Why Music Theory SUCKS

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Don’t ever do music theory. I never did it. And look at me now!

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Music theory, chord shapes, modes, scales, circle of fifths … who needs any of that? I don’t! (I probably do and i would probably be way better if i did. I’m just bitter and this video was fueled by my negative emotions).

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48 Comments
  1. Sam Griffin Guitar says

    I appreciate any and all perspectives on this! I'm seeing some good arguments both ways in the comments. I think a lot of this comes down to how theoretical knowledge has or hasn't led you toward better music making. Everybody has had their own experience with theory. Differing viewpoints are totally valid. Even though mine is still the best.

  2. Jared Faulk says

    “What Bach did 70% of the time” BRO IM DEAD 😂

  3. Blackout Studio Sax says

    moron

  4. Chris says

    Theory is useful for learning your instrument and for transcribing so that you can incorporate interesting ideas into your own music that others have spent the time to work out for everyone who listens to their music, to carry the tradition on and on. It makes collaboration easier when people have the same context and already-paved 'roads' to travel to find those off-beaten paths together. In the moment though theory does suck when everyone's worrying about it too much. It's more of an introspective asset you use alone and then take the results with you later to show off.

  5. Boyi Sun says

    4:27 This is basically the idea of Schenkarian analysis.If you say music theory constrains your creativity and imagination, it only means your theory is insufficient. For me, learning more theory always broaden my creativity and imagination. If someone who just started learning theory learnt chord I and chord V today, and he/she tries to write a piece of music with chord I and V only, then of course that's gonna constrain his/her creativity, because there are only two chords that he/she knows.Therefore, no matter what's your theory level, you should always keep learning more, and there is always more to learn. I can almost guarantee that no one knows everything in music theory, including the most knowledgable music theory professor.There are many music schools don't teach theory in a systematic way, and students therefore finds theory random and hard to remember. A good music school/college/university/conservatory should have seperate courses for at least harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, and form analysis, but I know many many universities crams everything into one subject. As a result, they have less numbers of theory lectures, and their course are structured in a not very systematic way.And five years of music school is barely enough to scratch the surface of music theory. Many theories are taught very superficially, and many theories aren't even mentioned. And this should make sense if you consider how many composers, music theorists, musicologists, and music educators from different countries have existed in the past hundreds of years. And thus it is not possible for a person to learn the theories, rules, patterns, experiences and analytical tools that all those people have summarised and invented within a course of five years. And if someone were tying to find those patterns by themselves using the method of Trial and Error, it would take even much longer.

  6. Herfinnur Árnafjall says

    What you're describing is quite literally how you're using music theory, except that you're discovering music theory on your own

  7. Ed The alpine Dude says

    So basically this is… ZOINK! Clickbait!! Music theory definitely doesn't suck and it's very useful, especially for those whose innate abilities aren't great, non existant, or started playing kinda late. Anyway, knowing it is BETTER than not, no matter what you do with it later.

  8. Pieter Smal says

    Guitarists don't need theory… Because they don't know what they are doing, anyhow!

  9. Matt Bacon says

    7:09 – guess what that's theory doggJust because you don't know how to define or communicate those concepts with language or notation, doesn't mean they don't have inherent value as tools. "Theory" is just lingo for music making, designed to help identify common idioms in music, so people with shit ears can rely on vocab or some other method of book learning, to compensate for a lack of ability on an instrument or hearing. All these "theory suck" videos are the same – someone who has a solid playing ability or successful channel goes – "see!! I can make sounds & I don't know what I'm doing so you don't need to learn either!!"Maybe they just had boring music teachers, or adhere to an ineffective conceptualization of what "Theory" is in their head, and look at it as a series of definitions & rules, rather than tools to build relationships between notes. That's all theory is – and then, when you accidentally compose or arrange something you like, theory helps you look back, analyze & understand those relationships so you can more confidently assert your playing style, tastes or development. That's the real reward. Or hell, just to teach more effectively.Theory doesn't suck. Y'all just keep wanting to super-impose Bach's "rules" into genres of music invented 300yrs after his death…

  10. Mr. Gold says

    Music theory doesn't suck. Your dishonesty sucks. You studied music theory for 5 years which means you retained 5 years of that knowledge and are actively using it in your work. Also, you're advertising guitar tabs. Those are also set of formulas and rules aka THEORY of guitar playing. Stop misleading people and get your act together.

  11. Arturo Albero says

    I started learning music theory as I started composing and playing guitar, because my teacher focus my training in these three aspects. So I don't think at all like you. What sucks is the mindset behind "THEORY VS PRACTICE". As you said, theory is just a way to describe what happens in practice, just aiming to hep you understand music and make better music. The problem is that some people see theory as a end in itself, or a selfcontained thing.When you study classical harmony, you're learning the tricks our classical friends like Mozart or Bach used to write their music. This is classical harmony, and you may use it or not for your compositions. It's going to help you to understand music only if you practice it writing stuff and learning where it works and where it doesn't. Jazz harmony is the same, but less flexible (as it's a bit more complex, classical harmony is actually very simple). How the old harmony books are called? "Practice of harmony". It's not a coincidence. And of course the ability to read music is super important if you like classic music, which you should as there are tons of great stuff there. You can download a lot of them from imslp.org, which is free, and you can learn a lot listening to them and watching the scores. This way you use your eyes to train your ears. And you learn new resources to your own music if you're a composer. Or you enjoy more the music as you know what the composer did and you understand why (which is fun and fulfilling).As I said, practice is key. And I agree with you, don't let the "theory" limit your "practice".

  12. 8-bit Music Theory says

    So you thought I wouldn't see this, huh. Get ready bro cause I am COMING for you

  13. Paul Hjelmstad says

    Music Theory sucks, but Psychoacoustical Ethnomusicology is Grrrrrreat!(BTW Prince did talk about Mixolydian modes in an interview but I think MT works better when talking about piano)

  14. reuben cornell says

    #Sam – Says statement#Sam – Says "Actually that's not true"Repeat

  15. Sam Chaney says

    There are two points I'd like to make about theory. The first is that "Music Theory" can be a very wide term describing any methodological understanding of music like for instance how Balinese Gamelan musicians understand and describe the way they play the saron) but as you rightly point out in your video, it's often used to just describe music from 18 century Europe. The second point is that music theory is (or at least should be) descriptive and not prescriptive. Theory is best used to understand why a piece of music has the effect that it does, not how you should write a piece of music. The prior will expand your musical voice and the latter would constrain it. When you look at the broader definition of music theory that includes out there stuff like Coltrane's tone circle, traditional folk music (not as seen through the lens of 18th century European music) and crazy tuning systems and scales like Bohlen Pierce etc. and when you use it descriptively, then it can and will be an extremely valuable tool.

  16. Piano at Thirty says

    This is what Adam Neely's "racist" video was trying to express, but this guy does it with humility and humor as opposed to Neely's quasi-arrogance and virtue signaling.

  17. Steve Jimenez says

    So… Me, guy with no music thoery but makes songs from ear…. is that kairi's song from Kingdom Hearts I hear @ 9:54? or am i insane? Looked through all the comments & i'm surprised no one has caught that yet with you covering gaming music so much

  18. Velociferon says

    I couldn't pay attention due to yourG L O R I O U S H A I R

  19. Ethan Schwartz says

    Music theory is to making music as grammar is to writing prose…You don't need to consciously study grammar in order to write effectively in your native language. But, you DO need to have a good grasp of grammar to understand on an intellectual level why author A is so special, or why poet B is so different than poet C beyond personal/subjective opinion. A big problem with music theory is that it is marketed as a practical tool for composing/improvising. It's not. It's a tool for analysis. It's used to make sense of what composers/improvisors do (both consciously and unconsciously), and communicate that information objectively and succinctly to other people. In other words, theory won't help you compose a new masterpiece, but it will help you understand why an existing piece of music IS a masterpiece (or not).

  20. Alex Pfeffer says

    Thanks for this video!

  21. Richard Williams Music says

    lol, there's a ton of truth to these words. Although I do think that music theory is important, I don't think the way Music School taught it was good at all. I use theory all the time, just not the way they taught it. http://www.RichardMusic.com

  22. rumborak says

    The problem is that music theory is what in science is called "post-hoc". It can not tell you from written music whether it is good or enjoyable. What it can only do after the fact is to enumerate reasons why an existing piece of music might be enjoyable. So, it's not really a theory, as that would require the ability to predict. It's also why essentially nobody actually uses it to write music.

  23. Noah Tankersley says

    Theory is just giving a name to the things you hear in order to be able to better categorize sounds by the feelings they evoke. Numerous of jazz musicians and especially Gospel musicians know music as well as a music theory genius and can reproduce the sounds they hear and think; the only difference is that the music theory genius has a name for each sound.

  24. Benjamin Picard says

    I’ll never trust a guy with such a terrible haircut…

  25. Dallas Crane says

    Are you here from Orchestration online too

  26. Pseudonym73 says

    TL;DR "I don't use music theory for anything, except for all those times when I do."

  27. Carlos Eduardo Arce Tord says

    I’m afraid you are still using music theory inside your arrangements. Concepts such as quarter note, staff, accidentals, open string, bass line, ear training, etc… They’re all part of it. Maybe you’re referring specifically to tonal functional harmony, and its application to certain instruments. There’s sooo much more theory in the whole picture, and, in my experience, you get richer results in your works when you learn as much as you can. And by doing that you don’t need to exclude your own ear and intuition necessarily, cause they’re not opposed. They could constantly feed each other. Generally talking, I think there’s a thin line between spontaneous inspiration and self-sufficiency/laziness tho.

  28. James Randorff says

    Epic shitpost, my good sir. I tip my hat to you.

  29. King of Spandex says

    I think the point that is missing here is that music theory and ear training actually aren't separate skills, but that they bolster each other: theory helps to provide a framework for aural recognition, and by being able to put some label on what you hear you are more easily able to both recall an idea later and work it out in more detail. Or, that is at least how it works for me. If you don't feel you have any need for that, then more power to you.

  30. Petter Rong says

    "I don't use music theory" – litterary goes on to describe how he uses music theory and hearing techniques, just with 15 camera cuts in as many secondsI struggle to understand what are jokes and what isn't in this video (to me it sounds like one big parody video), but this guy makes it sounds like people who learn music theory are sheep locked in a box. I haven't studied music myself, but the knowledge he gained from studying music is exactly what he is uses when he explains how he makes and teaches music.

  31. BambooShadow says

    Great vid!

  32. 1 290375 says

    Personally i just look at theory as a bunch of useful shortcuts that can save you a lot of time when playing and writing

  33. NathanClarkMusic says

    I’ve been talking to a great drummer and we talked about how musicians should try to find sounds they like as opposed to having a preconceived conception of what their music SHOULD be. Find sounds that you like, be it a chord or melody and play with those. It’s way more fun!

  34. Ruled Trendy says

    This guy really doesn't know a great deal. He sounds like a kid that's learned to count to ten and then decides all mathematics is rubbish because he can just say big numbers.Western Music Theory is a way of understanding how to create tension and resolution on a small and large scale throughout a piece of music. In my experience, it's players that don't know music theory that are stuck in shapes and boxes. They just don't realise they're playing the same predictable patterns that all the other people that are too cool to learn theory play.

  35. ArwenMeow says

    Interesting, Sam. It surprises me that you are able to make such excellent arrangements without using theory. I tried writing music before I knew theory, but I never was able to finish anything. I would come up with some cool stuff though. I still use that method, but now that I know theory very well, I can finish my compositions. I always use a combination of both ways.

  36. Kevin Wale says

    Everything you said you do with your ear… Is still theory.

  37. ArwenMeow says

    Sam, you're a stupid idiot, bro. I learned a bunch of music theory and it helped me write music and it helps me play a bunch of really good improv.

  38. Chris Cap Audio says

    Thank you for not giving us a lecture on racism! 😉

  39. peter kett says

    If you survived five years of music theory you're using it. It may not be your first choice when arranging, but i'm sure once you've picked those notes (based on your taste) the analysis is easy to understand. That's when you use your music theory knowledge.

  40. Jacob King says

    Worked in a studio as a bassist and theory was literally bailing my ass out every other day.Only knew a bit, but our producer would come in, make some adjustments on our tab/sheet music overnight.It'd be smooth sailing the next morning.Guy couldn't play an instrument to save his ass, but he could eye ball sheet music / tab and find the issue almost immediately.Too bad he was a crack head. "Masters on the wall; he's the crackhead down the hall". :-/

  41. Juunas John says

    I have been composed since I was 14 and I don’t have any school education on that. After 10 years from beginning, I started studying music theory with classical theory that basically claims what is "music" and what is "non-music" and most of the time I end up argue with it and it's theoretical tools that are taken from the magician's hat apparently. Fortunately, however, I found the modern music theory with a more scientific attitude toward music. It’s been fun to analyze old songs and find myself using very modern stuff in a theoretical sense. It makes you feel much better than you really are, at least for a moment.

  42. Alan W says

    Thanks so much for these informative videos, Sam! Can you recommend a good course online to take for learning guitar? Maybe you could make one someday

  43. Layla Brooke says

    Depends on what school your in and what you want to use it for…

  44. Nick Masters says

    I don't agree with ya on a few things in this video, but I'm upvoting you cause I don't want to be wrong! 🙂 Love your videos dawg, even if I don't agree with everything you say. I think you got some good points homes – at the end of the day, how the music sounds is the most important thing. I also think a person can get too caught up in trying to find "rules" or figure out how or why something "works." (It works if it sounds good!). But, on the other end, speaking for myself, theory has really helped me to hone my ears and to recognize a lot of common place patterns in music. A good working knowledge of theory can help a person more quickly zero in on a particular sound/style/etc. A lot of music really does consist of familiar patterns, and knowing those patterns and how they tend to work together, can greatly increase one's efficiency. For my part, this is more helpful than stumbling around blindly in the dark hoping to get lucky! For sure, there is no magic bullet that will always allow one to create awesome music, but being well versed in various styles, and in the rudiments of music (scales, harmony, rhythm, meter, structure) does make life a lot easier. For me anyway! Kudos – always enjoy your videos.

  45. Pedro Costa says

    Ear training should be one of the first things!! Much more important then theory

  46. Nelson Vieira says

    Theory sucks to sit through, for sure. However I do think some good can come from it for the basics of music like the musical alpabet, sharps and flats, timing/bars. Reading through some theory helped me uderstand some of things you guys talk about whe aranging stuff. I also think it depends on how its taught and who teaches it to make it less suck. I think you'd be a good teacher of it with your approach here lol 🙂 It may not help you in the end to create, but think its a good foundation or necessary evil as long as you're not snobby about it.

  47. shreddaily101 says

    Saying music theory sucks is a lot like saying “having a super model girlfriend sucks” or “having a million dollars sucks.” Sure, some aspects of it suck, but overall your life is better with it.

  48. flaro38 says

    Really loved your video.Amateur bass player here, I went to jazz school for 3 months and it almost made me quit music. Now I feel like I miss something, I dream of improvising in a jazz band, but I also know it's not the way I enjoy making music. I really suggest to watch a video on the same argument told by Victor Wooten:https://youtu.be/3yRMbH36HRE

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