Written by & under Program Development, teacher resourses, teaching.

I have long been searching for an alternative theory method for my string players. There are purely theoretical methods (Ultimate Music Theory), and Keyboard Specific methods (Snell Fundamentals), but few (and incomplete) methods for the string player. The biggest hurdle for a beginning string player is understand how their instrument relates to the music written on the page. This is especially difficult if a student has a keyboard background. In my studio, I find students struggle transferring those same concepts to their fretless, keyless noisemakers… Enter, Core Music Theory for String Players.

Several features give this method an edge:

  1. Pitch before letter names. CMT eliminates a lot of confusion by addressing the concept of pitch before addressing note names. A pitch is a specific place on the instrument, while letters in the alphabet are an analogy. Analogies are great, but as any teacher is aware, they break down at some point.
  2. Sequence of introduction– keyboard, staff, instrument. While understanding half steps and whole steps is a cinch on piano, it can be confusing when translating that concept over to stringed instruments. CMT simplifies this process by introducing half steps and whole steps by keyboard, then on the staff, then to the instrument.
  3. Piano Keyboard. CMT uses the piano keyboard to explain all concepts related to intonation. If you were trying to learn orienteering, would you rather have a blank relief of 100 square miles, or a map with elevation lines and maybe some longitudinal markings? The piano keyboard provides that extra assistance. Additionally, learning the notes on the piano helps the student train their ear and practice difficult intervals before applying that to their instrument.
  4. Special assignments. These are my favorite. Lots of theory methods have students “practice theory”, but instead of the rote practice writing-in letter names, students complete activities that assist them down the road. There is no better aid in retention than writing, but no better activity than one that produces a teaching aid they can use for months to come.
  5. The student as teacher method. Students are far more inclined to look for the imperfections in the work of someone else than they are in their own (I mean, aren’t we all?). CMT tailored exercises allow students to become the teacher and find the mistakes, sharpening their awareness of key theoretical concepts.

Now, there are some cons. No theory method is perfect or free of oversight. Here are a few things I would like to see improve:

  1. Too much content per Unit. If you have a goal oriented student who loves completing assignments, you might want to break each unit into smaller sections. The sheer scope of information is enough to require 1-2 weeks to complete each unit.
  2. Too much written instruction. In all fairness, this is counter-acted by the multitude of pictographs and explanatory diagrams. Still, I believe this method will prove more effective for older, self-sufficient players.

Overall, Core Music Theory is a drastic improvement that engages the whole student. I highly recommend this as an alternative to other methods.