The thought of having to learn music theory can send shivers down the spines of music students and believe me when I say that I understand why. The way music theory is taught today is little different to how it was taught 200 years ago and like it or not, it is difficult for people today to muster the attention for these things that people must have had centuries ago. Still, the utility of a basic understanding of music theory cannot be understated which is why I insist that my students learn at least a bit about it.
I have written up a broad overview of three of the main areas music theory is concerned with; Chords, Scales, Intervals. Rather than post these on the website directly, I have put each topic into a PDF which you can download and read at your leisure. These PDF documents are not meant to provide instruction as much as they are an introduction to what you can expect to learn when studying music theory. Music theory is of course a huge topic and can’t be covered in the few pages contained in the PDFs.
This is the probably the best place to start. Virtually everything in music theory can be described in terms of intervals. Intervals are simply the measuring units between notes. Just as objects on a table may be separated from one another by a distance of space, notes in music are separated from one another by intervals. If you don’t understand intervals, very little about music theory will make any sense to you.
Download the PDF (Introduction to Intervals).
Scales are the real building blocks of music. Before there was such a thing as chords, melodies were made up from the notes of certain scales. In fact, chords as we know them today actually evolved out of separate melodies being sung or played simultaneously and we name chords according to the scales whose notes they are made from. If a music student should know anything when it comes to music theory (and they most definitely should) it is the different types of scales and the notes and intervals that make them up.
Download the PDF (Introduction to Scales).
Here I illustrate how chords are built, the different types of chord construction, and how chords relate to each other in a particular key. Unlike popular music analysis which views chords as individual entities (a C chord is always a C chord for example), in classical music we tend view chords in terms of their relationship to the other chords surrounding them. In classical music analysis a C chord might be chord I in C Major, chord V in F Major, or simply a passing sonority between two other chords. This method a lot more difficult to learn but it tells you far more about the music than simply labeling individual chords does. Don’t worry though, I don’t go into such detail in the PDF.
Download the PDF (Introduction to Chords in Classical Music Analysis).