Score of Mozart piano sonata

Musicianship & Music Theory courses at City Lit

19 June 2020
Posted in: Courses

Musicianship: essential skills for all musicians

Grow your theory (reading) and practical (playing) skills at the same time

Whether you are learning saxophone, piano or studying to be an opera singer you will have noticed that there are some universal skills all musicians need. Some of these skills relate directly to the Western music notation system (e.g. staff notation, major and minor scales) and some are universal (e.g. the ability to maintain a constant, steady pulse as you play music). These underlying issues are all part of what we call musicianship.

Our musicianship classes are designed to target important fundamental skills which apply to all musicians and singers. In our classes you will develop your musicianship skills by humming, clapping, singing, writing, moving and listening. Through this wide variety of musical-contexts, we will take you away from day-to-day instrumental/vocal concerns and focus on the universality of musical language.

Each course covers essential topics through an immersive approach: for example in Musicianship 2: bass clef, scales and rhythm you won’t just learn to identify and write scales, you will learn to clap them, hum them and hear the differences between them. This will help enormously when you return to your instrumental/ singing practice: not only will you read music more fluently but you will hear it in more detail and spot recurring textures and patterns.

* if any of the links in this blog post say 'course not found' it means there is no instance of this course currently on the website. Just contact the Music Office and we'll let you know when the next course is expected to take place.

Music Theory: A systematic approach to learning western staff notation, with (optional) exams

Study music notation separately from practical (playing) skills. Suitable for those who have already been studying their instrument for at least 1 year

Music theory is a systematic approach to learning how to read and write in Western staff notation. At City lit we follow the ABRSM exam syllabus for grades 1-8 and the Trinity Syllabus for the diploma topics. You don’t have to sit the exams if you don’t want to, but if you do decide you would like a certificate to recognize your learning then the exam board offer the chance to sit exams online. Each exam incurs an extra fee. 

If you are taking practical exams on your instrument, you will know that you need to take Music theory: grade 5 in order to take grade 6 practical (or higher). So this system of exams is widely used by many teachers and colleges; they are recognised qualifications.

Theory grade-levels are cumulative: so if you are joining the programme part-way through, please read the course outlines carefully as each separate course assumes knowledge of all the topics in the previous grades. E.g. if you enrol for Music theory: grade 5 then we will assume that you know and understand all the topics in grades 1, 2, 3 and 4! As ever, if you are not sure of your current level then email us ( and we will show you some past-exam questions to help you choose the right level. 

Text Books: please note that many of the theory course outlines list specific exercise books which you are requested to buy and bring to class for your own use (due to music copyright). Tutors will supplement these books with their own handouts, presentations, worksheets and exam-style questions during the course.

The City Lit sequence of Music Theory courses

Please note, for Grade 6+ courses we strongly recommend that you attain a confident grade 5 practical level on your main instrument before taking this course. We also recommend that you have basic keyboard/piano skills so that you can play some of the chords and harmonic progressions as you learn how to write them.

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a visual list of our courses