Teaching music theory - role/importance of learning terminology


Get fired or have no students if I did that.


some notes on fancy terms:
How do you call intervals in english? First, second, third etc
How they are called in russian musical theory? Prima, secunda, tertia etc which is italian (!!) for ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘third’
How do you call second inversion of a triad? ‘Second inversion’
How we have to call it here? ‘Quartsextakcord’… it feels like I’m going to summon some demon


OK, you have a boss so now I understand more about your particular situation. I didn’t know you weren’t your own boss like Joe Satriani was and like I’ve been in the past when I taught. I imagine you probably work for someone else because you get more students that way than you would if you were on your own; is that right? Do you eventually want your own teaching business or do you prefer working in a set-up like you have now? Just curious. Good luck with those difficult students :slight_smile:

If it’s not too personal, what percentage of the amount a student pays for a lesson do you get to keep before taxes?


I can’t see how the question under discussion here isn’t “how can I teach theory to people who don’t want to learn any theory without using any of the terms in which the theory is commonly described”.

To which the answer is, just do what every other guitar teacher does - show them how to play the pentatonic box, maybe if they’re really lucky you show them a few positions, tell them to play it over whatever.


Non glib response - there won’t be a lesson program or teaching method that fits every student.


I’m not working for the college, I’m Doing a music BA there to become qualified to teach in schools and colleges, part of that is me teaching beginners the basics. Teachers get a set salary, not paid per lesson. Think of any other subject in school or college, it’s set up the same.
And I believe you can only teach students at least two levels below your own qualifications. Hence the need for higher education qualifications.

I would prefer whatever gives the most number of people an education. Institutionalised teaching us a relatively stable job. But a platform online would be great too. Can do both.

If I was to do the go home thing to even private students it’s foolish.
And ofcourse can’t do that when I start working. It’s just bad business to tell students to go home. And poor understanding of the students lives, personality etc.


I think you guys strongly overestimate the students willingness to learn terminology.
These students come from the schools, which have poor or no musical lessons. They are almost there because they don’t want other subjects. Like a easy way through college. Though I have seen a few exceptions where they have the basics down and sure, you can give those the full music theory as you all know it.

I’ve taught in this no frills manor to many students that know next to no terminology, and they get it. Because it’s logical, the SECOND you add an unknown term they stop following logic and go into a state of following along, but not absorbing what’s said. Because their mind is distracted by the unknown term, even if explicitly explained. It’s almost like slapping them in face, it snaps them out of a learning mode. I know it works from personal experience. And intend to improve on it.

That being said I’m taking everything each of you say in, and really do appreciate some explanations you’ve given as I’m very much still learning. And that gives me a unique perspective.
Most forget what it was like to learn this stuff, I’m in the trenches. But fully respect if you think I’m just ignorant. I’ll drop this as I never intended to derail this thread so hard. I apologize to you Bill for that.


Are you supposed to be teaching them how to play guitar (or whatever instrument), or teaching them music theory?

If the former, I wouldn’t bother with theory much at all, teach them scale patterns and chords and songs, and just get them playing - you can absolutely play guitar without knowing theory, and you can make it fun and accessible and get across some very basic theoretical content wiithout getting too far into the weeds (like pointing out the root notes in a pentatonic box so they know how to play the right scale in the right key.

If, however, you’re supposed to be teaching them music theory… Then if you’re trying to leave out terminology or core concepts like scale degrees, you’re not teaching them theory. Calling it “the second note in a minor pentatonic pattern” instead of a minor 3rd means you’re not conveying critical concepts, and simply put you’re not doing your job as a teacher.

Again, none of the stuff that we’re talking about here is all that complicated. The concept of degrees, identifying how a note relates to the root note, in place of what “number” in the scale I happened to be playing, is not a complicated concept, and as an adult learner myself, it was something I didn’t struggle with at all.

If you’re teaching a music theory course, your job is to teach them music theory. It isn’t to give them an easy way through college, and if they’re disinterested to learn basic theory concepts, then your job as a teacher isn’t to lower the bar, it’s to fail them.

If this is a music performance class or something, “learn to play guitar,” or the like, where theory isn’t expected to be a big part of the curriculum, then that’s a different story… But, if this is a Music Theory 101 class, if the expectation is that students taking this course are to learn music theory, and you’re not teaching them theory because it’s “too complicated,” then you’re failing them. End of story.


@WhammyStarScream, perhaps see the moderators about pruning and splicing your topic over to the Teacher’s Lounge?


Former, mostly, it’s a mix. I’ve no intention of teaching incorrectly. And if I do end up hired I will be given stuff to teach them, this is more my personal beliefs and attempts at simplifying everything I’ve learnt, and it seem to work for me atm in my teaching. And we know how accurate personal beliefs are right lol.

Yes this is my cop out.


FYI I’ve moved this off the “Yngwie’s technique” thread to its own thread. I just threw that title together - we can rename to whatever you think is most descriptive - just let us know.


To be honest Troy I’ve not much left to say, anything satisfying to members would require renaming loads of terms and going over everything I’ve found to be a roadblock, just to get my point across. And I could be completely wrong no matter my intuitive feelings on the matter.

Thank you though :slightly_smiling_face:But Please don’t delete I want to read over posts.


As one of those members, lol, I’d actually be legitimately and honestly interested in hearing this, and hearing your perspective on it. So far the only real example you’ve put forward is scale degrees vs “why don’t we just refer to them as what number note they are in the scale,” which I’ve gone into at length as to why that doesn’t work, but it’s possible you just picked a bad example and you might raise another point where I may actually agree with you.

Worst case, this is something you clearly feel passionate about - as do I - and it’s never NOT worth discussing something you care about.


I’m famous (infamous?) for being dense and not liking things unless they are presented in what I consider to be an appropriately simple way. It is the entire reason Cracking the Code exists. So everything you’re saying here resonates with me.

However I will say this particular example of how you make a minor chord from a major chord was definitely communicated at a very young age, like 10 years old or roundabout that time, in traditional piano lessons, and wasn’t complicated or off-putting at all. To me. I’ll add that disclaimer, “to me”. Instead, one of the single best things I ever learned in piano lessons was precisely this. We sat down at the keyboard, and we go, ok, here’s your C major triad, C-E-G. Now here’s your C minor triad, E becomes E flat, now it’s C-Eb-G. Now here’s C diminished, C-Eb-Gb. Now here’s C augmented. Then we did it in C#. Then D. Then Eb. And so on.

At least on a keyboard, any kid can easily grasp this. Major third, minor third, flat five, augmented five. It’s so hands-on, and so visual, the terminology definitely reinforces what your hands are doing. You’re also learning to read music notation at the same time so the idea of “flatting” or “sharping”, it’s built-in. You can’t really even function without that.

So some of these difficulties, if I’m reading between the lines, might be confusing to someone who is essentially entirely self-taught, has never had traditional music lessons, and has never gone through that process of learning to read. For sure, trying to back into that on your own could be confusing. But that’s being a little unfair to traditional music teaching, which actually does do a lot of that kind of stuff pretty well.


I think you’ve made your point clear about where the students are coming from. I think the push back here is on the assumption that somehow the basic terminology is getting in others’ way in teaching, in a crowd where it may not at all!

There are so many ways to teach, so I guess I wonder what teaching correctly looks like to you. Mainly because I’m not sure I can describe that in a one-size-fits-all kind of way.

Best of luck to you with the gig, and to the students with the class!


Bump on the utility of having a keyboard to refer to. And I like to relate the same to single string playing, which in turn gets related to the “odd” patterns the student may be wrestling with.


Thinking back I think a big part of our disagreements and my very stressed filled learning of theory is the use of the internet.

If you’re not being spoon fed theory in the correct order by a single source, then it can become incredibly confusing and stressful.
So many times I’ve typed into google…
for example:

what is a (unknown term)

Results back:

An (unknown term) is a (unknown term) that (unknown term) and is used when (unknown term).

It’s like, for fuck sake… just tell me what it is. And yes they all can be explained separately without use of other uncommon terms.


For sure. And it is a lot easier said than done. Look at our own stuff. It’s all over the map in some respects. We joke in the office when working on the site that it’s really a simple problem - all we need a way to structure and present everything there is to know about picking technique, ever!

Traditional music lessons do a good job with a certain part of this, and it’s been streamlined over the years so they kind of know what works with students, especially first-timers learning an instrument and learning to read. The kind of music theory classes I took in college do a better job at harmony, modes, that sort of thing. It cleared up a lot of stuff which I only knew in practice from years of copping songs off the radio, but didn’t know the names for. So the terminology was actually a big help in putting a name to things and going, ah, ok, that’s why that key signature doesn’t look like C major or minor, but it is, definitely, a flavor C. The teaching of this stuff is not as totally in disarray as looking up isolated definitions on the internet would have you believe.

Simple “big picture” presentations of things in a way that >80% (I’m making that number up!) of newbies will click with is hard. It takes design and testing to really know for sure if your presentation is really capturing and communicating the concepts you want to get across.


Might be a good selling point for your material if you can convince the viewers your stuff is structured and will all build upon itself logicly.

This came up with Noa, about random practice. Though I think that maybe got misconstrued?
For practice, randoms good, (various caveats I know) but getting a concept across really need to be a logical step by step presentation, so the viewer comes to understanding by themself, with you pointing the direction.


If in learning a new term one has to learn four or five others, one is completely in the analytical space. It’s a great space to be in if one has patience and assurance of ultimate success, but otherwise likely extremely frustrating. By necessity, these concepts build on each other and eventually become less of a distraction. If I’m trying to wrap my head around the usage of seventh no-fifth voicings, I most definitely don’t want an explanation of what a chord is, nor do I necessarily want an explanation of what a seventh no-fith voicing is! Ultimately the map is most definitely not the terrain.

Folks with ready access to information expect high production value, and to some extent, expect to have it all at once. This is where great teachers are (at least for now) still necessary for optimum progress. They interact with the student(s) and revise approach as they go to best help a student up. Not so easy in a one size fits all internet presentation or chat post.

A student has a responsibility to not bite the hand that feeds. I would not have had the mentoring that I’ve had, had I not realized this a long time ago. You brought up Noa… Noa was traveling to multiple instructors around the country at one point. Imagine if he told each one that they should teach differently, more like what he would teach? Much more efficient to take it all in and begin to build. Life’s short.

Peace to you, brother teacher Whammy!