In Theory Best to do Theory?

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Pat Dodson
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In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Pat Dodson » Wed Dec 13, 2017 10:23 am

Not sure quite what to make of the situation below. What do you think?

A young friend of 17 plays a woodwind instrument to a good standard, soloing very well with a wind band to Grade 7 level on a tube video. She has now decided she’d like a career in music and, hoping to join a military band, she faces an audition and a theory paper. The audition she is quite confident about but not so the grade 5 equivalent theory paper.

She has GCSE music and Grade 6 distinction on her instrument but has never sat a theory paper. Her instrument teacher moved her to another exam board to avoid the Grade 5 theory hurdle that some boards impose for those wanting to do Grade 6 and above. And, she tells me, the music GCSE had little theory.

As we explored her theory knowledge it became apparent that there are huge gaps from Grade 1 onwards . Just a couple of examples: though strong on note values, rhythm, ties, rests etc to Grade 5 level she was unable to name the notes in a C major tonic triad, to give an example of a minor third interval or to read the notes on a bass clef. She has much to catch up on if she is to successfully sit this military band theory paper and we are making a start.

I can see how it came to this but I’m not sure it was wise. What think you?
Last edited by Pat Dodson on Wed Dec 13, 2017 10:31 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Stephen Kenyon
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Wed Dec 13, 2017 10:28 am

In brief, a classic example of why moving to Trinity to avoid the ABRSM theory requirement stunts the chances of would-be/might-become serious musicians.
If she really wants this she can get it back, if there's time, by booking a series of lessons devoted to theory.
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Rasputin
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Rasputin » Wed Dec 13, 2017 10:37 am

I am guessing that if her teacher moved her to avoid the theory paper, she is probably not very keen. I feel sorry for her having to cram for it if she hates it and if there is a lot riding on it, but as Stephen says it shows why it is better to do theory as you go. Maybe she could put the plan off until the next intake and work up the theory gradually. I know there are online options for this.

JohnB
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by JohnB » Wed Dec 13, 2017 11:02 am

The teacher seems to have done her no favours. Surely it wouldn't have been too much hardship to slowly drip-feed the theory in amongst the lessons.

(Some years ago I had piano lessons, not having played that instrument for 40+ years. Even though I made it clear that I wasn't interested in taking exams the teacher had me doing theory, which as it happens was quite easy for me.)

I'm certainly not qualified (in any meaning of the word) to give advice but, having said that there is much to recommend her getting a keyboard and getting stuck in to the theory. A keyboard? Because things are so much easier to understand when you have some experience (however little) of playing a piano.
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Pat Dodson
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Pat Dodson » Wed Dec 13, 2017 11:19 am

Thanks for your thoughts so far which help clarify my hazy ones. I had wondered about a keyboard @JohnB, remembering the way 15 years ago that I occasionally went to our piano, which I don’t play, when studying theory. I have one I could lend her, so will explore that. Thank you.

My guitar tutor had me do around 30 to 60 minutes of theory as homework each week and would then spend 10 minutes of my hour lesson checking my understanding. I found that very helpful but I don’t know how common that approach is.

PeteJ
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by PeteJ » Wed Dec 13, 2017 1:26 pm

I must admit it is surprising that someone can reach Grade 6 and not know a C major triad. I would question a teaching approach that allowed this to happen. The good thing is that starting from such a low base she will improve quickly. I see no option but a course of theory lessons and would strongly agree with the idea of getting hold of a cheap keyboard. Much easier to learn this stuff on keys than gtr.

JohnB
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by JohnB » Wed Dec 13, 2017 1:32 pm

By the way, I found "The AB Guide to Music Theory Part 1" written by Eric Taylor and published by ABRSM a very useful, compact reference and it covers up to Grade 5 Theory.
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Andrew Fryer
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Andrew Fryer » Wed Dec 13, 2017 2:57 pm

Eric Taylor is great - each of the two volumes of his theory guide can be found for a penny if you look hard enough.

She'll have to cram, but she's almost at university age, so she should be capable, and it's not as if it's an unrelated field she'll be cramming. How much time does she have?
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JohnB
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by JohnB » Wed Dec 13, 2017 3:25 pm

I know this is bl**dingly obvious but she needs a teacher who knows their theory and has taken students through the theory exams. If her current teacher doesn't fit that bill she will have to either find someone else to help her through the theory or change teachers.

Once that is sorted out it is just a matter of, say, working through the Eric Taylor Part 1 and, at the same time, and in conjunction with the teacher, working through, say, the ABRSM Eric Taylor "Music Throry in Practice" excercise books for each grade.
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Stephen Kenyon
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Wed Dec 13, 2017 3:44 pm

Also well worth finding more about the theory paper. They do vary - plus the ABRSM G5 paper is about to change, and the other exam boards do some different things. I'd hope the people organising the audition etc would be able to advise.
Simon Ambridge Series 40 (2005)
Trevor Semple Series 88 (1992)
Louis Panormo (1838)
Alexander Batov Baroque Guitar (2013)
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Pat Dodson
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Pat Dodson » Wed Dec 13, 2017 4:24 pm

Again, thank you all. I have already given her the books that you recommend @JohnB (both my sons used them) and advised her to contact the military band bigwigs for specimen exam papers (thanks Stephen.)

I too was drawn up sharp by some of her theory gaps (she is fine on some aspects; harmony, voices and parts though - oh dear!) I am in touch with her parents about whether her tutor or another experienced teacher can lead her through the necessary study.

My younger son could almost certainly help as he has a performance music degree and teaches music peripatetically (percussion but he plays piano above Grade 5 level and would have no trouble teaching this material) but unfortunately she lives 80 miles from him. If all else fails he and I will probably do as much as we can via distance learning and occasional contact. But it’d be second best and I’m hopeful she can find better arrangements locally.

When first she mentioned feeling wobbly re the theory I expected she’d be fine to Grade 3 or 4 level and just need some revision on aspects at Grade 5 level. But her knowledge is like a Swiss cheese and there’s much more for her to do.

Thank you all for your thoughts and advice. It is much appreciated.
Last edited by Pat Dodson on Wed Dec 13, 2017 4:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Jeffrey Armbruster

Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Wed Dec 13, 2017 4:37 pm

Tell her that as a fallback she can always join the Stanford band.

Pat Dodson
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Pat Dodson » Wed Dec 13, 2017 4:52 pm

Jeffrey Armbruster wrote:
Wed Dec 13, 2017 4:37 pm
Tell her that as a fallback she can always join the Stanford band.
I had to look that up Jeffrey. Very good! :lol: :lol:

Alan Green
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Alan Green » Wed Dec 13, 2017 5:08 pm

What a shame; your friend has been really let down by a tutor and there is no excuse for that.

Get "The Right Way To Read Music" by Harry & Michael Baxter. It covers pitch, rhythm, scales & keys, harmony, vocal & part writing, transposition, phrasing and ornamentation as well as having a good glossary of those Italian, French and German performance instructions. I've bought it twice (first copy went walkabout) and a couple of my students have it too. ISBN: 9-780716-020080

Do tell your friend that Grade 5 theory is not horribly difficult, but a career in serious music will expect a solid grasp of theory. By the time I got to the 2nd year of University, I was expected to understand German/ French/ Neapolitan sixths too; so the requirement keeps on growing.

Pat Dodson
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Re: In Theory Best to do Theory?

Post by Pat Dodson » Wed Dec 13, 2017 6:10 pm

Thanks Alan. That sounds a good resource.

My own tutor had me use the LCM2 Theory Handbooks which I found very clear and nicely progressive.

So I think the resources are available; but as you and others have said, she’s almost certainly in need of some good teaching now alongside the resources.

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