Students sometimes view music theory negatively as a detached subject because all too often that's the way it's taught: away from the piano without any relevance to the music the student is learning.
However, by encouraging pupils to think about how music works and how it is notated helps to accelerate their progress, enabling them to make sense of the music they see, hear and play.
Theory and Musicianship
Joining the dots...
First steps in music theory
Students start by learning how music is written on the stave and the symbols which are used to represent pitch and rhythm. Accurate reading skills in performance is essential and encourages students to learn music unaided, which adds to their enjoyment and confidence. Learning how a scale is constructed and the various chords types which can be made from them help establish musical tonality: a sense of belonging in music.
When students have acquired the ability to read and write musical ideas down on the stave, along with some scales and chords, work can begin on the writing of chords in four-parts, and how to write harmony that sounds stylish and musical. They will also learn about transposition and transposing instruments, smaller ensembles and orchestral scores. And at advanced levels, students will use their practical experience to analyse unseen musical scores and to answer questions on the compositional features and harmonic language.
Although students tend to be reluctant to learn about music theory initially, it helps them to understand the music at a higher level; which, in turn, leads to more insightful playing. Many performance exams also have a discussion section, where marks are awarded accordingly to the level of theoretical and musical understanding shown by the candidate.
Aural perception skills
Infants imitate the sounds they hear from a very young age to in order to communicate but it is not uncommon for some students to play without really engaging with the music. Understanding the musical sounds we hear, or perceiving how something might sound when reading from a piece of music, are skills which every musician needs to develop.
Alongside the development of piano playing, students are taught how to develop essential listening skills, which can transform their playing and overall musicianship. The ability to develop our ears helps us to identify intrinsic musical features such as dynamics, phrasing, articulation, rhythm, and any changes in tempo. And with more practice, we can recognise specific scales, intervals, chords, and cadences using our aural skills .
Many grade and diploma exams assess this aspect of musicianship, as well as in GCSE and 'A' Level Music syllabuses.
Harmony | Composition | Music Analysis
Students who take music at GCSE or 'A' level are sometimes quite surprised by the range of skills they need to develop alongside their playing. In addition to learning about musical history, music students will be expected to compose, complete harmony exercises that respect conventions, and to analyse music and recordings.
With a masters degree in Music Theory and Analysis , I am well placed to support students wishing to study in a wide range of disciplines. These include historical performance practice, harmony, composition, and music analysis. I also have prepared a number of students for higher grade theory exams over the last twenty years, so am familiar with the format and content of these examinations.