Why Study Music Theory

Many students don’t know how to apply music theory to their lives. Studying music theory can help you answer questions like:

  • What are you supposed to be doing when you look at a piece of music?
  • What are you supposed to be doing when you listen to a piece of music?
  • How do you prepare a piece a music so that it’s truly engaging and satisfying in the practice room and in performance?
  • How do you find and tell the story of a piece?

Finding the story in music

Music has a powerful ability to invoke emotions and to tell a story. Think of the dynamism that music can add to a movie. A movie without music dulls our emotional connection to the story. If we only had one emotion, we’d only need one chord to express it.  Having a toolbox full of different choices for musical elements like chords, scales, rhythms, and melodies give us the capacity to tell an infinite number of stories. Music sets up expectations, and those expectations are either realized or unfulfilled. Music theory helps us look deeper into a piece to understand and name those expectations. It allows us to follow the story of a note, melody, or progression as it unfolds.

Finding your voice through music theory

Through studying theory, you get to see that you own thoughts on music matter. When you are fluid in the language of music, you make conscious and thoughtful decisions on how and why to shape each phrase. Your experience of practicing and performing changes as it makes you more confident in your knowledge as a performer and teacher. Music theory gives you the tools to make every performance a living analysis by connecting the music on the page with the experience the audience has when listening. Your voice matters, and music theory can help you confidently bring your own interpretation of music to life.


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Comprehensive Musicianship, A Practical Resource Copyright © 2023 by Randall Harlow; Heather Peyton; Jonathan Schwabe; and Daniel Swilley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.