What really is theory anyway?
I feel like a lot of people are afraid of music theory, and see it as this really difficult thing that exists completely separate from actual music. While in some instances that might be true, let’s get one thing straight. Music theory is not a set of rules that all music must abide by.
Music theory is essentially the “grammar” of music. The rules of grammar came after spoken language to just describe the way that people speak. When people speak or write they aren’t actively thinking about grammar. Most of us could speak English before learning a single rule about grammar. There are “rules” you didn’t even know existed that just describe what normal speech is like.
Even though you can already speak the language, learning all those grammar rules can help you explain yourself more clearly or write better stories. That doesn’t mean you always have to follow those rules when communicating. Ain’t nobody got time for dat. Music and music theory are the same way. Do you need to know music theory to play music? No. Will knowing it make you a better musician? Absolutely.
The biggest leg up that learning theory gives you is ease of communication. Imagine that you wrote the greatest song in the world, but you don’t know a lick of theory. How would you tell musicians how to play it? Just knowing the names of chords is an aspect of music theory. Isn’t it much easier to tell someone to play an Ab major chord than to play “that one chord from that one song”? Or what if you get called for a gig last minute and don’t have time to learn all of the tunes? I’ve been in situations like this where my theory knowledge has saved me. The keyboard player would hold up numbers or shout chords at me, and instantly I was able to play the song, even if I had never heard it before. Even if you just play music in your bedroom, knowing theory allows you to understand what all the guys online are talking about.
Learning theory is absolutely essential to playing music. It transforms your understanding from just knowing how to play a couple songs on guitar/piano/etc to understanding music. Is there a learning curve? Absolutely. There’s a learning curve with any new system, language, or skill. Anyone can go online and learn a song. Knowing theory, even just a little bit, makes you a musician.