My son has had an interest in music since he was just four years old. While immersed in a theme study of classical music he stated, “I want to be like Bach. I want to play piano.” His persistence led us to begin private piano lessons with an instructor.
While he was younger, he would spend hours at the piano, practicing the pieces he was working on with his teacher and even composing his own Sonatas and Preludes. Though his knowledge of theory and composition were limited, his eagerness to learn and his ability to pick up new music was remarkable.
Reading sheet music has never been easy for my son. When he was an infant, he was diagnosed with congenital nystagmus, a condition whereupon his eyes move rapidly and uncontrollably from side to side. As my brothers are also afflicted with nystagmus, I had some familiarity with the condition.
His ability to play music has thereby always surpassed his ability to read sheet music. He has thereby learned to play by ear, a skill by which musicians learn to identify, solely by hearing pitches, intervals, melody, chords, rhythms, and other basic elements of music.
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Learn to Play by Ear
When learning a new piece, my son’s piano teacher would first play a few measures herself and after watching carefully, he would imitate the fingering. Within a few tries, he would be able to also match the intervals and rhythm perfectly.
As he got older and he wanted to learn a new song, he would find videos on YouTube and would watch clips over and over until he could play each measure.
He recently took part in his first adjudicated piano recital. One-on-one with a master teacher, his technique, music theory, sight reading, rhythm reading, and repertoire skills were critiqued. In preparation for the Syllabus, my son’s technique and repertoire were determined to be three to four levels higher than his music theory and sight reading skills.
He thereby tested much lower than he could have. In writing a thank you note to his adjudicator, he noted that his goal for 2018 is to test at the higher level. To do so, he needs to bring his theory knowledge up.
Much to our delight, we discovered Garage Band Theory, a book that teaches traditional music theory with the purpose of helping students learn to play by ear.
As students work through the lessons in this massive book, they develop a solid foundation of practical music theory. This will propel them further as they begin or continue with formal music lessons.
Author Duke Sharp has done a remarkable job of creating a guide that requires no previous musical experience. Best of all, it is suitable for any instrument.
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Play Multiple Instruments
Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on social media knows that I am a huge Prince fan. His musicianship is unrivaled partly because he was capable of playing just about any instrument.
What I love about Garage Band Theory is that it includes tabs for guitar, mandolin, banjo, as well as piano. It also includes various different scales, arpeggios, and songs. Students can quickly look at the musical staff and see how it relates differently to other instruments.
“Something for every musician at any level. Especially helpful is the musical notation and tablature for a variety of instruments. This book inspires me to learn and practice more.” ~ Sam Bush
Collaborate with Others
To develop one’s musicianship skills, it is important to play with others. In addition to the many musicians who have played in his live band, Prince made a very large name for himself crafting some of the greatest songs for other artists.
In addition to private lessons, you’ll want to consider group lessons, ensembles, community orchestra. While my son has not yet had the opportunity to play with others, we do plan to join a community orchestra this fall. He’s apprehensive as he fears he is too young but the director and other members are excited for him to take part as they don’t have a pianist.
Learn Music Theory with Garage Band Theory
A professional musician for over 30 years with five CDs to his credit, Duke Sharp has taught music the past decade. He has invested 13 years in writing and editing Garage Band Theory. The definitive DIY guide to learning music theory, it is over 500 pages but is written in a conversational style.
Garage Band Theory will help you:
- Master the two aspects of playing by memory: understanding what you’re doing and coordinating sound production
- Analyze what your favorite artists are playing
- Play any song in any key
- Anticipate ‘what’s coming next’ — the key skill you need to improvise
- Figure out chords on your own and play basic progressions for any musical genre
My son is just beginning to invest the time required in learning music theory. The concepts will definitely take time and effort, but with Duke as a mentor, he’ll be jamming in no time.