Learn Music Theory

If you came to this website then you probably want to learn something about music theory. You may be an absolute beginner or you may already know a lot of music theory already and want to learn some more advanced topics. In either case understand that learning music theory is one of the more beneficial things a musician can do and I hope you will continue the process.

Why study music theory?

Contrary to what some people may say learning music theory does not reduce your ability to enjoy music. In fact you may enjoy music even more after you learn some theory because the more you know about how music works the more you will be able to do as a musician.
There are many reasons to study music theory but the top reasons are:
  1. You will be a better performer. - If you don't know much music theory and you are playing some music and you encounter a passage that has the notes C, E, and G, you would have to mentally process those three notes separately, and this will slow down your ability to perform. If a musician who knows music theory plays the same passage they would instantly recognize that the notes C, E, and G make up a C Major chord and they would play those notes more easily because it took less mental effort to understand the music. Music theory makes learning, practicing and performing much easier.

  2. You will have more options as a musician. - All musical activities will be much easier. Performing, composing, improvising, arranging, teaching music, or getting a music degree will be much easier if you know music theory.

How to study music theory

Relative Major and Minor Keys

Major or minor keys that share the same key signature are called relative keys. For example, in the key of G-Major, which has one sharp, the notes are G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#.

G-Major scale
G-Major scale
 
If we instead start on the sixth scale degree of the major scale in the key of G-Major, we then get the relative minor key, E-minor, with the notes E, F#, G, A, B, C, and D.

E-minor scale
E-minor scale
G-Major and E-minor share the same set of notes and and the same key signature, and therefore are the relative major and minor keys of each other.

Relative major and minor keys
Relative major and minor keys: G-Major and E-minor

To find the relative minor key of a major key, start on the sixth scale degree of the major scale. To find the relative major key of a minor key, start on the third scale degree of the minor scale.

The following shows some more examples of relative major and minor keys.

Relative major and minor keys - Example 2
Relative major and minor keys: E-flat Major and C-minor
Relative major and minor keys - Example 3
Relative major and minor keys: D-Major and B-minor

Borrowed Chords

Borrowed chords occur when chords from the parallel major or minor key are used and substituted for the normal chords of the prevailing key. In the key of C-Major, we have the normal pattern of major, minor, and diminished chords built on each scale degree.

The chords in the key of C-Major
The chords in the key of C-Major

These are the chords that normally occur in the key of C-Major. The following shows the chords that occur in the key of C-minor. C-minor is the parallel key of C-Major.

The chords in the key of C-minor
The chords in the key of C-minor

This minor scale also has its own pattern of chords built upon each scale degree. To create a borrowed chord, we take one of the chords from the parallel key and use it in the original key. For example, in the key of C-Major, the chord built on the fourth scale degree is normally an F-Major chord, but in the parallel minor key it is an F-minor chord, and if we instead use this F-minor chord, “borrowed” from the parallel minor key, in place of the normal F-Major chord, we then have a borrowed chord. This mixing of chords from parallel keys is also called mode mixture.

A chord progression containing a borrowed chord
A chord progression containing a borrowed chord

The following shows some more examples of borrowed chords.

Examples of borrowed chords - Example 1
Examples of borrowed chords - Example 2
Examples of chord progressions containing borrowed chords

Added Tone Chords

Added tone chords are triads with an added note a second, fourth, sixth, ninth, eleventh, or thirteenth above the chord root. For example, if we have a C-Major chord, with the notes C, E, and G, and then add a D on top of the chord, we get a Cadd9 chord. 

Cadd9 chord

The following shows some more examples of added tone chords.

Added tone chords
Added tone chords

Block Chords and Broken Chords

Block chords occur when all of the notes of a chord are played simultaneously in one solid “block”. The following shows examples of block chords.

Block chords
Block Chords
Broken chords occur when the notes of a chord are not played simultaneously. There are many types of patterns possible for broken chords. The following example shows a set of block chords, and then the same set of chords as broken chords. Both examples have the exact same chords with exactly the same notes, but with the first example as block chords, and the second example as broken chords.

Block chords - example 2
Block Chords
Broken chords
Broken Chords