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Does a sound engineer need to understand music theory?

A Record-Producer.com visitor asks whether sound engineers are supposed to know something about music theory, or whether they can get by without?

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A question received from a Audio Masterclass visitor...

hey david

ive been talking to people and they have asked me this question but im not sure ... if i wanted to get into audio engineering/sound production in the music industry do i have to know what the chords or notes are suppose to sound like or even how to read music...?

thanx kc

The answer to this is simple - you do not need to know anything about music theory to become a sound engineer. Indeed many sound engineers don't work with music, so why should they?

A sound engineer who does work with music needs a knowledge and appreciation of music, but music theory is an optional extra.

There are certain elements of music theory that are worth knowing about. Song structure is important, for example when the producer asks to, "Go to the bridge". It would be nice to know what the bridge is.

And timing too, knowing about bars, beats, whole notes, half notes and quarter notes etc. will help you navigate your way around a song.

A knowledge of notes isn't generally necessary for recording, although if you work with a sampler, as many non-musician sound engineers do, then you would need to know how to allocate samples to keys on a keyboard.

Curiously, it is perfectly possible for a sound engineer with no musical training to be able to follow a musical score - even a complex score. The brain is very good at pattern recognition, and written or printed musical symbols are designed to be easy for the eye to pick up on.

So the answer, once again, is simple. But it doesn't hurt to gain at least an outline knowledge of music theory.

Actually, it isn't that difficult.

By David Mellor Thursday June 30, 2005
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