Harp on the Hill Studio
5 Doors the Key of Theory Knowledge Unlocks
In the introduction to my Teaching Corner Page, I said that practical theory knowledge forms a key that can be used to unlock the doors to different musical skills.
But perhaps you are wondering what specific skills lie behind these doors.
Here are 5 of the most important:
Behind Door #1: more fluent reading skills
You might think that you don't need a whole lot of complex theory background to read music. Afterall, don't you just need to know the note names? Well no. Reading music, especially reading more complex music fluently, is much more about reading the relationship between notes. And these relationships, these patterns, are what music theory is all about.
Behind Door #2: making your own music
Learning music theory at the instrument gives students the tools they need in order to arrange, improvise and even compose their own music.
At the same time, these three acts of music-making—arranging, improvising and composing—can be used as methods for teaching theory skills in the first place. (It's one of the reasons I find teaching folk, pop, and other forms of non-classical music, so useful, especially in the teaching of harmonic theory.)
In the multi-layered approach I take at Harp on the Hill, there are many such instances in which the act of using the key (of fitting it into a new keyhole), actually helps mold the key into a new shape. In other words, building the key and learning how to use it are not mutually exclusive processes; they are, in this more holistic way of thinking, often one and the same thing.
Behind Door #3: playing by ear
One of the many advantages of doing theory at the instrument (instead of at the kitchen table) is that it becomes an exercise in opening up one's ears. What we hear, and not only what we see on the page, informs our analysis of the music. In other words, our ears help us understand theory.
On the flip side, our theory knowledge helps our ears. It is much easier, for example, to work out (by ear) what chords a piece is using, when your theory knowledge helps you determine the most likely choices.
It is yet another example of how different aspects of the music learning process (in this case, theory and ear training)—when not separated from each other, but rather taught in a multi-layered way—begin to work together and inform each other in interesting ways.
Behind Door #4: better memorization
If there is one door I would have liked to learn to unlock earlier in my musical career, it would be this one. It is a skill that is absolutely essential at the elite performance level, yet even the youngest musician can learn to develop: how to use one's music theory knowledge to form a fail-safe system for performance.
Behind Door #5: a deeper appreciation of music
I wonder if there are some who might question my assertion that appreciation is a practical skill. Yet I think most people would agree that the ability to appreciate things deeply is one that adds meaning to our lives.
And whether you count that as practical or not, this deeper appreciation of music is perhaps the skill I most want to leave with my students, because it is the one skill that students—whether they become professional musicians, enthusiastic amateurs, or even just avid music listeners—can carry with them wherever they go.
If you're curious to know why I think the study of music theory is actually the study of that very thing that drew us all to music in the first place—in other words, the way music makes us feel—keep reading.
Discover what lies behind the doors that a practical at-the-instrument theory knowledge unlocks...
Think. Play. Feel. These 3 concepts, interwoven together, define my pedagogic approach. But it is with the last word—feel—that I believe we open a door from which there is no turning back.
I teach these non-Classical styles—not only because students love them—but also because I see them as a perfect creative tool for exploring theory from a slightly different vantage point ...