Originally published at Performer Magazine.
I am a guitarist – one of a notoriously stubborn class of musicians known for kicking and screaming all the way to the treble clef. Cadences? Transposition? Chord inversion? Forget about it. I have a fakebook. I can read chord charts and a little tablature…after all, even The Beatles couldn’t read staff music, so why should I?
The truth is, that voice is just shouting over the other one that says music theory is important and that any practical person would recognize how essential basic literacy is to earning my credibility as a musician. It’s not the content of music theory that puts off so many people, but the style of presentation – and no knowledge deserves to be locked up in stuffy, uninteresting textbooks, inaccessible to the very sense of fun that makes music worth learning in the first place.
Thankfully, the solution has arrived: Edly’s Music Theory For Practical People, now in its revised and expanded third edition. Author Ed Roseman has written an introduction to the occult universe of diatonic triads, modal discovery, whole-tone scales, and open voicings so bouncy and colloquial it’s hard not to smile while reading it. Rife with Peter Reynold’s cartoon characters and a double helping of adorably geeky “Can you believe this guy?” professor-humor, Edly’s Music Theory is about as engaging as any introduction to an arcane and elaborate system like Western Music can be. Lessons (although they’re not called lessons) are well-summarized at the end of each section; focused and brief workbook exercises keep the blade sharp; and all of the information is embedded in application (e.g., he introduces tritone substitution by discussing its importance in jazz improv).
For those of us afraid to tackle the intellectual intricacies of this material, Roseman peppers the text with inspirational reminders such as, “If it is any consolation, know that you will be alive and well and playing for years to come – whether or not you take it upon yourself to learn transposition, any of the concepts in this book, unicycle riding, juggling, or gardening.” He’s not in the game to cram information into the heads of unwilling captives – time and time again, he reminds us of the fascinating relevance and the minor cosmic importance of learning to read music, understanding the innards of seven flat nine chords, or writing slash-chord voicings. In so doing, he takes the teeth out of a topic that for many people is too intimidating to approach.