Online theory class specifically for strings

January 20, 2012 at 11:11 PM · One of my favorite things to teach is theory/harmony from a violinist's perspective. It's a bit less paper-centric and a lot less piano-centric than most theory texts inclusing a lot of the excellent online classes--just going back to the building block concepts and relating them directly to the violin. Though we do all the paper-work, that's usually step 3 or 4. How does it work, how does it sound, how does it feel, and then they have to figure out what it should look like.

I'm adapting it right now as kind a correspondence study for one of my student's parent who has always wanted to cement her theory and the idea came to me that it could be worth putting together an organized online resource. What do you all think? Would love your feedback and suggestions--if the response sounds like it would be worthwhile, I might actually try it!!

Replies (30)

January 20, 2012 at 11:59 PM · I don't know quite how in demand this would be, but I for one would love it. I'm currently enrolled in Music Theory courses yet I couldn't enroll in the Piano and Voice courses (not a Music major). Any thing that relates theory to strings would be much appreciated.

January 21, 2012 at 06:04 AM · Count me interested!

January 21, 2012 at 07:51 AM · Me too !

January 22, 2012 at 02:54 AM · Yes

January 22, 2012 at 03:05 AM · Yes definitely! I was just looking into a pre-college theory course through a local music program, but an online strings focused class would be perfect.

January 22, 2012 at 04:50 PM · It sounds like an excellent idea. It seems that string students always know much less theory than they should. (Myself most definitely included:)

January 23, 2012 at 01:49 AM ·

January 24, 2012 at 06:06 PM · Thanks for your feedback! Sound like it would be worth doing! Right now it's just a seed of a thought, no idea as yet how to organize or present such a thing so it won't be in the near future...but I will let you know if it ever does!

Eric, I also think those aspects are fascinating! I don't know a ton about them enough to teach them at much more than extreme surface level though. I do present those surface levels in what I teach though, since the science really is the foundation for the sound...

January 24, 2012 at 06:10 PM · Oh, and "applying to the violin" involves understanding the (very) basic principles of how the sound production, overtones, all that stuff actually happens, but mostly focuses on applying the theory patterns directly into finger patterns (i.e. scales/arpeggios generated from an understanding of theory directly into the fingers, as opposed to reading scale notes and memorizing key signatures without understanding *why* they work.)

January 25, 2012 at 04:51 AM ·

January 25, 2012 at 05:31 AM · Hi Kathryn, great idea. Having a 26 year break between learning periods isn't a good thing, and I have found that I've forgotten all about what these interval patterns used to mean to me. I understood them better in those long gone days, and although I'm diligently doing my technical work, my good old memories elude me. So count me in too, please.

February 26, 2012 at 08:12 AM · Count me in. I would really appreciate theory related exclusively to Strings!

February 27, 2012 at 01:53 AM · I also am curious to know what a violin-centric approach to theory would embody. I studied both the piano and the violin as a child and I learned theory at the piano, directly from my piano teachers. The visual and tactile quality of the piano gives piano students a huge advantage in theory. That is my opinion, but I believe it shared by many. So I think a violin-centric approach needs to capture some of the same idea. For example when learning intervals, one needs to understand a sixth not in terms of notes on a treble staff, but as an interval that you would play with one finger on one string and the next higher finger on the next higher string. Close if it's a minor sixth, not close if it's a major sixth. (Very important to be keeping this in mind when learning certain repertoire like Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro where the cadenza section is full of broken sixths!) My gut feeling, however, is that the violin-centric approach will never be as intuitive as the piano-centric approach. I wonder if the fastest way for a violin student to learn theory is to first spend a year learning to play the piano a little. I would certainly be intrigued to be proven wrong.

February 27, 2012 at 09:22 PM ·

February 27, 2012 at 09:52 PM · count me in, that sure help a lot.

February 28, 2012 at 04:14 AM · Eric that is probably true for someone who has never studied the piano seriously. I valued your response, it's very interesting to think that someone who has only played the violin will simply think differently about things.

February 28, 2012 at 05:46 AM ·

February 28, 2012 at 07:13 AM · I'm 100% interested in this! Keep us posted!

February 28, 2012 at 10:23 AM · "Theory" usually relates to lots of things - the theory of violin playing - but more often thngs like transposition - or what the Italian word "Portato" means, and how it relates to playing and particularly bowing of course.

So you need to make it clear - is this about the theory of fiddle playing in its technical aspects - or about the theory of music generally?

February 28, 2012 at 04:12 PM · Cool to see so much interest! I really dont know when i'll be able to get to this, but i may have some drafts of info this summer from a session i'm offering for my studio, and maybe i can start by making those public since it might be a while before i get to the website part :)

Peter: mostly addressing what's commonly termed "music theory", which i might paraphrase as the structure of musical composition. I do go into the very basic science of overtones and acoustics, and am especially interested in relating the material directly to violin performance and improv/composition on and off the instrument.

Paul: i actually agree that piano tends to be initially more intuitive for understanding some fo this stuff, and i actually believe piano or another primarily harmonic instrument is great for musicianship building. However, as violinists, especially if we want to use the instrument in creative ways such as improvisation, we need to get to the point where understanding the structure of music *as it relates to our instrument* becomes intuitive, if i can borrow your word! That's why i teach the way i do-more piano is great, but there's no substitute for training the ear and the technique and the theory/harmonic understanding to all work together on the instrument! Some of us eventually make the connections on our own, but a lot of people leave the theory stuck in the college textbook or the keyboard visual and never figure out the wonderful world it opens up :)

February 28, 2012 at 07:44 PM · I absolutely agree with you that an "in your hands" knowledge of fingerboard theory (as opposed to keyboard theory) is the key to certain aspects of musicianship such as improvisation. I play jazz piano, but I have never been able to achieve any kind of comparable jazz improv on the violin, and my violin skills are probably the better of the two instruments. Now, that could just be me, because of the way I learned theory and the way I was taught jazz (at the piano), and I know that one can find (e.g., on wikipedia) lists of "jazz violinists" including a few household names like Grappelli and Ponty. But on balance the violin has made a relatively small contribution to jazz, especially in view of the large number of people who would have the necessary chops. Certain traditions and biases might be at work, but I'm quite eager to learn what there might be "about" the violin that is at the root of this apparent contradiction.

February 28, 2012 at 09:52 PM · Paul - I have always heard that it is particularly difficult to learn to improvise on violin, but the reasons were never made clear. There are some very good contemporary jazz violinists, e.g., Regina Carter, Mark Feldman, and Susan Jones (DC-based), but not many. Someone out there can probably explain the problem, which I suspect has some technical aspect. I think you can learn the basics of jazz violin from any good jazz musician, because a high school classmate who is a well-known jazz trumpeter and teaches of U.of VA told me that he teaches the basics of jazz to violinists regularly. What the particular problems are that prevent those really interested from becoming great stars are not clear to me.

February 28, 2012 at 10:43 PM ·

February 29, 2012 at 02:53 PM · Eric, I see your point but my feeling about piano scales is that the fingering is pretty intuitive. Yes, initially (as a student) you just learn the fingerings. But there are really only two rules -- (1) use the right number of fingers to repeat the pattern each octave, and (2) keep your thumbs off the black keys. In jazz piano there are additional scales that come in handy (diminished, whole-tone, pentatonics) and there are "fingerings" for those but they come pretty easily since they still adhere to the same basic principles. Violin students suffer the same problem. If they just play a scale using an intuitive fingering, their teachers will insist on things like open strings going up and fourth fingers going down (or worse, Flesch vs. Galamian or whatever) -- things that a jazz player wouldn't have the time (or the need) to reconcile with an improvised melody line.

Another possible reason why violin isn't as "successful" in jazz as trumpet or saxophone is because there is much more classical literature for the violin, and orchestras need a lot of violins (whereas they only need three trumpets and zero saxophones), so it's more fun to remain in the classical world as a violinist.

February 29, 2012 at 10:32 PM ·

March 1, 2012 at 01:26 AM · I had hoped to convey the opinion that neither the piano nor the violin is inherently handicapped with respect to playing scales; both are "intuitive" in their own way ... that is, until pedagogues come along and make it unnecessarily complicated. :)

March 3, 2012 at 02:50 AM · Kathryn:

Count me in as interested. Music theory was something that blew over my head when I was taking lessons as a teenager sixty years ago.

While there are many systems of harmony, your first (and maybe only) effort should to concentrate on classical music of the western culture. With the compromise of just-tuning for the piano verses musically and scientifically true scales available for the string instruments I think that you will be treading through a pool of quick sand. If you add any more complications, you will pile above the quick sand a mine field planted in a quagmire! When other systems are mentioned in discussion, footnotes with reference are in order for those who want further enlightenment.

Please, in your discussions do not, as a rule, mix the two systems in a paragraph. Each time that the system being discussed is changed please indicate with a bold face all caps a word like TRUE or JUST to indicate the change at the beginning of the new discussion.

Should you choose to take this challenge, maybe Laurie can be persuaded to make a special area that each new installment can easily be easily found.


March 5, 2012 at 06:02 AM · Kathryn, that's an excellent idea, I would be interested in joining the class.

For creating the classroom website you can try which has good integration with for creating music scores.

I'm one of the developers for so if you need any help I would be glad to assist you with making the website, and I can even upgrade you to use Haiku learning platform for free. I really want to see what I've been working on be used more in music education :)

March 5, 2012 at 02:17 PM · Allan and Reynard, great thoughts, thank you! I will certainly keep those in mind! Summer would probably be the earliest i might get to this, and even then that may end up being more material-planning; it may be later than that before i have a chance to get it web-ready, but i will certainly check out that platform. Look for me in a few months :)

March 6, 2012 at 04:16 AM · I like the idea and probably will register to learn from you. I started violin very late and even though I can play but often feel short in theory, harmony is almost exactly waht I 'm lookng for, because I play in a community band, often baffled by how I fit myself in especially when the songs are pop and rock.

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