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Learning Music Theory

Music theory is the language of music. It defines the foundational aspects of music and provides a system for musicians to communicate with one another. Learning music theory is an essential part of your development as you progress to becoming a music expert.

Whether writing a song with another musician, playing with an orchestra, or just jamming with friends, you have to know how to “talk” to one another about what you’re playing. And that’s where music theory comes in.

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If you are wondering about how to start learning music theory, think of it as learning a new language. First learn the alphabet so that you can form words by putting letters together. Next, learn to put words together to form sentences, and sentences together to form a composition.

Your first steps in getting acquainted with music theory are to learn the rudiments:

  • Notes
  • Scales
  • Chords
  • Keys
  • Notation

Start with the basics

Music theory is really a set of guidelines that will help you to better understand how music works as well as understanding what sounds good vs what sounds bad. Learning music theory basics starts with learning the musical alphabet or notes -- A,B,C,D,E,F,G -- and understanding how they’re represented on a page. This is called music notation, and it helps you to connect the dots between what you hear and what you play.

Music is made up of intervals: the distance between notes. Melodic intervals are when you play one note followed by another; musical scales are a sequence of whole or half intervals. They are a set of tones upon which you can build melodies and harmonies.

Chords are groupings of notes that are played at the same time. Chords are harmonic intervals that, when played together, produce one sound. These sounds give structure, organization, and shape to a song. An ordered series of chords is called a “chord progression,” the foundation of harmony in Western music and music in the classical tradition.

Music is generally played in a particular tonality or key which is represented by the key signature. The key signature tells you which notes a song will be using and what notes are sharp or flat; it helps you identify the “tonal center” of the song.

Put your knowledge to work

Learning the basics of music theory is an important part of the foundation for any individuals who want to master playing an instrument, especially for those who want to become performers.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to tackle advanced music theory, such as diatonic chords, minor scales, arpeggios, modes, and transposing chords. The more versed you are in music theory, the more creative you can become with music. The next step, reading music, will open up a whole new world of musical genres to you.

Johnson Stringed Instrument offers a wide selection of sheet music books for stringed instruments in our online store.

Additional Resources

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