Age Group: 9 Years - Adult
“Why learn music theory? It's boring, it's not creative. I don't need to read music to understand it or play it”, are some of the reasons given by young and old alike as to why they don't learn to read music.
To the uninitiated, music theory is often thought of as being a set of rules that must be obeyed.
This is not the case.
Music theory is a well-organised system of naming and describing music and how it works. Music theory brings meaning to what would otherwise be an anonymous sequence of chords or notes.
Whether a musician plays punk, funk or Paganini, the same names and descriptions apply, and it doesn’t matter if you play the guitar, piano, xylophone or violin.
To a guitarist that is not familiar with music theory, the following two chord progressions may appear to be quite different:
C Am Dm G
Eb Cm Fm Bb
They are both, however, what is known as I VI II V chord progressions. The first in the key of C; the second in the key of Eb. The two progressions are essentially the same thing; just that one is in a higher register than the other. Recognising and thinking of chord progressions in this way has great benefits for musicians for several reasons:
1. Knowing the key of a progression gives the theory-experienced musician a great deal of information about what scales, arpeggios and phrases would work well over the sequence.
2. Having established the key, the theory-experienced musician is then aware of other chords that could be substituted in place of those or in addition to those in the progression.
3. It is easier to remember the progression using the Roman numeral names and the key, eg ‘I VI II V in C’, than the names of the chords themselves.
4. The musician should already know what the progressions will sound like, having built up a familiarity with common sequences such as I VI II V progressions.
Why learn music theory? All of this makes life a lot easier for the guitarist, keyboard player and musician who understands music theory.
The musician that has no knowledge of music theory may not spot that the two progressions are essentially the same thing. They may have to find the right notes to compose or improvise with by trial and error, or stick rigidly to one simple ‘safe’ pentatonic scale.
Although trial and error can and does produce some happy accidents that work well, having to establish the most basic information by this method is unlikely to be an efficient use of time.
Music theory and composing:
In composition too, theory is of great value. If a musician has to compose in a certain style or create a certain mood through music, a familiarity with theory will immediately come to his or her aid. The seven modes of the major scale alone produce seven unique musical flavours that could form the basis of the composition, or at least the starting point.
Does everything have to come from one key?
Not at all. The naming conventions in music theory describe the chords and notes that occur outside the major scale just as meaningfully as the ones that occur within it.
Whether it is the tense III-major chord in Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ or the #iv-diminished chord in the chorus of Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’, music theory provides sensible names and a framework within which to make sense of them.
Musical freedom - learn music theory!Improved musicianship
Another benefit of learning music theory is that it helps musicians break out of their metaphorical boxes. An explicit understanding of how we tend to improvise or compose helps us to find new approaches to freshen up what we do and increase our musical powers.
Finally, the language of music theory also allows musicians to communicate with other musicians in a universal language, regardless of their instrument. This can be crucial either on a gig or in a writing session when information or ideas need to be shared efficiently and clearly.
Our Theory sessions are available from beginner to Grade 5 in preparation for ABRSM Theory Examinations. Students wishing to progress higher than Grade 5 in an instrument or voice will need to achieve Grade 5 Theory as a requirement.