Music Theory from the Ground Up

A Complete Music Theory Course on Video

Today I’m sharing the first lesson (a pilot, you might say) of a complete video music theory course with the above title. I have seen a lot of related videos on YouTube and so on but, so far, have found very few that don’t assume some prior knowledge. Hence the title of this course.

In particular, this course will benefit;

  • Students preparing for ABRSM, Trinity or other Music Theory exams from Grade 1 to 8
  • Instrumentalists who need Grade 5 theory to progress to higher grades
  • Students wanting to take GCSE/A Level Music but who have still to learn the required terms and concepts.
  • Amateur musicians – members of bands, choirs, amateur orchestras, rock bands etc. who want to be better informed and understand the terminology.
  • Home studio enthusiasts – the course includes DAW/MIDI and staff notation 
  • Music lovers who are curious about how it all works

I think it’s going to be useful for self-study, in the classroom, or for instrumental teachers whose pupils need Grade 5 theory to progress beyond that grade on their instruments. The final version of this course, for all stages from beginner to advanced and which will be available online or for download, will feature;

  • Awareness of the aural effects of what is studied theoretically
  • Supplementary downloadable worksheets
  • Online quizzes – access code supplied with each video download
  • Opportunities to have your questions answered via chat, email or;
  • Optional face to face consultations using Zoom, Teams, SkypeGoogle Meet etc.

This video, Lesson 1, covers the absolute basics, but subsequent lessons are at various stages of preparation, so I thought it would be a good idea to ask for feedback before going too much further! Please have a look and let me know what you think – about any aspect – by commenting here or on the YouTube Channel.

Thanks!

Keeping Everyone Involved in Group Lessons

This article deals with one of the problems that, for many teachers, is the most challenging: how do we keep everyone involved while at the same time, giving due attention to the problems of individuals?

You will find several solutions and discover why this calculation is correct!

. Group Instrumental Teaching III – Keeping Everyone Involved

Music Education’s Love Affair with Literacy (it’s complicated)

There has been much debate recently regarding an article that appeared in The Guardian on March 27th bemoaning the ever-diminishing provision and status of music education in the UK: a valid subject, well worth any number of column inches, given the decline in school music provision not “since 2010, when the baccalaureate was introduced” as the author Charlotte C. Gill states, but since the early 1980s at the hands of Margaret Thatcher[1] and Sir Keith Joseph[2]; a trend that shows no sign of being reversed – at least in terms of government policy. Ms Gill makes some valid points concerning the importance of music education albeit in a confusing and sometimes self-contradictory manner. The two key issues she sees are that music education in the UK has become the preserve of a predominantly white, middle-class, academic mindset (in other words, ‘elitist’) and that teaching with an emphasis on music notation is a dominant symptom of the overly academic approach to musical pedagogy. This, she claims, renders the subject inaccessible and irrelevant to the needs of many if not the majority of school age students. As she puts it, ”music has always been taught in a far too academic way, meaning that theoretical knowledge is the main route to advancement”. In response, there has been an outcry of indignation in the form of a letter published in The Guardian, with several musical luminaries among its signatories, and a plethora of articles and blog posts shared on social media. Several of these demonstrate a clear grasp of the issues surrounding music provision, but others, unfortunately, also contain contradictions and mixed messages even to the extent that, in effect, they lend support to some of Ms Gill’s claims. It is not possible, therefore, to come down firmly on one side of the debate or the other since there appear to be extremely valid points as well as errors and assumptions on both sides. Continue reading “Music Education’s Love Affair with Literacy (it’s complicated)”

Why We Shouldn’t Stop ‘Defending’ Music Education

Music ClassI came across an interesting and thought-provoking article by Peter Greene the other day, entitled Stop ‘Defending’ Music.  His basic premise is that music has so many affective – or if you like ‘human’ – benefits that it shouldn’t need defending. He tells us that it is “universal’; he mentions its omnipresence in our lives and asks the popular rhetorical question, “Would you want to live in a world without music?”  Most musicians, music teachers or just ‘music lovers’ would find it nigh impossible to disagree with many of the points he makes, but I think Continue reading “Why We Shouldn’t Stop ‘Defending’ Music Education”

Group Instrumental Teaching & Mixed Abilities

brass_band

As we all know, group teaching is a controversial topic. One of the most frequent objections to it (in my experience) is that since no two students will progress at the same rate, or in the same way, the activity is doomed to failure because the less able students will hold the faster learners back and conversely, the faster learners will leave the slower ones behind.  A ‘lose-lose’ situation, to coin a phrase.

However, I believe that these differences can indeed be accommodated

Continue reading “Group Instrumental Teaching & Mixed Abilities”

Keeping Everyone Involved in Group Lessons

This article deals with one of the problems that, for many teachers, is the most challenging: how do we keep everyone involved while at the same time, giving due attention to the problems of individuals.

You will find solutions and discover why this ‘equation’ is correct!

. Group Instrumental Teaching III – Keeping Everyone Involved

Benefits of Group Instrumental Teaching

11KLAS-tmagArticleDuring the 1990s, I was director of a music support service for schools in the UK. We provided mainly group lessons, so when interviewing prospective teachers,  I would ask them what they saw as the advantages or disadvantages of group tuition as opposed to one- to- one teaching. Their answers almost always (and I mean in more than 90% of cases), dwelt on the perceived disadvantages and very, very few advantages would be identified.  Some would say things like “Well, obviously, the best situation is individual tuition, but …”

Obviously!

I couldn’t see anything obvious about this at all! In fact, a great deal of reflection, research and experience had convinced me
Continue reading “Benefits of Group Instrumental Teaching”

Tuning tips for teachers of young/amateur bands and wind ensembles

tuning_fork

Many will be used to tuning to a sustained note, usually A, or in the case of brass or wind bands, it could be a B flat. The problem with this is that many players will, consciously or unconsciously, compensate by correcting the pitch with the embouchure. Once the music starts, the tuning is ‘out’ again.

I have found the following sequence for tuning instruments very useful. It is a lengthy process initially, but it speeds up as you and the players get used to it and it pays dividends.

  1. Tune the first player to a digital tuner. This is optional because the main objective is to have the players in tune with each other not necessarily to the exact concert pitch, but of course you won’t want to be too far out.
  2. Have the first player play a short ‘open’ note. Short means about one second, but not less.
  3. Immediately, get the next player to do the same. You will find it is very easy to compare the pitches and give the necessary ‘pushing/pulling’ instructions to the players.  After a while, this process can become quite quick.
  4. Go through this process with each of the players and the first player, occasionally back-tracking to check those who have been tuned.
  5. When a section has been tuned in this way then have them play long unison note ‘forte’.
  6. Listen, and you will hear either beats or the octave above the tuning note ‘ringing’ out!
  7. Repeat the above until you are satisfied.

We hear the beats or octaves because of ‘sum tones’ and ‘difference tones’:  When two notes are played simultaneously, they produce additional frequencies which are the sum of, and the difference between, the frequencies of the notes being played.  If the frequencies are just 2-3 Hz out, then the sum/difference tones will be below our hearing threshold, but they will create ‘amplitude modulation’ of the basic tone creating the familiar ‘wah-wah’ effect. If they are in tune, the clear octave above will be heard.

For the sake of clarity, let’s take A as an example. Everyone knows that in standard concert pitch A = 440 Hz.

440 + 440 = 880;  in tune so ‘A’ one octave higher would be heard.

440 – 440 = 0;  no lower pitch would be heard, but

440 – 438 = 2; one note is flat so ‘beats’ would result

It gets a tiny bit more complex when one note is sharp, but this serves to illustrate the point.

Of course, after this and when your rehearsal is under way, the focus will be on intonation (the players) rather than tuning (the instruments).  However, you will find that once these tuning habits are well established and the players are encouraged to listen critically to, and correct, their own intonation, a considerable improvement in the richness of sound – across the entire ensemble – will result.

Alternatives to teaching notation early on

Following on from Let’s Make Music…  the article Demonstration, Imitation, Improvisation then Notation,  suggests some alternative ways of getting your students to play musically from the start – without getting tied up reading notation. It goes on to suggest ways of introducing notation when the time is right.

A ‘part two’ to this article will be online soon to develop this further.

Thanks to those who have made positive comments about the articles. Please do keep your feedback coming.

Music practice – making it happen and getting the best from it

Here is a short article about the thorny issue of music practice – how the teacher’s guidance during the lesson can make it more meaningful and desirable to the student, and how careful a choice of words can make a big difference to attitudes to practice.  All very important because of course, the majority of the learning takes place away from the lessons and the teacher! Excuse me…