Textbook on Music Theory
Are there any recommendations for a suitable book on music theory for someone with no background in music?
Ew. Why would you willingly subject yourself to that? That's borderline masochism.
Cotton is right that there are resources online, free and paid. Of course you asked for a specific recommendation, though, and he did not provide that. There have been other threads on this, you can probably find them by searching the archive.
The first thing I need to know is what you think you want to know about "music theory." Either way, I don't think a "textbook" is necessarily the best place to start.
If you want to see how harmony, counterpoint etc were formally taught in the 19th century have a look at textbooks by the English pedagogue and composer Ebenezer Prout. Four of his books are on IMSLP (search for Prout under "composers" and then "books" in the sub-menu). And the best of luck, bearing in mind Prout's textbooks were the staple diet of students of the time and later, some of whom doubtless went on to become famous names.
"The best way to learn theory is by naturally applying it on your instrument. If you try to learn it from books, you will want to shoot yourself."
One of the requirements of getting grade 8 on an instrument in my day (for me that instrument was the cello) was that you also had to have grade 5 theory, which of course meant that the teacher had to teach some theory in at least some of the lessons. From what I remember, grade 5 theory also included useful things such identifying types of chord and scales at various pitches on the piano, different kinds of cadence, music form, and basic music dictation (writing down a simple tune played on the piano).
That's the thing a physical book won't give you is ear training. The online resources are really good for that. Like I said earlier, there have been lengthy threads on this in the past.
I learned using the English ABRSM Music Theory in Practice set of workbooks in conjunction with the AB Guide mentioned by Andrew Fryer, all by Eric Taylor. It is all excellent, and I had a good theory teacher helping me. Good luck! Knowing theory is helpful to good musicianship (and crucial to jazz musicians) and interesting in its own right.
For jazz, you can spend a lot of money, but I have a book called Jazzology which I selected on price, and I selected well. It's good, but I found that once I had read half of it, that was enough for my needs.
"...borderline masochism..." - ditto. Like studying organic chemistry or differential equations for fun. Another approach to the project would be; start with guitar and learn the chords. Then graduate to keyboard using a jazz harmony book. The conventional functional theory texts place a lot of emphasis on the bass note, the inversions, which is complicated.
Organic chemistry for fun ... hey ... I resemble that remark. LOL
Take it from one who has studied organic chemistry: It is fun--once you have studied it and get to practice it--just like music theory.
What Scott said!!!
I dont share the view of music theory books being so arduous. In fact I would very much recommend a beginner in music to start with one. And the reasons for that are:
Tragically, I was interested in continuous maths, not discrete. So I was interested in differential equations. Foolish. No point in learning a problem-solving technique if you don't have a problem to solve with it. Physics might have made more sense. Social sciences would have made far more sense!
All the piano students I know get theory from their teachers, and in the music school where my daughter has lessons (violin), the piano students (NOT the string players!) are required to have music theory classes after they reach a certain age/level. One could argue that theory, harmony, counterpoint, etc. are all more important for a pianist than they are for a violinist, but the argument is superficial and wrong-headed in the long run. Undeniably theory is easier to teach on the piano because you can see your intervals, scales, and chords laid out in front of you. Great for the "visual learners" in us all.
The Idiot's Guide to Music Theory worked for me to relearn things about 20 years after I took Grade 5 theory. ;)
I did grade 5 theory in 1975-ish, but I found that it was easy enough to read Eric Taylor from cover to cover 5 years ago.
--Andrew, Paul, Albrecht--Oops, sorry to disparage your mastery of those hard sciences. Actually,I do remember that chemistry labs were fun. I hit a wall second year college and switched to music. What I did not appreciate at the time was 1) I was at a hard school-UCSD, 2) Everyone was having trouble, and 3) you don't need A grades and graduate degrees to find employment in science and technology. JQ- (retired bio-med. lab. tech.)
Not at all - I'm happy to admit that studying maths was a massive blunder. If only I could go back in time, and learn violin younger too!
Joel, 99.9% of scientists "hit a wall" eventually, myself included. I've hit several walls, actually, but always managed to scramble around and find happiness in some other direction, sometimes by just getting lucky at the right moment. I definitely agree with you that people don't need graduate degrees to have good careers in science. As for UCSD being a hard school and everyone having trouble, those are issues we could talk about endlessly. We have anonymous teaching evaluations (like almost all American schools), so I hear these kinds of comments all the time.
I am thoroughly annoyed with many of the answers I have seen posted here. What I have read I guess is the output of people who have not succeeded in applying their study of music theory.
I might make a new threadbfor this, but I need a textbook for advanced music theory, and also music dictation. Any suggestions?