Places to learn Music Theory

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Internetmeme
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Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Internetmeme » Sun Dec 12, 2010 5:49 pm UTC

Hithar xkcd!

I come to you with a question: Where is a good place on the internet (or good books) that I can use to learn music theory? I love composing pieces for the piano, or chiptunes, and I'd love to learn more about the theory and such behind this.
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Eastwinn
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Eastwinn » Sun Dec 12, 2010 6:57 pm UTC

I always recommend the site musictheory.net .
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby SurgicalSteel » Sun Dec 12, 2010 7:09 pm UTC

I second eastwinn's recommendation, and for books I recommend The Complete Idiots Guide to Music Theory. The cool thing about that one is that it has practice exercises at the end of each chapter for you to apply the particular aspect of music theory you learned.
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Masily box » Mon Dec 13, 2010 4:25 pm UTC

It depends on what you mean by music theory. When most people say "music theory," really what they mean is music literacy--learning what the letters of the musical alphabet are and how to spell words with them. For that sort of thing ("what are the notes of an E major scale?", "what's the difference between a half-diminished and a fully-diminished seventh chord?", and so on) musictheory.net is probably pretty good.

Whatever you do, stay away from Wikipedia. (Or take it with a lot of salt.) Their theory articles are huge jumbled messes. The big problem is that, to a very very large extent, music from one style works nothing like music from another style. So music theory that was developed to talk about Beethoven will do nothing for you if you want to talk about the Rolling Stones. (It may look like they're talking about the same sorts of chords, but that's like observing that "Hand" means the same thing in German and English.)

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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Роберт » Mon Dec 13, 2010 6:58 pm UTC

What style of music theory are you interested in?
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Eastwinn » Mon Dec 13, 2010 11:08 pm UTC

Yeah, Wikipedia isn't a very good source in this case.

Oh, and don't get caught up with modes. Just worry about tonality.
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Midnight » Tue Dec 14, 2010 7:38 am UTC

Modes mean different things depending on the genre you're talking about, and are often confused with the scales (ionian with major, for example)--so yeah, don't worry about modes.
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Masily box » Wed Dec 15, 2010 5:03 am UTC

On the other hand, my jazz contacts tell me that mode is a well-defined and rather important concept in jazz theory (though one that has very little to do with any medieval or renaissance conception of mode). But if you're interested in jazz, apparently you should worry about (what they mean by) modes.

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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Internetmeme » Wed Dec 15, 2010 5:35 am UTC

Роберт wrote:What style of music theory are you interested in?

Classical in the West all the way across the sky!
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Midnight » Wed Dec 15, 2010 6:24 pm UTC

Masily box wrote:On the other hand, my jazz contacts tell me that mode is a well-defined and rather important concept in jazz theory (though one that has very little to do with any medieval or renaissance conception of mode). But if you're interested in jazz, apparently you should worry about (what they mean by) modes.

Yeah, I'm a jazz major. I know the importance of modal stuff, and blah blah blah Miles Davis is awesome--but if I recall correctly, Davis' used modes differently than 'classical' music used it (I think Ravel did?) and other centuries have used the term to mean different things.
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Dirk » Fri Dec 17, 2010 12:41 pm UTC

Don't use Wikipedia

This might help with Music Literacy, and some obscure music theory:
http://composer.rowy.net/Music-Theory.html

If you want specific music theory you are usually best off with a real life teacher in my personal experience.

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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Eastwinn » Tue Dec 21, 2010 4:29 am UTC

In Jazz, mode means something way different, but unfortunately the names are all the same so it's hard to tell who's talking about what :P . It leads to heaps of confusion in the guitar world alone.
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby ChocloManx » Tue Dec 21, 2010 5:13 am UTC

wtf, modes are hella important, and in a diatonic context, they're not that many.
If you want to learn harmony, I recommend Paul Hindemith's book, but you need to know a bit about intervals and such before getting into that. Learning intervals is important by the way, it will help you immensely: intervals are what a melody is made of (apart from rhythm, articulation, etc) and different intervals, like modes, evoke different things.

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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Masily box » Fri Dec 24, 2010 4:15 pm UTC

ChocloManx wrote:wtf, modes are hella important


Not if your goal is to understand any composer from JS Bach through Wagner.

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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Midnight » Sat Dec 25, 2010 7:50 am UTC

ChocloManx wrote:wtf, modes are hella important, and in a diatonic context, they're not that many.

In a jazz context, modes are exclusively diatonic and there's 7.
ChocloManx wrote:If you want to learn harmony, I recommend Paul Hindemith's book, but you need to know a bit about intervals and such before getting into that. Learning intervals is important by the way, it will help you immensely: intervals are what a melody is made of (apart from rhythm, articulation, etc) and different intervals, like modes, evoke different things.

..."different intervals, like modes"? Modes aren't intervals. 3 half steps is a sharp 2nd interval or a flat 3rd interval (or just the 3rd interval if you're playing a minor scale); modes aren't intervals. A mode is like, when you start the scale on the 2nd degree of a scale. So, all the white keys on a piano make up a C major scale, C to C, but if you play all the white keys D to D, that's the 2nd mode in the key of C (D dorian, flat 3rd, flat 7th)
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Masily box » Sat Dec 25, 2010 10:57 pm UTC

He meant that different intervals evoke different things, just as different modes do.

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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Midnight » Sat Dec 25, 2010 11:04 pm UTC

Which I suppose serves to underline the idea that, in general, the internet is not a great place to learn music theory.
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby ChocloManx » Wed Dec 29, 2010 10:32 am UTC

Masily box wrote:
ChocloManx wrote:wtf, modes are hella important


Not if your goal is to understand any composer from JS Bach through Wagner.


The melodies from Bach's chorale harmonisations are largely modal, and the phrygian cadence, used extensively by various composers from the period you mentioned has modal origins. Liszt used modes, for example at the beginning of his piano sonata and in the 2nd Hungarian rhapsody. Sure, they are not central to the development of common practice period music, but they are important, also Internetmeme didn't say "common practice period western music", Debussy, Stravinsky, Monteverdi and Alfonso X are western music.

Midnight wrote:
ChocloManx wrote:wtf, modes are hella important, etc.

In a jazz context, modes are exclusively diatonic and there's 7.


What about the modes of the melodic minor scale? Super locrian, dominant lydian (I don't know how you call that one, maybe lydian b7) and the others. Also the OP didn't mention jazz, he said classical in the west.
ChocloManx wrote:If you want to learn harmony, etc.

..."different intervals, like modes"? Modes aren't intervals. etc


What Masily box said, I know what a mode is.

I'm not sure what you mean by your last post... Sure, it'd probably be better if he got a teacher or read a good book on the subject, bu we're all trying to help and actually, this thread is about how to go about learning music theory, what books or sites are useful, etc, not about teaching Internetmeme about it.
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Masily box » Thu Dec 30, 2010 5:44 am UTC

I recognize that I'm just splitting hairs, and that it's only loosely related to the main topic, but:

ChocloManx wrote:The melodies from Bach's chorale harmonisations are largely modal, and the phrygian cadence, used extensively by various composers from the period you mentioned has modal origins. Liszt used modes, for example at the beginning of his piano sonata and in the 2nd Hungarian rhapsody. Sure, they are not central to the development of common practice period music, but they are important, also Internetmeme didn't say "common practice period western music", Debussy, Stravinsky, Monteverdi and Alfonso X are western music.


First, even if I granted you all of those examples, I still don't think that I'd call modes important (let alone hella) for JS through Wagner. When you get right down to it, what can you actually do while talking about modes? You learn names for a few different scales, and then point & label. I don't see that as particularly useful.

It's true that the chorales that Bach takes predate tonality. But how does knowing what mode a chorale was originally in help you appreciate anything about Bach's harmonization, given that the latter is functionally tonal and will usually reinterpret the melody to fit into a tonal context?

The phrygian half cadence has origins in Renaissance counterpoint. It's only "modal" to the extent that we give it a name related to a mode. Most other cadential formulas, as well as all sorts of other contrapuntal and melodic gestures, also originate in the Renaissance. Again, mode is entirely irrelevant: in fact, the "phrygian" cadence could be made in any mode, given that you choose the right tone to cadence on. The modern use derives from a cadence on the reciting tone of Glarean's Aeolian mode--nothing Phrygian about it.

I don't know a lot about Liszt; you may be right on that count. In many ways Liszt was more adventurous than Wagner, so he's not exactly who I had in mind when I chose my bounds. And certainly there are pieces here or there where modes might be a convenient language: there's of course Beethoven's Op.132, I can think of some tunes by Schubert that have a sort of Lydian inflection, and when you get to Brahms and Dvorak (for example), melodies often have folksy modal characteristics. But if you're studying common practice music, there are so many things of such fundamental importance that you could go years without being introduced to modes and not really be missing anything.

The problem with most internet sources (and, sadly, sometimes published sources as well) is that they focus all their attention on things like modes, which are easy to teach because they involve learning a couple names for abstract objects without really worrying at all about how they might be analytically useful. You walk away feeling like you've learned something because you can rattle off the list "Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, (Aeolian and Ionian, too)"--but have you really learned anything about music?

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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Internetmeme » Fri Dec 31, 2010 4:58 pm UTC

ChocloManx wrote: Paul Hindemith's book,

What's the title of it?


Also...this discussion has gone over my head! :P
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Sandry » Fri Dec 31, 2010 8:05 pm UTC

Masily box wrote:First, even if I granted you all of those examples, I still don't think that I'd call modes important (let alone hella) for JS through Wagner.

...why are we looking at only J.S. Bach through Wagner again? Pre-baroque is a perfectly valid part of the western tradition of classical music, and late Romantic era through modern is, as well. I can see not wanting to address serialism and atonality, because often people are not talking about that when they think about "western classical music," and it comes with its own completely new set of theory. I'm not clear on why anyone would rule out Debussy, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Holst, Shostakovich, Mahler, etc, though.

Also pre-baroque is awesome, and it's very cool to know where the tradition of western classical came from.</personal prejudice>

I can see why someone wouldn't call modes a basic piece of information necessary to understand much of western classical, but I feel like getting information about modes, how they were used historically as well as how they were used in the Romantic era and going forward, is actually really helpful for an understanding of how this specific style of western classical music is basically a very small piece within a much larger tonal framework that's really leveraged more fully in some other traditions of world music.

Bach and the Well Tempered Clavier kind of instituted this era of "let's examine the crap out of this limited version of tonality," and understanding that it's actually a small subset of possible tonal music I feel can be easier when acquainted with modes. It's kind of "ah, this doesn't sound like what you're used to!" without going so far as requiring semi-tones, and there's the historical basis showing that we weren't always quite this narrow. It's all about breaking out of the paradigm of major and minor as being The Method Of Music.

Regarding the OP! I suck somewhat, regarding suggestions on where to learn music theory, since I did classes in high school and college, so that's where I got mine. Might be a good idea to pick up a textbook, though.

We used Tonal Harmony for multiple semesters, and it also has an associated workbook, which can be helpful. Anyhow, those books were pretty good, and they've gone through so many editions that you'll likely be able to find a non-current one used for an okay price - like here. Though a used workbook may not exactly work. Hrm.

Fair warning, though - that book represents two years worth of coursework as a music major. It does not aim low.
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby ChocloManx » Fri Dec 31, 2010 8:11 pm UTC

Internetmeme wrote:
ChocloManx wrote: Paul Hindemith's book,

What's the title of it?


Also...this discussion has gone over my head! :P


It's called "A Concentrated Course in Traditional Harmony: With Emphasis on Exercises and a Minimum of Rules". You can get it on amazon for like 20 bucks, but you can probably find it on a library with a decent music section.

Masily box wrote:I recognize that I'm just splitting hairs, and that it's only loosely related to the main topic, but:

First, even if I granted you all of those examples, I still don't think that I'd call modes important (let alone hella) for JS through Wagner. When you get right down to it, what can you actually do while talking about modes? You learn names for a few different scales, and then point & label. I don't see that as particularly useful.


I believe they are important to achieve a good grasp of the development of western music, and I recognize that in the time period you mentioned, modes were not nearly as important as the tonal system, but still important in that they serve to illustrate the influence of folk music particularly during the romantic period (Liszt, Chopin, Dvorák, etc) and also the remnants of older music in Bach and others after him (Brahms, for example). Also, I repeat that the OP was about "western classical music", not only the music of Bach trough Wagner, in which case I think you would agree with me in that modes are important. Maybe even hella important.
It's true that the chorales that Bach takes predate tonality. But how does knowing what mode a chorale was originally in help you appreciate anything about Bach's harmonization, given that the latter is functionally tonal and will usually reinterpret the melody to fit into a tonal context?


I suppose you are right about that. Still, recognizing modes is useful in the analysis of harmony in Bach's chorales. Sometimes a phrygian chorale ends in V and it becomes tonic with a Picardy third, or that the next movement in whatever work it's in will resolve the final chord of the chorale. Also it serves to explain why Bach harmonised certain things in a certain way.
The phrygian half cadence has origins in Renaissance counterpoint. It's only "modal" to the extent that we give it a name related to a mode. Most other cadential formulas, as well as all sorts of other contrapuntal and melodic gestures, also originate in the Renaissance. Again, mode is entirely irrelevant: in fact, the "phrygian" cadence could be made in any mode, given that you choose the right tone to cadence on. The modern use derives from a cadence on the reciting tone of Glarean's Aeolian mode--nothing Phrygian about it.


Nothing to say there, really. I am not informed about the origins of that cadence.
I don't know a lot about Liszt; you may be right on that count. In many ways Liszt was more adventurous than Wagner, so he's not exactly who I had in mind when I chose my bounds. And certainly there are pieces here or there where modes might be a convenient language: there's of course Beethoven's Op.132, I can think of some tunes by Schubert that have a sort of Lydian inflection, and when you get to Brahms and Dvorak (for example), melodies often have folksy modal characteristics. But if you're studying common practice music, there are so many things of such fundamental importance that you could go years without being introduced to modes and not really be missing anything.


Let me rephrase my original statement: Taking into consideration Internetmeme's interest in Western classical music, by which I mean "non folk, non popular music in the West between the Middle Ages and the present", I consider modes to be (hella) important, especially if one wants to get a good idea of the historical and cultural processes involved in said music, while agreeing that during the common practice period they wew relegated to a smaller role.
The problem with most internet sources (and, sadly, sometimes published sources as well) is that they focus all their attention on things like modes, which are easy to teach because they involve learning a couple names for abstract objects without really worrying at all about how they might be analytically useful. You walk away feeling like you've learned something because you can rattle off the list "Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, (Aeolian and Ionian, too)"--but have you really learned anything about music?


For an instrumentalist they are, I think, pretty useful, especially if you're into jazz or improvisation in general, if you practice and apply them to your music, of course.
I agree with you in that the internet is full of information that doesn't lead to real knowledge or real learning, but, speaking for myself, learning modes was very important in my development both as a listener, player and composer. And I learned most of it on the internet.

I agree with this thread getting way out of topic. Maybe we could make another thread especially for modes and western music?
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Re: Places to learn Music Theory

Postby Masily box » Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:15 am UTC

I just realized that I never actually gave any suggestions regarding the OP, so now I really feel bad for hijacking the thread. :(

To learn about music fundamentals (how to read music, what an E-flat major triad is, what chord inversions are), somewhere like musictheory.net is probably a fine place to go. The basics are pretty hard to get wrong, so wherever you go you'll be learning the same sort of stuff (up to some notational differences). If you're like me, though, you'll probably find that it doesn't help you a whole lot with understanding pieces or composing new ones. I like theory best when it teaches me to listen to something in a new light or suggests new possibilities for me to compose.

For stuff like that, I recommend learning counterpoint, which is the process of composing distinct melodies that fit together well (i.e. sound good when you play them together). The best way to learn counterpoint (and composition generally) is from a teacher, since they can correct you when you make mistakes and suggest better solutions/possibilities that you don't immediately see. Still, if you work hard, you can get somewhere just by teaching yourself.

The approach to counterpoint that I recommend is called "species counterpoint." The species method is a little dry at first (it can feel more like solving math puzzles than composing music) and the style it's based on is essentially from the 1500's, but it's invaluable. It's how Mozart and Beethoven learned and taught composition, and it teaches you how to think about multiple things going on at once, which is useful regardless of what style you ultimately care about. The best textbook for species counterpoint that I know is Counterpoint in Composition by Salzer and Schachter. It doesn't talk down to you like most modern textbooks do, which means it's not always an easy read: it's dense but rich with a lot of good musical information. The first half of the book teaches you to write species counterpoint, and the second half shows how that knowledge can help you understand pieces by others.

If you want to study harmony (e.g. chord progressions, etc.), again you'll probably want a textbook. Introductory harmony is what almost all freshman music majors start off with, so there are lots of first-year college textbooks to choose from. Lots of music schools use the Kostka-Payne book that was recommended earlier in this thread. It's ok but not my favorite. The best choice is probably Steven Laitz's "The Complete Musician," which is musically sensitive, full of good examples, intelligibly written, and up-to-date. (It does have more typos than usual, though, which is sort of a problem.) I can't seem to find it on Amazon--maybe it needs to be ordered directly from the publisher--but, unfortunately, like most college textbooks it's on the expensive side. There's also a workbook of exercises associated with it, which may or may not be useful. (As I recall, the textbook itself has some exercises at the end of each chapter.)

Another great resource (and this time, one that's free) is a set of lectures from an intro-to-music class for non-music majors taught at Yale a couple years ago. In addition to teaching you the basics needed to talk about a wide variety of western classical music, it talks about style and music history a bit, too. If the recorded-lecture format works for you, this is probably the best place to get started that I know of. (Strictly speaking, it's more of a music appreciation class than a music theory class, but that might be the level of information you want.)


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