I don’t speak German. At all. Over the years, though, I’ve phonetically learned some German: the words for Beethoven’s Ode To Joy or Brahms’s Requiem. And I sing it well enough that someone from Germany might think I passably speak the language. But if that person came up and tried to converse with me in German, I’d have to jump for the nearest hole in the ground and stay there for a week. Simply because I’ve memorized some text and practiced reciting it doesn’t mean I’ve learned the language.
Music theory is the why of music: the grammar, the syntax, the function, and the fluency. Someone can teach you to play a hundred pieces very well, but that’s all you’ve learned: pieces. You don’t come away with anything beyond what you need to play them. Theory teaches you the skills to learn music on your own. You end up truly speaking the language, instead of just memorizing some lines.
Imagine the difference between reading Jung or Rilke and being able to talk about it in German, as opposed to just learning some phrases out of the travel book. Music theory makes that big a difference. And the best part: you don’t have to travel to get fluent!
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