Do we need to learn music theory?
It’s helpful to know some music theory, but I think too much attention gets paid to harmony. Form is where it’s at. Being able to identify a phrase automatically implies some things about its performance:
- Phrases have a shape.
- Phrases have a bit of a ritard to finish them off.
- Phrases or note groups need a slight accent when they begin to set them apart from the phrase that came before.
Being able to hear and identify a phrase is much more valuable than being able to analyze harmony.
Big Forms Matter Too
The return of previously used material is usually an important structural point in a piece. Learning that stuff repeats, then, is valuable.
The overall form a piece matters just as much as the little phrases. The end of a section should not sound the same as the end of a phrase. Nor should the end of a phrase sound the same as the end of a piece. Each one requires a different treatment as far as rubato and ritard. Noticing where big sections begin and end is the first step to developing those details of interpretation.
No Music Theory Knowledge Required
All the things I just talked about don’t require extensive music theory knowledge. They do require active listening.