Learning music theory !

January 4, 2021, 1:46 PM · I am a beginner violinist and want to learn music theory. About harmonics, tuning types, chords, etc I don’t know much but basically what is taught at college. So which books can cover these topics about music in general and in depth ?

Replies (13)

Edited: January 4, 2021, 8:16 PM · The Violin Lab has a nice music theory/note reading course taught by Beth Blackerby. This is a standalone course that is separate from her ongoing violin lessons. It's a well spent $39 and you keep access to the materials - and any she adds to the course - in the future. It's a nice starting place, and I took it a couple years ago.


January 4, 2021, 8:48 PM · https://www.musictheory.net/lessons
January 5, 2021, 4:35 AM · @carmen this website is nice. Does it contain everything From A to Z that I need to become a good violinist.
I am currently doing the beths basic version. Will definitely check out in future. Thanks
January 5, 2021, 7:11 AM · Beth's "Notes and Theory" lesson is separate from her basic lesson - it's meant to be standalone - you don't even need to be on her subscription lessons to purchase this package (and I am not).
January 5, 2021, 9:46 AM · The later chapters of the website are perhaps overkill for someone who is mostly interested in PLAYING classical music that is already written.

But going through all of it will give you a perspective on how classical and pop music is constructed and the importance of practicing certain etudes focused on broken intervals and chord progressions.

If you have any urge to compose, or perhaps explore improvisation with other music genres, like folk or jazz, that website will give you a solid foundation.

January 8, 2021, 4:51 AM · From your initial message it was not quite clear to me what you know, and what you want to learn. I suspect that there may be a language barrier.

If you want to learn elementary music theory from a book there are many options. You can look at the syllabi of courses at universities, which list the textbooks they use. For example, the Eastman school of music used The Complete Musician by Laitz in their TH 101 course a few years back.

For decades Harmony by Walter Piston was the standard music theory text.

You may be more adventurous and would like a different text. Schoenberg wrote several texts on harmony. There are also older texts by c h Parry, and a multitude of others.

You may want an historical text. Rameau’s treatise in harmony is a place to start.

You mention harmonics and tuning types. You may wish to explore books on acoustics such as classics by Benade, or books on temperament.

Now you may not be interested in books at all. There are many online resources. Juilliard has an online introduction to music theory. There are also many websites, such as open music theory. Many of these resources are free.

Edited: January 8, 2021, 6:28 AM · I always go for cheap. Sometimes cheap is good. Eric Taylor The AB Guide to Music Theory is cheap and good.
January 8, 2021, 11:04 AM · Gordon's suggestion is pretty good. The book is aimed at sort of kids/teenagers, so it'll be easier to understand
January 8, 2021, 1:14 PM · I've tried reading Piston. It's impenetrable to the amateur. It may be a fine textbook to use in a course where you are being taught by a master of the subject. There are many books like that in my field (chemistry) that professors say are wonderful, and from which we learned certain subjects, but our own students loathe them.
January 9, 2021, 10:20 AM · I second what Gordon suggests. Adam Taylor's Pink and Blue theory books are fantastic, and I also like the workbooks that he has also written. With those resources you can learn and apply a lot of music theory.
January 9, 2021, 11:08 AM · Michael Berger (above) gave a sort of "spacecraft flyover" of resource types in the field of "music theory." But that is what the field is. What one gets in most beginning books purporting to explain music theory is the "language of Western Music," the "Circle of Fifths," etc.: how to read notes on a 5-line staff, key and time signatures and what it all means to a player. This will certainly get you into and through playing violin from written music. I know this is called "Music Theopry" but I think of it as "Western Music Rules."

Sometime later you may start to play in multi-part ensemble with other people and start to find that some notes that are "in tune" are "out of tune." What is happening? This is when you will need to look at books on Harmony and temperament as Michael Berger has suggested. As a physicist I think of this as the "Real Music Theory" because it relates to music of all cultures, not just those based on 12-tone scales.

I think that as an adult player (even as a beginner) it is good to be aware of both these aspects of "music theory." I was taught "Western Music Theory" for 2 years between ages 9 and 11 at MSM for an hour every Saturday morning. I think it helped me with my violin playing - at least later if not at the time. (Even then I knew it was "rules" not "theory.")

"Real Music Theory" comes into play for a violinist when you start to play chords and double-stops and find the challenges of different tuning systems, which can be the source of argument when trying to get a string quartet to sound "in tune" - or playing string instruments with a piano. Getting further - into the part that harmonics ("partials") play in optimizing vibrato actually gets pretty deeply into the physics and neurology of sound perception. I think this too should be part of "Music Theory."

January 9, 2021, 11:34 AM · Psychophysics and music cognition are now making their way into music theory departments. Previously you would take the courses in a science department.

As was noted above about piston being difficult to understand, topics such as fast fourier transforms etc would be incomprehensible to a beginner.

Edited: January 9, 2021, 2:26 PM · The word "theory" is used differently in science from everyday use. In everyday use "theory" is stuff you need to learn with your brain and "practice" is what you need to learn with your hands (or more generally with your body). "Music theory" in everyday use is very much the everyday kind of theory, everything from reading notes to harmony. It is the brain part of the tool kit musicians need to do their jobs. And this is doubtless what the OP had in mind.

I do not think we can change the established* terminology nor would it be worth doing even if there were a chance of success.

* you may think "incorrectly established" if you like.

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