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What is it and why is it important?
What is music theory?
According to the Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music, edited by Don Michael Randel, music theory is defined as "the abstract principles embodied in music and the sounds of which it consists. In the 20th century, the study of musical theory has been concerned primarily with those aspects of music related to pitch, such as harmony, melody, scales, counterpoint, harmonic analysis, form and orchestration. These subjects are often taught in conjunction with fundamentals such as notation and ear training or solfege. An important aspect of the study of musical theory is the analysis of actual works. Acoustics is sometimes also included in the field of musical theory."
Why is it important?
A comprehensive understanding of music theory helps piano students develop into lifelong musicians in whatever context they desire. Music theory also helps students truly understand what it is they are playing on an intellectual level and not simply by rote. My goal is for each of my students to have a thorough grasp of music theory so that they may understand music deeper and more completely.
How does one develop theory skills?
In my teaching I supplement repertoire/lesson books with a theory curriculum as well. Depending on the age and level of the student my approach is tailored to what is appropriate, but the basic goal remains the same, and that is to understand what you're playing, regardless if it your very first lesson or you're preparing for a college audition.
One could consider music theory to be one side of the same musical coin. Playing the piano is an action. You are doing something (the physical playing part), but you are also thinking (the intellectual comprehension of the doing) something. It is my goal that my students are also thinking about their music in an intelligent manner, and that is where the theory comes in.
Sound scary?? I hope not!
The result of building a strong theory component into piano lessons is a student that can sight read better, make music with others better, and enjoy music more. And let's face it, we all enjoy what we understand!
Why practice scales?
Contrary to popular student opinion, scales are not meant as torture devices nor are they simply busy work. Scales are one of the most effective ways of developing strong fingers, healthy technique and facility at the piano. It is also important to learn standard fingerings so that when scalar passages arise in repertoire, the fingers automatically use an efficient fingering. Scale practice additionally develops coordination between the hands because the hands do not cross at the same time. This takes consistent practice.
Scales are additionally fundamental to student’s understanding of all major and minor key signatures. After all, music theory lives on the piano.
How long should my child practice scales each day?
This is a great question and not an easy one to answer. Remember, the goal is to develop technique, learn correct fingerings for all keys, and develop coordination. This takes time. It also takes consistent work. Being able to play the right notes with the right fingers is just the start. At this point, about 10 minutes a day of scale practice is a good goal. Set a timer and insist that it happens.
Will my Child Always Be Expected to Practice Scales?
Yes! As Suzuki (supposedly) said “you only have to practice scales on the days that you eat.” All pianists practice scales throughout their entire careers. It is foundational.
Some ideas on how to effectively practice scales: