Music Theory Comprehensive: Part 1 - How To Read Music

A Complete College-Level Music Theory Curriculum. This is Part 1: Reading Music & The Symbols of Music Notation
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  • Lectures 43
  • Length 5.5 hours
  • Skill Level Beginner Level
  • Languages English, captions
  • Includes Lifetime access
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    Available on iOS and Android
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About This Course

Published 1/2016 English Closed captions available

Course Description

For years I've been teaching Music Theory in the college classroom. These classes use the same syllabus I've used in my college classes for years, at a fraction of the cost. I believe anyone can learn Music Theory - and cost shouldn't be a barrier.

Recently I was named as a semi-finalist for the Grammy Foundation's Music Educator of the Year award because of my in-person university classes. Now I'm taking those classes to Udemy in an online format in order to reach more students, and give them the joy of Music Theory.

This class is a Comprehensive class - it will have many parts, going through my entire annual curriculum.

This class is Part 1: Reading Music & The Symbols of Music Notation.

In this class, we will cover:

  • My approach to Music Theory
  • Tools you will need to learn Music Theory quickly and efficiently
  • Music software: Notation programs
  • The elements of the Score
  • Pitch Names
  • Pitch Classes
  • Octaves
  • The White Keys
  • The Black Keys (not the band!)
  • Half-Steps and Whole-Steps
  • Clefs
  • Intervals
  • Naming Octaves
  • Identifying Notes on the Staff
  • Identifying Notes on the Keyboard
  • Beat and Beat Divisions
  • Tempo
  • Downbeats and Upbeats
  • Dotted Rhythms
  • Time Signatures
  • Ties
  • Accidentals
  • Form in Music Notation
  • ...and much, much more!

And of course, once you sign up for Part 1 - Reading Music & The Symbols of Music Notation, you automatically get huge discounts to all the upcoming parts of this class.

You will not have another opportunity to learn Music Theory in a more comprehensive way that this. Start here.

Dr. Jason Allen is an Ableton Certified Trainer, and a PhD in Music Composition and master of Electronic Sounds. His music has been heard internationally in film, radio, video games, and industrial sound, as well as the concert hall and theater. His 2015 album, Aniscorcia, reaching the CMJ Top200 Charts and radio broadcasts nationwide. In 2014 he was named a semi-finalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award.

He currently as an adjunct professor of composition at the University of St. Thomas, and the CEO of Slam Academy in Minneapolis.

Praise for classes by Dr. Jason Allen:

  • "Without a doubt the best explanation and east of use that one can get. It leaves you enough room to go explore. The classes go by quick, so you can be on your way at being proficient. What are you wait for!"

  • "Amazing - Seriously Loved It! I took all his courses and have to say I'm so happy! Learnt loads! Jason is an awesome teacher!"

  • "I have never had any formal training in music at all. Trying to learn all the notes and how everything translated was a serious challenge. After going through this class, Dr. J has totally brought down the barriers. The content was very useful and was easy to grasp for me."

  • "I like these courses because you can get up and running quickly without having to spend hours of time wading through TMI (too much information!). Jason hits the high points but shows you what you need to know. Thanks!"

  • "I've watched many other videos on scales and chords before, however, this one has been the best. I now understand minor scales and chords and even how to analyze songs. It really gave me the confidence to start producing music because I feel like I have some structure and guidelines to follow. AWESOME!"

  • "Clear and Informative - Jason has a clear uncluttered style (with the important dashes of humor) of presentation that is focused on the important key aspects of this course. Recommended for those starting out!"

  • "Dr. Allen does it again with his music theory series. This course really opened up everything I learned from the 1st section, and now I understand more about the composition side of things for music. I highly highly recommend this course to anyone!!! Really opened my eyes to many things I wasn't aware of."

  • "The Best Teacher Ever, who makes you understand the ins & outs of Music Theory by all means without giving what you don't want to know."

What are the requirements?

  • I'll be using a piece of software in this course that I would like students to get. Don't worry - it's free! And works on Mac and PC programs. I'll tell you more in the first few videos.

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Read Music Using Proven Techniques
  • Understand All the Symbols (Not Only the Notes) of a Music Score
  • Read, Play, and Count Rhythms Accurately

Who is the target audience?

  • This course is designed for students who have either never tried to learn music theory before, or tried and couldn't come grasp the concepts.
  • This is a course for students who want to understand everything about music theory, for the ground up.

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.


Section 1: Getting Started

Welcome to the class! In this lecture we will do a quick overview of the course.


I approach music theory from a composer and songwriters perspective. In this lecture I'll walk you through how I think about Music Theory and how I approach teaching (and learning) it.


I'm going to teach this class using a really cool (and FREE) software program. You don't need to get it, but I think it will help you learn more, and learn faster.

1 page

Here is the download I talked about in the previous lecture. Some nice clean staff paper. Print out a few sheets for taking notes!


There are a lot of music notation software programs (well, only 3, actually). And they can be quite expensive. I'm recommending a free one, but the others are worth talking about quickly before we dive in to the real guts of the class.

Section 2: All The Little Dots

To get started, I want to just walk through a score and point out the different elements that we are seeing. We will learn what all of these mean soon.


Here we go: The names of the pitches.


We have pitch names, which we just learned. We also have pitch classes - slightly different (but important) than pitch names.


A lot of music theory comes down to intervals - the distance between notes. Our first interval that we will learn is the Octave.

4 pages

Here is a downloadable PDF worksheet for you to practice on. Page 2 of this worksheet has the answers on it so you can check your work. Practice, practice, practice!

Section 3: The Keyboard Layout

We won't be learning how to play the piano in this class. But the piano is useful to us because it gives us a really nice visual of the notes.


We've learned the names of the notes, so next lets learn how to find them on the keyboard.


The black keys present a little bit of a problem. They have 2 different names, and this can be confusing. But hold tight - it will all make sense after this video.


We've learned about Octaves - our first interval. Now we need to learn 2 more intervals, and these are much smaller than an octave.


Up next: A little recap. We need to connect a few dots to make sense of how this all works together.

4 pages

Here is a downloadable PDF worksheet for you to practice on. Page 2 of this worksheet has the answers on it so you can check your work. Practice, practice, practice!

Section 4: Pitch Notation on the Staff

Lets go a little deeper on how the staff works, and how we read notes from it.


A new wrinkle! The Clef can show us what range of notes we are talking about. There are many clefs, and everything changes if we are on a different clef.


Lets focus just on the treble clef for now, and get back to what we already know.


Now that we can see notes on the staff, we should try to get comfortable naming the notes and the intervals.


Sometimes we use numbers to indicate the octave, like C3, C4, C5, etc. You might see these numbers so I want you to know what they mean.

4 pages
Here is a downloadable PDF worksheet for you to practice on. Page 2 of this worksheet has the answers on it so you can check your work. Practice, practice, practice!
Section 5: Organizing Time in Music Notation

Beats! Finding the beat, feeling the beat, and notating the beat are fairly difficult concepts. But with a little guidance, I can get it sorted out for you.


We have, mainly, two different types of meters (time) in music: Duple and Triple.


Three new terms: Tempo (speed), Downbeats, and upbeats.

4 pages
Here is a downloadable PDF worksheet for you to practice on. Page 2 of this worksheet has the answers on it so you can check your work. Practice, practice, practice!
Section 6: Notating time on a Musical Staff

In order to notate rhythms, we need to be able to quantify them by their relationship to each other.


We can add a dot to any rhythm (or rest) to elongate it.


What about a rhythm that indicates a certain amount of silence? That is called a rest, and there is one for every rhythmic symbol.


So far we have looked mostly only at the time signature of 4/4. But there are many others, and things work a little differently in each one.


So far we have a whole note (4 beats long) as the longest possible rhythmic symbol. But we can make longer symbols by connecting a few together using ties.


A brief side note: I've been giving you a lot of terms in this class that are specific to the way we talk about music in the United States. In this lecture I'll talk a bit about some things you should know if you are outside of the U.S.

5 pages
Here is a downloadable PDF worksheet for you to practice on. Page 2 of this worksheet has the answers on it so you can check your work. Practice, practice, practice!
Section 7: Score Symbols and Conventions

So far we have talked about notes on the score, and rhythms on the score. What about volume? We call volume "Dynamics" and this is how we notate them.


There is a little more to accidentals that we haven't learned yet. Lets tie up some loose ends about accidentals in this video.


Form is the order of events in music. It is also notated on the score using repeats, DS sections, and other tricks.

3 pages
Here is a downloadable PDF worksheet for you to practice on. Page 2 of this worksheet has the answers on it so you can check your work. Practice, practice, practice!
Section 8: Putting it All Together

There is a secret website that publishes thousands and thousands of scores that we can download and practice with.


Here are my tips for practicing!

108 pages

Here are a bunch of files for you to practice with. This is actually a complete book of (fairly) simple music compositions to practice with.

Section 9: Wrap Up

Thats it for part 1! We've only scratched the surface!


In the next class, we are going to be talking about Scales and chords. I thought here would be a good chance to give you a preview, and let you know why we care about these things.


There is plenty more to learn!

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Instructor Biography

Jason Allen, Ph.D / Ableton Certified Trainer

J. Anthony Allen has worn the hats of composer, producer, songwriter, engineer, sound designer, DJ, remix artist, multi-media artist, performer, inventor, and entrepreneur. Allen is a versatile creator whose diverse project experience ranges from works written for the Minnesota Orchestra to pieces developed for film, TV, and radio. An innovator in the field of electronic performance, Allen performs on a set of “glove” controllers, which he has designed, built, and programmed by himself. When he’s not working as a solo artist, Allen is a serial collaborator. His primary collaborative vehicle is the group Ballet Mech, for which Allen is one of three producers.

J. Anthony Allen teaches at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN., and is an Ableton Live Certified Trainer. He is a co-founder and owner of Slam Academy, a multimedia educational space in downtown Minneapolis. Recently, Allen founded Hackademica – an innovative net-label for new music.

J. has a PhD in music composition, 2 Master’s degrees in music composition and electronic music, and a bachelors degree in guitar performance. Through his academic travels, Dr. Allen has received numerous awards along the way.

If you run into him on the street, he prefers to be addressed as J. (as in, Jay.)

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