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Teaching Skills Teaching Skills > How to Teach > Basics of Teaching Guitar Music Theory > Examine, Revise, Consolidate
Summary: When teaching Music Theory - Take care not to leave a trail of loose ends behind you as you teach.

Examine, Revise, Consolidate

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As a guitar tutor you will have applied many aspects of guitar music theory over and over again. You will have used your knowledge of theory to answer your students' questions, to assist you in transcribing songs your students have asked to learn, to transpose songs into easier keys and to arrange difficult songs so that they can be played by less experienced students. You will have used it, almost without thinking about it, in all these sorts of situations.

Because of this, your knowledge will be solid. It will contain a high level of certainty. You know stuff - but, more importantly - you know that you know it - because you have put it into daily use and found out what it's good for.

Your student lives in a different world from you however. Chances are that they have relatively few opportunities to test the knowledge that you have helped them gain. Unless your student is a professional musician, songwriter, arranger, record producer or whatever they will not have the same demand to consolidate their knowledge.

So My Golden Rule Number 10 says:

Periodically examine, revise and consolidate your students music theory knowledge

The word 'revision' has a bit of a poor reputation in mainstream education. It usually means 'going back over what you have been studying so as to prepare for a written examination'. Now, in my view, the examination-based culture in mainstream education is an evil necessity created mostly by the economics and politics that surround the subject.

From a purist's point of view, to revise in preparation for an exam is all wrong! It's wrong because it has the examination as an end result. Better to work the other way round: Study, Examine (to discover what needs revising) then Revise (in order to consolidate knowledge).

When you are teaching people on a one to one basis, or in very small groups, then you can afford the luxury of working this way round. You could put your students through a massive annual examination that causes all kinds of stress and can only lead to either a sense of failure (if the exam goes poorly) or falsely-grounded success (passing an exam proves that you have the ability to pass exams - it does not necessarily make you a musician).

Alternatively you put your students through many small examinations as you go along. Each exam has, as its sole purpose, the goal of revealing which bits of knowledge the student has confidence in and can use to good effect and which bits of knowledge need further work.

So having got as far as explaining the circles of fifths and fourths as a means of establishing key signatures. You check your student out by asking them to transpose a chord sequence or two. Or you get them to write out all the notes in the key of E major. Or simply ask a question or two along the lines of:

"How many flats in the key of Ab and what are they?"

You do this repeatedly until either: It becomes apparent that they have not grasped the theory well enough yet to put it into use. or They show signs of confidence, certainty and fluidity in applying what you have helped them learn.

In the first case, you would then help them revise the subject (always from the bottom up) until you found the level at which they got stuck and help them get unstuck.

In the second case you make a note that they are ready to proceed to the next level of theory.

However these mini-exams go, they should result in the students' confidence being increased. Either because you immediately pick up and sort out any confusions with the subject, or because you confirm their competence with the subject. Frequent short examinations (10 minutes maximum) followed either by instant revision or by confirmation of competence, will build your clients' confidence and help them consolidate their knowledge. Far better than one massive exam at the end of the year, by which time it is generally too late to undo the damage done by continuing to teach later levels over poorly consolidated basics.

So don't wait until the end of the year to discover that the student you are now struggling to teach arpeggio-based jazz improvisation actually fell asleep right after the first lesson when you failed to check his understanding of the word 'note'. (All this time he's been working on the basis that a 'note' is something you leave out for the milkman!).

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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
 Motivate before Mystifying
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