Applied Music Theory in Practice


in Methods, Music Theory

Today, an example of how applied music theory, in practice, pays off. In three weeks I’ll be performing for my father’s 80th birthday. Of course I’d pull out a couple of songs that I am very proficient in playing to see if they fit the mark. But then I have been thrown a curve ball!

A couple of the old songs are doable, however, a request for something I haven’t looked at in over 10 years. No problem I think, I’ll just sit down and quickly work through it and have it polished up in no time at all.

WRONG! Sure I could kind of get through the song with many a pregnant pause, leaping, stumbling, and pretty much making a mess of things.

So maybe I’ll take it a little slower this time. Better, but still not even close to performance worthy. I’ll run through it a few times and yes it’s starting to sound better, yet nowhere close to performance quality.

Not Enough Time – Now What?

At this rate I’m not going to get where I need to be, what will I do? Well, why not implement what you preach, dear old boy?

Now that’s probably a good idea. What is it that I preach? You can go back to this post here to get an in depth explanation: Specific music goals

What it really boils down to is a disciplined approach. I’ve got a fairly busy schedule and won’t have a lot of time so a good plan needs to be in place.

The Plan

Here’s my list for this week to get back on track. That means finding just 15 to 20 minutes a day to focus on these items.

  1. Break the song into manageable chucks.  The AABA form is standard for this song. Here’s the general approach. To be accomplished over a 7 day period.
    1. Introduction part 1
    2. Introduction interlude
    3. Statement 1 of part A
    4. Statement 2 for part A
    5. Statement 1 for part B
    6. Statement 2 for part B
    7. Explore other part A’s for variations on the theme.
    8. Ending.
  2. For 5 to 10 minutes practice scale or scales used in the song for that particular chuck. Do it at song tempo. Through in some broken chords for good measure.
  3. For chuck to be worked, (10x per practice section):
    1. Analyze, Finger and Practice Melody
    2. Analyze, Finger and Practice Bass Line
    3. Practice melody and bass line together


This is an easily implemented plan and has the right amount of focus to get through the first effort.

So what I’m going to do is break it up go analyze the chuck for key signature, harmonic chord system, chords used and then get into the melody and voicings. I’ll then attack the melody alone, then look at the bass line (in this case it’s a two octave stretch of chord notes played in triples), and then slowly put the melody and bass together for each chuck.

The applied music theory is in putting together the key signature, chords, and rhythm. It’s not about technique at this point. That’s coming up.

Next I’ll address putting it together. But it’s necessary to get this first part down.

To get a more complete idea of the critical steps to learning a song and more on how this approach works, subscribe to our uses list at Join the Music Learning Workshop and get the free report Critical Steps to Learning a Song Quickly.

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