An Interview with Paul Musgrave

Co-author of the newly published Dr. Mozart Theory Workbooks (click here for the review), Paul Musgrave, joins us today on Music Matters Blog for an exclusive interview.

Music Matters Blog (MMB): What is your musical and teaching background?

Paul Musgrave: After graduating from Juilliard, my co-author, Machiko, taught piano and theory at Soai University in Japan. I also taught piano for a number of years, after becoming an Associate of the Royal Conservatory and graduating from Juilliard. A few years later I resumed my formal education, earning an MBA from the University of Toronto.

In subsequent years Machiko and I found time to compose and our original compositions have been heard on the radio, internationally, for more than a dozen years. We have also worked together as the executive producers of numerous commercially successful piano music CDs. While that occupation may seem entirely unrelated to writing music theory workbooks, our experience with the presentation and marketing aspects of the CD business helped us enormously in developing the Doctor Mozart series.

MMB: What prompted you to write your own theory workbook? How does Doctor Mozart differ from other music theory books?

Paul Musgrave: We have found that without a solid foundation in music theory young music students can become frustrated and discouraged as they attempt more challenging repertoire. To avoid this frustration and discouragement and to support progress in their music lessons, they need thorough theory instruction that is entertaining enough to keep them involved. From our own teaching experience, Machiko and I have long felt a need for theory workbooks that are both in-depth and fun. Being just that, the Doctor Mozart series can be enormously beneficial for students, as the fun aspect keeps them involved while the in-depth exploration of the topics helps them succeed with their instrument.

MMB: How many levels of Doctor Mozart do you plan to produce?

Paul Musgrave: The Doctor Mozart series consists of three workbooks, the first of which is already published. All three levels cover a variety of progressively more challenging theory topics. For example, Level 1 emphasizes pitch notation, with plenty of practice matching staff notes to keyboard diagrams. Intervals, chords, and easy scales are introduced in Level 2, while Level 3 challenges students with key signatures having up to four sharps or flats. Each level utilizes numerous keyboard diagrams and color illustrations to support visual learning. Each workbook is 96 pages long, allowing ample room to cover the topics in-depth. By completing all three levels, students will acquire the solid theory foundation they need to facilitate learning intermediate level repertoire.

MMB: What have you found to be the most difficult part of writing, producing and selling your own workbooks? Has it been harder than you expected?

Paul Musgrave: We spent a full year creating Level 1, working in shifts around the clock in the final months. It took some courage to finally send it to the printer, knowing the huge investment needed to print a high quality workbook in full color. In any case, all our effort would ultimately prove pointless if music teachers had no way to discover the Doctor Mozart series. Since we cannot afford the kind of sustained advertising used by the major publishing companies, we are fortunate that there are alternatives, like the Music Matters Blog. This web site allows music teachers to discover resources, like our theory workbook, that are hard to find but can have an enormous impact on teaching success.

MMB: Any other comments you’d like to add?

Paul Musgrave: Music teachers who would like to help their students excel should take advantage of the thorough and enjoyable theory instruction offered by our Doctor Mozart workbooks. Judging from the feedback we have received, young music students are responding with enthusiasm and their teachers are pleased with the results. The Doctor Mozart series offers a fresh approach to music theory education that is well worth a try.

MMB: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview today, Mr. Musgrave. I know I’ve already enjoyed looking through Level 1 of the Doctor Mozart theory workbook. I’m sure many other teachers are interested in purchasing a copy of their own to look through and consider for use in their studios.

Head on over to the Doctor Mozart website and order your workbook today!

Review of Doctor Mozart Theory Workbook 1

[NATALIE’S NOTE: Following my initial review of this workbook, I spent some time looking through it again and decided to repost a review that was more inclusive. If anyone else is as picky as I am about theory workbooks, you know how hard it is to find one that you really like. That’s why I’m always up for checking out something new on the market. I hope this review is a helpful introduction to this new workbook and that you will check it out for yourself!]

This attractive, full-color Doctor Mozart Music Theory Workbook grabs your attention immediately and invites students to jump in and get started on the activities. The layout is very clean and the text is very comprehensive, ensuring that students will clearly understand what they are expected to do on each page. The “It’s in-depth” tagline on the cover certainly fits!

Here’s an outline of what is covered in Workbook 1:

1. The book starts by having the student identify black key groupings on the piano keyboard. The explanations and activities are always accompanied by colorful and insightful graphics to further reinforce the concept being introduced.

2. The music alphabet is introduced next, with each of the key names being associated with a specific color as an aid in identification. These colors are used through the remainder of the book on both the piano keys and on the staff lines. The fact that students possess different learning styles was taken into consideration by the Musgraves and they have made every effort to incorporate this realization into their introduction and reinforcement of the concepts.

3. A short explanation and test of steps and skips on the white keys.

4. Staff is introduced. The analogy of a ladder is given – “a staff is like a ladder for notes.” This is a familiar object to which students can relate and I have often referred to the staff as being like a ladder in my own teaching. Concepts are built on this as students are asked to identify notes being on a rung or on a space between the rungs. Terminology switches over to line v. space. Middle C is then introduced, followed by the treble and bass clefs. Note identification follows a mixture of a middle C and landmark approach, with bass B and treble D being the next notes introduced. D is explained as a “drip waiting to fall,” while B is referred to as a “floating bubble.” Again, imaginative presentations lend themselves to a more complete understanding.

5. Landmark notes bass F and treble G, followed by the notes between them and middle C. Students perform a variety of activities – answering questions, filling in blanks, drawing their own symbols, etc. One excellent feature is that the staff is clearly related to the keyboard in a way that will help the students not only identify note names, but understand the concept behind identifying which note is which. In several activities, the student is instructed to draw their own lines from the keyboard to the corresponding staff lines and spaces. A very effective approach!

6. A chord is briefly explained and then the C-chord is introduced, familiarizing the student with both the terminology and the construction of a chord.

7. Note values are next, likening them to a chocolate bar which can be whole, cut into halves, or cut into quarters. Definitely another familiar object for most students! After introducing concepts, students are asked a variety of questions to determine their comprehension of the concept. The relational value of notes are presented: “1 whole note is as long as ___ quarter notes, or ___ half notes.” I find this very beneficial for transfer to a variety of time signatures as the student advances.

8. Stem direction for notes on the staff.

9. Measures are introduced as “Bars are boxes of beats.” Another helpful visual presentation of this concept!

10. Time signatures 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 2/2 are presented. Only 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 are referred to in the activities, though. It is helpful that the student is made aware of the fact that time signatures can include a number on the bottom other than 4. Additional time signatures are explored in greater detail in the second theory workbook.

11. Quarter, Half and Whole rests are introduced sequentially, with a number of activities to help students understand the relationship between rhythmic values and rests.

12. Next, the mnemonic device of using phrases to identify the line and space notes of each clef is presented. For treble lines: Elephants Got Big Dirty Feet; for treble spaces: F-A-C-E; for bass lines: Great Big Dogs Fight Animals; and for bass spaces: All Cows Eat Grass. This is probably my biggest complaint about these workbooks. I know that many teachers find such mnemonic devices helpful, but I don’t use them in my studio. (Students get the phrases mixed up, invert the treble and bass clef phrases, etc.) However, a little white out will do the trick. I’ve done that plenty of times before! The activities utilized at this point are not dependent on the phrases and still serve as a good reinforcement of the note identification work included previously in the book.

13. The relationship between the grand staff and keyboard is discussed in greater detail now that the student has been working with the whole Grand Staff.

14. Half steps, then sharps, flats, naturals, enharmonics and chromatic v. diatonic are all introduced and reinforced with a variety of creative activities, accompanied by more imaginative graphics.

15. An overview of accents, dynamics, staccato, legato/slurs, ties brings us to the close of Workbook 1, the student having now developed an excellent foundation of note identification and a working knowledge of musical terms and symbols.

As can be seen from the overview, concepts are presented in a linear fashion with review of previous concepts woven in as necessary to build upon the foundation that has been laid. The workbook is compatible with the Royal Conservatory of Toronto and the Royal American Conservatory and would probably line up well with the theory requirements of almost any curriculum for a level one student. This workbook would be a nice complement to any method series and I think could be used very effectively in a group class setting. It could be the perfect choice for a summer piano camp for a group of beginning students.

I encourage you to order a copy of this exciting new workbook for yourself. Look it over. Try it out with a student. See what you think. You may find it to be just what you’ve always wished you could have in a theory workbook!

Coming up next: an exclusive interview with the authors of Doctor Mozart!