In any given Undergraduate Music Theory I course, it quickly becomes apparent which students have and have not been exposed to Music Theory prior to entering college. A wide range of understanding exists that is dependent upon how young a student was when introduced to basic music theory and how much depth their teacher presented them with. As we all know, music theory builds on itself rapidly, and if you do not grasp basic concepts quickly, you will be left behind. After all, how can you attempt a Schenkerian Analysis if you don’t know how to build a tonic triad? This is one of the reasons I think that music theory should be a part of every young music students’ curriculum from day one.

How young were you when you were first introduced to music theory concepts? How were these concepts presented? One of the struggles I have, especially with younger students is making sure the concepts are fun to learn, and relevant. Young students cannot see the benefit of these skills yet, so it is often difficult to get them to buy in.

I was in 3rd Grade when my piano teacher made me learn my triads and inversions, along with chord qualities and how to harmonize melodies using basic I, IV (1st inversion), and V7 (1st inversion) chords. I thought is boring and pointless at the time, as she taught these principles in a very dry way, but these building blocks led to a rapid music theory development.

So, how do you make these ideas interesting? When do you start teaching theory? What portion of the lesson time do you spend on these concepts?

Originally posted on on February 13, 2011 by Shane Griffin.

The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by Aprilyn Podd on

Dave Gerhart
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