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Learning Theory


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Hello again fellow forumites. A few of you might remember some questions I asked a while back about looking for Music schools and how to record a piano audition.

Well I am pleased to say I will be studying at the University of Hawaii at Manoa this coming fall.

The largest hurdle I had to overcome was my lack of reading skills. For learning what pitch a note is, I found an excellent program which would scroll notes across a treble of bass clef for you to name within a few seconds. For the length of notes, I worked through a Piano student's book of simple pieces, and was able garner some experience from there.


Well, yesterday was the Theory placement test and, I passed! The tester said my rhythm was a bit shaky, and that I should try to work up on that.


So now I find my self about to start learning "theory". Having been taught by my Dad, who is a Jazz musician, my idea of theory is knowing I/IV/II/V is all keys and inversions. The school's idea of Theory has more to do with notation and what the relationships of notes to each other is called.


Does anybody have any tips on making sense of the flood of information I am about to be immersed in? Bear in mind this is a classically oriented school.


Or if there was something your teacher was trying to teach you in theory class that you didn't catch until way later, I would love to go to my first class prepared.

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I think you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that you probably are well-aquainted with many of the concepts you will learn. You probably don't know them by their "proper" name, but it will feel very familiar.

"Oh yeah, I've got two hands here." (Viv Savage)

"Mr. Blu... Mr. Blutarsky: Zero POINT zero." (Dean Vernon Wormer)

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To improve your rhythm, work with a metronome or a drum machine.


About harmony... umm. Jazz and classical harmony are two rather separate things, even though the very basic concepts (circle of fifths, major and minor keys, etc.) are the same. Classical harmony is basically triadic, gives much importance to voice-leading and some generic (not instrument-specific) 'rules' for the movement of voices, which don't apply to jazz... While in jazz harmony, your basic chord is a quadriad (four-note) chord, it makes uses of the Modes quite soon, and it's, so to speak, 'weighted' for improvisation...


In my teaching, I regularly see people with a degree in classical music coming to learn jazz and improvisation, thinking they already know everything about music - and then realizing they are still absolute beginners in jazz harmony.

I can say that, having studied both jazz and classical, I found both very useful for my musical development... but my advice is, if they have courses in jazz harmony as well, and you're mainly interested in jazz, take them! Or study jazz with your dad or someone else.


About being prepared in advance... knowing I-VI-II-V in all keys and inversions is an excellent start. I would also include knowing all major and relative minor keys/scales, their placement on the circle of fifths, and their key signature (accidents).

For improving your reading skills, I would use the first two volumes of Bartok's "Mikrokosmos".





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nice explanation Carlo :thu:


Your comments just brought back some thoughts. I'm studying technique with a classical teacher and pretty much at the end of that now. It's funny how her eyes glazes over when I play something with jazz voicings or even when I swing. Genres that are so near yet so far...



Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1


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It's going to be difficult to add to what Ed and Marino wrote but I'll try.


One thing to remember, music is a life long process. You don't take a theory course or a counterpoint course, pass it, and that's the end of it. I'm 57 and I'm still practicing the 'basics'.


Get with a good piano teacher and be sure you play with the least amount of effort. Learn how to approach warm ups. Try to practice something new every day and try to read something new every day as well. Try to play as many different types of music as possible. This may be the only time in your life where you are exposed to so many different types of music - take advantage of that.


The happiest time of my life was my time in college. I had a ball. I hope you do too.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.


In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.


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Thanks for the replies guys.

Ed, I did sort of notice a lot of the concepts getting thrown around were things I knew, but by a different name.

Marino, amazingly enough, when the instructor told me to work on my rhythm, I though of a metronome too. But my rhythm is fine, my reading of rhythm needs work. I play with a metronome all the time when I practice at home, or with a drum loop.

I will keep an eye out for a Jazz harmony class, and for Bartok's "Mikrokosmos"

Jazzwee, I know the feeling. I just know some eyes are going to roll when they ask me to play something and I start playing in 5/4.

Dave, I'll do my best to hound my piano instructor to get me started on those fundamentals early one so I can spend my time in the practice rooms doing it right, not reenforcing bad habits. And for styles of music, I do hope to play more then just classical, but time will tell.


I think school will be a ball too, they have this nice old concert Steinway in one of the recital halls :D

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The school has to deal with budget issues for a long time. Because of this the administration has to "tow-the-line" and conform to the traditional way most music schools are run. That means that it's going follow the conservative european and ethnomusicology (asian) curriculum. However, it's a very good program that they have there. Top-notch professors and applied-instrument instructors.


That being said, at one time there was a serious effort to establish a Jazz Studies program. It was going to use a similar curriculum that Director of Jazz Studies, Bill Dobbins, uses at the Eastman School of Music. Dr. Yasui was leading the effort to get it established. He taught a few excellent jazz theory and songwriting classes.


But alas, when it came time to make it happen there was a debate among the administration's "powers that be" on how the music school's budget was to be used. They decided to nix the Jazz Studies program. :cry::(:mad:

But that is in the past. If you want to get a jazz course check out the Stage Band Ensemble. You'll get a chance to play and read big band charts.


What I think you'll find most important is your piano instruction class. You'll need to "step-up" and dedicate your time to becoming a better pianist. You've got a Junior Recital to prepare for. :eek:


As far as other courses are concerned, I thought that the Aural Training class was very important in becoming a better musician. If you've got a good ear then you need to also notate what you hear. Music theory is a necessary requirement, but it can be intimidating if you don't have a classical music background. I know that students who were in Youth Orchestra's had a better understanding of classical theory than the rest of us. :laugh:


If you're interested in synthesizer/electronic music courses the Manoa campus still offers an Electronic Music course. I know that Kapiolani Community College had a Synthesizer Ensemble class.


BTW - your signature - GIGO - is the name of a band that plays around town. Is that your band?

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Hi Mojazz, Wow. How do you know so much about the UH curriculum? I just had chance to meet Dr. Yasui in person, and he has a Steinway upright in his office, my kind of guy.


I do intend to take the electronic music course. It will be nice to have a break from all the strictly acoustic music I will be playing.


Junior recital... (shudder)


Amazingly, I have been slotted into the choir ensemble. I can't sing to save my life, but apparently I will need to be able to sing passably to make it through aural training.


And no, GIGO is not a band, It's an acronym. Garbage In Garbage Out. I like to think of that when I write music and program synth patches.

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