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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. Online   content
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4726
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
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 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. Online   content
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4726
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
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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: 5399
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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#960668 - 09/27/08 02:50 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5399
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
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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
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Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5399
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
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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: 2844
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
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Registered: 05/21/07
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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 Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11513
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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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 Online   content
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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 Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
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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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All of Bach's works are free to download from: http://einam.com/bach/
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#960680 - 09/27/08 10:34 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
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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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There's no WTC III.
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#960682 - 09/27/08 11:50 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
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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
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Registered: 05/21/07
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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. Online   content
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4726
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. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4726
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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#960686 - 09/27/08 02:45 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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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 Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
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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. Online   content
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4726
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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 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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#960690 - 09/27/08 03:54 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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 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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#960691 - 09/27/08 03:55 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
bukopaudan Offline
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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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#960692 - 09/27/08 04:29 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
lana_lang Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/14/07
Posts: 45
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
 Quote:
Originally posted by Chris H.:
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.[/b]
To answer your question, Chris, my purpose in teaching theory is more like the latter definition. I want my students to be able to recognize the chords and structure in music so they can become good sightreaders and improvisors. I want them to see music as a "language" so it can be applied to anything they pursue, whether it's piano, violin, singing, etc.

I love it when a student gets a new piece of music and starts seeing what it is made of. The building blocks, if you will. It makes them feel much less intimidated when they are familiar with them.
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#960693 - 09/27/08 04:40 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
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 Quote:
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.
But can some of that harmony also be understood at a subconscious level or visceral or instinctive level, given the nature of harmony? And turned around, is it possible that someone who has turned off all feeling of music will not perform Bach as he was meant to be played, even though he has this intellectual understanding?

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#960694 - 09/27/08 05:11 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
pianoexcellence Offline
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 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
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. [/QB]
You absolutely do need harmonic understanding to play Bach. Anytime somebody says "Bach is boring", they are listening to a performer who is not harmonically or structurally aware.

I see what you are saying about Chopin, in that his harmony (in many cases) is easily accessible to the ear and intuitive, as to meaning and tone. But Harmonic knowledge is just so important even in romantic era music because so many important things can slip under the radar. Even simple things like a deceptive cadence (Chopin's b- prelude), or insistent appogiaturas (Brahms' 118-2), may fall through the cracks if one does not perform a complete harmonic analysis of every single note in the performance.

Historically significant harmonic gestures like Modal mixture\alteration can be invoked more prominently by performers.

It is so much more inspiring to understand every single note in the composition than to just say "that sounds cool"
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#960695 - 09/27/08 05:14 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
pianoexcellence Offline
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I should also mention that the act of analyzing each note in a performance is also an art in that one often sees what they are looking for...Two artists will name a harmony two different ways, and there may be disagreement on which chord is used as a pivot into the next key.

All of these varied interpretations will change the final performance.
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#960696 - 09/27/08 05:17 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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KS, tension and release are visceral. You're welcome to approach Bach as a 'naive'. It's not what he's about though. Bach, in his time, was as high as culture gets.
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#960697 - 09/27/08 05:20 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
pianoexcellence Offline
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 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
But can some of that harmony also be understood at a subconscious level or visceral or instinctive level, given the nature of harmony? And turned around, is it possible that someone who has turned off all feeling of music will not perform Bach as he was meant to be played, even though he has this intellectual understanding?
Sure...But what are you saying?

Music has aspects of academy and artistry. If you are turning off all feeling of music then you have greater problems as a performer.
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#960698 - 09/27/08 05:38 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
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Jeremy, kbk had written that one cannot play Bach at all if one has not studied theory formally. I certainly intend to study theory, am in the process, and can see how it helps in interpreting and understanding music. But I wondered about the absolute nature of this statement. In particular I wondered about my own experience. Before I studied theory I was led to play music a certain way, and later I discovered that I had been sensitive to the compositional structures of music and so in a sense had some internalized "sense of theory". My playing would have obeyed at least some of the rules of theory, but it was not intellectualy acquired at that point. It seemed possibly that the absolute "not at all" part of playing Bach without having book-learned theory might not always be the case. One can be sensitive to the structures of music - that is not the same as "playing with feeling" - and bring that into one's playing. One can do a lot more when one has the actual theoretical knowledge. There is so much more clarity.

It was supposed to be a small question, which has somehow managed to take on a life of its own. I didn't mean to hijack the thread.

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#960699 - 09/27/08 05:48 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
pianoexcellence Offline
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 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
Jeremy, kbk had written that one cannot play Bach at all if one has not studied theory formally. I certainly intend to study theory, am in the process, and can see how it helps in interpreting and understanding music. But I wondered about the absolute nature of this statement. In particular I wondered about my own experience. Before I studied theory I was led to play music a certain way, and later I discovered that I had been sensitive to the compositional structures of music and so in a sense had some internalized "sense of theory". My playing would have obeyed at least some of the rules of theory, but it was not intellectualy acquired at that point. It seemed possibly that the absolute "not at all" part of playing Bach without having book-learned theory might not always be the case. One can be sensitive to the structures of music - that is not the same as "playing with feeling" - and bring that into one's playing. One can do a lot more when one has the actual theoretical knowledge. There is so much more clarity.

It was supposed to be a small question, which has somehow managed to take on a life of its own. I didn't mean to hijack the thread. [/b]
There is a huge difference between playing with feeling and playing with expression.

One of them involves the intellectual and technical components as well as artistry.

P.S. I do see what you were saying then.
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#960700 - 09/27/08 05:51 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
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And I follow what you are saying about feeling vs. expression. It's good to see it in words. \:\)

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#960701 - 09/27/08 07:59 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
currawong Offline
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A bit late to the discussion, but you can find WTC books I and II here . (Scroll down and look under "W" \:\) )
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#960702 - 09/27/08 08:39 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Online   content
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Found it, Currawong - thanks. Would it make sense to listen to the right person playing it in order to understand this from that angle? If so, who?

Sorry for the digression (is it one?)

KS

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#960703 - 09/27/08 10:24 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
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 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
Found it, Currawong - thanks. Would it make sense to listen to the right person playing it in order to understand this from that angle? If so, who?
[/b]
keyboardklutz perhaps \:D
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#960704 - 09/27/08 10:50 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Gary D. Online   content
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 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
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.
I agree that a great deal of study is necessary to play Bach well. I think you are over-emphasizing "harmony", though that may just be a poor choice of words.

If you talked about the study of ornamentation, there I would agree with you in a heartbeat.

And there is also the huge matter of almost no performance indications, which is the thing I love most about Bach. He expected the people who played his music to be excellent musicians, capable of making intelligent decisions.
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#960705 - 09/27/08 10:58 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
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 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoexcellence:
But Harmonic knowledge is just so important even in romantic era music because so many important things can slip under the radar.
Excellent point.
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#960706 - 09/28/08 01:32 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
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 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
Jeremy, kbk had written that one cannot play Bach at all if one has not studied theory formally. [/b]
You'll have to point out to me where the "...at all" comes from or the "formally". As stated in my last post, you're free to approach him naively.
 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
Found it, Currawong - thanks. Would it make sense to listen to the right person playing it in order to understand this from that angle? If so, who? [/b]
I could spell that out for you.
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#960707 - 09/28/08 01:50 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
Jelena Offline
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Getting late here, but wanted to post a quick suggestion. I teach theory to all of my private students. It's an integral part of every lesson - in sight reading, analysis, technique ... and it can be fun!

I am surprised that there was no mention of the Internet, nor other computer-related resources for teaching theory. My students, "little" and "big" ones alike, as well as adults are all very well heeled in theory. And they all love web and/or computer based support activities.

For the kids, Music Ace Deluxe is invaluable! They love to do it, it's like a game, and parents report that they spend an hour easily playing with it - some bring laptop to the piano and compare, try to imitate the game on the piano. Before you can say "an ashtray on a motorcycle" they improve their reading and performing skills incredibly. Transitioning from there into a more involved and deeper theory is a breeze and by then they LOVE it! And they love it because they feel empowered - the sense of accomplishment is a great motivator!

On the web:
www.musictheory.net - it can also be downloaded so you don't have to be on the Internet, and
www.teoria.com

Adults love both sites. I like them both, although they are somewhat different in functionality.

I also use them in the Advanced Theory group class I teach at the ASU Piano Prep/Conservatory Program (http://music.asu.edu/community/pianoprep/). I alternate classes in the group piano room and in the media room in the library. Kids love it!

As for other materials, I stick to the RCMT/NMCP program and books. They are the foundation, and the electronic resources are the enrichment part.

OK, really late now. Hope this gave you some new ideas. Good night musical folks! \:\) \:\)
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#960708 - 09/28/08 05:30 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
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 Quote:
You'll have to point out to me where the "...at all" comes from or the "formally". As stated in my last post, you're free to approach him naively.
In the part of your post which you have now deleted, there was something like "impossible" or "cannot". That seemed absolute, and it is the part that I sought to understand better. It is a matter of placing one's own experiences and gaining new perspectives.

Kbk, perhaps you are accustomed to argument from students. But that is not my purpose. I seek clarification if I'm not sure I understand something because I'm trying to learn and expand beyond what I know. You have a tendency to be terse so that your posts can resemble a Rubric's cube - of interest once the pieces are reassembled.

I do believe I understand what you are saying from some simpler things that I studied. There I could hear when people included these elements in their interpretation, and how empty if not included, even when the latter was played correctly and even dynamically otherwise.

My example is from something I know. It doesn't address what you wrote, which is still unfamiliar to me. But I have seen how theoretical knowledge will add to the interpretation of a piece and substantially improve it.

This is definitely a hijacking of this thread so I'll stop my part in this particular side story. It does highlight the importance of theory beyond the simplest most necessary things.

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#960709 - 09/28/08 05:35 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
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 Quote:
I could spell that out for you.
If it wouldn't be too much trouble. \:\)

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#960710 - 09/28/08 05:39 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Online   content
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Jelena, thank you so much for those links. They are invaluable. I was not aware of teoria before. \:\)

KS

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#960711 - 09/28/08 05:59 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
You'll have to point out to me where the "...at all" comes from or the "formally". As stated in my last post, you're free to approach him naively.
In the part of your post which you have now deleted, there was something like "impossible" or "cannot". [/b]
I have edited ONE post in this thread - to add Hugo Riemann's name. Please do not put words into my posts!
 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:

 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
Found it, Currawong - thanks. Would it make sense to listen to the right person playing it in order to understand this from that angle? If so, who? [/b]
I could spell that out for you.
 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
If it wouldn't be too much trouble. \:\)
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#960712 - 09/28/08 06:40 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:

Kbk, perhaps you are accustomed to argument from students. [/b]
That would make me a pretty poor teacher - I take it that's what you intimate?
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#960713 - 09/28/08 07:39 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Online   content
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 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:

Kbk, perhaps you are accustomed to argument from students. [/b]
That would make me a pretty poor teacher - I take it that's what you intimate? [/b]
Actually I think that you care very much about what you teach. Sometimes I don't know what to make of your responses to PW queries and it feels as though you are seeing argument - mostly I'm confused, often quite literally. Essentially I was trying to stress that my questions were not argumentative, but a sincere attempt to understand.

Student obstinacy can have nothing to do with the quality of a teacher. I taught in a public school that required a full time psychologist on staff, though he was meant to rotate among five schools originally. You mentioned once that at your school, teaching was described as pushing sh* up a hill, so I extrapolated that your situation might be similar to my old school. I did not mean to imply anything about your teaching ability, and if it came across that way, please accept my apologies.

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#960714 - 09/28/08 07:54 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
Betty Patnude Offline
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Where Jelena left off late at night....I am posting at what is early in the morning...4:31 AM. It's ironic that I am going to start a topic called "Sleep" after I'm done here.

To give an idea of how to teach theory:
I try to make sure everything we learned continues to be connected to another thing.

Ex: When you have learned (12) 5 Finger Positions, you can teach root chords, then arpeggios (short/long)from the same information.

When you know 5 Finger Positions, you can teach intervals 1-5 easily, then add 6th, 7th, 8th, by separating the 1st and 2nd fingers (RH) away from each other, by one more note at a time (expansion).

Ex:
C D E F G (A B C) (alphabet name)
1 2 3 4 5 (6 7 8) (degree of scale name)

C E F G A (span of a 6th) (Drops D)
1 2 3 4 5

C F G A B (span of a 7th) (Drops D E)
1 2 3 4 5

C G A B C (span of an 8th)(Drops D E F)
1 2 3 4 5

I teach this like a Hanon exercise (the LH is creating the expansion at 5 and 4. It's kind of fun, and the student creates their own exercise. (It is not written, it is demonstrated, discussed, and then played by the student.)

C D E F G F E D,C E F G A G F E, C F G A B A G F, C G A B C.

To create another Hanon type exercise after #1 in a similar way (Use hands together - parallel motion. (The expansions are 5th and 6ths only).

C D E F G F E D, C E F G A G F E
D E F G A G F E, D F E G A G
E F G A B A G F, E G A B C B A G
F G A B C B A G, F A B C D C B A G
G etc.
A etc.
B etc.
C etc.

Hanon is good for audiation awareness, predicting the sound of the interval expected.

A giveaway is the fingering and pattern in the first measure!

Students as young as 7 can do some of the Hanons, and if they can do it from their own calculations, they go "Whoa!" about their discovery!

Learning how to analyze the content of a piece of music, can start this early. There is always something that can be said about each piece to show it's structure.

It can begin with a simple question looking at the page of music, before the hands touch the keyboard (visual perceptions): "What do you notice about this piece?"

Have fun!

Betty

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#960715 - 09/29/08 09:44 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
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ChrisH rightly points out our vague definitions of theory.

As piano teachers we all see it so variously as:

1. What we all come to teach at piano lessons
2. A distant understanding of the role of the diminished 7th chord
3. A necessary "accumulation of wisdom" to play Bach
4. Blind belief that "Theory is Imperative" ... no matter what!
5. "The building blocks, if you will"
6. Harmonizing analysis (not forgetting the deceptive cadence)
7. Music Ace Deluxe game
8. The roles of I, IV and V etc..

But after the theory dust has settled:

a) there is still no clarity as to what the heck is potting
b) none of the piano teachers likes the subject of theory ... or expresses the vaguest confidence in discovering anything of substance in further study.
c) Most (both teachers and pupils) "hate" theory
d) After 1.5 years as novice piano teacher, the author of the thread must be blown away (discombobulated) by the seeming wacky takes of peers.

The anomaly of top student performers (without a clue of theory) and musicologist-bummers who couldn’t play the piano for toffee adds focus
to the rot attached to the vaguest understanding of theory.

It would appear that the legacy of JJ Fux (curse his eyeballs) has much to do with the misleading conclusions on harmonies still with us ... the
arid do’s and don’ts dripping from today’s books on Harmony bear testimony.

Nobody who masters the so called "rules" ever composed a quality piece of music ... but then rules are ropey ... the dreary compilation of dusty musicologist hacks.

What then is theory if it isn’t all the basics which piano teachers put over at their piano lessons? ... including all that gas about triads, arpeggios, grace notes ... the bleeding lot.

IMHO Theory is an appreciation (through analysis) of the balanced structure of music ... an awareness of acoustic harmonies goes without
saying ... but it is the articulation of the note patterns (the placing of these shapes on the canvas) which sorts out the men from the boys.

The great Masters obviously pave the way ... but if anybody puts a finger on the potted formula of Bach or Mozart genius ... please tell us ...
it’ll save trudging through another jumped-up book on theory.

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#960716 - 09/30/08 08:06 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
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I use various theory books, and the book I use depends on the age and intellectual maturity of the student. With most students I take 10-15 minutes at the start or middle of a lesson (depends on the student) to do theory (sometimes using flashcards, sometimes the computer, sometimes written exercises, again depending on the student). There are three books that I essentially use: Mark Sarnecki (most students), Theory for Young Children, Dr. Mozart (for the really young students, or students who generally struggle with written work) or Alfred's Essential Theory. (the last I'm using with a learning challenged teen student, who's clearly experienced success!)

Meri
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#960717 - 10/03/08 03:42 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
verania5 Offline
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I have had formal music lessons at home and at school for a dozen years. Now the only theory I know is how to decipher what key the music is in - which is about all I need to learn to play. Other than music analysis, what is the need?
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#960718 - 10/03/08 08:58 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Betty Patnude Offline
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Verania5,

Music theory is the most fun going!

You learn to recognize all kinds of things, build vocabulary words for them, train fingers to run around the keyboard and know what they are doing and why they are doing it.

It is not incidental or optional in my mind at all.

If the teacher teaches theory in support of the music that is being learned, it makes incredible sense because the theory and the music go hand in hand.

If you have been taught theory separately - with no musical examples to associate it with - you don't understand the joy of knowing how both things, and add technique to that, support the music.

Without them as subjects connected to the whole, you are not aware of their "magic glue" enhancements that make music making far more enjoyable and even easier to do. It's like getting "the big picture"!

Deciphering the key of the music is a useful skill, there would be a lot of confusion if one could not, and attempted to play demanding literature.

Would you be interested in putting all these things together with a theory/pedagogy type of teacher?

Or, perhaps you are satisfied with where you are and don't really see the desire to see the benefits of theory, technique to support the piano literature.

Perhaps you are saying you know a lot of theory from lessons, and you don't see the need to use it when you are sightreading or studying new music. If this is the case, I bet you are using lots more of your theory training than you realize, and the theory has become subconscious for you and you don't notice it happening.

I don't want to misunderstand your posting.

Betty

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#960719 - 10/05/08 07:06 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
verania5 Offline
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Hi Betty,

I enjoy reading your posts, you have a lot of insight to share.

I learned most of my theory through school music classes, which were a bore unfortunately. I remember simple things what you would teach to beginners, but not much more than that. My teacher teaches it in passing, when he sees chord inversions as arpeggios, etc. but we don't really devote time to it exclusively. This is how it has always been for me.

I intuit patterns as I see them, most often without knowing anything other than "it is repeating again in a slightly different key" or "hey the melody has shifted to the left hand". Pretty unsophisticated stuff probably a child can pick out. My teacher actually teaches a theory course, I might look into it. Maybe I am missing the forest for the trees.

\:\)
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#960720 - 10/05/08 09:27 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Betty Patnude Offline
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I can empathize, verania5,

I took a one year theory 1 class given by the band director at the high school and I read, and studied, etc., but I don't every remember him making a relationship to the piano which was my main instrument (with a little viola knowledge).

It was one tough course, although I thought I would ace it, it didn't equate to the instrument I understood (and the instruments upon which theory makes the most sense in completely understanding theory).

Well, I was in tears trying to get this every day in class and then at home doing homework and reading, studying, reading, trying to make sense of it.

Later, it made sense when I was long gone from that class, pulling the book out again and reworking what had been taught using the piano to understand. A piano sales man demonstrating a piano in a store in the mall, was just incredible at what he was playing - and after talking a bit, he said a few things about how he was doing what he was doing and I thought - he just said in 2 sentences what I still haven't learned to do quickly after that class, and from self teaching.

He was forming a triad (3 tone chord). He said:
Major is 1-2-3-4/123
minor is 1-2-3/1234
diminished is 1-2-3/123
He was speaking in half steps from any tonic.

And, I had taken the long way around with diatonic scales, reading "charts", doing listening, knowing key signatures, degrees of scales, lots of info - which you DO need to know and be able to do - but so much theory can be expressed very, very simply. So simple it's elusive.

I had felt so dumb in that class, but I'm sure everyone felt dumb with the way the book was written, and the way the teacher (what a nice man he was always smiling) taught.

I finally learned that theory makes sense in hindsight - and that it helps to be able to do what you are talking about before you approach the rules, and the definition, of what it all means. Working backwards so to speak.

What came first the chicken or the egg?

Thank you very much for your compliment about being insightful and sharing!

Good luck!

Betty

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#960721 - 10/06/08 06:43 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
Chris H. Offline
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So did we ever come up with a definition for the words 'music theory'?

Could it be that theory covers everything which is not practical music making (performing or composing)?

I don't like the word 'theory' because it implies that you study it without actually making music. Therefore it doesn't relate to musical activity unless you already have practical experience.
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#960722 - 10/06/08 07:56 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
Betty Patnude Offline
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Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Chris,

I would question the use of the word theory because to me theory is something not proven, theory is supposition.

And, yes, you can read and learn about music theory without experiencing it in action while playing music at the piano - it's not needed when you are playing it, but you definitly profit from knowing what you know.

At the same time, you can have no clue about theory and do a good job of playing the piano.

Music theory is essential to analysis of music.

Could "Comprehending Music" be a closer definition? We're talking multi-states here! Do we need a flow chart? Is this impossible to do?

Help!

Betty

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#960723 - 10/06/08 09:17 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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#960724 - 10/06/08 11:26 AM Re: How do you teach theory?
Chris H. Offline
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So if you teach someone to read the notes on the stave or teach them basic time values then you are teaching them theory?

Reading some of the posts in this thread it would seem that most don't regard such things as theory.
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#960725 - 10/06/08 02:15 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keyboardklutz Offline
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It's a start.
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#960726 - 10/06/08 02:37 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Betty Patnude Offline
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How do you like these definitions?

In Theory there is a "Head's On" approach.

In Technique there is a "How To - Hand's On" approach.

In Musicianship there is a "Ears's On" approach.

I'd like to copyright these for further development because I think there is credible teaching to be going on within such approaches.

Betty Patnude

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#960727 - 10/06/08 03:12 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Kreisler Offline


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Loc: Iowa City, IA
I think all three apply to all three.
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#960728 - 10/06/08 03:57 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Online   content
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Is this of interest? Thoughts expressed by one writer: Theory & Practice This goes together with some things he says about the right and left brain elsewhere.

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#960729 - 10/06/08 06:05 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Betty Patnude Offline
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Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Keystring,

Whose website is this?

Some of the things I would download do not seem like a good idea to do so since they can't be recogized by my computer.

The music is kicky, there is a sense of excitement about it, I liked the organization of the link you connected us to.

However.....it's quite blind in everything that I was able to open.

Where was the info about the right and left brain elsewhere that you saw, I did not see that.

I'm not feeling the connection you seem to see there between this theory thread and his....enlighten us please.

This may sound silly, but to me, music theory is like having been ordained to it, almost like areligious practice, like a pilgrimage to understanding, ceremony, integrity in music.

Theory is not a quick, feel good, fix or prop. Neither is musicianship or technique. Digetalized and recreational music is like computerized thinking from a box of information. Not from intuitively and intrinsically understanding from within.

I didn't get to the free lesson contents, so I'm only reacting to the pages I saw. It's not evident with whom or where we are going with these first pages.

Advertising and marketing is preventing me from getting closer to what might be on this website.

It's not academic enough for me at this point.

I'm having trouble explaining this. And, I think I might be sorry I said this, as obviously many people would enjoy this learning tool.

THis is not th "Pied Piper" for me on first sight.

Sorry.

Betty

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#960730 - 10/06/08 06:27 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Gary D. Online   content
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4726
Loc: South Florida
 Quote:
Originally posted by Betty Patnude:
He was forming a triad (3 tone chord). He said:
Major is 1-2-3-4/123
minor is 1-2-3/1234
diminished is 1-2-3/123
He was speaking in half steps from any tonic.
This is merely using a 12 note system to represent intervals.

Major is a major third plus a minor third.

Also the 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees of a major scale, in any key.

But the advantage of counting keys is that theoretically you can figure out chords with no knowledge of scales or key signatures. I don't think this works well for most people, alone.

It seems like the person explaining was just saying to start with any key on the piano, go up four half steps and play that note, then go up three more half steps and play another note, thus a major chord.

So many times the systems people use can be more confusing than what is actually being taught.
 Quote:

And, I had taken the long way around with diatonic scales, reading "charts", doing listening, knowing key signatures, degrees of scales, lots of info - which you DO need to know and be able to do - but so much theory can be expressed very, very simply. So simple it's elusive.
I think this happens when systems and terms become more important than what is actually happening. We just saw that in the long discussion about diminished chords, which are really very simple things but are so hard to describe using "rules".
 Quote:

I had felt so dumb in that class, but I'm sure everyone felt dumb with the way the book was written, and the way the teacher (what a nice man he was always smiling) taught.
It sounds as though the book was counter-intuitive. I have often looked at explanations of things in the theory books that momentarily throw me until I realize that someone is using a complicated and confusing way (to me) of explaining something I already know.
 Quote:

I finally learned that theory makes sense in hindsight - and that it helps to be able to do what you are talking about before you approach the rules, and the definition, of what it all means. Working backwards so to speak.
That's the way it has always worked for me. I link all theory to music. Kreisler mentioned today that V7 to vi is a "deceptive cadence". I learned that sometime in the late 1960s and have not heard that term since then. But I know it is very common in Mozart:

V7 vi
IV I 6/4
V7 I

(the 6 should be over the 4 and no slash)

As you can see, if I had taken a theory exam today with examples of authentic and deceptive cadences, I would have been graded down for not knowing the labels although I can write such progressions in my sleep. ;\)
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#960731 - 10/06/08 06:37 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Online   content
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Hi Betty,
This is the site that contains the circular map that radiates outward in coloured wedges that you liked. The very fact that he sees so many aspects to music study, means that this teacher's ideas are not contained on one page but are a fragment. The ideas are interlinked, just like the elements in music study.

On this page he is saying that theory explains how music works, and is important, but it is not everything and it cannot explain the "whole" that music is. You have written about three elements of musicianship, others have written about different sides of music of which music is only one. He addresses this too, and that is the link I saw. I thought it was well worded.

This site is addressed to students, hence the upbeat music, I suppose. The ideas are not shallow or quick fixes, however.

I could not adequately summarize the ideas so rather than misrepresent them I've deleted that summary. Sorry.

KS

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#960732 - 10/06/08 06:40 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
keystring Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
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Loc: Canada
Actualy it might be more academic than it seems, but it is addressed to students entering music. He cannot use specialized terminology but I suspect that the concepts themselves are not shallow. I would look at it with the sound off - in fact the speakers are not plugged in, so I have no idea what is playing.

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#960733 - 10/06/08 07:26 PM Re: How do you teach theory?
Betty Patnude Offline
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Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Well, I'll get back to it sometime this week, I just hate to leave something that I'm not getting - unfinished. But, I think I'm having a mental block with it for some reason.

It's as though I'm having a dream that keeps saying "But, I don't know who "he" is!"

Sorry to be such a poor sport aobut this, truly. Part of the problem is that I couldn't enter everything on the site - my computer gave me cautions.

Thanks Gary, and Keystring!

Betty

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