Music Theory - Piano
Tim P Manger - Piano Teacher
Why Learn Music Theory for the
Music theory is a critical and underpinning element for learning
the piano (and any other instrument for that matter).
Apart from the fact that you must achieve certain theory grades
to progress through your piano grades (as required by the A.M.E.B.),
understanding theory will open up new horizons for you musically,
giving you the ability to play more adventurous written musical
works, whilst providing you with the confidence to develop your
own interpretations of selected pieces and works.
Think of piano playing like a sailing ship. Music theory is the
mast, whilst the practical side of playing is the rigging and
sails (the mast providing the rigid structure upon which everything
Most students groan when their piano teacher mentions
and arpeggios, as they are (by their very nature) repetitious
and uninteresting. However, (much like practice in any sport)
scales and arpeggios are the building blocks for performance,
recital and technical perfection.
Tim believes that budding pianists who dedicate their attentions
to playing scales and arpeggios, build stronger technical abilities
and are able to sustain faster and more complex levels of performance.
During practice at home, Tim recommends that you divide your
sessions into 60% scales and arpeggios, and 40% playing pieces
Tim also finds that traditional philosophies with regard to
learning scales and arpeggios are invaluable. Specifically,
learning the do-ra-me scale is priceless for budding pianists.
& Time Signatures
Tim's experience is that students prefer to play their pieces
at a rapid pace, and often in conflicting times and rhythms.
In the early stages of playing piano there is generally three
types of timing; duple, triple and compound. Whilst there is
a range of variation with regard to these timings, Tim works
with each student to keep them focused on the rhythmic nuances
specific to each signature.
The simplest way for students to reinforce their understanding
of time signatures and rhythm, is to clap each passage, phrase
or work, prior to attempting to play it.
Signatures & Pitch
Understanding pitch and key signatures is a critical step to
learning the piano. As a teacher, Tim often asks students to
sing a phrase or passage, in order to determine whether or not
their understanding of the required pitch is accurate.
Key signatures are derived from their scalar counterparts,
and bear a direct correlation to both Major, Harmonic Minor
and Melodic Minor scales. By developing a knowledge of scales,
students are able to interpret key signatures more fluently.
Tim also works with students to develop an understanding of
the ubiquitous (and invaluable) 'cycle of fourths' and 'cycle
of fifths'. A knowledge of these musical cycles can be applied
directly to key signatures, key modulation, key variations,
transposition, perfect and imperfect cadences, and tonal and
atonal musical progressions.
Once again, Tim adopts simple ideologies and philosophies when
learning timing and rhythm on the piano, specifically, the application
and assimilation of animals and rhythm values.
For example; The phrase "..dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs...",
can be applied directly to crotchet values in simple duple time.
Conversely, the phrase "...horses, horses, horses, horses..."
can be applied directly to quaver values in simple duple time,
and so on.
These simple applications of rhythm, are invaluable for developing
a firm grounding of note lengths and values, and their correlation
to the timing of a piece of a musical piece or work.
Slurs & Phrasing
Once students have conquered the key, rhythm, note values and
pitch of a specific piece of music, it is then time to begin
formulating musical phrases. In much the same way as language,
students build a knowledge-base of the underlying musical elements
(grammar), in order to combine them into logical (sentences)
passages, phrases and works.
To facilitate the grouping and creation of logical phrases,
students learn a series of ties, slurs and Italian nomenclature,
in order to craft, mould and interpret a selected piece or work.
The understanding of simple and traditional Italian terms such
as; staccato, legato, fortissimo, and pianissimo etc., is a
crucial part of being able to master a piece of music on the
"... piano music is a conversation, statement, declaration,
question or lament, communicated using nothing other than the
interpretation of the pianist, and the instrument itself ..."