We always love when we have a guest on the show is hugely passionate about their subject of expertise, and we think that goes double when the subject is music theory.

Because it’s a subject that can be so wonderful – but is so often taught in a dry, boring way, much like the ear training that we focus a lot on at Musical U. So when we discover a music theory educator who can bring it to life and make it fun, easy and effective – that’s really exciting.

Glory St. Germain is one of those people. The Ultimate Music Theory program she created and continues to co-author is one of the most widely used and well-respected resources for music teachers to learn to teach theory. And when we say that you might be thinking about dry, mathematical-type material, all very serious and academic – nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a program that teaches the true fundamentals and everything that’s important to know – but as you’ll hear in this episode Glory has a real knack for bringing it to life and making it a genuine pleasure to learn.

One quick thing to explain – Glory makes mention of the ARCT, which stands for Associate of the Royal Conservatory, a teaching qualification provided by the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada.

In this conversation we talk about:

  • The three ways to learn music theory and why most people are missing out by just using one
  • How the combination of practical learning growing up and formal study later on let Glory understand both the “what” and more importantly the “why” of music theory
  • And she shares one neglected practice which can help you learn 30-40% faster.

Listen to the episode:

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Learn how to bring music theory to life with Glory St. Germain, the creator of the Ultimate Music Theory program that teaches the "how" and "why" of theory.



Well I don’t know about you, but I found myself eager to go study some music theory by the end of that conversation!

I don’t think anyone listening to that could walk away still thinking that music theory has to be boring, or complicated, or overwhelming. There is a better way.

Let’s recap the insights Glory shared.

Glory grew up in a very musical family – and her own five children are continuing that tradition, all being music professionals themselves now. So learning music theory was just part-and-parcel of learning music. She talked about learning about chords through her dad having her play from lead sheets, and how she saw the same kind of thing happen with her own daughter who figured out how to play by ear using intervals without needing to be taught a piece note by note.

I think the biggest message from our conversation was the sheer usefulness of music theory. To hear Glory talk about it, it’s much more about understanding music and speaking the language of music than it is about memorising rules or deciphering symbols.

Her own experience of music theory was partly the highly-practical kind learning from her family, but she went on to study in the more traditional ways. We talked about the benefits of having a syllabus laid out for you and knowing that you’ll be studying the topics which matter in a sensible way – very different from jumping around trying to cobble together music theory knowledge yourself. And also the benefit of exams or some kind of testing, to make sure you’ve really understood the material, to help motivate you to keep studying, and to give you a clear milestone of achievement that you can be proud of and know you’ve reached a certain standard.

We also talked about how the traditional methods of teaching and learning theory can leave a lot to be desired. Glory mentioned how you can actually study a book that not only doesn’t help you learn, it’s actually detrimental to your learning, for example by making things over-complicated so that you end up more confused. So it’s essential to have suitable resources if you’re going to learn effectively.

In Glory’s model, inspired by NLP, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and the concept of there being visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, it’s clear that just learning theory in a visual and factual way from a book actually neglects two thirds of the puzzle. To really bring theory to life and make it interesting and relevant you must also be thinking about the auditory side: what do these concepts sound like. And the kinesthetic side, such as playing examples on your instrument. I loved her example of an augmented third and a perfect fourth to illustrate how something can seem identical through one of those lenses but very different through another.

I’ve long argued that learning theory needs to be motivated by your real musical life and your own musical goals, and then pursued in a way that connects with your instrument skills and ear skills. In fact at Musical U we talk about that “trifecta” of becoming a good musician, that you need to develop the ear, the instrument, and your theory understanding. And that’s a whole lot easier if the theory resources you’re using acknowledge the importance of connecting with the ear and the instrument.

I asked Glory for pointers on making it fun and easy to learn music theory and on top of that visual/auditory/kinesthetic point she also recommended always recording your practice sessions, because you never know when you’ll play something interesting that you want to explore some more. And that even in the age of apps, we shouldn’t discount the value of writing things by hand as studies have shown we retain 30-40% more information when we write things by hand when learning.

Two major problems musicians encounter when trying to study theory are intimidation and overwhelm. The concepts can seem lofty and beyond reach, and there can seem like there’s just way too much to try to take in. As Glory noted those can be amplified for the adult learner who’s self-conscious or doubtful about their own learning capabilities. She explained how it can be simple and bite-sized, giving the examples of lessons in the Ultimate Music Theory “Complete” course where the lessons start from the very beginning and always take the student “from the known to the unknown” so that at each step they’re building on what’s been learned so far and it’s a clear, cumulative learning experience which doesn’t leave them out of their depth but still allows them to learn quickly.

We also discussed the value of exams and tests – not just for the sake of it or because some authority says we should do them. But because they can provide us with a clear focus and target to aim for, and boost our motivation to follow through and get the results. It can also be a nice reminder to yourself in future of the level you’ve achieved with your hard work.

I have a great respect and admiration for the work that Glory’s doing, and so if you’ve ever wanted to brush up on your music theory knowledge, whether as a teacher or just as a learning musician yourself, I would very much encourage you to check out ultimatemusictheory.com and umtcourses.com, and we’ll have links to those in the shownotes for this episode.

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