You Don't Need to Understand Music Theory to Make Music!
Over the last few years, a growing number of my students are making music without any formal training in music theory. Ten or fifteen years ago this would have been unheard of. To make music you needed to play an instrument and have some understanding of music theory, notes, keys, chords and how they all interact with each other. Today, many excellent pieces of music are composed by people with little to no idea about some of the basics of music theory. So many great tools and pieces of software have emerged that bring the joy of music to non musicians.
But, A Little Theory Goes a Long Way...
Before we get into it, I'd like to stress that learning music theory is an invaluable topic to study for anyone serious about making songs and beats. It will allow you the ability try new things, anticipate where to go next, and easily play along with other musicians. Playing along with other musicians, by the way, is one of the greatest joys in music. You don't need to become an expert, a basic understanding will take you a long way. And while being an expert will elevate you to new heights, not knowing and understanding every last little thing will leave a certain magic to your music making. Keith Richards remarked that his guitar was like a mystery or puzzle that can be solved in an infinite number of ways with an infinite number of solutions. Paul McCartney similarly said something along the lines of not completely understanding music theory left music with a magic and mystique that constantly inspired him.
A Free Ableton Live Rack to Help You Make Melodies and Chords.
A recent lesson I taught was for a musician who could create a beat but struggled with the melodic portion of the song. Fortunately Live comes stocked with some excellent MIDI plug ins that can help you stay in key, create chords, and write melodic lines with just the press of a key on the keyboard. The MIDI Effect Rack I am offering for free download will enable you to remove any out of key notes from your playing, easily construct complex chords, and create rhythmic and melodic lines that sound as if they were played by a virtuoso.
Free Download: No Music Theory Ableton Live Pack
Inside the download (In the folder NER SCALES) is a collection of exotic scales from New Earth Revolution. Drop one of these before a MIDI Instrument and create some really interesting and unusual melodies. Here is a cool track by NER!
Video Tutorial on Making Music Without Music Theory
Below is a video that walks through the Free Ableton Live Rack I am giving away, as well as offers some techniques you can use to make music without theory. Check it out!
Some Useful Resources
Slam Academy has a great video course entitled Music Theory for Electronic Musicians. I got to have a look at the videos and wanted to recommend it to anyone who would like to get a basic understanding of music theory. I think it is paced well and covers enough ground for most producers, without getting too technical or scary. At $45, it's cheaper than most hour long music lessons and will give you tools and knowledge that will dramatically expand your musical capabilities.
Holy Scale by the 8 Bit Bandit is an awesome resource that will make creating chords and melodies in key pretty easy and fun. 8 Bit Bandit has been awfully generous lately, be sure to check out his free 10,000 8-Bit Sounds!
SoundPrism is an excellent app for the iPad and iPhone that will allow you to come up with new and interesting chords and melodies. Always in key, SoundPrism lets you do things impossible with a standard keyboard instrument. There are a lot of cool apps out there (and a lot of trash), I use SoundPrism all the time. Highly recommended.
Keep Practicing and Don't Give Up!
I hope that you find some of this helpful. Thanks to our modern technology, music making is in the hands of everyone. You don't need to deeply understand music theory to express yourself through music. But understand that learning a little about it will take you music making to new heights. If you decide to make theory a part of your understanding, remember that it is a language and takes time to internalize. You can study all you like, but it won't really set in until you actually use it. How many of us have taken years of foreign language courses and can't communicate with native speakers? Then you hear about someone traveling to another country and learning their language in a few months. It's all about using it. So study up and put it to use! Soon enough it will become second nature and you will begin to think in your new musical language.
Do you have any tips and techniques for making music without music theory? Leave them in the comments!