Understanding Basic Music Theory
Pub Date: 2013
Publisher: OpenStax CNX
Conditions of Use
In some ways, this book is very comprehensive – maybe too comprehensive (do we really need 4000 words on tuning systems in an introductory text?). read more
In some ways, this book is very comprehensive – maybe too comprehensive (do we really need 4000 words on tuning systems in an introductory text?). But it does cover all of the topics you could expect to get through in an introductory theory class. In other ways, it’s missing some vital components. So much of introductory music theory is about mastering skills like reading music and building scales and chords. There are some exercises in this book, but there is no attempt at bridging the gap between the concepts being discussed and their practical application.
I found to book to be accurate throughout.
The core content of the book (such as notation, scales, and chords) is well-traveled ground. 80% of the material is identical to what a music student would have learned a century ago, and unless the priorities of music theory pedagogy change radically, it will be relevant for the foreseeable future. What feels out of date to some degree is the nature of the project – a closed-source, PDF/HTML-based textbook. We live in an era where someone in a video will take you by the hand and show you how to voice an C7b9 chord, the best way to finger a Bach cello suite, or how to create the nastiest bass drop in your dubstep remix. There’s no way a single authored textbook could compete with resources that vast and accessible. Perhaps the answer is a text that is open source, allowing many users to edit and contribute to the text?
This book is clear enough if you’ve already mastered the subject and just need a reference. If you don’t have a background in music theory, this book will be a dry and potentially confusing read. It’s difficult to write clear and engaging prose about music theory. The best music theory writing emerges organically from a question or observation about a piece of music. Music must be at the center of any effective music theory discussion. This book takes the opposite approach, introducing many topics abstractly without any reference to an actual piece of music. Take for example its discussion of the triad: -------------------- 5.1 Triads Harmony (Section 2.5) in Western music (Section 2.8) is based on triads. Triads are simple three note chords (Chords) built of thirds (pg 137). [Fig 5.1 is here in the original] The chords in Figure 5.1 are written in root position, which is the most basic way to write a triad. In root position, the root, which is the note that names the chord, is the lowest note. The third of the chord is written a third (Figure 4.26) higher than the root, and the fifth of the chord is written a fifth (Figure 4.26) higher than the root (which is also a third higher than the third of the chord). So the simplest way to write a triad is as a stack of thirds, in root position. -------------------- This is all technically correct, but it’s not very helpful to the student who knows nothing about triads. And it’s dull. Learning how to build and play triads should be one of the great “aha” moments for a student in music theory. They’re so simple, yet so powerful and versatile. When you understand the triad, a whole world of harmony opens up to you. A student may be able to decode (with some difficulty) the book’s instructions for building a triad, but they’ll have no sense of why the triad matters (here’s a place where examples of actual music could be helpful). We generally don’t expect that an introductory music theory text will be a compelling book. But we really should (and this is a criticism I’d level against many commercially produced textbooks too). Some of our students are artists. Some of our students are civilians who are starting a potentially life- long engagement with the arts. If teaching music theory is important, we must get in the habit of writing our textbooks with clarity and passion.
The ideas and terminology seemed consistent from section to section.
It is as modular as an Intro to Theory text could be (although it’s not clear to me why modularity would be desirable in this case). When the book references material from other sections, it clearly points students in the direction of that material.
The organization of the topics made sense. The chapter on acoustics, while informative, seemed to disrupt the flow of the rest of the book a bit (although one could skip that chapter without any problem).
The book’s interface is a real problem on several levels. The book’s layout (at least the PDF version) is reminiscent of a journal article. The text is formatted in a clear but small font and densely packed with very little whitespace (we’re working in a virtual medium – please use all the whitespace you need!). Diagrams and musical examples are referenced (such as “Fig. 4.2.1”) rather that incorporated directly in the layout of the text. There are copious footnotes and headings are numbered four levels deep (“22.214.171.124 Pythagorean Intonation”). All of this works to make entry-level music theory look as inviting as the instructions on your tax return. There are plenty of references to supplementary material, but those references are buried in footnotes that contain inactive web links (meaning you can’t just click on them, you need to copy the link and paste it in your web browser). And many of the links are broken. The diagrams are unappealing and poorly laid out, making it difficult to understand the concepts they are trying to communicate (for example, the circle of fifths chart in Fig. 4.44). The book is set mostly in black and white, but every once in a while parts of the text in figures will be arbitrarily printed in red or blue (see Figure 1.74). The most troubling element is that the musical examples themselves look amateurish. Music notation software capable of creating professional-looking music layouts has been widely accessible for decades. Some of the problems I have are quibbles (like the out-of –proportion bass clef in Fig. 1.1), but some are inexcusable (like the incorrect stemming of the bass clef line in Fig. 1.10), and some are just bizarre (like Fig. 4.9 where an un-metered musical example is given the time signature 8/4). But in an introductory theory class where learning to clearly and correctly notate music is a priority, sloppy musical examples are inexcusable. Design may seem like a trivial thing to criticize in a textbook, poor layout and design can be a major impediment to effectively communicating a book’s ideas.
I didn’t find any problems with the grammar of this book.
There is very little actual music in this text, and as a result the book has almost entirely removed music theory from its cultural context. It equally ignores the actual music of most eras and cultures. There’s no Mozart, no Bach, no Gershwin, and no Stevie Wonder. It does deal with some theory topics outside of the realm of classical music, such as the blues scale. But there isn’t a single lick by Robert Johnson or Thelonious Monk to be found. In the places the book does use actual music, the choices lean in the public-domain folk direction (for instance, transposition is introduced via the sea-shanty “The Saucy Sailor”). I realize the nature of this project might limit it to public domain music, but that still includes a vast amount of repertoire. Also, there is some room under fair use for some use of copyrighted material (and maybe the Open Library Textbook project could guide authors on how to use that right to its fullest extent).
I’ve been critical of this text, but I’d like to acknowledge the enormous amount of work that Catherine Schmidt-Jones has put in to creating this book. Her task was not only to write a theory text from scratch, but also to make the case that an open textbook could be a viable alternative to commercially produced textbooks. This is a necessary and important first step. I’m grateful that she took it and I’m rooting for its ultimate success.
Overall, the text is a comprehensive approach to the fundamentals of music theory, with particular focus on the standards and conventions of music read more
Overall, the text is a comprehensive approach to the fundamentals of music theory, with particular focus on the standards and conventions of music notation. There is a detailed index but no glossary. The addition of a glossary could be helpful, especially with regard to terminology that is often mixed-up or easily confused by students beginning to read music - "meter" vs. "time signature", for example. This is described in a note in the body of the text, but appearing in a glossary would make for a quicker, more straightforward delineation between the two concepts.
The content, in general, is accurate and unbiased. Some of the notational symbols are a bit of out the ordinary - the double-flat, for instance - is graphically not quite what one would see in printed music (the flat signs "smushed" together or overlapping). This may be a result of the unique notation program being used to render the musical examples. The inclusion of a more systematized approach to counting rhythms (rather than 1-&, 2&) would not only be more helpful but certainly appropriate to the learning abilities of the student for whom this text is intended.
Content is relevant and will not be obsolete, other than perhaps occasional references to specific technologies.
The tone of the text is straightforward and accessible. Concepts are expressed simply and directly. Longer sections/bodies of text (especially in later chapters pertaining to form) could be clarified by including more musical examples.
The text maintains a conscious, consistent use of terminology.
This is perhaps this text's greatest strength - the sectionalization and numbering of each concept. There is occasional self-reference, but entirely to the benefit of the reader in developing upon concepts and ideas. The text is very easily navigable and assigning discrete units to correspond with distinct sections of an assignment or course outline would be very easy for any instructor to manage.
Overall, the organization of the topics in this text is good. Perhaps the early, detailed introduction to acoustics (Ch. 3) would be better suited with the later discussion of those concepts within the context of hearing (ear-training), would form a more cohesive organization of that concept.
The interface of the text seems clear and easy to navigate. It took me a while to realized the linked content in footnotes was occasionally supplemental material and not just online access to the print material of the text - this could be made more explicit in the front matter of the book.
The grammar is accurate. Occasionally the tone of the text suggests a certain uncertainty (using colloquial terms like "pretty much", "tends to", etc.)
Although there are not many examples of notated musical works cited in the text (for reasons of copyright, presumably), there are mentions of musical examples from a diverse variety of cultural backgrounds.
The title and introduction's stated objective ("to explore basic music theory so thoroughly that the interested student will then be able to easily read more
The title and introduction's stated objective ("to explore basic music theory so thoroughly that the interested student will then be able to easily pick up whatever further theory is wanted") are vague enough that the question of comprehensiveness becomes difficult. There is in the book a comprehensive discussion of musical mechanics and notation, in some cases more than a "basic" course would require (specifically discussions of orchestration, acoustics, and temperament). However, these tangential topics are far from comprehensive themselves. Also, it is difficult to place this in a college music theory curriculum; it's too advanced at times to fit the rudiments or fundamental (i.e., preparatory) course, but it lacks any substantial discussion of counterpoint, voice-leading, modulation, or chromatic harmony, which are common to the typical four- or five-semester theory course, usually covered by a single text. As an introductory survey of music-theoretical concepts, however, I would call this very comprehensive.
The book is accurate for the most part, if imprecise at times. The discussion of time signatures, for example, is misleading but ultimately harmless (the old top number/bottom number rule about what note gets the beat, etc., doesn't apply to compound meters). Da capo and Dal segno are also translated incorrectly as "to" the head and sign, although the gist remains correct (i.e., one does, in fact, go back "to the head," etc.).
The basic mechanics of music and music notation are unlikely to change soon, but some broken links here--apparently intended to take the reader to online discussions about certain ideas--suggest that it might already be out of date. There is some indication on another website that updates are being made, or were intended to be made, by the author, but it isn't clear what the timeline for these updates is. The only date seems to be the original publication date of 2013.
The conversational style of the prose undermines the book's clarity. The technical terminology is adequately explained, although sometimes it is not well-defined at the time it is introduced. However, a hyperlink is always provided to a more complete definition.
The book is internally consistent. This is reinforced by hyperlinks throughout the epub version.
Generally, the book is modular enough to be useful. I can envision a teacher being able to easily realign the subunits without presenting disruption to the reader. However, the layout (of the epub version, especially) often detaches subheadings from text, causing some mild confusion.
It seems like modularity has won out over logical flow of ideas. Enharmonic intervals and chords are included in the discussion of enharmonic pitches, for example, well before the concept of chords is introduced. I like the idea of links, but they might be overdone. The structure of the text relies on students' ability to make good use of the links to follow threads of complementary and reinforcing ideas, but beginning students won't know what fits together, and they could get lost. Also, there are intrusive notes from the author regarding an online survey, which is now closed, throughout the text.
The layout (epub version) feels cluttered. I would appreciate more space between headings and text, as well as above and below musical examples. Musical examples were very amateurish, using an unusual music font that was difficult to read. There were also frequent collisions of musical symbols (especially double flats) and some superfluous symbols (for example, it's distracting and irrelevant to use an 8/4 time signature when discussing intervals).
The text contains no grammatical errors, though inconsistencies in style and fonts are distracting and imprecise.
The text does a good job including discussion of (or at least mentioning) music from a variety of cultures.
At the risk of criticizing the book for what it isn't instead of what it is, I would just say that for this reviewer, an introductory text that had less prose and more focused text, such as lists with key terms, definitions, etc., to accompany the already useful examples, would be more helpful.
The book covers material corresponding to what most call Basic Musicianship and Fundamentals of Music and Music Notation, as well as more general read more
The book covers material corresponding to what most call Basic Musicianship and Fundamentals of Music and Music Notation, as well as more general terminology that would apply to Music Appreciation. It also adds material introducing the basic concepts of the Physics of Music and how it works in various instruments. Despite showing modules on Form, Cadence, and Beginning Harmonic Analysis, the author makes it clear that many of these concepts are more advanced and recommends additional sources be used. The book could use a module covering figured bass -- and although there is a cross reference to other published software on this topic (ArsNova), that software requires purchase or a site license and is not accessible through the open source text.
The content is accurate but some of it needs to be updated. See below.
The text is written in a way that updates should be easy to implement, and the author is very conscientious to tell students in the preface that whenever multiple terms exist, they will be given. The current content is accurate but some of it needs new supplementary data: 1) Octave designations should also refer to include Acoustical Society names as well as Traditional names, and given the book's implied target audience, MIDI-standard might also be a good idea; and 2) Outside references should be maintained to make sure that the most recent editions are cited (such as Grout [Palisca/Burkholder] History of Western Music).
The text is clearly written. I particularly like that the author sometimes interrupts the "facts" by asking questions which take the reader to the next explanation. This begins to subconsciously set a theoretical mindset of looking for deeper explanations. I especially recommend that everyone read the Introduction before going into any of the modules! It is one of the best parts of the book, and not only sets the stage for what the book does, but also how it fits within the larger context of explanations.
The book is clear, with terminology consistent throughout. But, different modules seem to be written for different levels of students. The early chapters are presented very basically and are extremely thorough -- some even contain external lesson plans clearly written for beginning classroom teachers following national standards. Later chapters, such as those on acoustics and terminology, seem to be addressed to a college audience. This extends to methodology as well. Earlier content is more algorithmic in nature (teaching treble clef as EveryGoodBoyDoesFine instead of G-clef with the alphabet surrounding the G-line); later material is more linguistic (definitions of different textures and presentation of interval inversion, for example). It is not offensive, but it does make for some awkwardness if one jumps around in the modular sequence.
Modularity is one of the best aspects of this publication. Sections are clear; subheadings are frequent, examples are peppered throughout, and everything is graphically pleasing. It would be easy to use some modules and not others and maintain consistency.
The book generally follows an established pedagogical flow frequent in many similar presentations. The only interruption is with the Physics materials. It does make sense to introduce the scientific explanations when they are pertinent, but it would also be helpful to collect them all in one place. For thorough review readers, compile Module 3 with 4.6 for a complete unit.
I found the book difficult to navigate on a Mac and iOS. I did not test materials on a Windows interface. I looked at all three options: PDF, e-pub, and Open Stx CNX. CNX is by far the easiest to navigate with the cleanest links. All versions require that one leave the text and download the audio examples, play the examples, and then return to the text. Many examples would not play. When I would look up the direct weblink in footnotes, I would often encounter "error 404". It would be difficult for a less patient person to keep trying in different formats. I was initially confused by the fact that Examples, Exercises, and Text all have numbers but that the numbers don't necessarily align. Text unit 126.96.36.199 also contains Example 4.8 and Exercise 4.14. For a while, I couldn't find anything and their placement made no sense while jumping from module to module and checking out answers. Once I figured it out, it was okay but remains counterintuitive.
Grammar is accurate and clear. It is mostly uncomplicated.
The book primarily is focused on materials relevant to popular, jazz, and classical musicians. Lead sheet and Roman numerals are both covered, but there is a clear tilt towards the skills and knowledge needed for gigging musicians. There is some inclusion of other cultures and nontraditional scales, moreso than in most introductory books of this nature. Modes and Ragas are covered, as well as octatonic and some older scales such as Hungarian major. With the exception of using "Every Good Boy Does Fine", the prose is ungendered and the explanation that underlies "western" and "world" terminology is clearly presented and its bias is acknowledged.
This book is most appropriate for use by amateurs who wish to know some details about the construction of musical elements. It would be useful as a textbook in a non-AP secondary school level music theory class. It could also be a good supplement for students taking a Music Appreciation type of Gen-Ed course. It could possibly supplement a World Music Gen-Ed course. It is not appropriate for adoption by music majors at the university level for anything past a first-semester or remedial Music Fundamentals course. It could, however, be a good resource for summer study by music students prior to their first university theory course. The author has clearly spent a great deal of time and effort on this resource, and I hope she continues her devotion to the task. Disclaimer: I am a coauthor of a different Music Fundamentals textbook; nonetheless, I have reviewed this resource objectively and dispassionately and made every attempt at balanced scholarly evaluation in my comments. This is a valuable resource for everyone concerned about the cost of materials to consider.
The text covers the basics of music theory as laid out in the table of contents in four of six sections with some additional peripheral material in read more
The text covers the basics of music theory as laid out in the table of contents in four of six sections with some additional peripheral material in the other two sections. While some subjects are well covered, including the most important basics of music theory, many other more advanced concepts are “introduced” but given only cursory treatment. This makes an instructor an essential element in terms of how to present the material, how much of it to present, in what order to present it, and what perhaps is better left to another course. The introduction explains the rationale to the book and suggests the many ways it could be used. The table of contents is very well organized presenting topics and sub-headings that function as keywords. The index was less useful as it was a bit confusing, in some cases referring generally to sections but not necessarily specific to the item being looked up. Terms were generally given a specific page, but some were missing. A glossary would have been helpful.
Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased.
Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement.
Sometimes the text is clear, straight forward and easily accessible, unfolding complex ideas in a clear step-by-step manner that aids in overall comprehension. At other times, however, the text is wordy and confusing, introducing terms that are not always explained, and often requiring the reader to jump about to receive those explanations. Some of the more basic yet difficult to grasp ideas, as for example the basics of rhythm such as downbeat and upbeat, are more easily shown by example, perhaps a video link, in the event the book is being used in a class where musical demonstration might not be available by the instructor.
The text is not consistent in terms of terminology and framework, some chapters are very advanced but incomplete, while others are clear and lucid. The first module on notation seemed the most complete, being comprehensive, clear and well laid out in terms of organization and unfolding of the topic.
This is the strongest suit of the book, being well sectioned and in such a way that modules can be arranged and re-arranged with sub-headings also referenced numerically, i.e. 3.1, 3.2 etc. Since many sections introduce ideas that are explained in later chapters and/or subdivisions, instructors may chose to re-arrange that material accordingly. Similarly, one might not want to break up introducing the basics with “The Physical Basis of Sound” a well-laid out but far more technical and scientific chapter (3) which comes between Notation - Basic Music Definitions (chapters 1 and 2) and chapter 4 which introduces intervals and scales along with such concepts as half and whole steps, octave, intervals, major and minor, harmonic series and the circle of fifths. It would do well for the instructor to read the Introduction which gives the rationale of the book, its organization, and how it’s various modules can be adopted to fit “different needs, levels, and skill strengths”.
The topics in the text are often, but not always, presented in a logical and clear fashion. It is sometimes necessary to jump about to get a more comprehensive understanding of a topic. Some very advanced concepts are introduced in an incomplete manner and then dropped, perhaps better to be left for another course. Other ideas seem to interrupt rather than complement what is being presented. To be fair, the author states up front that people have different needs and are at different levels, and what might suit one might not do as well for another. That is the beauty of the modular organization, that it can be refitted in so many ways, but it will require that insight from an instructor, so this is not a book to be recommended for those who wish to be self-taught.
There are many music examples given in the text which display what is going on, and there are often links to sound or score samples of music that demonstrate the various concepts under discussion. Not all of the links worked, but that is something that can be addressed as the work undergoes review and revision.
The text contains no grammatical errors.
While the theory of music is culturally neutral, the examples that underscore draw from an inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, and styles, and from popular, rock and jazz as well as classical musics. This is sensitive not only to cultures but also to different historical periods, as for example chapter 6 “Challenges” which contains sub-sections on different tuning systems and one on modes and ragas.
This is such an enormous venture to undertake that I can only express deepest admiration and congratulations for the fine work that has been presented thus far, acknowledging that this book has the potential to reach a very wide audience of potential converts to the wonderment of the musical arts through an understanding of the structures and ideas that form the basis of musical creation, musical performance, musical listening, and musical enjoyment. Kudos and much thanks.
The text is imbalanced in proportion. I don't believe it necessary to have 63 pages on notation (Section 1), the longest section in the book. Perhaps read more
The text is imbalanced in proportion. I don't believe it necessary to have 63 pages on notation (Section 1), the longest section in the book. Perhaps there is also a distinction to be made in scope under the umbrella "music theory," between mechanics (notation and key signatures), and analysis. In any case, the time spent on notation is disproportionate given the length of the other sections of the book. There is no glossary; terms are only referenced in the index. There certainly should be a consolidated, systematic glossary, especially given how much jumping around is already built into the book (e.g., early sections referring to later sections for definitions). It would be much easier to flip to the back of the book. For that matter, definitions are sometimes inconsistent in usage and rendering (upbeat and up-beat), or neglected/left for later (relative minor is discussed without definition in Part 1).
The book contains serious errors and oversimplifications. For example, the assertion about jazz eighth notes on p. 54 is false. The faster the tempo, the straighter the eighths get, with no concerted effort to accent the upbeat. (For the record, I have master's degrees in jazz guitar and music theory.) I also take issue with the use of the guitar as an example of a need for accommodations to dumb down music (pages 28, 242, 258). Chord symbols ought not to imply a crutch for the less musically literate, and capos have a nobler use than merely avoiding accidentals. The discussion of time signatures as being like fractions on p. 35 is misleading and unhelpful. For another example, on page 54, the literal translations of DC and DS are wrong. "Da/dal" means "from/from the." "Al" means "to the."
That depends. The current plethora of problems with the book gives it a shelf life of zero. Much of the subject matter is quite timeless; revised versions would leave room for update/expansion in discussions of contemporary and international music.
I regret to put so fine a point on it, but the problems of style and usage in the book are such that it would not make it through the door of a conventional publisher. The text is riddled with filler words and disruptive prepositional clauses and insertions (See, for example, the introduction), such that much of it could be condensed and presented much more straightforwardly. The text's attempts to be informal and conversational do not help clarity, but again introduce unnecessary verbiage (e.g., on page 42, "A piece that is using pickup measures..."). The frequent use of contractions and beginning sentences with "So" seem stylistically inappropriate. Further problems with clarity arise in cases like page 36, figure 1.51, which reads "If the time signature is three eight, a measure may be filled with any combination of notes and rests that adds up to three eight." [Did the author mean three eighth notes?]
There are inconsistencies such as those already mentioned with terminology. As also mentioned earlier, the proportions of the sections needs to be evened out. Stylistically, it is consistent, other issues notwithstanding.
Sure, the text is modular, but in its present state, modularity works against it. I believe there is a balance to be struck between modularity and linearity of presentation -- the development of topics should build on what comes before. This text may be too modular, to the point of disjunction. For example, relative minor is mentioned in part 1, but the main treatment of it does not appear until part 4. On page 38, compound meter is introduced without definition in that section. Similarly, intervals are discussed without definition or introduction early in the book, but treated in earnest in part 5. The discussion of enharmonics should at least make a nod toward issues of temperament, brass, and fretless stringed instruments much sooner. Also, it may not be necessary to reinvent the wheel in terms of organization: Many conventional theory texts model an effective progression of concepts.
As already noted, the text's modularity is in some cases counterproductive, thwarting a linear progression of ideas that build upon one another. Within smaller sections of the text, there are also instances where a discussion could be consolidated, such as the disjointed discussion of accents on pages 57 and 59. The discussion of enharmonics on pages 21 and 22 seems redundant with that of page 17. It seems like the text was not edited to combine, rearrange, expand, and contract what was originally entered into the word processor.
The choice of font is not easy on the eyes, at least in the current PDF presentation. It should be a consistent black, rather than the varying shades of black to gray the PDF currently renders. Inconsistencies in the font (and the use of too many fonts in examples) detract from the presentation of the text. The text also links to a multitude of file formats of questionable audio quality (midi, mp3, swf). It would help at least to pick a format and use it consistently.
As already noted, the text contains numerous problems of style and usage, partly in an attempt to be informal/conversational. The larger problems are stylistic and typographical.
I've already noted the apparent bias toward the guitar as the dummy of the stringed instrument family; the other item that jumped out at me was the implication of a single, monolithic African-American tradition on page 48. I would also strongly discourage the word "jazzy," which causes actual jazz musicians such as myself to cringe inwardly. The discussion of ragas and international music is not wrong, but seems general, perfunctory, and does not add much value in terms of detail.
This text urgently needs to be proofread, edited, re-organized, and rigorously held to a style manual for matters like the placement of punctuation inside quotation marks, the use of "p." rather than "pg," and overall writing style. Again, I regret to put too fine a point on things, but the text as it stands now is not a credit to the noble goal of the open textbook initiative.
This book covers a variety of topics needed for a basic understanding of music theory. Topic include notation fundamentals, acoustics, scales, forms, read more
This book covers a variety of topics needed for a basic understanding of music theory. Topic include notation fundamentals, acoustics, scales, forms, cadences and even transposition, modulation and an introduction to ear training.
Well-informed, this book attempts to cover a wide knowledge base for music theory, with more complex terms being introduced in less detail that would typically occur in an advanced text.
The text appears up-to-date, with regular responses to surveys, etc. recorded within the book.
Very clear writing. Although a bit conversational as other authors have pointed out, I believe the audience for this text would appreciate the tone.
Seems fairly consistent.
Modularity clear and easy to navigate.
Well organized for the most part, although some finer points seemed less logical. For example, a discussion of the harmonic series appears both the "Notes and Scales" and "The Physical Basis" chapters.
Interface is strong. Multiple colors are used for examples, but the choice of colors seems a bit arbitrary.
No grammatical errors that I found.
The book attempts to appeal to a varied audience, and makes use of popular and more classical, and occasional non-Western styles.
Quite comprehensive for its stated purpose of covering "only the bare essentials of music theory." I would not use this textbook in a course intended read more
Quite comprehensive for its stated purpose of covering "only the bare essentials of music theory." I would not use this textbook in a course intended for music majors, but it would make an excellent textbook for a non-major "introduction to rudiments of music" type course. The book spends a lot of time on notation and other *very* basic musical concepts, without going into very much of what I would consider serious first-year music theory. I loved the chapter on "The Physical Basis" of music. This perspective is missing from many classic books on music theory, and I would use this chapter by itself even in an advanced undergraduate theory course. I also very much enjoyed the sections on tuning and tuning systems, another subject which is usually glossed over.
No complaints in this regard. The author's approach to terminology is broad enough (e.g. giving several terms for the same types of cadence) that any errors or limitations inherent in a single term are covered by the use of alternates. I was satisfied with the brief mention of raga theory, a subject about which I know more than a little. It's easy to mischaracterize raga, and the author did a better job than most. The section on tuning was well researched and clearly written, although I doubt anyone who reads it will be intrigued enough to investigate Partch's or Harrison's writings on the subject.
The content is up-to-date, but in terms of relevance it is geared more toward pop or jazz musicians than classical musicians. That said, musicians who are totally new to the basics of music theory will find plenty of material they can apply to their existing understanding and practice.
All jargon is well-contextualized, both in-text and with links. Organization and prose are clear enough, although the written passages could all use another round of editing for empty/hedge verbiage (lots of "probably" and the like).
Absolutely consistent. The author's broad approach eschews ironclad terminology for a more diffuse approach, which supports a certain robustness. On occasions when the author does make an unequivocal decision (e.g. regarding the numbering of harmonic overtones), she explains the alternatives and gives her reasons for choosing one framework over others.
Very customizable. Each chapter is self-sufficient, especially in an electronic format; asides and explanations can be skipped or investigated with a click. I would happily use just the chapters on acoustics and tuning. Total newcomers could use the first two chapters as a primer on self-study in notation as preparation before beginning a term (this is something I might assign for summer or winter break reading).
Considered as a linear book, too much time is spent early on in explaining notation and other rudimentary concerns before arriving at the meat of music theory as such. The e-book format somewhat obviates this problem. The chapters themselves are well organized.
The musical examples - both written and recorded - are too few and too disparate. It would be best to create a companion site to host all of it.
No grammatical issues (but see above re: prose style).
The book is explicitly written with practitioners of the Western tradition in mind. Other traditions are mentioned, if only passingly. The important thing is that the author takes care to emphasize when a topic under discussion is a Western-normative practice and not a universal rule. This is an improvement over many other theory texts.
The book could use a lot of editing; there are huge blocks of text that don't need to be so long or so wordy. A book of this nature should either have a lot more exercises or a whole separate workbook, and there should be vastly more musical examples drawn from the real world. There is practically nothing in the way of music school level theory - no figured bass, almost no roman numeral analysis, very little discussion of cadences, harmonic rhythm, and all the other things that make theory so interesting to students of the Western art music tradition. It may only be my bias: I learned first-year theory from Piston. However, this textbook could be great in an introductory or survey course intended for non-majors. A rock guitarist, jazz pianist, or pop singer who wants to learn the bare minimum of musical knowledge to improve their understanding of popular music and ability to communicate with other musicians will find this book comprehensive and very useful.
I found this text to be very comprehensive in scope of teaching basic music theory. I found a great deal of emphasis was put on naming notes, scales, read more
I found this text to be very comprehensive in scope of teaching basic music theory. I found a great deal of emphasis was put on naming notes, scales, and rhythms, which is perfect for a introductory text. The other sections, such as Harmony and Form were very surface level, allowing the reader to familiarize them self with the topic and not get too bogged down in the details. I would say this text is best suited for an adult students brand new to reading music.
I found the content to be very accurate and clearly articulated. The examples were easy to read and easily understood.
This book is mostly a summary of basic musical concepts, and to that end I suspect will remain relevant for some time. I think it would be necessary for a student to look into additional material for any sort of historical context or a further understanding of form and harmony.
I feel that the terminology is defined very well in the text and the material provided is quite clear in meaning. The format and layout of the text is very plain and clear to read.
The language used in this text, the formatting, and the work examples are very consistent throughout the text. The material in each chapter is organized well and presented clearly. The examples and images provided are engraved very well.
I think this book would absolutely be modular. Were I to teach out of this text, I could definitely see myself picking some material to use while supplementing or omitting some other sections. I think one could very easily use these sections to fit their particular needs.
As mentioned early, I think this book is very well put together. Each chapter is organized in a similar and well articulated fashion, and is sequenced well to cover the basic music theory material.
There are definitely no distractions from this text. I think the layout and formatting are consistent, but very plainly done. It would have been nice to see some (even minimal) graphic design done to this book. As such, it reads more like a pedagogical dissertation. Even though I find the material accurate and structured well, this book is quite dull to look at graphically.
There are no grammatical errors.
The text includes examples of Western and non-Western music. It is not insensitive or offensive.
This book is meant to be an introduction to music theory, presenting to the learner the basics of how music is composed, performed, and interpreted. read more
This book is meant to be an introduction to music theory, presenting to the learner the basics of how music is composed, performed, and interpreted. This book accomplishes this task, as it explores rhythm, pitch, notation, form, analysis, with a helpful glossary at the back of the book. However, it deals with subjects that I find are not necessary for the beginner when it comes to trying to understanding music theory, such as the entire section upon the physics of sound and harmonics.
The information in the book is accurate. The way some terms are used in the book I question, however, such as the use of "downbeat" to refer to all of the beats in a measure, as outlined in the time signature discussion, as opposed to just the first beat of a measure, but in general the information as presented is correct.
The content is up to date, and makes a special effort to try to have examples from more popular musical artists and genres. This aids in making the material more relatable for individuals that don't listen to musical in the Western Classical tradition.
The text is easy to understand and straightforward. Sometimes I found the terminology used occurred a bit earlier in the text than was needed to help explain a point. For instance when discussing rhythm and time signature, the author chose to discuss tempo in terms of the Italian terminology, such as allegro, which had yet to be explained, instead of simply using the number of beats per minute method. By adding the Italian terminology, fairly early in the book, and not yet having explained what these terms mean, it created another layer of complexity, that was not needed when trying to discuss note duration and rhythms.
The book is consistently organized and formatted clearly for the reader.
This text is readily divisible into smaller sections, making it a great asset for excerpting. A wonderful aid for use in many different course settings.
This I found to be the weakest part of the book, as it was organized in a manner that often took a certain amount of knowledge, on the part of the reader, for granted, especially after it states that it is specifically designed for the beginner. I think some things were not explained in the correct order, to allow for greatest understanding by the reader. For instance, when discussing note names the author discusses enharmonic keys and scales, when the concept of what a scale, major/minor, or even a key signature had yet to be explained.
The interface works well. It is best to not view as a PDF, but instead via "ePub" as this allows for the links to work, allowing for one to quickly jump around to different sections of the book to find examples. I could have used a bit more examples to explain concepts, and also would have benefited to have an example/figure right after its description. This book often lists many different concepts in a block of text, and then has all the examples on the next page. Overall, it accomplishes its goal and is user friendly.
I found no grammatical errors.
The use of art music and, also popular music, as examples, make this book more inclusive than others.
A fine text, but would require significant lecture time, and supplemental examples, to ensure that the material was firmly understood by the student and that they were able to apply this knowledge to actual musical practice.
The text covers all basic introductory material of Music Theory. From the Introduction, it is clear that the author intends this text to be an read more
The text covers all basic introductory material of Music Theory. From the Introduction, it is clear that the author intends this text to be an introduction to Music Theory and not a comprehensive text for advanced concepts. I would like to have seen more depth and detailed exercises to practice the concepts, such as key signatures, scales, intervals, etc.
The content is error-free.
Music theory content is unchanging and does not need updating. The "Challenges" chapter at the end is a nice addition to include some contemporary concepts and non-western music.
The text is very clear and easily understandable.
The overall layout of the material is clear and well-planned.
The author has divided the concepts into easily accessible modules.
The text generally introduces concepts in a well-organized manner. I would like to have seen Diatonic chords in major and minor introduced earlier in the text, with more practice examples concerning how to recognize and write them.
The text has no interface issues.
There are no grammatical errors.
The text includes examples of both Western and non-Western music.
This is an excellent text for beginning Music Theory. I would like to see more practice examples for basic concepts such as intervals, triads, scales and diatonic triads/seventh chords.
While the fundamentals of how music is read, written, and functions are indeed covered clearly, there is no mention whatsoever of the common Practice read more
While the fundamentals of how music is read, written, and functions are indeed covered clearly, there is no mention whatsoever of the common Practice Period, which is the source of modern basic music theory. Not presenting that historical context is a distinct shortcoming in this text. In a way, the text seems to make an attempt to be *too* comprehensive by covering topics that could (should?) have been dispensed with in a separate book. What is presented is accurate, but really the scope to this reviewer is far too broad to be useful in a semester-long introduction class.
The book presents accurate information. I have personal problems with some of the definitions of articulations (e.g. what the text labels as "legato" I refer to as "tenuto," or, how the first mention of a dorian scale is in reference to jazz, as opposed to the Greek modes). But, in general, the information here is good.
I sincerely appreciate the author's consistent reference to popular music forms, harmony, and instruments. many theory texts gloss over that aspect, but it often an important part of how a student becomes interested in how music works. Using these references is culturally relevant, and will stand a pretty long test of time.
Overall, the information is presented clearly. The tone is occasionally too conversational for my taste (the use of conjunctions abound, there are informal turns of phrase). While some terminology may require additional digging for the reader or explaining from a professor, the syntax and prose is accessible to a competent advanced high school/early college reader.
Each chapter is laid out clearly and in a similar fashion.
This is, I think, the books greatest strength. While I would not choose to use exclusively this text for a beginning theory class, I would eagerly excerpt it for either that kind of class or even for a general education music appreciation class.
Related to question 5, i appreciate the book's flow.
The biggest issue here is the need to cut-and-paste links from the PDF in order to listen to/see the examples provided. This caused quite a lot of navigation problems, and needed the use of a very large number of browser tabs. A single website with clearly organized links to click related to each chapter would have helped a great deal.
Too informal for an academic text.
Again, the use of popular music as well as art music references makes this text more culturally relevant than others.
There is good content in this book, but i would not use it as the sole basis for an intro music theory class. As an excerpt-able document, it could be a strong addition to either a brick-and-mortar theory or music appreciation class, or for an online class of the same content. The cut-and-paste requirement for the examples was a major nuisance.
The book by Catherine Jones is condensed and takes on many aspects of music theory even the physics of sound.Her comment regarding its peripheral read more
The book by Catherine Jones is condensed and takes on many aspects of music theory even the physics of sound.Her comment regarding its peripheral states; "The course is about a better understanding of where the basics come from and will lead to a better and faster comprehension of more complex ideas." She accomplishes this with chapters that focuses on notation, definitions, basic physics, notes and scales, harmony and form, transposing and a good glossary of terms at the end of the book. The book reads like a thesis with graphs that appear like a lecture series. Its possible that that for some it could appear obscure with assumed musical jargon. In an academic way the book is comprehensive, it however leaves out emotional intelligence and the intuitive common sense of music. It has a good historical section.
The information is accurate especially regarding modes and their history and the diagrams they pertain to. It is accurate but the narrative is connected to concepts without enough proofs. The Pythagorean history was substantial but not complete.
The book is a really a summation of older texts and information. I would suggest that students take Music History or read "How Music Works" by John Powell as a guide to this jargon. He was in fact a physicist, and discusses music with out a firewall of IQ separation. I would add his book to this book if I taught this class in order to break down the array of a timeline of passed down Italian terms. In terms as the book's authenticity regarding musical facts it will be relevant for several years.
As I stated it is very condensed. It would confuse a beginner if the lecture was not clear. It defines its musical terms very well and is well researched but truncated when it comes to what is being explained. Many of the topics are books by themselves. I thought the spacial presence of the illustrations and graphs were very clear and helpful to any level.
The book is consistent in its shared historical information much like a dictionary. The chapters are all strong. I can tell that the book is written by one person. It displays solid organization of concepts and truths, but it is not an easy to read narrative.
The modularity is the staple elements of this book. It is very objective almost to a fault. It is not enabling as much as dictatorial. "Jones States in the introduction; "The final section of this course does include a few challenges that are generally not considered "beginner level musicianship."
The book is strong in regarding to organization.
All the interface is professional.
Not a great flow in the narrative. It could be informative to some and confusing to others. Too condensed for me. For no reason/\.
A western view of music and appealing to the Scientific rather than organic.
Table of Contents
2.8 Classifying Music
3 The Physical Basis
3.1 Acoustics for Music Theory
3.2 Standing Waves and Musical Instruments
3.3 Harmonic Series I: Timbre and Octaves Solutions
4 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
4.6 Harmonic Series II: Harmonics, Intervals, and Instruments
4.7 The Circle of Fifths
4.8 Scales that aren't Major or Minor
5 Harmony and Form
5.2 Naming Triads
5.3 Consonance and Dissonance
5.4 Beyond Triads: Naming Other Chords
5.5 Beginning Harmonic Analysis
6.1 Ear Training
6.2 Tuning Systems
6.3 Modes and Ragas
6.4 Transposition: Changing Keys
About the Book
Although it is significantly expanded from "Introduction to Music Theory", this book still covers only the bare essentials of music theory. Music is a very large subject, and the advanced theory that students will want to pursue after mastering the basics will vary greatly. A trumpet player interested in jazz, a vocalist interested in early music, a pianist interested in classical composition, and a guitarist interested in world music, will all want to delve into very different facets of music theory; although, interestingly, if they all become very well-versed in their chosen fields, they will still end up very capable of understanding each other and cooperating in musical endeavors. The final section does include a few challenges that are generally not considered "beginner level" musicianship, but are very useful in just about every field and genre of music.
About the Contributors
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.