Is it true that Jimi Hendrix didn't know music theory?

  • I've often heard that Jimi Hendrix didn't know anything on music theory and harmony, and he was just playing 'by ear'.

    Is this true or just a urban legend?

    So far as I know from the multitude of biographies I've watched and read, Hendrix never took lessons. So, it's probable that he had limited knowledge of music theory. However, among other things, he knew enough about music theory to tune his guitars a half pitch down so it would match his voice. Given his catalogue, I'd say he knew some things which he likely discovered through playing, so to say he "didn't know anything" would be false.

    He was self-thought. He certainly knew a lot on how to play, just never took lessons.

  • Dom

    Dom Correct answer

    7 years ago

    Like other people said Jimi Hendrix never took lesson so he would have never formally learned any music theory, but that doesn't mean he was absent of the knowledge of any music theory.

    Music Theory in the simplest is the study of what works and what doesn't in music. So while there is a formal path for studying the subject, simple things like someone listening to a song and figuring out what they like and what they don't is also music theory.

    Most people only equate music theory to an intro class that focuses on the classical era which most modern types of western music are rooted in, but there is so much more. There are pop, jazz, blues, and rock music theory classes and books that focus much more on modern songs and deconstructing them so people can learn what works and what doesn't. People who study music theory in depth eventually tailor their ideas towards what they find works and what doesn't using what they learned as a foundation for this and utilizes this in what they compose.

    So while Jimi Hendrix probably couldn't tell you what a modulation was, he did it all the time. While he wouldn't have known about the circle of 5ths, he took advantage of progressions that used it, like Hey Joe. While he was never taught how to build chords, he did so in the typical fashion even his famous 7#9 chord that is even called the Hendrix chord. While he probably couldn't tell you the notes in a key, during improved solos he would always play directly in the key.

    Coincidence? Not at all. On his own he figured a lot of it out by studying what he and other played and figuring out what worked and what didn't. So in the end you could say he learned music theory "by ear".

    Great answer. Any successful musician, even if they are self-taught or cannot read sheet music, knows more about the theory of music than they even realize themselves. Playing in a group with other musicians requires one to learn about the language of music and how to communicate one's own ideas to other musicians. Studying music theory in the classroom is not essential for genius musicians like Hendrix. For the rest of us who are not geniuses, however, studying music theory out of a textbook is a good idea. It does not hurt.

    He was the Cole Trickle of rock music

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

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