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Teaching theory a bit differently...

Many years ago, I grew weary of theory books. Theory books can be great...they teach important things...but so many of my students would "forget" to do the lesson assigned. I tried multiple motivational techniques including assigning an extra page in hopes that this "punishment" would lead to their desire to keep up on a weekly basis. I would offer points that would lead to prizes if they completed their theory book lesson. It just wasn't working. Theory books were too much like homework.

So I decided to try theory classes, and I never turned back! I group my students into manageable sized classes and they come for a monthly 45 minute class with other students on a similar level. The students have such a good time learning that I had one little girl refer to theory class as "theory party!" There are so many ways to teach theory, and students learn in different ways, but the "hands on" approach has, in my experience, been the most effective in my students' grasp of theory concepts.

The youngest students focus on learning basic musical symbols, notes, interval recognition, etc. we use a floor staff, flash cards, and games. Once they move on to the concept of chords, they stand on my floor keyboard and take turns becoming the root, the third, and the fifth of the chord I ask them to spell. We play music bingo and go on treasure hunts on the piano, which is just silently following instructions of interval finding and hoping they land on the right note at the end!

The next level of students practice recreating the circle of keys on a table. They name key signatures via flash cards and they learn how to form major, minor, diminished, and augmented chords on the piano. We line up and prac­tice finding the I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii chords in whatever key I ask them. They do "wrap up" games to reinforce note naming and musical terms. Ear training is fun, too. We break up into teams and compete!

The advanced class plays music bingo with key signatures only and they learn to modulate and do some analyzing of four part music. We practice reading lead sheets, too.

Of course there are many other things we do, but this is just a taste of what goes on in theory class. The cama­raderie this has built among my students over the years has been very rewarding. I have students from 5 different schools, but when they come to piano events throughout the year, they already know each other and have a bond because of their interaction at theory class.

A handful of students over the years have gone on to col­lege and majored in music, and they entered freshman theory class with confidence. Every teacher must make her own decision on how she will teach theory. She has to use the method that "works" for her studio, but this is what "works" for me.

(excerpted from the VMTA October 29, 2014 Newsletter)

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