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Introduction to Music Theory

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About this course

Proverbs 20:12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both

Music theory is one of those disciplines that many musicians have never taken the time to learn, but most admit they should. Some may feel as though studying theory will diminish the emotion and mystery of music. For others, theory evokes images of academic rigor and complex mathematical formulas. And then there are those who want to learn more about how music works, but they imagine the art of music is somehow detached from its construction, and to them music theory seems to be more an abstraction than a tool for understanding.

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But in reality, music theory is an incredibly powerful way to understand how music works. It’s neither inaccessible nor irrelevant. Studying the inner workings of music only increases the awe and wonder that music evokes. Your appreciation for the mystery of music won’t be diminished by going deeper – it will only intensify, like putting on corrective lenses for the first time, or gazing into a microscope.

This course was designed to make the study of music theory accessible. It’s a great way to learn at your own pace. You can start at the beginning, or you can focus on specific sections. The teaching format works well as a supplement to private music instruction – teachers can assign a section for the student to watch on his own, he can complete the worksheet, and together they can review the concept with minimal impact on lesson time.

Each section has three parts:

  1. The Lesson video teaches the concept as a short lecture, with musical examples and annotations. The videos average 4 minutes in length, so it’s easy to watch a lesson again if you didn’t understand it the first time.
  2. It’s not enough to just understand the concepts presented – you need to be able to skillfully apply them yourself. In the Guided practice video, we work through examples together. It’s a sort of intermediate step between concept and skill.
  3. Last is the Worksheet. This is where you apply the concepts to musical analysis on your own. There are answer keys to the worksheets available on request. This way, self-study folks can check their work, but teachers can ensure that students complete their own work. You can access the answers here or on each lesson page.

There are 5 foundational chapters:

  1. Pitch
  2. Rhythm and meter
  3. Scales and keys
  4. Intervals
  5. Chords

You can think of these chapters as the building blocks of music. Then we move on to “Chord paradigms and song structure” (the most important chapter in the course), where we use those foundational concepts to begin to truly analyze music.

Next, there’s a chapter that explores some of the rich possibilities beyond diatonic harmony, like secondary dominants, borrowed chords, and augmented 6th chords. And the final chapter is a brief introduction to the wonderful world of counterpoint.*


It’s a work in progress. Keep checking in as more tutorials are added!


* This chapter (and the entire course) is based on conventions of four-part harmony, but a traditional approach to teaching part-writing has been replaced with a contrapuntal approach, which is better suited for a broad range of musical styles and time periods. Rigorous part-writing paradigms are avoided, but the basic principles (parallelism, for example) are kept intact.