Music Theory and “Rules”

I often hear people discussing music theory as if it were a bunch of rules to be followed or broken.  But to me this misses the point.

I like to compare music theory to gravity, and to ask people, “have you ever broken the law of gravity?”  It’s a silly question and often gets silly answers, but I hope my point is clear: the law of gravity is not a rule to be followed or broken; it just is.

Like music theory, the law of gravity doesn’t tell you what to do, it merely tells you about cause and effect.  Gravity doesn’t care whether or not you drop a rock you are holding; it just tells that *if* you let go of that rock, it will fall.  You can choose whether or not to let go based on whether or not you want that rock to fall.  Similarly, music theory doesn’t care whether or not you resolve a dominant chord to the tonic or not; if just tells you that *if* you resolve it that way, the result is satisfying in a particular way.  You can choose whether or not to resolve it based on whether or not you want that particular sense of satisfaction.

Keep this in mind as you study music theory.  No “rule” of music theory ever tells you what you must do; it merely helps you understand the effect of various different things you might try.

In the coming months, I plan to launch a whole new set of articles, lessons, and other resources to help you learn more about voice leading, harmony, rhythm, and other aspects of music theory.  Please subscribe to this site in order to be informed of updates!

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