How to Teach Music Theory Fundamentals

Six Methods:Let your student understand what is being studiedPick an instrumentDecide what syllabus you are going to followChoose your topics wiselyCome up with friendly analogiesDon't skip

Studying music on an instrument is one approach to music, while studying music theory is another. It's like buying a new car – you could read the manual and drive it in a day, or you could learn the mechanics of the car and develop a much deeper understanding of everything that happens when you turn that key.

This article explores some of the ways that you might like to consider teaching music theory fundamentals to your student.

Method 1
Let your student understand what is being studied

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    In order to be good at music theory, the learner needs to understand why she or he is learning it. Talk to your student about these reasons so that it becomes clearer and is more likely to sink in. If your student is not convinced, he or she may quit half-way through. A good grasp of the reasoning always removes half the problems behind effective learning.
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    Let your student know that learning music theory might be difficult, but that it certainly won't be boring. The learner needs to know that music theory requires a good deal of commitment, and isn't as yielding a study as is the learning process for playing an instrument.

Method 2
Pick an instrument

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    If the student does not already play an instrument, teaching the basics of an instrument and how to play it will encourage the learner to apply what has been learned. In this way, the student can understand music theory more fully. Doing so without an instrument can prove boring, unfruitful, and sometimes even pointless. The practical side often brings to life the reasons you've already highlighted above.
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    Select an instrument that isn't too complicated and that is generally acceptable and useful. The piano or the guitar can be the best choices for this, since they are versatile instruments and offer a broad range of sounds. Additionally, the layout of the keyboard (on the piano) and the fretboard (on the guitar) facilitate visualizing chords and scales while the student practices.

Method 3
Decide what syllabus you are going to follow

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    Buy a book with a friendly music theory syllabus. Make sure it exemplifies through the same instrument you'll be teaching by. Having this kind of guide will help you a lot in keeping things organized in your lessons and in your own head.
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    Decide how much content you'll teach in each lesson. You can also try splitting the lesson into two parts, the first for theory and the second for applying the theory on the instrument. Doing it in this manner will give your student a stronger and deeper understanding of the fundamentals, which will help a lot with the overall music studies.

Method 4
Choose your topics wisely

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    If you're teaching your student an instrument and would like him or her to know only a little theory in order to enhance the performance, then you only need to teach your pupil the fundamentals. In that case, make sure you pick the most relevant topics.
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    Start with the basics of rhythm and tempo. Then move on to time values, pitch, scales, time signature and so on. You don't need to explain complicated things like cadences or modes at this stage. Keep it as light and simple as possible. The deeper learning will come later when the student is more personally motivated and self-directed in the learning.

Method 5
Come up with friendly analogies

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    There's always some way to make things a bit more interesting. Try thinking of time signatures as bags of oranges or explaining time values in terms of soldiers marching along behind a band. Be as creative as possible. This will keep your student alert and interested.

Method 6
Don't skip

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    Avoid jumping from one topic to another. If you're going to start a topic, explain it till the end. Music theory can seem vast and confusing; even the most diverse topics are somehow interrelated.
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    Instead, introduce topics one at a time. Explain why and how they may be relevant and give lots of examples.


  • Try looking up some music schools and see what they teach. For an example, the Royal School of England or Trinity Guildhall College give excellent courses in almost every instrument. Try checking out their music theory grade book, these are specially designed for students who take music seriously.
  • Assign your student homework to do. Even if it's just simple, self-made exercises, it'll keep his brain working.
  • Try to constantly motivate your student. Music theory can be very exhausting and confusing.
  • See if your student is interested in being examined. Colleges like the ones above host examinations in countries all over the world. Examinations will help your student stay focused and keep his or her skills proven and academic.

Things You'll Need

  • Music theory guide
  • Relevant instrument

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