Monday, February 4, 2013

Music Theory, In Theory and Practice

N.'s piano teacher has from the start been diligent about teaching him the foundations of music theory.  He took to this right away and seems to enjoy thinking about the structure of music.  He's learned the major, minor, and relative harmonic scales, intervals, the circle of fifths, etc.  Recently he and Tim have been listening to a set of audio lectures that Tim bought a few years ago for himself from the Teaching Company called "Understanding the Fundamentals of Music." The lecturer Robert Greenberg has an energetic, utterly clear, emphatic style; he peppers the lectures with the kind of reinforcing repetition that aids retention.  Since Tim had listened to all 16 45-minute lectures himself already, he didn't start at the beginning when listening with N. (which might have been both too basic and too detailed) but chose a starting point in the middle that suited N. and they've jumped about a bit in the lectures.  Recently they were learning about melody and harmony.

Lectures are often considered less effective than other forms of teaching (I rarely lecture at length in my classes), but for pure content delivery (as opposed to skills development) their efficiency is hard to beat, at least for certain kinds of learners.  Part of what makes the content stick, however, is that N. puts it into practice every day at the piano; he and Tim talk about the concepts they've learned when they appear in N.'s music, and I am often told about them at dinner as well.  Sometimes, his practical experience of the material described in the lectures comes through other serendipitous means as well.  The day after N. learned about the melodic form of "sequence" we went to hear The Venice Baroque Orchestra; in the pre-concert talk a lecturer played examples from Vivaldi and Telemann to explain features of baroque music and N. lit up with recognition almost before the word "sequence" came out of the speaker's mouth.

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