How to Introduce Music Theory in a 30 minute lesson

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Musical Performance is built upon a solid foundation of Music Theory. Without the knowledge and understanding of the basic concepts of theory, a performer cannot play a piece well. They would simply be playing the notes on the page without adding any expression or character to the piece, much like an actor on stage. If the actor said the words of a play without any facial expression or in a monotone voice, his performance would be very dull.

The basic concepts of music are understanding; tempo and pulse, dynamics, tone (major or minor), melody, harmony and rhythm. “Understanding music theory means knowing the language of music.” Within these concepts are various levels of difficulty but as a teacher of children it is important to teach them theory at their level.

Of course there are method books to work through but it is often difficult to fit in time to do this in a lesson when you have other areas of study to achieve. Sometimes I will ask students to work through a Notespeller to help them learn the names of the notes. However, with other areas of music theory, I often teach something to them when the subject arises in a piece they are playing. At the start of every piece, I ask them about the key signature, the time signature (and what the numbers mean), where they put their hands to start playing, do they see any accidentals in the piece, and what is the interval of the first chord? Sometimes, if I play the piece to them first, I will ask them about the Musical Form and we will label the sections. My hope is that the repetition of these questions will lead to them asking these questions themselves when they approach a new piece of music so they can be lifelong independent learners.

Another area of music theory that I am trying to teach my students to learn is the concept of The Circle of Fifths and how to find a major’s relative minor. Instead of just giving them scales to play, I want them to understand why I am asking them to play those certain scales. This knowledge will help them discern the key of a new piece of music and prepare them for the sound they should hear when sight reading it.

All of these areas of music theory are beneficial to students becoming better musicians. The more information they can retain, the more knowledge they can apply to the performance of their pieces. This subject does not have to require your students working through a dull workbook. They can learn the concepts as they learn how to play a piece. In fact, many of my students do not make the association between what they have learnt in a theory book and how they are being taught to play a piece. I believe it is easier for them to understand a concept if they are able to play it on the piano. Application of music theory is vital for retention. It is like learning a language without speaking it.

In conclusion, I believe that Music Theory can be taught in many different ways in all lessons as the teacher sees fit. It does not just have to be taught through a work book, although this may be beneficial to students at a higher level as they can learn about the musical concepts in more detail.

Hannah Village
Dayton & Cincinnati, Teacher Liaison


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