Student Tips

Tips For Learning/Improving Your Music Theory

13th February 2020

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Music Theory is much like Maths. Not everyone likes it, there’s a lot to it, and people very often question the importance of it. As daunting as you may find Music Theory, here are a few tips on how you can ease yourself into the topic, and how you can get started into applying such concepts into your musicianship.

The Major Scale is VERY Important

If you’re new to music theory, one of the first things you’ll learn is the major scale. And that’s for good reason: the major scale is very much at the foundation of all Western music, both modern and classical. It’s therefore very important to not just learn how to play it and how it’s constructed, but also learn the standard triads that are built off of each degree of the scale. That way, you’ll know what chords are used in a large number of popular songs and so are available to you for a good straight-forward song.

Once you’re comfortable with that, you can then start learning other common scales, and how their melodic structures and chords relate back to the major scale. It’s a good way of learning how to play and understand them.

Committing Things to Memory

Because there is so much to learn in music theory, you may feel a lot of pressure to memorise all of it. Thankfully, there are a few easily accessible grids and diagrams that help you out big time! One of the most notable being ‘The Circle of 5ths’, which illustrates the notes played in each major scale, their relative minor scales, and the number of flats or sharps contained within each. We learn about such concepts and diagrams here at BIMM, but as is so often the case in the internet age, they are just a Google search away!

Learn Your Favourite Songs

The reason why you really like a particular song may have something to do with how it was written (i.e. it’s chord progression, or it’s melody). Some harmonically pleasing songs contain certain chords or key changes that stick out, as if it’s catching you off guard (in a good way). Think about where that moment happens within a favourite song of yours and learn the chord change(s). Then, think about how you can apply it to your own playing. Don’t think that you are ripping it off by doing this, because you’re not. It’s just a small passage that lasts a few seconds.

Broaden Your Horizons

In the beginning, you are told about two scales: major and minor. However, there is a lot more to easily explore than just that. For example, I would highly encourage everyone to learn about the different modes of the major scale. Each one has their own tonality and use. Once again, compare these modes to major and minor. It’ll help you understand what makes them unique. I, as well as other YouTube creators like Signals Music Studio, have videos that elaborate on these topics that I highly recommend you check out.

Speaking of YouTube…

YouTube Videos

YouTube is an incredible source of information on anything and everything music theory; from note values, to time signatures (both are very important for sight-reading and session playing), and scales. Whether you’re learning the absolute basics, or tackling more advanced topics, there is plenty of great educational material to be found. Not only did such videos educate myself in such topics, but they also inspired me to apply them in my own compositions, and even create my own videos.

Some of my personal favourite music education YouTube creators include musictheoryguy, Rick Beato, and Signals Music Studio. There’s plenty more than that out there though. An essential music theory lesson is just a few types and clicks away!

If you’re interested in learning how to improve your music theory, check out Jonty’s YouTube channel for some more essential tips. 

Author

Jonty Banks

Jonty is in year 3 of a BA (Hons) Professional Musicianship - Bass degree at BIMM Institute Manchester. He's been heavily involved in music since the age of 10, singing in church concerts, playing piano and showing off his perfect pitch, before finally starting playing bass at 17. Jonty's heavy interest in music theory has led to his current position of helping fellow students on the topic, and uploading music education videos to his YouTube channel.