Read more about Understanding Basic Music Theory

Understanding Basic Music Theory

(25 reviews)

Catherine Schmidt-Jones

Copyright Year: 2013

Publisher: OpenStax CNX

Language: English

Formats Available

Conditions of Use

Attribution Attribution


Learn more about reviews.

Reviewed by Rika Uchida, Associate Professor of Piano and Theory, Drake University on 12/30/21

The text covers various concepts in music theory, some of which are fundamental, and others are advanced and complex, such as form. Although it is written in user-friendly manner, I would like to have musical examples for most topics. For... read more

Reviewed by Derek Shapiro, Assistant Professor/Director of Bands, Virginia Tech on 12/13/21

The text covers all areas of what one would consider basic music theory and is geared truly for the beginner who has had experience in reading music on some level, but desires more comprehensive descriptions of the "why". I especially liked the... read more

Reviewed by Salil Sachdev, Professor, Bridgewater State University on 6/2/21

A good concise introduction to music fundamentals. The textbook contains chapters on various aspects of music, not all of which may be necessary for a basic music theory course. However, instructors have much to pick and choose from and adapt the... read more

Reviewed by Robert Wells, Assistant Professor of Music Theory; Director of Keyboard Studies, University of Mary Washington on 7/4/20

Given that this book is intended to be a fundamentals text (rather than a textbook for the entire music major theory sequence), it is fairly comprehensive. For the mathematically-based theory fundamentals course I teach, which is targeted to... read more

Reviewed by Matthew Svoboda, Music Instructor (Music Theory, Keyboard Skills, Choir), Lane Community College on 6/18/20

This music theory concepts taught are roughly equivalent to those covered in Fall term of the three-term Music Theory course I teach at Lane Community College (LCC). I couldn't use this book for that course because it doesn't go into enough depth... read more

Reviewed by Craig LiaBraaten, Music Department, Mesabi Range College on 5/18/20

The text is "too complete" for a beginner level study of music theory. Much of the text can be deleted with no ill effect, for example Chapter 3 pp.95-116 and Chapter 6 pp. 218-258. read more

Reviewed by Juliana Han, Assistant Professor, Augustana College on 6/26/19

This book is intended to cover the "bare essentials" of music theory, such as those covered in a fundamentals or prerequisite course at a high school or college level. The index includes the necessary topics at that level. However, the text... read more

Reviewed by Christopher Cook, Lecturer in Music, Oakland City University on 1/10/19

This book does include an index of terms, which can be quite helpful. It doesn't quite cover as much as is normally covered in a single text for music theory instruction in many college courses. Some topics are discussed well enough, while others... read more

Reviewed by Sarah Muehlbauer, Doctoral Student/Teaching Assistant, James Madison University on 11/17/18

I thought that this textbook covered too much for a music appreciation/intro to music theory non-music major course if the students had little to no background whatsoever in music reading, but far too little for any music major music theory... read more

Reviewed by Jacob Lee, Adjunct Professor, Southern Utah University on 6/19/18

For a book on basic music theory, this textbook is quite (if not excessively) comprehensive, covering much of what should or could be covered in a Theory Fundamentals or Remedial Theory course. read more

Reviewed by Keith Bradshaw, Associate Dean, College of Performing and Visual Arts, Southern Utah University on 6/19/18

The text is fairly comprehensive, a bit too comprehensive for a music fundamentals class. Sections of the book go a little too much in depth for a beginning music theory student with no experience. The index is useful and thorough. read more

Reviewed by Jason Heald, Associate Professor, Umpqua Community College on 6/19/18

This textbook is very comprehensive in the range of subjects it covers. In an effort to "cover all the bases", some of the most crucial skills necessary for understanding music theory receive relatively superficial treatment, while topics with... read more

Reviewed by Scott Ethier, Adjunct Lecturer, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY on 2/1/18

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... read more

Reviewed by Sean Doyle, Professorial Lecturer, American University on 2/1/18

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,... read more

Reviewed by Joshua Harris, Assistant Professor of Music, Sweet Briar College on 8/15/17

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... read more

Reviewed by Claire Boge, Associate Professor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Music Theory, MIami University (Oxford Ohio) on 6/20/17

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... read more

Reviewed by Stephen Martorella, Adjunct Instructor, Rhode Island College on 4/11/17

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... read more

Reviewed by Maristella Feustle, Music Special Collections Librarian, University of North Texas on 4/11/17

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... read more

Reviewed by Miriam Webber, Assistant Professor, Bemidji State University on 2/8/17

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. read more

Reviewed by Matthew Andrews, Graduate Student, Portland State University School of Music on 2/8/17

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... read more

Reviewed by Jeffery Kyle Hutchins, Artist/Teacher, Virginia Tech on 2/8/17

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... read more

Reviewed by John Irrera, Instructor of Music, Virginia Tech on 2/8/17

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... read more

Reviewed by Shane Anderson, Associate Professor of Music, Nicholls State University on 12/5/16

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... read more

Reviewed by Christopher Van Hof, Assistant Professor of Music, Colorado State Univeristy on 12/5/16

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... read more

Reviewed by Lewton Jones, Graduate Student/PSU/Music Teacher/Community Ed, PCC on 8/21/16

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... read more

Table of Contents

1 Notation

  • 1.1 Pitch
  • 1.2 Time
  • 1.3 Style

2 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

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
  • 4.5 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

5 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

6 Challenges

  • 6.1 Ear Training
  • 6.2 Tuning Systems
  • 6.3 Modes and Ragas
  • 6.4 Transposition: Changing Keys

Ancillary Material

  • Submit ancillary resource
  • 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. 

    Contribute to this Page

    Suggest an edit to this book record