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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Music Theory Dummy


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fiddlemn - Posted - 06/02/2015:  10:00:26


Hi,



I really struggle with music theory. It just doesn't sink in. I know I need to learn about chords and scales to be a good fiddler, and I have been lucky enough to have a good ear to get me to the point in playing that I am. However, it's really embarrassing going to workshops and having no idea what they're talking about. It seems like everyone just gets it. I really struggle with math and I feel like it's alike.  Anyone else who struggles with music theory? How have you overcome this?



thanks!!


fiddlinsteudel - Posted - 06/02/2015:  10:09:55


I think more people don't get it and just nod their heads in those workshops. :)



I think it depends a lot on what kind of music you are playing. If you are playing music where there is a bunch of improvising, then yeah theory can help guide you. If you are playing fiddle tunes most of the time, then you don't really need any theory for that.



What sort of music do you want to be playing?


fiddlemn - Posted - 06/02/2015:  10:17:57


Both fiddle tunes and improv :)

Tobus - Posted - 06/02/2015:  10:47:59


I find that a lot of people struggle with music theory.  I've been working for a couple of years now, trying to teach my wife some of the more basic elements of chord construction, scales, the circle of fifths, etc.  She sheds it like water off a duck's back.  She views it like mathematics: dull, dry, boring, and overly complicated.  I think this is the reason most people have a hard time taking to it.  Even the word "theory" starts to sound like math or science.  Having to learn a new language, with weird symbols and terminology, and memorization!  Even enthusiastic music lovers can get easily frustrated by it.  It just sucks the fun out of it.  So they set up a mental block, even without knowing it.



And the approach to music theory is typically pretty dull.  I tried getting her to read "Music Theory for Dummies", which is a pretty comprehensive book.  But she said it's like reading a textbook.  I had her attend a weekend workshop where she kinda did the same thing: she was lost, and ended up leaving in frustration.  Too many instructors just assume that people know what they're talking about, and they don't understand that once you've lost somebody, they aren't going to follow anything else.



So the approach I'm taking with her now is to just play music first, and teach her the theory as we go.  Being able to hear and identify the intervals is an important first step.  Understanding keys, and the typical I-IV-V chord progression in different keys, is important too.  What makes a minor chord and a major chord and a 7th chord.  Working towards familiarity with the circle of fifths, without actually having to talk about the circle of fifths directly (which leads to mental shutdown).



Can you find someone willing to give you personal lessons that are tailored towards the theory end? 


fiddlemn - Posted - 06/02/2015:  11:03:09


She sounds exactly like me! I even have the Music a theory for Dummies book and hate it. Partly because it's based on piano and I don't play piano. I have asked people for lessons before but end up leaving frustrated and embarrassed because it just doesn't sink in. I would love to find a good, simple book or YouTube channel to learn it. I think part of it is also trying to take that mental shutdown away and try and keep an open mind

fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/02/2015:  11:03:36


Well, there are connections with math.  I'm not good at math, either, but most of the math in music theory involves counting to EIGHT, and I seem to be able to handle that.



One thing that helps is to have something concrete to attach the concept to.   Paragraphs and paragraphs of straight music theory might as well be differential calculus as far as what I can retain, but seeing it in relation to strings and frets or piano keys makes it STICK a lot better.



Or, "a picture is worth a thousand words"



For instance... the fiddle is tuned in fifths...



and there is this thing called a circle of fifths.





Notice that on the right side of it are the note names  G, D, A, and E.... the names of the violin's strings!



If you start with C at the top, and add G, D, and A, those are the four strings of a viola... with the E, you have the strings on a 5 string fiddle.



So, you have a head start.  You don't have to try and memorize that circle of fifths, you can do it one by one.  You should learn scales and keys going around the circle of fifths, because the key you don't know that's next to a key you DO know is going to have 3/4 of the fingerings of the key you do know, just moved over a string, leaving just one string with new fingerings to learn.



If you only learn the NON-flatted part of the circle of fifths, you have learned the most important part for Bluegrass fiddle and basic guitar.  There are mnemonics for them like "Fat cats go dancing at Ed's Broiler."



Another handy use for the circle of fifths:  Any group of three note names on the circle of fifths is going to be the three main chords (aka "cowboy chords" of the key name in the middle, like C, G, and D are the chords in the key of G.  This is handy for doing chopping backup.



These chords also have numbers expressed in Roman numerals... in this case, the middle chord, the name of the key would be a I (roman numeral) chord, the one to the right would be a V (roman numeral 5) chord, and the one to the left would be a roman numeral IV.  Two notes to the left of the I chord is the II chord.... that is a fairly common ragtimey chord change that occurs in Bluegrass a lot.  That kind of thing helps with a genre of music like Bluegrass where things are constantly getting transposed so the singers can sing it better.



This particular version of the circle of fifths has the relative minor chord of the outer, major chord.  It is good to memorize the relative minors.



For instance, Foggy Mountain Breakdown is in G, but the main chord change is to E minor, which is the relative minor.  When the relative minor happens, you can use the same main scale, but instead of coming to rest or lingering on G, D, and B notes, you come to rest or linger on E, B, and G notes.



Basically what I'm saying is that with brain wiring like yours and mine, it's good to avoid THEORETICAL music theory discussions- they will only be confusing.  Instead, focus on APPLIED music theory.... the kind of little things that get mentioned in band practices and jam sessions.



You could also print out a circle of fifths like the one above, and have it laminated..... or wait.... they probably have little circle of fifths charts  for sale at music stores.  Keep it in your fiddle case.  Tape it to your music or mic stand.



Oh yeah.... since the fiddle is tuned in fifths, any finger positions, straight across in a line are going to be portions of the circle of fifths.



So.... if you play a G note on the E string, you know that the same note position on the next three strings are:



C, F, Bb (going counterclockwise on the circle of fifths.)  If you play an F note on the E string, you know that the same finger position on the other strings gives you, Bb, Eb, and Ab.



I see on your home page that you are also learning guitar... that's EXCELLENT.  That will also help you to understand chord structure and rhythm and applied music theory.  Among other things, it will help you see how related the relative minor chords are, like C and A minor.  The circle of fifths has applications to guitar, too.



The bottom four strings of the guitar are E, A, D, and G.  Have you ever noticed that those note names are the same note names as the pitches of the fiddle's strings, but backwards?  That's because guitar is mostly tuned in fourths.  The circle of fifths can be used for fourths too, by going COUNTERCLOCKWISE. 



Anyway, there are other things, but I don't want to "snow" you.  (if I haven't already!blush) Learn these concepts one at a time (like I also had to), and MEMORIZE them.



Another useful thing might be to take a basic piano class at a junior college or something.  I had three months of piano lessons, and I really can't PLAY piano, though I can play some simple songs on an electronic keyboard.  But the piano keys are also VERY useful for visualizing music theory in a concrete way.



Edited by - fiddlepogo on 06/02/2015 11:38:50

pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/02/2015:  11:05:39


some folk just don't need/want to study music theory,seems like they just enjoy the "magic" of it all and don't feel the need to meddle,i sometimes wish i could go back to just enjoying music rather than analyzing and messing with it,but once i opened the lid .....


Swing - Posted - 06/02/2015:  11:18:58


You can get a lot of theory by noodling around on your fiddle and then when someone explains it, you get it.... 



Play Happy



Swing


Tobus - Posted - 06/02/2015:  11:55:58


quote:

Originally posted by fiddlemn



She sounds exactly like me! I even have the Music a theory for Dummies book and hate it. Partly because it's based on piano and I don't play piano. I have asked people for lessons before but end up leaving frustrated and embarrassed because it just doesn't sink in. I would love to find a good, simple book or YouTube channel to learn it. I think part of it is also trying to take that mental shutdown away and try and keep an open mind





LOL, yeah, being able to play the piano, or at least having a piano in the house for reference, can be a huge deal when learning music theory.  Piano was my first instrument, and even to this day I still visualize notes as a piano keyboard.  It really makes it easy to "see" the sharps and flats, and the pattern of the piano keys as they relate to intervals.  So even if you don't have a piano, you might want to just look at a photo of a keyboard, or try downloading a piano synthesizer app or program onto your computer, just so you can play with it and use it for reference.  It can go a long, long way in making more sense of the theory when you can visualize the notes like that.


Dick Hauser - Posted - 06/02/2015:  12:02:28


I only like workshops that have students with similar backgrounds. An acquaintance who teaches at nationally known workshops held several workshops locally. All attendees knew some music theory and could read notation. He said more was accomplished in a workshop of this type. I think Steve Kaufmann's workshops near Marysville TN has different fiddle workshops for fiddler's with different backgrounds. I don't know how a workshop full of people with different backgrounds could work well. I would think it would be like going to a math class with 3rd graders, junior high students, high school students, and graduate students. I feel sorry for an instructor trying to handle that.

If you want to learn and understand theory, the book "Edly;s Music Theory for Practical People" will do a good job helping you reach your goal. It is about music, not any specific instrument. Gradually work you way through this book, and you will know more about music theory than most fiddlers. You have to work when you use this book. Read, study, work things out. Don't move on to the next chapter unless you completely understand the current chapter's material.

I agree with "fiddlinsteudel" comments. Unfortunately, I don't see a lot of good publications on applied music theory. BTW, April Verch has a fiddle book that helps you learn variations you can use when you play a tune. It has 3 versions of each tune, with the first version being a simpler arrangement. A fiddle can compare versions and see how how a simple version of a tune can be upgraded to a more sophisticated arrangement. The only drawback is the fact that the tunes are mostly Canadian favorites. But, you can still use these ideas in tunes you learn and play.

I wouldn't worry too much. Lots of fiddlers are in the same position you are in, Just keep reading, thinking, and asking questions. The more answers you come up with on your own, the more you will learn,

fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/02/2015:  12:08:01


One way you could use the guitar to help you learn some music theory is to take a guitar string, and, using one finger, and staying on that same string, play a major scale on that string, until you reach the 12th fret which is the octave.  You will notice that to play the major scale, some notes are skipped, and some notes are next to each other.



Each note has a number in the scale, and each note has a particular function.



The open string would be the name of the scale, the first step.  The third step and the fifth step are the other two notes needed to form the main major chord.  The fourth step and the fifth step are the steps around which the other main "cowboy chords" form.



The second step is that II chord I mentioned that is used a lot in Ragtime influence Bluegrass and pop songs.  Learn the chords to Redwing in G, and you will hear what I mean.... the main chords are G, C, and D, but that A chord is the II chord- it only occurs once but it's very important.



So really, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th steps have the most importance in relation to basic chords and basic chord formation. Start with those.



This could be done on fiddle too, but it's a whole lot easier to see when you have frets.



In summary.... in a major scale, 1-3-5 are the notes you need to form a major chord.  1-4-5 give you the notes around which the main chords in a key are built, and are the notes that give them their names.  2 is the step around which the ragtimey chord is built.



That's the foundational stuff right there!  Get that if you get NOTHING else- it will be a "gift that keeps on giving", and it's the part that pertains most to Bluegrass, Old Time and folk music.  And you can use the fingers of a hand to remind you.



Once you have that, Bluegrass has a lot of blues in it.   Scale notes 3, 5, and 7 are important in Blues.   Those are the notes that get flattened, get bent up to in blues guitar, and get slid up to on fiddle to get a bluesy flavor.  Notice they are all odd numbers.   3 and 7 are also the notes that get flattened to get "modal" fiddle tunes.  In different ways, mess around with 3, 5, and 7 to get spooky, mysterious or sad sounds.



You might notice "Pentatonic" scales get talked about a fair amount.  To get "pentatonic" just leave notes 4 and 7 out of a major scale.



So you basically have mostly 3 numeral numbers sequences to memorize.   Harder for you and me than for most people, but still not THAT hard.... like remembering an area code.



By the way, the math disability you and I seem to have is now often called dyscalculia.  It's often cause by a head injury.



It has some negative symptoms like the inability to remember numbers easily, but the flip side is that it very often it results in superior musical and verbal ability, due to the way the brain rewires itself after the injury.



So it's not all that unusual for gifted musicians to have the math disability.



Edited by - fiddlepogo on 06/02/2015 13:13:30

fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/02/2015:  13:50:54


Also, the bottom end electronic keyboards made by Casio and Yamaha really aren't that expensive, and if you can find one used, WITH the RIGHT adaptor with it, they are even cheaper.   You can also use them to tune to in a pinch, and you can get various rhythms going and improvise against the rhythms.  They have speed controls so you can slow the rhythms down, too.



Very often you see department stores stocking these keyboards, but only around Christmas.  When Christmas is over, the unsold ones and demo models get sold CHEAP.... since the basic models sell new for around $125, you might be able to find one for around $60.



There is an odd little thing to know about them though.



Casio keyboards are 9 volt "negative tip" adaptors, the same as electric guitar effects pedals, so you could get an adaptor at nearly any music store.



Yamaha keyboards are 12 volt "positive tip" adaptors, and most other keyboards follow that standard.   You NEVER want to plug a Casio adaptor into a Yamaha keyboard, or a Yamaha keyboard into a Casio, or the reversed polarity will FRY the electronics.     There are itsy bitsy symbols on the adaptors that you can learn to read, but they can be a bit hard to read because some symbols are molded onto the black case of the adaptor- black on black!  The symbol is also found on the back of the keyboard where you plug the adaptor in, and it's ALWAYS molded into the plastic.



The first is a positive tip, and the second a negative tip:





But if you can't read the adaptor, either buy it new or make sure the adaptor for a Casio says Casio, or the adaptor for a Yamaha says Yamaha, or if it doesn't, have the seller demo it with the adaptor BEFORE you buy it.  No sense buying a dead keyboard that someone else fried with the wrong adaptor!



Radio Shack marketed keyboards under the Realistic or Concertmate brand names.   As far as I can tell, some are made by Casio, and some by Yamaha, so be careful about those!



Edited by - fiddlepogo on 06/02/2015 14:02:46

Lynn1 - Posted - 06/02/2015:  13:59:04


Nice explainations POGO!

buckhenry - Posted - 06/02/2015:  14:14:29


quote:

Originally posted by Dick Hauser

The more answers you come up with on your own, the more you will learn,

 







This is absolutely the key to learning theory. There are many ways to look at each aspect of theory, keep looking for them until it sinks in, because it will eventually. Music theory is not difficult, it just seems difficult in the ways it is presented.... Use the piano keyboard and learn to draw a one octave diagram of it....no, you don't need to be able to play piano music. The notes are set out in a line of semi-tones, this is perfect for making calculations. Anyway.....you just want to play fiddle tunes and improv a  little over them....that is very simple theory, you don't even need to read music for that........be care full not to learn too much theory...!?



Edited by - buckhenry on 06/02/2015 14:21:48

Chops Chomper - Posted - 06/02/2015:  14:36:09


I say don't worry about it. It will come in time. Learn your basic chord structures like G-C-D or 1-4-5

You don't have to know much theory to be a fiddle player. But if you want to be a good fiddle player you will need to know a little of it and the more you know the futher on down the road it will take you

I would stick with knowing your basic patterns and move up the latter from there. Jerry

fujjers - Posted - 06/02/2015:  15:03:24


quote:

Originally posted by fujers

I say don't worry about it. It will come in time. Learn your basic chord structures like G-C-D or 1-4-5



You don't have to know much theory to be a fiddle player. But if you want to be a good fiddle player you will need to know a little of it and the more you know the futher on down the road it will take you



I would stick with knowing your basic patterns and move up the latter from there. Jerry







I agree. Even though that wasn't his question, I will insert my opinion where it isn't needed just to say something. Larry


fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/02/2015:  15:32:38


Sometimes certain songs can help learn key music theory ideas.



There is this song called "Heart and Soul".  It was popular in the 40's, and the chord pattern influenced a lot of songs in the 1950's, so it's called the "50's Progression".  It's also one of the two songs that it seems most young girls learn as kind of a traditional thing to play on piano, the other being Chopsticks. (At least that was true in my generation- don't know if it still is.)



youtube.com/watch?v=YsIL07eOqOU



The main part basically goes:



I chord, I chord's relative minor, IV chord, V chord for the biggest part of the song.



In various easy keys:



F, Dm, Bb, C



C, Am, F, G



G, Em, C, D



D, Bm, G, A



A, F#m, D, E



E, C#m, A, B7



The more keys you can play backup for  "Heart and Soul" in, the more keys you know the I chord, the relative of the I chord, and the IV and the V chord.   I can't think of a Bluegrass song that has all four in that exact order, but there are a lot of Bluegrass songs and tunes that use those four chords.



Major chords, (aka "major triads")



Learn to play "Taps", the bugle call, in every key.



The first line goes:



1, 1, 3, 1, 3 ,5



then it goes:



1,3,5, 1,3,5, 1,3,5.



That second line is repeating the notes in the major triad.... in other words, it's doing an arpeggio on that chord.



In a choir, they'd call them "do-mi-so".



Reveille is also a good one to learn:



1, 3, 5, 3, 1, 1, 3, 5, 3, 1, 1, 3, 5, 3, 1, 3, 5, 3.



Again, just arpeggiating that major triad.



Also, the most common kind of harmonies are based on 1, 3, and 5.  If the melody starts on 1, the other harmonies start on 3 and 5, and go in parallel with the melody.  If you can find the 3 or the 5 for that first note, a lot of times you can just "intuit" the rest of the harmony.



And as I've mentioned before when Pentatonic scales come up,



the opening guitar riff for the Temptations "My Girl" is a complete ascending pentatonic scale, then it shifts to the pentatonic scale for the IV chord.   So if you can play the guitar riff for "My Girl" in every key (on fiddle), you've got two useful pentatonic scales for each key.



youtube.com/watch?v=swSytFVMHuU



Ultimately, if you can connect bits of theory with practical musical examples like this, you will be ahead of someone who can explain the musical theory by the numbers, but doesn't have the actual sounds under their fingers.


Chops Chomper - Posted - 06/02/2015:  15:44:17


Well fujjers, What was his original question. Do you know the correct answer

fujjers - Posted - 06/02/2015:  16:29:22


Not sure. When my wife goes to sleep, I drink so much beer, and then go on Fiddle Hangout, and write a bunch of crap that doesn't make sense. It doesn't matter, tho, cause I won't remember anyway. P.S. I give lessons. Larry


Chops Chomper - Posted - 06/02/2015:  16:35:39


You know I do the same thing. I kinda like the crap I write makes perfect since to me.

But I don't think you give lessions though....did you catch that. You have to be a fiddler to do that

So I would suggest you pick up your toys and go play in the street and make sure there's traffic

gh_firefly - Posted - 06/03/2015:  12:33:50


I seem to have a different problem. I can understand the math/theory of it, and I'm an okay fiddler, but I cannot relate the two things on the fly. It's like I understand it in a vacuum and can't apply it. I just play the tunes from listening and I accidentally know which certain doublestops work in which keys, but I would have to really think and draw it on paper to relate it to those music theory concepts I've learned. The fiddlers I cannot be (yet?) are the ones that can shout out chords during a tune- I would have absolutely no idea what chord to tell any kind of backup to play. I like fiddlepogo's suggestions, seems like it can help mush the two things together.

fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/03/2015:  13:51:05


Genelle,



I think the way forward in your case would be do learn double stops on the G and D strings, and also learn which chords they (partially) represent.



Then, in a Bluegrass jam, you can chop on them, and in an Old Time jam you can play them with longer strokes (or even shuffles) as back up, say if the back up guitarist doesn't show up.



It's also a handy way to jam with just one other fiddler, say, if you know the same tunes, but the versions aren't compatible.



It's also good for a fiddler to have some experience on a chord backup instrument.  Guitar is a big jump for someone who has only played violin, but a ukulele or baritone ukulele is just about as easy to press down the strings on as violin, and the chords on a four string instument are mostly much easier than guitar chords.   There are also banjo ukes and baritone banjo ukes available that are fairly well accepted as Old Time back up instruments.... maybe not Bluegrass.



Anyway, if you could learn to play something like that, then you'd also have that as a backup option, and would be learning chord patterns.



Oh yeah... one plus with a baritone uke or baritone banjo uke is that some chords are the same as guitar (D, F,  A minor) and others are similar enough that you can "read" what the guitar picker is doing with the left hand, and follow them.


fiddlemn - Posted - 06/03/2015:  20:14:02


Thank you all so very much! I think I'm going to just print this all off and take it a step at a time. Such good info here!!

Chops Chomper - Posted - 06/03/2015:  21:16:16


Sounds like Genelle could use some lesson's

Skype: Jerry T. Holmes83

OK fellows and gales I'm just a simple ole country boy and I really don't know no better...that's it

I'm just an old man trying to make a living with music. Sometimes I don't come across to well but I meant too

Everything I ever posted was to help you on your journey. I have posted many help files and commented on a lot of issues. I have made many friends and I thank you.

It doesn't matter whether you take lessons from me or somebody else. The whole idea behind lesson's is to guide you in the right direction. Without someone showing you how to play..well.....you just don't know.

Do yourself a favor and those that hear your mistakes....get a teacher. I didn't know anything about the fiddle when I started playing...nothing. But I learned and I learned from one of the best. Carl Nelson. Carl used to play with Bill Harrell and The Virginians youtube him.

At any rate I see I am done out of time....those dammn clocks. Hey, But anyway get a good teacher at first...to note:...with a good teacher you will learn at a much higher pace than not having a good teacher
make since?

But a good teacher is the important thing and that's no matter what instrument you want to play.

A good teacher is hard to find it really is. You might find teachers that play nothing but classical and a little or stuff on the side. Or might get some classical folk that really know there stuff.

You come across an old Hillbilly teacher that plays all kinds of breakdowns but can't teach you the long bow

There's all kinds of teachers out there

Me...I just like to hear me good ole western swing, got to have some good ole country in there, love to listen to celtic music but every time I try to it.....it comes out swingy....for the life of me I can't figure that out, I like listening Jazz..I'm a little pickey, I like listening to rock mostly Southern Rock that's where my roots are mostly from, I like listening to classical especially where Paganini is involved, I even kind of like some of the urban beats that you hear on the street....I mean you mise well listen there there.

Anyway, If you need lessons look me up. Jerry

Chops Chomper - Posted - 06/03/2015:  21:35:11


ooops

gh_firefly - Posted - 06/04/2015:  05:33:35


I have a school-long career of lessons. I play well, it's just connecting music theory to what I'm doing that's the problem. I feel like my inability to call chords makes it more difficult for me to play with backup instruments that maybe don't know what I'm playing. I think it's interesting, the suggestion to learn the ukelele or similar. I've tried to learn guitar but it never sticks. I did try mandolin once but of course just played exactly what I would have played on my violin so I don't think that helped. :) It was fun though.

I have recently discovered the practice rooms at a nearby university, so I finally have a place to go to practice as late as I want, which I haven't been able to do for years since having kiddos. I think I will spend some time seconding with recordings and whatnot. And if I come across a uke I will take that up. :) Thanks fiddlepogo!

fiddlenbanjo - Posted - 06/04/2015:  17:07:14


The amount of actual information that goes under "music theory", especially in regards to playing the fiddle but really with any instrument, is surprisingly small. By comparison, the ABC's and your multiplication tables up to 8 probably will take up more space in your brain. The fact that so many people struggle with this puts a spotlight on how deficient our method for learning music is. The classical approach to teaching music is probably partly at fault but I don't know the answer.

I feel some people expect the understanding before they've actually done the rudimentary tasks of learning/memorizing a few simple blocks of info, like the Circle of 5th's (or 4th's) or the number system. And if they'd have just a little more faith to remain in the dark while gathering information, all would come clear very soon. But if you don't know the Circle and your relative minors and you don't understand how chords are made, then of course "music theory" will be a mystery to you.

Sorry if my post sounds blunt but I regularly play with jazz, bluegrass and dixieland musicians and MOST are completely lost without sheet music or music they've memorized.

Chops Chomper - Posted - 06/04/2015:  20:17:51


I agree with Michael, Knowing your cycle of fifths goes a long way. If you know your cycle either maj or min will take you a long way into learning how chords work it's in the cycle.

Most of the things that are played here are simple tunes. These simple tunes are usually center around three chords some tunes carry more chords than others some even less chords but we stick mostly with the simple ones.

Just our nature I guess

Let me ask you a question. Can you say right off your head what the 5 is in Eb. If you had to think about you're to late. I would know what it is right off of the bat. The cycle of fifths at play .

Learn the cycle. It will open you up to greater things

Nice post Michael. Jerry

fiddlenbanjo - Posted - 06/04/2015:  21:11:52


I do think there is often an element of laziness in the mix, though I'm not saying that people who sincerely try but still struggle with music theory are just lazy. However, if you do commit a few chunks of it to memory and play regularly while trying to make some connections on your own, I sincerely believe the clouds will begin to part.



Typical Japanese Man - "I can't cook at all!"



Me - "How many recipes do you know?"



TJ M - "None."

 



Edited by - fiddlenbanjo on 06/04/2015 21:13:03

haggis - Posted - 06/05/2015:  14:24:06


I don't think it is enough to know your chord theory. I feel , no matter the key , you must try to HEAR the change and KNOW if you are going to eg. a V chord or a iii etc. Hear major or minor and KNOW if you are stepping outwith the given key.

Lee M - Posted - 06/15/2015:  13:29:19


quote:

Originally posted by fiddlemn

 

Hi,


 

I really struggle with music theory. It just doesn't sink in. I know I need to learn about chords and scales to be a good fiddler, and I have been lucky enough to have a good ear to get me to the point in playing that I am. However, it's really embarrassing going to workshops and having no idea what they're talking about. It seems like everyone just gets it. I really struggle with math and I feel like it's alike.  Anyone else who struggles with music theory? How have you overcome this?


 

thanks!!


 




Your experience is not unique... After years of resistance and not just a little humiliation here on the Hangout (thanks, Alaska), I bought a book about music theory.. and Loved it.. No, I didn't understand it all right away, but a lot of it made sense.  First I read the book to get an overview, and THEN I read it again, slowly, to get a deeper understanding... Frankly, I gave up when they started talking about Blues chords, but my new understanding has helped me with my Old Time Playing...  Keep working on it.. It will come if you have the desire.. Give it time.. Lee


pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/16/2015:  01:03:56


quote:

Originally posted by fiddlenbanjo

 

The amount of actual information that goes under "music theory", especially in regards to playing the fiddle but really with any instrument, is surprisingly small. By comparison, the ABC's and your multiplication tables up to 8 probably will take up more space in your brain. The fact that so many people struggle with this puts a spotlight on how deficient our method for learning music is. The classical approach to teaching music is probably partly at fault but I don't know the answer.



I feel some people expect the understanding before they've actually done the rudimentary tasks of learning/memorizing a few simple blocks of info, like the Circle of 5th's (or 4th's) or the number system. And if they'd have just a little more faith to remain in the dark while gathering information, all would come clear very soon. But if you don't know the Circle and your relative minors and you don't understand how chords are made, then of course "music theory" will be a mystery to you.



Sorry if my post sounds blunt but I regularly play with jazz, bluegrass and dixieland musicians and MOST are completely lost without sheet music or music they've memorized.







Maybe some some folk need to learn things practically or logically,by this i mean having music physics/taxonomy and such explained, i know i struggle with approaches that don't explain things physically or scientifically, and rely on the "that's just how it is" doctrine 


vibratingstring - Posted - 06/16/2015:  09:05:05


Genelle,



It helps when trying to find the chords you need if you follow a bass line that works.   That is a jazz method taught to me by Ed Green, deceased now, but a great jazz pianist.   He told me many times.....follow the bass when choosing a chord or alternate chord.    In it's simplest form, it works for tunes in the 1/4/5 pattern as well as any fancy jazz.



Larry



 


fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/16/2015:  10:11:49


quote:

Originally posted by fiddlenbanjo

 

I do think there is often an element of laziness in the mix, though I'm not saying that people who sincerely try but still struggle with music theory are just lazy. However, if you do commit a few chunks of it to memory and play regularly while trying to make some connections on your own, I sincerely believe the clouds will begin to part.



Typical Japanese Man - "I can't cook at all!"



Me - "How many recipes do you know?"



TJ M - "None."

 







That COULD be a factor.   However, there are brain wiring issues with some people that free them up for some learning styles and hinder others.



Dyslexia is one, dyscalculia is another (I'm pretty sure I've got that).



The problem is that teaching methods tend to be picked by people with the more common brain wiring, and sure, they can point to success with that method, because people with that same brain wiring will "get it".   But they don't understand that their method is useless for some people.... instead of flattening the learning curve, it actually makes it steeper!


pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/16/2015:  12:27:37


it may be that folk who naturally understand this stuff are not the folk to ask how they do it,because they will expect others to understand it naturally as well, and maybe cant explain their theory to folk who don't think the same as them (or ask "Why" too many times)



i think that the theory (for my particular brain wiring::)))could be taught or learned in a logical systematic way much the same as audio,but in parallel with music.Then the differences that cultures genres artists and teachers impose on the physical world would become apparent,after all people have programmed "Band In A Box" to approximate different genre's and even artists, IMO these folk would be the ones to ask about music theory,then i could study the specific artist or genre i was interested in at the time..and have a clue where they differed from the physics, even if i had to make sweeping generalizations like BIAB does,i would at least have a handle



.....just occurred to me a Haynes music manual would be good with a Fault Diagnosis and Remedy sectionlaugh


buckhenry - Posted - 06/17/2015:  14:36:40


quote:

Originally posted by fiddlemn

 

 I have been lucky enough to have a good ear


 




This is all you really need to be a good musician, forget about the theory on paper and keep using you ears.



For instance....always listen for the home note and learn to hear the intervals of the fourth and the fifth,



When you can that then you will know when to change the chords in a song.....


TheGigHacker - Posted - 06/23/2015:  22:13:30


I'll add my voice to those suggesting that "hearing the changes" is more important than theory learned from books.

I compare it to learning the rules of a foreign language. If you think about the language as a bunch of rules, you'll never become fluent.

Most western music is built on the 1-4-5 axis of chord changes. If you can hear those changes, you've taken a big step in "music theory". I'd say the next big step is knowing your instrument well enough to improvise the appropriate scale patterns on top of the changes. After that, it's really refining your "language" for the appropriate genre (jazz, folk, rock, etc.)

pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/24/2015:  01:44:20


1-4-5 stuff doesn't seem (to me)to work in some genre's,it seems to me that in Irish music in particular, things seem to work around Drones,Dyads and Pentatonics,and the Triads are formed by a combination of those,and the "chords" such as they are,are secondary(and often suspended),and seem to pop out of the melody/accompaniment in strategic places... just another of my unfounded theory's,but i'm sticking with it until i have another :0)


farmerjones - Posted - 06/24/2015:  20:48:45


To me music theory is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It's the only way to describe music other than to just play it. So true, that there's no need for it if you just play alone. If you just talk, you don't need to know what a verb or noun is. Know what a key is. Know what I, IV, V means. For the sake of other fellow players.

Dick Hauser - Posted - 06/25/2015:  06:21:53


I haven't had a lot of luck finding books that provide information on applying music theory. Explaining it yes, demonstrating it , no.

Tobus - Posted - 06/25/2015:  10:36:11


quote:

Originally posted by Dick Hauser

 

I haven't had a lot of luck finding books that provide information on applying music theory. Explaining it yes, demonstrating it , no.







One that I can think of off the top of my head is The Mandolin Picker's Guide to Bluegrass Improvisation by Jesper Rubner-Petersen.  Obviously, this is a mandolin-centric book, not a fiddle book, but it was helpful to me early on when I was learning how to improvise on mandolin.  His intent with the book was not to teach music theory, but to show how to construct a melody or a break over different chord progressions, using scale notes.  He necessarily covered some music theory basics on his way to teaching improvisational skills.  It's been a while since I went through the book, but I seem to recall that he started with a basic major scale, then introduced pentatonics, then started adding the bluegrass flavors of minor thirds and flatted sevenths, moving on to minor keys, etc.  The book as a whole would be pretty useful for walking through the application of music theory, turning it into actual music.  The book is full of examples and exercises for this, with assignments for writing your own breaks using these tools.  After all, improvising a bluegrass break is pretty much the definition of applying music theory on the fly, requiring a good foundation, and I thought this book was very thorough in that regard.



Given the identical tuning of a fiddle, I would think it could be useful for fiddlers too, not just mandolin-drivers.



Edited by - Tobus on 06/25/2015 10:36:46

screecher - Posted - 06/25/2015:  11:13:45


quote:

Originally posted by Tobus

 
quote:


Originally posted by Dick Hauser

 


I haven't had a lot of luck finding books that provide information on applying music theory. Explaining it yes, demonstrating it , no.








One that I can think of off the top of my head is The Mandolin Picker's Guide to Bluegrass Improvisation by Jesper Rubner-Petersen.  Obviously, this is a mandolin-centric book, not a fiddle book, but it was helpful to me early on when I was learning how to improvise on mandolin.  His intent with the book was not to teach music theory, but to show how to construct a melody or a break over different chord progressions, using scale notes.  He necessarily covered some music theory basics on his way to teaching improvisational skills.  It's been a while since I went through the book, but I seem to recall that he started with a basic major scale, then introduced pentatonics, then started adding the bluegrass flavors of minor thirds and flatted sevenths, moving on to minor keys, etc.  The book as a whole would be pretty useful for walking through the application of music theory, turning it into actual music.  The book is full of examples and exercises for this, with assignments for writing your own breaks using these tools.  After all, improvising a bluegrass break is pretty much the definition of applying music theory on the fly, requiring a good foundation, and I thought this book was very thorough in that regard.




Given the identical tuning of a fiddle, I would think it could be useful for fiddlers too, not just mandolin-drivers.







That's a great book. Another ostensibly mandolin-centric work that relates to the fiddle too is Pickloser's Guide to Double Stops and Repeating Patterns (can't figure out how to attach it but Google the title and it'll come up). It's a short free pdf that is more helpful than some books I've bought.



 


pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/27/2015:  05:02:53


 Recently i have been having a lot of small insights into using the theory that i have learned in my improvising around a melody.One of them that seems to be useful, is to forget about the melody/chords totally,a minimum of half a bar "in front" of the first note(or target note) in the melody,concentrate on the rhythm,and try to play a "cadence" that will hit the target note regardless of backing chords,but staying in key



Not sure if i am right yet, but i think if i used this device,missed the target note and carried on for half a bar(or so),i would get one of those nice overlaps that i hear at the end of a bluegrass break...maybe, but the main thing (for me )is thinking about the target note at least half a bar in front



Edited by - pete_fiddle on 06/27/2015 05:04:03

Dick Hauser - Posted - 06/27/2015:  05:58:16


I read material on music theory, but often have to figure out how it works on my own. More and more I feel that economics is a factor in what is published. I am not complaining, just stating what I think is a fact. I am not a great fiddler or an educator, but I think better educational material could be published. I have discussed ideas with musicians and suggested things to a publisher. Everybody thinks something is a wonderful idea, but nothing is done.

I often wish local colleges would conduct music theory classes for hobbyists. Just courses for audit, not credit. I think it would be enjoyable and educational to spend a few semesters listening to the lectures, questions, and answers.

pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/27/2015:  12:36:30


i think the theory is just that,(theory) implementing it,is down to taste cultural bent or personal goals,and i think it can be used as an artist would use colours.It seems to me that if something makes musical sense it sounds ok,so a parting of melody and harmony would sound ok or even spectacular(IMO), if melody player and accompanist had the same musical goals,and came together again at some predetermined point,or even consciously avoided coming together. i used to think i had to follow a chord progression and hit a chord tone as it changed, but now i am thinking that the beauty lies in the subtle differences in rhythm and harmony, and am learning to use my ears with a small bit of knowledge between them, rather than just winging it all the time.  


buckhenry - Posted - 06/28/2015:  19:26:30


quote:

Originally posted by pete_fiddle

 

 i used to think i had to follow a chord progression and hit a chord tone as it changed, but now i am thinking that the beauty lies in the subtle differences in rhythm and harmony, and am learning to use my ears with a small bit of knowledge between them, rather than just winging it all the time.  







I think, in some instances, it sounds good to follow the chord progression, especially when backing. Such as chords I III7 VI7 II7 VI7, it sounds sweet to play the tones in these chords as it modulates. Not to say you can't just play the tones of the home key, but this certainly gives you different colours and flavours. But, as you say, following the progression is not always important but having target notes and staying in key is. Only last night I was jamming with a band and I had been thinking about this aspect of not following the chords for some time. And it paid off, I had my target notes and phrases and away I went......... 


pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/29/2015:  01:12:05


Nice one Henry,it's good to hear that theoretical stuff works in a practical situation.Lately i don't think I've been playing with other folk enough,so i think its probably time for me to take some of this "theory" out into the real world and try it out for myself again


FiddleBas - Posted - 07/10/2015:  12:02:43


Little late to the party, but here are some thoughts on linking music theory to practice on the fiddle. This is from the perspective of an intermediate bluegrass fiddle player. As noted above, there are really only two simple concepts to "understand": scales and chords. The rest is learning how to use them in practice. There is really no way to think about this stuff while playing, though you may have the odd moment where you have to figure out a simple thing on the fly. And then your brain hurts. 



Scales:



Concepts:




  • MAJOR scale: start at the "root" note (i.e. name of the scale), then other notes are spaced: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. You'll need memorize this, though your ear will recognize it. I assuming you know about "natural" note distances and flats/sharps to modify.

  • (MINOR scale: can probably skip for a good while, since most tunes are in major scales. Same concept but different steps between notes: whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole.)

  • (MIXOLYDIAN scale: a fair number of (bluegrass) songs use a mixolydian scale, which is same as the major scale, but the last two steps are switched (so it ends with "half, whole"). Basically, this just means that the seventh note in the scale is lowered by a half step.)

  • (OTHER "MODES" / SCALES: don't worry about them for now, unless dictated by your style. e.g. Celtic uses Dorian mode a fair bit, etc.)



Practice:




  • Learn cold the scales of at least the main fiddle keys (G, A, D, E, C, and maybe Bb, F). First, start at the root note of the scale (say the open D for a D major scale) and then just build it up from there, going to the highest note in 1st position (pinky on E string). 

  • Once you have mastered this, also go below the root note, so you cover the whole finger board. Start at the lowest note of the scale you can play on your fiddle (so don't necessarily start at the root) and go to the highest note. Example: scale of D major, you would play: G (open string), A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A (open string), B, C#, D, E, (open string) F#, G, A, B. 



Why you care:




  • When playing or learning melodies in a particular, you need to know where your fingers go. You don't want to be second-guessing if you should be hitting a C or C#.

  • When you start to think about chords (below) you NEED to know all notes in the scale cold, since you typically won't be able to reference a root note or melody line.



Chords:



Concepts:




  • A chord is just three notes from a scale (don't tell jazz musicians), each two "scale steps" apart. You can build a chord on any note of the scale, but in practice you'll mostly use the chords built on the first note, the fourth and the fifth note of the scale. For example, in the key of G you typically use the G chord, the C chord and the D chord (often indicated with upper-case roman numerals, so I, IV and V). And these chords look like this:


    • G major chord (I): G-B-D

    • C major chord (IV): C-E-G

    • D major chord (V): D-F#-A 



  • It turns out that in a major scale, these I, IV and V chords happen to be what are called "major" chords. This just means that the chord is based on two whole steps between the first and second chord tone, just as a major scale starts with two whole steps (this distance is also called a "major third"). You can probably do without minor chords for a while, but if you run into one, it is usually the chord built on the either the sixth or the second note of the scale (and is often indicated with lower-case roman numerals). Minor chord have a "whole-half" distance between the first two chord notes, also called a "minor third". So for G:

    • E minor chord (iv): E, G, B

    • A minor chord (ii): A, C, E





Practice:



I have found you might want to internalize chords in two directions:




  • "Melody to chords". This is basically about playing backup, or using double-stops in improvisation. Here are some things to practice:




  1. Learn the chord tones for each (major) chord on your entire finger board (1st position to start). Pick a chord, say G major, and then play: G (open string), B, D (open string), G, B, D, G, B. This pattern (playing just chord notes) is called an arpeggio. Do this for all major chords you are likely to encounter. The easiest is to just learn cold G, A, Bb, C, D, E and F chords. The other chords you might run into are the same finger patterns, just shifted by a half tone.

  2. Since you can only play two notes at the same time on a fiddle (unless you are Bobby Hicks), a chord on a fiddle is basically a double stop with two of the three chord tones. To practice, pick any one chord and play all possible double stops with the chord tones on all strings.  Then, just work out all the combinations that work on all string pairs. I have found it very helpful to pick a pair of strings, and then put your fingers on all the chord notes, taking one off at a time to form another double-stop. In this way, you quickly get a good feel for all the chord notes and you will start to see and feel the common pattern across strings (there are only 7 distinct patterns that repeat)

  3. Once you have mastered the above for the three main chords in any one key, play all variations of the chords across all string to a backing track or an actual song/tune. In the beginning, you will need to know/research exactly where the chord changes are and stop frequently to remind yourself how to form each chord and its variations. Soon (weeks or a few months at most), your ears will start to latch on to the chord changes and your fingers will start to find the chord double-stops and also the transitions between chords.





  • "Chords to melody". Basically, this is improvising over a chord structure (and ideally based on an underlying melody). This is critical for bluegrass, but I believe less prominent in old time. Here are some things to practice:




  1. Play only chord tones over a simple backing track. Start slow, and only work on two strings at a time. In the beginning, you will want to stop yourself if you go off track on certain chords and go over the "correct" notes. After a while, you will start to hear and feel this and won't need to think about it. 

  2. Pick a tune/song and identify the basic melody (usually the key notes you need to hit to make it sound like that song/tune). Then practice filling up this "skeleton" with other notes. A basic concept to keep in mind is that you typically want to hit a "chord" note every "other note", where the notes in between (the "passing notes") are not chord notes but are used as connectors.  I personally found this document very useful for its "chord tone scale" (a scale where very other note is a chord tone) and a handful of four-note "licks" that are really great to move around the fingerboard with. 

  3. Learn licks from other people and from recordings (use software to slow them down). Make note of the chords that the lick covers and practice using it in the right situations by playing over a backing track or a recording. Only once you have used a lick in a bunch of different situations will it become "useful". It's like a new word being "yours" once you have used it three times appropriately. 

  4. In bluegrass, it often works well to focus on melody-based improvisation for the first few "lines", and then pull out some fancy lick for the last line that, mixing items 3 and 4 above.

  5. Put together your own licks and breaks. Go nuts and play like Vassar Clements. 



Why you care:




  • Playing double stop chords is a very effective backup technique, typically done on the lower strings to not get in the way of the melody and/or singer. You can play with shuffles and rhythms to further help support the groove.

  • Add double-stops to your breaks/improvisations to spice them up, particularly on long notes.

  • Find ways to play a sequence of double-stops that work with the melody line for true bluegrass awesomeness. Sometimes it's as simple as droning one open-string chord note while playing a melody line on the other string, but you can get as sophisticated as you want.

  • Being able to improvise greatly opens up your instrument and the genres you can tackle. It's terrifying in the beginning, but a lot of fun once you get more of a hang of it. 



Just some notes from a fellow traveler. Hope they help.



Bas



 



gh_firefly - Posted - 08/11/2015:  09:29:27


Right now there's a free online course on Music Theory from the University of Edinburgh available. It's in Week 2, but you can catch up easily. It has little tests throughout the videos, they explain everything pretty well and there's a forum to ask questions and help others who don't get it. Anyway, here's the link: coursera.org/course/musictheory



Edited by - gh_firefly on 08/11/2015 09:29:55

Chops Chomper - Posted - 08/14/2015:  13:50:14


You know what I think. I think you put to much into learning how theory works.

You should only be learning your basic keys. Like A, G, D, E the same keys that are naturally found on the fiddle That theory stuff can come later.

If it were me I would study the basic foundation of these keys and explore what other keys go with it. Like 1,4,5

The fiddle is all ready set up for you to figure this stuff out....all you have to do is look

That's what I think. Jerry

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