College-Bound Vocalists and Instrumentalists…Are you ready for Music Theory 101?

Beautiful Pianist: beautiful middle eastern girl playing piano

Most high school musicians know that they will have to submit a performance tape for college auditions. Students are exhilarated when receiving their acceptance letter and can’t wait to begin their collegiate studies.  And then … 8 a.m. Music Theory 101 class happens.


Parents and students know that in addition to their performance lessons, coursework will also include music history and music theory. What most fail to realize is that keyboard skills are often essential in completing theory assignments.


Over the years, fellow musicians have shared their horror stories for spending hours in the rehearsal rooms trying to teach themselves keyboard skills in time to complete their first skills test. Others have the common story of dropping out of music programs because they couldn’t handle the theory exams–and when delving deeper, these students had no previous keyboard training and rapidly fell behind. As a pianist, I have memories of helping develop piano skills in my classmates so they could pass.


I strongly encourage juniors and seniors in high school to take time to focus on keyboard skills prior to taking that first college theory class. Keyboard skills will help you to:

Learn staff notation in preparation for reading orchestral scores

Analyze harmony structures

Increase dexterity in playing scales and diatonic triads

Play four-part harmony compositions

Understand rhythms, meter and syncopations

Develop ear-training and singing abilities as you play the examples

Check your own compositions before someone else plays them


While your performance lessons have introduced you to music fundamentals, most vocalists and instrumentalists have only had to pay attention to their single line of music. Music theory explains how that single line of music is integrated within an entire composition and so much more. Be the best-prepared freshman and get ahead now before facing that 8 a.m. class!