Music Theory For Metalheads Who Hate Theory
“I don’t need music theory, bro! That’ll just cockblock my creativity!”
If you’ve ever thought or said something as remotely douchey as that, then this article is for you.
Now here’s where you’re right: you definitely don’t need to learn every obscure music term and rule in order to be successful. Just because another musician knows what an “augmented-G-sharp-inverted-dimished-clusterfuck” is and you don’t doesn’t make them a “better” artist.
With that being said, there are still enormous efficiency, communication, analytical, and compositional advantages for learning the basics of music theory.
Think about it in terms of participation in a marathon. You could decide to run and therefore opt to go through a lot of physical pain, wake up at 4am every day to train, and adhere to a strict diet of clean veggies, proteins, and carbs. You could do that. OR you could choose to instead ride a cheetah while chugging a beer for those 26 miles instead. In both cases you’d be traveling the same distance and end up in the same same location, but one will get you there a lot quicker and easier (and with a cheetah). Theory is a lot like the second option.
So with that, I present to you:
The FOUR Main Theory Basics Every Musician Oughtta Learn (along with real reasons why)
Note Subdivisions – Learn the difference between whole notes, 1/2 notes, 1/4th notes, 1/16th notes and triplets.
- This is your bread and butter of rhythm. If you’re trying to communicate how fast you want your drummer’s bass drum hits to go, saying “play your kicks at 16th notes” is gonna be a lot easier and more specific than saying, “Hey Broseph! Play your kicks super fast-like!”
- Similarly, if you want to have the guitars ring out “for a while,” declaring that it’s going to be held out for a whole note is a lot more descriptive.
Basic time signatures – Learn the the differences between 4/4 and 6/8
- If you’re in the studio and you’re recording a song with odd timing that switches constantly, you’re gonna save a crapton of time (and money) by letting the producer know what time signatures it uses so he/she can adjust the metronome accordingly.
- If you want to switch from “normal” timing to “emotional chorus that has different timing.” you can say, go from 4/4 to 6/8 instead.
Basic Scales – Learn the Minor/Major/Melodic/Harmonic/Pentatonic scales
- If you wanna tell your bandmates how to play “that southern yee-haw” sounding part, tell them to use the Pentatonic scale. Going for that “Desert Egyptian-lost-in-a-sandstorm” vibe? Tell them to use the Harmonic Minor scale. Wanna sound pretentiously classical and baroque? Use the Melodic Minor scale.
Basic harmonizing – Learn what harmonizing in thirds and fifths means
- If you ever want to write dual guitar solos like Avenged Sevenfold where your two guitarists stand back to back like absolute bosses, use harmonies in thirds and you’ll get that sound. Once you’ve got that going on, you’ll be fighting off babes (or dudes if that’s what you’re into) with a stick because they’ll see you as a guitar god.
Unless you’re purposely trying to create the most progressive/theory-heavy music , having an understanding of the aforementioned concepts should be more than enough for you to have a good starting base to work and it’ll make your life a whole lot easier. TONS of albums have been written with even less than I’ve laid out.
In general, theory improves overall transparency of music. It allows you to easily communicate your ideas to other musicians across different instruments. Knowing your scales helps you attain “certainty” when you are unsure (“Did I play an incorrect note? Hmm…”), while knowing your rhythms allow you to better notate programmed drums. However, arguably the most important benefit of theory is that it helps you objectively dissect and analyze songs that you love and songs that you hate, effectively making you LISTEN better.
So yeah. Choose the cheetah and learn those basics.
Did I miss any simple “must-knows” for fellow metalheads who are convinced that theory isn’t helpful? Let me know in the comments below!
As a bonus, I made this humorous video illustrating the differences between metalheads who know theory and those who don’t! Enjoy!