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Hi, I am new to this community and I figured that I'd ask for some help here!

I have been learning to compose for about two months now using Reason 4. I have been classically trained for a number of years on the violin and piano. While I know enough theory to just.. play.. these two instruments, I find that I am lacking a lot in this department.

I am wondering whether someone here can post an outline of topics of Music Theory I should study in a particular order ranging from very basic material to the more advanced material. Perhaps someone even has a useful resource for learning this material.

Thanks for the help :D

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But Rozo, what if the OP wants to take after Arnold Schoenberg or the Second Vienesse? Then he can't use that advice at all! :P

(in that he specifically chose things that DIDN'T sound good, and that's why he's a genius)

I've only taken a year of Music Theory, but I basically know a lot more from supplementary reading as well as studying actual pieces of music as I've played them: what they're doing, what they are trying to do, and how they are doing it, so to speak.

As DS mentioned, read up on chords (and chord inversions), time signatures, key signatures, and differing intervals.

Specifically, I suppose:

Intervals: the difference between minor and major intervals

Key Sigs: the right type of notation for key sigs, as well as the different forms of the minor key (melodic, harmonic, etc); also, the different modal forms (Aeolian, Dorian, etc)

Scales: What the different scales are (applying also to the Key Sigs lesson), and on top of that, the names of each of the notes in the scale (dominant, tonic, sub-dominant, mediant, etc etc...)

Chords: applying the lessons from intervals, learn what the different chords are, mainly, augmented, diminished, minor, major... THEN you learn their inversions, and the numbered symbols for their inversions (like 6, 6/4, etc)

Chords p2: then go on to sevenths, and their inversions. As well, the shorthand symbolizations for said sevenths (7, 4/3, etc)

Scales n' Chords: THEN you go back to what you learned in the Scales AND Chords lessons, and combine them. Each note in a scale has a roman numeral. Capital if the CHORD it makes on that scale is major (the C-chord in a C-major scale would be I), and lowercase if it is minor (a D-chord in C-major is ii). This is important because it allows you to identify ANY chord in the entire haberdashery of staff music.

Scales and Chords p2: THEN you start to put it all together with the symbolization stuff along with the inversions

For example, when someone asks you (just go along with this) what chord in D-major has the symbol of IV7, you'll be able to break it down

IV= the fourth note of the D scale, or G

7= the root position of the 7th chord

G B D F#

which in turn is a MM7 chord

And that's about as far as basic theory takes you (you can get into counterpoint, but that's a whole other field that requires serious discipline)...

Will you use most of this in your own musical compositions? Ehhhhh, probably not, lol. Is it a nice thing to have just for reference? I'd say definitely, though it's obviously not a prerequisite to writing good music (Schoenberg, Edgard Varese, and many others were not the most musically-minded of people).

What theory did most usefully for me was expose me to modal music, as well as the ideas of Just Intonation (advanced stuff), to help me with the actual playing of music like jazz (which is often made up in a large part of those chord symbolizations like IVaug7 and what-have-you), and strengthen my ideas on what good harmony is and is not (though I disagreed with my professor on a few points, mainly his disparagement of fifths, which I love).

So yeah, check out musictheory.net with these little lesson ideas in mind. Or, if someone has a more effective method, please share, since i don't mind being exposed to a better way.

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Not to be a dick or anything, but saying that Schoenberg wasn't musically minded isn't exactly accurate. He was really skilled when it came to music theory and its applications (I think he taught it?), and the main reason why he was able to create a system that deconstructed tonality was because he knew so much about theory in the first place. He didn't just write music that "didn't sound good," he wrote music that explicitly twisted the rules that had been in use for a few hundred years. Without a thorough understanding of theory, he couldn't have done all that.

But the basic idea of learning from the ground up - going from intervals to scales, then to chords, then to bigger harmony in general - seems to be a pretty good approach, and that's how most music theory courses are taught, I think. You might already know about some of this stuff, like intervals and scales, from playing your instruments, so you might only have to review some of it. Learning about chords, keys, and the relationships involved with all of that has helped me a lot in writing music, and even a basic knowledge of that kind of theory can be really helpful.

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I'm in the process of putting together a basic music theory guide with emphasis on composition for the Guides & Tutorials subforum, although it will probably be a while before it's in a readable state. I think it would be nice to have something on the site that could be modified in response to questions, and I may have to teach music theory in the future, so the guide would give me a way to develop my ideas from a teaching perspective. Is this a project that people are interested in? (i.e. Bug me to continue with it if you're interested.)

Here's a rough draft of the introduction:


What is music theory and why study it?

Broadly speaking, one of two things is usually meant by “music theory.”

  1. In its primary use, the term refers to the discernment of principles of structure in music. Knowledge of these principles of structure allows us to hear sonic relationships within or between pieces of music and sometimes to predict what events may occur in a piece before they actually happen. (Note that this is about listening to music and not about composing.)
  2. Used more loosely, the term may also include pedagogical prescriptions intended to teach composition or improvisation.

As manifested in the first definition, music theory is concerned with analysis of music, the process of abstracting discrete elements from music and describing how these elements relate to one another. Analysis may be carried out by following a set procedure (such as labeling chords with Roman numerals), or it may be done in a more ad hoc fashion.

The second definition applies these elemental relationships to the act of composition rather than to that of listening. The goal of this application is to teach composers the effects of various types of musical relationships. Typically, this type of instruction teaches a relatively narrow collection of idioms that constitutes a particular style of music. If you take an undergraduate music theory course, for example, you will be taught the idioms of 18th- and 19th-century classical music. If you study with a speed metal drummer, you'll learn a different set of idioms.

It is unfortunate that these idioms are typically referred to as rules, because this reference implies a moral obligation on the composer's part. A lot of beginning composers seem to be morbidly preoccupied with whether or not their music makes sense under some particular theory of music (I was, at least). Remember, though: things that may be frowned upon under one system may be an integral part of another. Classical theory, for example, prohibits parallel fifths because they give too much unity to what should be two separate musical lines. The distinct sound of power chords, however, comes from parallel fifths. One more example: a curious aspect of set theory, which is often used to analyze atonal music (more on this later), is that it views major and minor chords --- the building blocks of tonal music --- as essentially the same type of harmony. And so forth. My point is this: if your music makes sense under a given set of rules, there will always be other sets of rules under which it is incoherent.

If that's the case, why would a composer bother with rules at all? It's because theoretical rules provide simple ways to achieve particular musical goals. If you want independent lines, don't write parallel fifths. If you want the sound of power chords (even in, say, a string quartet), then do write parallel fifths. If you have no idea what your goal is, however, rules will be of little use to you. Slavishly following the cookbook without even knowing what you're making is not a good way to cook, and slavishly following a set of rules without thinking about what sort of music these rules will produce is not a good way to write music.

When some beginners complain that studying music theory has restrained their creativity, it is because they have replaced experimentation with rules that may not even produce a result they actually want. Experimentation, which is not necessarily goal-oriented, often produces wonderful and unexpected results. Inexpertly and unthinkingly applied rules, however, produce mediocre music with nothing wonderful in it. The former will sometimes sound good; the latter, rarely. It's no wonder some people claim that they're better off without music theory.

To summarize: your overarching vision for the music you write should determine what, if any, rules you follow. Your vision should not be determined by an arbitrary set of rules.

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Well I suppose I didn't get my thoughts out very well.

Of course Schoenberg was musically minded; I know very well about the processes and theories he used to compose some of his amazing music. I see him as something as an ultimate academic: he knew all of the rules so well he was able to break as many as he wanted and still get away with it. Compare with say one of his students, John Cage, who had an adequate if not tenuous grasp of the 'rules' but just didn't give one damn about them so he did his own thing (and thus started his OWN school).

I use "musically minded" when comparing Schoenberg with someone like say, Mozart, who seemed to just fart out symphonies and concertoes effortlessly, whilst Schoenberg's music, you can see a real struggle sometimes not only to drop off the old systems of tonality (looking at the underlying structure of his Piano concerto Op. 42), but to write competently for instruments he never played (his early piano music is... not that well-written... playable, but Berg was able to perfect atonal writing for piano in my opinion).

I say musically minded when someone just seems to live and breathe music and it comes out naturally. For S. and Varese, they were multi-talented men, but music certainly did not come effortlessly for them (I can't imagine Varese sitting in his apartment, planning out

out in his head, at least extensively).

That struggle is why I like S. and V. a lot more over folks like Mozart (whom I've kinda grown to dislike in favor for Beethoven and Bach myself... Mozart just sounds fake to me).

But yeah, what you said in your post (all of it) is essentially correct.

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I would like to thank everyone for the input so far! It has been very helpful and I will be following the advice you guys have given :)

Is this a project that people are interested in? (i.e. Bug me to continue with it if you're interested.)

And I'm certainly interested!

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Guest erhein35

Hello. I'm also new to this community. I don't have enough idea or knowledge to share a useful suggestions but you can find lots of music theory in the net or visit to other forums.

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