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Why I wrote All-In-One Music Theory

Why I wrote All-In-One Music Theory

I thought it may be helpful to write down a few thoughts in response to questions I’ve occasionally been asked (usually in relation to All-In-One to Grade 5 book, the first book I wrote and most familiar, although there are ten books in total which make up the All-In-One music theory series ).

Q. Why did you decide to write All-In-One music theory?
I didn’t ‘decide’ to write any music theory book/s, rather the material developed gradually from “a collection of individual, self-contained worksheets which were written originally to help my own students and free up valuable lesson time for the instrumental work it supports’ (quoted from the Preface page in All-In-One to Grade 5).

I started gathering my ideas during my first year of teaching in 2001-2002 (during my last year as a post graduate student at the RNCM) and, over the course of several years, the work sheets became numerous.

The Preface page in All-In-One to Grade 5 also explains my motivation behind writing the material… ‘Most music theory books can be wordy and daunting for the beginner (especially if they are young) and often information is presented in an unrelated way through a graded system, which, in essence, relies on dry repetition and rote learning of facts’.

To solve this problem I sought an ‘integrated yet progressive’ approach. All-In-one…  ‘maintains an overall progressive approach whilst never failing to expose the simple rules and patterns which underlie music theory. These patterns, once understood, are understood once and for all by the pupil, applying as much in the later grades as the former’…All material was written with the conviction that pupils gain satisfaction and enjoyment from their work if they understand why rules or conventions exist and, from the start, students are equipped with the bare bones of information needed to work things out for themselves independently of the teacher.’

All-In-One was intended to be a flexible, time saving method which keeps the focus, as it should be, on the music itself and learning to play the instrument:

‘teachers can introduce topics when best suits the need of the individual pupil; for instance in relation to pieces a pupil is learning’.

Ultimately, the driving force behind writing All-In-One music theory books was sheer frustration. I desired a fuss free and enjoyable approach and I couldn’t find the material I wanted for my students therefore I ended up writing my own.

How long did it take you to write All-In-One to Grade 5 (and the books based upon this)?
From the time I wrote down my first ideas until the current, 2016 edition (and the new books based upon this) it has taken fifteen years in total. The first edition was completed in Sept 2008 after five/six years of compiling my material, but since then the book has undergone considerable revisions and substantial improvements in certain areas.

Q. Were there any memorable moments or particular challenges you encountered when writing All-In-One to Grade 5?

Yes. Problems fell into one or the other of two categories:

1) Writing the actual book.
It was very difficult to decide the structure of the book, meaning the order of the worksheets and how they link together. This is especially true regarding the THIRD edition which contains substantial changes in Chapter Three to make it ‘more suitable for students taking the individual grades en route to grade 5 without, most crucially, losing All-In-One’s integrated approach’. These changes created challenges when altering the ‘Graded checklists’ for ABRSM and Trinity students (click here to read about the substantial differences between the third and previous editions of All-In-One to Grade 5). All problems were finally resolved, but it took me some time to work out how it was possible to achieve what I wanted to achieve.

I also found it challenging to write the puzzles, especially ‘Crossword Grandioso’ in Chapter Four. People may find it amusing that it was originally intended to be half the size but ended up so large (81 words) because of my continual failure to square it off! It kept growing and growing as I struggled to prevent words from sticking out here or there, until finally, somehow, I managed to get everything to fit.

2) Computer-processing the book.
By 2007, after five years of compiling my teaching material, all of the work sheets in ‘All-In-One to Grade 5’ existed in their basic form (i.e. meaning they were basically the same as found in the first/2008 edition) but still it was all hand written and not one page was on computer (An enormous amount of work still needed to be done before the 3rd/2016 edition existed). Convenience dictated that my work should be on computer so that I could print out sheets quickly for students whenever I wanted. I approached a technically savvy ex post graduate music student to do the work but that idea was a mistake. The problem, as I discovered early on (which is the reason I chose to self-publish), is that I like to remain in full control of everything. I know what feels right in terms of layout, spacing, font etc. …. and I soon discovered it is nigh on impossible for one person to dictate their intentions to another, and expect them to be fulfilled in each and every way on every page. After the unsuccessful attempt to get someone else to computer-process my book, I then made the decision to do it myself. On hindsight, this was the first step to self-publishing, but at the time this thought was not in my mind. I just knew I had to teach myself how to computer process my material if I wanted to achieve anything which approximated the results I desired. I knew it would not be easy because my knowledge of computers at that time was very poor (in 2007 I had only basic knowledge of Microsoft Office Word). It did take me a long time to master the Desktop publishing and Music Notation programmes (I worked late each night after finishing teaching, often well into the early hours of the morning), but the advantage is that I am now not dependent upon anybody and I can make changes to my work whenever I want to very easily. I loved the freedom that my new computer skills gave me. Very often an idea would occur to me whilst teaching and as soon as my lessons were over I would dash to the computer to make the necessary adjustments. One change might lead to another change and in turn affect material in other papers. My new computer programmes in fact inspired creativity because I was able to make adjustments so easily and therefore write in such a free and unhindered way that would simply not have been possible had I continued with only pen/pencil and paper (I no longer had to tear up paper after every adjustment and spend hours writing everything again from scratch by hand!). I imagine my books would have been extremely different if l had been dependent upon someone else to computer process them. It is almost certain that the last (3rd ) edition would not exist because it would have been too hard for me to wrap my mind around its new structure which is more complex (beneath the surface) than previous versions (Chapter Three especially). The third edition would simply have not been possible without the help of computer programmes which made adjustments easy for me to do.

Q. Is the reason you self-published that you didn’t get accepted by a large national publishing company?

 No (This is not a question I have actually been asked but I am aware that many people may think it because, perhaps understandably, self-published books can be viewed with suspicion). I hope that my answer to the above question reveals the natural process by which All-In-One music theory came to be written. One thing just led to another. As already mentioned, my overriding concern in 2007 was to get my material onto computer exactly as I wanted it. That thought overruled any concern I had about it being published by any recognised publisher. I wanted my intentions regarding format/layout etc. to be crystal clear. On hindsight, my issue was clearly one of wanting ‘control’ over every part of the process (I was concerned about details that most people would leave to a publisher to decide). My first print run, in September 2008, was for the smallest amount I could get away with (120) to be able to equip my own students with my book, without being considerably out of pocket (meaning that if I had bought fewer books as ideally I would have wished, the price per book that I paid to the printer would have been significantly more than the price I felt comfortable charging each student). I only wanted enough books for my own students at that stage but unavoidably I had excess stock so I sold or gave away books to friends and colleagues. I also advertised my books for sale in the members section of the ISM journal (‘Incorporated Society of Musicians’). I was unsure what would come of all this, but was pleasantly surprised when, soon after the article was published, Rhinegold approached me to ask if they could write a review. I received a very successful write up in February 2009 which led to more people wanting books, which resulted in hurried preparation for another print run. I decided to call this emerging enterprise ‘Aaron publications’.… The rest is history.

Once the initial orders started coming in I felt that I had already done much of the work a publisher would have done plus I was rather curious to see what would happen if I continued doing things myself. Eight years of hard work later (fifteen since I first started compiling my material), I occasionally wonder what would have happened if I had pursued having my work published by a large recognised publisher. But I know that at the moment it certainly doesn’t feel right to do so (I don’t even know if it is too late to do so after having ‘decided’ to self-publish already). The attractiveness of a large marketing campaign is appealing, but the reality is I don’t think I could bring myself to hand over all my original computer files to another person/organisation (and with it, I presume a degree of copyright). The passing years have given me an increased sense of protectiveness about ‘my baby’ – a work born of much labour and love, and I wouldn’t want another publisher to take credit for ten years of computer processing work which they have not done. Rightly or wrongly that is how I feel. Anyhow, I really like the name ‘Aaron publications’ and I don’t want to lose that name! (anyone who wants to know why I chose this name, just pop me an email!)

(All-In-One music theory books are available at .To see a list of shops which stock All-In-one music theory books, as well as schools using my material please go to

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