The simple answer to knowing whether or not a violin student needs to learn music theory is yes. Still, this answer involves knowing why, when, and how. Playing violin is more than just holding the instrument correctly and producing a beautiful sound. All the elements for the learning process can seem overwhelming, especially when music theory is introduced. As a teacher providing violin lessons in Atlanta, I find that music theory applies to my students depending on their age, learning ability, and level of playing. I structure each student’s lessons based on why, when, and how music theory is learned.
Music theory consists of all aspects of music making: rhythm, tone, timbre, note dictation, dynamics, texture, and every element one can think of. I call music theory the vocabulary of music. When my students understand how to read notes or interpret the dynamics, I see them take more ownership of their playing. Instead of waiting for the next lesson for me to explain new concepts, they have some tools to help them learn the next piece ahead of time.
The stigma around music theory resorts to various reasons including a strict focus on certain elements such as rhythm and key signatures. The details of reading music can be tedious, especially when math becomes involved, but I believe integrating music theory in a creative way is most important. This responsibility relies mainly on the teacher and provides students with their own lens to become authentic and exceptional musicians.
The question of “when” varies for different students. For my youngest students who are starting to learn how to put together letters to form words or do simple additions with numbers, music theory is clapping to music or stomping to the syllables of words they know. What is felt, heard, and touched when holding the violin and making sounds is the main focus and still necessary to understanding theory. I find that these simple methods provide the best introduction to younger students. As I was learning violin, I remember an Atlanta violin teacher telling me that I am able to understand music more because I listen better. Opening the senses of listening and feeling will inevitably invite a deeper understanding of music to young minds.
My students who are in junior high and older have the capacity to comprehend more about numbers or even the emotions that are attributed to music. Still, each student learns differently but they can begin theory learning more presently in the beginning lessons. Sometimes, students learn theory outside of lessons either in music class at their respective schools or in a theory program they attend. This initiative is not usually done right away when students begin, but when students have a grasp of the very basics of violin, developing theory is the next step towards progressing as an excellent violinist.
Learning theory is without a specific template or model. Each student understands concepts differently and what matters most is finding the most adaptable way music theory can be incorporated in lessons. First, theory should not be viewed as a separate element from music making. Playing by ear is not abandoning theory either. As long as music has rhythm and notes, theory is always in the picture. Parents should make sure teachers incorporate theory in an integrated and balanced way, one that allows students to build awareness of their own musical knowledge.
Second, music theory is best understood when introduced in simpler and smaller steps. I am grateful for the amount of resources that provide music theory training, whether online through YouTube videos or in textbook curriculums, but teachers have the responsibility to involve theory during lessons to present music in a more tangible way. At Lessons In Your Home, you will find this focus of a holistic learning experience.
If you are interested in learning more about music theory or the violin or if you want to sign up for lessons, contact us! Our teachers come right to your home for every lesson, plus we offer virtual music lessons, too. Our online music lessons are taught by local music teachers with live lessons tailored to your family!
By: Danya Wilson