The BIGGEST Misconception About MUSIC THEORY | Q & A

The BIGGEST Misconception About Music Theory

Tommaso Zillio

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rules of music theory

Misconception about music theory that makes my eyes roll No. 32:

  • “The CAGED system is the best way to learn the fretboard” No, wait, that’s No. 11…

  • "Jimi Hendrix (or Jimmy Page or any other famous player) did not know music theory No, that’s No. 35

  • “Music theory will destroy your creativity” Nope, that’s No. 8

  • “You don’t have to learn scales” no that’s No 17, and common clickbait…

  • “Music theory is a set of rules that tell you what you can do and what you cannot do” There we are! That’s No. 32!

Why does it make my eyes roll?

Well, because these are not rules.

These are “basics.”

What’s the difference?

  • “Rules” are things you have to follow. “Rules” are impositions (whether right or wrong)

  • “Basics” are things you learn, practice, and improve upon. “Basics” are exercises.

You are not supposed to obey what people call the “rules” of music theory. You are supposed to practice them.

And the more you practice them, the more you understand how you can use them, and the more you can make good music with them… or by NOT doing them if you want to be original.

Like Bruce Lee said: I do not fear the man who practices 10.000 kicks. I fear the man who practices the same kick 10.000 times.

But you are free to choose WHAT kicks you practice. And when you collect all the best kicks… that’s YOUR style of music.

Now, I know I am preaching to the choir, but this idea that you are absolutely free to do whatever you want is so crucial…

…that I recommend you (yes, you, {subtag:name|part:first|ucfirst}) to watch the video below right now so you can see what this means in practice.

(You may think, “I am already convinced, Tommaso, I don’t have to watch the video”… my answer is: just watch the video. It will help)

Ok, you will say, but where are we supposed to find some exercises to practice these basics in the right way, when everybody is talking about the “rules” of music theory?

Good question - glad you asked. Check out this course that teaches chords and harmony using a set of exercises that will connect your hands, your ears, and your heart together: Complete Chord Mastery guitar course

Oh, and before someone quotes me Adam Neely with his “prescriptive music theory” vs “descriptive music theory,” I might as well post my answer to that.

Suffice to say, there’s a third kind of music theory that’s neither prescriptive or descriptive… and that’s the best kind:

Video Transcription

Hello, internet, So nice to see you! Let’s answer a few more of your questions.

You should do a video explaining that music theory is not a set of rules, but a system for explaining music. I’ve had people tell me, oh, you can’t use that chord because it’s not in the key. I’m like, WTF, it’s my song, I’ll use whatever chord I want.

Well, I actually already made several videos saying that, which is, you know, that’s the thing, every time I say it, people say yes. And then they forget it. Okay. And so let me say it this way.

First of all, you guys can do literally, whatever you want in your music. Okay, you can put any instrument, any chord, in any order, any note, may not use chords, you can, you can use any rhythm, you can do whatever you want with your music.

Music Theory is not, and was never meant to restrict your possibilities. Music Theory is supposed to show you experience of the past musician, sometimes in a descriptive ways, meaning that’s what this musician was doing, sometimes in a constructive way, meaning, if you apply those rules, you get that kind of music, okay? And that’s how you do it. And that’s how you do it. And that’s how you write in that style.

So first of all, you have my personal permission to do whatever you want with your music. Not that you needed it, But if you really need the justification, you have my permission. Okay?

And I intercede with you with you with the music theory police that they don’t come at home, at your home in the night to arrest you because you use the wrong chord. Okay?

The thing is, even if a music theory had a set of rules, you will ignore them and still do whatever you want, right? I mean, musicians have always been a rebellious bunch. Okay, we’ve always been that.

We don’t care about rules, we use those rules to help us in our, in our art. painters have this thing that they say with form is liberating. Okay, restrictions are liberating.

If you restrict yourself only to some things and you learn to express yourself with those things. Okay, so some painters use only black and white, for instance, no colors, and they learn to express themselves using only black and white, they get better at specific things.

You want to compose music in key, great! Compose music and key don’t use chords out of key it is possible it sounds good that sounds in a specific way. So you learn to express yourself better in certain specific key and when you get used to that you get tired of that, change it, okay?

But the point of music theory is to give you all those different little boxes and compose in key then compose with these other things, and compose using these other restriction.

And when you have all those boxes, and you see how every single box is built, and you can make music in all those boxes, then you can play outside the box. Okay, but you cannot play outside the box if you don’t even know what the box is or where the box is.

Okay, so you guys stop thinking about music theory as rules that restrict you This was never true. Never happened never been that, okay.

Every time you see a book mentioning rules, think of them as that’s the rule of this game we are playing right now it’s just a game it will create a specific music and then later you can play a different games with music and make different music.

Okay, those are just exercises, those are just games okay, think of rules as rules of the game not the rules of the law. Okay. And then you’d be fine.

I feel with the accent he is schooling me on types of pasta…

And the reality is that you probably need it. But I do these on my other channel. Pasta theory for guitar.

A beautiful chord found as the first degree in minor harmonic or melodic. In classical music that Diabulus in musica (#4) was forbidden and gave too much tension. So you can see how times have changed?

Well, first of all, if the Catholic Church or anybody else banned the tritone, I can tell you that no musician cared, okay? Because practically all musicians use tritone as much as they can.

But the thing is, it never happened. Okay. It never happened that the Catholic Church banned the tritone, I mean, come on. It’s an interval, okay.

The idea of the phrase Diabulus in musica appears in a counterpoint manual, Johann fuks Goddess of Parnassus manual of counterpoint. And it refers to a specific situation.

And the idea it is Diabulus in musica simply means that it does not sound good, okay. It’s a metaphor. It’s a metaphor, okay. It’s never it was never took literally and this manual was written at the beginning of 1700s or 1600s, I don’t Remember the exact date. I can tell you at this point.

And even if the Catholic Church said that this was banned, nobody would have really listened to that anyway. And the Catholic Church was actually way more liberal already on this. At least on music, okay? They will never have done that. So it’s not true.

The tritone has been used forever, even in medieval music. It’s a metaphor. Okay, stop you guys stop thinking just the Diabulus in musica Literally. It’s a metaphor. It just means that it’s hard to sing. Okay.

Suppose that right now I’m telling you that if you write a tritone in a choir, it’s hard as hell to sing. And then 300 years from now, they say that the your religion was forbidding it. That will be exactly what’s happening here. It’s a metaphor. Hard as hell doesn’t mean actually forbidden by religion. Okay. That’s what it is.

I agree that a note is not a pitch. But a pitch is a physical frequency is also wrong. Pitch technically refers to the perception of a sound with various physical parameters. Your video makes me wonder if there could be a contextual component to pitch perception that ties it perhaps only weakly to enharmonic equivalents. All that said, none of it detracts from your main point here. I hope you’ll agree that it’s an intriguing tangent, however, Tom.

Okay, so that’s an answer on my video about a notes and pitch. And naturally, this comment is perfectly correct, because what the distinction I was making is that there are at least two things. One is the pitch. And one is the note.

What I was saying in that video is that pitch is the physical frequency of the note. And note it’s what your brain perceive, musically speaking, okay. Which are related, of course, but not exactly the same because your brain is interpreting the frequencies.

And so there’s not gonna have more than one meaning and so be perceived as different. The same pitch can be perceived as a different note, depending on the context.

But this comment is saying, which is perfectly correct, by the way, but I wanted to make a simplified approach because already a lot of people have problems with the idea that what they hear is not exactly what is happening in the objective world.

But guys, we have loads of optical illusions, we have books of optical illusions. I don’t see why something like this will be even controversial that we have auditive illusions when we listen to music, okay.

I mean, graphical artists study the optical illusions so that they can use them or avoid them. And we should know about these because the problem of perception.

But anyway, this comment is perfectly correct. In reality, there are three objects not two like I was saying, that is the frequency. The pitch, and the note, what’s the difference between those three?

The frequency is if I played this, if I play this, okay, and I use an oscilloscope or another scientific instrument, what frequency I measure, okay, so that’s physical and objective, okay.

Then there is the pitch. The pitch is what your ear perceived, and the signal that your ear sends to your brain. Okay? So, it’s, it’s automatic, it’s the automatic perception of your ear before your brain had the occasion to interpret that signal, okay.

So the pitch is essentially, the signal paths from your nerve from your ear, to your brain, okay? Again, simplifying, because if we go in detail, there probably is probably more than one. Okay, more than one of these.

And the note is the final meaning at your brain assigns. So that’s perception, perception. The note is the final meaning that your brain assigns. Once you hear and interpret all these.

So, frequency is physical. The pitch, is what you perceive. The note is how your brain interprets this perception. That’s correct. But here’s the thing. We already have problem convince people that there are two of those objects. If we start talking about three objects, even if it’s perfectly correct. It starts to be more complex. Okay, so yeah, I confess I simplified that video and already has a lot of problems because of that, but that’s correct.


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