Creativity is one of the most valued traits in all of society, and rightfully so. It’s a trait that literally everyone has and is innate in all human beings. I truly believe that all creative people are artists and all artists are creative people, and that literally everyone is an artist and a creative person. Yet there’s definitely a lot of argument over if anything, and if so, what can hinder one’s creativity.
This question is hard to answer, as we can’t measure creativity. I’ll try to answer a similar question in regards to one specific medium of art, music.
A lot of people argue that music theory can hinder one’s musical creativity. The reason why they may suggest this is unclear to many, but one reason may be that music theory makes artists become increasingly aware and conscious about the music they create, and it may limit their ability to create something “straight from their imagination” without consideration of things like scales ad chords.
One almost-myth that people seem to express a lot is that you don’t need to know any theory to create music. This is mostly false. I’m not going to say it’s completely false, as you could simply slap notes haphazardly onto a piano roll and call it music, and it is true that in the world of creativity and the arts, there’s literally no right or wrong way to do anything. Haphazardly slapping notes onto piano rolls or a music staff is the equivalent of, taking another medium of art such as painting, haphazardly slapping blobs of paint onto a canvas. The result would be in the case of painting, an abstract painting, and in music, “abstract music” if you will.
The general public greatly prefers non-“abstract music” over “abstract music”. This is no surprise.
Just about every music artist that creates non-“abstract music” who claims to not use any theory is technically wrong. By definition, knowledge of the rudimentary scales and chords (major, minor) is technically knowledge of music theory. In order to truly create music without any theory, you have to do what I mentioned before: haphazardly place notes together, or something along those lines. The reason why they may not be so conscious about the chords and scales they use is that they essentially have them embedded in their heads. That’s why they’re able to write “straight from their imaginations”, they don’t need to think about the chords and scales since they’re basically locked inside of their heads. The same goes with painting: the reason why a lot of painters can create formable scenes and objects in their paintings that look like they’re realistic “straight from their imaginations” is that they have those skills of painting those scenes and objects the way they want them to look in their long-term memory.
If learned the right way, the more complicated and obscure aspects of music theory, such as obscure and lesser-known scales and chords, can be embedded into the artist’s mind the same way that the minor and major scales and chords were previously. This would not hinder their creativity, if anything it would boost it because now there’s much more that can be utilized “straight from the imagination”. It’s just like if a painter learned and memorized a new way to paint certain objects.
There’s also the argument that learning music theory may not hinder an artist’s entire creativity, but maybe at least their ability to be experimental and push boundaries. This is obviously false as well, as in order to be experimental one has to base their experimentation off of something else that’s not being experimented. Let’s say that someone wants to write a melody containing notes that diverge from a specific scale. In order for that to happen, they must first have the initial scale embedded in their brains like spoken of before, which equals music theory knowledge, so that they know what notes fit in the scale and which ones don’t. Then that gives the ability to achieve their goal of pushing the boundary by diverging from the scale and being experimental. From this, I can conclude that music theory doesn’t harm but boosts all aspects of creativity, including being experimental.
So my advice to all of you young music artists out there: as one myself, and as a music theory junkie, I highly encourage you all not to be afraid to learn more music theory. It will not harm your creativity, and it most certainly will give you your first taste into a larger world of musical possibility. If you learn, fix, and keep the lesser-known scales, chords, and concepts into your mind just like with the more basic ones, you’ll soon be creating masterpieces you never would’ve been able to create before. Albeit I still absolutely loved creating/composing/writing music long before I got really serious into diving deeper into music theory, I feel like doing so greatly opened me up to a new universe filled to the brim with a plethora of additional possibilities for creative musical potential.