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Thread: Learning Music Theory... without a Class...

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    Senior Member mstar's Avatar
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    Default Learning Music Theory... without a Class...

    Wow, I haven't been on TC for a while.

    Anyway, does anyone happen to know an effective way to learn music theory if a music theory class isn't available? Is a book my best shot or are there online courses... any recommendations?

    (I'm familiar with a lot of classical music and have played piano for 9 years, so I have a substantial understanding of music and definitely know basic music theory.)

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    Junior Member Symphonical's Avatar
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    Absolutely. Try https://www.teoria.com/ and for more college-level theory try http://openmusictheory.com/contents.html Hope they help!
    "I can't live one day without hearing music, playing it, studying it, or thinking about it." - Leonard Bernstein

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    A book with exercises and lots of written information. I made the mistake when I was younger of teaching myself from books with very little information and many dry, calculating exercises. It was theory removed from the repertoire. I prefer to see examples from the (classical and jazz) repertoire to explain how music works.


    You might be different and prefer the dry ans calculating exercises as things separate from the repertoire though, but really I find that there's little to be gained from working entirely in abstraction.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mstar View Post
    Wow, I haven't been on TC for a while.

    Anyway, does anyone happen to know an effective way to learn music theory if a music theory class isn't available? Is a book my best shot or are there online courses... any recommendations?

    (I'm familiar with a lot of classical music and have played piano for 9 years, so I have a substantial understanding of music and definitely know basic music theory.)
    If you know basic music theory, I'm not sure what more it is you want to learn. By the fourth semester of my music theory experience, all we did was see how fast we could analyze Beethoven sonatas. It got pretty boring. No piano, no sound, just looking at music on a page and seeing what triads it spelled.

    I suggest collecting theory textbooks. I learned a lot from jazz theory (Dan Haerle's book), and have Schoenberg's Harmonilehre, Piston's Harmony and Counterpoint books, etc. Every text is different; you can learn something from all of them. One old text had an excellent chart on rhythms, and it is the best explanation of compound rhythms, etc., that I've ever seen.

    Then you can delve into twentieth century theory, if you're brave enough. Some texts are good overviews; others have specific concentrations in certain areas that are useful. It's always good to read three or four different explanations of the same material, and you can really get a good 'grok' on the knowledge. On e book, recently, on set theory, illuminated my understanding of this, by pointing out that 'normal order' sets are generalizations of sets. This was a 'eureka' moment for me, as I'd never thought of it that way before.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
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    Caldwell and Sachter's Harmony and Voiceleading is a excellent starting point for learning music theory. I wouldn't go for Piston, his method is very much outdated (doesn't he still label a cadential 6/4 as a I chord like Rameau???). I certainly wouldn't go for the Schoenberg, it is a strange text that takes a very particular view on harmony which I do not think is particularly useful any more. If you want a view of form, William Caplin's Classical Form is a pretty exemplary text.

    As for 20th Century theory: Joseph Straus's Introduction to Post Tonal Theory is the best text I have come across. It is hard work but very rewarding and clear.

    These are all expensive books but well worth your time. It is what professional music theorists often draw from. Each has an absolute wealth of musical insight to give.

    Good luck!

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    I will always hold Piston's Harmony and Schoenberg's Harmonilehre close to my heart, because they both justified my hearing of the basic B vii dim as an incomplete G dom V. This also justified my assertion that dim 7ths (B-D-F-Ab) can be re-interpreted by placing a different root (G) below them, which a theory teacher argued with me that it was an invalid idea (I was into jazz at the time). These are your basic flat-9 dominants, used by Bach and Beethoven as well.

    The resolving of the B "vii dim" also reiforces this: it is resolved as if it were a G (V-I).
    Last edited by millionrainbows; May-27-2015 at 18:04.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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