At its core, Music Theory is the study of the written manuscript. It is the knowledge of the dots and scribbles that make up written music, and the knowledge of how to effectively translate them into music.
An understanding of theory really helps musicians, rather than making them play better, it helps them speak the same language as other members of their group.
So how do you teach it? how do you get across the important parts of it, without overwhelming or boring the student?
There area three important concepts which can assist in this area.
Important 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 explain why it is the way it is. For example if teaching chords it is critical for a student to know at first how a major or minor chord sounds, the emotion that it is showing and the reasons why a major or minor chord might be chosen for a particular situation. Once they can hear the sound, and its reason for being the theoretical knowledge will come.
Important Idea #2 – Try to understand one thing at a time
Music is a multidimensional language. What does that mean? Well it means that in order to read music many different pieces of information have to be taken in at one moment. That is the thing that makes it most difficult. A note has both a pitch (what note it is), and a duration (a length of time 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 challenging to learn to understand music theory. Good music theory worksheets are written with this in mind and only focus on one piece of information at one time.
Important Concept #3 – Keep it relevant
The final critical concept with music theory is to have the music theory be relevant to the student. The music that the student is currently learning is the music that should be used to relate to their music theory. For example It is very silly for a student to be playing jazz music, yet studying classical music theory. The music that students are playing is what should be used as the basis for their 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 fun and rewarding for music students of all ages.