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Teaching Skills Teaching Skills > How to Teach > Basics of Teaching Guitar Music Theory > Motivate before mystifying
Summary: Students losing interest in music theory? - A student's level of motivation needs to be high if you want to take them through the hoops and over the jumps of music theory.

Motivate before mystifying

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The prospect of 'Learning music theory' will be right up there with 'Filling out my tax return form' , 'Cleaning out the fridge' and ' Visiting the dentist' on your student's personal list of 'Things They Most Look Forward to Doing in Life'.

So unless you give them some good reasons for applying themselves to it, there is a high chance that you will struggle to engage your student's interest in the subject at all.

Which is why My Golden Rule Number 9 says:

Before embarking on any stage of music theory teaching do all you can to motivate your student to attack the subject with strong interest

There are two main aspects to this: Firstly there is the question of timing. When do you decide to teach a particular level of music theory to a student? I think the best answer to this is: When their continued progress will noticeably be enhanced by their understanding that particular level of theory.

An example of poor timing: Your student says after a few weeks of lessons:

"My C and F chords are sounding a lot better now, but I am really finding it hard to change quickly from one shape to another."
"OK" you say "Let's go over some chord construction theory"

WRONG!! You could explain chord construction to them until you are both blue in the face, but it will have no effect whatsoever on their ability to change from C to F. Chord changing is a Physical Problem. It requires a Physical solution. Out with the stopwatch:

"Let's see how many C-F changes we can make in 30 seconds"

Have a couple of goes at that noting down the results.

"Okay, now lets see if we can change a few things here: Drop your wrist half an inch, fold that first finger over instead of taking it off the fretboard completely when you change from C to F, relax, breathe .... okay now lets do another couple of timed runs."

Physical solutions for a physical problem.

An example of good timing: Your student says after a few months of learning:

"My barre chords are causing me a lot less pain now after those finger-strengthening exercises you gave me to do, but I can't figure out which chord is which, where do I find a Bb, or an F#m?"
"Okay"' You say. "We need to learn a bit of music theory to help you with this. It will take half of this lesson to cover, but at the end of it you will be able to find 72 new chord shapes at the drop of a hat!"

You can then launch into the basics of the chromatic scale. Clear them up on their basic E and A shaped barre chords (E, Em, E7, A, Am, A7) and show how the 'E' shapes are rooted on the 'E' string and the 'A' shapes on the 'A' string according to which fret they barre the chord at.

That's a good theory session. At the end of it you should put it to the test so that they can see that you have delivered on your promise: Get them to find a Bb, an F#m, a Bm, another Bm higher up the neck, two fingerings for a Gb7 chord etc etc.. Then play a barre chord at random and ask them to name it. Continue this until they are sure that they have learnt 72 new chord shapes.

So that's timing. When is it right to teach what? - When their continued progress will noticeably be enhanced by their understanding that particular level of theory.

The second aspect to motivating your student is selling. You have to sell the idea of tackling the next layer of music theory to the student. This is done by enabling the student to understand what the pay-off is to that particular level. Here are some examples of pay-offs:

Learn names of open strings and steps on the chromatic scale.

Pay-off: ability to figure out the name of any note on the guitar.

Learn major scale formula.

Pay-off: Ability to play a major scale in any key and find simple melodies.

Learn chord formulas.

Pay-off: Ability to create chords anywhere on the fretboard instead of trying to remember them all.

Learn modes.

Pay-off: Ability to play more distinctive lead guitar.

...and so on. It's worth spending a bit of time demonstrating to your student the musical results you expect them to gain from working diligently through each level of theory.

So there you go - its quite businesslike really! Don't deliver what's not needed and sell by focussing on the pay-off!

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Related Pages
 From the Bottom Up
 The Importance of the Major Scale
 Don't believe a word your student says
 Correct Sequence
 Use it or Lose it
 Don't Waste Time Explaining
 The Importance of Repeated Use
 Defining Musical Terms
 Examine, Revise, Consolidate
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