The Key Ingredient of Music Theory from a High Schooler’s Viewpoint

The Key Ingredient of Music Theory from a High Schooler’s Viewpoint


s I finish off my last few auditions for college Vocal Performance and Music Education programs, I am equipped with a perspective on what qualities I possess as a singer that have caused me to pursue this direction for my future, one being a true passion and understanding for not just singing, but the study of music at large. I have spent the majority of my musical career in a singing-centered bubble of choral repertoire and musical theater works. While singing brought me great joy throughout my life, I wasn’t sure I had a burning passion for it until I took an advanced music theory course at my high school, and my excitement for music sparked, fueling my need to further pursue singing in college and beyond. This music theory class was a melting pot of musicians: ranging from orchestra and band kids to those who created their own music through the screens of their laptops. I was put in a foreign environment, filled with opportunities to interact with all kinds of musicians. 

The topics of the class began with basic theory; scales, time, and key signatures, then moved on to more complex ideas like modes. Using this information, I was able to apply it to my own instrument–performing a sort of musical analysis of my most beloved pieces. Growing up, pieces like West Side Story left me in awe, sparking my love for singing. With my newfound theory knowledge, I gained deeper insight on the structure of one of Leonard Berstein’s finest pieces, “Maria”. Through recognizing the perplexing intervals between each note I could begin to shed light on its mysterious allure. Bernstein, musical genius that he is, uses an unusual tritone interval, known for its harsh dissonance and commonly recognized as unusable, as a motif for Tony’s love interest. Every note is selected, curated for a purpose. 

This class aided me with the tools to dive into and unpack my own musical ventures, while also providing me with a medium to form a stronger musical community. I now share a passion and common language with other styles of musicians, allowing me to converse musical ideas and broaden my knowledge of music, while also strengthening my love for the topic. This spirit of collaboration and discussion is what I loved about the class and what I love about music. It is what made me want to pursue a degree in Vocal Studies and Music Education, so that I could further harness my craft while continuing to work with other musicians. 

 We’re lucky enough, as musicians, to experience the finished product of a composition as an abstract work of art, but also to see a clear-cut blueprint for the piece written in the score. 

So, for any young singer out there feeling uninspired or lacking greater purpose, I urge you to dive into the world of music theory and attempt to see the analytical behind.Need somewhere to get started? With the internet, there are plenty of free resources at our disposal. For basic inspiration, I love watching the YouTuber “Twelve Tone” for his in-depth theoretical analysis of all kinds of musical pieces. Need to brush up on your basic theory? I would recommend starting by mastering a few key concepts including:

  • Notes on the staff and how they change depending on clef 
  • Time Signature and note value 
  • Key Signature and the Circle of Fifths 
  • Solfege and how to use it as a tool for sight singing 
  • Different kinds of scales and what differentiates them 

From there you can go on to learn about concepts like modes and chord progressions that get at the heart of a composer’s intention and give a more in-depth analysis. Some resources I recommend are: 

Learning Music theory not only gave me a mechanism to gain a broader understanding of my own work but also instilled in me a heightened sense of musicianship and perspective on music as a whole, allowing me to step outside of my classical singer’s bubble and fully relate to the musicians around me. I’m looking forward to learning even more as I continue my education.

Evie Wigdale

Evelyn Wigdale is a current senior at New Trier High School just outside of Chicago, IL. She is currently applying and auditioning for Vocal Performance and Music Education programs. She has played leading roles in her high school’s musicals like Campbell in Bring it On and Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as student taught and directed her high school’s choral classes and musicals. She is passionate about her love of music and hopes it will continue to grow while pursuing a degree in college.