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I have always had a subtle but under the hood feel that music is for me. I've never trained myself nor had any real dedicated musical practice, but I have composed music on my computer. What I don't know is, well, anything! I just got lucky mixing sounds together and made some kinda okay sounding themes, but it wasn't to my satisfaction because I felt it was more perseverance and blind luck than true skill and mastership/ability in composition/composing.

I want to learn things like music theory and etc. but from not any single or specific instrument. Not saying I want to be able to play every instrument, but I want the knowledge to have the potential to.

I just don't know where to start. Do I just buy any instrument and start there? Start looking up books/resources/etc. on music theory and/or notations per specific instruments and continue along?

I feel like I need some musician insight here to lead me on the right path to musical mastery. It is one of my aspiring talents to be able to not just feel like a musical expert and expert of some instruments and musical composition, but on professional prospects to should I take on such a path (i.e., minor video game composing to even concerto on the stage).

closed as primarily opinion-based by David Bowling, Shevliaskovic, Richard, Doktor Mayhem May 25 at 10:04

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Theory doesn't really apply to specific instruments. The traditional path has been to gain some proficiency in at least one instrument before embarking on a study of theory; theory does not dictate what is musical, rather it is the other way around: theory serves at the pleasure of the musical. The best course would be to find a teacher and learn an instrument; you will pick up bits of theory as you need them along the way. If you want to compose and get involved with theory, piano is a great instrument to start with. – David Bowling May 22 at 2:39
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    The best place to start is always the same for everyone. Get a good teacher and/or take classes. – Todd Wilcox May 22 at 14:49
  • @Greek-Area51Proposal - that is not a good duplicate target, and it is closed. – Doktor Mayhem May 24 at 17:29
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You may make some progress purely studying theory, but it will make a heck of a lot more sense when you have an instrument to play the various bits of theory on. Any instrument. The piano (or keyboard) is generally thought to be the best to work out theory practically on.

To choose an instrument, think about what sort of music you enjoy listening to, or picture yourself i an orchestra or band, playing one. That's what to go for. Don't include voice - you can't physically see what's happening with that instrument.

For me, theory comes after the practical, not before. I've said it before - you can read all you like about learning to swim, but then would you jump straight in the deep end?

  • Wonderful last sentence. I'm stealing that. – Todd Wilcox May 22 at 14:50
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    @ToddWilcox Theodor Kaluza learned to swim from a book and then reportedly jumped straight in. He was a scientist who wanted to disprove the idea that book learning can't teach you anything practical. – Your Uncle Bob May 22 at 17:29
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    @YourUncleBob Did he also reportedly survive his first experience in the water? – Todd Wilcox May 22 at 17:33
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    @ToddWilcox Yes, the swimming lessons from a book appear to have been successful. He survived and went on to lay the foundation for string theory. – Your Uncle Bob May 22 at 18:15
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    Could you expand on your reasoning for excluding voice? It's not clear to me why being able to see what's happening with your instrument is relevant for learning theory on that instrument. – Shmeeku May 22 at 18:21
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Any instrument will do for starters! That said...

As Tim says, the piano is a great instrument to know, even a little. It's easy to see how the theory plays out across the notes in front of you. It's easy to pick out melodies on a piano, even if your technique is limited to single-finger hunt-and-peck. It also has a very large range, so there are very few practical limitations to what you can play, apart from where you can place two hands and ten fingers.

The guitar is the other top pick for a starter. Where the piano is easy for a beginner to play basic single-note melodies, the guitar is easy for a beginner to play basic chords to back a tune. Where a pianist generally starts with single notes and expands out to cover chords, a guitarist generally starts with chords and progresses to single notes.

Between the two, you've basically got both ends of your theory and playing covered.

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Some people just use 'Theory' to mean a basic knowledge of notation, as required to play an instrument. Sometimes called 'Rudiments'. Or it can extend beyond 'what note is this?' and ask 'WHY did the composer choose that note?'

Do the rudiments first. It's difficult to analyse literature until you are fluent in the language! And learning rudiments goes along very nicely with learning an instrument.

It can't be denied that there is now an alternative path - we could call it 'sound design' using loops, samples, 'beats' etc. in a computer sequencer program. It's a perfectly valid (and sometimes very lucrative) way of making music, and you can do it without knowing a jot of 'music theory'.

But I don't think this is what you're asking about. My advice - start off with learning an instrument. Keyboard will be most useful from a 'theory' perspective. A band instrument will give you more chance to go out and make music with others. Not guitar. Guitarist's have a 'theory' world all their own:-)

  • +1 for use of rudiments which probably has more relevance with questions such as these concerning theory. – Tim May 23 at 9:04
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There are a lot of great books about music theory for every level of student. It always depends on the genre you want to create, but for me as an orchestral producer there are also a lot of great books about orchestration, harmony, virtual instruments etc.

I'm sure there is a lot for your purpose too.

However, I recommend always combining it with an instrument. Reading and learning music theory is one thing, but if you don't do or practice it, you'll probably just forget it one week later.

It is nice to learn about inversions for example, you get the concept and understand them, but if you don't play and practice them on a piano for example, you probably never really get the hang of it and won't get fluent with them. Also scales are a lot easier to learn if you play them instead of just reading about them.

In my opinion the instrument doesn't really matter. You could even practice in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) or a score writing program, but you should always test and play around with your new knowledge.

So my advice would be the same as I did. Get some music theory books for beginners, read through some music theory websites like this one and get a cheap instrument so you can play along with everything you learn. I got a cheap MIDI-keyboard. The reason was:

  1. I didn't want to spend too much money on an instrument before I knew that I even like to make music or not. Even tho there are also quality differences between keyboards like weighted keys etc. at least you can still get a great sound out of a cheap piano with no knowledge. If you buy a cheap violin from amazon for 40$ for example, you will probably just throw it against the wall after the first day.

  2. I liked the piano as an instrument, because it's a great instrument for beginners in my opinion. You press a note and it makes the sound - It's that simple (well, more or less). But at least you don't have the trouble of finding the right pitch on a string on the violin and so on...

  3. The possibility to connect your MIDI-Keyboard to the computer and produce music in a DAW was really appealing to me. With today's quality sample libraries I'm now pretty much able to play any instrument with just my piano. I do whole orchestral soundtracks with tons of instruments and just know how to play a single one. Isn't that great, huh? :D

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...I felt it was more perseverance and blind luck than true skill and mastership/ability in composition/composing.

You may seek knowledge, but don't speak lightly of luck and perseverance - they will be the truest friends on your journey as an artist!

I want to learn things like music theory and etc. but from not any single or specific instrument. Not saying I want to be able to play every instrument, but I want the knowledge to have the potential to.

The way to learn things from no single perspective is to learn them from many perspectives.

I just don't know where to start. Do I just buy any instrument and start there?

I can't imagine many people being able to successfully learn an instrument as their first instrument without actually having a reasonable desire and passion to achieve some level of proficiency on that instrument; although it might be an unhelpful suggestion, actually finding some of that desire within yourself might be helpful!

I do agree with Tim's suggestion of the piano or keyboard, though - its layout is a reflection of the way most common music notation and terminology works.

Start looking up books/resources/etc. on music theory and/or notations per specific instruments and continue along?

Yes. As you journey along, you may find that some instruments and music genres have different theory 'cultures', and talk about things in a different way. Much of music theory as a whole is the collection of these genre-specific ideas and instrument-specific perspectives. There are some bits of theory that are more widely-applicable than others, but the only bits of theory that apply to all music are those that have one foot in physics or psychoacoustics.

I feel like I need some musician insight here to lead me on the right path to musical mastery.

The only advice I'm qualified to give is: don't be like me, flitting from one activity to the next without really taking any of them seriously! I guess try to do the opposite:

  • Find something specific that you passionately want to achieve or create
  • try to achieve/create it (taking note of the theory that you need to learn in order to do so, given that that is a focus for you)
  • if you manage to do so great - find another goal! If not, reassess your goals and your methods and... find another goal!

There is an enormous amount to learn in the musical universe and it can't all be done in one lifetime. It's like travelling the world - you can't go everywhere, but you can do your best to choose the places you do visit.

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Another good source these days are YouTube video. Get an instrument of your choice and with free videos on YouTube. If you like it and want to spend more money on it, get some books or even a music teacher.

  • YouTube as a source is undeniably good. Some of the things posted on it, however, are not so good! – Tim May 23 at 9:06
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Any discipline (including music) involves three things:

  1. Science: The theory behind. The cerebral part, the reasons, the understanding, the math, the logic, the books, the knowledge. For a shoes manufacturer, the knowledge of leather, the prices of tools, etc. For a musician, the music theory. But knowing the music theory books does not imply that you can make music. Knowing the Bible does not make a christian.

  2. Technique: The mastery of action. For a shoemaker, the ability to make a shoe. For a pianist, the fingers ability. But being a master with your fingers, or being able to make perfect shoes does not guarantee that you will make good music, or beautiful shoes. Leading a perfectly religious event does not make a good religious.

  3. Art: the ability to communicate feelings to other people. You don't need to know the theory or to be a master with your fingers to communicate feelings (see Brushy One-String or even any kid playing an instrument or dancing: that's pure art). This dimension implies a lot of living, suffering, having multiple experiences, etc., in order to explore the largest quantity of feelings and be able to communicate them.

Now, a master in any discipline has developed the three dimensions. He knows the books. He dominates his body and can apply the theory by means of it. And more importantly, he's able to communicate his feelings by means of this discipline.

Some people, though, grow in some dimensions and not others. A lot of graduates have huge knowledge and incredible techniques, but have no feelings to communicate, or are just unable to do so. Others, like BB King, have a lot of feeling, some technique, and poor theoretical knowledge. Others, like John Cage or jazz musicians, have a huge theoretical development, and express hugely complex feelings, usually difficult to be grasped by common people.

So, you can choose what your goal will be. Do you want to know just the theory and become a teacher? Do you want just to express feelings and get all the girls? Do you want to be a respected guitar technician? It's all up to your goals.

Know that, and you will know where to start.

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