Understanding Basic Music Theory
first Edition

Understanding Basic Music Theory

by Catherine Schmidt-Jones

This book introduces the basic concepts and terms needed to discuss melody and harmony. It is intended for teens or adults with no background in music theory but some familiarity with reading common notation and playing an instrument (or singing). Concepts covered include interval, major and minor keys and scales, triads and chords in addition to a review of common notation and an introduction to the physics behind music theory, as well as the basic concepts of music theory and a few slightly advanced but very useful topics, such as transposition.

Catherine Schmidt-Jones graduated from Rice University in 1985, completing a BA in chemistry, a BA in music and a Master of Music in French horn performance.

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textbook content produced by Catherine Schmidt-Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 license.

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  • If you use this textbook as a bibliographic reference, then you should cite it as follows:

    Catherine Schmidt-Jones, Understanding Basic Music Theory. OpenStax CNX.  November 13, 2013. http://cnx.org/contents/2ad74b7b-a72f-42a9-a31b-7e75542e54bd@3.74.

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Printed version

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Introduction. Understanding Basic Music Theory
Introduction.1 - Course Introduction
Chapter One. Notation
1.1 - Pitch
1.2 - Time
1.3 - Style
Chapter Two. Definitions
2.1 - Rhythm
2.2 - Timbre
2.3 - Melody
2.4 - Texture
2.5 - Harmony
2.6 - Counterpoint
2.7 - Range
2.8 - Classifying Music
Chapter Three. The Physical Basis
3.1 - Acoustics for Music Theory
3.2 - Standing Waves and Musical Instruments
3.3 - Harmonic Series I: Timbre and Octaves
Chapter Four. Notes and Scales
4.1 - Octaves and the Major-Minor Tonal System
4.2 - Half Steps and Whole Steps
4.3 - Major Keys and Scales
4.4 - Minor Keys and Scales
4.5 - Interval
4.6 - Harmonic Series II: Harmonics, Intervals, and Instruments
4.7 - The Circle of Fifths
4.8 - Scales that aren't Major or Minor
Chapter Five. Harmony and Form
5.1 - Triads
5.2 - Naming Triads
5.3 - Consonance and Dissonance
5.4 - Beyond Triads: Naming Other Chords
5.5 - Beginning Harmonic Analysis
5.6 - Cadence
5.7 - Form
Chapter Six. Challenges
6.1 - Ear Training
6.2 - Tuning Systems
6.3 - Modes and Ragas
6.4 - Transposition: Changing Keys
Chapter Seven. Appendix A. Attributions