Music Theory–Do we have to?

It seems that with my piano students, they either love theory…or hate it….or THINK they hate it actually!  So many of my students ask me why they need to learn it.  Can’t they just play the piano with having to do that theory? But how can you really enjoy making music or succeeding in your piano performance if you do not know how music works. The study of theory helps with sight reading, technique–those scales won’t seem so confusing if you know how they work and how to write them, and with memorizing your music. Music Theory is the study of how music works and without this knowledge a student is missing a big piece of the pie!

I have always incorporated theory into each and every lesson.  All of my students learn to harmonize scales with primary chords—this is theory!   I also usually assign a page of two of theory each week–this is sometimes met by limited success so I have had to take a step back with some of these students and think about what music theoyr should look like in order to make sure it is a part of each and every one of my student’s education.  If not, then I am not doing my job!  So, here is how I try to make sure each and every student is getting their dose of the Music Theory Vitamin:

1. Pointing out Theory elements in their assigned pieces:  identifying the key, the primary chords, naming intervals, naming notes, clapping rhythms, covering up the time signature and letting them tell me what it is by looking at the measures.

2. Games–yep, even when it looks like I am just playing a game with the student, it really is learning…and they love it! (and here they thought they hated theory!)

3. Group Lessons–I try to incorporate group lessons into the schedule throughout the year and they are perfect for incorporating music theory through games and partner worksheets and activities–it’s also a great time to add in some music history…again the students enjoy them.

4. Theory books–I still think that incorporating a page or two from a theory book is necessary.  Even the smallest student should be able to write a quarter note or draw a bass clef–but hopefully through the games and activities they will begin to realize that music theory really isn’t that bad after all! 😉 My MYC students have H pages of a Bright Ideas book and do a page of two of theory a week.  For my private students I use Piano Adventure Theory books corresponding to the lesson book they are in OR if they are a little older I use Ultimate Music Theory books.

For some of my students, that theory component is vital.  This year several of my students are working towards intermediate and advanced level national exams with the Royal Conservatory of Music.  These piano exams have theory co-requisites.  Which means:  if the corresponding theory exam is not completed along with or prior to the piano exam, they will not receive their certificate.

Since I had four students needing to do their Basic Rudiments theory exam this year, I decided to offer a Saturday morning class.  It was a bit of an accelerated program using these incredible new Ultimate Music Theory books by Glory St. Germain–we completed all the concepts for the exam along with a few weeks of review in only 12 weeks!  And I think they actually enjoyed it! 😉  My own 12 year old daughter was a part of the class–she was one of those students who thought music theory was a bore–and she told me she loved the class and feels she knows so much more about music.  She is convinced that she is a better performer because of it, and that her sight reading has improved immensely by being able to easily identify chords, intervals, notes and key signatures.

These students just wrote their Basic Rudiments exam on May 12th and are waiting anxiously to hear their results!  As their teacher, I am confidant we are going to see some great marks as they were all getting First Class Honors on their practice exams, one student even earned 99.5% on his last practice exam.  But, no matter what the mark, I know they have gained so much knowledge and confidence from our class and I will definitely be offering another one in the fall!

If you are looking for a great theory method check out:

https://www.ultimatemusictheory.com/umt/

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