A couple days ago, I posted the first part of this series, an essay on why I think music theory is the wrong move for someone beginning to write music. Today, we’re going to go in the completely opposite direction. If you haven’t read that post, you don’t need to do so in order to follow this one.
In the last part, I made a bit of a hyperbolic statement: I hate music theory. That’s not exactly true. The fact is, I hate music theory for the purpose of writing popular music. Music theory is not for writing popular music, it is for understanding complex works. It is a science of art, if there is a such a thing. It’s like looking up at the stars in wonder, then studying astrophysics to figure them out.
I was perusing my GitHub repositories, as I do from time to time to see if there’s anything I’m interested in working on, and I stumbled upon a project I started during my sabbatical in 2019. Coltrane is a language for expressing chord progressions in a format that both humans and software can understand. It is currently a work in progress, but I still think its pretty cool where it stands.
If you’re an intermediate in music theory, reading through the white paper could help you to understand some fundamentals of chord progression theory, especially terminology.
Like I said, I hate music theory. But I’m also fascinated by it. My all-time favorite genre is bebop. Yeah, I know. Pretentious af. Anyway, the best part about bebop is the virtuosity. The fluency with which they speak the language is astonishing, inspiring, and perpetually amazing. Bebop is not only wonderful to listen to without analyzing, it is fulfilling and fascinating when you do. Analysis is to peer through the eyes of the giants of jazz.
Also, like I said, music theory is not a great tool for composition. It can be, but not for me, and probably not for you. Unless you intend to write the next Giant Steps, that is.
If you’re still interested in music theory after all this, welcome to the club. Have a read through the white paper, and come on back here with any questions or comments.
Next, we’ll take a look at tonality in popular music.