I like to think of learning music as being a bit like learning a language. When learning a language in school, teaching is split into the four areas of: reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Whilst you could learn a language by immersing yourself in a culture and picking up the language as you go along, you will perhaps never be able to easily read, write, listen or express yourself without putting the time into understanding the language and learning vocabulary and grammatical rules.
Learning these things will help increase your fluency and confidence in a language, provide you with understanding when reading and listening, and equip you to construct phrases and sentences of your own.
Similarly, studying music theory can have the same benefits for musicians. Whilst you could learn how to play an instrument without knowing how to read, write or understand the music you are playing, putting the time into learning music theory can impact the way you play, read, write, and listen to music and your instrument.
Investing time into learning music theory is one of the most beneficial things a musician can do and as with learning a language, I would always advise starting young.
Here are a few ways music theory can benefit you:
Being aware of what is going on in the song you are playing, and understanding how it has been constructed tonally, structurally and rhythmically makes learning, practicing and performing much easier. Music theory can help in the development of your musical fluency, which will make you a better performer.
It’s a huge benefit to be able to read music accurately and effortlessly. Being able to read music can open many doors for orchestral playing and session work. Having a good understanding of music theory will assist you when following music and scores, helping you to process everything easier and quicker.
Studying music theory is useful when you wish to write and communicate your own musical ideas. Knowing music theory will provide you with the tools needed to transfer your own ideas on paper for other musicians to read. It also increases and enhances your compositional creativity and improvisational possibilities.
Music theory will impact on the way you listen to music, causing you enjoy the music you are listening to more. The more you know about how music works, the more appreciation you will have for the creativity and excellence found in all sorts of musical works. Furthermore, having insight into how notes and rhythms are put together will also help you to distinguish between different styles and genres.
Here are some tips for learning music theory:
- A great way to begin is by learning some basic piano/keyboard skills. The keyboard is particularly useful as it allows you visually to see intervals and the structure of the chords you are playing.
- Keep it light and simple. Do one topic at a time and take as long as you need on each area. Maybe start with rhythm and tempo. Then move on to time values, pitch, scales, time signatures, and so on.
- Don’t panic if you don’t get it first time. In the same way that it takes repetition and regular practice to learn a language, learning music theory is similar. Take your time and keep going over topics.
- Find resources to help:There are so many great books available on music theory, covering audiences of all ages. My favourites for younger musicians are “Notespeller for Piano” and “The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists”:
There are also many great websites
I would particularly recommend www.musictheory.net
Make it fun
Learning music theory does not have to be boring! There are fun and practical ways to learn.
Check out these ideas for some inspiration:
Why not talk to your teacher about starting some music theory in your lessons!
Music Theory and the graded examinations
To find out more about music theory and the graded examinations from the leading examination boards for music, check out the following links: