So I'm currently being told this on my music course

I’ve been having a go at our colleges lack of music education on my MUSIC course.
Teacher said music theories not relevant to modern music.

The old music theory ruins creativity argument, from a music teacher!

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Whoever wrote that doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. I hate that argument that many great songwriters don’t know theory. That’s a bunch of crap.

Those musicians like Bowie, Lennon, and McCartney (and many other great songwriters) who say they don’t “theory” know more about traditional music theory and its application to modern popular music than most academics. They may not have known the theoretical terms of the songwriting techniques they used but they sure as hell knew theory. There are many interviews with Paul McCartney where he states he doesn’t know any theory but then goes on to talk about various cadences, turnarounds, secondary dominants, substitutions, and modulations. Although he didn’t go to music school, he got his theory from learning and playing hundreds of tunes and figuring out what worked and what didn’t. The Beatles didn’t sing a flat seven “woo!” over a major chord at the end of a chorus by accident.

Check out this site:

Alan W. Pollack analyzes every Beatles song. Read a bunch of those and you’ll see that the Beatles knew their theory.

Edited to add - I like how he couches his argument that David Arnold and Clint Mansell have “no formal music theory training yet create such compelling scores”. Those guys know tons of orchestration and harmony theory.


What’s worse is this is the attitude most the tutors there have, and they are responsible for teens early 20s music education. How the fuck have they been hired. That’s literally ruining their education.

Infuriating to say the least! There’s a similar cultural issue around the study of guitar technique, as we all know.

In more or less any other field of human activity you wouldn’t criticise people for knowing their subject!


What is the name/spec of the course, if it’s possible to tell us without dropping your institution in it?

It’s so frustrating that people don’t grasp that it’s possible to know the same thing under different guises, i.e. you can know all sorts of theory and yet not be able to give any of it it’s technical name.

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Yup! I know theory has made me a better player and songwriter. When I started playing there would be many times where I’d be writing some piece and knew where I wanted it to go and I’d spend hours, or even days sometimes, trying to figure it out. Or trying to get a certain sound/feeling in a solo and not knowing how to get it. Now that I’ve got some theory under my belt I don’t have to waste my time. And it gives me options that I didn’t even know about.


Music performance and production. Song writing and theory was quoted on their website.
Received Zero so far two years in.

Also, it’s fine telling people that so and so had great ears and didn’t “know” any theory in the sense of being able to name things technically, but if you’re not one of these people already you are highly unlikely to become one of them now, and DEFINITELY not going to become one by refusing to study any theory.

Totally, I’ve already wasted two years there, it’s ridiculous most the music tutors know zero theory, while decent people, they should not be in their positions. They are setting the students up to fail.
The angring thing is, if I was a younger student like most there are, I’d just take it.
But being older I’ve had to take out an “advanced learner loan”, and I’m seriously thinking how I can get legal grounds for a refund as you only get a certain amount of loans in the uk for education.
Not quite sure where to turn to tho, I’m thinking of getting personal comments from fellow students, as they are all unhappy with the course, tho as said most to young to even think of doing anything about it.

With that attitude from your school, I would hope you won’t be returning (???), and wonder why you’ve continued along for two years of not getting anything (???).

I was hoping it would improve, its really my only option if I’m to get any music qualification.

I’d like to know what University in the UK is telling people that music theory isn’t relevant to popular music practice. I’d also like to know exactly what course you are studying - what will you get out of the course e.g Master’s etc, or are you doing postgraduate?

A friend of mine is studying music here in Northern Ireland, at Queen’s University Belfast, and he is studying music and his course definitely includes theory.


I hesitate to post identifying information. Idk the consequences of that for my future in music education.

With all due respect, that argument is a load of crap, and if that was written by a professor at the university, he or she was likely just humoring you.

Too many wildly creative successful musicians ARE well-schooled in theory. And, too many people who brag about “not knowing any theory” are still writing music, by ear, that conforms to the general structures of music theory, even if they themselves are unaware of that.

I think a lot of this comes down to this perception that music theory is a bunch of “rules,” like they were handed down to us on clay tablets on some mountaintop, and are a bunch of “thou shalt not…” dictims. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve always looked at theory as a toolbox, full of a bunch of tools that can be used for problem solving, rather than a prescriptive list of restrictions. I guess, basically, a collection of approaches that explain WHY your ear will accept certain things.

This “theory ruins creativity,” though… Absolute crap. That’s like saying understanding gravity makes you a worse downhill skier. I don’t get it.


If you are already two years in, with a significant financial commitment, I think the best you can do is grit your teeth, do self-directed study on the side, and get the best grades you can for whatever they’re worth. If the credential has any value (despite whatever shortcomings you think you’ve uncovered), there’s no point in throwing that away. Check out some of the books and videos recommended in some of the “favorite resources” threads on here. When you’re seeking employment, nobody will know whether you learned something out of a book rather than from your course. Just play the game being presented at your school to the best of your ability, and make up the difference on your own time. That’s what life in many professions ends up turning into regardless: taking responsibility for your own lifelong learning. So tick off the boxes, don’t make enemies of your instructors, get the grades you need, and make up the difference with self-directed learning. If there are tutorials/study sessions or office hours, maybe you’d have some luck bringing some advanced “outside the curriculum” questions there, but don’t pick fights in lectures, or over the content of assignments/exams; even if you’re right, you aren’t going to change the institution.

It’s fair to feel like the content of the course was represented in a misleading way, but if you are going to try to seek some kind of corrective remedy through protests or legal action, that would likely be a very long, difficult, and expensive road. As hard as it may be to stomach, your best option may be simply to make the best you can of the situation. If the program is say, four years, and you’ve already invested two, do you truly come out ahead if you throw away the two years you’ve already invested? It largely comes down to whether you think the credential itself will open any doors for you. If the answer is yes, it’s probably best to see the program through.


Yes, while my gut reaction to that instructor’s response is “he dumb,” one takes instruction where it’s at. If you don’t sue, glean what you can and move on? Bear in mind that others may suffer disappointment if folks aren’t calling it out. Your call. A great instructor incorporates theory without instilling “feary.”

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So I’m going to preface my point by saying that I agree 100% that this mentality is incorrect and harmful to the education of the students involved.

I am however going to play the devil’s advocate for all those “I don’t know theory” folks and I think this quote sums it up very nicely.

In the context of what theory is, which is a system for understanding and communicating about common musical conventions, these claims make perfect sense. This is no different than physics or calculus. You don’t have to know physics to understand how hard to throw a ball to get it where you want it nor do you need calculus to figure out when to brake in order to slow down in time to not hit the car in front of you. That’s because they’re just theories created by us to explain the world as best we can and so is music theory. Like the fact that gravity existed long before physics, music existed long before the scholarly study of it did.

It’s a matter of semantics but I think an important part of this discussion is the distinction between understanding how to label and discuss complex musical concepts, theory, and understanding how to use them. Some can do one but not the other but no one is ever worse off for knowing the theory.

Some people seem to be better at working this stuff out themselves but most of us benefit greatly from a thorough understanding of music theory, at least as it pertains to our areas of interest. Some people appear to have an innate ability to create, which has undoubtedly come with a lot of hands-on work, but for the rest of us theory is a way to understand what we are hearing in a way that will allow us to then reproduce the sounds we hear in our mind.

Lack of creativity is exactly that. It is not an excess of understanding.

Sorry, getting off my soapbox now.

I agree with the other comments. Do the best with what you’re given and work hard in your spare time to supplement it with the information the program is lacking. If you’re like me, you might even end up learning a lot more from the effort than you would have being spoon fed the material.


I look at theory as essentially a cheat book. You can play sounds you’d be highly unlikely to come across just messing around. Theory is basically 100s of years of 1000s of peoples messing around documented. No one man could ever do that alone.

Just take the circle of fifths, it gives a beginner musician instant, consonant chord progressions. It would take a beginner way to long to come up with that themself.
And anyone not teaching theory is dooming their students to that never ending slog of “creativity” aka being totally limited and being forced to have all their songs in some basic progression with little depth. Sounds like modern music… I wonder why?..

What country is this?

This is the United kingdom. Small town.