The Most Effective ways to teach music theory

At its core, Music Theory is the study of the written music notes. It is the understanding of the dots and scribbles that make up written music, and the ability to effectively translate them into sounds.

An understanding of theory really helps musicians, not because it makes them play better, but because it helps them communicate better with other musicians.

So how do you teach it? how do you get across the important parts of it, without overwhelming or boring the student?

I’ve come up with three important concepts which can help in this area.

Critical Concept #1 – Start with the sound, then the theory.

One thing that nearly all music teachers agree with is that music should start first with sound, and then move onto written understanding. In practice that means we should always introduce something with a sound, then explain why it is the way it is. For example if teaching chords it is very important for a student to understand firstly what a major or minor chord sounds like, 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 sound, and its reason for being the mechanical knowledge will come.

Critical Concept #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 absorbed at one time. That is the thing that makes it most challenging. A note 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 loud it is) and also expression marks that have to be interpreted. That is why music can be so difficult to learn to read. You can make this happen by choosing music theory worksheets that have only one topic per page.

Critical Concept #3 – Keep it relevant

The final important concept with music theory is to keep it relevant. 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 tuition.

hopefully if music teachers students can approach the study of music theory with these primary concepts in mind then music lessons will be more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone.