Why Learn Music Theory?

Sara Sky from Vancouver Island, Canada asks: “How does theory relate to expressing different emotions in a composition?” Wow, what an awesome question, thank you Sara! And what a perfect topic to kick off our Q&A Tuesdays. So, here's my one-sentence answer to your question:

Music is the communication of emotion through sound, and music theory is the knowledge of which notes express which emotions.

Let me give you an example. Say you're starting a new job and you wanna write a song about everything you're feeling. You're feeling excited about all the new possibilities, but you're also feeling nervous about all the new things you'll have to learn, and on top of that, you're feeling a little down cos you're missing your colleagues from your old job. This is a real mixed bag of emotions, and if you're trying to write this song by ear, it's safe to say you're not going to do justice to your feelings.

This is actually a huge problem in the popular music world, where most songs are made by ear. Songwriters have no problem conveying their message through the lyrics, but the accompanying music is a total guessing game. This results in a ton of songs that have internal battles going on between the music and the lyrics. The lyrics say one thing, and the music says something totally different. There is nothing more powerful than a song that conveys the same message through its lyrics and its music. But, the ability to do that requires music theory knowledge; there's no other way to achieve this.

So that's my answer! Thanks for reading. If you feel a little bit smarter now than you did a few minutes ago, then please subscribe to our mailing list so we can do it all again next week! Now, here's my question to all of you: What emotion, or combination of emotions, are you struggling to express through your music? Let us know in the comments below. And, if you have a theory question you'd like us to answer here on Q&A Tuesday, please connect with us!

Kate Harmony
Music Teacher
Victoria BC, Canada