Music theory is the backbone of music. It’s the foundation that every musician builds their craft upon.

But does every musician know music theory? The answer is complicated.

The Importance of Music Theory

Music theory is the study of how music works. It covers everything from rhythm and melody to harmony and form. Understanding music theory helps musicians create, analyze, and communicate their music.

Every musician should have some knowledge of music theory. Even if they don’t know it formally, they use it in their everyday practice. A guitarist who knows how to play a chord progression is using music theory. A singer who can sing in tune with a backing track is using music theory.

Formal Music Education

Not all musicians have formal education in music theory. Some are self-taught or learned from other musicians. However, most professional musicians have had at least some formal training in music theory.

A degree in music performance or composition usually requires courses in music theory. These courses cover everything from basic notation to advanced harmony and counterpoint.

The Self-Taught Musician

Many successful musicians are self-taught or learned through experience. These musicians may not know traditional terms for what they’re doing, but they still understand the underlying principles.

Some famous examples include:

The Pop Musician

Pop musicians often have a different relationship with music theory. Some may not have formal training but still use it in their songwriting. Others may rely on songwriters and producers who have a strong understanding of music theory.

It’s common for pop musicians to collaborate with classically trained musicians or producers who have a deep knowledge of music theory. These collaborations can result in complex and interesting compositions that wouldn’t be possible without an understanding of music theory.

The Bottom Line

Music theory is an essential part of being a musician, but not every musician knows it formally. Some musicians learn through experience, while others rely on collaborators with formal training. Regardless of how they learned, every successful musician has a strong understanding of the underlying principles of music.

If you’re interested in becoming a musician, taking courses in music theory can give you a deeper understanding of how music works. However, don’t let the lack of formal training stop you from pursuing your passion for making music. With practice and dedication, anyone can become a great musician.