There are a lot of musical terms to keep track of, especially when you are a parent of a student taking music lessons. They are learning so many things, and their teacher is throwing around terms and words you’ve never heard before that sound like a different language.
As a parent, you may be wondering “how in the world am I supposed to help my kid practice and learn if I don’t have a clue what’s going on?” or even being unsure if they are on track and learning things that will be valuable to them as musician in the future.
This series will hopefully help you feel more equipped to be a support system for your child as they learn how to play an instrument. This particular post will be focused on defining and comparing the term sight-reading and the concept of learning music theory.
Sight-reading, also called a prima vista which is Italian for "at first sight”, is the reading and performing of a piece of music or song in music notation that the performer has not seen before. There is a difference between reading music, and sight reading.
When you sight read, you play the music as you read it. This is different than sitting down with a piece of music, deciphering the sheet music and learning the piece. Sight reading requires a much greater level of familiarity with reading music.
Learning how to sight read music is really a skill that comes with repetition. You practice this skill over time, and gradually gain speed. Sight reading can be a valuable skill for a well-rounded musician mostly because it opens up a world of music that becomes available to you to play when you can sight read.
“Music theory is the term for ideas that help us understand music. It explains what music does, and what's going on when we hear it. Music theory puts the ideas and practices of music into a written form, where they can be studied and passed on to others. It's a way to describe and explain music and how it is constructed. So, think of music theory as a means to understand the language of music.”
There are three major elements to music theory and while they are not nearly “everything”, they are important. These three things are rhythm, melody and harmony. Understanding music theory is important for many other aspects learning music. It will help you learn how to read music, understand rhythm, and one day maybe write music of your own!
So, as opposed to sight reading, learning music theory is a much more thorough way to understand the elements of music. While sight reading is a valuable skill and can be a useful to know as a musician, understanding music theory will enable you to accomplish much, much more than simply playing a song.
I hope that with a little more explanation of these two concepts, you will feel more confident to be part of your student’s learning journey. If they have questions you cannot answer with these tools, write them down and ask your instructor! All of our instructors are well educated in music theory and would be happy to answer any and all questions your student may have.