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#960662 - 09/26/08 11:57 PM How do you teach theory?
lana_lang Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/14/07
Posts: 45
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
I've been using worksheets and flashcards to teach theory, mostly. But I know that there must be other ways of doing it. Some students see worksheets the same way they see schoolwork... they hate it.

I often use the pieces that the student is learning to point out chords and their inversions, things like that. But there needs to be more to theory instruction than that, right? Is there a way to do this without worksheets?

What have some of you done to teach theory? I need ideas:)
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#960663 - 09/27/08 12:24 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
I have no answers, just countless questions of my own.

Years ago, when I was getting my undergraduate degree in piano performance at Florida State University, I remember hearing a senior performing the Chopin Op. 10 No. 4 Etude so well, I could only turn gree with envy.

I later found out that he flunked all his theory classes. In fact—and this is true—he once drew pictures in a theory class instead of completing a test. When asked why, he said, "But Dr. ___, I just don't understand any of that, so I just drew pretty pictures."

This is an extreme case, but it's not the first time I've met performers who know nothing or almost nothing about theory. Since it's so important to me, it always amazes me.

On the other hand, haven't we all met people who seem to know every rule ever devised but who can't play anything well, who don't compose or arrange, who don't do anything with music?

I think here we are talking about two extremes.

I know other teachers in this forum stress theory much more than I do. I find it ironic that people assume I don't stress it more because I don't understand it, when in fact it's a very strong area for me.

I suppose I approach the teaching of theory with these two above extremes in mind. On the one hand, I shudder at the thought of spending any time with workbooks or any kind of theory that is—well—"theoretical", when I'm not sure my students are actually using it. This reminds me of learning the grammar of a language before being able to speak it or use it (including writing). Furthermore, there *are* excellent writers who have know almost nothing about grammatical rules. These are writers who just go by feel.

On the other hand, even if some of us can read and write our native languages without knowledge of grammar, I think we run into a huge wall if we attempt to learn other languages, as adults. (Kids are a different matter. They can learn 10 languages as easily as one and will use them all very well if they are exposed to adults who use them well.)

So I think theory is like this. I always err on the side of waiting until my students gain practical playing experience first, then analyzing later.

(And I don't claim that this is correct. It just feels more comfortable for me.)

The perfect solution would be to always introduce theory at the perfect time, when it is not separated from other skills, at the first point it can be put to use.

Here is another point, again no answer, just more questions: I remember hearing Peter Nero's recording of "Scratch My Bach" and thinking it was a cool composition. So I listened to it, then wrote it out. I had no formal knowledge of theory at that time. So for me, I'm not sure if the theory courses I took later (and found both easy and logical) really helped me a lot, or if they just gave me labels for things I already knew how to do.

Oh, yet another question: what's the best way to teach a diminished chord? To me it is just a four note chord, where one of the four notes is often left out. It's simple to hear, simple to recognize. But my God, we can spend from now until the end of time trying to explain exactly why different composers used different spellings.

Do we use the dimished 7th model, which starts with a 7 chord and then lowers all notes but the root? Or do we use a more mathematical approach, showing how a diminshed chord divides and octave equally and can be spelled almost any way, depending on context?

And maybe my biggest question of all: how do we simplify our answers without making our answers almost totally useless, in the long run, because they don't really describe what composers DO in practical solutions?

To be honest, because hearing music and understand the structure of music are two things that seemed effortless to learn (and I really made no effort to learn either), I find them most frustrating to teach.
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#960664 - 09/27/08 12:34 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
 Quote:
Originally posted by Gary D.:
Oh, yet another question: what's the best way to teach a diminished chord?[/b]
That's nothing. What about half-diminished chords? Now there's a nightmare.

As far as teaching theory, much of it needs to be understood to successfully bring out a composer's intentions. It should be taught as part of interpretation.
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#960665 - 09/27/08 01:59 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
That's nothing. What about half-diminished chords? Now there's a nightmare.
Same problem really. \:\)
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#960666 - 09/27/08 02:26 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
Although I was able to perform well, as a major in piano performance, I was never instructed in theory until college. Because of the way theory was approached in college, I hated it.

When I left college I started lessons with a private pedagogue/teacher and learned theory with her, the stuff I was never instructed in. It was wonderful, it was applied, and I soaked it up like a sponge.

It all made complete sense which helped me much in my playing and knowledge of what I was playing.

Now as a teacher, I teach thory in an applied fashion *after* the concept is learned on the piano. This continues from the first year of piano until the student becomes 9 years of age and is starting to study scales. They then continue with their applied theory but I also supplement Theory Time workbooks to their weekly assignments.

These written assignments back up their applied theory instruction.
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#960667 - 09/27/08 02:40 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5422
Loc: Orange County, CA
 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
 Quote:
Originally posted by Gary D.:
Oh, yet another question: what's the best way to teach a diminished chord?[/b]
That's nothing. What about half-diminished chords? Now there's a nightmare.

As far as teaching theory, much of it needs to be understood to successfully bring out a composer's intentions. It should be taught as part of interpretation. [/b]
You're not serious, right???

Just count half steps. Line up the notes L-L-L-L or S-S-S-S, then start counting half steps from the bottom note.

3-3-3 gives you fully diminished seventh
3-3-4 gives you half diminished seventh
4-3-3 gives you dominant seventh
4-3-4 gives you major seventh
3-4-3 gives you minor seventh

It's not rocket science.
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Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#960668 - 09/27/08 02:50 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5422
Loc: Orange County, CA
 Quote:
Originally posted by lana_lang:
I've been using worksheets and flashcards to teach theory, mostly. But I know that there must be other ways of doing it. Some students see worksheets the same way they see schoolwork... they hate it.

I often use the pieces that the student is learning to point out chords and their inversions, things like that. But there needs to be more to theory instruction than that, right? Is there a way to do this without worksheets?

What have some of you done to teach theory? I need ideas:) [/b]
Lana:

Make your students do CM. Just tell them that "everybody" takes CM. Get one of those theory books (Julie Johnson, Snell/Ashleigh, O'Dell, etc.) and make your students do them. Of course theory is not "fun." It's serious work like any other school subject.

But the important thing is to draw the connection between theory and the pieces your students are playing. When they see the connection, theory is much more meaningful.

You must always tell students _why_ they need to learn certain things. It's not good enough to say "It's in the syllabus, so learn it" or "It's on the test, so learn it." I never understood why there's such thing as a half cadence. I just memorized it for the test. Then when I started teaching and got a better grasp of the material, I realized why there is the half cadence, so now I point it out for my students who are learning half cadences.

Of course, your students need to be playing sufficiently difficult pieces to be able to discuss more advanced concepts in music theory (e.g., augmented 6th chords are found all over Mozart and Beethoven sonatas, but pretty much nothing simpler).

If your students just want to "have fun," then perhaps theory isn't for them. It doesn't mean they won't turn out to be good players. They'll just become performers who rely on intuition/instinct rather than being able to analyze a piece music and explain why certain artistic choices were made by the composer.
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#960669 - 09/27/08 03:06 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
ANZ, their functionality is pretty much rocket science. Ask any rocket scientist - they have a couple in the piano forum.
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#960670 - 09/27/08 03:15 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5422
Loc: Orange County, CA
 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
ANZ, their functionality is pretty much rocket science. Ask any rocket scientist - they have a couple in the piano forum. [/b]
Yeah, I saw your post on the other thread.

Unfortunately, my theory teachers in college were dim-wit "visiting" professors. All I can do is to identify the 7th chords. I can't even begin to have an intelligent discussion about their "functionality." Would it amount to mostly opinions rather than concrete facts and examples?

In retrospect, I don't think any of the music teachers I've ever had were good at music theory. Everything I know right now is pretty much self-taught from reading textbooks and workbooks.
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#960671 - 09/27/08 03:21 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Years ago I had a 'jazz' friend. I used to help him a lot with his harmony and we'd have these weird discussions about chords. Luckily I had learned from good teachers in college so I was very helpful to him. A fly on the wall there would have been zonked out of its head!
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#960672 - 09/27/08 06:14 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2846
Loc: UK.
I think this is going to be interesting. I am out of town this weekend and won't be able to get to a PC which is annoying!

It is a difficult question to answer because we all seem to have different views of what exactly music theory is.

One definition might be understanding the way that music is written down, all the terms and signs etc. In other words what you might call the rudiments of music theory. Is that what you mean Lana?

Others will think of theory as the way things are applied in a piece of music. This is why there has been some confusion over the diminished 7th chords. AZN was thinking about how to work out the chord but KBK was thinking about their functionality.

For me, there has to be a natural progression. You need to understand the rudiments before you can investigate how and why they are applied and manipulated.

I like to teach it in a practical way. That doesn't mean necessarily teaching it through the keyboard. In fact I really don't like that as it can lead to all kinds of misunderstanding. For example, people end up thinking that sharps and flats are black notes etc. I teach theory (although we don't call it that) to groups of young kids through practical activities which involve all the senses. They need to experience it in a musical way. Worksheets might be used to consolidate things afterwards but you have to make it interesting and relevant in the first place.
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#960673 - 09/27/08 06:34 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
A student asked me about the CM prelude in WTC I last week. It is a lesson in functional harmony. If you know a little about chord functions, you'll hear that every 2 bars are V - I (apart from bar 7 which may be a IV chord). You need this knowledge to perform it or the dynamics come out wrong. You also learn that there are really only two chords or, as my 'jazz' friend might argue, only one (or as Hugo Riemann would argue, only 3).
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#960674 - 09/27/08 08:14 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11574
Loc: Canada
Kbk, you have stated before that certain theoretical knowledge is needed for certain things, and without this knowledge it is impossible to play correctly. But must this knowledge necessarily be intellectual and consciously acquired in studies in all cases? Can it not also be absorbed on an unconscious level and find its way into playing? (Not to replace the study of theory, but to use as well.) Also, while we have the rules about cadences, which resolve tensions, these cadences and chord progressions came about through the essence of sound, psychological response to sound - the item exists separately from the theory that seeks to describe it and harness it, or? Thus, when you hear the progression of notes of cadences and similar, you can feel the tension and resolution in the progression of sounds, and that will lead you to get that phrasing and those dynamics which are needed, will it not to some degree?

I am thinking of pieces I played a particular way, and then learning theory. Once I learned theory I understood why I had played them that way. Things that were just "a feeling" now had a reason and a name. Being consciously aware, one can start to really work with them and bring out the language of the piece so to say. I am far from being against theory.

Can the opposite also be true? Can a person learn all the facts in theory but never manage to apply them to real music, with an absolute segregation of the two?

Lana Lang, I learned via the Barbara Wharram book which is the bible of the RCM and presents rudiments at three consecutive levels. I am teaching along its curriculum to one volunteer student in a formal manner. I would want to create my own exercises (I do so) that are more practical and direct before launching into the workbook, and I would want actual musical experience to precede the theoretical knowledge, and then go back and forth. I also assign a lot of listening to be done at any casual "non study" time - car horns down the street, find elements being studied in music you are listening to or playing. This listening is becoming a habit with my student, who will PM me with tidbits of discover. Did you know that the shofar usually plays P5. My student is discovering that complicated seeming music is actually made up of simpler things which are already becoming familiar, and she finds that exciting.

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#960675 - 09/27/08 09:25 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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Registered: 05/21/07
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Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Yes, If I may paraphrase you, theory is just the accumulation of wisdom. And yes, you can have accumulated much and still be a fool.
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#960676 - 09/27/08 09:54 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Offline
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Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11574
Loc: Canada
I suspect that the paraphrase does not completely reflect what I have tried to say. I think what I'm getting at is that theory and live music are two sides of the same coin. A cadence is the conscious application of a phenomenon that exists within the structure of tonic music which in turn works with the physical structure of sound and our response. That response may be a natural one. Theory codifies it, and allows us to do more with music since the structure is there in our face.

You seem to be saying that one cannot play certain pieces properly unless one has head knowledge of theory. I may have misunderstood. But I am aware of having been able to sense things such as these interplays of I's, V's and whatnots, and adjusting my playing toward that. Though I did not have the formal knowledge, I did sense it at another level. So I suspect that it's not strictly true that a person cannot do justice to certain pieces without the formal study of theory. It may be true that they need to understand or sense this structure at some level, and also apply what they understand or sense. Is that possible?

My further thought is that formal study is useless if it cannot also be applied to music, i.e. if the connection is not seen and felt beyond abstract intellectualism. Thoughts?

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#960677 - 09/27/08 10:01 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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'these interplays of I's, V's and whatnots' is called composing. Without the knowledge of how they 'interplay' you can't play Bach. You'd probably be OK with the 19th century repertoire.
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#960678 - 09/27/08 10:26 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11574
Loc: Canada
Is it possible to see a copy of the piece so that I can understand what you are saying by actual example? Of course it is composing, and I study theory. However, there was a time when I had no knowledge of theory, but discovered that I had been aware of some of the structures behind compositions and responding to them appropriately in my playing. But it may not be true for everything so I'd be interested in looking at the piece in question in order to understand better what you have written.

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#960679 - 09/27/08 10:29 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
All of Bach's works are free to download from: http://einam.com/bach/
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snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#960680 - 09/27/08 10:34 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11574
Loc: Canada
Thank you.

Um, would WTC I be the same as the ClavierwerkeI they post (Clavierwerke III is labeled WTC III)?

KS

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#960681 - 09/27/08 10:46 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
There's no WTC III.
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#960682 - 09/27/08 11:50 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11574
Loc: Canada
Whatever it was, it was the only WTC I saw mentioned. Now the site doesn't open at all. There is just some pretty wallpaper and golden words with a title if I click on your link. nm.

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#960683 - 09/27/08 12:00 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Have you tried switching your computer off and back on again?
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#960684 - 09/27/08 01:00 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
 Quote:
Originally posted by Chris H.:
Others will think of theory as the way things are applied in a piece of music. This is why there has been some confusion over the diminished 7th chords. AZN was thinking about how to work out the chord but KBK was thinking about their functionality.
If you aren't talking about their functionality, it's all useless. Just memorized information with no real application and no connection to music. That's my objection to "theory", as I usually see it taught.

For instance, *why* did a diminished chord come to be associated with a 7 chord, as if it can only exist as an alteration of another chord. In other words, how did we end up with the C-Eb-Gb-Bbb spelling as the only suggested spelling?

Because once we accept C-Eb-Gb-A, getting rid of the double flat, it leaves the door wide-open for at least:

C-D#-F#-A

And that's only a start.

Also, functionality begins a huge discussion about the so called "German 6th chord", as in:

C-E-G-A# to B-E-G#-B
 Quote:

For me, there has to be a natural progression. You need to understand the rudiments before you can investigate how and why they are applied and manipulated.
That's what I was trying to say.
 Quote:

Worksheets might be used to consolidate things afterwards but you have to make it interesting and relevant in the first place.
The relevance, I think, is the key, which is why I talked about "musical vocabulary".
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#960685 - 09/27/08 02:18 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
'these interplays of I's, V's and whatnots' is called composing.
No. It's a way of analysing music.
 Quote:

Without the knowledge of how they 'interplay' you can't play Bach.
I disagree. Analysis makes playing Bach easier, for the most part. But you are going too far.
 Quote:

You'd probably be OK with the 19th century repertoire.
That's an odd statement. If anything, I'd say structural analysis is equally iportant there.
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Piano Teacher

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#960686 - 09/27/08 02:45 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Gary, Bach is teaching composition - therefore it's better to approach him from that direction. KS would have more luck playing the 19th century rep without theoretical knowledge as opposed to Bach. Bach expected informed performers.
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#960687 - 09/27/08 03:27 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11574
Loc: Canada
It is not about how I, personally, might play music or learn music. I have already explained my observation. I don't need to be persuaded of the importance of theory since I'm studying it.

I do know that theory is a two-way street, where the intellectual can precede the practical, or the practical can be used as an experience which the intellectual will then explain. At the end the two march hand in hand.

I would have loved to explore that particular piece in view of what you wrote. Unfortunately your link gives me an error message on the bottom, and even when I did get a bit further in there seemed to be nothing by that name.

KS

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#960688 - 09/27/08 03:41 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
I would make the same point about Chopin's Em Prelude, which can be used as a study of how to alter chords, one note at a time. It's a great study in chromaticism.

If your preference is to concentrate on composition using only Bach or mostly Bach (which certainly would be a valid approach), then obviously this is fine.

I reached Bach *through* the Romantics, which is just a differnt path.
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#960689 - 09/27/08 03:44 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
 Quote:
But I am aware of having been able to sense things such as these interplays of I's, V's and whatnots, and adjusting my playing toward that. Though I did not have the formal knowledge, I did sense it at another level.
I assumed from this you were talking about your own experience, KS. There are plenty of other sites with WTC I to download.
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snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#960690 - 09/27/08 03:54 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
 Quote:
Originally posted by Gary D.:
I would make the same point about Chopin's Em Prelude, which can be used as a study of how to alter chords, one note at a time. It's a great study in chromaticism.

If your preference is to concentrate on composition using only Bach or mostly Bach (which certainly would a valid approach), then obviously this is fine.
[/b]
My point is you don't need to understand Chopin's harmony for a successful performance. You do with Bach. Bach, to a great extent, was a musical scientist.
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snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
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#960691 - 09/27/08 03:55 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
bukopaudan Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/03/06
Posts: 506
Loc: USA
My teacher gives us theory assignments. I find the work to be very interesting, but it is tedious. I don't "hate" it, but sometimes I'd rather not do it. We apply theory during our lessons, when she tells me about certain things--chromatic scales, tonics, etc, but then with the theory workbooks and texts that I use, it reinforces them at home. (She uses the ABRSM Theory Practice text and workbooks with me, while with my younger brother, she uses the Foundation of Theory workbooks, I believe.)

Even if I do "hate" theory, or find it boring, I believe that it is every student's responsibility to learn it. Without theory, you never understand the whole picture that the composer is trying to paint for you. What is Bach without knowing what trills and mordents and key signatures are? What is Chopin without knowing about phrasing and timing?

Theory is imperative. \:\)
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"Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable." -Leonard Bernstein

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Max Online: 15252 @ 03/21/10 11:39 PM
New Topics - Multiple Forums
Help with dynamics
by noobpianist90
07/30/14 03:53 AM
Using Kawai MP6 faders/knobs with virtual instruments?
by chicolom
07/30/14 02:35 AM
Coming up with new compositional methods.
by gsmonks
07/30/14 01:58 AM
Impromptu in A
by Ritzycat
07/30/14 12:42 AM
what do you think piano teachers about it?
by Maximillyan
07/30/14 12:15 AM
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