Theory lessons

Even though Theory of Music and Aural Test Skills are a separate chapter, all of our teachers have studied it and all can provide excellent tuition for both. At the first sight it might seem unimportant and negligible, but the Theory of Music and Aural Test are the fundamental principles in learning to understand the theory side and musical side of any instrument.


It doesn’t really matter what your particular field of music will ultimately be; music theory and aural skills gives you insight into how all notes and rhythms are put together in a composition. Understanding this opens up doors to your own enjoyment of music as well as your comprehension of something that is mystifying to everyone else. If there is anything a graduate from a music school should know, it is a basic insight into how and why great composers and performers do what they do. This includes everything from rhythm, notes and scales to harmony, voice-leading and form.


This is a side that I think is overlooked in many theory classes. But theory classes was always the most engaging for me when I was asked to be creative. Performance majors practice for several hours every day, so why not allow them the chance to shine in their academic class (and be held as accountable as they would be for their private teachers). Composing in the styles being discussed is perhaps the best way to internalize concepts such as harmony, voice leading, counterpoint, phrase structure and all the other thoroughgoing study of music. Regular composition and performance exercises in theory and aural skills will not only improve understanding, but it may also make the abstract concepts meaningful in a real-world context.


We all can hear music. That is one of the greatest things about the art. But music students must learn how to listen music critically, identify what it is, and be able to speak wisely about it. For me, this is what defines an expert. Of course, there is a wide range of nuances to listen for – should we stop at major and minor scales, or do we work for an aural understanding of Schoenberg’s tone rows… Popular music producers may not need to identify the German sixth chord in the middle of a Beethoven’s Sonata and classical pianists probably won’t need to identify Renaissance instruments, but who are we as educators to limit that knowledge? In any aural skills course, we should be teaching students how to listen and identify the vast majority of what is written on the score and the tools to research that, which is not immediately obvious.


Though this is not specific to music (and admittedly stemming from my own liberal education), I believe we cannot consider music theory apart from the greater academic objectives of higher learning. College students, especially freshmen and sophomores, are struggling to recover from the “monkey see, monkey do” education of high school. In every college course, including music ones, we need to invite students to think beyond the exam and maximize their learning skills. Music theory classes are especially good places to sharpen critical thinking because we have a great deal of information that needs to be processed in a short amount of time when listening or writing about music. Music theory classes can benefit greatly from one or two high-stakes writing assignments that ask students to make strong statements and back them up with evidence. Class discussions will multiply that effect as students will certainly have much to say after putting their thoughts into words.

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