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.
We are working to complete our topic-centered history of music. In the meantime, the video below might amuse.
If you would like us to include 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 main pages were published. We always included them where they add value to the pages and, with permission, we try to give the name and contact details for each contributor. Of course, where we have erred please tell us so that we can correct 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 clarify and extend this guide and to make it even more useful to all our readers. Of course, we also thank our contributors.
Alternative Terms in Different Countries
For a detailed list please visit British vs. American Musical Terms by Nina Gilbert.
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 anyway 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.