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Do you think Axl knew music theory?


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I doubt it seriously, he did kinda say in certain interviews that he knew fuck all about music in any extensive sense of a lot of the time Chi Dem was being made was him getting to grips with certain shit, thats not an exact quote but I do remember something along those lines, a more knowledgable GnR fan could probably put me right here.

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IIRC he's largely self taught on piano. And he's not very advanced based on what we've heard. Like a really great rock and ballad player, but not a solo concert pianist type. Are there any copies of musical notations written by Axl? That would be very telling one way or the other.

He learned to sing in choir and church.

If he were more versed in theory I suspect he would have been more capable of conveying his vision for the post 94 era. Then again, terms like modal playing, time signatures other than 4/4, dropped beats, half time feel, contrasting dynamics, etc, are words I figure would have a gone over Slash and Duffs heads anyways.

Was also intersting to hear Roberta talk about how Axl just let her make up all the BG vocals. Like a control freak like Axl who sometimes tells slash what to play. Who brought in Dizzy and Paul agasint everyones wishes. Who brought in the horns and singers... just decided to let her come up with the final product of the show?? Nah, I think he didnt know how to come up with and communicate them. Or lacked confidence to work with a trained musician on it at least.

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He took piano lessons for a few years but said he didn't pay much attention to them (because they were kind of imposed on him) and played his own thing, so he didn't perfect his technique. He has mentioned that he played on sheet music, so I suppose he can read music at least.

He also said that a reason he used a fake orchestra for November Rain was that he wouldn't know how to work with a real orchestra.

27 minutes ago, soon said:

Was also intersting to hear Roberta talk about how Axl just let her make up all the BG vocals. Like a control freak like Axl who sometimes tells slash what to play. Who brought in Dizzy and Paul agasint everyones wishes. Who brought in the horns and singers... just decided to let her come up with the final product of the show?? Nah, I think he didnt know how to come up with and communicate them. Or lacked confidence to work with a trained musician on it at least.

He probably, most of the time, has a general idea of what he wants in his head, but not a full concept from start to finish. So he lets it to others to come up with something and then he interferes if it's not what he wants; for example, Brian May said that after he played Axl would tell him to change this or that note etc.

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17 minutes ago, DurhamGirl said:

Gosh I note some snobbery...

Yes, me too. I note snobbery in the vein of Spin magazine type “indie music or bust, we just need the right feeling for music to be good, man... fuck off musical theory” ;):o:P j/k

I guess restaffing the band with virtuosos was pretty snobby of Axl.

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3 hours ago, DurhamGirl said:

Did he need too?  Sometimes I think a scholarly understanding of a subject can actually strangle creativity.

I majored in music, and music theory ultimately isn't neccesarily a set of rules but more of an explanation of musical events and elements.   To me, music theory isn't something that you need to understand in order to make great music, but if you know what music theory is, it isn't a creativity limiter if you are creative enough to use the knowledge in your favor

 

For example for me when I am writing a guitar part, I kind of just let my ears guide me and worry about analysis afterwords.   The theory explains what I did as opposed to guiding what I decide to do, to get needlessly esoteric about it :lol:

Edited by WhazUp
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Duff in September 1996, about Axl playing guitar:

Duff: And Axl's playing rhythm guitar, it's fuckin' awesome. Who better? We solved our own problem. Who better knows what should be there than one of the guys in the band, so he's been playing. I mean, he plays guitar a little bit, and it's great because he plays so innocently! He doesn't even know -- he'll say, 'What note is this?' 'It's an A.' 'OK. So I go to the A and I go to the... what note is it?' 'F sharp.' '...and I go to the F sharp.' And it's cool! He knows what it should sound like, so it's real cool. It's a lot of hard work right now.

https://www.a-4-d.com/t5021-1996-09-05-unknown-source-interview-with-duff

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5 hours ago, DurhamGirl said:

Did he need too?  Sometimes I think a scholarly understanding of a subject can actually strangle creativity.

Didn't say he needed to but it's interesting to know how much mysic theory musicians know and how much success you can achieve with very little knowledge it! :)

Edited by lumenx
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6 hours ago, DurhamGirl said:

Did he need too?  Sometimes I think a scholarly understanding of a subject can actually strangle creativity.

You don't need to, but understanding fundamentals about time signatures, or options on chords, voicings or scales doesn't stifle creativity, it amplifies it!

IF you become a slave to strict music theory and refuse to break rules, then it can ruin creativity. Most people who know theory, know it so well it's an after thought and just something they do! like speaking another language. 

I don't think he knows intricate things about jazz theory or anything, but I believe he has a lot of theory just from years of playing even if he might not be able to explain it all. I think he might be able to read some music though, because he said he had piano lessons when he was a kid, and he sang in the choir... both of which normally mean some proficiency in sight reading.

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Quotes:

I started playing the piano when I was five, and I sang, alone or with my brother and sister, in a church outside the town. [...] It all started with gospel - I started getting interested in it in the ‘70s - and also with everything I heard on my famous radio. One night I discovered Queen. They had what rock 'n' roll wasn’t supposed to have: technique. They were a perfect combination of technique and rock 'n' roll. I read about them, and their tours, and their great success in Japan. I got piano sheet music of their songs, and, since my parents were clueless, when they forced me to practice, I could play what I wanted, like Queen, the Beatles and the Stones. They thought I was practicing my daily lesson and had a satisfied smile on their face. [Popular 1, April 1988]

I've been playing piano my whole life. I took lessons, but I only really played my lesson on the day of the lesson. All week long, I'd sit down at the piano and just make up stuff. [Rolling Stone, August 1989]

I was way influenced by Elton John. I got all his sheet music as a kid and everything, and figured, “Wow, this stuff is pretty technical. I can't play it, but I'll learn how to fake it real good” (laughs). So, it's like, instead of doing, you know, five finger things on the left hand I learned how to do octaves killer. That's a lot easier (laughs). [MTV, 1989]

I can really only play my own songs. And I really don't have the time to practice a whole lot. I'm hoping to get a piano and take on the road, and work with more often. I started playing when I was really little, kind of forced to, something my father wanted me to do, 'cause he regretted that he hadn't taken piano lessons. But, they didn't really know anything about music, so they couldn't tell if I was doing my lesson, or not. So, I didn't really pay attention to my lessons. I only played my lessons for the teacher. When I went in, basically, I had to sit down at the piano for a half hour to… whatever. Sometimes I'd sit there for a couple of hours and I just make up things. I think I could have, you know, learned how to be a lot better if I had been more dedicated. But there was so many crazy things going on in my household, that I didn't really need to be doing any extra-work like that. And it was hard to stay dedicated to something. But I did like sitting down and just trying to express the way I felt with the piano there. And it was also kinda like, while I was playing the piano, I wouldn't really be bothered by anything else going on in the family 'cause: "He's working on his piano now". So, I wouldn't be bothered by any of the problems or have to do more work, or be worried about getting yelled at, as long as I was on the piano. But, in the seventies, when I started playing rock n' roll, my dad started getting a little wise when I was playing Led Zeppelin stuff on the piano, and he wasn't very happy with that. [WNEW 102.7, September 1991]

More:

https://www.a-4-d.com/t4926-04-background#18869

Edited by Blackstar
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7 hours ago, DurhamGirl said:

Did he need too?  Sometimes I think a scholarly understanding of a subject can actually strangle creativity.

Elton John and Billy Joel would disagree :P  

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45 minutes ago, Tom2112 said:

You don't need to, but understanding fundamentals about time signatures, or options on chords, voicings or scales doesn't stifle creativity, it amplifies it!

100 percent agreed.

My own musical creativity exploded after studying musical theory for a year or two.  I even forced myself to take the conservatory test (along with 30 kids who were five to ten years younger than me at the time) just so I would apply myself.

Having a full understanding of scales, chords, deviations, timing, and general basic theory really opened my eyes to what the rules are and how, why and when to bend or break them.  It also gives you great appreciation for how much brilliance other songwriters have even if they themselves weren't fully aware of it at the time.  The chord breakdown for November Rain's outro is pretty spectacular.  

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I think most people would be shocked at how many accomplished musicians can't even read sheet music.

Of the five guys in my old band, only myself and the lead singer could read music on a page.  One of my best friend's father is the lead singer of a very well known Canadian rock/pop group from the 80s that sold millions of records.  Even he doesn't know how to read music off a page, let alone musical theory.

Unless it's something Axl picked up later in life, I would very much doubt he has any formal knowledge of music theory.  

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1 hour ago, downzy said:

100 percent agreed.

My own musical creativity exploded after studying musical theory for a year or two.  I even forced myself to take the conservatory test (along with 30 kids who were five to ten years younger than me at the time) just so I would apply myself.

Having a full understanding of scales, chords, deviations, timing, and general basic theory really opened my eyes to what the rules are and how, why and when to bend or break them.  It also gives you great appreciation for how much brilliance other songwriters have even if they themselves weren't fully aware of it at the time.  The chord breakdown for November Rain's outro is pretty spectacular.  

Yes exactly!  I know when I teach some theory to my guitar students sometimes they ask why they should learn it if the artists we are learning songs from didn't know the terminology, and I always say that music theory is there even if we aren't consciously aware of it 

So if for example Axl uses a secondary dominant on piano in any given tune, it is still a secondary dominant even if he didn't know what it was called, and for us being able to recognize when it occurs allows us to have an even richer understanding on how to apply certain chords and notes in specific situations.  Not that any of us NEED theory to make cool rock music, but I would say it definitely at the very least helps immensely when it comes to being an all around great musician who can fit into many different musical scenarios with ease

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Reading about Axl's background I woud guess he has not stuidied music theory.  More musicians who have also not been educated thus:

 

Elvis

Jimi Hendrix

Neil Youung

Tommy Lommi

BB King (deliberately disregarded theory)

Flea

Paul Mcartney

Dave Navarro

Like Axl produced/played great music.

Edited by DurhamGirl
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15 hours ago, DurhamGirl said:

Did he need too?  Sometimes I think a scholarly understanding of a subject can actually strangle creativity.

theory is a tool. Understanding at least some of the math behind it can be powerful. It won't strangle creativity if you'll use it in a way that fits you as a musician. Slash knows basic theory. It's like knowing the abc or knowing what a stop sign means when driving a car.

Basic theory that is. You don't have to get too deep into it if you don't want to, but if you don't know the basics, you'll eventually compose great music if you're a great musician but it will take longer and you won't be free to fully explore compostion without using both your imagination and understanding of the language imo. (like classical music but also rock, pop, etc)

I believe total lack of theory can hinder creativity. It is possible to know theory and just randomly compose which is something Duff talked about, he does that for example.

maybe it's better to know the rules before you attempt to break them.

Edited by Rovim
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