If you don’t have the opportunity to participate in theory exams, you might be curious about what is on the test. I know I was!
In our state, today’s worksheet covers the note-identification questions on the third level of a twelve level test. We try to keep the early levels easy for beginners, but as you can see on this example, they need to know simple key signatures, also. The test covers other concepts such as rhythm, intervals, vocabulary, and beginning ear training.
My students take level 3 in third grade regardless of when they start piano. Fortunately the test is given in the spring and that gives me plenty of time to help students learn the concepts on the test. Now you know why I make so many games and worksheets!
We can debate all day if it is necessary for students to participate in these tests. I certainly don’t think less of any teacher who does not.
However, I would like to point out that once my students started participating, their knowledge and retention of theory went up enormously. I “thought” I was teaching theory, but with lessons only once a week, they weren’t learning as much as I believed. It’s like math. If you were never tested on math in school, would you have learned it as well? Some would and some would not. The same goes for music theory, except we don’t have daily classes, so it’s harder!
Once I decided to put my students in a theory testing program, I started with my youngest students. The theory on that level is a lot more attainable. It it is basic theory, what all music students should know. After dipping my feet into that, I started working with older students, taking my time so they were not overwhelmed.
Since then, so many of my older students have told me how glad they are that I encouraged them to take the test all through high school. One even thanked me publicly at his senior recital.
Theory exams do not follow most method books very well. Theory in method books only covers the music in the books. After all, it would be impossible to meet the world-wide requirements for so many varied tests. For example, first graders are often tested on the entire grand staff. Their beginner book might have only 9 notes centered around middle C. It is a challenge, but I have found my first graders have been able to accomplish this.
Does these tests help students become better music readers? Well, if you have been following my blog a long time, you know that when students read music while they play piano, they use a different skill set than the skills used in reading and writing notes on an exam.
Therefore, we need a multi-conceptual approach to note reading that involves the ear, motor skills, interval recognition, and yes, learning the names of the notes.
There these note reading worksheets are just part of the puzzle.
Many states offer music testing through the local associations of the Music Teachers National Association which has many other benefits. I encourage you to search the web for local affiliates that offer state testing in your area.
If your students participate in any kind of a theory testing program, please leave a comment with the name of the organization to help other interested teachers who don’t know where to start. Comments are moderated and may not appear right away. Thanks for your help!