Music Theory

Why Theory?

A basic definition of music theory is the study of how music works. A student having little understanding of theory is missing a huge piece of piano learning experience.
A talented piano student I have had for many years was complaining of how boring theory class in school was.  I asked her what subjects she was studying and was appalled at such a beginning level class was teaching.  Fortunately her music teacher was open to allowing my student to work in her current theory book during class with me going over the theory during piano lessons. This conversation got me thinking about our responsibility as teachers.

Teaching Music Theory: A Responsibility

Teachers of any subject area have a responsibility to give their students a well-rounded education in the area in which they are qualified. The students and parents do not always know what constitutes a good music education because they are often not trained in the area of music. The teacher decides what should be taught, because they are qualified in that subject area.

Music theory is an integral part of music education. It is our responsibility to teach the nuts and bolts of music, just as much as it is our responsibility to teach how to read and play music on an instrument. Many of my students claim music theory is not necessary for learning piano. It is important as teachers to help students understand the importance of music theory.

  • Theory and performance go hand-in-hand, inseparable. For example, knowing how to identify and name chords is important for being able to quickly recognize them when you are playing music. It’s about understanding the music that you are playing.
  • Theory is the foundation of reading music.  Theory picks up where talent is fails.  ex.  I don't read every note on the page when playing music - but when a note or passage sounds wrong my theory of note reading and understanding of intervals and chords help.

The good musicians are those who understand how music works. Good music teachers are those who teach how music works.

Incorporating Music Theory: What Does it Look Like?

Music theory includes: notes, rhythm, melody, harmony, structure, form, texture, etc.
  • At the most basic level, teaching theory might be simply teaching the names of the various rhythmic values (quarter note, half note, etc.) and learning how to draw them.  Learning music grand staff components and the note names.
  • As the student becomes more comfortable with the basics, adding intervals, scales, key signatures, basic chords, enlarges the students ability to recognize more difficult passages in playing piano music.
  •  More advanced, learn about interval qualities, scales, key signatures, scales in all major, minor, modes and other scales, chord inversions, cadences and chord progressions
  •  Other concepts include identifying patterns and thematic motives, understanding differences in style and genre (Baroque vs. Romantic; jazz vs. classical), and understanding formal structures (binary form, ternary form, sonata-allegro form, fugue, etc.). Introduction to composers help students understand the style and technique of the composers music.
Piano Waterhole
• Phoenix, AZ 85022
Phone: (602) 330-8780 •