Many beginning students of music may wonder what learning theory has anything to do with learning to play the piano, and still others wonder how it will ever be useful. I wondered the same thing when I first started learning, and I certainly wish now that I wanted to understand it more then, because it probably would have saved me a lot of time. Learning theory allows a musician to see patterns, to understand the structure of a piece, and can save a lot of time practicing, making the process much more effective. There are many other benefits and reasons to learn music theory, but the quickest rewards can be found with simple songs in beginner method books. I had a student look at a short song in a lesson, but it proved to be quite a struggle because of the rapidly changing range of notes. The student was trying to read each individual note and therefore, it proved to be far more of a challenge than was actually there. After talking about major chords and their inversions in previous lessons, I asked the student to tell me the chord in each measure and the response was quick and simple. After a light bulb moment, the student was reading the song perfectly almost immediately after stumbling through it just moments ago. Applying their knowledge of music theory saved both of us a lot of time practicing note by note. With this approach to learning piano, students can more rapidly move past learning notes and where the keys are located. They learn about music, which is far more important, because then one has the tools to eventually understand music’s deeper purpose of emotion and beauty.
By Brandon Eldredge, Piano Teacher at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts