Learning music theory is a must if you want to be a good musician. Just like with everything, learning music theory takes time and effort. You can spend just a few months or, like all great masters, keep studying it for a lifetime. Like Robert E. Lee once said, “the education of a man is never completed until he dies.” Keep reading to find out how you can increase your learning speed, no matter how much theory you want to study.
So how long does it take to learn music theory? The answer is up to you. It can take anywhere from 3 months up to a year or two, depending on how much theory you want to learn (if you just want to know the basics or want to go through more advances principles as well), how often you practice your instrument, how long it takes you to comprehend each concept, etc.
For those looking for a more exact answer, dedicated students will typically get a good grasp on the concept in 8 months (1). This may seem like a big commitment, but if you have been playing with other musicians at all, you know why music theory is so important.
Where to Learn Music Theory From
Thanks to the internet, you can find everything about music theory online. But rather than just reading random articles about music principles, you should go ahead and either buy some books or sign up for an online class. Additionally, you can also hire a teacher and take private lessons online but keep in mind these can get pretty expensive. You should hire a private tutor only if you want to learn more advanced principles, like, for example, the Schenkerian analysis or counterpoint. For basic concepts, books should be enough.
No matter how you want to start studying music theory, here are 7 tips to help you speed up the process.
Pretend to Teach Someone Else
If you want to learn something quicker, pretend to teach it to someone else. This way you will speed up your learning and you will be able to remember more of what you study. Why is this more effective? According to a Washington University study, when you are preparing to teach someone else, you tend to look for the key points and organize the information in such a way that allows you to pass on that key piece of knowledge.
Take Your Notes by Hand
Although we live in the digital age, where people are used to taking notes on a computer or a laptop, writing on paper still has its advantages. According to a study conducted by researchers from UCLA and Princeton, the old-fashioned pen and paper will help you learn much better. The researchers claim that people who take notes by hand are more focused and can identify key concepts much faster. On the other hand, people who use their laptop are just transcribing mindlessly and get distracted easily, either by their email or social media pages. So, if you want to speed up your music theory learning start using pen and paper.
A Few Minutes at a Time
Another key aspect of learning faster is the amount of time you spend on each session. According to scientists at Louisiana State University’s Center for Academic Success, you should spend anywhere between 30 and 50 minutes studying before taking a break. If you spend less than 30 minutes on a lesson you won’t be able to learn it properly. On the other hand, after more than 50 minutes your brain won’t be able to process any more information. You won’t remember almost anything you read after that.
Test Yourself Regularly
If you want to learn efficiently and fast don’t just take notes by hand. You should also test yourself as much as possible. Several studies suggest that self-testing is one of the best ways to speed up your learning. If you answer some questions incorrectly, you are more likely to remember the correct answer from that point on. On the other hand, if you have a lot of right answers you will become more confident and motivated to learn the things you don’t know.
Take Good Care of Your Mind and Body
Several studies claim that regular exercise can improve your memory recall. Exercising also increases the amounts of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein that supports the growth, function, and survival of brain cells. Exercising isn’t the only way to boost your memory. Sleeping is when the biggest part of the memory consolidation process happens. This means that even getting a quick nap after a lesson will help you retain a lot more information. On the other hand, sleep deprivation will affect your ability to learn new things. So, before each music theory lesson make sure that you get a good’s night sleep.
Don’t Just Practice, Mix Things Up
When learning to play a musical instrument without practicing on it is useless. So, practice everything you learn as much as possible. And if you want to speed up your learning, change the way you practice. Research from Johns Hopkins claims that practicing a slightly modified version of a task will help you master it much faster. For example, the next time you want to practice a song on your instrument try playing it at a slightly faster, or slower, pace.
Say it Out Loud
The best way to remember something is to say it out loud. Why? Because, according to researchers, the act of speaking out loud is a powerful mechanism for improving memory for that piece of information. So, the next time you have a key music concept that you want to learn, say it out loud.
The time it takes to learn music theory is up to you. If you just want to learn the basics, a few months is enough. If you want to go into the more advanced stuff, you need a couple of years. If you want to become a master, you need to dedicate your whole life.
No matter how much you want to learn, be sure to use these tips to speed up your learning process: pretend to teach someone else, take notes by hand, keep your lessons between 30 and 50 minutes, test yourself and practice your instrument as much as possible.