Music Theory Musings: A Practical Example

Sometimes, students ask, “Why do I need to take music theory?” The simple answer is, “It makes you a better musician.” With theoretical knowledge of the music, one is able to better learn and understand their repertoire, resulting in stronger performances.

I’ll use a practical example: Two of my students are working on a Bourée this year, which is a lively French dance popular in the Baroque period. One is learning the Bourée in A minor by Johann Ludwig Krebs while the other is working on a Bourée in F Major from Georg Philipp Telemann’s Solo in F Major, TWV 32:4.

At the beginning of the school year, we discussed the form of the music. Both are in binary form (rounded binary to be more specific). That makes learning simpler, knowing that the A section returns with some or no modifications. Both begin on an upbeat, which encourages the performer to give a nice strong accent to beat one in the following bar. They should be in duple meterbut strangely, they’re both in quadruple meter. Lively dance in quadruple meter? Past experience suggests that they play with a feeling of one beat per bar.

The first section begins in the tonic key but ends in a decisive perfect (V-I) cadence in a contrasting, closely related key (either the Dominant or the relative major)

The B section in both dances are based on a short motive from the A section. After some sequences, the music returns to the A section (or in the case of the second dance, a portion of A). Both songs end in a decisive perfect cadence in the tonic key.

My students learned their Bourées, one section at a time. They are currently busy bees, trying to memorize their songs for the upcoming APTA Festival. The memorization process has been easier because they recognize the form and the cadences (the usual trouble spots). However, both are struggling with the sequential patterns.

Theoretically, sequences should be easy to memorize but sometimes, it takes a while to internalize the pattern, as my students are finding. You learn the original pattern and then transpose it up a step or down a step, as marked in the score. I am now trying to get them to memorize the chords, e.g. C goes to F, D goes to G, E goes to A, etc. I just realized that should have told one student that this pattern is a series V-I chords, with the pattern moving up a step (C – D – E or F, G, A, depending on which chord you focus on). Maybe that will help.

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