I’ve always had a mixed relationship with theory: on the one hand, who cares what something’s called? What matters is what it sounds like, what it does to your ears, your head, your heart.
On the other hand, you don’t build a building without knowing what your tools are called. Having names for things lets you think more precisely about them, and identify what kind of tricks other musicians are using (so you can steal them, of course, in your own work).
There is a danger of over-intellectualising things, and I think that’s where the “pop” school of “just listen” has a point— it’s possible to do clever things with structure or pitch relationships or theory and still write incredibly dull music. And on the other hand, all musical innovations will have started as something that isn’t quite captured by existing theoretical tools.
I think especially for people who love music but are just starting out understanding how it works, a little explainer can be helpful.
One thing I notice beginner musicians wondering about is what it means to be “in” a key. That’s an interesting question because it’s tied up with the question of where music wants to “go”, and how music can “want” something in the first place! Of course the wanting isn’t in the music itself, that happens in our heads as we listen to it.
But why do we want music to go somewhere? It turns out that there are some fairly simple things happening in the relationships between notes that cause our ears to want the notes to resolve in a certain way.
So I made a little video about it:
What do you think? Should I make more explainer type videos? What topics would you like to hear about?