Understanding how music works accelerates progress helping students make sense of the music they see, hear, and play
Joining the Dots
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. 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.
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 generally. 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.
Infants imitate the sounds they hear from a young age to learn how 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 technical work, students are taught how to develop essential listening skills, which can transform their playing and overall musicianship. The ability to observe, through aural skills alone, basic musical features such as dynamics, phrasing, articulation, note values, and changes of tempo is particularly useful, as is being able to recognise specific intervals, chords, and cadences at an advanced level.
Aural skills are tested in many grade and diploma exams as well as in GCSE and 'A' Level Music syllabus so good preparation in this area is advantageous.
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 postgraduate degree in Music Theory and Analysis and Grade 8 Theory, I am well placed to support my students at an advanced level in a wide range of disciplines including composition, historical performance practice, harmony, and music analysis.
Please contact me for further information.