October Meeting Wrap

It’s been more than a week since our meeting and I thought I’d take a few [belated] moments to post a some thoughts on our theory discussion and a couple of other key items.

  • Thanks to Bruce Johnson for moving to have NSAI Charlotte spread some cheer back to the Tosco Music Party (TMP), a not for profit organization like NSAI, which has made it possible for our group to build fiscal resources used to benefit NSAI members. The group agreed to make a donation to TMP.
  • Fiona has arranged another Skype virtual workshop for us in January, this one is with Hugh Prestwood. You don’t want to miss this meeting!
  • The group decided on having Craig Bickhardt in for a workshop in February 2009. Right now, we’re penciled in for a songwriting workshop with Craig on Saturday, February 28th. Standby for lots more detail in the coming weeks.

Then we moved into our discussion on basic music theory. With the wide variance in knowledge of theory within our group, I began with my perspectives on what elements of theory songwriters should invest time and energy into learning. Sure, many of us depend on our ears and intuition to craft the music side of our songs. But music, as defined by Wikipedia, “is and art form in which the medium is sound organized in time”, and it behooves us as songwriters to learn how to “speak” music as a language. Again, perhaps not as theorists or composers, but to enable us to be effective at co-writing and in rewriting.

The foundation for our discussion was a handout titled Music Theory Survival Guide for Songwriters by Danny Arena. While we had several excellent interactive viewpoints on how to interpret and apply the relationship between the linear scale degrees of a tonal center (or key) and the vertical triads built on each scale degree, the handout covers this information well, and is worth keeping handy.

Steve Simpson also graciously provided notes from a theory session he attended this year at Swannanoa, plus a table he developed for building triads off scale degrees (key of C) that folks seemed to latch onto. There was at least one other artifact copied and passed around, and at the end of our discussion it seemed that most had gotten something worthwhile out of the session.

Developing our theory “chops” isn’t much different than learning an instrument, it takes practice. There’s a lot to learn, but as songwriters, being well versed in fundamentals goes a long way and doesn’t have to be a daunting regimen. I’ll share one site I found that appears to have a well rounded practical approach to theory, it’s simply www.musictheory.net.

Now, this whole idea for a theory discussion started at the recent Steve Seskin workshop in late September when Steve heartily commented on the value of basic theory for songwriters. While we only scratched the surface during our discussion, I enjoyed it, and hope you did, too.

I’ll leave you with a couple of tips for practicing music theory:

  1. Ear Training: learn to sing and identify intervals and chords
  2. Learn other peoples songs and analyze the chord structure and melody
  3. Chart your own material, either using conventional chord symbols or the Nashville Number System
  4. Learn to play the melody to your songs on your instrument

By the way, Fiona, who wasn’t at our last meeting (missed ya’), also has an excellent handout she’s developed for use when teaching theory at dulcimer workshops that you may want to get from her. Lastly, please feel free to comment and add your personal ideas and favorite resources relative to basic music theory for all of us to enjoy and add to our songwriting toolkit.!

Cheers — angelo

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