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Theory As Related To Piano Playing


Many teachers of the present day ignore theory entirely, claiming that it is unnecessary, and that so long as the pupil is taught technically there is no need of going into an explanation of the more profound principles that underlie all musical performances. To tell a pupil that a piece of music having one sharp for its signature is in the key of G, and not explain the necessity for the sharp, is to leave the pupil without a reason for the faith that is in him. If the pupil can learn to regard a tone not as an independent unit, but rather in its scale relationship, much will have been gained toward making his study intelligible, consequently more enjoyable. This can be accomplished only by a thorough understanding of the construction of the scale, a qualification that is absolutely necessary if one would become an intelligent reader. It will hardly be considered an absurdity then to claim that the teacher of piano playing should be a music teacher as well, and that his pupils should be so instructed as to enable them to understand what they play; for besides appealing to the emotions, music is an intellectual science, a fact by the way, often overlooked by not a few who undertake to teach.

But there is one point upon which the average piano pupil is particularly deficient as a rule, and that is, a clear comprehension of the relationship existing between the major and minor scales. One reason for this difficulty I apprehend is because of the custom followed by so many teachers of having their pupils learn the two scales separately. Better results are attainable if the two modes are learned simultaneously. Let the major scale and its relative minor in both the harmonic and melodic forms be learned at the same time and the pupil will get a better understanding of the relation of the two scales than can be gained in any other way. Pupils should be thoroughly drilled on this point, until they are able to construct a scale of either mode in any key.

Dr. Lowell Mason used to tell us that the major and minor scales are as closely related as man and wife, an illustration that will bear repeating here for the benefit of those who, before reading this article had never bestowed any thought on the subject. As to how far the study of theory should be pursued by the average piano pupil, must depend upon the mental and emotional nature.

A philosophical mind will absorb all that the most ardent theorist could desire, while an emotional temperament, receiving its impressions mainly through the ear, cares more for the effect than the cause. It would seem necessary, however, that there should be some knowledge of the primary chords, including their inversions and progressions. Even though theoretical instruction should go no further than this point, much will have been done toward making our pupils musicians as well as performers, besides giving them an insight into the mysteries of the art that will stimulate their ambition, and possibly lead to undertakings that would not have been dreamed of if, instead of combining the two, the intellectual had been sacrificed for the mechanical alone.

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