Choosing a good beginner Music Theory book

It is not enough to learn how to play a musical instrument but more importantly, to learn the Music Theory. It is like before you get on the road to drive a car, you have to take your highway code basic test. A strong foundation in Music Theory will allow you to compose, improvise, accompany, analyse the music that you perform and go on to learn new music long after you have stopped taking lessons.

Piano teachers and parents of young children, ages 5-6, taking piano lessons in Singapore are spoilt for choice when it comes to Music Theory Books. But what are the things to look out for in choosing a good book that is value for money? In this article, I will only focus on beginner Music Theory books.

EXCELLENT PEDAGOGY
There are 2 main areas that beginner Music Theory must cover: Rhythm and Note spelling. Every beginner Music Theory book in the market will cover Music Clefs and notes from an octave below Middle C to an octave above Middle C. They would have learnt the rhythmic values of: crotchet, minim, dotted minim, semibreve, bar lines and time signatures. Hence if content is the same in all the Music Theory books what is the differentiating factor? I will say it is Pacing and Presentation.

Pacing
Children learn best when new concepts are taught at an even and moderate pace with a lot of reinforcements along the way. For example, it is insufficient to teach the child to write Middle C by having them complete pages of repetitive and mindless copying of the note. Conversely, pasting a lot of stickers cannot replace the skill of holding a pencil and patiently writing out the new note manually.

Presentation
The best presentation in Music Theory books for young beginners is one which combines the introduction of new concepts and reinforced with a myriad of activities centering around the new concept taught. For example, after teaching the student to write Middle C, they have colouring activities, sticker activities, and game activities. Ideally the activities are mentally stimulating and engaging. It should be simple and yet challenge the child to think a little bit harder.

WELL CRAFTED ILLUSTRATIONS & STICKERS
A good Music Theory book for children will contain illustrations that is colourful and appealing to children. The pictures itself should entice the children to be curious and motivate them to keep coming back to the book for more. The pictures should be cohesive from cover to cover with a unified look.

A page taken from THEORY EXPLORER book 1 by Dorothy Chia.

A page taken from THEORY EXPLORER book 1 by Dorothy Chia.

Take for example the illustrations on a page lifted from Theory Explorer book 1 by Dorothy Chia. This page is teaching the child that low sounds move leftwards on the piano. Both the baby bear and Papa bear are playing the drums, with Papa bear placed at the low end. A child looking at this page will associate the picture with himself learning to play a musical instrument and having a positive support from his father. Furthermore, the baby bear will have a higher sound than the Papa bear. With this understanding imprinted in the mind, the child then proceeds to work on the exercise by pasting the stickers onto the blank boxes.

CROSS PLATFORM LEARNING

A page taken from THEORY EXPLORER 2 by Dorothy Chia.

A page taken from THEORY EXPLORER 2 by Dorothy Chia.

Children in schools are now exposed to learning across several subjects at any one time. Very few Music Theory books attempt to do this. Theory Explorer 2 by Dorothy Chia on the surface looks like any other Music Theory book out there but with an added subplot of conservation of planet Earth’s limited resources. The book subtly dwells on conservation of our planet’s forest, water and air. This is especially evident in the illustration through the colour themes: Green (forest), Blue (water) and Brown (air). The cartoons of tiger, dolphin and owls further reinforce the endangered animal species that we must protect from extinction. And what better way to teach this than with our very young children?

TESTS AND INCULTURATION

A page taken from THEORY EXPLORER book 1 by Dorothy Chia

A page taken from THEORY EXPLORER book 1 by Dorothy Chia

Very often Music Theory books will summarise the concepts learnt by giving the child a test at the end of a chapter. However, students can still be tested on their acquisition of new knowledge by cleverly weaving the test into a fun activity that is less intimidating to the young child.

In Theory Explorer book 1, there are ‘Storytime’ where the child is ‘tested’ on his knowledge of the new music notes learnt by filling in the blanks in a narrative passage. On top of that, the stories are also interestingly lifted off from the Asian roots of the author.

A well chosen Music Theory books must be pedagogically accurate, with colourful stickers and illustrations that bring out the message of the concepts taught. A book that is able to combine Music with a subplot such as Conservation of the planet is a bonus and definitely value for money given the knowledge and values that the child would pick up in the course of working through the myriad of theory exercises and activities.


 
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Melodie Ng
Melodie Ng, Melodie graduated from Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. She loved riding the pirate ship at Fun World in Parkway Parade. Melodie rings handbells and plays percussion. When the weather gets cooler, she enjoys taking long dog walks, penny boarding and a good green tea frappe at ECP.
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