Mastering Music Theory
Music theory defines and underlines any piece of music. It contains the way artists create music and how it’s performed and heard—including the cultural and historical contexts that arise. Likewise, music theory studies the concepts that form the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms of your favourite songs.
However, music theory is a complicated subject that can take some time to learn. Once you understand how music works, you can write and perform music better, resulting in better overall artistic performance. In addition, learning music theory can give you a stronger ear for music, helping you to improvise and compose more effectively.
In this article, we’ll break down music theory and why you should learn it:
What Are The Basics of Music Theory?
The fundamentals of music theory include various key concepts that form musical understanding. And by learning these concepts, you will understand music better and create better art.
Let’s look at some of the basics:
One of the most important aspects of music theory is pitch—which refers to how high or low a note sounds. In addition, musicians determine the pitch by the frequency of the sound waves that create a note.
In music from the Western hemisphere, there are 12 different pitches shown by the notes: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, and G#. Musicians arrange these notes in a repeated pattern, making the first and last notes have the same name.
Melodies are another critical concept of musical theory; a melody refers to a series of notes that make up the primary theme of a piece of music. Typically, a melody consists of numerous pitches that rise and fall in a particular pattern.
As a result, melodies are key foundations of music, with The Beatles famous for their excellent grasp of melodies. Listeners often remember a song’s melody more than anything else, so artists must find the right melody for their song.
Harmony consists of multiple chords or notes formed together to build a pleasing sound; it comprises dissonance and chord progressions—two key concepts. In Western music, harmony is critical because popular music has a direct emphasis on harmony.
Harmony adds to the emotional impact of music. Without good harmony, a piece of music can seem dry and bland, so musicians must master harmony alongside melodies and pitch.
Another key component of music theory is the form, which refers to the overall structure of the music—including how musicians divide a song into sections that refer to each other.
Common types of forms in Western music include the binary form, sonata form, and ternary form. In addition, understanding the form of music can help artists anticipate the music more and prepare for changes.
Can I Teach Myself Music Theory?
Although it’s not essential (The Beatles didn’t understand music theory), it can make you a significantly better musician. So can you teach yourself music theory? In short, yes.
But there are many things you should consider before diving in:
1. Your Learning Style
You must choose your music theory learning style. What is your preferred way to learn? If you’re a visual learner, it’s a good idea to use online resources with illustrations and diagrams. If you prefer learning via audio, you could start with podcasts or online videos.
It depends on your preferences—but always choose the right learning style for you when mastering a complex topic like music theory.
2. Your Commitment Levels
Learning music theory is complex and can take a lot of time. As a result, it can be a challenging task. It’s essential to set aside regular practice time each week to master your craft.
That means dedicating yourself to mastering music theory over weeks, months, and years—depending on your goals and targets.
3. The Quality of Resources
Your learning resources must be strong. There are many low-cost and free music resources on the internet. However, don’t choose any course for the sake of it.
Remember, some resources are outdated, inaccurate, and poorly organized, making them challenging to learn from. So, take time to read reviews and user feedback before you dive in.
4. Learn Music Theory That Applies To You
Another important aspect of learning music theory is teaching yourself what applies to your instrument or voice. Therefore, practice minor scales, chord progressions, and arpeggios. You should also incorporate music theory concepts into your composition and improvisation.
By learning what applies to your instrument and voice, you’ll create a deeper understanding of how music works and how to create it.
What Are The 7 Elements of Music?
Music is a universal language that goes back centuries. With that said, music has the power to provoke emotions, express ideas, and bring back memories—albeit good or bad.
There are seven key elements of music that form the building blocks of each music piece, irrespective of the style or genre.
You can learn music on a deeper level when you understand the following 7 elements:
Pitch is the frequency of a sound or note; this determines whether it’s low or high. In typical Western music, musicians measure the pitch in hertz (Hz). In addition, the pitch of any note is determined by the length and tension of the string or air column that produces the sound.
You’ll find notes on a staff that represents the pitch. Remember, pitch is a crucial part of music because it creates the foundation for harmony and melody.
Although the melody isn’t the easiest part of the music to recognise, it’s the main theme or tune of the music that is often played by the singer or a solo instrument.
In addition, the melody comes from a mixture of all the notes played in a certain rhythm or order that can be repeated or recognised.
The rhythm is a key component of the structure of the music because it provides the beat or the pulse of the music. Musicians create it by arranging musical notes and rests in a certain way, thus increasing the tempo and intensity of the piece.
You can make regular or irregular rhythms—providing the foundation of the harmony and melody.
4. The Tempo
Tempo refers to the speed that the musicians play music. Typically, the tempo is measured by the beats per minute, which can range from fast to energetic and slow to mournful.
You can use tempo to create a specific mood or atmosphere in a song. It can change throughout the piece to create a sense of progression and movement.
Dynamics are the intensity and the volume of the music; it can differ between loud and quiet, changing throughout the piece to create a sense of release and tension.
You can use dynamics to create the emotions and moods of the music—from exciting to energetic to peaceful and reflective.
Timbre is the quality of the sound created by various instruments or voices. As a result, it makes each voice easily recognizable and unique.
You can use timbre to build a sense of mood and atmosphere, and you can change this throughout the piece to build urgency and contrast.
The form is the overall structure of the music; it’s how musicians create meaningful and cohesive pieces of music.
You can vary the form based on the genre and the style of music. However, it typically includes a start, middle, and end. It’ll also have various sections and movements that create a sense of progression and flow.
Is Music Theory Hard?
The question of whether music theory is hard is subjective; it largely depends on the individual, including their musical background, experience, and whether they can grasp abstract concepts. For some musicians, music theory may come naturally—making them able to apply music theory to their music.
However, the theory of music can be extremely challenging for others—especially if they have no prior music experience because it needs a deep understanding of harmony, form, and melody. Likewise, the terminology can be daunting for newbies and musicians with creative blocks.
You can make mastering music theory far easier if you have the willingness to learn, a strict practice routine, and learn from the best online courses (including video courses).
Where Can I Learn Basic Music Theory Online for Free?
Learning music theory is a key aspect of becoming a truly well-rounded musician; thankfully, there are many free ways to learn music theory online. Every elevate music course includes a free basic music theory course to get you started.
However, finding a good music course can be challenging, especially if you don’t have a big budget. Here are some of the best free ways to practice music theory online:
- YouTube: If you’re looking for video courses and you don’t want to spend money, YouTube is an excellent option because there’s some excellent content.
- Open Music Theory: The free online textbook—Open Music Theory—is a free online textbook that covers a vast range of music theory topics, from harmony to basic notation.
- Written Blogs: There are countless excellent written blogs from superb musicians on the internet. These offer superb ways to learn about music without spending any cash. They can give you some basic building blocks before purchasing a course.
The Benefits of Learning Music Theory
Yes, music theory classes can be worth it if you have the right mindset and you’re willing to learn. Although some musicians argue that music theory classes aren’t worth it—most believe it’s an essential tool for developing a greater understanding of music.
Here are some of the main benefits of music theory classes:
1. You’ll Gain a Deeper Understanding of Music
Perhaps the most significant benefit of learning music is developing a greater understanding of music.
When you study the techniques and concepts used in music—you’ll gain a formidable understanding of how it’s put together, resulting in better musical decisions.
For example, if you understand the principles of harmony, you can use this knowledge to create more interesting chord progressions.
2. You’ll Build Technical Skills
Improving your technical skills is an excellent benefit of studying music theory.
By learning the fundamentals of music theory, you can understand how to read and write music better, which is hugely beneficial if you want to work in the music industry.
In addition, this can become a significant advantage when it comes to producing and arranging music.
3. You Can Meet Other Musicians
Another excellent benefit of learning musical theory is being able to connect with the wider musical community. Here’s the good news: many classes are taught by experienced musicians with excellent knowledge; as a result, you will learn from the best musicians.
In addition, you can work with musicians on your level and learn from their experiences and perspectives, helping you grow as an artist alongside other driven musicians.
What Are Music Theory Exams?
Music theory exams are assessments of a musician’s knowledge of key music principles and theories.
One of the main benefits of learning from a music theory course is that you’ll perform better in your music theory exams because of your robust music education.
There are various music exams—and the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) offers one of the most popular.
Still, learning to read music is the best way to prepare for any music theory exam.
What Is Basic Music Theory?
Basic music theory refers to the absolute basics of music notation, musical key, key signatures, ear training, major scale, seventh chords, the root note, chord inversions, etc.
An understanding of the basic elements of music theory is essential for anyone who wants to become a proficient musician because it provides the foundation for advanced studies and musical development.
Learn Music Theory Today
The best way to learn music theory is by taking our music courses online. At Elevate, with every online music course purchased comes a free music theory course that will give you a basic understanding of music theory, enabling you to grow into a far better musician through our professional, affordable, and easy-to-learn course materials.