Think Music Theory Is Too Hard? Here’s Why

In my opinion (as a 35+ year music professional), music theory is taught in the most confusing and painful way imaginable. One example of this, students are often confronted with multiple sets of systems to described the same thing in different classes.

For example, Scale Degrees are referenced using numbers (0-9) in private lessons, roman numerals (both upper and lower case) in analysis, terms like Tonic, Submediant, Dominant, etc. when you get to theory class, and something called “Solfege” (Do-Re-Mi) in ear training. Too often the student has no idea all these systems are referring to the same basic thing, scale degrees. And this is just one example!

Scale Degree Naming Schemes…

  • Numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
  • Names: Tonic, Supertonic, Mediant, Subdominant, Dominant, Submediant, Leading Tone
  • Roman: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII
  • Solfege: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti

Can Music Theory be made easier to understand?

Yes it can. All it really takes is boiling theory down to its simplest form. Then, present it in a uniform way, much easier to understand. For example. Let’s take a better approach to Scale Degree presentation mentioned above.

Instead of using different systems for private lessons, analysis, music theory class, and ear training, we could use standard numbers (0-9) for all of them. We’ve removed the obstacles of having to learn solfege (including all the solfege names for notes not in the scale), english names for each scale degree, proper use of upper and lower case roman numerals, etc., BEFORE any functionality of music can be learned. We get right down to business using a system every student is already familiar with, the numbers 0-9. Again, this is just one example.

With consistency across the board, all of this can be learned and retained easily. If planning on attending college where all these terms will be needed, you can always learn these terms and systems AFTER you understand how music works. Believe me, it is MUCH EASIER that way!

As indicated before, this is only one example how something that can be explained so simply has become unnecessarily complex.

So, the solution is to make music theory simpler, not the current trend of making it harder. I believe the study of how music works can be reduced to these two basic concepts… First, learn the major scale. Then, use the major scale to learn everything else. Sounds pretty simple to me!

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