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Almost anyone can learn music theory.
It may seem daunting to some but in the end, it’s not as hard as you may think.
In fact, learning music theory is fun and incredibly useful because once you can talk the language of music, you can start to create incredible music of your own.
So, with that in mind, we’ve got a guide to learning music theory in the most effective way possible.
Music theory is an extremely broad area of music that is concerned with the building blocks of music and also how certain sonic phenomena influence and relate to music (and yes, this includes silence)
For the beginner, you will find it’s the rudimentary education that you need to master reading sheet music, understanding chord progressions, time signatures, notation, notes, scales, tensions, and other elements of music such as harmony, rhythm, and counterpoints.
And the best way to master music theory is to try and keep things simple, focus on the fundamentals and get them right. Then, later on, you can take learning theory to the next level and learn more complex ideas.
A lot depends on how you approach mastering music theory. Assuming that you can keep to the basics, then a beginner ought to be able to learn enough theory in around six months to be able to make use of it in their own music.
At college, they will include more advanced theory topics too and you’ll find that it takes about two years to bottom out most of the major topics in this area. This is the period of study often termed “core music studies”.
It definitely helps to have an instrument on hand when learning theory and that should be obvious. You can easily learn the difference between a major scale and a minor scale, for example, when you can play out the major scale and then quickly play out major and minor back to back to hear the differences.
The same is true for mastering ideas like key signatures.
However, you can learn theory without access to an instrument to make music on, just be aware that learning theory by itself makes it much harder to apply in practice.
It’s also worth noting that you can make music without ever learning what a chord or key is, a child makes music by picking up an instrument and seeking feedback. This enables them to hone their technique without ever bothering with notes, chords, keys, etc.
We’ve got a list of great online courses that can help you start learning theory and put it to work in making music.
If you want to build your own syllabus, however, you need to know:
And as we’ve just touched on, this is going to be easy if you’re playing your own musical instrument while you learn.
You should make an effort to memorize the notation relevant to each thing you learn too. This is akin to learning to write in a new language after learning the spoken form of the words and it’s a best practice.
A lot depends on the kind of student that you already are. If you love to learn and are happy to set up at home with a guitar or piano and start making your own songs as you learn and can motivate yourself? Then learning music theory won’t be so hard.
If, on the other hand, you’re not quite as committed, it can help to get some support when learning. This might involve asking a friend with some musical skill to drill the basics into you or seeking out a professional teacher to structure your learning.
One thing that may, surprisingly, help you learn music is some gift for mathematical learning.
Music has some basis in numbers but don’t worry if you’re not that way inclined, we know many musicians who can barely use a calculator too.
Top musicians try to put the basics into action as soon as possible and with every note you play as you master the theory, the easier it will be to retain the knowledge in the long term.
One final thing, while learning music theory is absolutely beneficial to becoming a better musician, you don’t need to start with it.
It’s OK to learn the basics of guitar, for example, before you embark on improving your theory knowledge.
But in the long run, your songs will benefit from an understanding of key concepts such as intervals and rhythm and being able to put them into practice.
There comes a time when you want to start using the plan laid out above to master theory for yourself.