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Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Squiresy91 » Thu Nov 25, 2010 3:15 pm

Hi All,

I feel like I need to share my experience in recent weeks with people who might think that theory knowledge of there instrument isn't worth while.

A few weeks ago I felt my playing was in a total rut (Bass playing) Everytimes I gigged, played at home, recorded or what ever I used the same old tricks. Same rhythm's, fills, lines, melodies etc it was driving me crazy couple that with being overlooked for a session (because of the above) it made me pretty depressed.

Anyhow basically i swallowed my pride and booked myself some lessons just to build some confidence mainly and what has resulted is amazing with just a few weeks of lessons and a proper practice schedule my playing has most definately improved. My knowledge is now 10x better of a)the instrument (scales, modes etc b)music theory in general. Im learing to sight read and this has definately been one of the key reasons my playing and composition has improved.I can feel myself getting out of the rut and back on course to being a good player and full of confidence again.

Ok so why share this on here, I just want to encourage all self taught musicians not to be scared, embarressed or too proud to seek some help to further there skill. Learning to sight read isn't a failing! and also doesn't lead to lack of feel or emotion as some suggest!

Anyway thats my little story and I hope my epiphany can help inspire someone else.

over and out!
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby hollowsun » Thu Nov 25, 2010 3:26 pm

Wise words, Squiresy.

Keep at it, don't be put off by some of the (inevitable) tedium and good luck with it all.
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Charley2011 » Fri Mar 11, 2011 7:56 pm

Hi. Just came across this post. It is certainly important to learn music theory. I recommend people read "The Importance of Music Theory" found at http://aaronpublications.blogspot.com It's a really interesting article and I think it sums things up nicely really.

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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Chaconne » Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:02 pm

Absolutely!

I had a period of illness, and lack of finance meant I could not keep up with the technology. I thought well stuff computers, I'll just turn on Piano 1 or whatever and get a theory book and some music.

The reason is I thought it was really dumb to take so much pride in being able to spout off a lot of useless technical stuff about synths and samplers, but be scared by the seamingly complex nomenclature of inversions or whatever.

I eventually got the studio up and running again, and boy what a difference! I never sit there scratching my head anymore, I can write properly, I have ideas stacked up!

Its a code, a language, and its a major handicap not to unlock it, even if its just the knowledge of how simple prgressions can be made to sound better with proper voicing etc.

Should have done it years ago. I'm supposed to be a musician, and it was definately time to read a proper useful manual, instead of endless useless guff about endless envelope modulators and there inconsequential routings!!!
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby OneWorld » Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:32 pm

I think you might make an analogy with athletes, or indeed anyone else at the top of their game. Each goes through rigorous, and yes, tedious exercises each day, even though they might not be competing every day.

I had this 'discussion' once with a band member who as it happens was also a modern artist of the painting type. His bass playing was lamentably out of time, out of tune, wrong notes, you get the picture.

He said 'rules were meant to be broken'. To which I had an easy reply - 'yes, but you don't know what they are, so which rules exactly are you breaking' All of them it seemed!

Being a guitarist, I learnt by ear and made good progress, but got to noodling round the same old riffs/patterns etc. But learning the theory catapulted into the stratosphere of actually being complimented on my playing by other people apart from my mum!

Music, I think has a particularly unique position in so much it sort of straddles art and science. It is very creative but conforms to some very strict rules.

There was a documentary on BBC2 a year or so ago and the exhalted rapper, Goldie wrote a choral piece. But in order to get the singers to sing what he had in his head, he needed some formal training, which at times he found difficult. Of course he had the rapper vs classical music hissy fit in order to maintain his street cred and the production team, but nonetheless the musicians smiled and indulged him, then got on with the job of writing for him.

It exemplified that if you know the underpinning theory, the creative ideas can be realised much more quickly and with more convincing results instead of plodding along in one or two chords all day long.

Stick at it, in only 3 months you'll begin to see quite radical results.
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby onesecondglance » Sun Mar 13, 2011 7:31 pm

OneWorld wrote:There was a documentary on BBC2 a year or so ago and the exhalted rapper, Goldie wrote a choral piece.

jungle producer rather than rapper isn't he?
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby OneWorld » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:02 pm

onesecondglance wrote:
OneWorld wrote:There was a documentary on BBC2 a year or so ago and the exhalted rapper, Goldie wrote a choral piece.

jungle producer rather than rapper isn't he?

Think that was Tarzan of the Jungle
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby jellyjim » Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:39 am

Of the 20 years I've played guitar I've probably had in total 2.5 years worth of lessons. That's 12.5% of the time in study! But in terms of where my ability comes from I'd easily reverse those numbers. 87.5% of my ability is from those 2.5 years! Lessons are invaluable.

As for Goldie, yup junglist not a rapper.
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby onesecondglance » Mon Mar 14, 2011 8:55 am

OneWorld wrote:
onesecondglance wrote:
OneWorld wrote:There was a documentary on BBC2 a year or so ago and the exhalted rapper, Goldie wrote a choral piece.

jungle producer rather than rapper isn't he?

Think that was Tarzan of the Jungle

:D
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Daniel Davis » Mon Mar 14, 2011 5:14 pm

Well you wouldn't argue about a doctor learning physiology or anatomy, or a sportsman learning the rules of the game. It seems bizarre that anyone would argue against learning musical theory.
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby koolbass » Sun Apr 10, 2011 7:20 am

Even after having studied theory, earned a university degree in music, and made my living in the music biz for 30 years ... I can still remember my convoluted thought processes from my youth when I had no understanding what I was doing, why, and how to choose my notes.

Leaning music theory, especially harmony (chord construction, arpeggios, scales, etc.) not only gives you a vocabulary for communicating with other pro players. It also helps one know and understand the various choices in notes BEFORE you need to actually play the note.

If you're in a "cover" band, theory is not so important. But, since much of my work is in the studio, being able to hear music and immediately understand "what" I'm listening to, and how to respond, would be impossible without knowing and understanding the building blocks of music.
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Trebor Flow » Sun Apr 10, 2011 8:26 am

Great instincts favour the informed mind.

tf
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby grab » Mon Apr 11, 2011 12:19 am

If you're in a "cover" band, theory is not so important.


If you're in a covers band, being able to immediately hear and play the chords, in the inversion from the recording, is pretty handy. Not to mention having a better chance at arranging something you can play live on two guitars and a bass, when the original is produced to hell and gone with strings, pianos and various other ear-candy.
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Guest » Mon Apr 11, 2011 4:47 am

I don't want to knock theory or the study if it. I'm not too keen on seeing children chained to pianos and being bulleyed if they drop a note but that aside there's nothing wrong with education and there's no doubt that a knowledge of theory will absolutely make a player 'technically' more acomplished and more fluent in the language of music.

...But it's not the whole story and some of our greatest players, people that have not only shaped new styles and created jaw dropping pieces (and not in a niche cult way but that have become incredibly successful and respected across the board) have absolutely no training at all!

I'm not a 'better best' person tbh, but i often hear the cry "the untrained are just sloppy and all this it's my art stuff is just a guilty defence for their own laziness!"

I have a counter argument and that is that for some people the training, is a cover for a deficiency in inate talent.

In some (not all obviously) you may as well have taught a chimp to type a hundred different words and then claimed it literate. Or more topically taught a student how to pass a 'golf course management' exam only to find that no golf course owner would give them the time of day in the real world of golf.

If i train and train and train for years and years and learn everything possible about music then how good will i be? How perfect will i be? I might make it to be as good a performer as a well programmed sequencer. But along the way, will i have lost anything? Will i lose myself?

I don't know because i'm not trained, but it's always been my fear. I've avoided training for this very reason and not because i am incredibly successful or that i have some god given inate talent, but because i've always felt (and this goes back to my early teens) that the way to find 'me' in the music i make and play will not be down that road. What i'll find down that road is the inner workings of someone else, someone who made their jaw dropping cataclysmic changes in their time and place - and tbh i'm not interested in that.

I'm not interested in what "should" come next, what notes are "allowed" in this or that key or any of the other staples of composition... to me, it's painting by numbers.

I don't have kids, but if i did and they showed any interest in playing i think the hardest decision i would ever have to make would be to decide to train or not to train.

Anyway, just making the case for the great untrianed and long may they prosper.
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby jsaras » Mon Apr 11, 2011 2:47 pm

ow wrote:
I have a counter argument and that is that for some people the training, is a cover for a deficiency in inate talent.

Regardless of the method, innate talent will only carry a person about 4% toward the goal of excellence in any field. Further, a motivated person with less talent will do better than the "gifted" person who doesn't pursue the excellence in his craft.

Getting back specifically to subject of theory study; if the material you are studying is closing doors to creativity rather than opening them, then you're studying the wrong stuff! Also, as a composer, it is imperative that you understand the mechanics of music as thoroughly as possible. I don't know of too many people you intuited their way into writing 4-part counterpoint or faked their way through writing an orchestral score.
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Guest » Mon Apr 11, 2011 2:55 pm

I do.
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Guest » Mon Apr 11, 2011 2:55 pm

...but then i don't call it 'faked'
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby ruffindajungle » Sat Aug 27, 2011 1:34 pm

Goldie is godfather on jungle music, hes graffiti artist, music label owner, dj and artist! Dont mix it up with original africa ancient sound, todays UK jungle music is only few of the styles that are still do date absoluelty evolving, those youngstas like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcrXQjbXTSw

are absoluelty pushing the technology boundaries, doin things that are so innovative. Nowadays Jimi Hendrix no doubt! This is the future!
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Soundseed » Sat Aug 27, 2011 7:40 pm

jsaras wrote:
ow wrote:
I have a counter argument and that is that for some people the training, is a cover for a deficiency in inate talent.

Regardless of the method, innate talent will only carry a person about 4% toward the goal of excellence in any field. Further, a motivated person with less talent will do better than the "gifted" person who doesn't pursue the excellence in his craft.

4% ... thats a very precise figure. I'm reasonably happy with the music at the link below, but the thought I've only tapped a 25th of whatever meagre abilities I have is, well ... inspiring. Are there any shortcuts to harnessing the missing 96% or is it just a slog? :-)

-------------------------
http://piethaag.bandcamp.com/
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Tony Raven » Tue Sep 06, 2011 2:13 am

For creatives, ANY widening of experience is a good thing.

Last week I was chatting with a friend, another guitarist. He happened to mention that his band was going through Hell trying to cover a couple of Soundgarden tunes. Without thinking, I said, "Oh, the ones in drop-D, right?"

He had no idea what I was talking about. So I took a literal minute telling him to downtune his E & barre across the bottom three strings for those aggressive chords.

Next week, Black Sabbath. :D

I can vaguely understand a few spoken languages, but staves have defied me for 40 years. Yet I am a strong learner via visuals, so YouTube has been quite a blessing for me. If someone plugs in & SHOWS me how a riff goes, I can usually pick it up after a half-dozen flying starts. And if said someone gives me an explanation of what I've done AFTER I get a grip on it, theory makes much more sense. Telling me beforehand usually just adds to the initial confusion, a variant of "the centipede's dilemma."
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Raphbass » Tue Sep 06, 2011 10:19 pm

ow wrote:I don't want to knock theory or the study if it. I'm not too keen on seeing children chained to pianos and being bulleyed if they drop a note but that aside there's nothing wrong with education and there's no doubt that a knowledge of theory will absolutely make a player 'technically' more acomplished and more fluent in the language of music.

...But it's not the whole story and some of our greatest players, people that have not only shaped new styles and created jaw dropping pieces (and not in a niche cult way but that have become incredibly successful and respected across the board) have absolutely no training at all!

I'm not a 'better best' person tbh, but i often hear the cry "the untrained are just sloppy and all this it's my art stuff is just a guilty defence for their own laziness!"

I have a counter argument and that is that for some people the training, is a cover for a deficiency in inate talent.

In some (not all obviously) you may as well have taught a chimp to type a hundred different words and then claimed it literate. Or more topically taught a student how to pass a 'golf course management' exam only to find that no golf course owner would give them the time of day in the real world of golf.

If i train and train and train for years and years and learn everything possible about music then how good will i be? How perfect will i be? I might make it to be as good a performer as a well programmed sequencer. But along the way, will i have lost anything? Will i lose myself?

I don't know because i'm not trained, but it's always been my fear. I've avoided training for this very reason and not because i am incredibly successful or that i have some god given inate talent, but because i've always felt (and this goes back to my early teens) that the way to find 'me' in the music i make and play will not be down that road. What i'll find down that road is the inner workings of someone else, someone who made their jaw dropping cataclysmic changes in their time and place - and tbh i'm not interested in that.

I'm not interested in what "should" come next, what notes are "allowed" in this or that key or any of the other staples of composition... to me, it's painting by numbers.

I don't have kids, but if i did and they showed any interest in playing i think the hardest decision i would ever have to make would be to decide to train or not to train.

Anyway, just making the case for the great untrianed and long may they prosper.

Whoops - a topic close to my heart...

There aren't any hard and fast rules about whether it would be useful to you or not - but perhaps acknowledge that nobody has yet suggested that if you have theory you don't need talent or motivation or something to express. It would be like learning to read and write before you could talk or understand language. When you know what the "right" think to do is, you can more imaginatively do the "wrong" thing. Though for some free jazzers I know, the above doesn't really apply!

I've spent many worthless hours, probably adding up to years, going through material with non-reading musicians that would have taken nil time if they could read. Days of rehearsal just learning notes, only after which we start on the ins and outs of how to play the stuff - the latter could have been rehearsed in an afternoon. The vast majority of gigs I do I sight-read on the gig, I interpret what I see and get on with making it into music. A short rehearsal can nail the hard bits or aspects that can't be written down or that are quicker explained or demonstrated but never is lots of time spent explaining long rows of notes. If there is anything to be learned that isn't written down, theory rears its head again as you listen to a line, play it back straight away, not fumble randomly until you find the notes and rhythms - this is because of theory.

Someone above said that for a covers band theory is unimportant - I half agree, as someone else has already agonized over writing the music in the first place, you only have to reproduce it, but it depends which bit of theory you're saying is unnecessary - ear training is part of theory as you learn to recognise intervals and harmonies, from melodic intervals to big scary jazz chords - it's so much easier to transcribe music when you can hear tunes and chords and write them down as they are playing rather than pore over them for hours playing random chords until one matches.

When I used to teach, kids would bring in CDs, I'd write them down as they were playing, usually I wouldn't have to rewind or repeat - the track would play once, I'd hand the kid the tab, and be writing the next track. In a 30 minute lesson the kid would go off with 4-5 new tunes under his belt.

A party trick I used to do as a freelance keyboard player was to get singer-songwriters to play me their compositions, just once - and I'd play them back having memorised them - I'm not claiming supernatural powers, just a knowledge of a few basics, these were bog-simple songs, I memorised them as phone numbers, noting any unusual bits like inversions, slash chords or uneven bars - anything more complicated and I'd have to write stuff down but I remember they thought this was some kind of weird magic.

But - in all my 1 to 1 teaching I've failed to get anyone interested in theory (the obvious conclusion is that I'm an utterly rubbish teacher, which is why I gave up schools some years ago!), yet pupils look at me as some kind of mad old wizard that understands the dark arts, whereas the truth is as a kid I just spent my mornings at school bunking off latin and geography to do endless music theory, and applying it and hearing it in all kinds of classical music, and eventually in rock music and jazz as well - the basis for why harmony and rhythm work in certain ways is fundamental, some of it is simple physics, some of it is cultural convention, and the interesting bit is personal traits, but they're usually at their most interesting when the person in question knows the other two factors and can work with/against them.

There's a common misconception that the people that occasionally break the mould and come up with something new, do so by chucking out all the old principles - I don't think it's ever been so. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring caused a riot at its first performance in 1910 or whenever it was, (actually more due to the dancing than the music, but even so...) in retrospect it works because of stuff that is theoretically explainable, from why certain instrumentations give a certain effect right through to why certain kinds of harmony sound "safe", "lush", "anxious" etc. - how much of that phenomenal huge piece of music would he have found by chance, by just piddling about on a piano until something came out right? He'd still be fumbling about now I reckon.

But I appreciate we're not all writing the Rite of Spring (thank chr1st!)... for "three-chord" music (absolutely nothing against three chords by the way!), often the value is more in the words, also there are umpteen ways to play three chords, and you really won't benefit from knowing about altered scales, harmonic minors, tritone substitutions or all the inversions of the German 6th the Italian 6th and the French 6th...

So in short I only slightly agree with the "theory luddites" :)
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Raphbass » Tue Sep 06, 2011 10:35 pm

Tony Raven wrote:For creatives, ANY widening of experience is a good thing.

Last week I was chatting with a friend, another guitarist. He happened to mention that his band was going through Hell trying to cover a couple of Soundgarden tunes. Without thinking, I said, "Oh, the ones in drop-D, right?"

He had no idea what I was talking about. So I took a literal minute telling him to downtune his E & barre across the bottom three strings for those aggressive chords.

Next week, Black Sabbath. :D

I can vaguely understand a few spoken languages, but staves have defied me for 40 years. Yet I am a strong learner via visuals, so YouTube has been quite a blessing for me. If someone plugs in & SHOWS me how a riff goes, I can usually pick it up after a half-dozen flying starts. And if said someone gives me an explanation of what I've done AFTER I get a grip on it, theory makes much more sense. Telling me beforehand usually just adds to the initial confusion, a variant of "the centipede's dilemma."


Sorry - me again, just noticed your comment - YES, theory in a vacuum means nothing. Saying to someone "here's 7 modes, in all 12 keys, that's 84 scales to learn, then we'll start on the dimished's and augmented's the altered's etc... at the end of all that you'll be a musician" - is worthless. It has to be learned on the go. I was lucky that my teachers at school (one in particular was a total genius, I owe him the lot really) went through the lot in minute detail, but with listening to music all along, so you could see all the principles actually played out in real music rather than learning theory "in theory".

To some extent though you have to start at the beginning - I teach once in a blue moon now, but I try to point out stuff that's happening in real music, preferably something the pupil's into, but they rarely hear it because we haven't started at the beginning, done any ear training or basic harmony.

A classic comment from a punter on a blues weekend workshop - he wanted to learn some guitar licks and was impressed by my guitar doodlings (my guitar playing is at stoned-student level), so I made the fatal mistake of mentioning pentatonic scales - he came out with a stunner - "don't blind me with f***ing science, just show me how to play like Eric Clapton"!
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Tony Raven » Wed Sep 07, 2011 3:49 am

Just to make clear, I truly wish I had a better head for theory. I've forever felt like a journeyman unable to put a master's tools to use. Well, not dead yet...

Chet Atkins, asked whether he could read music, said "Not enough to hurt me." This pops to mind because at the moment I'm trying to wrap my head around "Nashville notation."

I had a girlfriend (a pianist) who would get into a mood & twit me for being unable to read sheet music. But I slowly realised that, if she didn't have staves in front of her, she was totally lost, & couldn't fathom how to improvise, or even imagine herself doing rather simple variations. I can do a little piano & Hammond, & if I asked her to show me an actual chord (like Am), she'd have to stop for a minute & calculate before touching keys.

I've played largely for my own amusement & sporadic pub gigs, & I'm rather boringly workmanlike. If someone shows me a lick that sounds cool, that grabs me by the ears, THEN knowing more about how to extend from there appeals to me. Took until I was past 30 to appreciate bebop, & a new world opened!! But I'm back in the dark if I'm told something like "oh that's just an F#17Bb4" -- heavens, man, just let me work out some two-note chords to comp along!! :D
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby hollowsun » Wed Sep 07, 2011 5:00 am

Would you claim to be a 'writer' or an 'author' attempting to write a blockbuster novel if you didn't understand or have the first knowledge of grammar or vocabulary and couldn't string a sentence together?

Or claim to be 'a musician' when you can't even read the language of your profession?

Just a thought!
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Re: Why you SHOULD learn theory!

Postby Tony Raven » Wed Sep 07, 2011 5:39 am

hollowsun wrote:Would you claim to be a 'writer' or an 'author' attempting to write a blockbuster novel if you didn't understand or have the first knowledge of grammar or vocabulary and couldn't string a sentence together?
Oh, heavens -- you wouldn't believe how many of 'em are out there. I spent six years as the acquisitions editor for a small publisher. More than a few hopefuls were quite offended when I recommended studying the methods of others.
hollowsun wrote:Or claim to be 'a musician' when you can't even read the language of your profession?
An excellent thought, & why I keep throwing myself at it. Though, I don't think of myself as a 'musician' any more than as an 'author' -- in each case, I'm merely persistent (even obsessive at times), & every once in a long while something acceptable is left when the dust settles.

Theory & notation truly are languages. They allow record-keeping & clear communication, so both immediacy & longevity.
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