Theory Workbooks

May 23, 2018, 8:45 AM · I'm looking for a good theory workbook for summer practice for my son who is currently in middle school. I am specifically looking for something that focuses on figured bass, part writing, form/phrase analysis, etc. Also alto clef if possible.

He's done the Fundamentals of Piano Theory books through Book 6 (he also plays piano), but the first half of these tends to be repetition of basic skills from earlier books that he has mastered (ie key signatures, scales, intervals, triads).

The books I know are mostly geared toward college-aged kids and seem a bit much for his age. Any suggestions?

Replies (10)

May 23, 2018, 9:08 AM · If the college books seem to be too much, you could try an AP Music Theory book, perhaps. When I was your son's age, though, I was taught theory from a college workbook. What you're looking for -- the part-writing etc. -- is normally part of the college music theory curriculum.
May 23, 2018, 9:16 AM · The "bit much" is also reflective of the prices ($100+ for most of them!!) of the college level books! It's shocking to me how expensive they are.
May 23, 2018, 10:43 AM · I'll just point out that the cost of one of those workbooks is probably fairly close to the cost of a single violin lesson. :-)
Edited: May 23, 2018, 11:12 AM · I agree with Lydia that it sounds like you are looking for something at college level, which can be more basic than you might think. For figured bass, part writing, form and alto clef, I highly recommend Braaten and Wilksyk's Sound Advice -- Theory and Ear Training Level 6,7 and 8. You can find them at for under$50 each. I'd start with level 6 and see how it goes. Another one worth looking at is The Musician's Guide to Fundamentals. It's pretty comprehensive and more concise.

I believe that doing exercise is key to learn theory and there are a lot of practice materials online that are free. You should definitely check this site out:

Your son may also learn a lot of theory on YouTube such as Dr. B Music Theory Lessons:

The Music Theory Guy:

Edit: Yes, the costs for these textbooks are real deals comparing to the costs of regular lessons.

May 23, 2018, 11:20 AM · Consider the ABRSM Music Theory in Practice series -- it's fairly good for introducing those concepts, and more affordable than most other options. They should be in the Grade 5-8 materials.

If looking at college textbooks, Kostka & Payne's Tonal Harmony (with accompanying workbook) is excellent though pricey. But again, it's less than the cost of two violin lessons.

May 23, 2018, 12:50 PM · By the way, OP, how good is your own part-writing? It's not all that useful to do counterpoint exercises without someone to check them over.
May 23, 2018, 1:46 PM · George Wedge. You can find copies on amazon.
May 23, 2018, 2:27 PM · Have you contacted the music/theory dept of your local university? I think your midde-school aged son would probably do much better (and enjoy it more) if he had a teacher/mentor to help him tackle these advanced concepts.

Why are you interested that he studies figured bass? I'm certainly not a keyboard expert but I always assumed that most figured bass keyboard music worth playing has been realized by now.

My advice for mastering this kind of stuff is write, write write. No amount of mental gymnastics can replace the hours of putting pencil to paper.

May 23, 2018, 2:44 PM · Lydia - very good point about the cost! My eyes just bugged out since one upon a time I bought these very same books for about $20 a pop. Unfortunately, I lost most of my old books in a flood.

My part-writing skills are excellent, as I have a PhD in musicology/theory from my long ago career that got sidelined by my oldest child's ill health. So checking will not be a problem. :)

Ryan - my son will be starting MIC Academy in the fall and will have theory classes at his level there. I'm just trying to bridge the gap until they start. As for why I want him to do figured bass -- I am less concerned about him being able to realize figured bass in real time, and more concerned about giving him the correct analysis tools to analyze. And I completely agree with you about writing -- I learned all my initial theory skills recomposing Bach chorales!

Thank you to the other posters for your suggestions -- I will check them out.

May 23, 2018, 3:27 PM · Funny, as soon as I read you had the musicology degree, I was going to suggest that you teach your son the same way that the college students learn. :-)

To that end, I wouldn't bother with the workbook, necessarily. Just do the Bach recomposition on manuscript paper or using software.

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