How much music theory should school students learn?

This is an issue facing most music teachers – how much do you load students up with theoretical knowledge and how much do you just let them play?

Music is a practical subject. In any school learning music should be about doing. Singing, Movement, Playing and listening all play an important part.

I’ve never met anyone who would say that music in schools should not have a practical component. The issue with music teachers is always how much music theory the lessons should include.

If you let it, music theory can become a very dry and boring subject. Studying scales, modes, transposition and keys can easily seem very irrelevant to students, particularly in a junior high or high school situation.

A good solution to this is to link the theory with the practical lessons as often as you can.If you can take a piece the students are currently playing, and start the theory lesson by looking at that you’ll have much more success. Choose music theory worksheets that match the music as much as possible.

Schools with a Rock based curriculum will find this very easy: plan for a theory lesson as soon as possible after the practical lesson. In this lesson the students will a) listen to recordings of the work they are trying to play b) look at written examples of the music Engage in theory activities and exercises based on this music that are suitable to their current level d) think about suitable arrangements for instruments that would suit the music.

The theory lesson could be similar if your school has a more traditional band or classical program. The traditional approach is to choose a theory book and make them go through each activity in order, despite the order that they should do things. Instead you could pick an activity based on the problems or challenges they are currently facing in band or orchestra, and choose a worksheet based on that.

Music Theory lessons can be much more fun and rewarding for children learning music in schools if teachers can take more of this integrated approach.