and do you need it? I answer questions about music theory. See written questions & answers below. Gotta question? Want my help? Go to christianhowes.com/education

Q: Isn’t it true that at some point in your violin career, your fingers basically know all the possible patterns that our only 4 fingers are capable of, therefore not really thinking of what notes you are playing, but using your ears to place those patterns in the correct place etc….


A:
With 12 notes in 4-ish octaves on the violin, I can only guess the math of the possibilities, and my assumption is that many lifetimes would not give us the ability to truly know all the sequences/patterns/iterations.

However, if the question is more meaning something to the effect “ Once we know a scale or a few chords pretty well, at some point we should be able to develop this confidence and a full enough Language with which to express ourself over at least certain types of rhythmic and harmonic forms or songs. yes, I agree that this is true. Furthermore, I believe many musicians can say ALOT with whatever language, theory, or technical ability they have. I played with Les Paul for 14 years, when he was between the age of 80-94. He basically had 2 functioning fingers on his left hand and he made it work! He played a lot of music with those two fingers.

This begs the question of “How much does a musician actually NEED to learn”. I believe that often a musician can say a lot with what they have. But it does depend on Context. For example, I may be comfortable playing over a rock groove because I Know that groove pretty well, but then, suddenly when I try to play over a bluegrass tune, I just haven’t learned that language yet.

Same is true of harmonic language. The guitar solo in Stairway to Heaven uses three chords that can easily be navigated using the A minor pentatonic scale. One can basically play ANY note in the scale over that solo and it will always sound right. But this same strategy may not apply to Giant Steps. So context is important, and often we need to learn different information (harmonic or rhythmic) to fit into different musical contexts.

#1 are you processing notes in your head or the latter (by pattern/;ear)

If I try to think about the ways I perceive a musical note, there are at least 4 ideas that come to mind


1. on the staff
2. on the violin fingerboard
3. a sound
4. a note name


These are four ways I could “call” “name” or “perceive” the same thing. But whether I rely more heavily on one or another I’m not always sure.
It could be possible, if I had the ability to "see colors in sound” or had a higher degree of perfect pitch, that I would have OTHER ways of understanding the note. But I don;t have those abilities, so i rely on what I have,


If someone is Blind, similarly, then they go through life without that ability. But they strengthen other abilities (like hearing, smell). Musicians who do not Read music presumably develop stronger memories.We rely more or less on different perceptual abilities. Some more on reading, theory, or ears… the more we can strengthen any one of these, it will help us. But it could be difficult, and maybe not always worth the effort. On the other hand, it could be revelatory.
NPR did a piece the other day about a woman who had Aspergers’ syndrome. People with Aspergers are “missing” a function in the brain that let’s most of us “read into” the emotions and tone of social context in every day speech. When a Magnet was applied to this person’s brain, for the first time in 50 years, she could “read into” the tone of social speech such as sarcasm, irony, humor, etc… Suddenly she realized everything she had missed for 50 years…


Musicians with less “theory” presumably have "Other Theory”


In other words, music theory may dictate that a chord is a “Major 7”. A musician who does not know the name “Major 7” may have another Name for this chord. They may have some point of reference, either from their ears, the fingerboard, a Lick they learned, etc… that gives them an ANCHOR to somehow know what they want to do with that Major 7 chord.


Instead of calling this theory, let’s call it “applied theory”, or “functional theory”. i.e., “Anything that gives you an understanding and confidence in what you want to do musically in a given context”.


Again, “Applied Theory" is Very contextual. So a musician could have an understanding of how to navigate the harmony or rhythm of a funk tune, but not a famous Bossa Nova…In order to feel comfortable in that Bossa Nova, they may need to develop MORE/OTHER “applied theory”… Whether that applied theory needs to come from a textbook, it may depend on that musician and/or the textbook.

COntinued on my blog and email list.... My written answer was too long for youtube's allowed description length.!


Connect with me at christianhowes.com/education or reach out at chris@christianhowes.com

32 5

YouTube Video VVU4RjhoWW14cEgzTXZ4Q09iNTd3ZmJBLm1sN2JCOWtIU01N

Is Music Theory Bulls..t?

Christian Howes 238 views 22 hours ago

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN...

When I was 16, a kid in my school orchestra brought tapes to school of original songs he made.

Kids hovered around him, unimpressed with my Paganini caprices.
I remember thinking, “I’m just not a creative person like him”. That thought crushed me.

I wondered,

“What if I could learn to be a more Creative musician?”

I joined a rock band. Then blues, Jazz, folk, gospel, pop, Latin… you name it, I did it. I was committed to finding my own thing and I eventually did.

This led to forging my own career path, developing a teaching method,  and training teachers and freelancers to go  beyond the old teaching and orchestral career model.