What is it, why do we need it, and how can you use it to make better music?
Whether you want to improve your playing, songwriting, music production skills, or composing, understanding Music Theory to a deeper level gives you the significant edge over other musicians who don’t understand why they are not progressing quickly – or even why their own songs sound good or bad.
Music Theory is an essential part of a musician’s education. It is a massive subject and can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.
We know there are stories of a few musicians who made good progress, or even a successful career without even knowing how to read music… but they are few and far between.
In this article, we’ll talk about some of the immense benefits of studying Music Theory, and how it is an invaluable tool for musicians to use in their daily lives.
A 30 SECOND TRUE STORY ABOUT A CONFUSED STUDENT!
When I was at college, there was a student in my year who didn’t understand the Music Theory lessons due to the way they were taught – through quite a traditional “old school” style where everything was written, presented one way and one way only, and taught in the same way Music Theory had been taught for centuries before. That student was frustrated, confused, and didn’t truly understand what the material in the lessons meant. That student learnt how to fill in the Theory Exam papers by rote, got 99% (99%!) in the ABRSM Grade 5 Theory Exam, yet STILL didn’t understand how to actually use what they’d learnt and so STILL STRUGGLED with music… How do I know this? That student was me.
And now my team and I run the largest independent music school in the UK, write exam-board recognised curriculum, write music for film, TV, and games and we LOVE it!
You see, we learnt something about how ALL students can learn Music Theory more effectively.
Let me explain how we changed Music Theory education at Presto Music School, and no matter where you study in the world, how YOU can make more sense of it too.
STUDYING, PERFORMING, COMPOSING, SUCCEEDING!
Music Theory is the science of understanding how the different parts of music work together to create meaning. It’s a way to organize all of the different elements that make up a piece of music and break them down into their component parts.
For learning and performing pieces, a deeper knowledge of Music Theory will allow you to make faster, easier progress to a much higher standard.
If you want to compose or write songs, a comprehensive Music Theory course will help you to understand why you love your favourite music. You can then quickly analyse how that music is put together, break it down into its component parts to use as inspiration for your own music. But even if you didn’t want to compose, learning how the pieces you want to play are put together will help you to become fluent in the language of music, and so your progress will accelerate.
A Key Signature tells you which group of notes your piece is based on. Learning about keys and scales helps you to play and compose more “right” notes first time and avoid the “wrong” ones.
That way, you’ll be able to learn and perform your pieces faster, saving you years of frustrating practice! You’ll get to a higher level, via an easier route, without the confusion!
You’ll discover how different types of scales, and different ways of using those scales will help you to play and create pieces with a specific sound to fit an intended musical style.
You will discover how chord progressions work: Why the chords in your favourite pieces were chosen in that order and which chords work better with others in different situations.
Understanding rhythm will help with any kind of performance – whether it’s singing or playing an instrument! Knowing how to keep time allows for more fluidity in your playing style, as well as a more accurate delivery when singing vocal lines from sheet music.
Discover how instrumental and vocal parts are arranged to sound professional: How do they fit together to sound so good? How do bass lines work? Where do the notes from the chords go? How does the tune fit the chords?
Learn how to listen to your favourite piece and play it first time! Discover how the patterns in the sound can be picked out, understood and played back just as easily as listening to, understanding and repeating the lyrics!
Theory covers all this and so much more.
CAN YOU USE IT!?
The most important thing though for any musician and music student (apart from ENJOYING music), is their ability to actually USE the Music Theory that they learn.
Maybe you just want to improve for your own enjoyment. Maybe you need the Grade 5 Music Theory Exam Certificate to move onto the higher practical grades, GCSE or A Level. Perhaps you are a Music Producer wanting to get ahead and learn how the band or orchestra will fit together in a more professional setting…?
You need the right tools to do the right job. With the right Theory course from a recognised educator, you’ll be able to apply exactly what you need, when you need it, to create the result you want.
You’ll be able to make connections between different types of music. One thing that makes studying Music Theory so interesting is that it helps you see how different styles of music are connected – even when they seem very different at first glance. Studying jazz harmony might help you understand classical harmony better; learning about counterpoint might help you see how much depth there really is within pop songs, etc.
Once you know the rules, it’s easier for your brain to process new information. You’ll learn more quickly, accurately, confidently, and easily. You’ll also learn to a deeper level, adding more resources and tricks to your musical toolbox, and you’ll retain more information long-term.
Learning Music Theory helps you to compose in a more intuitive way — not just by copying what’s already been written, but also by understanding the building blocks behind it all so that you can create something entirely your own! You’ll be able to create something of your own – not just on a superficial level, but at its core. You’ll be able to create your own compositions more intuitively and efficiently because instead of being limited by what’s already been written, you’ll understand when to stick to the rules and when to break them!
Once you understand the theory of a song or a piece, you can be much more accurate and confident when you sing it or play it.
You will understand why they chose to use this chord progression, why they chose these notes over those notes and so on.
You will also be able to understand how the writer came up with their idea for the song in the first place.
You will learn the song or piece faster if you already know what to expect.
Knowing what to expect will help you learn the song or piece faster. You can focus on the music instead of trying to figure out what comes next. Think of it like learning phrases of a language or being fluent in it!
Music looks like it sounds, it sounds like it feels, and it feels like it looks.
Music is a language that is written and read in symbols, but it’s also heard, spoken, and felt. Music Theory gives you a framework for understanding how music works, so you can use this knowledge to create your own music or recreate the music of others.
The three main ways you can enjoy music, fit our three basic learning styles.
As a music teacher, I’ve learned that there are three main ways that people learn. These are visual learners, auditory learners, and kinaesthetic learners.
The visual learner loves pictures and diagrams of the theory he or she is learning. They get excited when they see how things fit together visually. This way of learning Music Theory can be very useful for those who want to read music correctly.
The auditory learner prefers to hear something played once or twice before drawing a mental picture of the music in their head. While this person may not know all the details about how something works (like knowing what time signature goes with what key) they will still recognize basic pitch relationships between two notes – whether it’s major/minor chords or thirds within a scale etc.
Finally there’s the kinaesthetic learner who learns best by doing something physically (playing an instrument), rather than just reading the music or listening to it.
Accomplished musicians have a good balance of all three styles. You may have a preference to one style or another but upgrading your skills in each area gives a massive boost to your musical progression. Studying Music Theory helps this massively!
At Presto Music School, we coach you in a way which uses your strengths to support your weaknesses – We help you to use your learning style preferences to make fast, easy progress, then use that exciting, positive progress to make the more challenging areas easy to understand.
For example, if you find new information easy to read first, you’ll enjoy the Music Theory exercises and workshops where we look at written music
However, if you find new subjects easier to learn by listening to the new material, you’ll love the aural (analysing and understanding by listening) sessions which teach you how to understand the theory in your favourite music just by listening to it. You would then learn how that music is written, we’d show you how to play it too – and so all the areas of how Music Theory will help YOUR musical future come together as one.
The sooner you start learning Music Theory, the easier it is, but it is never too late!
The sooner you start, the earlier you will master it, the more you will enjoy and benefit from your progress!
“Your dreams only fail on the day you give up on them” – David A Jones
I hope that this article has helped you see just how important Music Theory is if you’re serious about taking your music further. I know it worked for me, and I love the confidence it has given our students, our teaching team, and myself! If I ever get stuck on something, the analytical skills that we developed will help me to work out the solution. I now know that I can meet any musical challenge with ease! If you would like us to help you to do the same, just click the link below.