The Self-Guided Journey: Exploring the Possibility of Teaching Yourself Music Theory

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The Self-Guided Journey: Exploring the Possibility of Teaching Yourself Music Theory

Embarking on a journey of self-discovery has always been an alluring prospect for many. When it comes to music, the fascination with its intricate theories and compositions is equally captivating. But can one truly teach themselves music theory? Delving into the depths of this topic, we will explore the possibilities and limitations of self-guided learning when it comes to music theory. Will it lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of music, or is it merely a futile attempt at grasping an abstract concept? Let’s embark on this self-guided journey to find out.

Can Music Theory Be Taught to Yourself?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes. The Internet has made it possible for individuals to access a wealth of information and resources that can be used to teach oneself music theory. From online courses to tutorials, textbooks, and forums, there is a vast array of materials available to those who wish to embark on a self-guided journey to learn music theory.

However, while the availability of resources is encouraging, it is important to note that self-teaching music theory requires a certain level of commitment and discipline. Learning music theory on one’s own means that there is no one to provide guidance or feedback, and it can be challenging to stay motivated without the structure of a formal class setting. Therefore, it is essential to approach the task with a clear understanding of what is involved and a willingness to put in the necessary time and effort.

In the following sections, we will explore some of the ways in which one can teach oneself music theory and discuss some of the benefits and challenges of this approach.

The Advantages of Self-Teaching Music Theory

  • Flexibility in learning pace
    One of the significant advantages of self-teaching music theory is the flexibility to learn at your own pace. You can take your time to understand a particular concept, and then move on to the next one without feeling rushed or pressured. This allows you to fully grasp each topic before moving forward, leading to a deeper understanding of music theory.
  • Saving time and money
    Self-teaching music theory also enables you to save time and money. You don’t have to attend classes or pay for private lessons, which can be costly. Instead, you can use online resources, books, and other materials to learn at your own pace. This allows you to allocate your resources towards other aspects of your musical journey, such as purchasing an instrument or attending concerts.
  • Developing a personalized learning plan
    When you self-teach music theory, you have the opportunity to develop a personalized learning plan that caters to your specific needs and interests. You can choose the materials and resources that best suit your learning style and focus on the areas that you find most challenging. This allows you to tailor your learning experience to your individual goals and aspirations, making the journey more enjoyable and fulfilling.

The Challenges of Self-Teaching Music Theory

While self-teaching music theory has its advantages, such as flexibility and cost-effectiveness, it also presents several challenges. One of the main obstacles in self-teaching music theory is the lack of immediate feedback. Unlike in a formal classroom setting, there is no instructor or peer to provide immediate feedback on your progress or answer questions. This can make it difficult to gauge your understanding and make corrections as needed.

Another challenge is the limited resources compared to formal education. In a structured course, you have access to a variety of materials, such as textbooks, online resources, and software. However, when teaching yourself, you must find and compile these resources on your own, which can be time-consuming and challenging.

Additionally, developing a structured curriculum is essential for learning music theory effectively. A well-designed curriculum provides a clear roadmap for learning and helps to keep you on track. However, when self-teaching, it can be challenging to develop a comprehensive curriculum that covers all the necessary topics and builds on previous knowledge.

What Are the Fundamentals of Music Theory?

Key takeaway: Self-teaching music theory is possible with the availability of online resources and materials, but it requires a certain level of commitment and discipline. Developing a personalized learning plan, understanding the building blocks of music, and developing an ear for different musical structures and patterns are essential for learning music theory effectively. Resources such as textbooks, online courses, and music theory websites can be used to create a customized learning plan. Creating your own music theory curriculum can help you tailor your learning experience to your individual goals and aspirations, making the journey more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Understanding the Building Blocks of Music

Music theory is the study of the language and structure of music. It is concerned with the methods and practices used to create, perform, and understand music. To understand music theory, it is important to first understand the building blocks of music. These building blocks include:

  • Pitch: The highness or lowness of a sound. Pitch is determined by the frequency of vibration of the sound wave.
  • Rhythm: The pattern of long and short sounds in music. Rhythm is determined by the duration of each note or rest.
  • Melody: A sequence of single pitches that make up a musical line. Melodies can be played on instruments or sung by humans.
  • Harmony: The combination of two or more pitches played at the same time. Harmony can be simple or complex and can be created through the use of chords.
  • Form: The structure of a piece of music. Form can be determined by the repetition of sections or the use of repeating themes.

Developing an Understanding of Music Notation

Music notation is the written representation of music. It is used to communicate the pitches, rhythms, and dynamics of a piece of music to performers. To teach yourself music theory, it is important to develop an understanding of music notation. This includes learning how to read and write sheet music, as well as understanding the various symbols and notation systems used in music.

Learning the Basic Concepts of Music Theory

In order to teach yourself music theory, it is important to learn the basic concepts of music theory. These concepts include:

  • Scales: A series of pitches arranged in ascending or descending order. Scales are the foundation of melody and harmony in music.
  • Chords: A group of three or more pitches played at the same time. Chords are the foundation of harmony in music.
  • Cadences: A musical event that marks the end of a phrase or section. Cadences can be used to create a sense of resolution and closure in music.
  • Keys: A system of labels that assigns a letter to each pitch in a scale. Keys are used to organize music and help performers understand the relationships between different pitches.

Understanding the Relationship Between Theory and Practice

Music theory is not just an abstract set of concepts, but it is also closely tied to the practice of creating and performing music. By understanding the basic concepts of music theory, you can begin to apply them to your own musical practice. This can include learning how to create chords and melodies, understanding how to read and write sheet music, and developing an ear for different musical structures and patterns.

By teaching yourself music theory, you can gain a deeper understanding of the music you listen to and the music you create. This can help you to become a more informed and creative musician, and can open up new possibilities for your musical journey.

Understanding Key Signatures and Scales

  • Major and minor scales
    • The major scale is the most common scale in Western music and is built on the pattern of whole and half steps.
    • The minor scale has a different pattern of whole and half steps and produces a different tonality.
  • Harmonic and melodic minor scales
    • The harmonic minor scale is used primarily in Western music for its unique interval structure, while the melodic minor scale is used in melodic lines.
  • Key signatures and their functions
    • Key signatures indicate the tonality of a piece of music and are placed at the beginning of each line of music.
    • They serve as a visual representation of the tonality and can help to guide the performer in their interpretation of the music.

Basic Music Notation and Terminology

  • Notes and rests
    • Notes are the building blocks of music and are represented by various symbols on the staff. The five common types of notes are whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes. Rest is the opposite of note, it is the absence of sound, and it is also represented by various symbols on the staff.
  • Time signatures
    • Time signatures indicate the rhythmic structure of a piece of music and are represented by two numbers written above the staff. The first number indicates the number of beats in a measure and the second number indicates the type of note that gets the beat. For example, 4/4 time signature has four quarter notes in a measure and each quarter note gets one beat.
  • Musical symbols and terminology
    • Music theory also includes various symbols and terminology that are used to describe the different elements of music. For example, the staff is a set of five lines and four spaces that represent the different pitches of music. The clef is a symbol that is placed on the staff to indicate which pitches correspond to which lines and spaces. And the key signature is a set of sharps or flats that indicate the pitch of a note.

By understanding the basics of music notation and terminology, you can begin to read and write music, and develop a deeper understanding of the language of music.

Resources for Self-Teaching Music Theory


There are numerous resources available for individuals who wish to teach themselves music theory. From textbooks to online courses, the following is a list of some of the most useful resources:

  1. Textbooks:
    • “Harmony in Western Music” by Peter Spencer
    • “The Complete Book of Music Theory” by Carl E. H. Barks
    • “The Art of Musick” by James Lyons
  2. Online Courses:
    • Khan Academy: This website offers a series of video lessons on music theory, covering topics such as scales, chords, and counterpoint.
    • Coursera: Several universities offer online courses on music theory, including Berklee College of Music and the University of Pennsylvania.
    • Udemy: This platform has several courses on music theory, including beginner and advanced levels.
  3. Music Theory Websites:
    • Music This website provides detailed explanations of various music theory concepts, along with practice exercises.
    • Music This website offers a comprehensive overview of music theory, including lessons on scales, chords, and harmony.
    • The Musical Mind: This website provides articles and tutorials on music theory, with a focus on cognitive science and the psychology of music.
  4. Mobile Apps:
    • Music Theory for Beginners: This app provides a comprehensive introduction to music theory, including lessons on scales, chords, and ear training.
    • Harmony Assistant: This app is designed to help users understand harmony and chord progressions in music.
    • This app offers interactive exercises and quizzes to help users learn music theory concepts.
  5. Blogs and YouTube Channels:
    • Piano Marvel: This blog and YouTube channel provides lessons on music theory, along with practice exercises and quizzes.
    • Thomas Brewer: This YouTube channel offers a series of videos on music theory, including lessons on scales, chords, and harmony.
    • Matt Warnock: This YouTube channel provides video lessons on music theory, along with practical applications for composers and songwriters.

By utilizing these resources, individuals can take a self-guided journey towards learning music theory. Each resource provides a unique perspective and approach to learning, allowing for a customized learning experience.

Online Courses and Tutorials

  • Coursera: Coursera offers a variety of music theory courses from top universities around the world. These courses cover different aspects of music theory, including harmony, counterpoint, and composition. Students can learn at their own pace and have access to a variety of resources, such as video lectures, quizzes, and assignments.
  • Udemy: Udemy is an online learning platform that offers a wide range of music theory courses. Students can choose from courses on topics such as music theory, composition, and arrangement. The courses are taught by experienced professionals in the music industry and offer a flexible learning experience.
  • is a comprehensive online resource for music theory. The website offers interactive exercises, quizzes, and tutorials on topics such as intervals, chords, and scales. Students can track their progress and work through the exercises at their own pace. Additionally, the website offers a variety of resources for music educators, including lesson plans and teaching materials.

Books and Publications

“Music Theory for Dummies” by Michael Pilhofer

  • Comprehensive guide covering basics to advanced concepts of music theory
  • Written in simple language, making it accessible to beginners
  • Includes practical exercises and examples to reinforce understanding
  • Covers topics such as scales, chords, rhythm, and harmony
  • Offers online resources and support for further learning

“The Complete Guide to Music Theory” by Richard Parker

  • Detailed guide that covers all aspects of music theory
  • Written in a clear and concise manner, making it easy to understand
  • Includes examples and exercises to reinforce learning
  • Covers topics such as melody, harmony, rhythm, and form
  • Provides tips and strategies for improving musical skills

“The Practical Guide to Music Theory” by Charles T. Harriss

  • Practical guide that focuses on applying music theory to real-world situations
  • Written in a user-friendly style, making it accessible to beginners
  • Covers topics such as chord progressions, melody writing, and arrangement
  • Offers guidance on how to use music theory to enhance creativity and composition skills

How to Create Your Own Music Theory Curriculum

Creating your own music theory curriculum can be a daunting task, but it can also be a rewarding experience. By following these steps, you can create a customized learning plan that fits your needs and learning style.

1. Define your goals

The first step in creating your own music theory curriculum is to define your goals. What do you want to achieve by learning music theory? Is it to improve your composition skills, to understand the structure of music, or to simply gain a deeper appreciation of music? Once you have a clear understanding of your goals, you can create a plan that will help you achieve them.

2. Determine your starting point

Before you begin your music theory journey, it’s important to determine your starting point. Are you a complete beginner, or do you have some background in music theory? Your starting point will determine the pace and difficulty of your learning plan.

3. Choose your learning materials

There are many resources available for learning music theory, including textbooks, online courses, and apps. Choose materials that are tailored to your learning style and goals. Consider factors such as the depth of coverage, the level of difficulty, and the format of the material.

  1. Create a schedule

Creating a schedule is essential for any self-guided learning plan. Set aside dedicated time each day or week to study music theory, and try to stick to that schedule as closely as possible. A consistent study routine will help you stay motivated and make progress towards your goals.

5. Build in review and practice

One of the keys to success in learning music theory is practice. However, it’s also important to build in review periods to reinforce what you’ve learned. Schedule regular review sessions to help solidify your understanding of music theory concepts.

6. Seek feedback and support

Learning music theory can be a solitary pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be. Seek feedback and support from others who are also learning music theory, or from music theory experts. Joining a study group or finding a mentor can provide valuable feedback and encouragement along the way.

By following these steps, you can create a customized music theory curriculum that fits your needs and learning style. With dedication and practice, you can achieve your music theory goals and deepen your understanding and appreciation of music.

Assessing Your Current Knowledge

  • Identifying gaps in understanding
    • The first step in creating a customized learning plan is to assess your current knowledge of music theory. This can be done by identifying the gaps in your understanding of the subject. It is important to note that not everyone has the same starting point when it comes to music theory, and that is perfectly fine. Some people may have a basic understanding of music theory, while others may have none at all. The key is to identify your strengths and weaknesses so that you can create a plan that works best for you.
    • One way to identify gaps in your understanding is to take a music theory quiz or test. These can be found online or in music theory textbooks. Another way is to simply ask yourself questions about the concepts you don’t understand or are unsure about. For example, if you are unsure about how to read sheet music, you could spend some time familiarizing yourself with the basics of music notation.
  • Creating a customized learning plan
    • Once you have identified your gaps in understanding, you can create a customized learning plan that addresses your specific needs. This plan should include a mix of resources, such as textbooks, online tutorials, and practice exercises. It is also important to set specific goals for yourself and to track your progress along the way.
    • For example, if you are struggling with chord progressions, you could spend some time studying the basics of harmony and then practice creating chord progressions using a chord progression generator. Alternatively, if you are comfortable with chord progressions but want to learn more about melody, you could spend some time studying the basics of melody writing and then practice writing melodies using a melody generator.
    • It is also important to note that learning music theory is not a one-size-fits-all process. What works for one person may not work for another, so it is important to be flexible and open to trying new approaches. The key is to find a method that works best for you and to stick with it.

Structuring Your Learning Experience

Structuring your learning experience is an essential aspect of teaching yourself music theory. Breaking down complex concepts, setting achievable goals, and utilizing different learning styles are key elements to consider when designing your own music theory curriculum.

Breaking down complex concepts:
One of the challenges of learning music theory is understanding complex concepts. To overcome this, it is crucial to break down these concepts into smaller, more manageable pieces. For example, instead of trying to understand harmony all at once, focus on understanding the basics of chords and progressions first. This approach will make it easier to build a strong foundation in music theory and gradually progress to more advanced concepts.

Setting achievable goals:
Another important aspect of structuring your learning experience is setting achievable goals. Goals provide direction and motivation, but they must be realistic and attainable. Start by setting small, short-term goals that build on each other. For example, your first goal might be to learn the basics of music notation, while your second goal could be to understand the difference between major and minor chords. As you progress, set longer-term goals that will keep you engaged and motivated over the long haul.

Utilizing different learning styles:
Everyone learns differently, and utilizing different learning styles is crucial to maximizing your learning experience. Some people learn best through visual aids, while others prefer hands-on experiences. Consider incorporating a variety of learning styles into your curriculum, such as watching video tutorials, reading books and articles, and practicing with software and apps. By incorporating multiple learning styles, you will be able to better understand and retain the material.

Tracking Your Progress and Seeking Feedback

Journaling your progress

Journaling your progress is an effective way to keep track of your music theory journey. It can help you identify areas where you need improvement and celebrate your achievements. To journal your progress, you can:

  • Create a music theory journal and write down what you’ve learned each day, week, or month.
  • Reflect on the topics you’ve covered and how they relate to your musical interests.
  • Write down any questions or challenges you encounter and seek answers to them.

Joining online music theory communities

Joining online music theory communities can provide you with a supportive network of fellow learners and music professionals. You can participate in discussions, ask questions, and receive feedback on your progress. Some examples of online music theory communities include:

  • Reddit’s /r/musictheory subreddit
  • The Music Theory section of the forum at
  • The Music Theory forum at

Seeking feedback from music professionals

Seeking feedback from music professionals can provide you with valuable insights and guidance on your music theory journey. You can seek feedback through:

  • Private lessons with a music teacher or tutor
  • Online music theory courses with feedback components
  • Workshops or masterclasses

It’s important to remember that seeking feedback is not just about receiving praise or validation, but also about identifying areas where you can improve and refine your understanding of music theory.

The Importance of Practice in Learning Music Theory

Mastering music theory requires a significant amount of practice. It is through consistent and dedicated practice that one can internalize the various concepts and structures of music theory. Without practice, it is impossible to develop the necessary skills to understand and apply music theory effectively.

Practice allows individuals to apply their knowledge of music theory to real-world situations. By analyzing and dissecting different pieces of music, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of the theoretical concepts at play. Additionally, practicing music theory through exercises and activities can help individuals develop their problem-solving skills and increase their musical intuition.

Furthermore, practice helps individuals to identify and correct any misconceptions or misunderstandings they may have about music theory. Through repetition and reinforcement, individuals can develop a more comprehensive understanding of the material and refine their skills.

It is important to note that practice should be intentional and focused. Simply playing music or singing along to songs is not enough to develop a strong foundation in music theory. Instead, individuals should actively seek out opportunities to practice music theory through exercises, activities, and analysis of music.

In summary, practice is a crucial component of learning music theory. It allows individuals to internalize and apply their knowledge, develop problem-solving skills, and refine their understanding of the material.

Developing Your Ear and Musicianship Skills

As you embark on your self-guided journey to learn music theory, developing your ear and musicianship skills is essential. This involves honing your ability to perceive and interpret musical sounds, as well as improving your overall musicality. Here are some effective techniques to help you develop your ear and musicianship skills:

Active Listening and Analyzing Music

Active listening is a crucial aspect of developing your musical ear. It involves paying close attention to various elements of a piece of music, such as melody, harmony, rhythm, and texture. To enhance your active listening skills, you can:

  • Analyze the structure of a piece of music, such as its form and phrasing
  • Identify the different instruments and voices used in the piece
  • Pay attention to the dynamics, articulation, and expression of the music
  • Recognize the different musical elements that contribute to the overall style and character of the piece

Singing and Playing Instruments

Singing and playing instruments are excellent ways to develop your musicianship skills. Both activities help you internalize the sound of music and develop your sense of pitch, timing, and rhythm. By singing or playing an instrument, you can:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between pitch and sound
  • Improve your ability to recognize and replicate different musical intervals and patterns
  • Develop your sense of timing and rhythm
  • Enhance your overall musical expression and communication

Sight-Reading and Transcribing Music

Sight-reading and transcribing music are valuable skills to develop as a self-guided learner. Sight-reading involves reading and playing a piece of music without prior preparation, while transcribing involves writing down a piece of music by ear. Both activities can help you:

  • Enhance your ability to read and interpret musical notation
  • Improve your understanding of different musical styles and genres
  • Develop your musical memory and cognition
  • Enhance your overall musicianship skills and confidence in playing and performing music

Applying Music Theory to Your Creativity

Composing and Arranging Music

One of the most exciting aspects of learning music theory is the ability to apply it to your own compositions and arrangements. With a solid understanding of key signatures, chord progressions, and melodic structure, you can experiment with different harmonies and rhythms to create unique and captivating pieces of music.

Improvising and Experimenting with Different Styles

Music theory also allows you to explore different styles of music and improvise with confidence. Whether you’re interested in jazz, blues, or classical music, a solid foundation in music theory will enable you to understand the underlying structures and patterns that make each style unique. With this knowledge, you can then experiment with different techniques and approaches to create your own personal style.

Incorporating Music Theory into Your Performance

Finally, music theory can also enhance your performance skills. By understanding the theory behind different chord progressions and melodic structures, you can make more informed decisions about how to express emotion and convey meaning through your playing. This can help you to create more dynamic and engaging performances, and connect more deeply with your audience.

The Role of Patience and Persistence

  • Understanding that progress takes time
    • The learning curve of music theory is often gradual and may not be immediately apparent. It’s important to recognize that consistent practice over time will lead to improvement, even if it feels slow at first.
  • Embracing setbacks as opportunities for growth
    • Mistakes and misunderstandings are inevitable when learning music theory. Instead of becoming discouraged, embrace these setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Maintaining motivation and passion for music
    • It’s easy to become disheartened when faced with difficult concepts in music theory. However, maintaining a strong passion for music can help keep motivation levels high and push through any obstacles that arise.

In conclusion, the role of patience and persistence is crucial in the learning process of music theory. By understanding that progress takes time, embracing setbacks as opportunities for growth, and maintaining motivation and passion for music, learners can overcome challenges and continue on their self-guided journey towards mastering music theory.


1. What is music theory?

Music theory is the study of the language, structure, and meaning of music. It includes topics such as scales, chords, rhythm, melody, harmony, and form. Understanding music theory can help musicians to better understand and communicate with other musicians, and to create and analyze music.

2. Why is music theory important?

Music theory is important because it provides a framework for understanding the fundamental elements of music. It can help musicians to develop their technical skills, improve their musicality, and understand the creative process. Music theory can also be useful for composers, arrangers, and music educators, as it provides a common language for discussing and analyzing music.

3. Can anyone learn music theory?

Yes, anyone can learn music theory. While some people may have a natural aptitude for music, music theory is a skill that can be learned through practice and study. There are many resources available for learning music theory, including books, online courses, and apps.

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

The amount of time it takes to learn music theory can vary depending on the individual and the resources they use. Some people may be able to learn the basics of music theory in a few weeks, while others may take several months or even years to master the concepts. Consistent practice and study are key to making progress in learning music theory.

5. What are the best resources for learning music theory?

There are many resources available for learning music theory, including books, online courses, and apps. Some popular books for learning music theory include “The Complete Guide to Music Theory” by Mark S. Foster and “Music Theory for Dummies” by Michael Pilhofer. Online courses can be found on platforms such as Udemy and Coursera, while apps such as MuseScore and Noteflight can be used to practice music theory concepts.

6. How can I practice music theory?

Practicing music theory can be done in a variety of ways. One way is to use online exercises and quizzes to test your knowledge and identify areas where you need to improve. Another way is to practice writing and analyzing music using software such as MuseScore or Noteflight. You can also practice music theory by playing an instrument or singing, as this can help you to understand how theory applies to real-world music-making.

7. How can I apply music theory to my own music-making?

To apply music theory to your own music-making, start by learning the basics of music theory, such as scales, chords, and rhythm. Once you have a good understanding of these concepts, try incorporating them into your music. For example, you could experiment with different chord progressions or try writing a melody using a specific scale. As you become more comfortable with music theory, you can continue to expand your knowledge and apply it in more complex ways in your music.

MUSIC THEORY in 12 minutes for nOOBS

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