Music Theory: Understanding the Basics

The principle of music theory seems like a complex subject to those unfamiliar with the study. Music theory exists to help us understand how we make music and unpacks and explains musical instruments, vocabulary, and music history. At the core of music theory is understanding musical notation.

A musician who has a strong grasp of music theory is like a writer who has a strong grasp of grammar. It’s completely possible to be an excellent musician and still have little understanding of music theory, but having an educational foundation in music is extremely helpful to students who want to broaden their artistic landscape. Instead of hampering freedom and creativity, it introduces musicians to alternative ideas, making their playing and compositions richer and more cohesive. A writer who understands grammar and syntax can still use slang and incorrect sentence structure in order to illustrate an artistic concept. So too can a musician express soulful, intuitive phrasing, while having the framework to create a dynamic, fluid piece.

At Musicians Institute Online, we offer online music theory classes designed for anyone — novices and enthusiasts alike — who want to explore or revisit the concept of musicianship. Here are some of the skills, ideas, and disciplines that make up a comprehensive study of music theory.

  • Musical notation, symbology, and alphabet: The study of musical notation is extremely helpful to students who want to have the framework for learning new compositions, styles, and musical languages. The ability to read and transcribe music can give musicians an insight into how composers, in eras that predate audio recordings, intended their music to be played and heard.
  • Major scale construction: This section addresses the most widely used scale system in western music – the whole steps and half steps that provide the foundation of the major scale.
  • Scale patterns and key signatures: An introduction to the natural, harmonic, melodic, and pentatonic scales, as well as strategies and tips to identify the key signatures in any piece of music.
  • Chords and triads: This section explains the distinction between triads and chords, and helps students navigate the difficulties of identifying the types of chords and triads within even complex pieces of music.

MI Online is offering a 10-week online course in harmony and music theory, designed for students at all levels. This comprehensive course allows you to explore the fundamentals of music notation using our engaging and immersive learner management system, consisting of video tutorials and lessons, live, interactive lectures, and much more.

To try free lessons from our online music theory classes, please visit our Harmony & Theory course page and Ear Training course page.

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