The importance of Music Theory

Music Theory

If you have ever taken, or considered taking Music exams following the ABRSM Syllabus, you will know that to progress beyond Grade 5 on any instrument or voice, you need to first have taken and passed Grade 5 Theory, or a recognised substitute.

To quote: “ABRSM’s Music Theory exams aim to give students a thorough understanding of the building blocks of music, starting with the basics of rhythm and notes, and going on to cover harmony and counterpoint, composition, and a broad knowledge of western music, including composers and their works, structure, style and period.” (source: ABRSM Website).

As a teacher of piano, organ and singing, with so many pupils following the ABRSM syllabus, I have found it essential to be able to teach theory to my pupils.  The important thing is to try and introduce the elements of theory into instrumental or singing lessons.  It’s fair to say that the majority of pupils will only ever take Grade 5 Theory – it’s the one you ‘need’ as they all tell me.  However, the difficulty often comes when a pupil approaches me to study for Grade 5 theory but, despite having passed grade 5 on a musical instrument has not really grasped the basics of theory.

When I am teaching the piano or singing for example, I always try to introduce some music theory into the lesson.  A few simple questions is normally all that’s required to get the pupil thinking.  For example – looking at the time signature what does 4/4 actually mean?  Ok most (but surprisingly not all) Grade 5 pupils will confidently respond it means 4 beats in the bar.  But, I have had ‘theory’ pupils come along who can’t tell me what the other 4 means!  Again considering the key signature – most pupils can identify an F sharp and C sharp etc, but what does this tell us, other than to play the relevant sharps when they come along?  What key is the music actually in and why is this important?

When put into context, Grade 5 Theory is actually not that difficult – even the composition element can be mastered with some due diligence and proper teaching.


Jules Addison teaches Theory of Music Grades 1 – 8 either from his studio in Corsham or at various locations throughout Wiltshire.  If you need help with mastering Theory of Music, you can contact Jules on 07855 275353 or via the contact form