the Theory and practice of music
Here, The Muse Of Music explores music theory and the practice of music.
Music theory vs. music practice
What do musicians mean when they refer to the term, music theory?
What do they theorize about when they interpret, hear, study, read, read
about, discuss, or analyze music?
Music theory is a coherent group of general propositions used as
principles to explain the sounds people hear when music is performed and
what they intuitively understand from these sounds. It's the branch of
music that deals with music's principles or methods. It's a conception or
view of music and of the methods for composing or performing it. Most of
all, it's a system of rules and principles for writing or playing music and
a way of understanding how and why music "works."
What do musicians mean when they refer to the term, musical practice?
Pure and simple, they mean the performance of music in all its aspects,
as distinguished from its theory. theyalso use the term practice to
refer to the techniques, skills, and art employed when playing music.
A musician puts musical principles to work when he plays music but he
does not consciously theorize about what he is playing; he puts theory
behind. A musician theorizes about music when he consciously understands and
analyzes what he may play, but he does not practice it.
Music theory and practice are inseparable, but different.
a few Key terms
For The Muse Of Music's answer to this question, see the
section titled What is Music—Redux at the
page called The Muse Of Music Welcomes You:
- For The Muse Of Music's answer to the first question, see the
section titled What is Music—Redux at the
page called The Muse Of Music Welcomes You:
What are musical theory and practice? Here are some of the things that go
to make them up:
The aspect of music that deals with the principles or
methods that govern music; generalizations that describe and define what
music is, how it works, and how it should work. Musical theory dictates,
prescribes, proscribes, and
encompasses the practice of music.
Music practice is the action or process of producing or
performing music by playing an instrument or singing.
Musical composition is the art of conceiving, creating,
writing, or composing music in accordance with theory and in
anticipation of practice. A specific musical composition is a piece of music,
whether or not written on paper or heard.
A composition might be a lay passed on orally from one generation to
the next by bards who do not know how to write music or do not have
access to a notation system by which to write music; it might be a
musical phrase that momentarily pops into someone's head and then is
lost forever; it might be a melody written down on a napkin or printed
in a songbook or musical score.
The manner or method with which a musician employs his or her
technical playing skills to produce or perform music with the help of (through
the medium of) an instrument.
Music notation is an important aspect of music theory and practice. Notation
- A system of graphic symbols for writing music and directions for playing music.
- A process or method of noting or writing music by means of a
system of musical signs or symbols.
- The act of noting, marking, or setting down music in writing.
- A written system of symbols, words, and phrases that a composer
uses to annotate (write) his intentions for how he wants his music
to sound when it is played. He writes his directions in a musical
language. The symbols and notations in a specific system comprise a
- A specific musical note, collection of notes, or set of directions for
musicians to follow when playing a particular piece of music; a indication of what music should sound like
that is written in special musical symbols or words, or a
A musical score is a written record that contains musical notes
and directions a musician follows when he plays a specific piece of music, that is, when
he performs. Most musicians follow a score when they play, practice, or
learn to play a piece of music; it
shows them what music to play and how to play it; they use it as a guide,
crutch, or aid. In effect, a musical score is the music.
To perform is to carry out or execute; to go through or execute
in the proper, customary, or established manner; to carry into effect or
fulfill. Performance is what musicians do when they play music. A musician
performs by playing music, whether or not the music is written on a score
or an audience is present.
A note is a sign, symbol, or character used to represent a
single tone. It indicates a tone's position in a musical phrase (meter),
pitch, and duration. Every system of musical notation will contain symbols that
designate and define notes. Notes are what performers play.
about this feature
Many fine musicians—folk singers, amateurs, or bards
of old, for example—do not find it necessary to study or master music theory
in order to play, or even to play well. Woody Guthrie could not write or
read a note of music, yet he could compose and play like an angel. Irving
Berlin, one of the best song writers ever to have lived, could not read
music and could barely pick out a tune on a piano; he hired a "secretary"
trained in musical notation to write his musical compositions on paper
because he couldn't. Both men were self-taught; they played by ear, as the
Yet an overwhelming number of accomplished musicians,
amateurs, or neophyte performers find it necessary to develop and
perfect their compositional, performing, and interpretive skills by studying theory and
practice. No matter how talented naturally, they find that understanding or
mastering theory and practice helps
them compose or perform better. A very successful George Gershwin, feeling
that a lack of formal training was seriously hampering his career and
creative growth, was just one of many professionals who studied musical
composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris after WWI.
You don't have to play an instrument of be a music
connoisseur to reap the benefits that come from an understanding of music theory.
Knowledge of performing technique is not beneficial only to performers or
other musical practitioners. Any listener who cares about
music, whether or not
able to play a note, can deepen his understanding, appreciation, and
enjoyment of music in proportion to what is learned about theory and
These considerations have conditioned the scope and nature of
If you're a musical neophyte, you may be searching for a good place to
start an exploration of musical theory and practice. The Muse Of Music
suggests that a sound way to begin is first to become familiar with musical
terminology generally, then go on to notation and practice. If you're
already familiar with music, you may occasionally run into a musical term
with which you are unfamiliar. In this case, you may be seeking access to
source of musical terminology for reference purposes. In either case,
getting your terms right is a first consideration.
Why is music terminology an appropriate propaedeutic and orientation to music theory and
practice? This path to the subject is beneficial for several reasons:
- The majority of the words used in music are straightforward and
relatively easy to
- Notation is far more difficult to master than vocabulary.
- Much can be learned about theory and practice by cultivating an understanding the terms
employed in musical notation systems. A knowledge of musical vocabulary and
a grounding in notation can help lay a foundation for understanding
theory and practice.
As with sports, so with music: You can't read the score card without learning the words. As a step
toward learning the words employed in music, The Muse invites you to explore the following
pages at Electricka's web site:
- Explore music terminology. Visit The Muse Of Music's page called Music Terminology:
- Investigate the Glossary Of Musical Terms:
- Look up musical terms in The Muse's glossary of musical terms. Visit
The Muse Of Music's page called Musical Terms:
- Obtain an introduction and orientation to music notation at
The Muse Of Music's page called Music Notation: click here.
- Explore notation in Western music at the page called Welcome To
Western Music Notation:
- Explore the role of scores in musical theory and practice at the page
called Welcome To The Score In Western Music:
- Try your hand at reading a musical score at the page called The Score
Of Waltzing Matilda:
not a substitute for formal
These pages are designed for the layman. Anyone who loves music and seeks
to grow in this art form is welcome and hopefully will profit here,
regardless of level of musical proficiency or formal training. Because
these pages are a labor of love, readers with formal musical training may
still find some of what they contain interesting and informative, even
though they are written at an introductory level.
However, these pages come with an admonition. They are intended to inform but not
or train. As a consequence, anyone seeking an in-depth grounding or
mastery in music
theory, practice, history, or other related musical subjects is advised to seek formal musical instruction from a
Take a course on music theory and appreciation from one of the best.
Professor Robert Greenberg's Teaching Company lecture course on Understanding the Fundamentals
of Music compares favorably with most college-level introductory music
appreciation courses and is taught with a unique approach and from a fresh
perspective; it's unlike many of the dull, stuffy, plodding courses that are
common among their breed.
Dr. Greenberg skips lightly over musical notation—the
tough stuff—and heads straight for the heart of
what a beginner most wants to know about theory and practice. It's about all
kinds of music, from classic to pop, but the emphasis and most of the
examples are from classical music, Greenberg's forte.
Dr. Greenberg is, perhaps, most publicly renowned for the over 25
college-level courses and over 500 music lectures he has delivered for the
Teaching Company on a wide range of classical music composers and classical
music genres, on subjects ranging from the music of Mozart and Beethoven to
operas by Mozart and Verdi.
The Muse Of Music recommends the DVD over other versions for two reasons:
graphic displays are informative and will add to your viewing pleasure;
Greenberg and his subject are much more amusing, entertaining, and
stimulating when you can see him. He lights up your screen. However, the
other versions are less expensive.
- See Electricka's Resource Review of Dr. Greenberg:
- See Electricka's Resource Review of The Teaching Company:
As the title indicates, Understanding the Fundamentals
of Music is an easy going, basic, first-course, but
highly worthwhile. There are no prerequisites except a love of music or a
desire to know more. Order it from your library, purchase it from Amazon, or
buy it directly from the Teaching Company.
- Read a detailed review of this course and purchase it at The Teaching
Company web site:
- Click below to purchase the audio version from Amazon. (NOTE: At last
look, the DVD version was in short supply; it may not be available at Amazon when you go
there to look for
Numerous books and pamphlets are designed to introduce the newcomer to
music theory and practice. Here are a few:
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