Music Theory Training You Wished You Had As a Kid

Discussion in 'Music Theory, Lessons & Techniques' started by Mark Lykkos, Jul 26, 2017.

  1. Mark Lykkos

    Mark Lykkos SS.org Regular

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    Hello everyone!

    I am currently working on developing a private lesson studio for music theory and musicality for kids and adults. It entails not just things like learning basics like reading notes, understanding intervals and chords, and structure of music but also some general music history, listening exercises, sight singing, and active listening for things like texture, timbre, composition, etc. I lead music ensembles and work with older kids and adults of all ages, and I'm finding that their ability to learn music is hindered by their lack of music theory knowledge and musicality (and techniques for learning music and understanding things).

    My goal is to tutor people regularly in a way that's very one-on-one that will give people something that they can't get just from looking stuff up on the Internet.

    I'm doing a bit of crowdsourcing. What are/were some things that you wished you would have learned had you been one of these students and had access to a private tutor? I already have a good sense of what I'm able to offer to people, but I thought this forum would be a great place to get people's thoughts. Maybe I missed something, and as a musician who has a degree in music and is breaking into the professional world, I know that teaching musical skills to people is something that benefits both myself and the people I teach.
     
  2. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    I wish I'd known that you don't need a private tutor.
     
  3. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    I don't know that I can really specifically address your questions, but I'll offer this:

    1. Lots of examples. Nothing kills a music student's motivations off more quickly than trying to learn something that has no relations back to a particular song. If a student listens to "Tush" by ZZ Top, they might come in wanting to learn how to perform pinch harmonics, and then, while you have the student's attention, you can point out the 12-bar blues progression in the song as well, without it being too awkward. On the other hand, if a student comes in wanting to learn how to play "American Idiot" by Green Day, and you instead talk about how to perform pinch harmonics and then discuss the 12-bar blues progression at length, the student is going to become frustrated. When I taught a lot of lessons, it was always a hundred times easier to teach when the student had a pretty good idea of what he or she wanted to do with the instrument and was able to communicate that. The absolute toughest were the students that couldn't tell me what they wanted to end up doing with the instrument, or the ones who were all over the place, wanting to learn Maleguena week one, then Hot Cross Buns for week 2.

    2. Ear training is difficult for students. I thought it was some sort of black magic at first. I had a great teacher, but I think this lesson plan was where I felt completely idiotic. I was 100% accurate, right away, at telling which major chord was which, but I really struggled at telling relative major and minor apart, especially Dm and Fmaj. I think doing ear training with scales first would have made the learning curve quite a bit easier for me. But then again, everyone learns things a little differently.

    3. When I was teaching, I ended up learning a lot of new things, not just about teaching, but about music in general. I was teaching and taking lessons at the same time for quite a while, and the teacher I had during that stretch of time was really good at focusing on practical things, like how to navigate the local music business/scene. A lot of students take guitar lessons, then join a band and stop taking lessons, but then have no idea what sorts of opportunities are out there for them. A lot of this information, of course, is available online and easily found with google searches if you know what things are called. On the other hand, if a student doesn't know what a talent buyer is, or what a promoter does and doesn't do, this student might not even know where to begin to search for more information.

    :2c: [/grain of salt]
     
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  4. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    I've tried on a couple of occasions in the last year to teach some people how to play guitar. One person in their 20s, and another more recently who is 12. One of the biggest roadblocks I encounter is a lack of critical listening skills, which I haven't figured out how to teach someone. Anyone I've ever had as a student didn't want to listen to what they were playing and figure out the patterns themselves, they just wanted to be told "play these notes, in this order, this number of times". I'd be asked "how many times do you play this note?" and I would try to answer in a way that would be useful to them- "well, listen to the song- how many times you do hear it? Are there any cues just before that you can use to tell you to switch?" And in response I'd get a blank expression and "just tell me how to do it". Or sometimes they'd flat out admit that they don't understand what they're listening to in that way. "See how all of the sudden they're playing something higher?" "They are?" "....yes." No concept of intervals at all. Even if you don't know the words for these things, I assumed that people could still hear them. Apparently that's not always true.
     
  5. Mark Lykkos

    Mark Lykkos SS.org Regular

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    I enjoy your clever response. However, I disagree with you on this. I think it's great for you if you yourself didn't need any formal instruction or tutoring on music theory and/or musicality, but that doesn't mean that nobody needs it. I'm not looking to tutor the people like you who are more independent and self-guided with how they learn. As I said in my original post, I personally know many people I work with in multiple ensembles who struggle because they lack theory and musicality knowledge. These people acknowledge that these musicianship skills would help them, but they often don't know where to start.

    The idea behind what I'm doing is also based in the fact that in many American schools, music is being cut from the curriculum, and kids who want to learn music aren't getting what they need from school. Yes, there's the Internet and YouTube, but that only goes so far, and people still may not know where to start, as @bostjan said in his post on this thread. I've been self-taught and privately tutored and have gained something from both. Everyone's different in terms of how they learn, and some people need that guidance of a person to provide one-on-one real-time feedback. It's faster and more efficient for both the teacher and the student. I believe in the models of the music teachers I've worked with. And placing monetary value on something makes that time and instruction more valuable. This is why I'm building my studio to be designed to provide what the Internet cannot provide. I'm going to give people their money's worth.

    Thanks for your feedback and for sharing your experiences. Ear training will definitely be on my list. When I started learning sight singing and solfege in school I hated it because I struggled so much. Now, years after those classes I'm enjoying the fruits of that labor when I can transcribe melodies that I hear in my head based on their solfeggio tone thanks to "movable Do."

    Providing guidance in terms of what they can do with what they learn also sounds like a great idea. Some of my past teachers have been pretty encouraging with this. They've helped me open doors that I don't think I'd have opened on my own.

    Thanks for the feedback! Critical and active listening is at the top of my list for things I plan to develop in students. I'm planning to teach concepts from "What To Listen For in Music" by Aaron Copeland. I think it's an excellent book that opens up the ears to considering all angles of a piece of music.
     
  6. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    I find that the biggest benefit to having an actual tutor is that there's an immediate response to what you're doing. If you're doing something wrong, the tutor will tell you. A youtube video can't identify and tell you when you've taken a shortcut that works for now but might be a problem in the long run. It's been my experience that 50%+ of instrument learning is just putting in the hours on your own to build the muscle memory and things like that, but there's room in there for theory, and there's definitely a benefit to having someone around to give you occasional pushes in the right direction.

    I took lessons when I was younger for maybe a week and I hated it. The lessons were not tailored to my personal goals- which is something difficult to communicate at a younger age. But as I got older, I recognize that even something as simple as jamming with someone better than me for a bit will improve my playing. Or picking up a whole other instrument. Or watching youtube videos about music theory that I don't fully understand.
     
  7. synrgy

    synrgy Ya ya ya I am Lorde

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    There can also be a disconnect between what a student thinks they want, and what they actually need. When I set up lessons I remember the shop asking what I wanted to learn and I kinda shrugged like I dunno.. Metal, I guess? and they definitely paired me with a metal guy whose company I enjoyed, but I didn't really get anything from the lessons and quit after a month or so. In hindsight, I'm aware that much of my personal style(s) owe more to rock/blues/jazz than metal. I just didn't know that at the time. He was trying to teach me sweep arpeggios, but with hindsight, I know I would have been much better served by learning advanced chord shapes, and getting correction(s) of some basic technique(s). The rub is that it would have been tough for anyone to convince me of these things at the time, but I suppose that's what really separates good teachers from the rest of the pack.

    Which is all to suggest for teachers to pick the student's brain(s) to figure out 'what they like about what they like', in order to determine what lessons will most benefit them. Which is more or less what others are saying, I guess. ;)
     
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  8. Mark Lykkos

    Mark Lykkos SS.org Regular

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    Exactly! There's a mentoring aspect to it. You can get to know the student one-on-one, what his/her/their interests are, how they learn, etc. that you can't get from YouTube tutorials or random articles. It provides consistency for the student, too, who might be overwhelmed trying to put it all together themselves. Not that it's impossible to do that, because as I said in an earlier post I myself have taught myself songwriting and producing, but if there were the opportunity private tutelage I'd definitely take it.

    Agreed. I put together a backing band a few months ago for a gig, and my lead guitarist was an old friend of mine from grade school. He's an incredible metal guitar player who can pick up most anything by just listening to it. He told me at one rehearsal that when he took lessons he kinda shrugged off all the theory and note reading and now regrets it because he knows now that it would have been useful. I know plenty other people who are in the same boat as him.

    I definitely have this on my list of things to develop in my studio. In my own private studio lessons with some of my voice and instrumental brass teachers, they'd start the semester off with talking about goals, my progress, what I'd ultimately like to do with what I learn, etc. And I think that's a good thing to do with people.
     
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