MUSIC THEORY vs 'JUST FEEL IT': How Should You Write Music?

MUSIC THEORY vs 'JUST FEEL IT': How Should You Write Music?

Tommaso Zillio

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Have you ever been told that you should not think about music theory and ‘just feel it, man!’?

Or have you been told the opposite, that everything that you can play on guitar or any song that you write is just a complex math equation that has an exact right answer, and once you completely understand theory, you can write a song with the snap of your fingers because you automatically choose the right notes and the right chords without any thought?

(The big assumption there is that equations have only one correct solution… which is typically true only of high-school-level math problems. The real world - and the real math - is a bit more complex than that… but I digress.)

Chances are, if you’ve heard either of these two viewpoints, you might have thought to yourself, “that seems a little simplistic,” as well as “why is this person talking to me about the pros and cons of music theory in a Wendy’s parking lot?”

Well, if you ask me, yes, both these sides are very simplistic… but the best way to make music for most people is not just “somewhere in the middle.”

See, emotions and music theory are the yin and the yang of making music: they complement each other, and both are equally required to make good music.

You wouldn’t tell a novelist not to worry about understanding the English language and just ‘write by feel, man! You’ll find the right words if you just feel it!’

Neither would you tell him, “just follow the English grammar, and you’ll be fine!”

So what should you do in practice when you write music?

Well, for that, I’ll direct you to the video below:

Are you a ‘play-by-feel’ guitarist that wants to start learning music theory? Or maybe you already know some theory but you want to solidify your fundamentals and make sure there are no gaps in your knowledge? Check out this FREE beginning music theory guide to learn more about the fundamentals of music theory!

Video Transcription

Hello internet; so nice to see you! I want to talk about a great question a great comment I got on this channel because it really shows how much theory you have to learn.

You’ve hit the nail on the head here with the fact that you’ll need not only to know the mathematical style theory as well as the emotions each chord projects, you can’t really do one without the other. So many scammers on here like hey, stop learning scales, just buy my course and use the power of feelings to play guitar, you got to know scales first to know how to play that galloping charging triplet on the fifth.

I say yes, at first, but let’s go more in-depth from this because on the internet, when I go around, I see essentially two big tribes of people warring against each other on music theory. On one side, we have the feeling people, they want to tell you that you just need to grab this instrument and feel it. I don’t know what they mean by feel it, Okay, but apparently, some of them can grab the guitar and play wonderful music. I don’t believe it for a moment. Okay, but that’s what they say, you just need to feel it, which, with ‘feel it’ they probably mean trial and error for years.

Okay, on the other side, on the opposite side, on the blue corner, you’re gonna get the other warring tribe, which is the die-hard music theory people – which by the way is not me, as you’re gonna see, those are the people that tell you that you have to learn all music theory, all of it, the more complex the better, those are the guys who keep going on with the set theory of chords, which could be useful for some things, but useless for most musicians, those are the guys that write long, strange formulas. And they write about the overtone and the undertone and the mathematical underpinning of music, and the different ways of subdividing the octaves in 31 pieces, which again, all of those things, things could be useful for some specific things. But apparently, you have to learn everything before you can even play a simple chord.

Neither of those two sides is correct. Okay, I’m going to make a lot of enemies. Neither side is correct, because they are thinking of theory in the wrong way. Okay, the point of theory is to help you in neither of those two cases is theory is helping you. For the feeling people, they are saying that theory just blocks you, just eliminates all kinds of creativity, they don’t want to know any about this. And yet, most of the feeling people write exactly the same kind of music. Just think about it for a second. Okay.

But theory could help the feeling people because theory will just show them new feelings. Okay, new sounds, new way to put those notes together and get different kinds of feelings. The feelings are right! Okay, music is an art, you need to know what feelings you are expressing. So those guys have a point. I’m just against the complete refusal of theory, because theory, after all, is just a faster way to get more experience because you can systematically go through different kinds of styles, moods, feelings, combinations of notes, chord progressions, melodies, etc. And learn the principles behind all those, learn how your ear understands all those and so you’re gonna be able to express your feelings better.

Theory is not the point, theory is a bridge that takes you there. The hard-core theory people are wrong in the other way, because they’re like, ‘I’m not even going to write a note until I have all the theory under control’, which is wrong the other way, theory is supposed to help you. Okay? Once you have even just a little tool from theory, you can use it once you understand, for instance, what a chord progression is, or you know, three or four chords, you can sit down and start writing music.

Not if you want super complex music, but some music and it’s important to get to write some simple music in your career. Because you have to start from somewhere. Okay, you definitely do not need to know all the set theory of chords or to know the quartal harmony, quintile harmony, etc., to understand all these, those are interesting things that can come later. You don’t need to understand the 31 equal division of the octave, which I mean, it’s interesting, but that can come later. Start with what you have, okay, start with the stuff you like.

The idea is to use steel in a balanced way. Okay. And so I’m gonna say something right now that is going to sound like a contradiction, but it’s not. You need to practice your theory. Okay? That’s because music theory is a misnomer. It’s not really theory. You need to practice your theory, you need to get anything and everything you learned in theory and play it on your guitar, if you learn a chord play it, if you learn it, you can take a different position for a chord, play it around and listen and see the difference in feeling.

If I’m playing G this way, G major of course, and if I play it this way, or this way, or this way, or this way, or this way. They are all G majors, not the only positions by the way. Do they sound different to you? Do they sound the same? It’s still G major, but maybe the feeling is different. Maybe those different voicing and positions of this chord express different feelings in the music you want to write, you need to know that, okay?

But you don’t need to know the whole equation of a sound and the way there’s a solution of the wave equation, and all these kinds of things to do that. You don’t need to know what are all the overtone of every single note or the undertone theory of consonance.

It’s a G major chord, okay, the theory part stops at ‘it’s a G major chord’, and those are the notes inside, and you can play them in any order. One higher, one lower, okay. It’s kind of a balanced way, theory has to work for you. Okay, theory is not supposed to be something to judge music, theory is not supposed to be everything there is to know either, okay? Theory is supposed to be a tool you use to create music, it’s an important tool, But a tool nevertheless. Okay?

When you buy a hammer, you can use it immediately. And if you don’t use it, what’s the point of the hammer? You don’t need to buy all the hammers before you can use a hammer, okay, you don’t need to buy all the screwdrivers before you can use a screwdriver. So the analogy here is you don’t need to know everything about theory before you can use it. Once you learn one thing about theory, once you learn one thing, in theory, play it in practice, if you cannot play it, you haven’t learned it yet. Okay, simple as that.

As usual, when you go on the internet, those things get magnified and extremized. So that you see only the people who go absolute zero theory or the people who go 100% and 110% theory and nothing else, okay? But real musicians if you want, however we define them, musicians are somewhere in between, okay, they know some theory, but they don’t make it like that they have to know all the theory perfectly and down to the last detail until they can play.

And then of course, once you know a little bit, you may want to know more and then we can go on and on and on. And the more you know, the more music you can write, the more different kinds of music you can write, the wider your horizons are, okay? Which is great, that’s what we want.

Okay, but you don’t have to feel blocked because you don’t know all the theory or you don’t have to feel blocked because you know, some theory okay. Just start from wherever you are, implement what you have played on your guitar, and see where you are. And if you want some help, by all means, it’s the internet I’m gonna do some self-promotion.

If you need some help, I have courses about that I have one course called Master of the Modes that help you learn scales and modes, which is great for improvising, melodic playing, and this kind of thing. And yeah, also for shredding because shredding is good if you like it.

And I have another course called Complete Chord Mastery, which teaches you chords, keys, harmony directly on the fretboard so we learn harmony really in-depth, okay, not just the major and minor chords we go really in-depth, but we do it on the fretboard so we see how to play to where to play it, how to make this chords sound in a guitaristic way, and not just like copying from a piano or from other instruments.

Okay, so if you need help, I’m here and if you don’t need help, great more power to you. No problem either way, okay? But whenever people tell you that you need to know all the theory. You need to know zero theory. Don’t believe them, is something in between. It’s a good balance so that you can create music, you can make the music you like.

If you liked this video, smash that like button. Don’t forget to subscribe. By the way, click notification when you subscribe, otherwise, YouTube will not tell you when I put up a new video. And if you have any comments on all that or you want to say your own opinion, write it down in the comments. I’m really curious to know what you guys are thinking about this. This is Tommaso Zillio for, and until next time, enjoy.

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