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Why Study Music Theory?

Posted December 7th, 2016  |  By A4A.admin

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CSMA believes that music theory is one of the essential building blocks of a complete music education.

But why is music theory so important?

1) Music Theory is vital to musical understanding.

Music theory is the language of music - think of it like any other foreign language. To become fluent in a new language, you don’t just learn to speak it; you also learn to read, write and eventually to think in that new language. If asked to give a speech in a non-native language, it would be absolutely essential to understand the meaning of the words, their context and how they fit together to form larger sections of speech such as sentences and paragraphs. Without this knowledge it would be nearly impossible to speak with the appropriate terms, inflection and pacing. As a result, your audience would not understand what you’re trying to convey, and it’s likely that your own understanding would also be rather limited.

Studying music theory provides music students with the knowledge necessary to think in the language of music. When you understand music theory, you can comprehend how the individual notes work together to form an entire composition. This, in turn, enables the students to convey the bigger picture of musical meaning more effectively to their audience.

Another amazing result of learning the language of music is that it allows us to communicate much more quickly and effectively with our fellow musicians. For instance, when performing with a group of musicians, one might say “let’s add a bigger ritardando to the end of the coda” or “let’s take it from the modulation.” Theoretical knowledge means that everyone will be on the same page!

2) Theory helps develop critical listening skills.

From shopping malls to concert halls, music is all around us. It is a major part of our everyday lives, but we often don’t give much thought to what we hear. Most of our listening is inactive and superficial. Studying music theory and aural skills teaches students how to listen to music critically, identify its style and form, and be able to speak intelligently about it. Experiences such as attending concerts, recitals, or even listening to the radio will be heightened and forever changed by an increased understanding of the inner workings of music.

3) Theory improves sight reading abilities.

Developing theoretical and aural skills aids a student’s capacity to hear what they see on the page and greatly improves their ability to sight read new music.

Using another language analogy… the process of learning to read music is similar to learning to read any other language. When first learning to read, a child needs to sound out even the simplest of words—often one letter at a time. Over time, students will become more comfortable with words and their context, and grow their ability to read fluently and naturally.

This process is the same when learning music theory. Students start with individual notes, followed by chords, and eventually groups of chords. As students acquire more theoretical knowledge their ability to read—even if they haven’t seen the music before—is made easier by the fact that they will know what to expect.

4) Theory makes memorizing music much easier.

The ability to anticipate what will happen next in music is especially useful for musicians who perform from memory. Often, young people will rely primarily on muscle/motor memory when memorizing pieces. This method can be unreliable, and if the student misses a single note it can ruin an entire performance! Understanding the building blocks of music means that even small errors will not cause a catastrophe -  the performer will know how to get from one chord to the next and, ultimately, one section of music to another. Referred to as “harmonic memory”, this approach is based on knowledge and context. It is a much better way to approach memorization!

5) Theory enhances accuracy and musicality.

Music theory is the study of how composers make music. This includes learning about long-established compositional rules, as well as ways that certain composers have tested the limits of musical possibility. By understanding these rules, and the stylistic and historical periods from which they emerged, musicians will be more knowledgeable as they learn new repertoire. This leads to a deeper understanding of the music, as well as increased musicality in their playing and performance.

Tags: music-school