Breaking through the “theory” box
Ah the final lesson. This week we’ll be discussing ways to break out of the theory box. If you’ve read and understood all of the lessons in this course, chances are you’re fairly serious about music and have enough theoretical knowledge to start getting tired with the theory of it all. Not to fear, music is a lifelong journey, and half the fun is in trying to create things that have never been done before, and in seeing things in ways that have never been seen before. It’s from these out of the box ideas that a good portion of your compositional girth will come from. I, personally, went through a period where the knowledge in my head began to irk me. It took me awhile to figure out I could take this knowledge and use it toward something new. It’s important to look at everything you’ve learned as a simple foundation on which to build the building- each piece of theoretical knowledge works to sure up the foundation. However, the foundation is not what people see- people see the building, in whichever way you choose to display it.
In this post, we’ll take our already assumed knowledge and use it to explain other concepts. We touched on this idea in last week’s lesson about symmetric scales.
For example, how many different ways can we see a major scale? It’s something you’ve looked at for ages, ever since the first year of theory or playing an instrument. But, there is so much more to a major scale than just being a major scale.
For starters, let’s talk about tetra-chords. All tetra-chords are, are the first four notes of any given scale. Which tetra chords can you see in a major scale?
Here, I see a C Major tetra-chord and a G Major tetra-chord a 5th apart.
What if we were to look at it in terms of chords? Which chords could potentially make up a C Major scale? How about a D minor triad superimposed over a C Major 7th chord.
What about looking at something as banal as a C major 7th? It could be written as Em/C, a major third starting on C plus a major third starting on G, two perfect 5ths placed a major third apart, A minor 9 with no root, and any other categorization you can think of for it. What this exercise does is open your eyes a bit. Nothing is too ridiculous or obvious to think about, as every categorization is a possible new door toward something you’ve never thought about.
Of course, more complicated concepts will have more ways to be parsed. Take the diminished scale we learned about last week:
What do you see in the diminished scale? How about two minor tetra-chords a tri-tone apart, two fully diminished 7th chords superimposed, a C minor-augmented major 7th chord and a F# minor-augmented major 7th chord a tri-tone apart, etc.
This method of doing things, is, perhaps, the most difficult thing about theory. It takes true command of the material to create something new from it; or is it, through creating something new with the material you learn command of the material? Either way, it’s the next step in theoretical evolution, and the point where you realize a teacher cannot help you along the path any further.
Questions to think about:
How many ways can you quantify an Augmented Scale starting on A?
What could you call the first 4 notes of an auxiliary diminished scale?
How can you write Phrygian as a slash-chord or poly-chord?
Which two tetra-chords make up a locrian scale?
How can you write Harmonic Major as a poly-chord?
Which chords do a diminished scale and augmented scale have in common?
How many ways can you think of to represent a minor 7th chord?