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Posted by on Sep 8, 2010 in Articles | 2 comments

Smells Like- FEAR, I Mean “Music Theory”

Smells Like- FEAR, I Mean “Music Theory”

by Erica Papillion-Posey

 As you are well aware, I am fast approaching the completion of my graduate studies and as usual, I have saved the best torture for last. Like math, music theory has always been a nemesis of mine. It has not come easy to me and I have fought for success with it like a semi-annual sale at Macy’s.

musictheoryfordummiesAs a person that came to ‘formalized’ music training in my late teens (late by most standards) I have always felt behind in some regards. For as confident as I am in my talent I am less confident in my technical musical abilities. Want to see someone jump out of their slickest pair of Steve Maddens and run for the hills? Put a Beethoven Sonata in front of me and request that I analyze it. Okay, I know I shop to much but you get the point.

Well, it’s now or never. I am in my last quarter of school and being forced, by threat of death, (or no degree) to take a Form and Analysis music theory course. As luck would have it- I am not suffering alone. There are other floundering vocalist accompanying me, looking just as defeated, perplexed and desperate. No one says it but the facial expressions are as telling as they are priceless.

To cement my destruction, my instructor is obsessed with perfect pitch or (APR) Absolute Pitch Recognition. What- (APR)!?! I am just hoping for (FPR) Fuzzy Pitch Recognition- as my instructor so aptly coined it.

Please tell me I’m not the only person/vocalist that is experiencing this trauma? I sight- read/sing relatively well, I learn music quickly, including characterizations, I can maneuver my way around the piano and have developed a keen ear for languages. Also in my defense, it’s been a few years since I’ve had to take any kind of music theory. Needless to say, I have forgotten most of it. Yes, I am now, shamelessly, soliciting advice!

The Musical Inquisition has come for me and when they come- you’re not likely to survive but I am praying for dear life and being proactive. I have acquired a tutor and a list of sources that are about as mundane and mind-numbing as Leave It To Beaver re-runs but helpful nonetheless.

For the record, this deficiency has absolutely nothing to do with singers being ‘less than’ or inept compared to instrumentalist and everything to do with a different area of focus within the realm of classical arts.  Your thoughts….

Can you sympathize? Has music theory been an obstacle for you? Are you in need of some assistance? My regards to the Inquisitor himself for providing this list of sources:

-Wallace Berry, Structural Functions in Music
-Martin Boykan, Silence and Slow Time
-Thomas Christensen (ed.), The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory
-Charles Rosen, The Classical Style
-Deb Stein (ed.), Engaging Music: Essays in Music Analysis

-Journal of Music Theory
-Music Theory Spectrum
-Music Analysis


EPP_HeadshotErica Papillion-Posey is one of the founders and directors of You can learn more about Erica under the ‘About Us’ tab at the top of the page. Her articles are featured on every other Wednesday. Erica welcomes you to comment on her article or email her privately at

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  1. I like the Dummy books, but I don’t know how good it would be for music theory.

  2. Chris,

    I hear tell that the Dummy books are quite comprehensive! However, I still love to learn the old “tried and true” way- formally….


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