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Old 2nd August 2019
Lives for gear
Carnalia Barcus's Avatar

Theory is an analysis tool. It's a tool for describing.

It certainly shouldn't be a tool for proscribing anything, and it's not really a tool for prescribing anything.

It can help you think of possibilities, though. For example, say that you like the sound of I - bVIMa7 . . . but you can't find anything you like as a next chord. Well, knowing theory, you can think "Hmm . . . what if I treat the bVIMa7 as a secondary dominant of sorts--if I do that, the next chord could be bII (relative to the original key)" or if you don't like the sound of that, you could say, "What if I treat it as a secondary subdominant? Then I could go something like bVII7 - bIII (relative to the original key)"

In other words, you can use your theoretical knowledge to suggest good candidates for continuation/development that would have been a lot more difficult to stumble upon otherwise. The above is just a very rudimentary example of how you can do this.

But in the end, your ear, your tastes should be the arbiter. It's important to remember that you can't do anything "wrong" musically. What you write doesn't have to follow any previous norms. The challenge is simply coming up with ideas, with material that appeals to you, without falling into ruts, continually repeating yourself, using only a very limited bag of tricks. Theory can help with this.