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Music Theory - Piano
Tim P Manger - Piano Teacher

Music Theory - Piano

Why Learn Music Theory for the Piano?

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 else relies).

Scales & ArpeggiosScales & Arpeggios

Most students groan when their piano teacher mentions scales 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 and works.

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.

Rhythm & Time SignaturesRhythm & 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.

Key Signatures & PitchKey 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.

Understading Note ValuesUnderstanding Note Values

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.

Ties, Slurs & PhrasingTies, 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.

"... piano music is a conversation, statement, declaration, question or lament, communicated using nothing other than the interpretation of the pianist, and the instrument itself ..."

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