4 Essential Reasons Why Children Who Play By Ear Need To Learn Music Theory

by | Sep 7, 2017 | Homeschool Music, Homeschool Piano, Unschooling Piano

In my last blog post, I talked about my observations on how parental involvement was the common denominator that guaranteed success in children advancing in their musical studies.


I have to say the responses I received via email were overwhelming.


It’s so nice to know that so many of you are in agreement and want to hear more about my own personal observations over the years.


In this week’s article I want to revisit the thorny subject of learning music theory.


Yes, this really is a very contentious subject with many.


There are numerous opinions out there about playing by ear and how the study of music theory can impede their growth.


I thought the same too.


You know I hated music theory and simply couldn’t understand why I had to learn it.




As I grew up something finally clicked and I realized the important role that music theory played in creating well-rounded musicians.


Another observation I keenly became aware of as a teacher/student in my mom’s and aunt’s music studio was that children who could play by ear actually excelled at music in the long term




they learned music theory as opposed to those who chose not to learn music theory.


Again I was truly intrigued by what I was seeing because it was quite contrary to what I thought would happen.


It was my belief that children who could play by ear would actually be hampered by having to learn music theory, because it would disrupt their continual musical ear development by forcing them to read music and focus on technicalities.


But as I continued to track their progress I realised the effect was totally the opposite of what I expected.


Based on my personal observations here are the 4 reasons why I believe children who play by ear should learn music theory.


Reason No 1

When children learn music theory, they not only hear what they play, but they see it as well, because they have to sight read.


Using the auditory and visual senses together helps to reinforce what they learned, it helps increase retention and fine tunes their already strong musicmanship skills. Thus, increasing the probability of them advancing and succeeding in their musical studies.



Reasons No 2

I have found that children who are able to arrange and create their own music are often those who are able to not only analyse the music that they hear but also the music that they see.


While most children with a well developed ear for music are able to hear the chord progressions and changes in tone etc, when they learn music theory and learn these concepts in the theoretical form their ears become even more attuned to the sounds and they are able to visualize the changes on paper as well. This helps to increase their analysis capabilities and in turn enhances their creativity.


Want to read more about the benefits of learning to read and write music, then you should read my article 7 Reasons Why Your Child Needs To Read and Write Music.


Reason No 3

Many children (mine included) lack focus and the ability to concentrate. This is something most parents tend to struggle with even when children don’t have special learning needs.


I like to blame it on the excessive amount of time they spend in front of screens playing mindless games, but really I’m not too sure that, that is the only cause.


As a parent I have decided to stimulate them interesting and even challenging tasks that require a gradual increase in attention span. I think you will all agree with me that this is one of the best methods to help kids stay focused.


The thing with children who have a keen ear for music, they only want to play what they hear, or create their own music and if it is hard they give up. This is because, for them playing by ear is easy.


When we bring music theory into the mix, its challenging and it requires attention span and now even though they can create their own music, writing it down requires more focus than simply playing what is in their heads, and this is a fantastic activity that helps them to gradually increase their attention span.


Reason No 4

I saved the best for the last.


Your child can really excel at music if he or she can play by ear.


However, in order to truly advance and be able to share his or her creations with the world he not only needs to have a good understanding of music notation but also needs a strong understanding of technical aspects like rhythm and beat, symbols, terminology and much, much more….


…and this knowledge can only be derived from the systematic study of music theory.


Yes, for a person who as a child hated music theory, I really seem to harp on its importance don’t I?


Well, for one thing, over the years I have come to the realization that learning music theory is vital for the study of music and having understood that fact I have gone to great lengths to make music theory really fun for children.


You should join my Read Music Notes in Six Weeks Challenge, if you want to teach your child basic music notation.



If your child can play by ear and you wish to teach him music theory only then you should check out my Learn Music Theory Course.

Karen Cadera

Karen Cadera

Creator of the Teach Your Child Piano Series

Karen’s programs are grounded in her signature method the Transformational Five Framework, which ensures that all learners gain a solid foundation to help them master the art of playing piano.

It is Karen’s dearest wish that all children, irrespective of their background are able to experience the joy of music in their homeschool. And to this end, it is her vision to reach out to a million or more moms’/parents’ who have always dreamed of teaching their kids music, but couldn’t do so because they were not taught music as kids.