Piano book for music theoryYour reason to take music theory lessons could be to do with a graded exam system or simply to deepen your musical insight.

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What is music theory?

It could be defined as all aspects of how music is written, and therefore performed.

The main components are:

– pitch (how high or low a note is)
– harmony (the relationship between notes sounded simultaneously)
– tempo (the basic speed)
– rhythm (how the duration of each note relates to the others around it)
– the sound itself (which instrument, how loud, whether connected or detached)

Do I have to take separate music theory lessons?

Not necessarily. The two main examination organisations, Associated Board (www.gb.abrsm.org) and Trinity (www.trinitycollege.co.uk), both offer eight graded theory exams, but Trinity doesn’t require candidates for instrumental exams to have taken any theory grades. Meanwhile the Associated Board only stipulates that their grade 5 theory must be passed before the student can take grade 6 practical.

So, in reality, most music theory education with private teachers revolves around preparation for the Associated Board grade 5 theory exam. That’s a pity, as a knowledge of how music is put together certainly enhances a musician. Moreover, the distinction between playing and theory is rather artificial; even in the early stages when we learn how to read the notes and play the correct rhythms, we are essentially dealing with music theory.

However, as a rule, I don’t push students through each theory grade unless they particularly want to. Instead, I incorporate the important theoretical aspects into the normal flow of the piano lessons. Therefore the main time for separate theory lessons to be considered is when the Associated Board grade 5 theory exam is on the horizon. Having said that, some adults in particular like to have separate theory lessons in addition to their piano studies.

What are the advantages of studying music theory?

An understanding of the basic vocabulary of music helps us learn new pieces more quickly. A good analogy is with speaking. We don’t tend to plan each word of a sentence before we start to speak; instead we tend to think of our words in coherent groups. If we don’t know anything about music theory, we are forced to read every note when we are faced with a new piece of music.

Learning the basic concepts of theory helps us understand which notes tend to go together (in most types of music), and this significantly aids our fluency when we are getting to grips with a new piece.

As we gradually develop our relationship with a piece of music, a knowledge of how the notes and chords relate to each other helps us make valid interpretative decisions.

Studying theory is of course also very useful if you ever wanted to unleash your creative spirit and start composing!


£70 per hour; £55 for 45 minutes. Durations longer than an hour are possible for advanced students. There’s a small extra charge, to cover travel distance and time, if the lessons are in your home.

To explore further, please call me on 07917 363376 or email ian@ianflint.com

Please contact me now to find out more

“Ian Flint is an extremely intelligent and thoughtful pianist, who takes a keen interest in understanding how music is put together. As such, he has a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of music theory, so any student can benefit greatly from his guidance.”

Graham Lloyd, pianist, piano teacher, adjudicator