How to Learn Music Theory and Why
Finding the best ways on how to learn music theory can lead you in a lot of different directions, but we have the tools and answers to help you succeed! Learning about the theory of music is a great way to help you play better and to deepen your understanding of the music you play, or even the music you listen to. It doesn’t matter what instrument or style you play. You might be a budding classical violinist or a seasoned folk singer. Whatever your style you will find that learning about the theory of music can:
- Help you learn new material more quickly
- Make it easier to play with others
- Makes you a valued accompanist
- Develop your improvisation skills
- Deepen your understanding and appreciation of music
How to Learn Music Theory
We believe the most effective way to learn music theory can be accomplished through a variety of ways, and everyone’s learning style is different, but we usually recommend starting with the Just The Facts music theory workbooks. With over 40 different books suited for different levels of learning and age groups, you can work your way up in a simple and easy to understand way towards fully grasping the complexities of music theory for all instruments.
The reading vs playing by ear debate
In musical circles, you will often hear people asking if reading music is better than playing by ear. But perhaps they are asking the wrong question. After all, it doesn’t have to be a case of doing one of the other. Both these skills support each other and can work together to help you progress whatever your chosen instrument and style.
Why Learn Music Theory
Music theory helps you learn new material more quickly
Reading music has never been more relevant than it is today. With so many written resources available online, being able to read music lets you make the most of them. You can download sheet music and if you are able to read the dots you can be playing a new tune within minutes. Many traditional songs and classical pieces are no longer in copyright. As a result, many sites allow you to download whole collections of tunes and songs.
Even if you like to play mostly by ear having a map of the music helps you work out some of the trickier parts that you might otherwise spend a long time puzzling over.
Learning music theory makes it easier to play with others
Playing music with other people is one of life’s great pleasures. And having a grasp of music theory can really help here. If you want to introduce a new tune to your fellow musicians, it can take a long time for everyone to pick it up by ear. If you have the written music, and everyone can read it, you can start playing it right away and can quickly focus on making it sound great rather than spending a lot of time just getting familiar with the tune or song. Think about reading music as you would read the words. If you wanted to share a new song it would seem natural to write the lyrics down, so why not do the same with the melody.
Music is also a language. It can make it easier to rehearse and discuss how you want to approach the music if everyone playing it shares this common language.
Makes you a valued accompanist
But music theory is about more than developing reading skills. Even a quite basic understanding of harmony and chord progressions can be invaluable when playing an accompanying instrument such as the piano or guitar. Understanding the theory of harmony makes it easier to predict which chords are likely to fit with a melody. This means that you can improvise an accompaniment with more confidence. Understanding music theory makes it easier to adapt to the needs of different players. For example, you can change key more easily to fit with a singer or a particular melody instrument if you have learned about key signatures.
Although this can be achieved on some instruments with the use of a capo or even digitally, that isn’t always an option. So understanding how to transpose music, – making it either lower or higher – is a great skill to bring to any music session.
Help with improvisation
Anyone who has listened to Myles Davis or Charlie Parker will know how important improvisation is to the art of playing jazz. And although to the listener it all sounds so spontaneous, a strong understanding of music theory underpins this vital musical skill. Most improvisation is built around complex chord sequences. When learning to improvise, keeping within the chord structure is what makes the improvisation sound “right”. As you deepen your understanding and practice improvisation, this knowledge becomes absorbed so that you can do it spontaneously. Although you might not be thinking about chords and key changes as you play, the knowledge you have absorbed through your study ensures that the music you improvise works perfectly with the tune you are improvising on.
Whether you play a harmony instrument like the guitar or piano and a melody instrument like the fiddle or trumpet, knowing about chords is the first step in developing your improvisation skills.
Music Theory deepens your understanding and appreciation of music
Learning music theory often appeals to those who love music but do not actually play an instrument or sing. It is a fascinating area of study in its own right. Although music theory usually starts with learning to read notation, it actually covers every aspect of music including the structure and form of classical pieces. People with a deep understanding of music theory can sit down with the musical score and read it like a map. They might even take it along to a concert to enhance their experience. It adds a visual element to their listening as the can “see” the melody of a symphony passing from the violins to the cellos to the oboes, for example. By being able to look at the technical aspects of a piece of music it helps you to fully appreciate the art of the composer.