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School of Music

Department of Theory, Composition & Musicology

Why study music theory?

Understanding music theory concepts and applications is vital for developing an understanding of musical practice and performance. Theory is usually taught/learned using:

  • written exercises (drill)
  • study of musical scores (analysis)
  • practice of aural skills (sight-singing, dictation)
  • performance of musical literature

In a sense, an interpretation of a musical work is an analysis of that work. In most cases, we rely upon our intuition to guide us when interpreting a work; for beginning musicians, this may be their primary mode of learning, and of assessing a "correct" interpretation. Your intuition is a powerful tool, but it is limited by your experience. Study of music theory will assist you in refining your musical sensibilities in a few key ways by:

  • demonstrating how music elements function in given contexts
  • deepening your knowledge/appreciation of factors that shape musical events
  • broadening your awareness of musical style and practice
  • giving you tools with which to understand/analyze music (method)
  • training your "ear" to hear and understand the musical structure

Think of music theory as a set of tools that gives you the ability to more fully understand music. Once you think, then act, and use these tools to help broaden your understanding of the music you are performing. The application of music theory to your practice of music will help you to succeed in theory courses, and importantly as a music professional.