Music Theory for Songwriters

Lesson 01

What is music theory?
Do you need to know it in order to write good music?

Published February 1, 2020

Let's be clear, you do not need to know music theory to write compelling music. Everyone is already an expert. We have been listening to music our entire lives. Using our expert ears, writing music can be as simple as trying to recreate the melodies that we already hear in our heads. This method has been used by many incredible songwriters without a deep understanding of theory, which proves that theory isn't a songwriting prerequisite.

So, what is music theory? Well, it is a useful framework that we can use to understand and communicate musical concepts. Additionally, it is a great tool that can be used to arrive at your songwriting destination quicker. How is that? It's simple. Instead of recreating what you hear in your head by randomly plucking notes until you find a match, you can use music theory as a shortcut. A knowledge of music theory allows you to recognize the specific intervals, key changes, and chord relationships and then use that knowledge to actually write it down and play it with an instrument.

An example? We all know 'Here Comes the Bride'. Sure you know how to play it in your head, but could you write it down without an instrument in your hand? Could you play it on the piano on your first attempt? Could you explain why it sounds and makes you feel the way it does? This is where music theory attempts to provide some answers. It can help explain why a 440 Hz vibration of your eardrum makes us 'feel' a certain way when superimposed over three other notes each vibrating at other frequencies.

If you are as excited about music theory as I am. Continue reading as we learn and try to figure out some answers.

Next Lesson: How do I choose which notes and chords to play?