Thinking Out Loud – Using Classical Music Theory in other Genres of Music

I have been recently thinking about this argument posed, of which that claims how we cannot approach other forms of music (pop, rock, jazz, Latin, folk, etc.) in theory & analysis the way we approach classical art music. Reasoning behind is that it doesn’t take into account, or it essentially overlooks, what makes that particular genre different from the rest. That by putting the square pegs of other forms of music into the round hole of classical music – we would scrape off the edges and miss the understanding of what that kind of music is.

While I can entertain the idea that using the rules of strict school book-taught classical art theory to compose other genres of music is not a wise decision, I do believe that it is okay to use classical theory to understand – pick apart – and fundamentally analyze other kinds of music.

What needs to be reminded is that music theory & analysis is just like any other form of science; from psychology, to anthropology, to biology, etc., they all do essentially the same thing. They observe, group together, and name special occurring phenomenon to be used later in order to understand other properties of the subject.

Instead of advocating that every form of music needs its own theory, there should be more of an educational push to encourage music theorists to approach with the lenses and vocabulary of their desired theoretical base (whether in classical, jazz, pop, etc.), and make new rules to understand what makes a particular genre sound that way.

This is long-standing problem in the academic field – where colleges neglect, too, that there can be many music theory “lenses” to viewing a piece of music. Too many times has a person with a background of not reading music, but understanding it through their own way, become discouraged of pursuing music because they are branded “stupid” for not adopting the viewpoints of classical art theory. And teachers fear that unless a student knows how to use classical theory – classical music can’t be reproduced.

If you buy a table and you have to assemble it together, but the instructions are in a foreign language – do we say that the table is incomprehensible? No, it is a table for goodness sake. It can still be built despite not knowing how to read the instructions that came with it.

So instead of demanding that a form of theory has to stay with a particular genre, academia and scholars should instead approach all kinds of music with the understanding that they have already, and make new discoveries to the unique acoustic phenomenon of different kinds of music.

Just thinking out loud.

Bryan M Waring
Bryan M Waring

Author: Bryan M. Waring

Bryan Waring is a graduate of USM's School of Music with a B.M. in Performance – Composition and is now attending Belmont University for a M.M. in Commercial Media – Composition & Arranging. During his time at USM, he studied violin with Dino Liva and composition with Dr. Daniel Sonenberg, as well as has premiered several pieces during the semiannual Composer's Ensemble concert series. In 2017, Bryan was a writer for the original musical theater work of "Molded By The Flow," directed by Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert. Outside of school, Bryan has been involved with writing music for videogame developers at Portland's CI2 Lab, collaborating with the King Tide Party, and studying with Larry Groupé (Straw Dogs) in San Diego. Now living in Nashville. Along with composing, Bryan teaches music to children, receiving the Master Teacher Award for his work at ESF Camps; and does audio engineering for live ensembles. Besides talents in music, Bryan is a team-player in any competitive work environment; equipped with skills in leadership, organization, mathematics, creativity, communication, and managing. On the side, Bryan has worked as a model for several skilled artists in the New England area. Among his other accomplishments include obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout in April 2013 with a project of building a side parking area with guide rails for Webb Mountain Park in Monroe, CT.

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