An ancient art
Music theory is a complex and ancient study that has remained relevant for thousands of years. In the most basic sense, it explains the building blocks that are combined to create music, from notes and timbre to scales, key signatures, and musical modes.
If you’re brand new to music theory and you go looking online for one big breakdown of all that you’ll need to know, you’ll probably either get an oversimplification or something so complicated that it will feel like drinking from the firehose.
We’re going to look at some of the best ways to learn music theory, and we’ve tried to account for several different situations. You might be able to afford an accredited course or you might only have a few spare hours each weekend during which to study.
We encourage you to consider each of these options as you embark on a journey to a new understanding of music and composition.
Enroll in an in-person music theory course
If you have plenty of time and money and you’re planning to make music your career in some form, then the best possible advice is to take official courses on music theory with a college or university.
If possible, aim for an in-person course. There’s something incredibly beneficial about being in the classroom with an engaging professor that will force you to focus on the material that’s being covered.
Not only will the course cover quite a bit of ground in different music theory topics, but that information will also be communicated to you in a helpful arc. You won’t be learning about the lydian mode on day one.
You will most likely start out with the basics of scales and music notation, then work slowly toward more complex subject matter.
For as much as quizzes and tests can be annoying to students of any age, they can also be incredibly useful when it comes to retaining crucial information and committing it to long-term memory.
A talented professor can also offer a range of immediate applications for specific pieces of knowledge and demonstrate concepts in entertaining and evocative ways.
You’ll also have the benefit of sharing in the educational experience with many other students who can help you study and stay dedicated to the course material.
You may even make some long-term friends, which, as a professional musician or composer, can be extremely valuable, especially when you want to collaborate on a new project or look around for a gig.
Best of all, once you’ve finished your first music theory course, you will have the option to continue to study music theory, as well as other aspects of music and music history, in other, more advanced courses.
These can help enrich your musical knowledge even further and open up new possibilities for your own work.
Subscribe to an online learning resource
There’s a subscription service for just about everything these days, whether you’re looking for shaving razors, meal kits, or handpicked outfits.
In fact, there are now a number of subscription-based services that offer full-fledged instructional courses to their users on a wide variety of different subjects.
One of the most well-known educational subscription services is SkillShare, which has executed some aggressive marketing efforts via online content creators.
The site offers a huge range of courses, and, more relevant to this discussion, they have many courses on music theory, from basic music theory to more specific music theory applications for music producers and composers.
So what are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of using a paid online learning resource to study music theory?
The most significant advantages may be obvious, but they’re certainly worth mentioning here. Flexibility is no doubt the biggest of them all. Being able to pause a course at any time and come back to it when you want is very valuable, especially if you need to balance your studies with a full-time job and other obligations. You just won’t get those kinds of options from a traditional college course.
Another advantage of this method is affordability. Online learning subscription services tend to be quite affordable, and even the more pricey options will definitely cost less than a college course, even a remote college course.
On the negative side, however, you should consider your own ability to focus on a course when you’re not in a physical classroom.
Some people have difficulty paying attention to a video on their computer for extended periods of time. Others have a hard time staying disciplined enough to stay on top of their studies on a consistent basis.
If you feel that you would have trouble committing to an online course when there’s no one keeping track of your ‘attendance,’ then an online learning subscription service might not be the best option for you.
Utilize supplementary free online resources
If your budget for learning music theory is exactly $0, or if you just want to learn the absolute basics of music theory, then free online resources are probably going to be your best bet.
Thankfully, there are plenty of these floating around online, and many of them are actually quite helpful, especially for newcomers.
If you feel that a specific topic mentioned requires further study or focused attention, then you can perform a Google search for that specific topic and read up on it in more detail.
Of course, the biggest advantage of using free online resources to learn more about music theory is that you won’t need to spend any money at all, other than the basic costs of your internet plan.
This method also includes the convenience of accessing the information whenever you’d like. These resources are going to stick around, and there are new ones being added just about every week.
The biggest disadvantage is that you’re probably not going to get very in-depth information from any of these resources, and that’s by design. Not only is music theory quite complicated, but anyone with advanced knowledge of music theory also knows that it’s not worth it to give that information away for free.
Still, when it comes to dipping your toes into music theory, there aren’t many better ways to get started than just looking around online and acquainting yourself with the absolute basics.