The Instigator
stropheum
Con (against)
Winning
12 Points
The Contender
mattresses
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points

Does music theory hinder creativity?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/26/2008 Category: Arts
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 4,698 times Debate No: 3793
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (6)
Votes (5)

 

stropheum

Con

I recently got into a very inconclusive argument with one of my good friends and fellow musicians. He argued the point that many people have stated that music theory is nothing more than a stigma in a musicians creative mind, and that true music doesn't need these boundaries that were set forth way back when by the Greeks. As much as i respect the creativity of my fellow musicians, i don't believe this to be completely true. I believe that with 100% knowledge of all music theory, one has unreachable depths of creativity at his grasp, but since we as humans have such a limited time in this world, we do not have the ability to fully grasp music at its essence, but we can merely do the best we can. Good luck to whoever picks up this debate, and may the best man "win".
mattresses

Pro

I myself am a musician and songwriter with some knowledge of music theory, so this debate may go well for us, but may end up being gibberish to others... Anyway, here we go:

The argument you present is that music theory does not hinder a songwriter if said songwriter has 100% knowledge of the subject. While I agree with this statement, there are several aspects of it that make it a flawed point of view. First, music theory was developed as a way of organizing and categorizing the very strange thing that has become music. It has grown and become incredibly complex. Any song that you hear can be broken up into categories of sound that all encompass a different facet of the music. For example, melody (that catchy part of all those songs), rhythm (the way that the music is organized in time. Drums are the easiest example with their constant fills, hits, and other changes in rhythm), meter (a subdivision of rhythm: the steady pulse of the song, "1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc."), and there are many more. These all have absolutely nothing to do with songwriting, but knowledge of them is vital if you choose to undergo this music theory intensive.

In essence, theory is far too dense to learn 100% of it. Even if you are able to acquire all of the knowledge that is presented to most of us (scales, modes, chord theory, harmony, structure, etc.) we have only gained knowledge of the Western version of theory, which is simple compared to Indian theory, but fairly complex compared to Chinese theory. In actuality, 100% knowledge of theory would require a global trek that would probably take years.

To summarize, while anybody can gain the basic foundations of music theory and extend to more complicated places (chord theory, song structure, harmony, timbre) there is always more to be learned. It is like an instrument, you can never truly learn everything there is to learn about an instrument. There is always more.

My second dispute with your points, stropheum, is that by definition music theory is a limiting system. It provides boundaries to something that should be boundless, and depending on the type of music you write, it can be a blessing or a curse. For country, folk, and blues, chord theory is an extreme help because the songs never tend to go beyond the scope of the key they are written in. For jazz, some rock, and many other modern types of music, theory can be a curse. Nobody wants to write another song that goes I, IV, V* a million times, so many attempt to break the rules and go outside the box. While for some this may be easy, for others it is extremely difficult. There are many adept at it who know nothing of theory: Kurt Cobain, Thom Yorke, Wes Montgomery, and the list could go on for ages.

While I agree that music theory is a good subject to learn, for it is a dense science with interesting subject matter, I disagree with the fact that music theory does not hinder creativity. It can hinder it greatly, or provide guidelines that sometimes aid songwriting. I myself try to ignore theory whenever I sit down and try and write a song.

After all, wouldn't you rather write a song with a beautiful progression that catches your ear, but is outside the box of theory, than write a song that sounds theoretically "correct"? I know I would.

* I, IV, V is the most common progression in music and has to do with the order of chords in a song. Listen to any blues song and you will hear the I, IV, V progression. (This is not directed at you stropheum, I assume you know this).
Debate Round No. 1
stropheum

Con

Ahhh yes, mattresses, this will be a great debate. I'll make sure to take the time and respond to each point as well as i can. I myself am a bassist and hopefully we can both learn something from this discussion.

>>>"In essence, theory is far too dense to learn 100% of it"

>>>Excellent point. I agree with this completely. Humans at their clearly frail state and limited existence can never learn all of theory. But theory wasn't designed to be almost learned. Theory in itself is a very adapting science, in almost any culture it can be molded to work in ways the musician wants, but this requires a keen ear and an even keener mind, and even these minds cannot grasp the full fluidity of this boundary system. This is merely a problem that lies within the fact that we die. If humans lived forever then we could create unimaginable music, for we could learn all the theory from every culture, master it, and condense it into a single, ever-improving theory that could allow musicians to do almost anything. Clearly we are a long way from this though.

>>>"by definition music theory is a limiting system"

>>>Also a very good point, I can see I will have to be on my toes during this debate. But this is also a somewhat flawed statement, in that basic theory is extremely restrictive to creative minds, but since basic theory is usually taught to a beginner musician, there is no real harm there, for they're just trying to gain their bearings on the instrument. But as the musicians knowledge of theory progresses, it opens up many doors that would appear impossible to the beginner. For example, the beginner musician has just learned about the 7 major and minor modes and how to play them in all 12 keys. He realizes that there are only specific notes that he can hit that would keep him in this specific key. But one who has a knowledge of jazz theory knows that he can use passing tones to change keys mid song, thus allowing a much broader scope of sounds to be used. Also, many eastern instruments incorporate tones that cannot be achieved by our western instruments, such as 1/4 tones and such. The names of these instruments elude me at the moment, but I am sure you've heard of them. Anyway, what I am saying is that the limiting system of theory becomes much more fluid as knowledge progresses, thus allowing for more creativity, eventually, if one were to obtain full musical knowledge, he would have just as much, if not more freedom than a freestyle musician(one who does not believe in theory)

>>>Also, a slight tangent on your rock-star reference. I noticed that more often than not, even though many famous musicians worked free of music theory, the way the songs were written were more often than not written in a specific key and scale of classical theory, and I am almost positive that everything is written perfectly to some form of music theory out there.

>>>"After all, wouldn't you rather write a song with a beautiful progression that catches your ear, but is outside the box of theory, than write a song that sounds theoretically "correct"? I know I would."

>>>This is an interesting question, and I'll take the risk of going farther on a tangent and respond to it casually, as opposed to trying to prove a point. I do on occasion stumble across a pretty sounding chord progression or bass lick that i cook up, and i can't seem to find what key it's in, or even the mode(*), but i won't change it, or harmonize it do a different mode or chord because I want it to be "correct" in the system that I know. But after i make this riff, i can't help but think "Is there a system of music out there where this is correct? And if there isn't, could i make it?" These are the kinds of question that ties music in more with philosophy that art, which I love both equally i might add.

>>>Just a quick summary before i end this round

1:The fact that humans cannot live long enough to absorb all of music theory is a human flaw, not a flaw in the musical system

2:Music theory is a limiting system at its fundamentals, but is designed to create to the desired sound of the musician, and at advanced levels, can do an excellent job of it.

3:Freestyle musicians(**) while not writing their music in a specific style of music theory, their music more often than not falls within the realm of at least one form of theory, suggesting the significance of theory as a whole.

>>>Again, good luck. I'm looking forward to your response.

*A mode is a specific shape used in "classical" music theory to present available notes for the musician to play. Also, for any curious readers, not you, mattresses, i assume you know this as well.

**A freestyle musician as i refer to them, is a musician who creates music without the aid of any form of music theory.
mattresses

Pro

mattresses forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
stropheum

Con

sorry you missed your round mattresses. I won't make any further arguments. Best of luck to you sir.
mattresses

Pro

mattresses forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by Conversealot1 8 years ago
Conversealot1
I studied music when I was young. At the age of 10 and I believe when I studied mainly my theory I absolutely hated it. But I do find theory helped as certainly learning about notation. About timing about rhythm and this has stood me good stead. I have at moment this year found a compiled agreat music selection of classic music and theory I can read off wikipedia. And it has been a long arduous but interesting process. I obviously learn 20 minutes each day. But I find a mixture of theory with learning how the theory works within the practical side of things is probably the best answer. It was what my two piano teachers showed me. I later tried learning the guitar and violin and not as successful. I think to be a true musician one has to try and master how to understand how to compose music by understanding notation, understanding the dynamics of music and therefore understanding how sound travels and works its effect on the wonderful and brilliant mind!
Posted by realistic 9 years ago
realistic
i'm just now learning to play an instument and have hemmed and hawed about weather or not to pursue theory. I also draw artisticly in pencil and charcoal and took art classes in college. I was reluctant to take classes at first because I feared loss of creativity but after taking classes can see that rules applied to art are only limiting if you accept them as "boundary's" to possibility instead of guiding princpals. is this the case with music theory? anything you have to say on the subject is welcome.
Posted by mattresses 9 years ago
mattresses
it will be as soon as i feel up to it. sorry for the delay.
Posted by stropheum 9 years ago
stropheum
Definitely. Send out a challenge anytime.
Posted by mattresses 9 years ago
mattresses
Man... I would really love another debate. I've been incredibly busy, but I should have time in the next week to debate. If you'd like to stropheum, let's do it.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 9 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
I have essentially zero knowledge of music theory. I have also essentially zero creative power in music, despite having some in other fields. Perhaps there is a connection Con could exploit :D
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by lfe6424 8 years ago
lfe6424
stropheummattressesTied
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Vote Placed by Conversealot1 8 years ago
Conversealot1
stropheummattressesTied
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Vote Placed by InkSlinger4 9 years ago
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Vote Placed by b3rk 9 years ago
b3rk
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Vote Placed by stropheum 9 years ago
stropheum
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