How to best teach music theory

At its core, Music Theory is the understanding of the written manuscript. It is the knowledge of the symbols that make up music scores, and the ability to effectively translate them into sounds.

An understanding of theory really helps people who play music, rather than making them play better, it helps them speak the same language as other musicians.

So how do you teach it? how do you get across the critical concepts in it, without overwhelming or boring the student?

There area three important ideas which can help in this area.

Critical Idea #1 – Start with the music, then move to theory.

Nearly all music teachers agree that music tuition should begin with sound, and then move onto written understanding. Therefore it is important to always start with what something sounds like, then show the students why it is the way it is. For example if teaching chords it is critical for a student to understand at first how a major or minor chord sounds, the emotion that it is conveying and the reasons why a major or minor chord might be chosen for a particular situation. Once they can hear the aural sound, and its reason for being the theoretical knowledge will come.

Important Concept #2 – Learn one thing at a time

Music is a multidimensional language. What does that mean? Well it means that in order to understand written music many different pieces of information have to be absorbed at one time. That is the concept that makes it most challenging. A given musical event has both a pitch (what note it is), and a duration (how long it is played for). Add to that it also has a dynamic (how soft it is) and also expression marks that have to be interpreted. That is why music can be so difficult to learn to understand music theory.

Important Concept #3 – Ensure it is always relevant

The final critical concept with music theory is to keep it relevant. The music that the student is learning currently is the music that should be used to relate to their music theory. For example if a student is playing classical music then they shouldn’t be learning jazz harmony. The music that students are playing is what should be used as the basis for their music theory lessons.

Hopefully if music teachers students can learn to approach the study of music theory with these primary concepts in mind then music lessons will be more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone. Using music theory worksheets that are especially written with these concepts in mind will help even more.