Music Theory You’ll Love to Learn, with Glory St. Germain

We always love when we have a guest on the show is hugely passionate about their subject of expertise, and we think that goes double when the subject is music theory.

Because it’s a subject that can be so wonderful – but is so often taught in a dry, boring way, much like the ear training that we focus a lot on at Musical U. So when we discover a music theory educator who can bring it to life and make it fun, easy and effective – that’s really exciting.

Glory St. Germain is one of those people. The Ultimate Music Theory program she created and continues to co-author is one of the most widely used and well-respected resources for music teachers to learn to teach theory. And when we say that you might be thinking about dry, mathematical-type material, all very serious and academic – nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a program that teaches the true fundamentals and everything that’s important to know – but as you’ll hear in this episode Glory has a real knack for bringing it to life and making it a genuine pleasure to learn.

One quick thing to explain – Glory makes mention of the ARCT, which stands for Associate of the Royal Conservatory, a teaching qualification provided by the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada.

In this conversation we talk about:

  • The three ways to learn music theory and why most people are missing out by just using one
  • How the combination of practical learning growing up and formal study later on let Glory understand both the “what” and more importantly the “why” of music theory
  • And she shares one neglected practice which can help you learn 30-40% faster.

Listen to the episode:

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Christopher: Welcome to the show, Glory. Thank you for joining us today.

Glory: Well, thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.

Christopher: So you are known as one of the world’s experts in music theory and in teaching music theory. Was that something that came naturally to you? Were you someone for whom music was just always very clear and systematic and obvious or what were your early music experiences like?

Glory: Well, it definitely did not come easy to me. I probably was not the brightest light bulb in the package, so to speak, but I had a passion to learn and my early beginning with music actually started with my father. He was a multi-instrumentalist and it was like breathing and brushing your teeth. It just was not an option; you were learning music. And so I was very blessed to grow up in that musical family and my father, who was not a professional musician, but he was, as you are, a multi-instrumentalist and he could just magically pick things up and play but he realized that sometimes he, you know, wanted to play more things and he couldn’t, so as I was growing up he said, “You’re going to learn the language of music theory,” because that was a big thing in our family, you know, we would get together and have family reunions and everyone would play their instrument, so for me I had to go down that road and as I got older I struggled, especially with music theory, because unfortunately, you know, I guess, in my upbringing with my teachers there wasn’t a lot of support. Maybe they didn’t know how to teach it, because it’s interesting, isn’t it, that you can have a teacher that still doesn’t know how to teach? So I began my research and did a lot of studying, you know, to get me where I am today and I continue to learn.

Christopher: Wonderful, and so what was your instrument back then at those family reunions?

Glory: (Laughs) Well, I wanted to play the bongo drums but my instrument was actually piano and still is to this day and, you know, I’ve kind of been inspired by you. I listened to a previous podcast and heard you play, you know, several instruments and I thought, “You know what? It’s never too late to learn,” and, you know, I shared with you earlier that my mom, who played the violin, at the age of 68 started to play the accordion. She just picked it up and said, “I want to learn.”

My father played, you know, accordion and guitar and bass and piano and organ and harmonica and mandolin and banjo, I mean, you name it, he played it. He just had a passion for connecting the musicality of playing one instrument and exactly the same piece of music and then just playing it on another instrument and, you know, of course the timbre changes, like, now we hear this and, but it’s the same song. So he loved that connection and I thought, “Well, if my mom can learn at, you know, 68,” — I’m not there yet, by the way — “then there is still time for me to, you know, to pick up another instrument.” I mean, I play a little on the guitar just because my dad, who has passed away now but he had a beautiful Hummingbird guitar and I have it so I thought, “Maybe I’ll just take that out of the closet.” I play the 1-4-5 chords and that’s about it.

Christopher: That goes a long way.

Glory: (Laughs) Exactly. Yeah.

Christopher: Fantastic. Well, yeah, I mean, I feel like we could dwell on this point and talk at length about the joys and benefits of playing a bunch of different instruments and I think you more than most would appreciate how much of a head start you have on any instrument just through your deep understanding of music theory and…

Glory: Absolutely.

Christopher: …you know, whether or not you know all the formal names for things, if you have that mental model front of how music works I think people are often surprised how easy it is to pick up another instrument.

Glory: Oh, absolutely. You know, when we used to have our little family get-togethers and my father, just, would kind of throw me to the wolves and, you know, there it was, you know, the chord chart’s thrown in front of my face and then, you know, 1-4-5 and then, you know, so you’d kind of be playing this, not really knowing what you’re playing. Heaven forbid there should be a slash with another letter after it, right, because now what do you do?

But then I, you know, discovered, “Well, wait a second. If I’m playing in, you know, 1-4-5, we’ll just say, in C major,” and then my dad would say, “Well, put a 2 in there,” and I’d go, “Well, what’s a 2?” and “Well, why is it minor? Why is it minor? And then you play in a minor key and you have 1-4, okay, minor and now why is the 5 major? Like, I don’t understand that.”

So then, you know, I started to learn more about music. “Oh, there’s a raised seventh note in harmonic minor scale. Oh, I get it.” So connecting those then when you’re playing and you, even if you’re playing just, you know, at random for fun it lets you color with more crayons. You know, if we only have red, blue and green, well, okay, that’s fine, but what if you have purple, you know? What if you expand, you know, the colors of music and it’s just fun to hear different sounds, right?

So and how you can move from, you know, putting a 2 or a 6 in there and, oh, now the music opens. So for me music theory was absolutely essential. I mean, basically, I think all musicians, even if they say, “Oh, I don’t really know music theory,” I say, “Well, actually, you do because if you don’t know how long you’re strumming or what time signature are you in or what key are you playing in you actually do know music theory but what you maybe haven’t done is just explored more colors in the crayon box to expand your musicality so you can improvise and you hear things.”

You know, when my daughter was little I remember, this was, you know, back in the day, before cell phones and she would literally, but we did have an answering machine, and she would out somewhere and have an idea for writing a song and she would just sing it on the answering machine and at the end she’d say, “Don’t delete that,” you know, “That’s a song that I’m hearing in my head,” and then she would come home and kind of put it together and it was really then that she started to become that little, you know, musician of listening to different sounds and so I went, “You know what? You need to learn music theory,” because that’s why she’s a music producer today, is that she had that skills set.

Christopher: Wow. There was a lot packed in there that I would like to return to and talk about in more depth and I feel like we’ve quickly jumped to what I was looking forward to most in this interview, which was your perspective on the usefulness of music theory because, you know, as the creator of one, if not the, most widely-used, kind of, music theory syllabus among music teachers I think it would be easy for the listeners to assume that you had a very, kind of dry, and clear-cut and classical mindset on what music theory is and how it should be learned and certainly your material covers all of the bases in terms of traditional theory but I think it’s probably clear to anyone listening that you are anything but dry in how you think about theory and how you share the passion for what it can do for people.

Glory: Yes, and, you know, it’s funny that you said that. I remember doing a workshop. I do a lot of traveling and present a lot of live events and I went into one live event and there was one of the staff members kind of on the side who was a guitarist, a musician, and he said, “Oh, gosh, there’s gonna be, like, this two-hour workshop on music theory,” like, “This is gonna be so boring,” and I kind of laughed because I thought, “Oh, you wait, honey. It’s nothing like boring. It’s gonna be a blast,” and of course, you know, I’m passionate about it because it’s what helps bring the music alive. It’s what, it’s so creative and I just find it so interesting and when you actually understand the language and certainly you do and, you know, for our listeners, if you just are open to learning and obviously you are because you want to learn the instrument then just take another step into the world of music theory and I think it’s gonna be a big surprise.

It’s like getting a present. I’m like, wow, and, you know, I’m all about the musician and musicianship and ear training and sight reading and playing. You know, whether you’re playing classical music or, you know, my husband is a an entertainer. He sings jazz, pop, country, rock, well, he used to sing rock and roll but not so much anymore but it doesn’t matter. It’s not about what type of music do you play. It’s not even “Oh, that’s the instrument I play,” it’s about the music and the only way that you can connect that is, you know, if you think about improvising or you want to write your own song. If you don’t understand music theory, how are you going to take them deeper into your story and be more passionate, because you’re so limited?

So I’m just expanding the mind and saying, “Listen. Just, you know, just learn and see what you can do with those, you know, new crayons in your box,” and it just brings it to life and I think that’s, the written language of music is what the ear can hear and the heart can feel.

Christopher: That’s a nice way of putting it. So I think that gives us a vivid idea of how you think about music theory these days and to a large extent, I guess, how you approach it with Ultimate Music Theory and we kind of got a glimpse of what it was like for you learning theory in that family context.

Fill in the gaps for us a little bit. Was it purely, kind of, self-taught exploratory learning from your family? Did you get exposed to the kind of more traditional, classical mold of taking tests and passing exams and writing the treble clef very carefully seventeen times? What did that process look like for you?

Glory: (Laughs) That is so funny, because, yes. So my professional training began when I was six years old. I was playing music long before that, of course, because it was part of life but my training began when I was six years old and I started teaching when I was sixteen and at that point, you know, I thought I knew everything, ha, ha, ha and so I began basically because honestly I was making really good money as a piano teacher and I just wanted to buy a car, which I did.

But then I fell in love with the process of teaching and the more I taught the more I realized what I didn’t know and I then went back and attained my ARCT from the World Conservatory of Music and then I realized that there was even more to teaching than just attaining, you know, an ARCT in music and I began my training in NLP, Neurolinguistic Programming and studied that, became an NLP practitioner and then I realized, “Oh, there is still more to learn.”

So I continued to learn and I actually studied how to write books for effective learning which was really interesting because you can actually read a book and study a book that’s detrimental to your learning because it’s so confusing and it’s not laid out well and there is no rhyme or reason to how they’re teaching. So my passion really began to share my love of music theory and I did that by writing and creating the Ultimate Music Theory program and I wrote it in a very methogical way that, you know, this is how, step-by-step, and always thinking about the visual, auditory aesthetic learner.

How can we help, you know, children, adults, you know, teachers, and give them the information in a really easy-to-consume way? And I think that’s one of the things that I love when I get feedback from, you know, people from all over the world using or products and they say, “You know what? It’s easy to learn and it’s fun to teach if you’re teaching it and it’s engaging.” And basically you can open up the book and if you can read you can learn it. That’s how it’s been written. So it really was my journey and I continue to learn even with everything that I’ve done. There’s not an end. You’re always learning something new.

Christopher: Cool, and I want to talk in a minute more specifically about Ultimate Music Theory and particularly about your Complete Music Theory course but before we do let’s talk a little more generally about what you were learning over those years.

You mentioned some really interesting things there about, you know, how to write a book for effective learning and incorporating NLP principles and addressing different types of learner. So maybe you could just talk a little bit more for the person who’s listening and thinking, “Okay, maybe there’s a better way for me to learn music theory.” Do you have any pointers for what that process could or should look like?

Glory: Yes, absolutely. I, you know, and sometimes what’s interesting is people don’t really know their learning style because just because you want to learn by ear does not mean that you’re an auditory learner. And interestingly enough when I, you know, began my NLP journey, I thought, which is Neurolinguistic Programming.

So neuro is how we think, linguistic is how we communicate and programming is the results that we get. So how we think, how we communicate and results that we get. And I am a visual learner so I am one of those that kind of gets terrified when you take my book away.

And so that, for me, was something that I had to learn. How can we now learn? And I think when people say, “Well, I don’t want to read,” or “I just play by ear,” well, that’s great but let’s not close it off to just playing by ear. Let’s explore and see maybe new ways of learning but it’s interesting because for some students it’s important that we hear music first and then try to play it and then look at the written music and for others I want to see the music first, let me play it then take my book away and I can play it from memory.

So there’s different approaches. And one of the things that we incorporated into the Ultimate Music Theory program was mnemonic devices. So a mnemonic device is a memory jogger so there’s visual mnemonic, there’s music mnemonic, there’s symbol mnemonic, all of these things, and so when you think of (sings) bah-dah-bahp-bahp-bum, we think of McDonald’s.

I’m not a singer by the way, disclaimer right there,. But when you see the visual image of, you know, the golden arch, the letter M for McDonald’s, immediately you do that association and you kind of hear that little trigger in your head. So as you are working through the Ultimate Music Theory program you will see all those mnemonic devices that help you remember things and that makes learning faster. And ultimately when you incorporate visual, auditory and kinesthetic learner that’s when you can excel in your learning. So it’s really important to engage in all three modalities.

Christopher: That’s a really important point, I think, for people to understand. So it’s not that you are in one category and should restrict yourself to that type of learning. It’s that they each have something to offer, is that right?

Glory: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely.

Christopher: Okay. So maybe you could give an example, if you wouldn’t mind, of a music theory topic and what it would look like for someone to study that in those three different modalities.

Glory: Okay. So if you would take, let’s take intervals, for example. Would that be a good topic?

Christopher: Yeah.

Glory: Okay. So when you are thinking of an interval, you would, let’s just take a major third. So now you’re gonna sing it, you maybe associate a little melody with it but you know what it sounds like in your ear so now you have heard that one. So what does it look like if you see it, you know, on a piece of music? So here’s the interesting thing. If you are looking at it and you may see a major third, so I’ll say C major, so C to E would be a major third.

Now, there is, you know, they’re both blind notes. I’m going from middle C to line one. When you are expanding that and you’re moving that up to an augmented third, now you’re gonna make that E and E sharp, technically, so they don’t move. They’re still C and still E. They’re still both line notes but that accidental has enlarged the interval.

So now you can see that if you’re reading it and you can also hear it but now we want to involve kinesthetics. Now we want to play it. What does it feel like? Oh, okay. And the interesting thing is when you play that major third and then you play it as an augmented third, so E to E sharp, wait a second. That also sounds like a perfect fourth.

So now we’re starting to discover that what you hear as a perfect fourth could be written as an augmented third. So it’s just the discovery process of understanding, “Oh, okay. So there is different,” you know, “every third can be major, minor, augmented, diminished, but the sound also represents maybe another interval. So it’s kind of connecting the dots with how that would be.

So, interesting story: When my daughter Sherri was little, she’s a music producer in Los Vegas and has done very well for herself and now she was a little girl and I remember her playing at the piano one day but unbeknownst to me, I wasn’t really sure who it was. I have five children and all five of them are singers. All five of them are professional in the music industry. Sherri is the youngest of the five children and so I hear the piano one day and I thought, “Who is playing that?” because I wasn’t really sure.

My son David was also taking piano lessons but he couldn’t play it that well. So I went into the music studio and there was Sherri and I said, “How can you play that? Like, you haven’t learned those notes yet,” and her response was, “Well, Mommy, like, that’s just, I know that’s middle C and that I’m going up a third, down a second, up a seventh, down a fourth,” and she was playing intervalically and the fastest way to actually play music is to read the intervals, not to say, “Oh, that’s D. Oh, what note is that? Oh, I have to step down to a B. Oh, now what note is that?” So it’s not about reading the notes. It’s about reading the music, whether you do that by reading intervals. And once you understand intervals then, of course, you can start to build on chords and is that a major chord or a minor chord or an augmented, or, because they’re all based on intervals. So I think that’s one of the most important things, is, you have to learn your intervals and connect the sounds.

Christopher: Absolutely. Yeah, I had a similar breakthrough, albeit very late in my own journey when I learned first about chords and the kind of chord rules in the scale and then the corresponding scale degrees idea where suddenly, you know, all of this very intricate, key signature stuff has dissolved away and I can figure things out by ear without having to very carefully think through all of the components translations from note to note.

Glory: Yes.

Christopher: Yeah. Like you say, you suddenly feel like you’re understanding the music rather than all of this kind of fluff around it or all of this extraneous detail.

Glory: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, the theory is not about music theory. The theory is about the musicianship skills and ear training. Like, it’s the connecting factor, you know, so when you can understand that component it’s just to help you become a better musician.

Christopher: Yeah. There are two things there that I wish that I could travel back in time and tell my twelve-year-old self and the first is what you just said. You know, it’s not about music theory for theory’s sake, it’s about music theory because that’s what opens the gateway to music for you.

Glory: Absolutely.

Christopher: And the second is that when you were talking about learning styles there I was just remembering so vividly how for me, at that time, learning theory meant studying a book and looking at the staff and it was completely devoid of listening and it was completely devoid of anything kinesthetic.

You know, no one ever said to me, “Why don’t we try this on piano?” or “What would that sound like?” And, you know, from the way you describe it, it’s very clear you were missing two-thirds of the puzzle there.

Glory: Well, absolutely and in fact, we have our Ultimate Music Theory app which correlates to our Ultimate Music Theory workbooks so the Ultimate Music Theory app is something that allows you to see the notation and it correlates to the book.

So if you’re doing intervals, which is in the Basic Rudiments workbook, that’s the yellow book and you’re on Lesson 7 which happens to be on intervals and you open up the Ultimate Music Theory app and you can hear the intervals you can see the intervals, you can just listen and then I, you know, by ear identify what notes that would be.

I mean, that’s kind of leading you into, you know, we talk about who has perfect pitch and who has relative pitch, things like that but developing the ear is essential. I mean, if you can’t develop your ear, how are you going to play, how are you going to even know, I mean, I’ve seen, you know, students, not my students, but I’ve seen, you know, people, little young children performing and they play a wrong note and they’re completely oblivious to the error and it’s because they’ haven’t been given a chance to develop the ear. So I think it’s really crucial that when you’re working on your music to just take time.

Another great tip is, you know, of course I’ve been talking about my daughter because, you know, one of her things is when you’re practicing and learning, record everything because sometimes you’ll play that little lick and you go, “Oh, what did I just do? That was so good,” And you can’t remember. So when, you know, her and I collaborate a lot and we have really great discussions about music theory, you know, because she also plays by ear. Great improviser and, you know, so she always says, “Hit record,” because you never know, and the other thing too is you can see your progress, right? So kinda wanna do that. So anyway that’s just a little tip with kind of getting your ear working is when you correlate the app with the workbook. You can hear it, you can see it, you can play it and it kind of brings it all together, so.

Christopher: You mention apps there. I had down in my notes here to ask you a question about the usefulness of music theory in this day and age, you know, when we’re surrounded by apps and you can click a few buttons and have a chord progression automatically generated for you. I don’t know if it’s entirely redundant, given the way you’ve been talking about music theory already but maybe you could just speak to that and if we imagine, for example, the electronic musician who’s dabbling on his computer and has to learn to read traditional notation and is maybe just kind of going purely by ear, what could you tell them that might open their mind to how music theory can be useful?

Glory: Absolutely. Well, one of the things, and it’s why I’m still passionate about my pencil, which I have in my hand, I’m obsessed with my pencil, and writing things down because the fact is that when you engage in the actually of writing you actually retain 30 to 40% more information than just through the visual and the auditory. So when you engage in writing and you’re notating, 30 to 40% more information is going to be stored in the brain and again, we talk about visual/auditory/kinesthetic learning, three modalities connecting is what’s gonna help you retain that information so if you’re just always listening it’s kind of like always, well, I mean, if you imagine going through school and never, ever writing anything down, you know, we’re retaining information because we write it down. We can see it, we can feel it, we can read it, we can say it out loud so for me, you know, when I’m teaching it’s really important to do it.

But, as you said, it’s important to connect that to the auditory. So how boring is it to sit and just write forever and it doesn’t mean anything to you and that, I think, is maybe, you know, a misconception that sometimes people have when they go, “Oh, I don’t want to learn music theory,” because they think they’re just gonna sit and draw 18 treble clefs and heaven forbid you shouldn’t cross the G line, you know the correct number of times or too many if you do the little circle in the middle. So, yes, it’s important and for me I’m passionate about all of my students.

And, you know, it’s interesting. If you actually asked my students, “Do you like music theory?” they would say “I love music theory,” because it’s how it’s presented, right? It’s engaging or having fun with it. We’re going to learn it but get out your pencil, you know, engage in the act of writing. You will retain more information and, you know, what if you want to write a chord chart? I mean, you have to know what is a slash? How do I write it? What does it mean? Put it together and then go jam with the boys. (Laughs)

Christopher: Nice. So you have probably a broader and deeper perspective than almost anyone else around on what makes for effective theory learning and we’ve certainly touched on some things already, you know, involving each of those different aspects and not studying the visual in isolation and connecting it with your real musical life but I wonder if you can provide any insight or observations about what I would call the, kind of, traditional approach to music theory which is, you know, “I’m just learning it to pass the exam. I’m going to study it from this book. It’s all about writing things down and that’s the kind of box of music theory completely separate from the rest of my musical life.”

Glory: Yes.

Christopher: And the kind of music theory we’ve been talking about and what makes it a joy as you just mentioned it is for your students.

Glory: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I have obviously, you know, completed all of my theory exams and music exams to, you know, attain the level of, you know, professionalism that I have, obviously and it provided me with education and I continue to do so. I think that me, personally, I think it’s very important to be studying and learning and to do exams and to follow a curriculum because when you study for an exam it is the same as practicing for a performance or going out on stage or just doing your very best when you play for your family. That’s like an exam. And when you set a goal, you know, the greatest motivation for achievement is goal-setting and goal-setting without accountability results in good intentions.

And so when you are going to do an exam don’t do it because you want to pass the exam. Do it because you want to have a deeper level of understanding. So sometimes I think the word is not, “Oh, you have to do an exam,” the word is, “This is cool. You’re going to reach this level of education. That means you’re going to be a better musician, a better player,” because that’s what it’s about.

It’s not about a theory exam. It’s about, “Wow, I know a lot of stuff. I could, like, jam,” and, you know it also enables you to have that certificate. I mean, I’m proud of my certificate. It’s hanging on my wall. You know, accomplishment is important but, you know, I, do believe that you’re never to old to learn so, you know, if you’re an 80-year-old you can still be learning. You could be 100 years old and still be learning but also if you have children, absolutely engage them in education and give them that foundation because if you don’t they’re going to have to do it when they’re in their 60’s. Like, some people go, “I wish I would have learned.” Well, you know what, it’s not too late. But also, if you have children or grandchildren, you know, please encourage them to get started with that foundation and if you give them that they can do their exams and feel confident and proud and become great musicians and take the next exam. So, you know, I think there’s a balance and I think it’s important to give young children and adults an opportunity. And you know, you may be, you know, 65 years old and say, “You know what? I am going to do my exam because I want that certificate.” So keep on learning.

Christopher: Yeah, I love the way you described that and I think, just like we talked about not studying theory for theory’s sake, we definitely don’t want to go down the avenue of passing exams for the sake of exams.

Glory: No.

Christopher: But as you mentioned, it can be a really valuable motivator and marker, like a milestone for you. I’ll confess that I chose, or my teacher chose, the exam board for my grade eight singing back when I was a teenager specifically so I didn’t have to do the one that required grade five music theory and so I totally sidestepped the studying of theory, and, you know, I picked up a fair amount along the way, anyway, but I did not take the exams and in my late twenties I went and I took the exams.

I sat in the exam hall, I took the grade exams, I did an online course with Berklee, too and it was because I wanted both the clarity of the course and the milestone of achievement and the kind of motivator to say, you know, “I’m not just going to wander around Youtube each week and hope I find something interesting. I’m going to study for this exam and I’m going to trust the syllabus someone has laid out to tell me what’s worth learning.”

Glory: Yes. Well, very good and I think, too, you know, you talk about, you know, doing that studying and doing some online and doing some with the teacher and I think it’s, you know, when you have that goal set, that accountability and I think that’s what a teacher is, ultimately, is your accountability partner and, you know, we’ll lead you down the path to success and whether you’re learning online or whether you have an actual teacher that you’re studying with or if you have a colleague, you know, if you’re just playing in a band.

You know, my husband, who is a professional entertainer, he’s a singer and he always told our children, all five musicians of our children that you should always play with someone who’s better than you. Always aspire to, you know, be like them or learn from them and certainly in our family and in our children, you know, we do their St. Germain Family Show.

So there’s five professional children all onstage plus some of our grandchildren are also onstage and they perform about maybe every two or three years. It’s very hard, because they’re all professionals, to get them all together and when they were interviewing my son David and they said, “So how does that work with, like, your family show?” and he said, “Well, it’s kind of like nine head chefs in the kitchen. It’s just total chaos.” But, you know, not everybody wants to be the leader but I think that that’s a really important point is for you to keep learning, you know, regardless of how you’re taking that course.

Christopher: That sounds like an amazing show – very cool! There were a couple of things there that I’d love to talk more about. The first is that idea of syllabus, and, you know, part of the value of exams being that there is a clear syllabus. I’d love to understand where your decision-making for Ultimate Music Theory came from on that front.

You know, I’m coming from a world where music theory meant the ABRSM syllabus, for example and when you were taking the ABRSM exams in classical clarinet it was very clear, you know, this is the theory that corresponds to this type of music. It’s all, it all kind of goes together, but, obviously, when you’re out there in the wider world and teaching online and running workshops in person, you know, you’ve got such a broader range of musicians and musical styles and eras of music. So I’d love to understand, you know, how did you decide on what should be part of your own syllabus and for someone looking to study theory themselves how do they know what is and isn’t important to learn?

Glory: Mm-hm. Very good. That’s a good question. When I first started writing the Ultimate Music Theory program the very first time, when I decided this was going to be, it was actually because one of my students came to me and she wanted to study music theory and she said, “Well, Miss Glory, I know you don’t know anything about music theory but if you’d be willing to learn I’d love it if you would teach me,” and so with that, kind of, the journey began and as I said, I, you know, kind of studied how this was all going to happen but the Ultimate Music Theory Program is based on, and not exclusive to, but it’s based on the Royal Conservatory of Music Theory’s syllabus because it’s important to have standards and we then expanded it.

We now, actually Shelagh and I, my co-author, wrote another 20 books last year to kind of fill in the gaps of melody writing and music history because that’s a great part of it, as well. So our curriculum goes from the very early beginner. If we’re thinking, you know, kindergarten grade one students all the way through to the higher level which I would consider grade 12 and I’m just being generalizing right now but because we wanted to have those steps all the way so the curriculum is mapped out so that you can start as a beginner and you can progress gradually through all of the materials.
At the end of that we realized that, okay, there are adult learners and they don’t want to do twelve years worth of learning. They are also capable of learning much quicker. And so that’s when we wrote the Complete Music theory Workbook. So that kind of combines everything into one. It’s 256 pages. It’s our complete rudiments workbook and that really was a stepping stone for many musicians because music theory is the universal language of music and it doesn’t matter if you play the piano or the guitar or the tuba, you still have to know the same language.

So this is not about piano theory. This is not about guitar theory. This is about music theory, which is the language that we all speak and, you know, interestingly enough, if you take, you know, musicians from different countries together and you put them all in the same room and you gave them all, you know, the same lead sheets and told them all, “This is what we’re playing,” you know, “Little Blues in A,” they would just play, not speaking to each other except through the music. So that is really why I wrote the Ultimate Music Theory Program was so that musicians could have that communication and still have a learning and still do exams if they choose to but also become musicians.

Christopher: Awesome, and you said something there that I would love to hear more about, which is that adults can learn faster. I think that will be reassuring to some of our listeners.

Glory: Absolutely.

Christopher: A lot in our audience are thinking, you know, “I’m in retirement,” or “I’m a bit older and I’m not going to be able to learn this stuff as quickly as the children do.” Could you speak to that a little?

Glory: Absolutely. You know, one of the things, and it’s why I wrote the books the way I did is because I, too, as I mentioned earlier, felt that I was not, I didn’t learn easily. You know, I was not onstage performing like a rock star at a young age. I progressed as an average person would progress and as an adult, and I went back to school again as an adult, learning more things, I thought, “How can I make this so that it’s easy to comprehend?” and that really is in the writing and it’s not, you know, something that I take lightly and I want to assure our listeners that if they choose to explore the Ultimate Music Theory program I think they will be pleasantly surprised with how simply it’s mapped out, that it’s easy to understand, that you get it.

In fact, in the Ultimate Music Theory workbooks, and I’m going to talk about the Complete Workbook, at the end of each lesson is a review test that is a cumulative learning so what happens is say, for example, you’re in lesson five, you’ve learned new things. Now, did you know that the only way that you can learn, the only way, is when you take the known and connect it with the unknown. If you don’t put those two factors together you can’t learn. For example, if, you know, you and I were, you know, I don’t speak French. So if someone were speaking French to us and we would have no clue what they were saying but if they had a bowl of ice cream and they said, “A la mode,” and you said, “Ice cream,” “A la mode,”” Ice cream,” “A la mode,” eventually, you would connect, “Oh, a la mode means ice cream. I get that. A la mode. Okay.”

So that’s the connecting factor and when you are studying and reviewing all of the time what I’m doing is I’m teaching you this concept and you go, “Okay, got it.” Great. So now we’re going to do a review test that solidifies that, written it down. Next lesson. We’re going to connect the known, what you now know, with the new information, the unknown, and now we’ve got that bridge and so that’s really when the light bulb goes on and you go, “Oh, I get that. That’s easy.” Boom. Thank you.

So I think that’s really when, you know, I talk with adults and I teach adults well and I think that sometimes there is that fear factor, like, “Uh, I can’t do it,” you know. If you think about today’s technology, kids, you know, ask a kid, “How do you get on Instagram?” “Oh, give me your phone.” Do it.

For, as adults, we have a fear factor, you know, I don’t even know, I mean, well, I do know how to text, obviously, but, you know, for some of us it’s just, like, afraid and I’m just, like, “Jump in the pool. C’mon. Let’s have some fun.” So, don’t be afraid. Just get out there and do it, you know? It’s just all about learning and jumping in so I think that, you know, we’ve had great success with our program and I’m really, and that brings that great joy because I’m here to serve and, you know, it’s, I didn’t write these books for me. I wrote them for you because I want to inspire you to be the most creative and the most passionate musician on the planet. So that’s really why they’re there.

Christopher: Nice. Well, hearing you describe it, I think it’s probably clear for the listeners how you help people past that intimidation and that overwhelm, you know, when things are laid out step-by-step and you’re starting from the beginning and building piece-by-piece their understanding suddenly this really huge topic of music theory that can be just baffling and complex and just seem like far too much for an adult to take in from scratch, I think it’s clear how that can be made digestible and kind of enjoyable to learn as well as rewarding and it…

Glory: I absolutely agree.

Christopher: …it’s probably clear at this point I have the greatest respect for the work you do and the program you’ve put together and so I’d love for you to share a little bit with out listeners about what you offer at Ultimate Music Theory and if they’re a teacher or a student what they could do to get involved and learn more and maybe see if this is a good approach for them.

Glory: Yes, absolutely. is really about enriching lives through music education so we’re not just a book publishing, you know, company but we’re here to help you so at we have lots of free resources including, there is a little free seven-minute video that is about rhythm and rest and you can indicate whether you’re a teacher or a student and then that will take you down, you know, the path of what you would like.

We have lots of free resources there for you to enjoy on So is our online learning. Now, the great thing about our online program, with the the complete rudiments of course, which is for students of all ages, it’s not for little kids, it’s for the adult learners and we also have the Ultimate Music Theory Certification course for teachers which is teaching teachers how to teach music theory. It’s hard to say with a mouth full of marbles but, so

And I guess one of the great successes about our program is we actually have online support for our teachers and for the students that are taking our complete music theory program so you’re not alone. There are exams to complete within our course because you know I believe in exams because it lets me know that you’ve understood the material. The average mark, and I will say this out loud proudly, the average mark of teachers completing the Ultimate Music Theory Certification Program course, online course, is 90%.

Christopher: Wow.

Glory: Over 90. Every one of our teachers. Now that tells me a few things. Number one, that you did all your homework and, you know, one of the things that I remember you spoke about in a podcast was about being committed to your learning. Schedule it just like you schedule, you know, your teaching as a teacher or just as you schedule, you know, your going to work every day. What time do you go to work? Make it part of your schedule. This is your study time. This is your professional development time.

The second thing that the success tells me is that I’ve done my job as a teacher and that I’ve communicated effectively. You can’t get over 90% if I have not given you the information that is needed.
And the third thing is that because you have done the exams you have actually achieved that and with that comes pride and in the complete program there is also two exams to do as a student. Shelagh McKibbon-U’ren is the UMTC examiner. She is amazing. She does all of the marking and does provide any support if you have any questions and, you know, we cover a lot of different learning styles.

I mean, Shelagh McKibbon-U’ren is dyslexic and I am not, so when we work together it’s very interesting because we come from two different perspectives. You know, people say, “Oh, I have,” you know, “ADD.” Or, you know, “I have trouble learning.” Well, we address those issues so that, you know, we want to help you learn and in fact the very first lesson in the certification course is identifying your own learning style because before you can identify someone else’s learning style, obviously your student, you need to know what your learning style is first. So we kind of take you through those steps and so there is kind of two ways to go. You can either go through the teacher program or you can go through the student program but we’re there to support you. We’re very open, you know, never hesitate to contact us. We do reply with love and compassion and a lot of fun. (Laughs).

Christopher: Wonderful. Well, you know, at Musical U we teach concepts where they’re required to develop the inner skills but we don’t specifically teach music theory and we’re very clear about that and so I’m always excited to have a great resource to point people to and Ultimate Music Theory is certainly one that I would recommend. So if anyone listening has been inspired and I think Glory speaks with an infectious enthusiasm about all of this I’m sure you’re feeling pumped up about learning some theory. Do head to and/or We’ll have those links in the show notes for easy access.

All that remains is to say a big thank you, Glory. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you today and getting to know a bit about the person behind this amazing music theory course. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

Glory: Oh, thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure and I look forward to meeting you in person some day.

Christopher: Absolutely.

Glory: Thanks, Christopher.

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The post Music Theory You’ll Love to Learn, with Glory St. Germain appeared first on Musical U.