As I kick off another week of Theory Courses, I’ve been giving some thought as to what it is about the subject – and teaching it – that I love so much.
The thing to know about Theory is that it’s not just about passing the exam. It’s more than crotchets and minims, more than lines and dots. Music Theory is like language, coding, maths, physics, history and art all rolled into one. It’s no wonder it has a bit of a reputation for being a tricky subject to master (I disagree with that, by the way – more on that later!). Once you understand how Theory works, a whole new world of opportunity is opened up for you. You can sightread more easily and efficiently; learn new pieces of music without having to rely on having a teacher decipher it for you; listen to music with a new understanding of how it fits together; see and hear the links between all genres and eras of music; and of course, write your own music down in a way that can be understood by musicians all over the world. Leo Tolstoy said that “music is the shorthand of emotion.” Having a grasp of not just the pen strokes that form that shorthand, but of the concepts behind them, is incredibly enlightening.
…and it doesn’t have to be difficult.
So many budding musicians are expected to just pick music theory up as they go along. Like expecting children to learn to read and write simply through speaking their native language, with some individuals who have a predisposition to the subject this might be enough for them to get by, or even do well. But when we sit down and actually explain all those squiggles and blobs, the blueprints for scales and chords, and the roadmaps for each musical journey, we find that it all starts to make a lot more sense. Matching those squiggles up with what we can do with our instrument or voice becomes deliciously insightful and inspiring, as we see the parts of the puzzle coming together.
I have always tried to ensure that my students have exposure to purposeful and thoughtful discussion of Theory from their very first lesson. My Intensive Courses are a great way of covering the material for each graded exam, and they give us dedicated time to fully explore the concepts of Music Theory. They don’t, however, stop at the exam syllabus as a barrier for knowledge, and neither do they entirely replace Theory education as an integral part of regular lessons.
Want to know more? I love talking about Music Theory – just ask me!