What is Music Theory? What is The Language of Music?

Music Theory is, unfortunately, not a very accurate term. It implies that once you understand Music Theory, you will be able to make any kind of music. That you will be able to see music is all about. It's more accurate to call it 'The Language of Music'.

This article will show you what The Language of Music (Music Theory) will teach you and give you a clear definition of what Music Theory is.

Music Theory - Accuracy of The Term

Music is an Art and not a Science. Learning Music is a lot like learning a language. When learning to speak the English language, do you learn the 'Theory of English'? No. You learn the syntax of how words are put together, their relationships to each other in a sentence, and how they are perceived when the sentence is completed.

When we think 'Theory' about any subject, we think about learning to follow some rules and laws that will lead us to being able to accomplish an end goal. For example:

Theory of Probability - teaches us how to predict outcomes such as flipping a coin.

Theory of Evolution - (self explanatory)

Music Theory on the other hand does not teach us music. It should really be called 'The Language of Music'. The language of music constantly evolves just as any language does. Resulting in the formulation of newer genres, instrument requirements, etc. For example:

Changes To The Language of Music

Language of Music

If you listen to a piece of classical music, say by Mozart, you'll find that he didn't use a rhythmical bass-line. In modern music such as Trance, Hip Hop, Dance, etc., you'll find that a rhythmical bass-line is absolutely necessary. Without this bass-line, the music feels empty to the listener. The same goes for the beat. In modern music you'll find a kick drum pounding away at regular intervals. This wasn't present in Mozart's music. Sure there was a 'Sense of Pulse' in Mozart's music, but it wasn't as pronounced as it is in modern music. Mozart never got a drummer and composed a piece that would make the drummer beat the drum at the tempo of the music. For Mozart, he might feel like he is highlighting the metronome if he composed it that way.

The language of music has changed over time since Mozart. Which is a very natural phenomenon. Similar to the English language. It sounded very different in Shakespeare's plays. Language changes, so does Music, and that's a good thing.

What Music Theory Helps With

So keep in mind that learning Music Theory is really learning to speak the language of music. Learning Music Theory will help you the tools to understand:

  • Timbre - Differing instruments sonic qualities.
  • Meter and Beat - The Pulse of Music.
  • Tonality - Gravitational centers in music.
  • Pitch - High and low values of sounds.
  • Mode - An expansion of tonality.
  • Harmony - The vertical, structural part of music.
  • Melody - The horizontal flow ow sounds in time.
  • etc.

To understand a bit more about Melody, Harmony, Pitch, Mode, etc., check out the following video

Sound in Time

Sound in Time

Sounds are placed within Time and that is what Music is. Music Theory (the language of music), will help you understand different sonic phenomenon (relating to sound). It will also teach you temporal phenomenon (relating to time).

Once you grasp these concepts of Sound and Time, you will learn how they relate to each other and why one feels a sense of completeness in a piece of music.

Learning The Language of Music

It doesn't matter what type of music you're into. Learning the language of music will give you a solid understanding of why we have a sense of structural integrity in any music.

The important thing to remember is that this syntax of music is constantly evolving. As it should. And that what you're going to learn is a syntax that has evolved up until today. There will be certain things that change over time about the use of this syntax as it happens in any language. But you will be familiar with these changes as they come around because you have an understanding of the rudiments.

An understanding of the rudiments puts you in a good position appreciate changes to the language of music. It gives you a deeper sense of acceptance of newer genres. Music Theory helps us learn to speak the language of music. Music Theory isn't designed for any specific genre. It works across ALL types of music which is why it's not called Classical Theory, or Hip Hop Theory, or Dance Theory. It's Music Theory.