Improve your live performance and jams with music theory

So it’s happened again. You’re walking out of rehearsal frustrated with your live performance and the sound your band is getting. Nothing seems to be clicking – and musically speaking, everything seems like a mess. When you try to figure out what might help, no one can figure out how to solve the problem. You try to jamming for a while to see if any ideas can pop up – but every jam sounds like the last one and nothing new is happening. What can you do?! You can turn to music theory to save the day! Here are three ways theory can help you address these situations.

Create New Chords and Chord Progressions

There’s a reason there are so many songs that have the same chord progression. Besides the fact that certain chord progressions always seem to sound good, many songwriters just never take the time to discover new ones.

Knowing a little music theory can help you create new chords and chord progressions. All chords are related to each other in some way – usually through a key. Knowing which chords fit in which keys can help you recognize the chord progressions you have been playing and create new ones.

Often, this process is awkward at first because new chords and chord progressions are not always so easy to play right off the bat – but the process is always worth it, and it will have a big effect on your live performance. Give yourself the time to regularly go through the awkwardness and you will be pleasantly surprised with the music that starts coming out.

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Create New Musical Statements

Melodies, hooks, and riffs are all made up of “motifs” – a term for a musical idea built from a set of melodic intervals played with a particular rhythm. Motifs are everywhere in music. They make up every melody you sing, every riff you have ever played, and every hook that has ever demanded attention from your ear.

Learning to identify the intervals and rhythms you already use in your motifs can help you intentionally create new hooks, riffs and melodies by thoughtfully altering the motifs you know. You don’t have to create new ideas from thin air – nobody does that anyway. All you need to do is recognize the motifs you already are using and alter them until they become a new statement.

Create Space for Each Instrument

Once you have created a new chord progression and a new musical statement, you still need your band to use them effectively. Understanding register (how high or low the notes you play are) and voice leading (how you want pitches to move between chords) can help enormously by helping you communicate the musical space you want each band member to stay in.

For instance, when thinking about register, you may want the bass player to stay in a low octave around C2 and then have the keyboardist only play within the two octaves surrounding middle C. After that, you might want the guitarist to only play an octave above the keyboardist. Just defining the register each instrument should play within can do wonders for your band’s arrangement of any song.

To make each part even stronger, each musician can also make their parts much more compelling by being intentional about how they move between each chord. This is called “voice leading” and it is often used to make chord progressions sound as smooth as possible.

Final Thoughts

There are many more ways that understanding music theory can help improve your live performance and jams. The possibilities are endless! If you would like to learn more about music theory, consider checking out

By Daniel Roberts



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