I'll admit, music theory was not my favorite subject. While I love performing and teaching music, and I think music history is fascinating, music theory often feels dry to me. So when another teacher recommended I start teaching my violin students some theory, I was more than a little hesitant. I thought my students were too young, and anyway they'd hate it. Happily, it turned out I was wrong.
After thinking about it, I started using books from the "Theory Time" series in the lessons I taught. They start with basics like music notation and counting rhythms, and I realized that I'd unintentionally left some gaps in my students' understanding of music. Some rules, for example, I'd lived with for so long I could barely remember learning it myself. Someone must have taught me the "stem rule," for example, but I had learned it so long ago, I simply followed the rule intuitively. My students, however, did not. I had never known how confusing the the directions of note stems was for some of my students until then! As my students progressed, music theory empowered them to figure their pieces out for themselves. They could identify key signatures, time signatures, complicated rhythms, and different kinds of intervals on their own. This allowed them to explore more music, and some of my students started searching music stores or the internet for more pieces to play. Music theory also gave them a clear understanding of the patterns underlying scales and arpeggios, which seemed to improve their scale practice.
Of course, with a good understanding of music theory, students can start to compose their own music! Advanced students can write down the melodies they hear in their heads, or correctly notate their own rhythms. To often, composition seems intimidating or too difficult to kids. But effective music theory education gives them the skills they need to express their musical ideas. For kids drawn to creative expression, music theory might be dry in itself, but it is a vital tool for helping them write their own music.
Despite my initial doubts, I'm glad I started including music theory in the violin lessons I teach. It's expanded my students' understanding of music as a whole, and helped them to practice and perform more effectively. Music theory doesn't have to be dry at all, and it can help students learn to express themselves via musical composition.