Devin Townsend Explains Why You Should ’Forget About the Genre’ and His Unique Approach Music Theory

According to Devin Townsend, if you’re planning to be an artist and really work on your music, there are two important things to note. Firstly, you should have a solid grasp of music theory. And secondly, you should “forget about the genre.” Well, maybe not entirely forget about it, but it’s all about breaking away from the usual predefined boundaries and trying to fit in just for the sake of it.

However, as he explained in the first episode of his newly launched podcast, there’s one somewhat unconventional way he approaches music theory. Although knowing this stuff is of utmost importance to him, Devin revealed his own personal take on it. And it all serves one purpose — using musical elements to express himself through his art.

DEVIN TOWNSEND - Podcast Episode 1: Synesthesia

“When I was younger, and having to learn music theory — or try to learn music theory — I always thought that it was such a convoluted way, an inefficient way for me, of being able to understand what I was participating in.”

To explain this stance further, Townsend compared it to physics and added:

“As opposed to saying, ‘That combination of notes reminds me of my mom and a rainy day’, it was, ‘No, it’s a suspended second, and it’s in a Lydian mode. And you also like the ninth because it’s the octave above the second. And perhaps that suspension implies — on a technical level, I’m sure you can analyze it in a lot of ways if you suspend a note — perhaps, subconsciously, there’s a lack of need to commit to an interval, who knows?'”

Sounds a little wild, right? But we get his point. Going to the “practical level” of things, Devin continued:

“But on a practical level, for me, it’s just what it reminds me of. And so, in order to move quickly, which is how I feel the best way to create exists — what’s the quickest way that you can articulate yourself musically? What’s the most efficient way to do it? Is it?”


“Well, it’s ergonomics, for one; it’s lack of option paralysis as another. And for me, not having to analyze where things are routed theoretically allows me to say, ‘I want to feel this, those notes make me feel that, there we go.'”

So in conclusion, for Devin, music theory is nothing but language that you’ll use to communicate with other musicians. Nonetheless, it’s still incredibly important to one’s development as a musician:

“That being said, I think, yes, it’s a different language, and I think it’s a learnable language for people who find it much quicker for themselves to say, ‘How do I discern what it is that I want to do with this musical passage?'”

“Well, I know that it maybe modally makes sense for me to do this, maybe theoretically, the key, all those things, there’s people that I know that that is a much more efficient way for them to think.”

"Lightworker" - Official Promo Video

Going more into it, Devin also reflected on his long-awaited project known simply as “The Moth.” In this particular case, knowing music theory was incredibly important when working with other musicians:

“It’s not for me, but my point is, there are two ways of saying the same thing. And I think that when I started working on this current project — I’ve got a number of projects that I’m working on right now, and one of them is a symphony called ‘The Moth.'”

“When I started working with symphonic instruments, and working with orchestras in Prague, or Norway, or Bulgaria, each one of those three scenarios that I’ve had the opportunity to work with an orchestra, I’ve had to learn that, if I want to communicate with people who don’t speak fluently the language that I speak creatively, it makes more sense for me to learn that language.”

DEVIN TOWNSEND - Full Set Performance - Bloodstock 2021

Elsewhere during the episode, Devin also discussed the importance of not confining yourself too much within a genre if you’re trying to make your own art. Sure, it’s “convenient” in some ways, as he adds, but it’s not something that should ultimately define your music. He offered:

“You can put an artist or musician into a box, into a genre box. But I think that’s just done because it’s convenient to compartmentalize people, music, genre.”

“But if you’re getting into it, if you’re getting into making music, if you’re getting into making art, my advice to you is — forget about it.”

Devin Townsend - Full Show - June 25, 2023 - Atlanta

“Forget about the genre, forget about whether or not you should perceive music as colors or shapes or modes and numbers, it doesn’t matter. The intent is the important thing. Identify your intent.”

“Mine, now I’m able to understand that, music documents my life, it’s as simple as that. There’s no grand design to it, there’s no goal to it. There’s no end game, there’s no message. It’s just [that] my life changes —  as all of our lives change.”

Photo: Nicolas D (Devin Townsend 039)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.