Music, like mathematics, sign language, English, Braille, or Russian – to name only a few – is a universal language, recognized by millions around the world. It is one of the few languages understood by everyone, felt by everyone, expressed by everyone in some small way, from the lullaby sung to a child, to the famous symphony composed by a deaf man by the name of Beethoven. It speaks to the heart, soothes the soul, and rocks our world!
Music theory, the study of written musical notation, is the Roman alphabet of English, the Cyrillic alphabet of Russian, and the calculation symbols of mathematics. As with any language we speak, it is essential that we be able to read and write it, in order for us to be fully literate in that language. It is for this reason that music theory should be studied, along with an instrument of choice, in order for the student to be fully fluent and conversant in the world of music.
Imagine how comfortable it would be for a student who has studied theory to be able to walk into an audition and know what it means when the director asks them to sing the song a minor third down, or to transpose the melody to the key of F# major on the piano. Imagine how, if the student had not been exposed to theory, he or she would feel as the director spoke in a language, bewildering and unfamiliar. “Now that you have sung that for me, I think it’s too high; transpose it down a fourth and then sing it again, this time in 3/4 time. Oh, and I only want to hear it from the coda.” What???
For the student only interested in learning to play music as a hobby, theory is still an important component. Some people learn Russian, maybe just as a hobby or because they are going to Russia on vacation. When they get there, they can speak the language well enough to get around, but they can’t read the signs! They’re all in Cyrillic, and their spoken language skills are just enough to get by, but not fluent, by any stretch. So, they wander around, not being able to read the signs, the menus, or the train schedules, much less the name of their hotel. They suddenly feel a bit at a disadvantage, despite the fact that they can speak a few words and sentences. They may even begin to feel a bit lost in a world completely foreign to them.
So it can be with music. The guitarist, who has been learning to play a few songs, suddenly has the opportunity to sit in with a band, but when he gets up there to play, the bandleader says, “Okay then, “Dust In The Wind”, key of E minor”, but the guitarist has only ever played it in A minor (or at least, he thinks that’s the key he plays it in), and so he has no idea what to do, how to transpose it, and he suddenly feels lost, just like that tourist in Russia. Even the most basic beginning theory would be enough to have made the guitarist literate enough in the language of music to have been able to speak knowledgeably with the bandleader, transpose on the fly, enjoy the song.
The serious student, however, really has no choice but to study theory. Those interested in auditioning for college music schools and programs, audio recording engineer programs, or performance programs and opportunities, must learn to speak and write the language of music. If they don’t, it would be akin to becoming a French translator without being able to write the language, spell words, or know which accents go where.
Encore Music Academy and Recording Studios is deeply committed to ensuring that all of our students, whether they are hobbyists or college-bound music majors learn, at the very least, even the most basic theory. We feel we would be doing a disservice to our students were we to ignore such an essential component of music. After all, theory is music, and music is theory.
* Beginning theory classes have begun, and we urge our students to sign up and experience an essential part of music culture. Please call or email us for further information and class times. We really hope to see you there!