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Essential theory
#2670122 08/23/17 06:25 PM
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Arghhh Offline OP
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I like giving the beginning students theory because it gives me a clue as to what they actually understand about the basics of music reading.

Once kids are out of method books, what theory, if any, do you cover? Here in Canada, many teachers teach to the Royal Conservatory exams, which had three levels (they now have levels to match each of the practical levels) - Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. This corresponds for the most part with the material covered in the Sarnecki and Vandendool books. I find a lot of what is required for those courses is useless for the average student, or at least I don't see it's practicality. For myself, I didn't do theory until the Advanced (or what was called Gr. 2) theory, and I don't think it really held me back.

Some items I find questionable are:
- stem direction, dot placement, rest placement (eg. an eighth rest must start in the 4th space)
- completing measures with rests, with all kinds of rules on what kind of rest can be placed where
- the identification of diatonic and chromatic semitones
- writing open score and condensing open score to closed score, and knowing all the details on where fermatas, dynamics, etc. may be placed
- writing major/minor scales with/without key signatures
- identifying octatonic, pentatonic, and blues scales

Some items I find useful are:
- note names
- note values (quarter note, half note, etc.)
- time signatures - where the strong/weak beats are, how to count them
- music navigation with repeat signs, ds al fine, etc.
- figuring out the key from a given key signature
- figuring out what the key signature is for a certain scale
- Italian terms for tempo, and other typical markings in a score
- possibly knowing the sequence of steps and half steps in major and minor scales

I think I don't see much purpose in knowing how to write or notate a score, unless the student is going to get into composition. If they are, then I wouldn't be teaching that student because I have no background in composition.

Thoughts? I'm leaning towards skipping theory until someone may want it to get a certificate or high school credit for Level 6-8.


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Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2670241 08/24/17 01:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Arghhh
ISome items I find questionable are:
- stem direction, dot placement, rest placement (eg. an eighth rest must start in the 4th space)
- completing measures with rests, with all kinds of rules on what kind of rest can be placed where
-.


Is the issue that these topics are addressed, or is it what's said about them? They belong to a larger set of notation writing issues, which only matter if you're going to do that. For reading notation, you have to know all the variants you might find.

My thoughts are that the stem and rest stuff really only gets tricky when you have multiple voices to keep track of. Rests should be placed where it's clearest which voice they belong to. Trailing rests are just clutter, and should be deleted.

To me, the important part of theory has to do with chord progressions, resolution, and all that.



Last edited by JohnSprung; 08/24/17 01:12 PM.

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Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2670271 08/24/17 02:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Arghhh

I think I don't see much purpose in knowing how to write or notate a score, unless the student is going to get into composition.


Or they are transcribing from a recording, which is a useful skill.


gotta go practice
Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2670272 08/24/17 02:52 PM
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I find that at least some students enjoy knowing about these things, especially for example stem direction.

More than a few begin their studies thinking that stems that point up are Right hand, and those that point down are Left hand!

So the basic rule, which is to avoid clutter, only takes a few moments to explain, and many students express that it was very helpful and interesting. It is a important part of the foreign language they are learning to read.

Also, once they know basic theory about rests, music with several voices typically has rests that don't make sense unless there is some knowledge about the voices. Students don't have to know all the in-depth rules, but they need to know why those rests are there.

Basically, I find that people, especially adults, who are interested enough in music to study piano do enjoy and benefit from at least an overview of this. An in depth study is unnecessary, unless they ask for further instruction. And some do. Its all part of teaching piano/music, IMHO.


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Re: Essential theory
TimR #2670275 08/24/17 02:59 PM
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Originally Posted by TimR
Originally Posted by Arghhh

I think I don't see much purpose in knowing how to write or notate a score, unless the student is going to get into composition.


Or they are transcribing from a recording, which is a useful skill.


I have had a few students at the basic beginning level who did transcribe a favorite song, with a little help from me, which greatly accelerated their note reading.


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Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2670299 08/24/17 04:02 PM
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Arghh, I'm very familiar with the material, and wrote the exams for the intermediate and advanced levels. I also taught all of it to one student pro bono some years ago, applying the ideas I had in mind. My student was in a different country. The things you have listed come from all three levels, which people unfamiliar with RCM wouldn't know. The top of the three, exams for this are often written at the point where a student is getting their ARCT.

I was a violin student. I didn't get theory until my fourth year, and only because I asked for it. I wish I'd asked earlier. The important thing, which the teacher I worked with at the time tried to do, is to knit theory with actual music. For example this:
Quote
- completing measures with rests, with all kinds of rules on what kind of rest can be placed where

My teacher of the time explained this musically to me, and the "rules" idea was sort of moot after that. In other words, music must be written in a way that makes it easily playable on first reading. The choosing of rests, dots, and barring notes go together with the underlying meter and pulse. Once you understand this, the rules virtually write themselves. This also works itself backward toward playing. I developed a new sensitivity and awareness when I looked at a score, so it had a practical effect.
Quote
- stem direction, dot placement...

If you ever want to write down your own music, it's good to have some kind of idea of which way to stick your stem. Dot placement can help with reading. Stem direction with polyphonic music is essential in distinguishing voices. I have also been in choirs where the other singers used highlighter to mark their part. I don't need to do that.
Quote
- identifying octatonic, pentatonic, and blues scales

These are more recent add-ons - I don't know how much it's been changed since I studied the material over a decade ago. I've since learned about blues scales, pentatonic etc. from better angles, and don't very much like how it has been presented. The same when they introduce "jazz chords" (I forget what they call this.).

Things like open score to closed score transcription are at higher levels. Personally I found it quite useful to have this skill.

Well, it's like --- Do we need to learn spelling, grammar, punctuation? I felt awfully ignorant not to have much of an idea.

My own thoughts were that theory should be "integrated" into music. The term "integration" comes from a postgraduate course I took on second language teaching, where the professors was telling us that vocabulary, syntax, and grammar of the foreign language are absolutely useless - a mere academic exercise - unless "integrated". The student has to be able to use vocab and the rest while conversing and writing. Theory should be a part of music, rather than a separate academic entity. I'm thinking that long before a student studies about a "harmonic" and "melodic" interval, that student will have been introduced to them in his music. The word "interval" can be slipped in. Then when he gets to the theory, he's in familiar territory.

Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2670312 08/24/17 05:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Arghhh
Here in Canada, many teachers teach to the Royal Conservatory exams, which had three levels (they now have levels to match each of the practical levels) - Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. This corresponds for the most part with the material covered in the Sarnecki and Vandendool books. I find a lot of what is required for those courses is useless for the average student, or at least I don't see it's practicality. For myself, I didn't do theory until the Advanced (or what was called Gr. 2) theory, and I don't think it really held me back.

If they are, then I wouldn't be teaching that student because I have no background in composition.

Thoughts? I'm leaning towards skipping theory until someone may want it to get a certificate or high school credit for Level 6-8.

Personally, I believe theory should be introduced gradually to the student at every stage (grade), commensurate with their level.

Otherwise the student's musical understanding is held back, when all they're learning is the mechanics of playing, without understanding why something is notated that way, or why the composer used a E# rather than a F there, or why the dominant and relative minor keys are so important.

I did ABRSM Theory exams at every grade at the same time as the Practical exams, and didn't realize how useful my knowledge of theory was until I met students who didn't (because they didn't expect to go beyond Grade 5), and was surprised at how little they knew about the music they were playing. It's a bit like reciting a Shakespeare sonnet without understanding anything about it other than just the individual words.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Essential theory
JohnSprung #2670368 08/24/17 11:44 PM
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Originally Posted by JohnSprung
Originally Posted by Arghhh
ISome items I find questionable are:
- stem direction, dot placement, rest placement (eg. an eighth rest must start in the 4th space)
- completing measures with rests, with all kinds of rules on what kind of rest can be placed where
-.


Is the issue that these topics are addressed, or is it what's said about them? They belong to a larger set of notation writing issues, which only matter if you're going to do that. For reading notation, you have to know all the variants you might find.

My thoughts are that the stem and rest stuff really only gets tricky when you have multiple voices to keep track of. Rests should be placed where it's clearest which voice they belong to. Trailing rests are just clutter, and should be deleted.

To me, the important part of theory has to do with chord progressions, resolution, and all that.



The issue is that there are so many details that I think are irrelevant to reading. They may be relevant if one is writing, but I think a large portion of this is done automatically these days with notation software. Does a student whose goal is to play the piano have to know that when there are four notes beamed together, that the stem direction is based on the note farthest away from the middle line? Does a student have to know that if beat 1&2 in a 4/4 measure needs a rest, that it has to be one half rest, but that if beats 2 & 3 in a 4/4 measure need a rest, that is has to be two quarter rests?

True, multiple voices does have different rules, and it isn't that difficult to show that all the up-stemmed notes are for one voice, and the down-stemmed notes are for a different voice.

The important part of theory that you are talking about isn't covered until the advanced levels.


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Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2670382 08/25/17 02:11 AM
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I basically follow the CM Syllabus, level by level. Most kids don't care about theory, so they are on a "need to know" basis. But I do occasionally run into the inquisitive kind. They are a blast to work with. We go much, much further than the Syllabus.


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Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2670392 08/25/17 04:46 AM
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Arrgh - any thoughts on anything I wrote?

Re: Essential theory
keystring #2670449 08/25/17 12:00 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Arrgh - any thoughts on anything I wrote?

Many thoughts. I didnt have the brainpower to respond yet!


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Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2670461 08/25/17 12:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Arghhh
Originally Posted by keystring
Arrgh - any thoughts on anything I wrote?

Many thoughts. I didn't have the brainpower to respond yet!

Cool! smile

Re: Essential theory
keystring #2670521 08/25/17 06:25 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
My own thoughts were that theory should be "integrated" into music. The term "integration" comes from a postgraduate course I took on second language teaching, where the professors was telling us that vocabulary, syntax, and grammar of the foreign language are absolutely useless - a mere academic exercise - unless "integrated". The student has to be able to use vocab and the rest while conversing and writing. Theory should be a part of music, rather than a separate academic entity. I'm thinking that long before a student studies about a "harmonic" and "melodic" interval, that student will have been introduced to them in his music.

What approaches do teachers use to "integrate" practical/functional knowledge with academic theory? Is it more a top-down approach or bottom-up? Or is there something in the middle? A combination of both or perhaps something all together new? Do these approaches differ when teaching children vs. adults?

For example, as a child it was natural for me to learn to speak 2 languages in a practical/functional way (bottom-up), only later on did grammar/vocabulary lessons create a more solid understanding (top-down).

As an adult, I'm still prone to jumping in feet first and asking questions later, but I'm also much more quick to use the top-down approach to get perspective.

I'm wondering if there are better or preferred methods to "integrate" academic theory and practical/functional knowledge.


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Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2670529 08/25/17 07:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Arghhh
Does a student whose goal is to play the piano have to know that when there are four notes beamed together, that the stem direction is based on the note farthest away from the middle line? Does a student have to know that if beat 1&2 in a 4/4 measure needs a rest, that it has to be one half rest, but that if beats 2 & 3 in a 4/4 measure need a rest, that is has to be two quarter rests?


Indeed, such a student is better off not learning such rules, as they'll only find them violated in real world charts. To play, you have to be able to deal with either the half rest or two quarters in the middle of a measure.

Mere notation "best" practices don't rise to the level of what I'd call theory. To me, theory is about the relationships between the sounds we make.... ;-)


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Re: Essential theory
Arghhh #2671498 08/30/17 10:20 AM
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In favor of understanding principles of notation, even if you don't plan to compose music:

This summer I encountered two pieces written in ways that did not observe the convention of showing the beats in the notation.

One of them was on flute, in my Middle Eastern ensemble. I found myself often losing my place in a measure relative to the beat. Because I had learned the principle of notating music so as to make the beats clear, I was able to figure out why the music was unclear: the notation used violated that principle. I renotated it so as to show the beats, and it immediately became easy instead of difficult to play. I used notation software to do this, but still needed to know the principles myself so as to manually assign the beams. That's because software doesn't always do what you need automatically; in this case, there were many ways to beam a 10/8 piece, and the software's automatic choice was wrong.

The other was in chorus. Because the beats weren't shown in the notation, it was challenging to me at first. However, the piece used a certain repeating rhythm, and the notation chosen led to an uncluttered score with a minimum of ties. I was able to use my knowledge of note values and thinking about the location of beats vs. offbeats, to figure out the rhythm and then be able to sing it easily. Probably many people in my chorus relied on feel and hearing the music to learn the rhythm; for me I find it helpful to also be able to read and work out the notation myself.


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Re: Essential theory
Groove On #2671528 08/30/17 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Groove On
What approaches do teachers use to "integrate" practical/functional knowledge with academic theory? Is it more a top-down approach or bottom-up? Or is there something in the middle? A combination of both or perhaps something all together new? Do these approaches differ when teaching children vs. adults?.

Nobody has answered this, and since technically speaking I am more a student in this, maybe I shouldn't, but I have thought about this a lot, as well as seen a few approaches /discussed privately with teachers.
How it can happen (as told by a couple of now-teachers, partly reminiscing on their own lessons) is this. You're within a system like RCM or ABRSM. Suddenly the student is about to do the gr. 5 practical exam, and it's "omg, theory is supposed to be done at this time" so there's a big rush to somehow get at theory enough for a decent grade in the exam. It's not experienced as real learning, and doesn't support much practically later on. Another variant is simply where theory was not taught, and the mature musician later discovers that certain difficulties in practical music would have been much easier if the underlying theory were known.

What I'd see ... and did see some variants of .... is where theory is taught in a practical, hands-on way first, as music is worked on. You've got the basic I IV V block chords in beginner music. It's called F major and is 4 up (maybe). It's major and has a major sound. Hey, when you turn the light switch in the middle down one (A to Ab) you get a minor sound. Or your new piece is in G major and has an F# in it. All this is theory. Explorations can be done, a couple of names of things can be thrown in. If a first level theory exam happens along with say gr. 4 practical, and if you're into exams, then you have eased into it and started introducing things long before.

I was an adult student. I had spent a lifetime playing music without having names for things, but I had heard patterns and explored things. So when I finally studied my first theory, it was mostly a matter of attaching names to things that were familiar.

Whether the formal theory in things like RCM, ABRSM etc. are the right way to go, as broached by Arrgh, is a separate thing, and also important.


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