In college, one of my favorite classes was music theory. I took piano lessons as a kid. I learned guitar as a teenager, and I knew the basics of chord structure, sight-reading music, harmony, etc.
However, I never knew the deeper reasons behind all of these things. I didn’t know why I liked to go from a five chord to the sixth minor chord. I never knew why the five chord likes to resolve to the one chord, and so on.
One of the things we learned in that theory class was the “proper” way to write a choral arrangement. We studied the great composers like Bach and how he would take a single melody and develop a four-part choral arrangement around it. What was so interesting is that all of the choral arrangements of this particular period followed a certain, fairly strict, set of rules.
For example, you could never have what’s called parallel fifths, where two notes are a fifth apart and they move in the same direction. Another rule was that the leading tone, or the seventh note of a scale, always resolved upward. If you’re playing a song in C-major and you had a B-natural note, it could never go anywhere but up to the C.
Doing exercises for this class proved to be quite frustrating. Why? Because in my head, I wanted to do all of these really interesting harmonies, but the more I would branch out, I realized I was beginning to break a lot of rules.
So how does this apply to recording? I’ve said it before, there are no rules in recording; just do what sounds good.
Sometimes, though, it helps to learn what the standard is, so you can understand the process better. Once you understand the process, it becomes much easier to know when it makes sense to obey the rules…when it makes sense to deviate from them.
So the new “rule” for today is this: learn the rules and THEN break them.
Just like with the choral arrangements in my college theory class, I had to learn the strict rules of choral arrangement and learn why they existed before I could then break those rules into something new and creative and beautiful. With recording, you should know the different mic techniques that have been used over the past several decades to get a good drum sound. Once you know those, and have mastered those, then you can try other things.
You can try little deviations here and there and come up with your own rules. BUT, if you don’t listen to the experience of those who have gone before you, it’s very difficult to make any sort of progress without being constantly in a state of confusion.
So, what do you think? Do you follow the rules?