music theory & history onlineintroduction
Dr. Brian Blood

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According to the thinkers of the East, there are five different intoxications: of beauty, youth and strength; then the intoxication of wealth; the third is power, command, the power of ruling; and there is the fourth intoxication, which is the intoxication of learning, of knowledge. But all these four intoxications fade away just like stars before the sun in the presence of the intoxication of music. The reason is that it touches that deepest part of man's being. Music reaches farther than any other impression from the external world can reach. And the beauty of music is that it is both the source of creation and the means of absorbing it. In other words, by music was the world created, and by music it is withdrawn again into the source which has created it.
Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927) Founder of the Sufi Order in the West

Welcome to our Music Theory Resource :: top

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Welcome to our award-winning resource!

Merlot Classic Award 2007

For more details about the special award, please click here.

This resource is also mentioned in Music Theory for Dummies and in an article by Tom Service entitled How Dolmetsch breathed new life into the recorder.

Music Theory :: top

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music theory

Music Theory

  • If you need blank manuscript paper download free music paper.
  • Don't forget our comprehensive music dictionary online.
  • If you need a metronome go to the smallest, most versatile metronome software available, and it's free. (Thanks to Mike Auman for correcting the link)
  • Go to our music theory contents page: music theory contents page.
  • Go to our music theory index page: music theory index page.

    The theory of music is a description of the way we think about, or believe we should think about, music and about its notation, structure and performance. You do not need to know anything about music theory to enjoy listening to music but it is essential should you decide to take a more practical interest in the subject, for example, by learning to play a musical instrument, for, as Leonardo da Vinci, himself a fine performer on the lyra da braccio, said about painting, "You must not only believe what you see, you must also understand what you see". So it is with music: to listen properly we must understand what we hear.


    Of course music is more than just music theory. Some features of Western music are transmitted 'orally' from generation to generation. For example, what tone colours are acceptable on a particular musical instrument? No text book can tell you that!

    All music teachers have their own way of teaching theory. We present but one way of making the subject approachable and, we hope, useful. Those taking public examinations should refer to the published syllabus before relying solely on these lessons. We probably cover all the topics you need to know but, in some cases, we may not do so to the required depth, or, in others, we may take the topic much further than is strictly necessary to satisfy the requirements of your examination board.

    We make no apology for treating some topics at considerable length - these are topics we find particularly interesting or which we believe will enhance your enjoyment of music. For example, musical harmony is the essence of western music, but too few theory methods consider alternative harmonic languages and non-traditional musical forms. Yet, whether jazz or blues, modal or diatonic, there is always something within each tradition to arrest the perceptive ear and to stimulate the receptive mind.

    Some topics we have chosen not to cover ourselves. In these cases, we provide links to web sites that do consider these topics fully. By embedding these resources from the web, we believe the method becomes much richer. You may call upon the skills of thousands of professional teachers and musicians rather than just those of a single author.

    The music theory resource includes a comprehensive music dictionary to which we add on a daily basis. As a companion we are also, more slowly, building a dictionary of composers biographical information.

    In additional to our extensive introduction to music theory, we have prepared a series of essays on music history. We have highlighted topics that are easily isolated within a narrow time period and have offered introductory remarks that may help prepare those seeking deeper insight from more substantial published works. The history resource will be extended but even then it is not designed to give any sense of progress which, we believe, is an artifical way of looking at any history, and particularly the history of music. In this sense our philosophy is Darwinian - we see artists exploiting what they knew and what resources they had, in the search for new ways of saying what legions of composers had said before. Thus, to talk about romanticism as a distinctly late 18th- or 19th-century phenomenon leads us to overlook romantic elements that can be found in music of all periods.

    If you would like us to cover other topics, please send us an e-mail, and, where we can, we will add them. On some pages we have included contributions from teachers and musicians who have sent us interesting comments after the pages were first published. We always included this material where it can add value to the pages and, with permission, we give the name and contact details for each contributor. Of course, where we have erred, please tell us and we will correct or clarify the material.

    We would like to thank the many thousands of people who have sent us e-mails telling us how useful these pages have been and also those who, by asking searching questions, have shown us ways to enrich this resource and so make it even more useful to all our readers.

  • Alernative Terms :: top

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    alternative terms

    Alternative Terms

    For a detailed list please visit British vs. American Musical Terms by Nina Gilbert.

    • Stave/Staff
      • In Britain, the word "staff" for the five lines on which music is written is considered old-fashioned and is hardly ever seen now, except in old books. In its place the British use the word "stave".
      • "Staff" is still used in some countries, including the USA, with "staves" as the plural.

    • Bar/Measure
      • A "measure" is now quite often used as the word for a bar of music; in the USA this is standard usage.
      • "Bar" then sometimes refers to the actual bar line, especially as in "double bar" for "double bar line".

    • Semibreve/Whole note etc.

      There are three completely different naming methods for the names of notes which govern their length. Two are used in English, and these are summarized below and also described in the page on note lengths:
      whole notesemibreve
      half noteminim
      quarter notecrotchet
      8th notequaver
      16th notesemiquaver
      32nd notedemisemiquaver
      64th notehemidemisemiquaver

      • English names and Italian names are based on original Latin names from the Middle Ages. American and German names are based upon the relative lengths of notes. French names are based on the appearance of the notes.

    • Note/Tone
      • In Britain, the word note can mean a written symbol as well as a sound. Americans separate these meanings and use the word "note" for a written note, and "tone" for the sound.
      • We do sometimes use this meaning for the word "tone", for example in the phrases "resultant tone" and "tone deaf".
      • "Tone" can also mean the quality of a sound, for example, its brightness or its dullness (as in the tone control on a tape player or radio).
      • In Britain, the word "tone" has an additional different and specific meaning (see Tone/Whole-step below).

    • Tone/Whole-step, Semitone/Half-step
      • In Britain, "a tone" (in musical usage) is defined as an interval of a major second. Americans refer to this as a "whole-step".
      • A semitone is half a tone, the interval of a minor second, one-twelfth of an octave, the smallest interval between two notes on a piano. Americans call this a "half-step".
      • A major scale consists of the intervals TTSTTTS where T=tone and S=semitone.
      • Confusingly, a scale made up of six intervals of major second (tones), as used by some 20th Century composers, is called a "whole-tone scale".

    • Do-re-me/Ut-re-me
      • See Tonic sol fa

    • B/H
      • In Germany our note B is called H, and our B flat is called B

    Copyright :: top

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    Dr. Brian Blood identifies himself as the author of the contents of Music Theory Online except for those elements where another author or group of authors has been clearly identified. If material from this site is downloaded to another computer or hard-copied in any way it should be remembered that copyright remains with the author(s).

    However, any user or group of users may make a single or multiple copies of extracts from this method or of the method as a whole, except that it must not be incorporated into any commercial product the effect of which would be to restrict its future availability as a free resource.

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    Dolmetsch Music Theory and History Online
    by Dr. Brian Blood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.