Theory.

I bet some of you just cringed when you read that word. I used to be one of those people. I’d go to my piano lessons as a kid and be doing my theory homework in the car on the way there. Sometimes I wouldn’t even start until the drive was half over. As I got older it didn’t get better. When I started doing RCM exams I would finish the parts that were easy and kind of squeak by without doing the rest of it. Somehow I still managed to get decent marks. In my first year of college I did my theory homework in class the day it was due. I remember my prof would always shake his head at me but he never said anything because I still did a good job and still handed it in on time. I think theory was always the biggest thing I procrastinated on.

It wasn’t until my second year of college that I started to really enjoy theory. Of course by then I was into writing harmonies and that coincided with my counterpoint class. There was some pressure to really understand what I was learning and my second year prof was much less forgiving with homework. So my slacking days were over and my love of theory and harmony began. It was difficult and if you ask anybody who was in that second year harmony class about it you’ll most likely hear a groan or two. You’ll also hear that we were worked harder than we thought we could manage and came out having learned homework discipline to a T. Believe it or not, I miss it.

So here I am babbling about how much I love theory but I don’t think I’ve changed anyone’s mind on it, and to be honest I don’t think I’ll change many of your minds on it but I’ll let you in on what changed my mind about theory.

I once had a student who was about four or five years old when she first started. The lessons were going great and she was quick to pick up on everything. Then one week it just seemed to stop. She wasn’t progressing and I was getting desperate to see change. Up until this point we hadn’t done much or any theory because I just figured that I was teaching her for a college credit and although I put my heart into it, I knew I wasn’t there for the long haul. Well that bit me where it hurts. From the first lesson that I started implementing theory I noticed a change. Suddenly things made sense to her 5 year old mind and her playing abilities improved drastically. We could finally move on and keep learning! The bonus part was that she actually really enjoyed the theory lessons.

Theory has personally benefited me in so many ways as well. I’ve always been pretty decent at sight reading (this means reading and playing a piece of music without having seen it before). However, once I understood theory and harmony I discovered that my sight reading improved so much. I learned to see music as a big picture but at the same time I could pick out the different parts of it. I could see movement, direction, progression, and a sense to the madness of notes. My first attempt at a new piece of music actually had the potential to be musical right away.

My understanding of harmony has also benefited my ability to play four part harmonies, such as the ones found in the song book we use at my church (as mentioned in Thinking Out Loud). I can now usually predict the left hand harmonies based on my knowledge of harmony. This means that if I need to focus more on my melody in the right hand, I can trust my left hand to sort of just do its thing. That’s not to say I’m always right. If you come hear me play at church you’ll probably hear a few notes that sound a little out of whack. But hey, it’s something I’m constantly learning to do better. That’s music for you. Again that understanding of harmony allows me to understand where the music is going which makes it so much easier to play!

I have many more thoughts running through my head about theory but I don’t want to keep you all day so more on that in a future post! If you have any theory stories or epiphanies post them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!