Christchurch School of Music


Music theory helps you get the most out of your instrument and your music listening. As students’ practical skills increase it is important to understand not just how – but what, when, and why!

Music Theory is important!

Learning theory alongside practical lessons helps students gain an appreciation of the music they’re playing and the context in which it was written. In the early stages of learning, lessons focus on reading and decoding the language of music. As students progress, classes focus more on giving students a better understanding of the elements of music and how they combine to convey musical ideas.

Advanced classes teach students about music history as well as discovering the essentials of musical arranging and composing.

Theory Exams

Exams can be a good motivational tool or record of a student’s progress. For these reasons, many students choose to sit exams as they progress on an instrument.

CSM students are welcome to sit exams as they wish, but our theory classes do not require you to sit an exam to progress. Go at your own pace, and sit exams when, and if, you want to! Students choosing to sit practical exams past grade 5 will need to sit theory exams before each grade. For example, someone wishing to sit a grade 6 practical exam will need to have passed grade 5 theory first.

  • LEARN! Fun Theory

    Because we believe theory is important, CSM has developed Fun Theory for students just starting out on their musical journey. This class aims to teach students theory through the use of games in order to ensure that their early exposure to theory is fun and exciting . Students will be introduced to basic notation, the staff, simple rhythms and aural skills through a mixture of musical learning theories including Orff and Kodaly methods along with Music Mind Games. Although primarily aimed at children, adults are more than welcome to join in with these classes.

    Because Fun Theory is taught in groups it is considered an ensemble. Please look under Play! Ensembles for the fee information.

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  • LEARN! Theory 1

    An extension of the skills learned in Fun Theory, this class introduces key signatures, scales, ear training, musical terms, orchestral instruments and composers through a variety of activities. It is suitable for all musicians in their 2nd or 3rd year of learning their instrument. The content covered in this class is based on the Grade 1 & 2 theory exams.

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  • LEARN! Theory 2

    Students working towards grade 3 & 4 theory should enrol in Theory 2 where they will expand their knowledge of musical terms, learn complex rhythms and time signatures, be introduced to the alto clef, transposition of melodies and will begin looking at simple chords.

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  • LEARN! Grade 5 Theory

    Many students in this class will be working towards an exam at the end of the year, although this is not mandatory. Grade 5 theory introduces the tenor clef and basic melody writing. At this level students will be gaining a broader musical perspective with a focus on instruments and instrument families, more complex writing tasks, transposition and the ability to show a broader understanding by beginning to analyze actual music.

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  • LEARN! Beyond Grade 5

    Due to the small number of students continuing with theory beyond grade 5, we are unable to offer scheduled classes however students may still enroll in individual or paired lessons. Classes beyond grade 5 will be individually tailored to meet the needs of the students and will be scheduled at a time organised by the office. Students looking to sit NCEA or theory exams should enrol for a minimum of one semester as the concepts require regular practice rather than last minute cramming!

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