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Theory Lessons

If a student chooses to pursue the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) curriculum or the Conservatory Canada (CC) curriculum, there is corresponding theory knowledge that they need to have. Though there is theory knowledge to be learned at each level, theory examinations are only required as of Level 5. 

Elementary and Intermediate Theory

The selection of book(s) at this level of theory directly depends on what age they are, what prior knowledge they have, what time-frame they need to complete the level in, and/or what learning format they thrive best in. Each of these topics are discussed in the paragraphs below.

RCM's Celebrate Theory Series

This series contains all the requirements for each level of RCM theory examination. For students that would like to start this series above Level 4 I would highly recommend working through one or more of the Grace Vandendool books mentioned below before starting in the Celebrate Theory Series. Some students choose to work on both series simultaneously for additional practice.

RCM Celebrate Theory series
RCM's Online Theory Tool

For students who are tech savvy, RCM does offer their theory curriculum online as well.

Mark Sarnecki's Essential Music Theory

For students aged 8 through adult that are starting music theory. These books can be used for both the RCM and Conservatory Canada curriculum, though there is a small amount of content that needs to be supplemented to these books to cover everything needed for examination purposes.

Grace Vandendool's Keyboard Theory

This series is often used for students that need to fast-track through the theory curriculum to match their current level of piano. Note that these books do omit the history component that is present in all the RCM publications. 

Basic Rudiments = Level 5

Intermediate Rudiments = Level 6/7

Advanced Rudiments = Level 8

Mark Sarneky's Elssential Music Theory books 5 - 8
Grace Vandendool's theory books
Elementary Music Rudiments

Perfect for the teen or adult student, Barbara Wharram has written a book that contain all the content from Levels 5 through 8 in one book. This book does go at a much faster pace and are an efficient purchase for students needing their Level 8 theory quickly.  The author uses three letters beside explanations and exercises to indicate the level of theory that it pertains to: “B” for Basic (Level 5), “I” for Intermediate (Level 6), and “A” for Advanced (Level 7 and 8). Using this system allows a student to go through the book three times (one for each B, I, and A) or just one time and learn everything about each concept. This book is also published in French for those students who are more comfortable or prefer learning in that language.

Barbara Wharram's theory books

Advanced Theory

For the material in Level 9 and 10 there are two exams to prepare: Harmony (or Keyboard Harmony) and History. To complete the ARCT diploma you need 3 exams: History, Harmony & Counterpoint, and Analysis. For the Harmony content, I prefer working from the Mark Sarnecki's Essential Music Theory series starting at Level 9 then Level 10. I find those books much more straightforward than the Celebrate Theory series. For the music history component, there are two options: the Celebrate Theory series or online through the RCM Online Theory Tool.

Mark Sarnecki's Theory Level 9 and 10
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Recent student Achievements:

Level 7 Theory: Achieved First Class Honours — Shuchi (2024)

Level 8 Theory: Achieved First Class Honours — Juliette (2023)

Level 6 Theory: Achieved First Class Honours — Shuchi (2023)

Level 6 Theory: Achieved First Class Honours with Distinction — Yufeng (2023)

Level 5 Theory: Achieved First Class Honours — Shuchi (2022)

Level 8 Theory: Achieved First Class Honours with Distinction — Bob (2021)

Level 8 Theory: Achieved First Class Honours with Distinction — Rachel (2021)

Level 5 Theory: Achieved First Class Honours with Distinction — Thomas (2020)

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