Understanding Music Theory In Practice

I have witnessed countless occurrences during my teaching career where teachers upon trying to explain music without sufficient demonstration have left students bemused and at worst alienated. This is a disaster, as music theory really isn’t that complicated, and if you have only a limited experience of playing a musical instrument can be easily understood when put in relation to the things that you are able to play.

It is in everyone’s best interested to apply everything to an instrument, in particular the piano, where the whole spectrum of music is laid out before everyone’s eyes and at everyone’s fingertips. From there it can easily be translated to selected instruments.

Any attempts to explain music theory without this are, in my opinion, flawed. The intervals in a scale, for instance, can be visualized clearly when one plays a C major scale on the piano. From that scale, made more effective as a demonstration by the fact that there are no flats or sharps, the student can see why there is a semi tone between the 3rd and 4th degrees and the 7th and 8th degrees. It can then be implied form this that the same applies to other scales, such as G major, which can in turn explain why there is an F# and thus how key signatures work.

All of these notions are incredibly simple, but completely baffling and abstract when not explained in relation to how they are played. I suffered bitter experience of not being able to grasp these things at school, as my music teacher and music theory teacher (I had separate classes) failed to explain these basic and fundamental concepts in relation to my chosen instruments. I was fortunate to come fro a very musical family and certainly had a natural affinity to playing music, so these things weren’t hindrances, they were merely a part of a separate world far from what I considered to be at the time, my own unique understanding of music.

The problem I see often which is regrettable is that this goes on and causes students much displeasure when attempting to achieve music GCSE. Yet it is one that I always strive to rectify, simply by explaining very slowly and precisely how crotchets and quavers work, simply by tapping them out and counting and encouraging students to do the same. It is a gradual process of recognition that can take time in order for it to become apparent how it relates to piano or guitar. But it certainly happens more quickly when instruments are used rather than by throwing out abstract terminology and expecting students to grasp what by the sounds of it are obscure concepts.

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