What is taught in music theory?

If you are a musician, you may have heard the term “music theory” before. You may have wondered what it meant. If you have friends studying music you may have wondered what is taught in a music theory class. I’ve taken quite a bit of music theory classes – I actually started college as a music theory major, but I ended up just minoring in music.

That’s a whole other story, though. I don’t really have time to get into that today. Before going over what is taught in a music theory class, we really need to talk about what music theory is. And before we talk about music theory, we should talk about what sound is.

What is sound?

Do you know what sound is? Sound is just vibrations in the air and that comes to your ear and then your ear processes those sound waves. I’m not going to give you a full acoustics class here, but I think it will be good if I can give you the basics.

In a note’s waveform (you can see this if you use a program like Audicity) you can see how many cycles are in the waveform.

If you place two waveforms on top of each other you can see where they line up. When the two different wave forms’ cycles line up, it sounds good.

How can you tell if two waveforms’ cycles are going to line up?

It has to deal with math.

Like I said, I don’t have enough time to cover acoustics and the full study of waveforms here, but I think this is a good premier.

Now we can talk about music theory.

What is music theory?

Music theory is really just the way how music works. Why does an A note, a C# note, and an E note sound good together?

The reason is that the cycles in each of those notes’ wavelengths are going to line up with each other.

This is what music theory is, but in a class, it’s a little bit more simplified than that.

So, what is taught in a music theory class?

In a music theory class, you will learn stuff like that an A note, a C# note, and an E note go together (A,C#,E) to form an A major chord.

And the reason why is that western music is based on tertian chords. This basically means that chords are usually built-in intervals of threes.

In a music theory class, you’ll learn stuff like that: how to form chords, how scales are made, and things like that.

You don’t really have to be good at math, though! You don’t really study the exact frequencies unless you want to study music production, sound synthesis, or acoustics.

So don’t worry if you’re not good at math!

What else do you learn in a music theory class?

In a music theory class, you will also learn about different ways to write music and common patterns. For example, you’ll learn that in a major key, you will often find a V (five) chord and then an I (one chord) next together.

You’ll also learn about other things such as neighboring tones and other nonchord tones.

I’ll cover those in another article some other time. Actually, learning about passing tones and neighboring tones has really helped me write bass guitar lines.

So those are the types of things that you’ll learn in a music theory class. If you have any more questions about what music theory classes are like, feel free to ask!

What to read next:

If you play guitar and want to learn some basics of music theory like chord progressions you can learn some really easy beginner guitar chords that go together that will help you in your songwriting.

Additional music theory articles

How many major scales are there?

The order of sharps and flats