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Need a Good Theory book


Poetinwood
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I play piano and classical guitar fairly well. I started learning the violin two years ago.

When my teacher got around to playing duets, I wrote one for us to play and he was very impressed with it, but said I need to go study theory at a local college, but to come back to this piece when I finished.

He is a good teacher but I can't seem to talk to him logically, so end of discussion.

I have a disability that forced me to retire and keeps me from going back to school; it was all I could do to make it to violin practice once a week, now ended. My experience with college as a young man taught me that all you really need is the book anyway if it is not performance related. I compose in Finale and enjoy it very much.

I'm looking for the right book! Any help?

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I am amused with your comment that "all you really need is a book". I could never sit still long enough to get through a college lecture and I survived 9 years of physics and chemistry sitting in the library reading textbooks. 30 years later it is still a vital part of my career.

Regarding a theory book, my wife used "Harmony" by Piston while earning a violin degree 30 years back. It is still in print and I think it is now a "classic". Check www.abe.com for an older edition for a few dollars.

As you might already expect, most theory books are not a formula for writing music and I conjecture that a lot of wonderful passages written by the great masters, while complying with various theories of harmony, were done so instinctively. At any rate I really enjoyed reading Piston, and often while reading I would become enlightened to something that was intuitive but for which I had no formal background.

Finale is a very useful product-I employ it a lot for our orchestra.

Cheers

Fritz

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The theoretical underpinnings of composition are important, but ear training is more important, IMO. I'd get a nice set of Dannhauser (get volumes I, II and III) and work through those, at the keyboard, singing in all keys and clefs. This will do you more good than any number of hours, cramming theoretical concepts.

There are a lot of theory books you can use, aside from massive texts like the Piston. For a good, quick review of basic theory, you might want to look at Essentials of Music Theory: Complete Self-Study Course. It goes up to the point of secondary dominants, so it's not complete, but the study of theory is never really complete.

I don't know what forms you will like to write in, but listening to works, score in hand, is the best training. Live music, watching the score (which you see frequently in Europe and Asia, at concerts), is also instructive.

I agree with your assessment that school is not necessarily the best preparation; school is for acquiring credentials, to teach mainly. But if you can make it without the coursework, then do so. It does take a lot of self-discipline -- compulsion, really, but it certainly is worthwhile.

Good luck

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This is great! Thanks, everyone.

I do write in the classical vein, having really loved nothing else for the last 58 years; my first album was Sinbad at age 5 and I can still remember the score quite well. Now I collect copies of it.

I agree with the instinctive aspect of writing, I seem to only write the first 6 or 7 notes and the rest write themselves. But I really do need the higher aspects of theory, so thanks to all for the encouragement and advice.

If, after 2 1/2 years of violin study 2 hours a day isn't compulsion, I wouldn't know how to go about getting it! Past compulsion is madness I suppose. But that was Paganini, our mentor.

BTW- everyone should bookmark that Abebooks site! Talk about cheap textbooks, I ordered all the above so cheap I can just throw out what isn't needed! I thought I was going to be spending like I did in college where you have to take out a loan just to buy the books.

But that was the 70's, maybe times have changed.

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I like the Schoenberg book Theory of Harmony (Dover) best myself. In addition, there are at least a dozen good university websites that you can Google up for text/audio demonstrations on every theory topic! Piston's Harmony and Counterpoint are indeed classic, not used much anymore. Piston himself wrote that a book on theory is only a catalog of the composing conventions in use up to the point in time of publication; the composers of today are writing music that will establish the "theory" lessons of tomorrow. So any good theory text is essentially an historical text, a necessary background to revision and invention.

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So any good theory text is essentially an historical text...

Exactly right. The text we used at Indiana University in the later 1960's was William Christ, Materials and Structure of Music, 1966, 2 volumes, which took a historical approach to the development of music theory. I find that a very interesting way of combining learning music theory and learning music history.

Even though the Christ book has undergone some later editions, it might have the short-coming of not dealing with very late 20th century music.

But if you know music theory up to 1960, you're pretty current as far as common practice in most classical music goes.

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  • 2 weeks later...
I agree with your assessment that school is not necessarily the best preparation; school is for acquiring credentials, to teach mainly. But if you can make it without the coursework, then do so. It does take a lot of self-discipline -- compulsion, really, but it certainly is worthwhile.

Pretty cynical MingLoo, but I've certainly sat through enough bad lectures to understand (especially in Engineering). However, a class with a good, engaging teacher is far better than a book alone. My theory teacher was so enthusiastic and a personal friend and colleague of Peter Schickele, so classes were funny as well as enlightening. You can learn so much just by analyzing Bach.

I'm looking for a computer based course that teaches theory and ear training for my kids. If anyone knows of or across anything like that, let me know please.

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Pretty cynical MingLoo, but I've certainly sat through enough bad lectures to understand (especially in Engineering). However, a class with a good, engaging teacher is far better than a book alone. My theory teacher was so enthusiastic and a personal friend and colleague of Peter Schickele, so classes were funny as well as enlightening. You can learn so much just by analyzing Bach.

I'm looking for a computer based course that teaches theory and ear training for my kids. If anyone knows of or across anything like that, let me know please.

+++++++++++++++++++

Without being actually in school, no one knows for sure what one has missed. Books are as good as what are written.

A lot are not written. Even the written words are sometime confusing. It takes people who has the knowledge to figures it out what actually it means.

A good school has high standard. Only you fail in a test, then you have been challenged by someone who knows better.

That experience makes you and me humble.

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Pretty cynical MingLoo, but I've certainly sat through enough bad lectures to understand (especially in Engineering). However, a class with a good, engaging teacher is far better than a book alone. My theory teacher was so enthusiastic and a personal friend and colleague of Peter Schickele, so classes were funny as well as enlightening. You can learn so much just by analyzing Bach.

I'm looking for a computer based course that teaches theory and ear training for my kids. If anyone knows of or across anything like that, let me know please.

Hi "Dr." S: I found it odd that you found my remarks cynical. I think it's the contrary, in the direction of individual artists, working on their own, versus university training, which is notoriously sort of within the lines, in the box, etc.

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Of course your remark was cynical, by the definition of cynical. However, this was not meant to be a criticism. Cynicism points out a lot of truths and there certainly is a lot of truth to what you said. However, I was just saying that a good class with an engaging teacher will be, by every aspect of how people learn, better than a book by itself, because, in addition to reading that material, you get the benefit of discussion, a lecture that expands and reinforces the material, examples explained and worked through, and practice. How can this, in the best case scenario, not be better?

Now whether or not you will find this in any given school is questionable.

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I don't know why you persist in saying it's cynical; it certainly is not (from an artist's perspective -- not from an academic's). But anyway...

>> How can this, in the best case scenario, not be better?

I don't know of any "best case scenario." The classroom is not better than individual study if (1) your classmates are asking questions which you addressed decades ago; (2) if they're slow witted and unimaginative; (3) if they don't have knowledge of the literature, musical or literary; (4) if the professor is locked into traditional perspectives and a 20 year old syllabus; (5) if the general knowledge of the people you're dealing with is so limited, you can't even communicate with them.

If you've spent, say, 10 years (which was my case when I was a 22 year old graduate student), intensely studying musicology, theory, etc., and you encounter another 22 year old who calls a symphony a "song," what are you supposed to do?

Mary had a little lamb...

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This argument is a little bit silly. MingLoo, of course what you said was cynical. Should artists believe that a theory classroom with a good theory teacher is not the best way to learn theory? An Artist who approaches the Classroom with the belief that she would do better on her own is taking a cynical viewpoint towards the Classroom.

That being said, your point has merit. Finding a classroom where all the students are at your level and where the teacher is exciting and capable is difficult. And furthermore (supporting your point), it was Albert Einstein who famously discussed the classroom: "I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."

Also, I object to the idea that school is only a place for obtaining credentials. The conservatory environment in which you are, all day every day, surrounded by gifted musicians is the ideal place to learn about making music. Certainly, there are a minimum number of hours which must be spent alone in the practice room in order to become an accomplished musician, but there are 7-13 hours every day that are unaccounted for, and spending that time with fellow musicians, whether playing or not, is extremely valuable. Or at least it's been valuable to me.

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>> Should artists believe that a theory classroom with a good theory teacher is not the best way to learn theory? An Artist who approaches the Classroom with the belief that she would do better on her own is taking a cynical viewpoint towards the Classroom.

I agree with you, but at some point classtime is over, and you have to survive in the real world. I'm at that point.

>> it was Albert Einstein who famously discussed the classroom: "I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."

He also said: "It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry." [see my review of George Leonard's Education and Ecstasy]

>> Also, I object to the idea that school is only a place for obtaining credentials.

Did I say "only"??

>> The conservatory environment in which you are, all day every day, surrounded by gifted musicians is the ideal place to learn about making music.

Yes, but you can find the same inspiration in the real world (see, above).

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You are a special case MingLoo (and I sincerely mean that). Most students are not in the circumstances you described. So in your case, you were done with what a classroom designed for the majority had to offer you, however that does not mean that the classroom if not valid.

Much of this discussion is tied up in samantics, I think if we truly understood what the other was trying to say, we would agree completely.

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He is a good teacher but I can't seem to talk to him logically, so end of discussion.

How can you say he's a good teacher if he won't talk logically or answer your theory questions? I find that an illogical statement.

I've been teaching for 23 years. I can't imagine sending a student away instead of answering their questions!

The best place to start is by understanding the circle of 5ths. That explains a lot of theory.

If you think of the scales as notes on a big wheel, with major C at the top. C has no sharps or flats.

Going clockwise, a perfect fifth from C is G. G has 1 sharp. (remind yourself easily by remembering that G is the first string on the violin). A perfect fifth from G is D. D has 2 sharps. (D string is the 2nd string on the violin). A fifth from D is A. Three sharps (3rd string). Next is E, with 4 sharps. (4th string). Next is B with 5 sharps, F# is next and C# is last.

In addition to the major scales are their relative minors. They are a critical component of the major scale, and make the yin/yang of music so perfectly understood. To find the relative minor of a major, start on the tonic and go up 6 notes. C's relative minor is A, G's relative minor is E, D's is B, etc.

Going counterclockwise, a perfect fifth from C is F with 1 flat (its relative minor is D minor), next is Bflat with 2 flats. Next is E flat, then A flat, then D flat, then G flat, then C flat.

I wish I could draw you a wheel here with these notes as the spokes, but I think you get the idea.

From there you can make arpeggios out of the Root, 3rd and 5th of each scale; these notes also make up the major triad or major chord for each note: C's arpeggio would be C,E,G (1,3,5). Also the C major chord. C's relative minor is A, so the minor arpeggios follow in suit, 1,3,5: A,C,E

Now you know all the scales: both major and relative minors. You also now know all the arpeggios and all the triads.

You don't need a book!

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