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7th April 2022: Quizzes problem is now fixed!

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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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Next UK ABRSM Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 6-8:
Sat 18th June 2022 [Grades 1-5 now available online on demand]
Next UK Trinity Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 1-8 & diplomas:
from Sat 5th November 2022

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Learn Music Theory

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How to Learn Music Theory

Welcome! You've probably arrived at this page because you are considering learning music theory. You have landed in the right place!

Music theory is a remarkably addictive and fascinating subject that can change the way you listen to or perform music - forever! But learning music theory on your own can be daunting - you need a helping hand from time-to-time, you need clear explanations, concrete examples, a logical learning path, and you need to be able to ask questions... that's where MyMusicTheory.com comes in! 

 learn music theory online with Victoria Williams LmusTCLMy name is Victoria Williams and I'm here to help you learn music theory. As well as holding a degree in Music from the University of Leeds in the UK, where I specialised in musicology, I also hold the Trinity Diplomas in music theory AmusTCL (distinction) and LmusTCL. 

 

In 2007 I began this website as a free, intermediate music theory resource. Over the years the site has grown and grown, and is now a place where you can take a music theory course at a level which suits you - from beginner level up to advanced.

And if you get stuck, you can ask me for help (use the help/contact link at the top of the page) and I'll get back to you ASAP!

 

MyMusicTheory uses a structured approach, with lessons based on the traditional curriculums set out by the ABRSM and Trinity exam boads in the UK.

The UK exam boards divide music theory into eight levels (called "grades" - nothing to do with school grades!), so that you can easily begin to study at a level which is right for you, and you'll make excellent progress by increasing your music theory skills in logical, easily digestible steps. There is a complete online music theory course for each grade, and, you can get started for free!

 

Take a Structured Music Theory Course

  • Grade 1 Course - Beginner. Learn the basic notes in the treble and bass clefs, major scales and three easy time signatures
  • Grade 2 Course - Minor scales, four more time signatures, triplets and more major scales
  • Grade 3 Course - Harder time signatures, keys & scales, transposing, intervals
  • Grade 4 Course - Harder time signatures, keys & scales, the alto (viola) clef, chromatic scales, simple chords, ornaments
  • Grade 5 Course - The hardest keys and scales, irregular time signatures, the tenor clef, chords and inversions, simple harmonisation, cadences
  • Grade 6 Course - Harmonization, figured bass, diatonic chords, orchestral and chamber music scores, composition (with modulation), Bach chorale style
  • Grade 7 Course - Harmony and figured bass with added 7th chords, common chromatic chords, composition with accompaniment, melodic decoration with harmonic structure
  • Grade 8 Course - Harmony and figured bass, Trio sonata style, composing for keyboard, compositional structure and other techniques, rarer chromatic chords, non-diatonic styles

(If you are not sure where to start, take the "What Grade am I?" quiz to find out the best starting place for you!)

 

Join over 19,000 others and become a member of the site, and we'll send you updates when new material is added to the site, exclusive discounts on paid courses and lots of other goodies! 

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 music theory course progress

 

How long does it take to learn music theory?

Music theory is a truly vast subject, and it's possible to spend your entire lifetime studying it without ever reaching the end! The UK exam boards (as well as AMEB in Australia, RCM in Canada, and AP in the USA, to name a few others) focus on a small sub-section of music theory, which is mostly based on Western art ("classical") music. (Trinity exam board in the UK does branch off a little more). They mostly do not cover topics such as jazz, non-Western music, orchestration, acoustics and so on. But all of these exam boards begin with a thorough training in the basics of Western notation, harmony and instruments, which should set you up to continue learning, in whichever direction interests you.

The UK exam boards publish guidance on the number of hours of study expected at each exam grade. "TQT" stands for "total qualification time" and includes time spent in self-study/revision/homework as well as with a teacher. The times are cumulative, so grade 2 will take abour 50 hours for the average student. See https://www.mymusictheory.com/learn-music-theory/for-students/exam-boards/studying-time-per-grade for more information about this.

Music Theory Grade  TQT
 1  20 hours
 2  30 hours
 3  50 hours
 4  58 hours
 5  90 hours
 6  130 hours
 7  170 hours
 8  210 hours

 

Is Music Theory Difficult to Learn? 

No! Some aspects of music theory are harder than others of course, but nothing is difficult to learn if you approach it in the right way. One problem that many people find (or think they find) in learning music theory, is that it can come across as a bunch of dry rules which don't appear to make sense in the real world. Another problem is that people don't find it easy to hear what they see written down, just by looking at the notes. Let me address both of these points.

JS Bach played by the rulesMusic theory is written down in words, because it's a language for discussing or analysing music, so that we can teach it, and talk about it. Music theory is not a "bunch of rules" at all; it is just a description of what happens in real-life music. When we begin to learn music theory, we usually start off with the simplest ideas (to avoid difficulty), and this means studying the music which was written roughly between the years 1700-1800 (e.g. by JS Bach, pictured left). The rules we learn are describing the music of that time. The exercises you are asked to do in a theory exam are also based on that style.

As music styles progressed, each style became more complicated to describe. This is because during 1700-1800 composers were more interested in creativity within the confines of accepted rules, whereas from c.1800 onwards, composers were more interested in creativity without the confines of rules. This did not happen overnight of course. It was a gradual transformation, until we reach the highly experimental music of the 20th and 21st centuries. When composers do not stick to an accepted set of rules, creativity explodes, but it becomes a much more complicated situation to describe.

This is why we begin with the simpler, more controlled Baroque/Classical era. It does not mean that all music must conform to those rules - far from it! And this is also why many of the "rules" we learn appear to be continually broken in the music we play. Music theory is descriptive, not prescriptive.

listen while you learn music theory Being able to "hear what you see" (or audiate) is a really useful skill. Most theory books take it for granted that you can hear music by looking at it, in the same way that most adults can read words without saying them out loud. But the reality is that most people are not good audiators. It is a skill that can easily be learned, but like any other skill, it requires time and practice.

If you are at the stage where audiation is a challenge, you will probably find that learning music theory from a book is frustrating. I would recommend that you play (or sing, if possible) any written examples on you find while reading, but also take a few minutes each to try to increase your audiation skills. 

 

Can you learn music theory online without a teacher?

Yes! The wonders of modern technology are perfect for learning music theory. Instead of struggling with a "silent" book, or trying to fix up expensive lessons into an already busy schedule, you can learn at your leisure and hear what you are learning, with audio-visual learning. 

MyMusicTheory.com includes a complete set of video courses, from beginner to advanced level, which will teach you in a logical order and provide demos, audio examples and walkthroughs of every topic. You can download PDF practice questions and tests, and contact me at any time if you are stuck, need some guidance or even just want to share you discoveries or successes. 

Head on over to the MyMusicTheory video courses platform (mymusictheory.newzenler.com) to explore what's on offer!

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