How To Teach Music Theory When Your Students Don’t Care About it?

Music students often see theory as the boring part of music class. They think it’s pointless or too difficult to bother with. If you feel stuck with students who don’t care about learning music theory, then read on. Teaching music theory can be a fun and interesting part of class. In this article we present eight ideas for your music theory lesson plans.

What You'll Learn?

1. Teach Students Theory for their Favourite Songs

Many students think that theory isn’t relevant to them because it's all about music they don’t care for. By teaching the theory for their favorite songs, you can show them that theory is in all kinds of music. The Solfeg.io app is a great platform for this exercise because it features many popular songs.

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You will find songs by artists including Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and many more stars who your students are sure to have heard of. The app allows you to dissect these songs. You can break them down into individual instrumental and vocal lines. Your students will be able to see how their favorite songs are made up of music theory elements.

2. Flash Cards Class Game


This is one of many fun music theory games for the classroom. Make up a set of flash cards. Each card should show a group of notes, such as four eighth notes (quavers), or a simple rhythm mixing two note values. You need enough cards for every student to have one each.

Hand out the flash cards to the class. Then clap or play a simple rhythm. The students must look at each other’s cards and put together the rhythm you played. Gradually increase the complexity and length of the rhythms. This is a great way for the students to understand note values and develop their musical memory. It also teaches teamwork as they must work together to create the rhythms.

3. Incorporate Movement


This works well with younger children who are often desperate to get out of their seats during class. Take advantage of their urge to move by teaching note values through movements. For example, quarter notes (crotchets) are taught as “walking notes”.

Get them walking around the class in quarter notes and then teach them eighth notes (quavers) and half notes (minims). Once they’ve got to grips with these note values, teach them the rests. Walk in rhythm around the classroom.

4. Compose using Music Theory

For older students who have some basic music theory already, encourage them to put their knowledge into practice. This will help to cement what they know and show them how music theory can be useful. Set a composition task based on a theoretical element.

Perhaps their piece must contain more than one time signature, and a key change from major to minor. Encourage them to think about what purpose the time signature and key changes are serving in their piece. What moods do these elements of music theory create?

5. Cosmic Whole Note Game


In Cosmic Whole Note, students listen to a very slow pulse, such as ten beats per minute. Then they must subdivide the space between sounds. They should clap to predict when the next pulse sounds.

You can set up a track on your computer to play the beat, multiplying and subdividing note values so your students can hear when they got it right. This can also be played as a team game, with teams of students subdividing the notes at different levels.

6. Music Theory Treasure Hunt


Have a treasure hunt in your classroom, or if school and the weather permit, make this an outdoor activity. Print up some pictures of musical notes that when combined will make a melody. Mark a number on the back of each note to order them. This could be the melody to a song they know, such as a nursery rhyme or a song they have recently learned. Hide your notes in strategic places around the classroom or garden. Announce a treasure hunt. Your students must find the notes. They must place them in the correct order and then play the melody. This is a great way to reinforce knowledge of pitches while having fun.

7. Cadences with Favourite Songs

Teach your students about cadences by using their favorite songs. First you need to identify a song that they will all have heard. It’s even better if they like it, but the main point is that they know how it goes. It should ideally be a chord-driven rock or pop song.

Start by playing them the song, first a recording and then play some of it on the piano (or guitar if you prefer). Ask them to focus on the chords in the piano accompaniment. Then change a cadence. For the first time go for the shock factor by changing the final cadence into something completely different.

Ask them what they think happened. How did the new cadence change the song? Offer an alternative cadence and ask them about the difference. You can link this into teaching about the different cadences. The students will also learn something about their favorite song.

8. Homework they’ll Love


For homework ask your students to listen to one song that they like. It could be any genre of music. They must write a list of music theory elements that they can identify in that song.

They should write down what they can hear and where in the song (e.g. how many minutes in, or which verse). Depending on their level, this could be types of cadence and chords used, tempo and dynamics, time signatures or rhythms. In the next session you can talk through some of their examples in the class.

Music theory doesn’t have to be boring. In this article we have shown you how to teach music theory using fun games and activities. With these ideas, music theory can become an exciting part of the lesson and the whole class will want to join in.
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