Why learn Music Theory?

Leonardo Da Vinci studied the laws of science and nature; anatomy, botany, mathematics, amongst many other things.
In the same way that intensive studying didn’t somehow ruin his artistic capabilities, learning basic music theory won’t ruin your music capabilities either.
I’ve lost track over the years the number of people that tried to convince me that music was just a “feeling”, that music “education” somehow ruins the authenticity of certain types of music.
These conversations were usually with people that never tried to study it much. Sometimes these opinions were drawn from people that heard someone with a lot of training whose music they didn’t like. They then drew the incorrect conclusion that every “trained” musician must sound and function the same.
My viewpoint-It is not the “theory” that’s the problem, it’s how it’s taught and used.
You must first understand it’s limitations-theory doesn’t equal truth and will sometimes be wrong. Theory allows you to make an educated guess about what you hear or why someone else played something they did. It allows you to put labels on things. It functions like a statistical probability.
For example-Imagine if you went around your everyday life and didn’t have the labels-red, blue or green. The label is there to allow you to recognize something you’ve seen before and say there is the thing I know. The label shouldn’t overly complicate something, it should act as an aid.
More importantly, the label allows for recall and you can say, here is the perfect place I can use that item.
To me the greatest function of music theory is to increase your hearing abilities.
Unfortunately, people can get so wrapped up in the theory that they don’t ever break the rules or they let the theory override their instincts. This doesn’t have to be the case. Sometimes musicians write music around theories, chained to a theory; thereby leaving the audience shaking their heads.
Lastly, I have seen people with really incredible ears/hearing abilities plateau with their music simply because their hearing can only take them so far. They miss out on a greater palette of colors because they have no interest in something as simple as learning a label.
In the same way that knowing turquoise, wenge, or aqua won’t ruin a painters creativity, music theory doesn’t innately ruin creativity either.

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Jody Hughes Written by:

I am a full-time banjo and acoustic guitar teacher, performer and composer. I have performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry and The Ryman Auditorium. My interests include developing educational materials for the advancing banjoist and composing Original Music mixing my background in Bluegrass, Jazz, Classical and Latin Music.

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