As a freshman in college, I and many of my classmates struggled with the basics of music theory. Wind and percussion majors seemed to have the most difficulty. After talking with my friends who were majoring in piano, organ and vocal music, I found that many had received some type of basic theory instruction during their formative years of musical training. I went to local music stores and began to search for some type of book that would allow me (after graduation) to teach basic music theory to the students in my band classes. I found many levels of theory workbooks designed for piano students. Others, though generic in content, were clearly written by authors with a choral background. I wondered why such “little books” did not exist for band students. I later told my theory professor that one day I wanted to write a music theory workbook for band. He smiled and went to get a refill on his coffee. His amusement was likely inspired by the low scores I had in his class.

I initially began to teach theory in my band class because I was convinced that my students needed this information to be good musicians. Later I became a fan of teaching music theory in band because of the insights I gained while grading student written work. Music theory, by nature, is a written curriculum. The assignments and quizzes which accompany any good theory instruction yield numerous benefits in the traditional band class. Of particular note are the holes in my students’ base of knowledge that I have been able to discover and repair in the comfort (and privacy) of our school band room. Many of these misunderstandings would have gone undetected in the “non-written” band class.

Many directors who begin to use Fundamentals of Music Theory are surprised at how easy it is to find time for theory in class. Some teachers plan small lessons at the beginning or end of each class. Others prefer to teach two or three longer lessons each week and include short classroom games and activities. Others use the series as a substitute lesson plan when conferences or other professional obligations require one or all members of the band staff to be absent from class. Some high school teachers use the series to fulfill honors credit requirements or even as part of the award letter requirements for band.

Each book in the series contains a thorough review of essential concepts from the previous book. Book Three reviews all essential beginning and intermediate concepts from Book One and Book Two as well as introducing new advanced concepts. I use Book One and Book Two in my lower bands. My top group (which is comprised of students in grades 9-12) completes Book Three each year. I always teach the lessons in Book Three as if I were presenting the material for the first time. Students who completed the book the year before simply listen to the lesson and participate in the group question and answer rounds. They must also re-take the quizzes for each unit and must correct any previously found mistakes in their workbooks. This repeating cycle ensures that older students retain mastery of the material as the younger students learn it. Also, if a student had problems with a concept (like intervals) the previous year, they often master it the second time around. I have also found that the older students help the younger students with theory. This type of “bonding” has proven to have many benefits.

Personally, I collect the student workbooks once or twice each grading period. This ensures that students complete the exercises within a reasonable time period following their assignment. Students like the flexibility of having a week or longer to complete a unit. This allows them to manage their time if they have heavy homework in other classes and has proven very successful in helping to develop a positive attitude regarding written assignments in band class. When I decide to collect the books, I usually give students a week’s notice so that they may have time to finish any remaining work. Once the books are collected, I spot-check for completion. If the student has completed the work assigned and spot-checking reveals no major problems, the student earns an “A.” If the student submits work that is incomplete, messy or contains multiple errors, points are deducted. Students begin work on a new unit as soon as the lesson material has been presented in class. They know that unannounced quizzes will soon appear. I usually wait a day or two before beginning quizzes in a new unit. This gives students time to re-read the lesson material and try some exercises and then ask questions if they do not understand. I usually begin class during this short waiting period by asking, “Are there any questions regarding the new theory unit?” If none are asked, I usually do a quick (five minute) round of questions posed to students around the room. The questions relate to the new unit. Quizzes are all timed and are graded in class. Students exchange papers and sign their full name in the lower right-hand corner of the paper they are grading. I call out answers and write anything on the board that needs clarification. Students know that any mistake they make grading someone’s paper will be deducted from their own grade. I usually spot-check to make sure that papers are being checked accurately.

Once each student in each class has purchased a personal copy of the workbook, teachers may make copies or transparencies of any workbook for review, quizzing, correcting or instructional purposes.