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u/17bmw · 3 pointsr/musictheory

Start with Norton! The Norton music textbook series is personally responsible for any remotely good thing I've done in my life. But seriously, the writing is amazing, the anathologies are superb, the prices are mega reasonable (as far as textbooks go), and the selection is extensive. Of particular interest would be "Music in the 19th century," primarily European in focus. It comes with an anthology of musical examples and I know (from having read most of it from class) it's an excellent primer to Romantic music!

I'm a budding fan of Neo-Riemannian theory, particularly many of extensions to the theory and the varied ways it can be applied. It, just like Schenkerian analysis, sonata theory, and pc-set theory, is a powerful tool to have. Transformational theories can be used to analyze Romantic music but sometimes, it might not be the most appropriate tool for the job. I'd say definitely learn it (oh please, try to learn it!) but learn enough other theories (sonata theory especially!) to approach analysis from many different facets.

Speaking of, Romanticism as an era is close enough (temporally) to be well-documented but far away enough for us to fully view and appreciate the trends and impacts it's left. Definitely look into musicologists and what they've had to say about prominent composers/trends of the era. Two big names to get you started: Theodor Adorno and Susan McClary. Both addressed specific threads and motifs they found in Romantic music and their work continues to spark incredible discussion today (what either of them have to say about Beethoven is always a fun read). They also have a slew of associated controversies (word choice!), so always look for replies and dissents to their work, and in the work of any other musicologists you read.

This is a doozy of a question because "Romantic" music is a a century+ tradition that spans at least 3-ish continents and countless substreams and genres to consider. Are you interested in opera, chamber music, symphonies, concerti, choral music, piano music, or something else? Is there a particularly country/region you're interested in? Norwegian Romanticism is different from Russian Romanticism is different fron Mexican Romanticism. Perhaps there are certain composers who specifically interest you?

I'm sorry that this advice wasn't terribly specific but it should offer a few places to begin your quest. If you could narrow down your interests, we might be able to better point you to resources on the subject. In the mean time, hop on over to r/romanticism because I'm sure they'd love this quest just as much as we would. Also take a peek at r/classicalresources. Tons of awesomely curated playlists. I hope this helps and take care!

u/Jongtr · 3 pointsr/musictheory

I think every theory book I've ever read has opened up my mind in some way - while always being unsatisfactory in other ways (incomplete, too dense, too little on some forms of music, etc). My experience and interest is largely in popular music of all kinds, less in classical, so that has biased my reading somewhat; but I can recommend all the following (not 100%, but worth reading):

Eric Taylor: The AB Guide to Music Theory, pts I and II - good review of the basics, aimed at pupils studying for grades. Not deep in any way but good if you're just starting out. Solidly classical, which could be a downside for some. The concepts up to grade 5 are shrunk to useful pocket size in [this] ( - 100% recommended for any absolute beginner.

George Heussenstamm : [Harmony and Theory, pts 1 & 2 (Hal Leonard)] ( Usefully split into Diatonic and Chromatic. I've read a few texts on standard classical theory, and this is the most approachable, IMO.

William Russo: [Jazz Composition and Orchestration] ( Taught me more than I thought I wanted to know about counterpoint. Most of which I've now forgotten (not much call for it in the bands I played in...). But if you're not into big band jazz (at all), maybe not worth it.

William Russo: [Composing for the Jazz Orchestra] ( Neat little guide book on jazz arranging (NOT composition).

Mark Levine: [The Jazz Theory Book] ( 50% recommended. Well written and presented, eye-opening in many ways, but beware - chord-scale theory! (controversial stuff, in ways he doesn't admit.)

Robert Rawlins and Nor Eddine Bahha: [Jazzology] ( The somewhat dry antidote to the above. 50% recommended. Should have been good, but somehow hard to read, easy to put down. Unlike Levine, no quotes from jazz standards or recordings - all music examples are written by the authors.

Dominic Pedler: [The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles] ( Outlines the vast number of theoretical concepts that the fab four would be astonished to learn they employed. Includes a useful appendix on basic concepts of tonal harmony. If you like pop and rock (and theory) but don't like the Beatles, still worth reading.

But then if you like the Beatles AND theory... [Alan Pollack's site] ( is essential reading. (Pedler is deep, but doesn't examine EVERY song. Pollack is briefer, but does.

Allan F Moore: [Song Means: Analysing and Interpreting Popular Song] ( Does what it says in the title - and goes deep! (way beyond the plain old superficial harmony concepts peddled - sorry - by Pedler :-))

Walter Everett: [Rock's Tonal Systems] ( More stuff to raise the eyebrows of any rock musician. "Wow - we really do all that?"

Paul F Berliner: [Thinking in Jazz] ( Not a music theory book in the usual sense, but discusses how jazz musicians think about improvisation.

u/keakealani · 3 pointsr/musictheory

Ahh, that makes sense, sorry \^\^;

There are books on a huge variety of subjects in music, so it does depend a little bit on what you are interested in specifically. For a broad overview, I liked A History of Western Music - the current edition is the 8th, but much of the materials from the 7th edition are available online. Another book I recommend is Harold C. Schonberg's The Lives of the Great Composers. It is less in-depth, but is written in a more narrative style while still hitting on a lot of the "who's who" in classical music from the Baroque to the 20th century (although it's maybe a tad outdated in the later 20th and 21st century).

Besides those two, I actually don't have any others on the top of my head that are good overviews. /u/m3g0wnz does have a guide to music theory textbooks on the sidebar that details out some of the main texts in that area. And, of course, there are books that specialize on a variety of subjects within music theory and history - Ebenezer Prout's book on fugues is one such example that I've looked at, as well as both the Kennan and Adler on the subject of orchestration. (Actually, Kennan also wrote a book on Counterpoint.)

On the subject of sight-singing, I've used both Rhythm and Pitch and A New Approach to Sight Singing in my aural skills classes - I like the Berkowitz a little better in the way it's organized, but both offer plenty of examples for practice. Alternatively, picking up a hymnal is possibly an easier alternative to sightsinging that gives you lots of tonal material for practice.

With most of my other suggestions, though, you don't really need a book. Print out some scores on IMSLP or pick up a cheap study edition (like this one of Mozart piano sonatas) and work through a harmonic/formal analysis.

With transposition, I think probably just working through some scores on IMSLP would be a good start, as well - I can't think of any other better way to get exercises for that. It's one of those topics that's pretty easy to quiz yourself with as long as you keep yourself honest. :)

Edit to add: As far as specifics of literature, that is obviously pretty instrument-dependent. I am a vocalist, and I usually choose language first and then begin exploring pieces that might work with my current technical goals. I know a lot of instrumentalists treat genre/time period the same way. So depending on your instrument, you may have a different approach, but it helps to narrow things down to a few composers you might like to explore for your instrument, and then seeing if anything works for you. Although be wary - for me I end up getting so involved in lit studies that I have a list a mile long of pieces I want to study in the future. It's a double-edged sword for sure.

u/vornska · 5 pointsr/musictheory

IV. Voice-Leading Parsimony

("Parsimony" means "thriftiness, frugality; unwillingness to spend money.")

One interesting fact about P, L, and R: they leave 2 notes untouched, and the voice that does move only moves by a step. P and L only move one note by a half step, and R is a little more extravagant by moving a voice by a whole step. So these transformations are "parsimonious" (frugal) in the sense that they can get you new chords for very little effort (motion). It turns out that the triad is pretty cool for being able to do this: very few other chord types in the world can. (For example, you can't get from one French 6th chord or fully diminished 7th to another just by moving one voice a tiny amount.)

The next thing that Neo-Riemannian theory asks is "What happens if I chain a bunch of transformations together?" For example, what happens if I make a sequence by alternating P's and L's? Each step along the way changes only 1 half-step, but how many different notes does it use total? How long before I get back to my starting chord? (Will I go through all 12 major and all 12 minor triads? Or do I only use a fraction of the total?) Neo-Riemannian theory maps out the possibilities and describes them using a concept from modern algebra known as an algebraic "group." The transformations P, L, and R form a "group" of things that you can combine to make new things (e.g. imagine considering L-then-R to be a single transformation of its own). Group theory is used to explore the structure of the possibilities there.

V. Enharmonic Equivalence

(That is, the assumption that there are only 12 notes and that spelling doesn't matter, so G# = Ab.)

This doesn't sound very exciting, because we're pretty used to it by now. But it was a radical notion early in the Romantic period, and composers like Schubert got some cool effects out of exploiting it.

Earlier I asked "What happens if I make a sequence out of alternating P's and L's?" Well, it turns out that I go through 6 different chords, like this: CM - Cm - AbM - Abm - EM - Em (then back to CM). Every L takes me to a chord with a root a M3 lower, so that after 6 steps I've gone down by 3 major thirds and end up back where I started. This needs enharmonic equivalence to work, because without it I'd go C - Ab - Fb - Dbb... so that, in some weird conceptual world I'm actually not where I started. We're used to making that enharmonic shift, but it was relatively unfamiliar at the time. Partially that had to do with tuning, but also it had to do with the fundamental role of the diatonic scale at the time. Every interval had a meaning within a major or minor scale, and there were some combinations of intervals (like 3 M3's in a row) that couldn't be accomplished in any single scale. So shoving them all together like that, and forcing enharmonic equivalence on you, came very close to being a moment of atonality within tonal music!

This, again, is why the Neo-Riemannian approach of ignoring tonality and diatonic scales is useful: because there are pieces that do just that, in order to combine triads in weird ways (like the P-L sequence) that require enharmonic equivalence to make sense.

VI. The Tonnetz

In order to visualize the universe of possibilities that we've opened up with all this theorizing, Neo-Riemannian theory likes to create visual maps of the chord layouts that are possible. This kind of map is called a Tonnetz (German for "tone network"). Here's an example of a Tonnetz. Each letter represents a note (not a chord). Horizontal lines connect notes by perfect 5ths; diagonals that go up-right (or down-left) connect minor thirds; diagonals that go up-left (or down-right) connect major thirds.

The triangles that are formed in this picture represent triads: triangles pointing up are minor triads and triangles pointing down are major triads. So you can see the triangle framed by C, Eb, and G bolded in the picture, which of course is a C minor triad. Below it is the C,E,G of C major.

The nice thing about a Tonnetz like this is that it can also show our transformations. Consider the C major triad (just below the bolded triangle). Now look for the triangles that share a side with C major: they turn out to be exactly the 3 triangles that I can transform C major into via P, L, or R. So we can imagine those transformations as ways of flipping one triangle onto another inside the Tonnetz; we can make analyses of pieces by tracing out their chord progressions as if on a map.


That's pretty much all I've got stamina for, tonight. I've left a bunch out, so I'd be happy to get corrections/additions (or questions!), but I hope this has been a plausible overview of the basics of Neo-Riemannian theory.

If this stuff piques your interest, here are two books that are very much worth taking a look at:

Audacious Euphony by Richard Cohn, who is one of the founders of the theory, and who explores its possibilities through many nice analyses in this book.

A Geometry of Music by Dmitri Tymoczko, who is critical of standard Neo-Riemannian theory in many ways. His book (which builds two articles he helped write for Science in, I think, 2006 and 2008) offers another perspective on some of the same issues, drawing on geometry rather than algebra for his underlying mathematics.

u/ILikeasianpeople · 7 pointsr/musictheory

Because you have an issue of constantly writing in the same key, I feel like your issue won’t be solved by just learning about modal interchange. I believe that thinking about harmony and phrase structure Functionally would be of more use to your process.

Every chord in a harmonic progression serves a function that can be broken down into 3 basic categories:

  1. Tonic Function (Major: I, vi, iii) (Minor: i, bIII, bVI)

  2. Subdominant Function (Major: ii, IV) (Minor: ii^o , iv)

  3. Dominant Function (Major: V, vii^o ) (Minor: V, #vii^o )

    Each chord flows to the next, so a progression from:

    Tonic -> Subdominant -> Dominant -> Tonic

    Is atypical. It’s important to note that Tonics can come after a subdominant (T - SD - T), and the subdominant can be skipped and a tonic can lead directly to a dominant (T - D - T). Tonic chords can also lead to other Tonic chords (T - T), the same goes for subdominants and Dominants (S - S; D - D) so our new chart would look like this:

    Tonic -><- Subdominant -> Dominant -><- Tonic

    Harmonic progressions serve functions as well, and you can reduce almost every harmonic progression can into 3 basic categories (some would say there are only 2, but I prefer to think about it in terms of 3):

  1. Prolongation (when you prolong any harmony by skipping or omitting a harmonic Function between 2 chords, or simply repeating the same harmonic function back to back) to for example:

    I - V - I

    I - IV - I

    i - ii^o - i

    V - I - V

    iv - i - iv

    I - vi

    IV - ii

    ii - ii^6

    I - vii^6/5ø - I^6

    Etc etc

  2. Cadential function (when the sequence of chords flows from T - SD - D - T) ex:

    vi - ii - V - I, iv - V - VI, ii - vii^o - V - I, ii - I6/4 - V^7 - I

    Etc etc

  3. Sequential function: when harmonic root movement moves in a fixed pattern. this can, and often, defies normal “chord logic” of a T - SD - D progression. You escape sequential movement by using a Cadential Function set of harmonies. Sequences are really good ways to migrate from one key center to another, or to just provide a continuation before a cadence in the home key. Diatonically, there are 6 kinds of sequences: ascending and descending 2nds, 3rds, and 4ths


    (by ascending 4th) vii - iii - vi - (ii - V - I)

    (By descending 2nd) V - IV - iii - iii - (ii - V - I)

    (Descending 4th) I - V - ii - vi - (V/V - V - I)

    Etc etc etc etc

    You can interject prolongation and cadential functions in between each sequential chord: I (V - I) - ii - (vi - ii) - iii - (vii - ii) etc. you can also tonicize each chord in the sequence: I - vii^o / ii - ii - vii^o /iii - iii etc etc etc

    Phrase functions are also a thing, and these are strongly linked to Harmonic Progression Functions this is where both the theory behind natural chord progressions and sets of harmonic progressions come together. Understanding and being comfortable with phrase functions is extremely important.

  1. Presentation (Prolongation; a small basic idea (b.i.) That repeats twice)

  2. Continuation Function (Sequential, Cadential; a fragmented (smaller, incomplete) interpretation of the previous material that repeats, can lead into a cadential progression)

  3. Cadential Function (Cadential)

  4. Antecedent Function (Prolongation -> Cadential) (basic idea, b.i., followed by a contrasting idea, c.i. that leads to a half cadence)

  5. Consequent Function (the same basic idea followed by a varied version of the contrasting idea into a Perfect Authentic Cadence)

    In a typical musical sentence, you would have phrase structure that looks like this:

    Presentation -> continuation -> cadential

    A typical musical period looks like this:

    Antecedent -> Consequent

    You can mix and match functions to your pleasure, (one b.i. followed by a continuation function; antecedent -> continuation; antecedent -> continuation -> consequent; presentation -> cadential; etc)

    Because you write rock music, adhering to Classical Formal structures is not gonna happen. However, each function and it’s interior components (b.i. , c.i., continuation, fragmentation, etc) are used in an altered way very very frequently.

    I did not cover modulation is this post, but I will link an article below.

    I hope this helps, bellow I will link some sites and books that could help with understanding these concepts beyond this post:


u/DeletedAllMyAccounts · 13 pointsr/musictheory

I get where you're coming from because I started in a very similar place, but what you want is really not compatible with the study of music theory. Music theory attempts to break down the structure of music to explain why it works by using other works as an example. It's not really about explaining cause and effect relationships or mathematics. (though there's certainly some of that)

Music theory has much more to do with pointing out similarities between pieces of music so you can say, "Well, these pieces of music are effective because they share these things in common, and you can use these techniques to similar effect."

It also has to do with auditory perception and psychology. "These notes are harmonically similar, so they will mask each other." "The change in harmonic relationships between these notes over time imply that something is going to change." Etc... It sounds like those are concepts you are already familiar with.

It's not that these things aren't science-adjacent, but it's not a formal science. It just integrates bits and pieces of science, history, convention, etc... Trying to reduce anything but specific subsections of music theory down to something adequately explainable by science or mathematics is not going to be helpful or satisfying.

The best recommendation I could give you is to find a good music history text that starts out somewhere around 570BCE or earlier and leads into modern day. I've found that for myself, the only satisfying way to understand modern music terminology and convention is to observe how it evolved. I think that's the most scientific approach you could take.

There are also a few extremely talented polymaths that have attempted to represent musical relationships in novel and useful ways using mathematics/geometry. Dmitri Tymoczko immediately comes to mind.

I also think you would enjoy reading this book and this book, as one explores some really fascinating and practical mathematical representations of musical ideas, and the other explores the tension/release mechanics that dictate/relate to much of the theory surrounding modern musical structure, rhythm, and harmonic progression.

Other than that, if you see a term that you don't understand, look it up. If you see a term in that term's definition that you don't understand, look that up. Follow that rabbit hole to the bottom. Draw a graph if you have to.

Diving down hierarchies of terms I don't understand in order to gradually pick apart texts is a skill I've had to develop as a software developer and DIYer, and training that muscle has been invaluable. It's the reason I don't kill plants anymore, how I was able to write a raycasting engine without prior 3D graphics experience, and how I taught myself music theory.

u/disaster_face · 1 pointr/musictheory

the reviews aren't really wrong... it does have its flaws, but there isn't really another book that does it better. i've read quite a few harmony books and it is the most comprehensive basic harmony book that i've found. it's also pretty much the standard for college courses.

Tchaikovsky also wrote a book on harmony. It is good and very inexpensive, but very short. he writes extremely efficiently though, so there is really a lot of info in such a small book, but obviously not as much as Tonal Harmony. It's also older than Tonal Harmony, so some more modern ideas are not included. That said, it's a great way to quickly learn a lot, and at the price it's really a no-brainer. It doesn't have exercises or lots of examples... just good info.

Also, I should mention that all these harmony books teach using the classical tradition of placing heavy emphasis on voice leading. If you are, for example a guitarist writing pop and rock songs, you may not see how the information will be relevant to what you do, but I would encourage you to go ahead and read through it, as it will make your writing better, and give you a more complete understanding of music. Also, there isn't really a good basic harmony book that doesn't teach this way.

Also, if you are interested in Jazz Harmony there is absolutely no better book than this one.

u/m3g0wnz · 2 pointsr/musictheory

I posted this in our still-being-created FAQ, hope it helps!


I always recommend Robert Gauldin's books on 16th- and 18th-century counterpoint, mostly because they're just what I used as an undergrad. I realize there are others out there that are just as good, but I do think Gauldin is extremely smart and knows what he's talking about.

I've also used Evan Jones's book on modal counterpoint. It's newer so not as time-tested, but it seems like a nice book. It quotes some passages directly from Fux's Gradus where they are relevant, which is nice.

Speaking of which, I don't recommend learning straight from Fux's Gradus. It was written nearly 300 years ago (in 1725) and you are not its target audience! It's an extremely important treatise in relation to the history of music theory and music in general, but it is not flawless and there are other books written with a more updated style of pedagogy that will be easier to learn from. Feel free to read Fux to supplement your work, but I would not make it my primary text.

Turning now to species counterpoint, I'd like to plug what I think is a fascinating book for academics and beginners alike: Counterpoint in Composition by Carl Schachter and Felix Salzer, two brilliant minds in music theory. The book does teach some counterpoint, but what I think the interesting part is is where they relate counterpoint to "free composition"—i.e., pieces by Beethoven, Brahms, and others who were not literally writing species counterpoint, but composing freely. Every student I've assigned readings to from this text has loved the readings and it encouraged them to keep working at counterpoint since the relationship to "real music" became that much more tangible after reading this book.

u/Iwantapetmonkey · 2 pointsr/musictheory

I took theory classes 15 years ago, and don't remember what text I used, but it was pretty generic as I recall. I'm thinking of any sort of classical music theory introductory text intended for use in a university course, since they will all probably begin with the same sort of progression of things which logically arises when describing how diatonic music works.

I did a quick search, and this is the sort of text I have in mind:

That one looks very good, and, looking at the table of contents, I'd say the Part I: Elements of Music is the essential part to familiarize with for the basics and then Part II: Diatonic Harmony and Tonicization would expand those ideas in the first part to show how those basics are applied in diatonic music harmonization (basically how to create nice-sounding chord progressions based on diatonic scales).

I would avoid books that are targeted to a specific instrument, or a more modern type of music - like guitar theory, jazz theory, blues piano theory, etc. Not that these books aren't good too, but I've seen plenty of guitar theory books that describe the basics in wacky ways, or in ways that are not really universally applied to all music. Classical theory books will mostly all be the same, and be a solid introduction to these very basics. If you see one that is 20 years old for two bucks at a yard sale it would likely be fine.

In my opinion starting to learn theory from this standpoint of classical music is a great way to start. There are a million ways to learn theory, and this might not be the preferred route for everyone, but it's so good in my opinion because Classical, Baroque, etc. - these early music forms were all about consonance, about how to make harmonic progressions and melodies, and so on, that were pleasing to the ear. They developed these stringent rules to describe methods for arranging sounds to make very pleasing compositions, rules which are very effective at what they are intended for. Once you learn these rules, it makes everything else so much clearer as to why other types of music that break every one of these rules are so effective.

It's maybe like learning to draw a face - you would probably start with learning to draw a face you are looking at, and making your drawing copy it as closely as you can. It's not easy to draw a realistic-looking face, and takes some practice to get it right, to make it look pleasing to people who spend their lives looking at faces and learning their intricacies. If you jump right into trying to do a stylized, artsy rendering of a face, it probably won't be very convincing, since you never learned how to draw a pleasing face to begin with! It would look like a child's drawing, certainly not realistic, but also not very interesting because it's not very sophisticated in how it goes about presenting that face.

u/mepc36 · 2 pointsr/musictheory

I don't have any answers to any questions, but my two contributions are this book here, called "The Geometry of Music," and this, the wikipedia page on the isomorphic keyboard here. My hope is you'll like them both :)

>There are a million ways to approach this and its fun to consider different ways to try it.. Just wondering if anyone has attempted something like this?

I think the answer is very definitely yes! But beyond that, I can't offer much help :( haha Anyway, thanks for teaching me just by asking that question! lol. Peace, -Martin

>i modeled the notes like this: C, Cd, D, De, E, F, Fg, G, Ga, A, Ab, B;

Actually, most digital audio workstations like Logic do the opposite, and name everything in sharps. So, you might try doing that instead, if only because that's the convention. That is, C, C#, D, D#, etc. Just an FYI, although as I think other people have pointed out here, pitch classes are more popular now too...or whatever they call using a number for each note (C = 1, C# = 2, D = 3, etc.)

u/Xenoceratops · 2 pointsr/musictheory

>I'm trying to put together a plan of materials to go through with the intention of becoming an "expert" (very adept, lets say graduate level) in theory over the next several years.

So, at minimum, you'll need to know tonal (Schenkerian) analysis and post-tonal analysis. The fourth edition of Joseph Straus' Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory is good for post-tonal. My Schenkerian class didn't use a text, but Cadwallader and Gagne seems to be a thing now.

At the graduate level, studies are motivated by the student's research interests. It sounds like you are interested in what Dmitri Tymoczko calls "the extended common practice."

For breadth, read journals and publications. MTO is free, Spectrum is a big one, and so it JMT. Here are the last five recipients of the Wallace Berry Award (and you can read more here):

Steven Vande Mooretele - The Romantic Overture and Musical Form from Rossini to Wagner

Daniel Harrison - Pieces of Tradition: An Analysis of Contemporary Tonal Music

Ruth DeFord - Tactus, Mensuration, and Rhythm in Renaissance Music

Jack Boss - Schoenberg's Twelve-Tone Music: Symmetry and the Musical Idea

Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis - On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind

Given your interests, I'd definitely read the Daniel Harrison book.

/u/Jay13232 mentioned Persichetti. If you're going to read it, do so after you get a handle on set theory (from Straus). It's a good book, but our modern methodology is better for describing that repertoire in my opinion. Persichetti and Hindemith are like whacking nails into a board with a wrench (using ideas appropriated from tonality to describe music that doesn't follow those principles). Allen Forte, John Rahn, Robert Morris, and Howard Hanson gave us a proper set of hammers.

u/FluteSiren · 1 pointr/musictheory

If you are planning on teaching yourself (which it sounds like you are) I would highly recommend working through the Elementary Music Rudiments series. I would recommend the all incluisive one as it is more economical and allows you to advance to where you need to be.**&prodCode=TSCR&fromCatCode=CATHEORY3&actionType=show&treePath=Theory >&categoryDesc=Theory Publications by Mark Sarnecki&fromTree=Y&pageNum=&level=2&code=CATHEORY3
This book can also be found on amazon and at many local music stores.
If you're not on a super tight budget another great theory resource is Tonal Harmony by Stefan Kostka
This was my university text book for my first two years of theory classes. It explains everything from basic rudiments (it covers it slightly) and goes through the harmony methods used into the 21st century.
If you are serious about writing music and learning about the different compositional methods I would recommend going through and doing the exercises in each of these books as they will allow you to devlop a much better understanding and you may find it allows you more creative room.
The benefit of a book is that you don't get lost in duscissions and work sheets that are way over your head as you do online (I know I got into this situation a few times).
It is very important to be very confident in your rudiments before moving on to more complex harmony study so my recommendation would be to first go through Elementary Rudiments and then move on to Tonal Harmony. That's my two-cents, hope it helps!

u/AugustFay · 5 pointsr/musictheory

>Isn't there a whole course somewhere?

This is a fundamental theory crash course for total beginners who are interested in learning at a college level yet have no prior experience in theory. It was created by Steven Laitz, who also authored one of the best American undergrad theory text books. I haven't tried it, and I know it costs some moneys... but this guy has an awesome reputation and it looks super legit.

eTheory: Music Theory Fundamentals in 4 weeks


>what the chord progression is. I've come up with, what I believe, to be some pretty good "root notes" for the progression (is that a term??).

Your notes could be "roots" but I would call them "bass notes" or together a "bassline" and in this case that just means they are the lowest sounding notes of whatever chord they will end up being a part of, but not necessarily the root of the note. This might seem confusing but bear with me… if you have a chord with 3 notes, like C major for example. The notes: C, E, G make it up. C is your root note… hence the name of the chord (C Major). If that C note is notated below the other two notes then it is your bass. This is called C major in root position. Bass is just the note on the bottom of the chord. The lowest one. If you decide to put E in the bass and make the chord E, C, G, then now E is your bass notes but C is still your root. This is called C major first inversion. You can do the same and put G in the bass, and have G, C, E, This is called C major second in version, G is your bass but C is still your root. Sorry if this is confusing to you I might have skipped a little ahead in the theory, but it's a pretty basic topic.

>The notes are B-C#-D#-F#

As for your sample, and those 4 notes, I'd say you could be in F Major or B Major, depending on how you decide to harmonize the notes, you could even modulate between the two fairly easily, but that's a little more of an advanced topic.

>How do I determine the chord progression?

There are many ways to harmonize your bass line but if you need some direction, try using the notes in one of the aforementioned keys.

Not sure if I'm helping or just throwing you off even more so I'll stop here.

Edit: formatting and grammar.

u/asgiantsastros · 2 pointsr/musictheory

If I understand what you're saying, then yes, Amaj7 with a 9 will sound good in certain cases. It's actually pretty popular to combine the 7 and the 9 in jazz chords. You can definitely have more than one extension to a chord, it's just pretty cumbersome to write Amaj7 add 9, so most of the time it is omitted to be just A9 or Amaj7.

If this kind of thing interests you (combining different types of chords and adding notes in the chord), definitely get a jazz theory book. Below is one a fairly popular one. It is one of the best ways to progress from amateur to journeyman, in my opinion. Get through that book and you'll be able to play in jam sessions with other musicians, be comfortable talking theory, while elevating your own playing to a degree you probably didn't think possible, etc.

u/whynotziltoid · 1 pointr/musictheory*Version*=1&*entries*=0

A book refering mostly to classical music (probably exclusivly) but its an immense source of knowledge of music theory and practice in general. It's written for academic purposes but is easily read by laymen :)

if you want a book that covers classical theory and harmony this probably the best.

Phillip Tagg's 'Everyday Tonality' is also good but a bit more advanced :)

u/Oriamus · 2 pointsr/musictheory

I disagree with /u/vornska about Kostka and Schoenberg. They both have great perspectives and I think they are both good tools.

But I TOTALLY agree when it comes to counterpoint. Counterpoint is like the capstone of music theory (from my perspective). It really brings theory all together, at least for me. Still, I'd say that in order to study counterpoint it helps to have a background in basic theory first, which is why I characterize it as a capstone.

But it sounds like you have that basic theory knowledge (I think), so counterpoint might be awesome for you. If learning counterpoint is your endgame, I would go with neither Kostka nor Schoenberg. My counterpoint textbook was by Kent Kennan. Now, I only have experience with that one counterpoint book, so while I do recommend it, there could definitely be some better books on counterpoint out there. I just wanted to say that counterpoint is amazing to learn for any musician, no matter what books you read on it. (Well, unless the book is objectively bad.)

u/_wormburner · 2 pointsr/musictheory

Here's some other stuff for people interested:

Joe Straus' Introduction to Post Tonal Theory

u/TheThirdLife · 3 pointsr/musictheory

Music Theory Remixed by Kevin Holm-Hudson, is a great book that covers all the typical concepts of a four semester university theory course (Theory I through IV) but supplements all the concert music examples with music from pop music. It's pretty fantastic. Sort of like a more relevant Tonal Harmony... I think it's fun to hear modern examples of cadences, modulation techniques, etc. along side examples from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.

Tonal Harmony, by Kostka and Payne, is in my experience the most commonly assigned text for Theory I - IV courses. It's very good.

Straus' Introduction to Post-Tonal Harmony, is incredible. This book helped me fall in love with post-tonal music. If you need to study post tonal music, this is the book to get.

u/YogurtBatmanSwag · 5 pointsr/musictheory

You mentioned you like jazz, feel free to hang out with us /r/Jazz

Internet is great, and there is a lot for good free ressources. You'll have to go through a bunch of crap though, it can be confusing for a beginner and takes valuable time away to an already time consuming hobby.

So here are a few books I personally recommand.

Jazzology, an encyclopedia of theory centered around jazz that you can use with any genre. It's really good.

The real book, a good way to learn jazz standards with sheets that aren't so painful, using solfège for melody and letters for chords. This is the format I use with students.

The Jazz Theory book, or anything from mark levine.

The Complete Musician is good if you can find it for cheap, which is no easy task.

The definition of perfect pitch includes knowing the names of the notes. Without this knowledge, it's just "having a good ear". A good way to practice it is picking random notes and visualizing what the chord will sound like before playing it. That vizualisation aspect is the amazing thing about absolute pitch and helps with composing. The tuning or knowing what key you're in things are cute but fairly irrelevant.

Anyway, have fun.

u/whirl_and_twist · 1 pointr/musictheory

I think theory as a whole has reached a very comfortable spot. Sure, we might still not have a tuning with perfect ratios of its harmonics on the octave, perfect fifth, mayor third, etc etc. But humanity knew how to adapt to what was already available and theory has gone beyond music to blend itself with non-functional sounds very useful for movies, video games or theater.


I think the guinea pigs are the people themselves: we collectively decide what we like and the people who write for the big names take note.


With that said there's a lot of experimentation with microtonality in both music (king gizzard & jacob collier are the first to come to my mind) and we have books that look to implement math into theory and expand whats possible:


a geometry of music: a study in counterpoint:


The geometry of rhythm

u/natetet · 2 pointsr/musictheory

Here are two awesome books:

  • Composing Music, by Tony Russo
  • The Composer's Handbook by Bruce Cole

    They are both chock-full of awesome, fun exercises. (I love exercises because it's a great way to learn about composition and practice composition without launching the inner dialogue of "omg i am writing a composition is this any good?" Exercises let you practice writing without the inner critic, just like you practice pieces outside of a performance context, etc.)

    Can you give more information about your field of study? What skills do you think you'll need?
u/Rowy-van-Hest · 1 pointr/musictheory

Yes it does, but you would have to study harmony a bit more first. Take lessons or read the excellent 'Harmony and Voice Leading' by Aldwell and Schachter:

Good luck!

u/jazzyjacck · 2 pointsr/musictheory

I learned a lot from taking classes and private lessons, as well as self study by reading books and analyzing music. I'm not really aware of that many good resources for jazz theory online unfortunately, but there is this site:

EDIT: I love the Jazz Piano Book, it's not really a theory book but I thought it was great. The author has also written a Jazz Theory Book which a lot people seem to like, but I haven't really gone through it yet. Some other options are the Berklee Book of Jazz Harmony and the Jazz Harmony Book

u/avoqado · 1 pointr/musictheory

Sithu Aye's Motif

The more you improv and learn licks, the more tricks you can fit into 16 bars. I learned on Piano but a great transcript to study for bebop is Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce," especially this part which is a lick he did a lot on the final 2-5-1. Also, maybe study some walking bass. You can speed those approaches to the final note for effect.

Lastly, some John McLaughlin. It's part knowing the song and transitions well, and having those familiar riffs and melodies at your disposal.

Edit:RELEVENT "The Lick"

Edit part II: I saw you were asking about modes. My favorite book is Mark Levine's THE Jazz Piano Book who covers the standards and the permutations of jazz, bebop, afro-latin (not trying to list each one), and general harmony. He's really good about modes.

u/basstronomy · 1 pointr/musictheory

Timothy Johnson recently published a book on John Adams's Nixon in China, which I'd recommend if you're interested in that composer's work from a theoretical standpoint. If you're interested in more biographical stuff, check out his autobiography, Hallelujah Junction.

As for notation, I found an old copy of Gardner Read's book at a used bookstore a while back, and I'd recommend picking it up if you're really interested. I do feel the need to include a couple of caveats: the book (or at least my edition) predates computerized typesetting, so the purpose and organization of the work aren't the most efficient and helpful for modern purposes. Nevertheless, he is very comprehensive and thorough, and it makes a good resource if you're interested in scrupulously "correct" notation.

u/ModusDeum · 1 pointr/musictheory

I feel you. Counterpoint would certainly be a good starting point, but it almost certainly isn't going to be useful to you except as a bridge upon which you might arrive at 4-voice-land.

Bach is an incredible study in counterpoint, but you'll likely not understand how to write simply by analyzing his counterpoint (unless you're peculiarly keen on intervalic analysis and pick up on nuances like a lack of parallel 5ths and 8ves, contrary, parallel, similar or oblique motion between voices, etc).

I'm not aware of any online resources with which one can learn counterpoint (someone else might be able to direct you there).

This is the book we've used in all of my theory classes, I through IV so far It's not a particularly cheep cheap (god it's late)* book, but it's been worth it for the wealth of knowledge. It does a really good job of taking theory step by step from the smallest of pieces (notes on a staff) to crazy complex serial compositions and other awful stuff like that ;)

u/wafflesarebetter_imo · 1 pointr/musictheory

I super recommend reading Tonal Harmony! (I'm sure you can get a better price though, amazon is notorious for overpriced textbooks). It explains things really well in an easy to understand way, and it still goes deep into harmonically challenging and interesting waters.

u/gpit2286 · 2 pointsr/musictheory

There are some great books about writing melodies, but I would recommend starting to study counterpoint. Grab Fux's book and start there. Not only does he give great guidelines for learning to write counterpoint, but in the process, you start learning what makes up good melodies. From there, I would start looking at the Salzer book and applying those principles.

"Harmony" comes from counterpoint... Remember - Music theorists didn't start writing about functional harmony until the 19th century.

u/siddboots · 2 pointsr/musictheory

There are entire fields of study in this area. I've done a fair bit of work looking at harmonic theory, where the main focus point is in coming up with mathematical abstractions, i.e. structures, that capture various things we care about in harmonic theory.

For example, the set of integers is a mathematical structure, and the traditional thing we get taught is to put scale notes in correspondence with ordered integers. All this really does is capture our intuition that notes come in a particular order (low to high).

In practice, we don't just play notes in order of low to high, instead our melodies tend to jump around between notes, tending to prefer certain intervals. So a more elaborate example would be to use a graph structure that connects each note to other notes that are fundamentally related, by an octave, or a fifth, or a third, and so on.

Yet another example would be to connect chords to other chords that differ by only a single changed semi-tone. In this case, the act of moving a note to form a new chord could be described as a group operation. In fact, most mathematical approaches to music tend to rely on group theory, and other areas of abstract algebra.

Structures like these definitely can be used as tools for composition, or even can be used to build programmed composers. The core idea is to formalise our discovered or intuited knowledge of what makes good music sound good.


u/am-ranse · 1 pointr/musictheory

If you have the patience, Harmony & Voice Leading by Aldwell & Schachter, hands down.

It depends on how much of a "Beginner" you are. I went through Music Theory for Dummies before I moved on to the above monster of a textbook. The Shaping of Musical Elements and its second volume are also some recommendations. However, they also require a deal of patience (and possibly a knowledgeable friend/teacher if you'd like your work examined). The aforementioned Laitz book is also a great text worth of perusal.

I wish you the best of luck in your learning ventures!

u/ArsCombinatoria · 3 pointsr/musictheory

I would recommend going to your theory teacher's website/class website and look at what book they want you to get. This is a big sign of the approach the university will take in teaching from Theory I and upwards. This way, you will know the "common language" professors will use at your school regarding theory. What I mean are specifics, ranging from calling something an "accented passing tone" vs. making no distinctions between a regular passing tone, to various systems of abbreviations, and to differences in how the cadential "V^6/4 - V^7 - I" is viewed. Some people interpret this as " I^6/4 - V^7 - I." Basically, do you call a cadential^6/4 chord a V or a I chord? One use is not universal. Little clarifications like these, which can only been gleaned from your actual theory book, will make you better prepared and less confused on day one than learning one book's method, only to be presented with a completely different approach.

I think, given your background in theory, you will be surprised how far ahead you are compared to many people. A lot show up to their freshman year with a low level of theory competence.

I went to a university that used the Laitz textbook, so its about all I can recommend.

I've also been exposed to the Straus book for post-tonal theory.

For Species counterpoint, you can't beat the Schacter and Salzer book: "Counterpoint in Composition,"

For Schenkerian analysis, there is the Salzer book: "Structural Hearing." That is a bit more specialized, but it may pique your curiosity.

Great theorists like Felix Salzer and Carl Schacter, students of Heinrich Schenker, along with the acclaimed Steven Laitz, are good to learn about and be knowledgeable about. Looking into them, their associates, and their teachers can lead you to other good books.

u/theOnliest · 2 pointsr/musictheory

Ditto to this...learning Schenkerian analysis is more like learning to play an instrument than learning to use Roman numerals, for example. It's nearly impossible to get good at it without a Jedi master holding your hand, as it were. Most of the noted Schenkerians working today can trace a direct line back to Schenker himself, and it's rare to find someone doing really good Schenkerian analysis today that didn't learn from one of the 2nd-generation Schenkerians. The C&G text is the best out there, but there are very few hard and fast rules with Schenkerian analysis, so it's exceedingly difficult to learn from a book (do, however, avoid the Forte & Gilbert textbook, and absolutely do not attempt to learn Schenkerian analysis by reading Free Composition).

Incidentally, what textbook did you (OP) learn from originally? I'd recommend getting a copy of the Aldwell/Schachter harmony text. Carl Schachter is the most important Schenkerian alive today (he learned from Felix Salzer, who was a student of Schenker's), and this harmony textbook, while not actually Schenkerian, will help a lot in grasping some basic concepts. You might also take a look at Robert Gauldin's textbook, which includes some basic Schenker instruction (if I remember correctly...I don't have a copy handy). There are plenty of us Schenkerians hanging around here in the wings, so we can probably help a lot (and I haven't gotten into a good Schenker argument in a while!).

u/DoctorWalnut · 1 pointr/musictheory

> Was it to simply introduce something more melodically interesting?

I can only assume so. The bass's independence is thematically necessary since it's where the opening motif is repeated. It gives meaning to the G-E-D-G-E-D line. If a line has structural/thematic significance, it should remain independent so the listener can pick it out.

I can't tell if the vocals or the instrumental was written first, sorry. Reading material on this subject would be any harmony/counterpoint book you can find. You seem pretty knowledgeable about those topics already though, so maybe it's just getting the style down. Books like [this] (,_Pyotr%29) and this. You may have read those already as they're pretty popular. If you haven't, you can most likely find them for free somewhere.

u/I_luv_harpsichord · 3 pointsr/musictheory

I took an arranging course for my music degree and I really love the textbook they made us purchase. It's this!
I personally think it's very helpful. :) I know it's expensive, but I think the investment is worth it.

As for counterpoint, I like Joseph Fux! There was a textbook that I used, but unfortunately I don't remember it. (It's at home and I live at an off-campus apartment)

I hope this helps :) But if you want somethiing free there's this ....,_Nikolay%29

u/jdwmusic · 11 pointsr/musictheory

Here's a couple that I've found useful:

u/K_Rayfish · 2 pointsr/musictheory

It's true that there's a ton of great information online, but books present the info in an organized, trustworthy fashion. Online learning should be fine for more introductory music theory and common practice period harmony, but once you're looking into more advanced stuff, check out these books:

-20th Century Harmony by Vincent Persichetti

-Contemporary Harmony by Ludmila Ulehla

u/and_of_four · 4 pointsr/musictheory

Well, you can use broken chords/arpeggios. Use whatever variations you can think of. Maybe you can start by copying composers you like. Brahms wrote some really fantastic piano parts in his chamber music. Having a good sense of counterpoint might help too. An accompaniment part can be melodic while supporting other instruments. Try checking out Kent Kennan's book on counterpoint. It's a great resource and the main ideas can be used and developed so that you don't end up writing in a strict Baroque style (unless that's what you're going for).

u/LudwigVanBeethoven2 · 1 pointr/musictheory

There is no one size fits all bible of music theory. To be extremely well rounded you need to look at a few different books:

For just starting out in the sense that you don't know how to build chords or intervals, Carl Fischer's grimoire books are excellent.

For classical harmony this is the book I used in my classes:

For jazz harmony:

For deeper classical/counterpoint:

Also, try to get lessons with a university teacher because none of these books are comprehensive or perfect.
I remember in one of my beginning classes we went over the omnibus, and the deepest the book went was "this is an omnibus".
It wouldn't be until college where a professor ACTUALLY explained to me what the omnibus is and how to make one.

Also, the mark levine book can probably be condensed into 20 pages of meaningful material. He uses a lot of filler/examples...

u/Sermoln · 1 pointr/musictheory

Hey, similar situation here and this is what I recommend

The Everything Music Theory Book has lined up pretty much exactly with my high school music theory class, but I haven't finished yet. It seems to be a great baseline to make sure you know what you need to: it has the same tricks everybody uses, workbook questions/answers, and you could look back in it anytime you need to remember something. (I have the second edition, not sure if it's superior)

Although I don't own it, my teacher has taken a lot from it: Tonal Harmony, apparently any music theory class you'll take in college will use this book, and my director says there's no need for the newest edition.

These two books should be enough of an entrance to music theory, without boring you. Supposedly there's plenty of resources online; I especially love the youtube community around it.

u/amphibian87 · 1 pointr/musictheory

William Russo's "Composing Music a New Approach" answers your question very well. Basically the author presents a rudimentary ensemble that can be thought of as a game, with certain rules.

In Chapter 12, titled "Imitation: A Useful Game," he identifies 7 rules and shows examples. Basically one player introduces a "simple figuration of one or two measures," then the next player player either imitates the first figure or introduces their unique figure. Each player is only allowed 1 unique figure, they can rest at any time, and they can imitate at any time (and not necessarily consecutively).

The examples explain it better than the text, but this "game" is basically a band. This helps with the rhythm and melody aspect, while the harmony and structure would probably benefit from a composition or thematic approach.

u/ljud · 1 pointr/musictheory

This site is downright amazing. An absolute treasure chest for anyone interested in improvisation.

This book is the best one I've ever read bar none. It is SUPER comprehensive and really easy to get in to.

u/nmitchell076 · 3 pointsr/musictheory

This is the version of the Laitz in use today:

There are also workbooks accompanying this text. I think the red one is written theory and the blue one is aural skills. I recommend using the written workbook and the main text and getting your aural skills somewhere else.

There's also a graduate theory review book. In a lot of ways, it's better, and cheaper. But it's really probably best used with a teacher to guide you, whereas The Complete Musician leads you by the hand more and thus works better for self-guided study.

u/coltranedis · 1 pointr/musictheory

Great reply. So, essentially, your goal is musical literacy.

Over in /r/jazz there I seem to recall someone posting an online starter kit that was very good.

I used:

It's pretty thorough.

The nice thing about jazz theory is that it is very applicable to pop music as well.

u/aotus_trivirgatus · 1 pointr/musictheory

I have no single favorite chord. But if I shared my whole list of favorites, I would be giving away all my compositional secrets!

Here's one though. I like this monster:

B♭2 A♭3 C4 E4 G4 B5 D5 F#5 B6

Those doubled B♮ notes over the B♭ bass ought to sound like a train wreck -- but they don't, thanks to the other supporting notes.

As to how to hear it or parse it, you can treat it as a polychord: in slash notation, perhaps Bm / B♭13#11? That's how you are likely to play it at a keyboard.

Alternately, read composer Enrique Ubieta's thoughts on the idea of augmented 15th chords, which Vincent Persichetti also considers in his Twentieth-Century Harmony. I think the notes in this stack mesh well enough that you are less likely to hear it as a polychord, and more likely to hear it as a dominant 13#11 with a #15.


u/Cactusbiter · 1 pointr/musictheory

Laitz is what we used for theory, but the way to approach different things is different amongst different people...

Edit: [Straus] ( for base 12/12 tone

Edit 2: Don't forget that looking at various texts is another great way to think about understanding how different composers approach things, so once you learn a fundamental way of slapping labels on things, actual music is the best way to learn theory. Also, check out [this.] (

u/guitarelf · 1 pointr/musictheory

Well, it all start there. If you know it well enough, you start to extend the harmonies by including chords from the parallel minor/major, relative minor/major, secondary dominants of diatonic chords, diminished 7th chords, neopolitan chords, aug 6 chords, tritone subs, etc. At the point you seem to be at, it's probably time to buy a good book on Tonal Harmony. There are some really good ones out there, I prefer [Laitz's myself] (

u/[deleted] · 5 pointsr/musictheory

I've been studying algorithmic composition for a while now, and AFAIK the best resources are books about modeling elements of music perception or composition.

Dmitri Tymoczko - A Geometry of Music
Fred Lerdahl

Also, watching brilliant live coders like Andrew Sorensen do their thing can be very enlightening.

u/mage2k · 0 pointsr/musictheory

I haven't read it so I can't really speak to it's contents but A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice seems like it would fit the mathematics + music theory bit nicely.

u/spoonopoulos · 19 pointsr/musictheory

There are a lot of courses. Any specific topics you're interested in?

Edit: I'll just list a few anyway that I've used in classes (this may not reflect all professors' choices for the same subjects).

Tonal Harmony: Kostka-Payne - Tonal Harmony

Counterpoint 1: A Berklee book by the late professor Rick Applin. Some also use this Fux translation/adaptation

Counterpoint 2: Bach Inventions & Sinfonias (any edition, really)

"Advanced" Counterpoint: The Well-Tempered Clavier (again, any edition)

Early Twentieth-Century Harmony: Persichetti - Twentieth-Century Harmony

Post-Tonal Theory/Analysis: Straus - Intro to Post-Tonal Theory

Instrumentation/Orchestration: Adler - The Study of Orchestration &
Casella/Mortari - The Technique of Contemporary Orchestration

Western Music History - Burkholder/Paiisca - A History of Western Music (8th or 9th edition)

Conducting 1 - Notion Conducting

Conducting 2 Notion + Stravinsky's Petrushka

Berklee's own (jazz-based) core harmony and ear-training curricula use Berklee textbooks written by professors which, as someone else mentioned, come unbound and shrink-wrapped at the bookstore. You can find older (PDF) versions of the Berklee harmony textbooks here. Of course this list only represents explicit book choices - there are a lot of excerpt-readings, and there's a lot of instruction that isn't found in these books even in the associated courses.

u/RyanT87 · 3 pointsr/musictheory

I think an important question you need to ask yourself (or at least clarify for us) is what kind of counterpoint would you like to write? Renaissance-style counterpoint or tonal counterpoint a la Bach? If the former, I would suggest something like Peter Schubert's Modal Counterpoint; if the latter, perhaps something like Kent Kennan's Counterpoint or Robert Gauldin's A Practical Guide to 18th Century Counterpoint

In either case, these books will present the basics of counterpoint, such as the consonances and proper voice leading, and then walk you through gradually more advanced techniques, elaborations, etc. to be able to write things in the style and give you a better understanding of what's going on in order to be able to analyze music.

u/reckless150681 · 44 pointsr/musictheory

We need to understand what theory is and where it comes from.

For example, it might not be very useful to analyze a rap song with the same techniques we do with Classical stuff. It's certainly not useful to analyze a drum cadence in that way.

So first you need to pick out a style that you really want to analyze out. Hell, you could start with a single song. But either way, follow that backwards through time/formal analysis. You'll find that many styles follow this thing called "tonal theory". The idea is that much of music has a tonal center - that's to say, a single chord (and by some extensions, a single pitch or note) that we can use to define the entire key/song.

The beginning of tonal music came around the Baroque era, but we can start with Classical-era stuff (i.e. Mozart, Handel, Haydn). At this point there's clear structure to it - there are ideas of tonics, dominants, and predominants. This will end up being the basis of a TON of music - so-called "classical", rock, pop, jazz - much of the music we have today is reliant on this set of ideas.

So how do you start? Well, find some structure. Music has absolutely zero shortcuts. You need to carve out your own path through theory. Unfortunately this means acknowledging some permanent, temporally-obstacles (for example, learning atonality after tonality changes your understanding of atonality), but a not-so-bad way to do it is chronologically.

To do this, you can hit up musictheoryonline. Don't skip any of the exercises, boring as they may be. Or pick up a textbook. This was my undergrad textbook^1 , and I think it's pretty good. Read through each chapter. Take the time to listen to all the examples.

  1. Notice what I said? It's my undergrad textbook. That means I had to learn theory. Talent will only get you so far. If you want to study existing music, you need to put time into seeing what the contemporary theory is.
u/MDShimazu · 3 pointsr/musictheory

If you would like to end with Chopin, you only need to study tonal theory. So twelve tone topics are not of any use since that topic is 20th century, after tonality.

If you didn't do voice leading (SATB harmony): Are you interested in voice leading? If you want to get to the more advanced topics of tonal theory, you'll need to cover that. If so I would suggest this book:

Have you done species counterpoint? Species counterpoint will be very helpful in dealing with just about all music. I would recommend Fux's book:

If you've already done species counterpoint: For more advanced counterpoint (not useful for Chopin, but necessary for anything with fugues in it, obviously) I would suggest Mann's book:

For a complete discussion of forms I would suggest Berry's book:

For an in depth and modern discussion of sonata theory (remember that symphonies are also often times in sonata form), I would suggest Hepokoski's book:

If you already know species counterpoint and voice leading you can study Schenkarian Analysis. For this there's two books I would suggest:


If you're interested in composition, that's the other side of the coin and so all the above are of limited use. Let me know if you want books for composition.

u/doctorpogo · 1 pointr/musictheory

I use Edly's Music Theory for Practical People with some of my students, and I find it super useful for exactly the kind of thing you're talking about.

Yeah, it starts out really simple, and yeah, it's full of dumb jokes and goofy cartoons. But it gets to the good stuff (higher tertian chords and how to voice them) really quick, and makes good sense of it. A lot of theory books are more like notation analysis manuals than theory books - this one doesn't ignore or avoid notation but isn't about it, it's about using theory in your playing and composition more than post facto analysis.

u/HashPram · 1 pointr/musictheory

Might be a voice-leading thing, might be a case of your use of inversions being a bit haphazard.

For less haphazard use of inversions, hit the theory books and may God have mercy on your soul.
For voice-leading you could try:

"Tendency Tones and Functional Dissonances"
"Tonal Degrees and Degree Tendencies"
"Advanced Music Theory Lesson 2: Scale Tendencies"

TBH the clearest explanation I've seen is in Harmony and Voice Leading (unless you're flush with cash just buy a 2nd-hand copy of an older edition - music theory hasn't changed that much since 1988 - you'll save yourself a small fortune). And that book will also teach you about inversions, chord progressions, sequences, &c albeit in Classical style. You'll need to be able to read bass & treble clef.

C13 question. Root, 3rd, 7th and 13th are enough. You can add other stuff as well if you like. See /u/lasercrusters post for additional details.

u/gtani · 1 pointr/musictheory

Learning shd be interactive, you read, you play, you write on staff paper... The FAQ listsings are excellent. here are some boosk i like, for people that like to yellow highlighter all over their books

u/Rhaps · 3 pointsr/musictheory

It's interesting, but it's getting a little old now...

Of course, it's still important as a historical document, but some of the informations are outdated (some of the techniques, registral qualities) since orchestras, and instruments themselves, have changed since Berlioz wrote his treatise.

I, personally, use Adler's Study of Orchestration, which I think the best orchestration book for modern orchestras.

u/Zerocrossing · 1 pointr/musictheory

The Jazz Theory Book is, in my opinion, the best book on the subject. It's good to get a grasp of what basic 2-5-1's sound like and slowly add in alterations. If you just jump into listening to Herbie Hancock and try to pick the chords out, you're gonna have a rough time of it.

u/JeanLucSkywalker · 1 pointr/musictheory

Hands down, no question: Edly's Music Theory for Practical People. It's approachable, humorous, and very effective. It also has a lot of exercises that would be great in a classroom.

u/CrownStarr · 2 pointsr/musictheory

I don't know what you mean by the "science" of it, but Gardner Read's Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice is a great reference (and covers microtones). Someone also recently recommended Elaine Gould's Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation to me, which is much more recent, but I don't know anything else about it.

u/wastedatx · 8 pointsr/musictheory

I studied out of Tonal Harmony by Kostka and Payne. I found it pretty easy to approach, and the accompanying workbook really reinforces the lessons.

u/DarrenTPatrick · 3 pointsr/musictheory

You're very welcome. I found the chart online via scaletrainer as I mentioned. I've also come across a reference to this printed book that sounds great in terms of a visual approach to chord theory using geometry.

u/ketchum7 · 5 pointsr/musictheory

If you are confronted by a mode, run away. Learn the way the greats actually learned back in the day:

Unless you only care about post "kind of blue" Jazz, Levine's Jazz theory is a detrimental distraction:

It's hard to imagine a work which thrown so much real jazz and so many great players under the bus.

This looks alot less harmful:

poor guy still needs modes though. My favorite theory book, which since you know piano, might be interesting. It's a great supplement to Barry Harris Jazz theory.

u/greensome · 4 pointsr/musictheory

I can highly recommend "The Jazz Piano Book". It covers a lot of ground and is very readable. Best jazz book I ever bought.

u/Disney_Jazzcore · 1 pointr/musictheory

I have this book in my storage bag

But I haven't read it because I am trying to get the fundamentals right down perfectly.

So, C6 becomes Cmaj7 during solo. That means a lot of the chords would also change accordingly. Like Cdim7 would become... Csus4 would become... ??? Etc.

I dont play the piano so I am not sure if Noah Baerman is my thing, or is it?

During Jazz colleges, do they expect you to know these complex stuff or do they have a course to teach for that?

u/RMack123 · 8 pointsr/musictheory

Most college music theory texts have a companion workbook filled with quizzes and practice problems/questions. Where I went to undergrad we used Tonal Harmony and the school I'm going to now uses The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis. Not sure if that qualifies as being "accessible," but it's good material if you're willing to part with all those dollars. Text books sure are expensive.

u/dkulma · 2 pointsr/musictheory

Playing two chords at the same time is also called a polychord. Vincent Persichetti's "Twentieth-Century Harmony" has a good section on polychords.

u/Corrupt_Reverend · 2 pointsr/musictheory

Get a good theory text book and actually read it. it won't be something you can sit down and take in all at once. No skimming. No "powering through".

The first couple chapters may seem useless. "Why do I need to know how to read in tenor clef and who the hell still writes scores with figured bass?!!" All these principals will help you understand theory. Reading in "C" clefs will help understand transposition and figured bass will help with intervals and chordal voicing.

As you're reading, actually take notes as if you were in a class. The act of writing down newly learned information will really help cement the ideas. Also, try not to just quote the text in your notes. Write down the principals in your own words in a way that makes sense to you.

  • One of my secrets for theory notes is to have a bunch of blank staved paper. When you come to something that you want a notation example, do the example on the blank sheet, then cut it out and use a glue-stick to put it in your notes. If you're in a class and don't have time to cut and paste into your notes, just write out the example on the blank sheet and leave an empty space in your notes. (I'd usually label the example and the empty space to make it easier later)

    If you come to something that you can't quite wrap your head around, google that shit. There are a metric shit-tonne of online articles and videos demonstrating basic music theory.

    All that said, taking an actual music theory class is really the best way to go about learning the subject. You'll learn much faster and the professor will be able to explain things much better.

  • I highly recommend "The Complete Musician - (Laitz).
u/PendularWater · 14 pointsr/musictheory

Go and buy yourself a copy of Twentieth-Century Harmony by Vincent Persichetti! It sounds like just the thing you need, and it's legit the most inspiring theory book I've ever had!

And some musical recommendations: Jack Conte has some really harmonically interesting songs. It's never atonal or anything, but there are still some cool weird chord progressions I don't think I've heard anywhere else. Also, go back and listen to some Carlo Gesualdo! Seriously, there's some really out-there stuff in his music, even to modern ears.

u/pedroflfernandez · 2 pointsr/musictheory

"Music Notation" by Read. It has everything you need to know from Bach to Crumb.

Also, "Anatomy of the Orchestra" by Norman del Mar is a very in-depth orchestration book that could be a reference for citing something about a specific instrument. Good luck!

u/musiktheorist · 1 pointr/musictheory

That's the best one for instrumentation. Very thorough.

EDIT: Here's the amazon link to the book

u/WeDaBestMusicWhooo · 2 pointsr/musictheory

This guy is a college music theory teacher and he's uploaded like 50 videos of his classroom lectures and he's excellent at explaining things. Every lecture is very clear, concise and too the point.


I think his lessons are based around readings from this book, which is a little confusing to some people, but is a very standard college level music theory texbook

u/frajen · 2 pointsr/musictheory

IMO on a meta level, it's because our ears have been conditioned to favor some frequencies and intervals over others.

When I was getting into jazz, I read Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book and Jazz Piano Book. Lots of interesting examples in those

u/Glen_The_Eskimo · 7 pointsr/musictheory

"The Jazz Theory Book," by Mark Levine is a great place to start.

The Jazz Theory Book

u/bassvocal · 3 pointsr/musictheory

Gardner Read's Music Notation text is the foremost work on this subject. It is a fantastic resource!

u/rogueoperative · 1 pointr/musictheory

Scrape together $15 and buy this book: Edly's Music Theory for Practical People. It's inexpensive, very simply laid out, and has exercises you can work through to learn the fundamentals of music theory and then logically build to more advanced theory. I sit down with this book for about an hour every day and start from whatever chapter I feel 100% comfortable with and work through to whatever section I struggle with. At first, I could only get through 10 or so pages before I was overwhelmed. Now, I can work through to page 75 or so before I get a little lost. And I still have about 100 pages to go. The book isn't instrument specific, but it's helped my ability to improvise on bass within a given key immensely.

Otherwise, prioritize saving money for applied instrument lessons. It can actually be done. You just might have to give up your coffee or fast food/restaurant indulgences for awhile.

u/Lean6ix9ine · 1 pointr/musictheory

Personally, I like these. Have been coming back to them for years:

Music Theory

Guitar Fretboard Workbook

Most recent resource:
Circle of Fifths for Guitarists

u/NickWritesMusic · 6 pointsr/musictheory

The reason you can't find any is that you're searching for melody. Search for counterpoint instead. This is my favorite book to teach it from:

Though the standard for the last ~300 years has been Fux's Gradus Ad Parsanum, which is now public domain. I myself learned from Knud Jeppesen's book, just called Counterpoint.

Also check out Thomas Benjamin's The Craft of Tonal Counterpoint.

u/SuperDuckQ · 6 pointsr/musictheory

People smarter than I will come along with useful advice, but I have found this book to be overflowing with jazz knowledge: