#1
Hi All,

Here in the UK, music education pass rates are falling all the time ... the music education system is failing the kids, and government knows it. The music hubs put together by the government have been recognised as failures. How the hell can this state of affairs let these kids engage in and enjoy the conversation of music in an informed way, to improvise, to write, when this is going on. It's wrong on so many levels, and I hate it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24942737

I'd be really interested to hear people's viewpoints, both from the guys that want to learn, and what they're finding are the biggest stumbling blocks to progress, but also from teachers, and what areas they find students are more resistant to, and have more trouble grasping.

I'm wondering are things as bad or worse in other countries? Surely this is not all down to under-funding music education?

My contention is that music notation (score) is the single biggest contributing factor to people being scared off in the first place, or rapidly put off by the effort involved in learning it. In this day and age of digital media, this is a criminal situation, I think.

Consider this analogy ... if you're going to make a Thai meal for some mates, is it reasonable to be expected to learn the Thai language first, especially if you only want to try out a few recipes? That's exactly what harmony theory expects, via notation. I contend there is so much fine detail that the poor kids can't see the wood (the music concept) for the trees (the music score).

Personally, I tried to learn from Walter Piston, which is a huge book, with a large number of examples in piano score, and loads of jargon. Problem was (still is) that I'm a very slow notation reader, so even one example, if the ryhthm was complex enough, plus the double staves, would take me around 15-20 minutes to play 10 seconds of music. And there art maybe 30 examples in a chapter. And umpteen chapters. F**k that. I ddn't have time for all that. I gave up. Luckily I met a great, inspiring teacher about 20 years ago who turned me on to harmony, and made me see how simple the concepts are.

So, what are your thoughts, as a would-be student of theory, or as teacher, as to whether theory is hard to learn or get across, and what should be done to improve matters? Be better if you speak from your direct experiences.

I'll be fascinated to see your responses. Let's put the world to rights :-) Speak up.

cheers, Jerry
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Oct 24, 2014,
#3
Quote by willT08
as a young man in music education when does the theory part come up?


Good point, Will. For most, it doesn't, and is force fed during school (say from 14 to 17 years old). But consider this, there are beautiful sounds to explore, which sure, could be stumbled across by accident without theory, or through theory, introduced and assimilated quickly to experiment with these. We need to inspire, not scare off, to stir the imagination, not shut it down.

But then we see a bit later on (20's onwards) a genuine desire to improve our musical vocabulary, and partly due to the ealrier experience, and partly due to the antiquity of music theory and what's relevant now, they have a hard time, especially if they are without a teacher, or unlucky enough to get a bad one. I can think of quite a few guys around where I live, that teach guitar, yet can barely comprehend theory, nor play the guitar well at all. But they con their students who have even less, and take their money over a long time, eking out the revenues coming in. No good.

Big question is: are methodologies from 300 years ago presented using media forms that have existed for centuries, the most appropriate and inspiring way of getting this knowledge imparted now to would-be musicians or musicians that want to improve, that have the thirst for such knowledge?

I don't believe so.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Oct 24, 2014,
#4
Public schools make everything a chore, including music. Music is fun when it can be explored creatively, not force fed in a curriculum. Much like every other subject...

That being said, if schools want to improve musical education, they can start by abandoning the focus on classical music. Have kids start by playing and learning about things they actually listen to ( and which happen to be 1000 times easier!).

My music classes from grades 1 to 6 were a nightmare. All I wanted to do was play the huge drum in the back of the class or bang some cymbals, instead they had us learning ridiculous melodies on the recorder...
#5
I would add that the picture in that BBC article sums it up perfectly - which kid in this day and age wants to play the Trombone??????

Throw the kid an electric guitar, a drum, a synth, a bass etc. watch them have a blast!
#7
No, but I have long held a bias as to how it has been traditionally taught. I do believe its made far more difficult than it ever has to be. I think a lot of it is what I conceptualize the "pride of Academia". The invention of scholastic terms, to build it to this level of overkill, and make it harder than it has to be.

Theory itself is not hard. The basic options everyone has right now as it stands, (and I am excluding my own approach from that comment), makes it hard.

Best,

Sean
Last edited by Sean0913 at Oct 24, 2014,
#8
Quote by Sean0913
No, but I have long held a bias as to how it has been traditionally taught. I do believe its made far more difficult than it ever has to be. I think a lot of it is what I conceptualize the "pride of Academia". The invention of scholastic terms, to build it to this level of overkill, and make it harder than it has to be.

Theory itself is not hard. The basic options everyone has right now as it stands, (and I am excluding my own approach from that comment), makes it hard.

Best,

Sean


I hear you, and absolutely agreeSean! What would be the top two things you'd rate as the bigget problems?

cheers, Jerry
#9
^what Sean said.
Also, in my experience music theory has often been taught apart from actually playing the music. I ended up learning a whole bunch of stuff with no connection on how that applies to me playing my instrument or in composition or whatever, so it became a chore.
#10
Quote by reverb66
Public schools make everything a chore, including music. Music is fun when it can be explored creatively, not force fed in a curriculum. Much like every other subject...

That being said, if schools want to improve musical education, they can start by abandoning the focus on classical music. Have kids start by playing and learning about things they actually listen to ( and which happen to be 1000 times easier!).

My music classes from grades 1 to 6 were a nightmare. All I wanted to do was play the huge drum in the back of the class or bang some cymbals, instead they had us learning ridiculous melodies on the recorder...


I had a similar introduction, where I was stuck in the choir, given some sheet music, and told to sing. I had no instruction what these dots meant, just a vague notion if they went higher on the stave, so I should sing higher. Pathetic. Another time, the teacher at school handed out sheet music for an organ (twice as much grief!!) ... again, no pre-instruction.

With private guitar lessons at the age of ten, I got as far as "every good boy deserves fun" before the teacher threw an epileptic fit. Scared the shit out of me. Again, I was being forced into learning notation straight away, which had zero appeal at that age.
#11
Quote by reverb66
Public schools make everything a chore, including music. Music is fun when it can be explored creatively, not force fed in a curriculum. Much like every other subject...

That being said, if schools want to improve musical education, they can start by abandoning the focus on classical music. Have kids start by playing and learning about things they actually listen to ( and which happen to be 1000 times easier!).

My music classes from grades 1 to 6 were a nightmare. All I wanted to do was play the huge drum in the back of the class or bang some cymbals, instead they had us learning ridiculous melodies on the recorder...

This describes my music class experience perfectly. I think that people would probably be more interested in music education in school if there were more options than just piano or chorus. The only instrument I would have had any interest at all in playing in my high school's band (granted there was only marching band, but still) would have been the drums.

If schools had more options than just teaching on classical instruments (i.e., piano, wind, etc.) and also offered classes with other instruments (bass, guitar, etc.) then I think that more people would take interest in it. I heard of one high school in Norway where there's a class where basically the class breaks into groups of three to five, learns a song as a band, and plays it, and repeats every two weeks or so. If classes like that were offered, then you would probably see more enrollment in music education classes.

Basically, I guess I'm saying that if schools didn't force learning piano on people who have less than zero interest in playing piano and instead taught classes focusing on more modern styles such as jazz, rock, and pop, or at least didn't force students to take music classes if they just don't want to, then there would be more interest in the subject. My high school forced everyone to take some kind of fine art class (mostly piano, acting, or chorus), and most of the people in my piano class senior year were only there to satisfy that requirement.

That's just my opinion.
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#12
Quote by UnmagicMushroom
^what Sean said.
Also, in my experience music theory has often been taught apart from actually playing the music. I ended up learning a whole bunch of stuff with no connection on how that applies to me playing my instrument or in composition or whatever, so it became a chore.


Can you remember the things that were the biggest pain in the arse, aside of the fact you didn't shown its connection with anything useful, like playing. Did you find notation easy or off putting, by way of examples? Sound like you didn't encouraged to play, just got preached at?

Thanks for your comments.
cheers, Jerry
#13
It's only 12 notes, how hard can it be? But the devil is in the details.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#14
Quote by jerrykramskoy
I hear you, and absolutely agreeSean! What would be the top two things you'd rate as the bigget problems?

cheers, Jerry


Great question.

I see the entire thing as just bad. It's systemic. It would be hard to define one area, and say "Oh but this is okay".

It would be like entering an 82 year old grandma in a 3 mile run, next to a 25 year old daily runner.

Comparing the two, what part of grandma is inefficient? Pretty much all of her. Given enough time, if she doesn't die, sure she will pass the finish line! But its not like I'm going to improve her the the point where she's keeping pace with the 25 year old.


Musically let's pose a scenario, to answer your own question.

For the purposes of this hypothetical, let's come up with an outcome first:

The ability to correctly name the letters of any triad in 1 second.

What in your opinion, would need to be amended or improved in what I will term "the traditional way" that you or any one else knows or learned off of, to be able take a student and effect that exact outcome in 3 weeks with at least 95% success?

Best,

Sean
Last edited by Sean0913 at Oct 24, 2014,
#15
Quote by jerrykramskoy
Can you remember the things that were the biggest pain in the arse, aside of the fact you didn't shown its connection with anything useful, like playing. Did you find notation easy or off putting, by way of examples? Sound like you didn't encouraged to play, just got preached at?

Thanks for your comments.
cheers, Jerry


I picked up notation quite easily actually. I had some cool teachers, almost all of them active individuals in both the local and international scene. I was also taught by ear and through copying while I learned fluency in notation, which ended up being my strongest point in school...until I didn't practice for a year now I'm learning jazz which is an aural tradition anyway
I know I didn't know the point of doing baroque 4 part harmony, and that was a pain with all those rules. I only understood the whole deal when I was in 1st year music school, so now it makes tons more sense and is actually quite nice. So perhaps I didn't get a satisfactory explanation at high school.
And then doing the diatonic sequence I thought was pretty random. Me and my mates ended up memorising the chord qualities of the major scale, but didn't really have much use for it other than passing a test. Now, being a student of composition, I find stuff like that incredibly useful and it's pretty much ingrained in me.
That's pretty all I can remember at this time.

Actually, I was very encouraged to play. It's really just those small connections that I think get missed between practical and theory (because theory is just a guide to what the common practice of the day was anyway - the music came first). Now that I'm an adult I can make pretty much all the connections for myself, but not always as a kid/teen.
#16
Quote by reverb66
Public schools make everything a chore, including music. Music is fun when it can be explored creatively, not force fed in a curriculum. Much like every other subject...

That being said, if schools want to improve musical education, they can start by abandoning the focus on classical music. Have kids start by playing and learning about things they actually listen to ( and which happen to be 1000 times easier!).

My music classes from grades 1 to 6 were a nightmare. All I wanted to do was play the huge drum in the back of the class or bang some cymbals, instead they had us learning ridiculous melodies on the recorder...

So did I understand right, people in regular school (even those who don't play any instrument/sing) are taught music theory? In Finland it's nothing like that. We don't learn almost any theory (OK, some note names and that kind of stuff), we just sing songs and play some (mostly rhythm) instruments.

I don't think music theory should be taught at school at all, especially for people who don't even play an instrument. They will do absolutely nothing with the information. I don't even think they will understand it. And that may ruin music for some people. Same with focusing only on classical music. It is good to listen to some of it but if the focus is on classical music, it just makes no sense. Few kids are really interested in it. And I'm sure they would be more interested in it if it wasn't force fed to them.

I have pretty much only positive memories from our school's music classes. We sang some rock and pop classics. In the lower grades there were some children's songs. And they let us try playing the drum set and that kind of stuff. We were taught some really basic stuff on guitar, not really even chords (actually two chords - Em and D major - but nobody was fast enough to change between them fluently). We did play the recorder a bit and it is a terrible instrument (and yes, I know some people can play it really well and it sounds great). But why recorder? Why not guitar or piano or mallet percussion? But yeah, it wasn't that bad. Luckily we didn't focus that much on the recorder and theory stuff.

I guess in Finland things are a lot better than in some other countries (when it comes to school music).
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

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#17
I'm an ENTJ (can you tell? ) so the nuts & bolts of ANYTHING comes very natural to me.

I agree that public schooling can turn a lot of people away, it can be really hard to find great teachers at that level. I had no opportunity to learn formally until college. My schools big band did not want to lose all their great players by offering a theory course (scheduling conflicts).

There is also this pervasive myth that learning stuff like theory and standard notation stifles your creativity or makes you a robotic player. I couldn't disagree more, but I will agree that a bad attitude, and biased/unwilling learning environment where theory is seen as a "chore," or worse, the infamous:

"Just show me where to put my fingers so all the right notes come out, I'll play those at random and then sound like (insert musician here)"

I learned from textbooks and analysis, doing my own detective work and making sure I was using proper thought process and terminology.

(For the record my definition of "proper" then was a classical/concert music perspective; on the grounds that that group of people actually includes music theorists who study and codify the tendencies of sound and present their findings to an academic community for a living)

When I entered college, I studied both 1 on 1 and in group settings with the music faculty. The theory was all presented from a classical/concert music perspective, but everyone on the faculty was open minded, they were listening/playing all genres of music.

I distinctly remember one of my professors (an older woman, loved Brahms) hearing me listening to Don Caballero once. She loved it.

My point being that the philosophy up there (not at Berklee.. ugh) was that all music was valid, and that theoretical concepts were a study of not only principles (what music tends to do) but tools with infinite applications in order to help you improve your creativity.

I remember a lot of kids complaining about the workload, but never the nature of the assignments. I think the right attitude and environment for learning the science of art goes a long way.

Creativity is a skill; it can be trained. Make no mistake.

Just my thoughts on the subject.

Also Don Caballero was so good
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Oct 24, 2014,
#18
Quote by Sean0913
Great question.

I see the entire thing as just bad. It's systemic. It would be hard to define one area, and say "Oh but this is okay".

It would be like entering an 82 year old grandma in a 3 mile run, next to a 25 year old daily runner.

Comparing the two, what part of grandma is inefficient? Pretty much all of her. Given enough time, if she doesn't die, sure she will pass the finish line! But its not like I'm going to improve her the the point where she's keeping pace with the 25 year old.


Musically let's pose a scenario, to answer your own question.

For the purposes of this hypothetical, let's come up with an outcome first:

The ability to correctly name the letters of any triad in 1 second.

What in your opinion, would need to be amended or improved in what I will term "the traditional way" that you or any one else knows or learned off of, to be able take a student and effect that exact outcome in 3 weeks with at least 95% success?

Best,

Sean


"When you learn fast, you forget fast."

Itzhak Perlman

Who you should know made a point of never practicing more than an hour a day
#19
Quote by bassalloverthe
"When you learn fast, you forget fast."

Itzhak Perlman

Who you should know made a point of never practicing more than an hour a day


That person means nothing to me. Nor do their points. But, what I teach, never requires more than 10 minutes of practice a day, but not because Itzhack thinks so.

@ Jet

...that all music was valid, and that theoretical concepts were a study of not only principles (what music tends to do) but tools with infinite applications in order to help you improve your creativity.


Ding, we have a winner. That's what is at the heart of all that I do. You just summed it up right there. My own term for this is "self-sufficient musician" and that's the outcome upon graduation from the Academy.

Best,

Sean
Last edited by Sean0913 at Oct 25, 2014,
#20
I have no idea how hard theory is in schools, because I've never really studied music in a school setting. But the only thing that I've found difficult (at first) in my own music theory studies so far is counterpoint and voice leading.

For a long time I knew pretty much everything about building chords, etc, but I actually had no clue whatsoever how to voice lead them in a nice way.

Right now I'm mainly focusing on orchestration and it's a real pain in the ass. So many timbres and combinations to learn.

But if you want to for instance be a composer, in the end I think the most effective way to practice is to do just that! No amount of textbook studying beats actually doing the thing. (after you know the basics) I think it's a good idea to force yourself to write even if you don't feel inspired.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Oct 25, 2014,
#22
Looks like a fair summary of the above is that some countries music curriculum itself is not meaningful to the kids, let alone how it's then taught.

Jet's summary ...that all music was valid, and that theoretical concepts were a study of not only principles (what music tends to do) but tools with infinite applications in order to help you improve your creativity. ... is precisely my view. I learned because I wanted to see where it could take me as a player exploring it in practise, and not purely for theory's sake.

So, can we move this discussion into the present?

Same questions, for learners, whatever age post-school/university, and for teachers of these learners.

To save going back to the top opf this thread, here are the questions again.

What are your thoughts, as a would-be student of theory, or as teacher, as to whether theory is hard to learn or get across, and what should be done to improve matters? Be better if you speak from your direct experiences.

cheers, Jerry
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Oct 26, 2014,
#23
For me, it's not strictly difficult in itself.
I mean, once I know how rhythm works, how a scale works, it's not difficult to understand that a chord is 1-3-5 or 1-b3-5 etc.
It's difficult to apply it, and understand why exceptions work, and know theory to such a level that you know what you are doing as you play.
Also, I don't have a method for learning it, which makes it probably seem way more difficult than it is, for me.

Just my opinion of course (take it as the opinion of a beginner who should study theory).


Also, I'd like to know if you think it can be learnt from books?
If so, can you name 4 books, in this order, which you think are complete and doesn't strictly require further explanations from a teacher, and follow an order which is comprehensible even for a beginner?
-theory
-harmony
-counterpoint/composition
-orchestration
#24
^ I'm not gonna lie, I learned maybe 80% of my music theory from Youtube and Wikipedia. lol. Every time there was something I didn't understand, I just Googled it and usually Wikipedia came up.

I think it's good to combine multiple sources. Sometimes a single source explains it in a way that you don't understand at all, but it's explained in a better way somewhere else. We don't have to rely on a single book for anything because we have the Internet.

It takes a long time, because you also want to try everything you learn in practice. Learning theory isn't all that useful unless you know how the theory concepts sound in use.

Analyzing other songs (you like) is probably one of the best ways to learn.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Oct 26, 2014,
#25
Quote by Michele_R
For me, it's not strictly difficult in itself.
I mean, once I know how rhythm works, how a scale works, it's not difficult to understand that a chord is 1-3-5 or 1-b3-5 etc.
It's difficult to apply it, and understand why exceptions work, and know theory to such a level that you know what you are doing as you play.
Also, I don't have a method for learning it, which makes it probably seem way more difficult than it is, for me.

Just my opinion of course (take it as the opinion of a beginner who should study theory).


Also, I'd like to know if you think it can be learnt from books?
If so, can you name 4 books, in this order, which you think are complete and doesn't strictly require further explanations from a teacher, and follow an order which is comprehensible even for a beginner?
-theory
-harmony
-counterpoint/composition
-orchestration


Hi Michele,

Learning from books depends how much energy and determination you've got. If you can sight-read music notation for piano fluently, then there are some very good books. It also depends where your interests lie ... very broadly classical versus jazz.

If you can't sight read fluently, then I can't think of a single one that won't be very tedious.

I personally don't think theory can be learned purely from a book without someone playing the concepts and showing you how to use them (which is where all the fun and experimentation is to be had)

So, where do your interests lie?

cheers, Jerry
#26
^ I second this. To get the most out of the books, you need to be a really good reader. The books are full of sheet music examples which are pretty useless unless you're a really good reader.