You guys are so helpful. Thanks so much. Hopefully someone can help me with this one. I am a big fan of Kanye West. Not so much his lyrics but his musical ability is amazing to me. These are some of my favorite songs. (instrumentals)

I’ve been studying this guy for a while but my analyzing skills are probably not as good as yours. Could you tell me... is he “for dummies” music theory, or does he know tonal harmony like counterpoint, voice leading and all that. Is he Even with jazz or 20th century theory? I hope someone can put my weak analyzing skills to rest by giving me the truth on this.

  • 8
    Its difficult to evaluate someones theoretical proficiency from their album recordings. Especially in mainstream music where there is so much money involved and big labels, there are huge teams of talented people behind every record, and writers and producers have a big influence in the resulting recordings.
    – hirschme
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 1:56
  • I totally agree @hirschme, but even before he went solo, he did so much behind the scenes production, have a look here for a good idea: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanye_West_production_discography
    – meganoob
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 2:21
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    I would say in cases like these you are judging the producers musical knowledge not the artist. I must say Pharell Williams shines as a beacon in the way he makes musically interesting pop music.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 6:41
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    You cannot assess someone's theory education level based on their work. A player with a great ear and natural ability will pick up all sorts of stuff by listening and perhaps never learn theory. On the other hand someone with a PhD in theory might write songs in 4/4 in the key of C using one or two chords and a simple 3 note melody. You can't correlated these things.
    – user50691
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 12:44
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    This question is based on a request to do basic analysis. Your supposed to first analyze the music yourself, and then bring a specific question to this forum. FWIW, analysis isn't normally framed as: the more complex the description, the better the music. Simple music is often very effective music. Commented May 19, 2020 at 13:06

2 Answers 2


I can't speak to Kanye himself, but I would say a lot of his stuff is "by ear" which he has refined over many years of listening and creating. Some of the stuff he does might fit those categories, but he might not be doing it on purpose. This probably doesn't help you too much, but it does imply that time spent practising and honing your craft will make you a better musician.


What kanye west is really good at is producing.

That involves understanding DAWs, synths, drum machines, samplers, various effects and outboard gear. How to use them but also how to arrange for them, what roles they can play, etc.

Along with having an excellent ear for balance and space in a mix, and the skills to fix mix problems when you find them.

Thirdly you need a solid stylistic awareness - knowledge of the history and of what's developing right now, and an sense of where you want to take those ideas.

So that's a mix of good ears, technical skills, and history. Sound familiar? I have long felt that these skills are today's "music theory", and its a shame many people don't take them seriously.

As for whether he knows advanced jazz theory or 20th century classical harmony - it doesn't come across much in his music. That's not to say he doesn't know any, lots of musicians are interested in stuff outside the style they're currently working in. And everybody has to learn the basics - keys, scales, chords, cadences/resolutions, rhythms, etc.

If you want to sound like Kanye, a copy of Ableton live and a load of YouTube tutorials will do more good than a dusty theory book, imo.

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