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What Do Music Theory Teachers Do?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Music theory teachers use a variety of techniques and styles to teach students how music is put together. Many music theory teachers combine theoretical instruction with other forms of music teaching, such as sight reading, instrumental and vocal performance, or composition. A music theory teacher can work in a variety of venues, including as a private teacher, instructor for a musical group, or in a formal educational setting.

Much like language teachers, music theory teachers are responsible for training students in the vocabulary, patterns, and basic concepts of musical composition and performance. Some of the concepts covered in a basic class might include reading notes for pitch and length, identifying key signatures, and learning how to count meters. Methods used for teaching these major principles can include many different memorization techniques, such as word associations and easily-remembered rhythmic patterns. Each teacher may use slightly different techniques, depending on his or her training, and the age and skill level of the student.

In most cases, music theory teachers educate students in theory for a particular purpose. One of the goals of theoretical teaching is to help students develop sight reading skills, so that they can perform a piece of music as they read it. Sight reading can take many years to master, but is impossible without clear grounding in theoretical basics. Musical theory teachers may also teach theory as an introduction to composing, so that students can invent and write down their own music.

Private music theory teachers tend to operate on a freelance basis, so that they can pick and choose their own students. In addition to theory, these teachers often give singing or instrumental lessons, allowing the student to apply theoretical knowledge to practical performance. These teachers may have teaching credentials, or may simply have a lot of experience with music and a strong understanding of theory.

In addition to giving private lessons, some musical theory teachers may work with musical performance groups, such as choirs or orchestras. Having a musical theory instructor for a performance group can allow members to learn the basics of theory and sight reading, helping the whole group to progress faster. Children's choirs and musical groups often use theory teachers to instruct students in the basics of theory so that they can learn to read performance pieces quickly.

Some private and public schools also offer musical theory training. Teachers for these classes are usually credentialed instructors that are teaching students theory for the purpose of performance in band, orchestra, or choir. At the university level, advanced musical theory classes are also offered for music majors in performance, education, and composition. Musical theory teachers at the college level often have decades of experience teaching theory, and may be established professional musicians.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

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Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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