My Approach To Music Theory

A free video tutorial from Jason Allen
Ph.D / Ableton Certified Trainer
Rating: 4.6 out of 5Instructor rating
118 courses
284,098 students
My Approach To Music Theory

Lecture description

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.

Learn more from the full course

Music Theory Comprehensive Complete! (Parts 1, 2, & 3)

A Complete College-Level Music Theory Curriculum. This edition of the course includes levels 1, 2, & 3.

12:07:55 of on-demand video • Updated June 2023

Read Music Using Proven Techniques
Understand All the Symbols (Not Only the Notes) of a Music Score
Read, Play, and Count Rhythms Accurately
The elements of the Score
Pitch Names
Pitch Classes
The White Keys
The Black Keys (not the band!)
Half-Steps and Whole-Steps
Naming Octaves
Identifying Notes on the Staff
Identifying Notes on the Keyboard
Beat and Beat Divisions
Downbeats and Upbeats
Dotted Rhythms
Time Signatures
Form in Music Notation
Chromatic and Diatonic scales
Ordered Pitch Class Collections
The pattern of a Major Scale
Scale Degrees
Writing melodies with major scales
Analyzing melodies
What it means to be "in key"
Key signatures
How to identify key signatures
Popular song analysis
Building triads (chords)
Diatonic chord progressions
Roman numeral analysis
Finding chords by formula
The thirds inside of a chord
Finding fifths by finding thirds
Diminished triads
Augmented triads
Chords on the guitar
Full Analysis: Canon in D (Pachabel)
Full Analysis: Minuet in G (Bach)
7th Chords
Major 7th Chords
Minor 7th Chords
Dominant 7th Chords
Tendency Chords
Using the Circle of Fifths for Songwriting and Composition
Borrowing from Closely Related Keys
Scale Degree Names
Tendency Tones
Compound Meters
Compound Meter Signatures
Reading and Writing Compound Meters
Triplets, dubplets, and Quadruplets
Finding Minor keys by alternations to Major
Patterns in Minor keys
Relative Minor keys
Parallel Minor keys
Minor keys in the Circle of Fifths
Using Minor Keys for Songwriting and Composition
Diatonic Chord Progressions in Minor
The V Chord and Minor and the Leading Tone Problem
Harmonic Minor Scales
Melodic Minor Scales
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All right. So let's get started by first just talking about a few words about my approach to music theory and how I think about music theory. There's one kind of big rule that I kind of live by when it comes to music theory, and that is that your ear trumps the theory. So let me explain that. I teach music theory from the perspective of the composer, the songwriter, the producer. That's the kind of theory that I get into. I don't teach the kind of music theory where we analyze things just to see how detailed we can get. What I'm most concerned with is figuring out why something sounds the way it sounds so that we can use that technique in our own music. Now, if you're not a songwriter, that's fine, because what you're going to be able to do by the end of all of this is listen to something and know how to play it better. Maybe you're a performer and you want to play it better. Maybe you're just someone who just wants to understand music better for any number of reasons. But the way I approach music theory is as a composer, as a songwriter, and I do it so that I can take the general concept, the idea, and apply it to my own music. So it's not like stealing, right? Because it might be that in a particular song we hear these songwriters use these three chords in a row and it generated a kind of a feel, a sound, and we're like, Man, I really love that sound, that feel that he made with that. How can I replicate that? Well, what we can do is we can analyze it. We can find out what three chords they used. And then we can use those three chords. We can use variations of those three chords. And the second big goal to music theory is that maybe we skip that whole process altogether because we're going to learn that when we use a certain combination of notes, it generates this certain feel right. So we're just going to be able to skip that process and just say, Well, I know that when I put these notes together and then I follow them by these other notes, it generates this feel. So in a way we could say the other goal is to understand what music generates, what feeling, so that we can put that together to generate our own music, to write our own music, because that's what we want to be able to do. We want to be able to quickly think, I know that if I'm on this chord and I go to that chord, it's going to feel happy. I know if I'm on this chord and I go to that chord, it's going to feel sad or any number of much more complex emotions than happy and sad because music is capable of generating a lot of very complex emotions. So those are kind of my big two goals in the way that I approach music theory. If you've written something and you think it sounds cool or you've created something and you're like, That sounds great. And then later you find out that it doesn't make a lot of sense with music theory. There are two things wrong with with that. One is that who cares whether it makes sense in the rules of music theory? You're using music theory wrong. If it doesn't make sense in the rules of music theory, who cares if it sounds cool? It sounds cool. If it sounds the way you want it to sound, then that's just great. So that's the first thing that's wrong with that. The second thing that's wrong with that is that you're assuming your limited understanding of music theory means that it doesn't make sense when actually, if you got into some of the super advanced music theory, I'm sure you would find a way to make it make sense. Music theory goes, you know, it starts at the basics where we're going to start and it goes to like really complicated stuff. So and we'll get into some of that really complicated stuff by the end of this whole sequence of classes. But because you know a little bit about music theory or not, you but I shouldn't put this in terms of view because often people have taken a couple of music theory classes. They assume that what they've done doesn't make sense in the rules of music theory. So they want to change it. And that doesn't work very well either because music theory is so big and encapsulates so much stuff that you could be just not knowing of how to make sense of what you've written. In music theory, this is a long winded way of saying, Let your ear be the guide, let your ear be your guide. And when you learn something in music theory, make sure you understand how it sounds. Because that's the most important thing we need to remember always. That music theory is really just a way for us to distill things down and make sense of why they sound the way they sound. When we have something we don't like, the way it sounds, we we can pick it apart using music theory and we can say, Ah, that sounds dumb because it's this, this and this. That's why we don't like the way that sounds. And then we know, and then we can know not to do that if we don't want it to sound dumb, or if you're writing something and you're like, I'm writing a piece of music and I intentionally want it to sound dumb. I could do blah, blah, blah, blah, because I know that's a dumb sound. That's kind of a silly example, right? I often tell students, my composition students that. If you write 100% by the rules of music theory, then you will create something that sounds perfectly fine and boring. If you break no rules, everything will sound just fine and boring. So you have to break the rules to make something interesting. So keep that all in mind. Just remember your ear is the winner whenever it comes to analyzing something. And that's how I approach music theory. I do approach it from a composition songwriter perspective. Because that's what I am. That's how I learned it. And I think it's a good way to teach it. So with that in mind. Let's press on. Next thing I want to do is talk about the tools that we're going to need for this class.