You’ll encounter music theory whatever level you play at, because it’s the language behind all music. Some people find theory more interesting than others, but some understanding of it is important for your playing to be the best it can. If you want to take ABRSM Grades 6-8 you have to pass Grade 5 theory, which means that many people jump in at quite a complex level of theory. Here are the elements of theory I recommended for my pupils to learn as they progress, to gradually build up theory knowledge as their playing improves.
Scales and keys
Knowing the patterns of scales, what their key signatures are, and how they’re related is a great start to learning theory as so much else is related to it. As you learn a scale, learn its key signature too, and get used to identifying how many sharps or flats each scale has.
Start with identifying tones (C-D) and semi-tones (C-C#), move on to finding 2nds (C-D), 3rds (C-E), and 4ths (C-F), and gradually add in other intervals. Recognising simple intervals makes playing and sight-reading much easier.
Know the names
Try to get used to using the correct names for musical symbols and terms, even if it’s just in your own head. Terms like treble clef, bass clef, time signature, key signature, bar, crotchet, minim, and quaver will quickly become easy to use. As you move on to learning more complicated terms, these will be second nature to you, and you won’t be faced with learning a huge amount all at once.
And finally… try composing
Music theory becomes much easier to understand when you try using it in context. Writing your own simple piece, or writing out a tune that you know, will get you using music theory straight away. You’ll be drawing clefs, choosing the time signature and key signature, drawing notes and bar lines, and adding in dynamics and performance directions. It’s a great way to learn and remember theory, and you might even enjoy it!