My Theory On Music Theory

Before you read this, please know: I am not a teacher. I don’t have a degree in anything. What I am saying could be dangerous but so could soda-pop  (remember SURGE?). Read at your own discretion, and take what you will from this. The content here is based solely on the opinion of someone with a very intricate and sometimes complex thought process.

I learned to read basic notation in grade school, but it was forgotten over the years because I didn’t use it. I didn’t need it because my life didn’t depend on it. I wasn’t trying to make a living in the music field ,so it fell by the wayside. It’s the same with everything else – if you don’t use it, you lose it. I’m at the point in life where it’s fly or die. In an industry where the chance of making it is slim, I need to be versatile.  Don’t get me wrong, many make it without learning this stuff. I’ve been composing without it all my life. I do believe it’s better (at least at first) to make music without knowing theory. In the beginning when learning this craft, developing your ear is the most important thing you can do. By not getting too caught up in text, you’re focusing on writing using just your heart and soul; which make the most impact in songs.

Theory is nothing more than science. Science is a bunch of theories. Ever heard of the “Theory of Gravity” by Sir Issac Newton? Yeah, theory explains things. However, knowing the “whys” is not always a good thing. It takes the mystery away. Let us use love as an example. Science has a theory of what is love,and if you study the science you may get bummed and not even love at all. Science (theory) removes all romance. The awe, fun, and mystery is gone. It becomes boring and stale. When you know the why then it becomes predictable, and predictability in music is not always a good thing. Not knowing the science behind love doesn’t mean you can’t love. It doesn’t mean you can’t express or recognize love. Beautiful love can definitely be made without knowing the how or why.Right? It most certainly can! .

Don’t get so caught up in the science that you miss the moment. Sometimes, loving is the point and not thinking if you’re doing it correctly. You’ll know if you’re doing it correct or not. You’ll feel it. You’ll see it in the expressions others. Do you get what I’m trying to say? Making music is the same as love. We can explain the theory. We can dissect a song and see the actual DNA of it. However, it’s the emotion, the feeling and the captivating aurora that I rather use as my guide. I know what works when I hear and feel it; not when I see the theory. That’s my driving force in music and it hasn’t let me down yet. If you can make music based on emotion then you’re already ahead of the game and on your way. Music is about feeling – Chords are either “happy” or “sad” sounding. It’s instinctively knowing how each emotion affects a listener that is the key in songwriting. If you don’t have something that moves the heart, questions the mind, or diverts attention for 3 minutes then you have nothing but noise.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not 100% against theory. After all, I am learning it for a reason. Explaining parts becomes easier and reading it will never hurt your resume. It lets you write scores, transpose keys and communicate your intentions better. It can also expose you to new styles and modes of feeling.  If all you want to do is play other people’s music then reading music can speed up that process, but do know: reading and composing are two different things entirely.

So, depending on how you utilize theory, it can either slow you down or speed you up. I’ll always create with my ear and gut first. It’s my compass, referring only to a map when things get hectic or when I want to discover new places to sail. Are you tired of the metaphors yet?  Let me end with this: You absolutely do you not need to learn theory to make excellent music. Countless mainstream / platinum artists have proved that. And you definitely don’t need to know theory to love 🙂

Make love through Harmony,
Rocky Bourgoyne

The best live vocalist of our time.

Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October,


Rocky Bourgoyne with Justin Furstenfeld

I appreciate you not only as a musician but as a man – beyond what I could ever convey to you. My efforts to attain musical greatness that can match even 10% of your level is what I hope to attain in my musical career. Your band has been one of the many influences which has set the musical bar for me in all I do. The sound, mixing, lyrics, emotion and melodies you create always remind me that even in darkest of times, beautiful things can arrive from it. Your desire to stay true to your heart, loved ones, kids and wife is perhaps the biggest influence on me. I have always stayed single because I feared the woman in my life wouldn’t understand the passion I have for music. I feared that I couldn’t travel, record or pursue the goal of spreading emotions and messages across the country. 2 years ago, my fiancee’ bought me tickets to see your acoustic show in New Orleans where I got the pleasure to finnaly shake your hand. It was one of the best gifts I have ever received. She knew what this would do to me. She knew it would only add fuel to the musical fire inside me. That moment is when I knew she was the one and is when I started the countdown towards asking her to be my wife. The sheer joy of her face seeing mine confirmed she would stand by me for while I try to chase my dreams. I have been to your show over a half-a-dozen times before, but this one was different. You seemed happier / more at peace. As always, you delievered an energy that captivated the whole room, but this time you could literally hear a pin hit the ground; jaws were dropped. You touched souls and pulled at the heart-strings of those like me who respect talent like yours. I am proud you pulled yourself up everytime your world came crashing down. I am inspired you never gave up and always fought, clawing back to the top – each and everytime becoming an even better version of the previous you. Thank you for never giving up. Thank you for making this great music, having strength to always put your story ahead of  worry. And Thank you for always being an inspiration – in your good times and bad.

Rocky Bourgoyne

Getting Back to Basics

Become a better musician. Great chord structure, lyrics, harmony, arrangement, and hooks is what it’s all about.

The Beatles, Beach Boys, and so many greats not only had talent, they only had themselves. No amount of software or plugins will make a song for you. It will only do something sonically to the audio or assist as a tool. What really affects us most (at least myself) are the emotions from the chords, progressions, and lyrics. It’s the songwriting and composition which truly are at the heart of a great song. Before the computer revolution that’s all you had and that will never change.

I am not bashing technology. I think it plays an important role in music and I will not deny that some songs wouldn’t have gotten attention without it.  It’s like the icing on the cake. Just imagine how different “In the Air Tonight” would have sounded if it didn’t have the signature effects on that track (vocoder). The icing is sometimes the very thing that launches a great song into the history books and into our hearts.

So get back to the basics. Focus on a solid foundation and only then, after the song has been built, should you think about the icing

-Rocky Bourgoyne

Standing Firm on Foundation

Our lives, our very breath, comes from the simple expanding and contraction of a simple tempo. The heart is a repeating element of the most basic rhythm and subconsciously guides us along the way.

To me, the most beautiful songs are almost always composed of simple, supporting elements with the focus being on what’s important at the time. Great musicians know when to let it rip and when to hold back; both their instruments and their mouths. I personally find the best musicians are the ones who know when to hold back and do so for the betterment of the song. You have to play with your heart, not your hands. That simple, beating element inside of you is what should be the baseline. You have to connect the sounds to the vibrations your soul is generating. I play with the air in my chest and the beat of my heart. I could care less about technique, speed and impressing anyone other than the song. If the mission is to produce quality music then not everyone can play outlandishly all the time. There will often be times that you have to reserve yourself for the overall structure and output of the song. That is what separates the amateurs from the pros.