There are a lot of music theory books on the market. In the past, these have largely been driven by exam syllabuses, but there are nevertheless books which exist in their own right. The theory books published by Melodic Decoder, and written by Alison Wood and Shona Newey, are, quite possibly, unique. In fact, it’s quite hard to describe in words what these books are like. Although they are aimed at ABRSM exam candidates, they have universal appeal.
There are currently four books available, with a range of associated resources covering Grades 1-4 of the revised ABRSM Music Theory syllabus. Each book contains the knowledge required for its respective grade, and, quite uniquely, is a detective story designed for children. Children are encouraged to use their theory knowledge to solve the puzzles and ‘crack the code’.
Creative puzzles test children’s understanding of music theory. Each puzzle is prefaced by an explanation of the theoretical knowledge required, and the books seek to cover the syllabus:
“in an accessible and concise fashion, using colourful graphics.”
Each book concludes with a ‘quiz time’ designed to allow children to recall and revise all the theoretical knowledge they’ve learnt for the grade.
There are currently four books available in the series, covering ABRSM Grades 1-4:
- Search for the Stolen Harp
- Search for the Real Chopin
- Search for the Lost Octave
- Search for the Stolen Sound
I wonder if there will be a Grade 5 book to join the set?
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As well as the books themselves, there’s a range of other resources available on the Melodic Decoder website, including:
- Activity sheets
To give you a flavour, the introduction to Grade 1 says:
“Disaster has struck!”
The most valuable harp in the world has been stolen from the V&A museum in London! In its place stands the calling card of the Devious Diva, who is known for her elaborate codes.
Amadeus Wolfgang, the Master Melodic Decoder, has been assigned by a top secret agency to de-code the clues and recover the harp.
You have been appointed as Amadeus’s apprentice. Can you help him de-code the puzzles and solve the mystery of the stolen harp?
Essentially, children need to follow the clues and use their theoretical knowledge to break the codes. There is a useful section for teachers indicating how the content of the book aligns with the ABRSM syllabus.
The explanations are clear and concise, and the inclusion of some ‘top tips’ along the way is a useful aid to revision. Whilst writing of actual music is no longer a feature of ABRSM’s Music Theory exams (I can’t believe I’m actually writing that!), the books do encourage this. I’d like to have seen even more of this, but the books can, of course, be supplemented both by the printables downloadable from the Melodic Decoder website, and other books and materials.
The format of the books is a little small, and this does mean some pages can feel cluttered. For the age group the books are aimed at, I suspect a larger format with a greater amount of clear space on the pages would have been useful. At £7.99 each, the books are not on the cheap side, particularly compared with other music theory books on the market; however, it’s necessary to remember these are more than just tutor books.
Overall, these are an interesting, I’d say unique, addition to the marketplace. They will appeal to children who like a good puzzle and a mystery to solve, and they do an excellent job of covering music theory knowledge in a fun and engaging way.
The books and associated resources are available from the Melodic Decoder website, the books themselves priced £7.99 (or the set of four for £28.76, saving £3.20)
I was sent a review copy of these books free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.
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