Learn Music Theory

If you came to this website then you probably want to learn something about music theory. You may be an absolute beginner or you may already know a lot of music theory already and want to learn some more advanced topics. In either case understand that learning music theory is one of the more beneficial things a musician can do and I hope you will continue the process.


Why study music theory?

Contrary to what some people may say learning music theory does not reduce your ability to enjoy music. In fact you may enjoy music even more after you learn some theory because the more you know about how music works the more you will be able to do as a musician.
There are many reasons to study music theory but the top reasons are:
  1. You will be a better performer. - If you don't know much music theory and you are playing some music and you encounter a passage that has the notes C, E, and G, you would have to mentally process those three notes separately, and this will slow down your ability to perform. If a musician who knows music theory plays the same passage they would instantly recognize that the notes C, E, and G make up a C Major chord and they would play those notes more easily because it took less mental effort to understand the music. Music theory makes learning, practicing and performing much easier.

  2. You will have more options as a musician. - All musical activities will be much easier. Performing, composing, improvising, arranging, teaching music, or getting a music degree will be much easier if you know music theory.

How to study music theory

Polychords

Polychords are chords constructed from two or more separate chords. Composers and improvisers use polychords as a resource for rich and complex sounds in their music. Polychords frequently occur in jazz and modern classical music.


Examples of Polychords:


C Major/E-flat Major:


D Major/B-flat minor:



C Augmented/G7 Augmented:


C Major/F-sharp Major Polychord - "Petrushka Chord":This chord was used by composer Igor Stravinsky in his ballet Petrushka.



Polychord Video:

video

Basic Piano Chords

The chords every piano and keyboard player should know are the basic Major, minor, Augmented, and diminished chords, and seventh chords. These are the most common chords and are relatively easy to play.



These chords are shown with the root note C. Other root notes are possible by transposing these chords. For example, a C Major chord (C, E, G) can be transposed to D. This will result in a D Major chord (D, F-sharp, A).


These chords are constructed from musical intervals. Each chord has:
  1. A Root note
  2. A note a Major third (M3) or minor third (m3) above the Root
  3. A note a Perfect fifth (P5), Augmented fifth (A5), or diminished fifth above the Root
  • And seventh chords also have a note a Major seventh (M7), minor seventh (m7), or diminished seventh (d7) above the Root.

The basic chords:
  • Major - Root, M3, P5
  • minor - Root, m3, P5
  • Augmented (Aug) - Root, M3, A5
  • diminished (dim) - Root, m3, d5

The seventh chords:
  • 7 - Root, M3, P5, m7
  • M7 - Root, M3, P5, M7
  • m7 - Root, m3, P5, m7
  • dim7 - Root, m3, d5, d7
  • half dim7 - Root, m3, d5, m7

Example:

If we choose a Major chord for example we begin by picking a Root note. We could pick any of the 12 notes but in this case we will choose G. The next note we need is a Major third (M3) above the Root, which in this case would be the note B. The final note we need is a Perfect fifth above the root, which in this case would be the note D. Now we have all three notes of our Major chord: G, B, and D.

For reference here is a diagram of the keyboard with the note names on it:


Now that you know these chords you might want to learn about chord inversion, chord symbols, or extended chords.

Basic Guitar Chords

The easiest chords to play on the guitar are the Major, Minor and Seventh chords in open voicings. These chords use open strings and no more than three fingers, and they don't go into the higher positions of the guitar. The ease in playing these chords makes them the best for beginners to learn. This article will show them in two different ways: fretboard diagrams, and tablature (Tab).

A quick review of chord symbols: Uppercase letters indicate Major chords, a chord with a lowercase "m" indicates a minor chord, and a "7" indicates that the chord is a seventh chord.


Fretboard Diagrams



  • Open circles indicate open strings.
  • Dark, filled in circles indicate the spots on the frets where you put your fingers.
  • The "X" symbol tells you to not play a string.

Tablature


Music Theory: Transposition

In music, Transposition occurs when we take a group of notes and move that group up or down by a certain interval. For example, if we take a C Major chord (the notes C, E, and G) and transpose them up by a Major second we then have a D Major chord (the, notes D, F-sharp, and A).


The step by step process by which we transposed a C Major chord up by a Major second to become a D Major chord is as follows:

  1. C Major chord: notes C, E, and G

  2. Move the first note of the C Major chord, C, up by a Major second. We now have the note D.

  3. Move the second note of the C Major chord, E, up by a Major second. We now have the note F-sharp.

  4. Move the third note of the C Major chord, G, up by a Major second. We now have the note A.

  5. The results of transposing C, E, and G up by a Major second becomes: D, F-sharp, and A, which is a D Major chord
As you can see all you need to do to transpose something is move each individual note in the group of notes by the same musical interval. With this method transposing becomes a simple process and we can then transpose any any note, chord, or scale.


Transposition Exercises - Try transposing each of the following:
  • Transpose the note E-flat down by a Major Second.
  • Transpose a D7 chord (D, F-sharp, A, C) up by a minor third.
  • Transpose a C Major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) up by a Perfect fifth.


A Few Words About Transposing Instruments:

Transposing instruments are instruments that automatically transpose when playing - the actual pitches they play are different from what is written in the music. For example, the B-flat Trumpet transposes down by a Major second. For a B-flat Trumpet the written note C would actually come out as B-flat.