At its core, Music Theory is the study of the written music notes. It is the knowledge of the symbols 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 frustrating or making the student lose interest?
Important Concept #1 – Start with the music, then move to theory.
One thing that nearly all music teachers agree with is that music tuition should begin with sound, and then move onto written understanding. In practice that means we should always introduce something with a sound, then show the students why it is the way it is. For example if teaching chords it is critical 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 have been chosen for a particular piece of music. Once they can hear the sound, and its reason for being the mechanical knowledge will follow.
Critical Concept #2 – Learn one concept at a time
Music is a multi-dimensional language. How do I mean? Well it means that in order to understand written music many different pieces of information have to be absorbed at one moment. 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 read by the musician. That is why music can be so difficult to learn to understand music theory.
Important Concept Number Three – Ensure it is always relevant
The final critical concept with music theory is to always try and find music theory worksheets that are relevant to the student. The music that the student is learning currently is the music that should be used to connect with their music theory. For example if a student plays jazz music then they should study jazz music theory. The music that students are currently performing 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 enjoyable and rewarding for music students of all ages.