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Thread: Did Hendrix, Page, Clapton etc...know theory?

  1. #1
    fan of the G string curiousgeorge's Avatar
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    Did Hendrix, Page, Clapton etc...know theory?

    I often wondered if these guys knew theory and scales and such and if they applied it to their music consciously...I know Ace Frehley probably didn't know much along with Dave Mustaine, Dimebag Darrell and many others...One guy that really has a baffling knowledge of theory is Trey Anastasio of Phish fame. I know the basics, but I think I'll always be a "feel" player....
    Karma Chameleon...You come and go...You come and go, oh..........MAKE UP YOUR MIND!!!!!!!!!!

  2. #2
    all around psycho
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    I 've read tjat Hendrix couldn't name any note on the guitar. I'm not really sure about the others.

    But throughout time I've come to think that playing by feel and whats in your head is a lot better than using a lot of theory. I'm sure many would disagree. It's a matter of personal taste.

  3. #3
    ii-V-I skeletron's Avatar
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    This is not directed at anyone in particular. I have already had a similar discussion about this topic.

    The thing with the whole "I play by feel...I don't need to know theory" attitude is that it is generally a cop out for so many players to not think about what they are playing. Knowing theory, to the point of being fairly competent on the instrument can do no harm. Scales, triads, chords, intervals, and the names of notes are all part of the language of music. In rock music especially, there really is no practical reason to be able to play a hip solo over a G7#5 vamp. However, being able to play over a wide range of progressions, chords, rhythms, and the ability to analyze (ie. THINK ABOUT) your playing is the important part.

    I think that is where, as guitarists, alot of us are at a disadvantage. Sax players, brass players, piano players, these guys have to practice scales, triads... over all 12 keys. Its not like the guitar where you find a movable position, and you can play in any key pretty quickly. As guitar players, knowing notes is so important.

    I figure that this comparison is correct:
    knowing music theory is to playing music as knowing grammar/spelling/etc. is to writing

    Think about how long it would take you to write a letter/essay/speech/novel if you didn't know all 26 letters, or punctuation rules, or grammar rules. You could probably get it done by feel, but it might take you a really really ridiculously long time. Think about what would happen if you were to take notes in a class, or give notes to a class, and you had only a very slight idea at how to write/structure sentences. It would take considerable amount of energy/time to explain the class to a friend.

    I think it carries over for music as well, as music is just another type of language. Knowing basic intervals, note names, chords, scales, etc... helps one communicate their ideas better especially in a group setting.

    Another thing is that part of learning theory is learning how to keep it "on the back burner" while you are playing. That is, knowing theory enough so that it does not consume your thoughts during your playing.




    To answer the question...

    Hendrix, Page, Townshend, Clapton, these guys had a fairly outstanding knowledge of chord voicings and articulation. These guys grew up studying old blues 78s instead of going to school. These guys also had great ears. They probably played mainly by feel, but they did rely on their comprehensive knowledge of the music they played, and what sounded good.

    I'll end there.

  4. #4
    Registered User Mateo150's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeletron
    I figure that this comparison is correct:
    knowing music theory is to playing music as knowing grammar/spelling/etc. is to writing

    Think about how long it would take you to write a letter/essay/speech/novel if you didn't know all 26 letters, or punctuation rules, or grammar rules. You could probably get it done by feel, but it might take you a really really ridiculously long time.......
    Thats not bad, but that said, its not practical for everyone to know all the rules for split infinitives and knowing all the moods, hell, can you tell me the difference between the subjunctive, indicative, and imperative moods in active and passive voices...not to mention coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions related to those... etc.... hogwash for most us.

    Anyway, as far as I've read, the British blues guys tend to rely/know more theory than U.S blues players, such as B.B or Albert or Stevie, etc... the classic blues guys such as Albert really had no theory knowledge. Even guys like Robben Ford learned by ear before theory.

    As for Trey, transcribe his live solos, its 80-90% pentatonics, paletted against standard major/minor. Where you see the theory with him is in the songwriting (IMO), which is really good. I'm pretty sure he doesn't count himself as a theory-head. From what I know, most of his theory was learned in direct application, or in terms of writing songs... pragmatic theory.
    They call them fingers, but I never see them fing.

  5. #5
    ii-V-I skeletron's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mateo150
    Anyway, as far as I've read, the British blues guys tend to rely/know more theory than U.S blues players, such as B.B or Albert or Stevie, etc... the classic blues guys such as Albert really had no theory knowledge. Even guys like Robben Ford learned by ear before theory.


    Part of the reason those guys learned by ear was due to the limited guitar books/resources available, limited amount of money, and the location they were brought up in.

    78s and your Uncle Charlie were some of the only resources available.

  6. #6
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeletron
    Part of the reason those guys learned by ear was due to the limited guitar books/resources available, limited amount of money, and the location they were brought up in.

    78s and your Uncle Charlie were some of the only resources available.
    Yes, the only music schools available in the 50ties and 60ties where the classical stuff I guess, with quite a different angle on things.

  7. #7
    Mode Rator Zatz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mateo150
    Thats not bad, but that said, its not practical for everyone to know all the rules for split infinitives and knowing all the moods, hell, can you tell me the difference between the subjunctive, indicative, and imperative moods in active and passive voices...not to mention coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions related to those... etc.... hogwash for most us.
    But that works for foreigners. Native speakers don't really have to know that rubbish stuff about their own language they have a perfect command of as a result of intensive life time practice. Similarly some people who've been living in a musical environment since they were born or just the ones with a huge natural talent will easily do without the need to formalize their knowledge.
    Zadd9 -> A6 -> T#9b5 -> Zmaj7

  8. #8
    Weak Fingers MattW's Avatar
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    I think an important thing to note is that playing by feel and having theoretical knowledege are not mutually exclusive.

  9. #9
    all around psycho
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeletron

    The thing with the whole "I play by feel...I don't need to know theory" attitude is that it is generally a cop out for so many players to not think about what they are playing. Knowing theory, to the point of being fairly competent on the instrument can do no harm. Scales, triads, chords, intervals, and the names of notes are all part of the language of music. In rock music especially, there really is no practical reason to be able to play a hip solo over a G7#5 vamp. However, being able to play over a wide range of progressions, chords, rhythms, and the ability to analyze (ie. THINK ABOUT) your playing is the important part.







    But if you're a good player by ear and feel, you would be able to play over anything anyways. Once again I'm not saying learning theory is bad at all, of course all it does is help, but I'm saying some people might play just as well without it, maybe better and more creative3. Some might not.

  10. #10
    Registered User sixstrings121's Avatar
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    Why not play by theory AND ear? Thats what I do anyway...I know what will work over everything, then I use my ear to tell me what to play.

  11. #11
    Registered User Mateo150's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zatz
    But that works for foreigners. Native speakers don't really have to know that rubbish stuff about their own language they have a perfect command of as a result of intensive life time practice.
    good point, I'm trying to learn some Japanese so I'll have that when I graduate, and ermm... yeah.

    But that begs the question about native musical language and talent. All those guys mentioned before had a talent for rhythm and ear, which probably led to good phrasing, just my take.
    They call them fingers, but I never see them fing.

  12. #12
    Madisgp madisgp's Avatar
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    I think all those guys mentioned were victims of their times. I was in grammer school in the 60's (yes I'm on old dog) and the guitar just wasn't considered a serious instrument for anyone wanting to study music. It wasn't offered in public schools at all. And remember, back then music was a very important part of education, and the schools had the money to hire teachers, buy instruments and in general put music forth as an important part of a complete education. At least in California where I grew up.

    So with no one to teach you theory all you had was the radio. I'd bet litterly millions of young british boys wanted to play guitar in the 50's and 60's. And I'm sure millions tried to teach themselves and each other by ear and feel. Only these few actually were able to do it. When I was in high school "everyone" owned a cheap guitar, but none of us could play. and there was no one to teach us. No internet, no books, no teachers, just the radio and each other. I think thats one reason why these guys were held up as guitar GODS back then. We all knew how good they were because we tried to be that good and just couldn't do it on our own. (I remember seeing pic's in Rolling Stone mag of hand written posters plastered around London saying "Clapton is God" and I agreed)

    If those guys were just starting out today I'm positive that they would be studying scales and modes. They would be glued to the internet with guitar in hand searching out tabs and licks. They would become theory gurus. I'm also sure that no matter how he started learning Clapton now has a great understanding of theory. You just can't love an instrument as much as he does and not want to know everything there is to know about it. Just my 2cents.

  13. #13
    The only way is up Skyport's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zatz
    But that works for foreigners. Native speakers don't really have to know that rubbish stuff about their own language they have a perfect command of as a result of intensive life time practice. Similarly some people who've been living in a musical environment since they were born or just the ones with a huge natural talent will easily do without the need to formalize their knowledge.
    Lol, 'perfect command'? Have you seen some of the essays written by 'native' college freshmen in the U.S. or Britain? There's a huge difference between being fluent and having 'perfect command'. The majority of native speakers are just fluent. Many native speakers have trouble expressing more complex thoughts and arguments and wouldn't know how to make a solid case for or against something in a debate.
    Last edited by Skyport; 06-25-2005 at 06:58 PM.

  14. #14
    Registered User Mateo150's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Skyport
    Lol, 'perfect command'? Have you seen some of the essays written by 'native' college freshmen in the U.S. or Britain? There's a huge difference between being fluent and having 'perfect command'. The majority of native speakers are just fluent. Many native speakers have trouble expressing more complex thoughts and arguments and wouldn't know how to make a solid case for or against something in a debate.
    to be fair, technical academic writing is not language that is... well, sensible. There is a certain fluency that comes with one's native language, that can never be learned in my opinion. All the idiosyncracies and spins of words incorporated have a lot to do with this. Language is composed of words with historically sedimented layers of meaning. Take the word "utterance", most people today just mean it "to say"... but it really has legal conotations based on 19th century usage. The difference here is "to say" vs. "to promise". Now language evolves of course, but I still use words with layered meanings in some contexts, and this is what fluency and command is all about.

    What this has to do with music, well, some people laugh at the notion that Spanish people may intuitively or through pre-disposition like and play spanish music... Blacks with R&B.... Euros with classical, and so on... which I don't believe is far-fetched.
    Last edited by Mateo150; 06-25-2005 at 07:30 PM.
    They call them fingers, but I never see them fing.

  15. #15
    Jazzman Poparad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MattW
    I think an important thing to note is that playing by feel and having theoretical knowledege are not mutually exclusive.
    This is a very important point. Just because someone knows a lot of theory does not make the ear any less important to them. In order to be a complete musician, you must have both the intellectual and aurual understanding of music. They are complimentary skills, not a 'one or the other' kind of skill.


    Also, with all those guitar greats, they all knew theory to a certain level. They just had their own way of thinking about it and their own names for things, but they still had the same understanding that everyone else does. It may not have been formal training, but they were still educated.

    Also, as for the 'great' part about them, they were great at what they did, but can you imagine most of them playing in a style of music vastly different from what they did? Probably not. I can't see Clapton holding up too well in a Scott Henderson style fusion band with esoteric chords and complex meters. These greats were great at what they did, but they were/are very specialized, and would probably have a lot of trouble in foreign environments.

    For me, I don't have much trouble switching between different styles of music, because I can use my head and my ears to understand what is going on musically and adjust to it. Theory allows me to have more possibilities and switch gears much more quickly and with less thought. My ears allow me to choose which of those possibilities sound best.

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