Whenever you hear the words ‘music theory’ together, you may just feel a yawn rising up, threatening to come out.
It’s not your fault.
Most of us when we hear ‘theory’ alongside any other word get a shiver down our spines, as we imagine that we’re about to be subjected to endless tedium.
After all, it’s the practical element of music that’s most enjoyable, right?
There aren’t many musicians out there that will tell you that they prefer sitting down to read sheet music over riffing on the guitar or improvising on the piano.
But we think music theory deserves better than the bad reputation it carries, and in this article, we’ll try to show you why.
How long does it take to learn the piano with all of this music theory?
That’s a good question, and our best advice is that the process takes however long it takes, though you can accelerate it with a tutor. Certain aspects of learning the piano such as building dexterity with your weaker hand and mastering the left-hand technique require a focussed approach.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the subject, though, let’s zoom out and see just what music theory is and why you should care about it in the first place.
What is Music Theory and Why Should You Care?
Music theory, which is also commonly referred to as music notation, is the system by which musicians learn music and various elements associated with playing an instrument such as rhythm, tempo, and more.
To give you a brief rundown, for most instruments, music theory involves deciphering all of the characters and symbols on a sheet of paper.
These characters and symbols will often be notes you have to play for various durations, though there are also many signs which tell you key information about how to play such as time and key signatures.
All of these signs and symbols occupy what is known as the staff, and they are essential in the est of how to learn piano.
The staff is a series of five horizontal lines, though the four spaces between the lines are just as important as the lines themselves.
Within the staff, you have the clef too, which can be either bass or treble clef which indicates which register the music will be in.
Are you still with us?
This oversimplified description of sheet music should give you a rough idea of what learning music theory is all about.
So the question now is, why should you care about deciphering all of the signs and symbols?
A good way to look at it is by drawing a comparison with learning a new foreign language.
When you learn a new language, it isn’t enough to understand what a few words and phrases mean. Without grammar, you won’t be able to put sentences together coherently. Grammar is like the glue that holds grammar together, without it you just have an incomprehensible jumble of words and letters.
Music theory is to music what grammar is to language.
As such, it’s of critical importance if you plan on becoming proficient with your instrument of choice.
Now we’ll take a look at the concrete benefits of studying music theory, just in case you’re still on the fence.
Does it Accelerate the Learning Process?
In short, yes, studying music theory will accelerate the learning process and help you reach musical mastery quicker.
Well, let’s just say you’re trying to learn a new song.
In this case, if you have a basic knowledge of music theory you’ll be able to break down the piece into its component parts and understand exactly what it is that’s required to play it well.
If you don’t know anything about music theory, you’re essentially going in blind.
Music theory provides us with a roadmap that we can use to navigate unknown songs with confidence, recognising key milestones and features along the way.
If you have a deep understanding of music theory you’ll be able to pick apart the rhythm of the music, as well as other factors such as the duration of certain sections and the key signature of the notes.
Let’s revisit the language analogy for a moment.
If you’re given a sentence in a foreign language and you understand the words but not the grammar, you’ll be able to get a gist for the overall meaning, but you likely won’t pick up any of the nuances.
For example, if you’re learning Spanish and you see a sentence like ‘Leo abrió la ventana’ you might recognise that ‘ventana’ is ‘window’ and that ‘abrió’ comes from the verb ‘to open’, so the sentence must mean ‘Leo opens the window’, right?
In this instance, the verb is conjugated in one of the language’s past tenses, which means it translates to ‘opened’.
While this might seem insignificant, this is an example of how instrumental grammar is in the construction of language. You could say the same for music theory in learning to play an instrument.
If you want to hit all the right notes and for the right duration then you’ll need to brush up on your music theory.
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Can it Inspire Creativity?
Believe it or not, learning music theory can indeed inspire creativity in your journey to musical mastery.
Even though it might seem like the opposite is true, and that learning music theory turns you into some sort of instrument-wielding robot, you’d be surprised at how creative you can be when you’re backed up with a breadth of music theory knowledge.
While it may be true that a lot of great moments of improvisation and creativity often come from a lack of regard for the rules, it’s also true that you’re better able to break the rules when you have a firm grasp of what they are, to begin with.
For example, some of the most creative people in society are some of the most well-read and well-rounded. By studying and brushing up on the rules of whatever the creative pursuit may be, you can manipulate them more easily and bend them to fit your personality.
As a result, we’re firm believers that you shouldn’t be tearing the book up until you’ve read it thoroughly first!
Another way to tease out your creative side when you’re getting to grips with a keyboard or piano is to hire the help of a piano tutor online.
A piano teacher can help you understand music theory much faster than you could figure it out for yourself.
They can guide you along the process, give you pointers on what the best resources are, and offer you words of encouragement for those moments when you just want to give up and never pick up another piece of sheet music again.
Where can you find one?
With Superprof, you can search using various filters for music tutors in your area. You can also choose to take classes online if you’re more comfortable with staying in your own home. Simply type in ‘piano teacher in Bistol’ followed by ‘Superprof’ to find tutors in that area for example, or if you’re based somewhere else in the UK ‘piano lessons near me or piano teacher near me’ followed by ‘Superprof’ will work.
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Does it Help with Your Performance?
Absolutely it does!
As an aspiring musician, there are several things you’ll need to do well to make consistent progress.
One of which is reading sheet music, and the other is committing new music to memory.
Learning music theory can help with both of these processes.
Music theory can guide us from being a novice reader of music to a fluent reader. It helps us to recgonise the notes, scales, and chords that we see on the paper, and gives us a solid understanding of the roles and functions of each.
As for memorising music, there’s just no way you’re going to have an easy time of it unless you are able to break the songs down into chunks.
To do so, you’ll need to know how a song is structured, and you can only learn more about that if you read up on music theory.
This is especially important if you’re taking a group class and your teacher gives you an instruction such as ‘start over from the recap’, and you’ve never come across that word before. To avoid paralysis in moments such as these, it’s in your best interest to go over music theory.
As we mentioned earlier, you may also gain the extra benefit of increased creativity in your performances.
Your ability to improvise on the fly is improved dramatically with a solid understanding of music theory.
Because you need to know logical chord progressions and structures if you are to recreate something that sounds decent. It allows you to continue a song off-rails, so to speak, meaning that you can find a pattern of chords that sounds congruent with sound music theory and doesn’t make the listener’s ears bleed.
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