Taking the plunge with music theory

Adding in theory lessons to your music learning mix is common enough, with good reason: it’s a great support for your instrumental study helping you to understand the sense and meaning behind all those notes; it’s a starting point for composing and writing music; it’s a great intellectual discipline with a fun purpose. Music theory, in some way, is a bit like a puzzle with curious rules and corners that are fun to discover and apply to the exercises you might come across. In a deeper sense, a good understanding of music theory will unlock the secrets to understanding and high-level musical interpretation.

Parents often want to start their children off fairly early on so that there’s time and space to progress in good time, alongside the instrumental study. Getting a great teacher is always going to help, and you may well be able to ask your instrumental teacher to spend fifteen minutes extra on theory guiding your child through the tricky areas. Alternatively, an intensive holiday course can work well to cover lots of material quickly and achieve a fuller understanding.

Doing theory DIY style may suit some children who enjoy working on puzzle type activities. Finding fantastic resources can be a bit of a struggle – a trip to the local sheet music shop with your child will help your child discover the right learning tools for them. For books there are couple of reliable, mature, well laid out publications I would recommend:

Music Theory in Practice – the stuffy but comprehensive workbook, published by ABRSM. You might end up taking the ABRSM theory exams and the book series is modelled to the exam papers.

Theory books by Ying Ying Ng – this series is very much designed for young children, but as with any skills-based subject of study, the tricks that work on young children work just as well on older children and adults.

Also, there are various kinds of flashcards that help with the quick recall and memorisation – my favourite set – old fashioned but attractive – is by Jane Smisor Bastien. And if you think an app will help (although personally I prefer making space for a pencil and paper) then Tenuto for iphones and ipads is a slickly presented and engaging music theory gaming app.

A little warning – sometimes music theory can turn into a burdensome exercise in dry logic. Keep a firm eye on the creative potential a little theory can unleash – writing melodies, adding an accompaniments or extra bars to your printed music, thinking up and playing music games, working out the harmonies to your instrumental piece…and so on.

As ever, if this article as prompted other questions in your mind please comment below or just call us up for a chat. Good luck with your travels in music theory!