Hey, Lay Off Misha’s Theory Knowledge, Dude.

Misha MansoorOkay, something’s pissing me off and I have to rant about it. Today on Misha Mansoor’s ask.fm page, someone asked, “Serious question, how is one who does not know theory call themselves of musician? You are a guitarist, producer, etc. Not a musician. Not taking any shots, btw.” Misha quite diplomatically replied “Because I play music for a living?” Now, I’m someone who appreciates music theory, knows a lot of it, believes in learning and teaching it, and rather likes it. But there has to come a time where you put music theory aside. When you really get down to it, music theory is not a rule book for how to make music. It’s a catalog of observations of things that sound good. Music existed before music theory was invented to describe it, just as language was around before an external means to document it. If someone can speak but they can’t read or write, does that make their words any less meaningful? Is a nice home cooked meal any less of a meal than one made by Bobby Flay?
I guess what really gets me steamed about this is that Misha is an incredible musician who seems to have a very intuitive approach to music. He’s done something that takes many years and lots of hard work to do: he’s removed music theory from the equation. For many of us this comes after we’ve absorbed and internalised music theory so diligently that we no longer need to consciously think about it in order to use it (much like how you don’t need to read every single letter of a word to know what the word is). But Misha has a direct line to the music he hears in his head and is able to access it using his own personal musical language. I imagine he probably hears music as a bunch of intervals or patterns informed by years and years of intense practicing and playing: it’s not like the guy’s just putting his fingers on the neck and declaring that whatever comes out is music.

What’s your feeling on music theory? Do you use it? Do you play without it? As far as I’m concerned, either way is cool as long as it gets the music out of your heart and into the ears of someone else who gets it.