Self-Teaching Music Theory: A Comprehensive Guide

Music TheoryLeave a Comment on Self-Teaching Music Theory: A Comprehensive Guide

Self-Teaching Music Theory: A Comprehensive Guide

Do you want to learn music theory but don’t know where to start? Do you feel intimidated by the complexities of the subject? The good news is that you can learn music theory on your own, and this guide will show you how. Self-teaching music theory can be a rewarding and enriching experience, providing you with a deeper understanding of the structure and language of music. With the right resources and approach, you can gain a solid foundation in music theory and unlock new possibilities for your musical journey. So, let’s dive in and explore the world of self-teaching music theory.

Is it possible to learn music theory on your own?

Advantages of self-learning music theory

  • Flexibility in learning pace

One of the significant advantages of self-learning music theory is the flexibility it offers in terms of learning pace. Unlike traditional classroom settings, self-learning allows students to set their own pace and choose when and how much time they spend on each topic. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for individuals who may have busy schedules or other commitments that make attending regular classes difficult. With self-learning, students can tailor their learning experience to their unique needs and schedule, making it easier to fit music theory learning into their daily routine.

  • Saving money on lessons

Another advantage of self-learning music theory is the potential cost savings. Traditional music theory lessons can be expensive, especially if students need to attend classes on a regular basis. By self-learning, students can avoid these costs and use the money saved to invest in additional resources, such as books, software, or online courses. Additionally, self-learning allows students to avoid the additional expenses associated with traveling to and from lessons, providing further cost savings.

  • Access to numerous resources

Self-learning music theory also offers students access to a wide range of resources that may not be available in traditional classroom settings. With the internet, students can access a wealth of information, including online courses, tutorials, and articles that provide in-depth explanations of music theory concepts. Additionally, self-learning students can use books, software, and other materials to supplement their learning experience, providing a more comprehensive understanding of music theory. These resources can be especially helpful for students who prefer visual or hands-on learning experiences, as they can provide additional context and examples to help reinforce concepts.

Disadvantages of self-learning music theory

While self-learning music theory has its advantages, it is essential to acknowledge the potential disadvantages as well. Some of the challenges associated with self-learning music theory include:

  • Lack of immediate feedback: One of the most significant drawbacks of self-learning music theory is the absence of immediate feedback. When learning through a teacher or instructor, students receive feedback on their work and have the opportunity to clarify any doubts. However, when self-learning, it can be challenging to identify mistakes and determine whether your understanding is accurate.
  • Difficulty in identifying and correcting mistakes: Self-learning music theory can also make it difficult to identify and correct mistakes. A teacher or instructor can provide guidance on how to correct errors, but without this guidance, it can be challenging to identify and rectify mistakes. This lack of correction can lead to misconceptions and misunderstandings, which can be detrimental to your understanding of music theory.
  • Limited practical application: Another disadvantage of self-learning music theory is the limited practical application of the concepts learned. While theoretical knowledge is crucial, practical application is equally important. When learning through a teacher or instructor, students have the opportunity to apply the concepts they learn in a practical setting. However, when self-learning, it can be challenging to find practical applications for the concepts learned, which can make it difficult to fully understand and apply them.

Choosing the right resources for self-learning music theory

Key takeaway: Self-learning music theory offers flexibility in learning pace, access to numerous resources, and cost savings. However, it also has potential disadvantages such as lack of immediate feedback, difficulty in identifying and correcting mistakes, and limited practical application. To successfully self-teach music theory, it is important to set realistic goals, create a study schedule, and stay motivated by rewarding yourself for achievements and keeping a journal or log of your progress.

Recommended textbooks and courses

There are a variety of textbooks and courses available for those looking to self-teach music theory. Some recommended resources include:

“The Complete Music Theory, Volume 1” by Keith Snell

  • This textbook provides a comprehensive introduction to music theory, covering topics such as notation, scales, and chords.
  • It is designed for beginners with no prior knowledge of music theory, making it a great starting point for those just starting out.
  • The book includes exercises and examples to help reinforce understanding and aid in practice.

“Music Theory in Practice” by Arnold Cooke

  • This textbook is geared towards more advanced learners and covers a wide range of topics, including harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration.
  • The book includes numerous examples and exercises to help students apply their knowledge and develop their skills.
  • It is recommended for those with a solid foundation in music theory who are looking to deepen their understanding and further develop their skills.

“The Art of Musick” by Milton Babbitt

  • This textbook is a more advanced resource and is recommended for those with a strong background in music theory.
  • It covers topics such as atonality, serialism, and electronic music, and includes examples and exercises to help students apply their knowledge.
  • The book is well-regarded for its clear and concise explanations of complex concepts, making it a valuable resource for those looking to further their understanding of contemporary music theory.

Online resources and tools

Music theory websites

  • Music
    • A comprehensive online resource for music theory fundamentals, including lessons on scales, chords, rhythm, and ear training exercises.
    • Users can access a variety of interactive quizzes, flashcards, and worksheets to reinforce their understanding of music theory concepts.
  • HarmonySight
    • Offers interactive lessons and exercises on chord progressions, ear training, and harmony, with a focus on popular music styles.
    • Provides users with customizable practice sets to tailor their learning experience according to their skill level and interests.

Mobile apps for music theory

  • Musixmatch
    • A free app that not only provides lyrics to millions of songs but also offers a built-in music theory section.
    • Users can access chord and scale libraries, as well as a metronome and tuner, to help develop their musical skills.
  • Theorie
    • A paid app that offers a comprehensive curriculum on music theory, including interactive lessons, quizzes, and exercises.
    • Users can track their progress and identify areas for improvement through the app’s detailed analytics and reporting features.

Interactive ear training software

  • Functional Ear Trainer
    • A versatile ear training software that helps users develop their listening skills through a variety of exercises and activities.
    • Functional Ear Trainer covers topics such as intervals, scales, chords, and rhythm, and provides users with customizable practice sets based on their skill level.
  • EarMaster
    • A comprehensive ear training program that offers a wide range of exercises and activities, including interval recognition, chord recognition, and sight-singing.
    • EarMaster also includes a customizable practice system that allows users to set goals and track their progress over time.

Developing a self-learning plan for music theory

Setting realistic goals

Setting realistic goals is a crucial step in developing a self-learning plan for music theory. Without clear and achievable goals, it is easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged. Here are some tips for setting realistic goals:

  • Short-term goals:
    • Start by setting short-term goals that are achievable within a few weeks or months. For example, you might set a goal to learn the basics of music notation, or to understand the structure of a basic chord progression.
    • Break down larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, if your goal is to learn how to read sheet music, you might break it down into tasks such as learning the symbols for different notes, and practicing reading simple melodies.
    • Celebrate your progress as you achieve each short-term goal. This will help keep you motivated and encourage you to continue working towards your larger goals.
  • Long-term goals:
    • While it’s important to have short-term goals, it’s also important to have long-term goals that will take longer to achieve. These might include learning to compose your own music, or understanding the complexities of advanced harmony.
    • Set long-term goals that are challenging but achievable. It’s important to push yourself, but it’s also important to be realistic about what you can achieve in a certain amount of time.
    • Remember that long-term goals will take time and effort to achieve. It’s important to stay committed to your goals and to continue working towards them even when progress is slow.

By setting realistic goals, you will be able to make steady progress in your music theory studies and stay motivated to continue learning.

Creating a study schedule

When it comes to creating a study schedule for music theory, it’s important to be realistic and set achievable goals. Start by allocating specific times for different topics and incorporating practice exercises into your schedule.

Here are some tips for creating a study schedule:

  1. Determine how much time you can commit to studying music theory each day or week. This will help you set realistic goals and create a schedule that works for you.
  2. Break down your study plan into smaller chunks. Instead of trying to learn everything at once, focus on one topic at a time. This will help you retain information better and prevent burnout.
  3. Prioritize your study plan based on your goals. If you’re looking to become a music composer, focus on learning harmony and counterpoint first. If you’re interested in music production, start with music notation and arranging.
  4. Schedule regular practice sessions. Whether it’s 30 minutes a day or an hour a week, make sure to set aside time to practice what you’ve learned. This will help you retain information better and improve your skills.
  5. Take breaks when needed. Learning music theory can be challenging, so don’t be afraid to take breaks when you need to. This will help you stay motivated and avoid burnout.

Remember, creating a study schedule is a personal process, and it’s important to find a routine that works for you. With a clear plan and regular practice, you’ll be well on your way to mastering music theory.

Staying motivated and tracking progress

One of the keys to successfully self-teaching music theory is to stay motivated and track your progress. This can be done in a number of ways, including:

  • Rewarding yourself for achievements: Celebrating small victories along the way can help keep you motivated and feeling accomplished. For example, if you successfully complete a lesson or learn a new concept, treat yourself to something you enjoy, like watching a movie or playing video games.
  • Keeping a journal or log of your progress: Documenting your progress can help you see how far you’ve come and give you a sense of accomplishment. You can use a notebook or digital tool to record what you’ve learned, what you’re working on, and any insights or questions you have along the way. This can also be a helpful reference if you get stuck or need to review a concept.

Applying music theory in practical settings

Using music theory in composition

Using music theory in composition involves applying the concepts and principles learned in music theory to create original musical pieces. Here are some ways to use music theory in composition:

  • Analyzing existing compositions: One way to use music theory in composition is to analyze existing compositions. This involves studying the structure, harmony, melody, and rhythm of a piece of music to understand how it was created. By analyzing existing compositions, you can gain insight into how different musical elements work together to create a cohesive and effective piece of music.
  • Applying theory to your own compositions: Another way to use music theory in composition is to apply the concepts and principles learned in music theory to your own compositions. This involves using music theory to create melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that fit together in a cohesive and effective way. By applying music theory to your own compositions, you can create unique and original pieces of music that are structurally sound and musically interesting.

It’s important to note that while music theory can be a useful tool for composers, it’s not the only way to create music. Some composers may choose to rely more on intuition and experimentation than on formal music theory, while others may use a combination of both. Ultimately, the most important thing is to find a approach that works for you and allows you to create the music you want to create.

Using music theory in performance

One of the primary goals of learning music theory is to apply it in practical settings, particularly in performance. Here are some ways in which music theory can be used to enhance your performance skills:

  • Improving your musicianship skills: By understanding the underlying structure of music, you can develop a deeper appreciation for the art form. This knowledge can help you make more informed decisions about how to interpret a piece of music, allowing you to bring more emotion and depth to your performance.
  • Enhancing your communication with other musicians: Music theory provides a common language that musicians can use to communicate with each other. By understanding the notation and terminology, you can more effectively collaborate with other musicians, whether you’re working in a band, orchestra, or other ensemble.

In addition to these benefits, there are many specific ways in which music theory can be applied in performance. Here are a few examples:

  • Analyzing a piece of music to identify its structure and key characteristics
  • Using harmonic analysis to inform your improvisation
  • Understanding how to read and interpret music notation, including chord symbols and lead sheets
  • Using music theory to transcribe and learn from recordings
  • Incorporating music theory into your composition process

By incorporating music theory into your performance practice, you can deepen your understanding of the music you play and enhance your overall musicianship skills.

Balancing theory and practice

  • Ensuring that theory is applied in practical settings

One of the most important aspects of learning music theory is applying it in practical settings. This means using the knowledge and skills you’ve gained from studying theory to compose, arrange, or perform music. It’s important to make sure that you’re not just studying theory for the sake of it, but that you’re actively using it to improve your musicianship.

  • Avoiding the temptation to focus solely on theory

On the other hand, it’s also important to avoid the temptation to focus solely on theory at the expense of practical application. While it’s essential to have a solid understanding of music theory, it’s equally important to remember that theory is just one part of the bigger picture. Without practical application, theory can become abstract and difficult to understand.

Therefore, it’s crucial to strike a balance between theory and practice. You should make sure that you’re spending enough time studying theory, but also make sure that you’re using that knowledge to create music and improve your skills. By balancing theory and practice, you’ll be able to make the most of your music theory studies and become a more well-rounded musician.

Tips for self-learning music theory

Breaking down complex concepts

When it comes to learning music theory, one of the biggest challenges can be understanding complex concepts. However, by breaking down these concepts into smaller, more manageable pieces, you can make the learning process much easier. Here are some tips for breaking down complex music theory concepts:

Breaking down chords and scales

One of the first steps in understanding music theory is to learn about chords and scales. These are the building blocks of music, and they are used to create melodies and harmonies. To break down these concepts, start by learning the basic definitions of chords and scales. For example, a chord is a group of three or more notes played at the same time, while a scale is a sequence of notes played in a specific order.

Once you have a basic understanding of chords and scales, you can start to explore the different types of chords and scales. For example, there are major chords, minor chords, diminished chords, and augmented chords, as well as diatonic scales, pentatonic scales, and blues scales. By learning the definitions and characteristics of each type of chord and scale, you can begin to understand how they are used in different styles of music.

Analyzing chord progressions

Another complex concept in music theory is chord progressions. These are the sequences of chords used in a song, and they are what give a song its harmonic structure. To break down chord progressions, start by learning the basic definitions of chords and how they are used in different keys. Then, analyze the chord progressions in different songs to see how they are constructed.

One useful tool for analyzing chord progressions is the circle of fifths. This is a diagram that shows the relationship between different chords and keys, and it can help you understand how chords are related to each other. By using the circle of fifths, you can see how chords are arranged in different keys and how they can be used to create different chord progressions.

In addition to the circle of fifths, there are also other tools and resources available for analyzing chord progressions. For example, you can use chord charts and progression generators to help you understand how different chords are used in different keys and styles of music. By using these tools, you can begin to break down complex chord progressions and understand how they are constructed.

Overall, breaking down complex music theory concepts requires patience, practice, and persistence. By taking the time to learn the basic definitions and characteristics of chords and scales, and by analyzing chord progressions using tools like the circle of fifths, you can gain a deeper understanding of music theory and how it is used in different styles of music.

Practicing regularly

Practicing music theory regularly is crucial to building a strong foundation in understanding how music works. Consistent practice will help you to retain the information and build a strong understanding of music theory concepts.

Consistent practice

To effectively practice music theory, it is important to set aside a specific time each day or week to dedicate to studying and practicing. Consistency is key, as it will help you to build a strong understanding of the material over time.

Regular review of previously learned material

In addition to consistent practice, it is important to regularly review previously learned material. This will help to reinforce the information and ensure that it is not forgotten. By regularly reviewing previously learned material, you will also be able to identify any areas where you may need additional practice or clarification.

Setting goals

Setting goals for your music theory studies can also be helpful in maintaining consistency and staying motivated. Whether it is to learn a specific concept or to complete a certain number of exercises each week, setting goals can help to keep you on track and focused on your progress.

Overall, practicing regularly is essential for building a strong understanding of music theory. By setting aside dedicated time for study, regularly reviewing previously learned material, and setting goals for your studies, you can effectively reinforce the information and build a strong foundation in music theory.

Seeking feedback and support

As a self-learner, it’s important to have a support system in place to help you stay motivated and to ensure that you’re on the right track. Seeking feedback and support from others can be a valuable way to gain new insights and to refine your understanding of music theory. Here are some ways to seek feedback and support:

Joining online forums or communities

One way to seek feedback and support is by joining online forums or communities dedicated to music theory. These can be found on social media platforms or through specialized websites. Here, you can connect with other music theory enthusiasts and ask questions, share your progress, and get feedback on your work. Online communities can also provide access to resources such as lessons, tutorials, and study materials.

Attending workshops or masterclasses

Another way to seek feedback and support is by attending workshops or masterclasses. These events can provide opportunities to learn from experts in the field, to receive personalized feedback, and to connect with other musicians and music enthusiasts. Workshops and masterclasses can be found through music schools, conservatories, or through online platforms. They can be a great way to deepen your understanding of music theory and to gain new insights into the practice of composing and performing music.

Continuously expanding your knowledge

When it comes to self-teaching music theory, it’s important to continuously expand your knowledge. Here are some tips on how to do so:

  1. Explore different genres and styles:
    By studying different genres and styles of music, you can gain a deeper understanding of the theory behind them. This can help you develop a more well-rounded knowledge of music theory, as well as help you to appreciate the nuances of different styles.
  2. Listen to music critically:
    As you listen to music, pay attention to the different elements that make up a song, such as the melody, harmony, and rhythm. Try to identify the different chords and scales being used, and see how they fit together to create a particular mood or feeling.
  3. Analyze songs:
    Once you have a basic understanding of music theory, try to analyze songs in more depth. Look at the structure of the song, the chord progressions, and the melody. Try to understand why certain choices were made by the composer or songwriter, and how they contribute to the overall effect of the song.
  4. Read music theory books and articles:
    There are many great books and articles on music theory that can help you to expand your knowledge. Look for books that cover a wide range of topics, including harmony, counterpoint, and music history. You can also find articles online that cover specific topics in more depth.
  5. Attend concerts and workshops:
    Attending concerts and workshops can be a great way to learn more about music theory. Listen to live performances and pay attention to the different elements of the music. You can also attend workshops and masterclasses to learn from experts in the field.

By continuously expanding your knowledge of music theory, you can become a better musician and develop a deeper appreciation for the art of music.


1. What is music theory?

Music theory is the study of the language, structure, and notation of music. It includes concepts such as melody, harmony, rhythm, and form, as well as the methods for notating and analyzing music.

2. Can I learn music theory on my own?

Yes, you can learn music theory on your own. There are many resources available, such as books, online courses, and tutorials, that can help you learn music theory at your own pace.

3. What are the benefits of learning music theory?

Learning music theory can help you understand the structure and language of music, which can improve your ability to compose, improvise, and perform music. It can also help you better appreciate and analyze music, and make you a more informed listener.

4. What are the basic concepts of music theory?

Some basic concepts of music theory include pitch, rhythm, and scale. Pitch refers to the highness or lowness of a sound, rhythm refers to the pattern of sound and silence in music, and scale refers to the sequence of pitches used in a melody or harmony.

5. How can I get started with learning music theory?

One way to get started with learning music theory is to find a beginner’s book or online course that covers the basics of music theory. You can also try experimenting with different scales and chords on a musical instrument, or trying to analyze and understand the structure of your favorite songs.

6. What are some common misconceptions about music theory?

One common misconception about music theory is that it is only for classical music or professional musicians. In reality, music theory can be applied to any genre of music and can be useful for anyone who wants to understand and create music. Another misconception is that music theory is too complex or difficult to learn. While music theory can be challenging, there are many resources available to help beginners get started.

7. How long does it take to learn music theory?

The amount of time it takes to learn music theory depends on your goals and how much time you are able to dedicate to studying. Some people may be able to learn the basics in a few weeks, while others may take longer to grasp more advanced concepts. The important thing is to be patient and keep practicing.

8. How can I continue to learn music theory after the basics?

After learning the basics of music theory, you can continue to deepen your understanding by studying more advanced concepts such as harmony, counterpoint, and analysis. You can also try applying what you have learned to your own compositions or performances, or by studying the music of different genres and time periods.

How I’d Learn Music Theory (If I Had To Start Over)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top