When it comes to songwriting, there is a common question that arises – do songwriters know music theory? Some believe that music theory is a prerequisite for writing great songs, while others argue that it isn’t necessary. Let’s take a closer look at this topic.

What is Music Theory?

Music theory is the study of how music works, including the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and form. It involves understanding the principles and rules that govern these elements and how they interact with each other.

Do Songwriters Need to Know Music Theory?

There is no straightforward answer to this question as every songwriter has their own unique approach and style. Some songwriters have formal training in music theory, while others have learned through experience or intuition.

However, having knowledge of music theory can be beneficial for songwriters. It can help them understand how different chords and melodies work together harmoniously. Knowing music theory can also aid in the creation of more complex and intricate compositions.

Examples of Songwriters Who Use Music Theory

Many successful songwriters have a background in music theory. Paul McCartney of The Beatles is known for his knowledge of classical music and understanding of complex harmonies. He used this knowledge to create iconic songs like “Yesterday” and “Let It Be.”

Another example is Stevie Wonder who started as a child prodigy playing various instruments but later went on to study classical piano at the Michigan School for the Blind where he learned about harmony, counterpoint and jazz improvisation.

Intuition vs Knowledge

It’s important to note that intuition plays a significant role in songwriting as well. Many successful songs were written without any formal knowledge of music theory but solely based on gut feeling or emotions.

One of the most prominent examples of an intuitive songwriter is Bob Dylan who won Nobel Prize in literature for his words and has written many songs that have become classics, without any significant knowledge of theory.


In conclusion, while it’s not a requirement for songwriters to know music theory, it can be beneficial. It provides them with a deeper understanding of the elements that make up music and can help them create more complex and intricate compositions. However, intuition and personal style are equally important in songwriting, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating great songs.