Learning Music Theory

I have been jamming with my OT and A4 for about 6 months now, looking forward to adding an AR as soon. I have never trained as a musician or played instruments before.

I used to dabble with Cubase back in the day, but never really did anything and lacked inspiration. I have tried several times since then with Ableton and Maschine and got more results but still did not feel 100% right.

Using hardware is a different story … I am loving it!!! Drums in the OT and some bass lines in the A4, just keeping it simple, tweaking things , copy patterns, and building them into an arrangement.

For the first time I am enjoying the sounds that I am making, almost enough to upload to Soundcloud. There is a lot to learn and I am hungry, feel like learning music theory would help me move on to the next step?

Does anyone have any recommendations?

I have seen some online courses, Dubspot, Berklee, etc, but $$$.


I just discovered that yesterday, didn’t try it yet but it looks interesting or maybe not…

FWIW, though the knowledge is the same there are different approaches to learning it, some of which might get you closer to your musical goals faster than others.

What kind of music are you trying to make? Would you for example say it’s rooted in jazz sounds? Is it heavy on chord progressions and harmony, or less so? I realize you may not know what it is you don’t know :slight_smile: but tell us what you can.

If you can afford these instruments, I bet you can also afford some proper education. The paid options you mention above are probably a better value for you than anything free (assuming your time in not unlimited ;)).

1 Like

Hey man! To skip the whole almost stereo typical cool muso answer describing how its ‘all in the ear’ and music theory can’t teach you about life lessons etc, etc… There is a wealth of free information out there to get you learning as much or as little as you would like. My advice is find your medium and try base your learning around that. A keyboard is fairly handy. I actually find it fairly difficult to learn while looking at a computer screen and to this end. I have always found a light piece of printed literature can help. I swear I know how dumb and easy all of this sounds but if you can learn and practice.both the major and minor scales and really grasp em, the world is your cheeseburger!! The single most important thing I know about music is that the best results come from when you don’t have to think about what comes next…it just comes natural. Mill the scales out of it for a while, find the integration between both… Relate phrases and tempos to mood.
I also Berklee do a couple of free Web seminars right?


Just trying to make whatever comes out, :wink:

At the moment simple, 4/4 Techno and House stuff, love Jungle, Garage, Grime, anything bass music really.

I can get a nice simple bass line going but not sure how to layer other sounds over the top like chords or leads and how they fit/work together.

Do I need to worry about tuning my kick drums and is stuff in key.

Check out this music theory blog by Audanika, the developer of the Soundprism Pro app for IOS:


As you would expect, the blog leans heavily towards IOS apps, especially Soundprism Pro, but there’s some good theory lessons in there. They’re trying to teach theory in a way that today’s electronic musicians can relate to, as opposed to the more traditional teaching methods.

I found out about it in the lengthy “Fave music theory apps” thread on the Audiobus forum.

1 Like

^^ ha! beat me to it…

Do you own an ipad ? If so I highly recommend grabbing soundprism pro and heading over to the developer’s harmonic theory blog


Get your head around the Circle of Fifths. Although it was designed for DJs print out a copy of the Camelot mix wheel, which is the C.O.F with an easy to remember numeric system for harmonic progression.

Grab a midi note to frequency chart and stick it up next to your work area. For both composition and mixing it is important to understand how your frequencies are working.

Yes you should tune your kick especially if it has some degree of tail or sustain. In general your bass should be either the same as, or a fifth above or below the kick’s tuning (depending on the style you might tune the sub or the main body of the bass to the kick in this way). Often the kick( or the sub layered beneath) is actually providing the " root" of the bassline… The rules can be broken though, in which case it’s down to your ears and perhaps using a spectrum analyser to root out any phasing issues that might exist between your kick and your bass. ( big subject but basically the waveforms of the two can interact in a way where they interfere with each other or even cancel each other out.

Check this thread. There is a lot of knowledge dropped there regarding frequencies and the relation between the kick, bass and sub, especially by steevio…


This guy Terakith, and he’s a professional musician, mixer/masterer, and used to be an Elektron user. He has a fantastic website and blog with tons of advice on all things having to due with inspiration, writing, producing, etc. You just have to search his archives and you’ll find some real gems:


I have over the years basically given myself an education on sound design, mixing, and writing techniques. I’m not that good at it yet, but what I’ve learned (for free on the web) has taken my music up several notches. Simple things like mixing sounds properly, using compression, and how to build and drop energy throughout a song, can help you take a simple track to a level where you can start to hear how it could be fleshed out into something much better. It just takes a lot of time and practice to get all the details and elements to come together, in an efficient way where you don’t loose your steam and interest in a track.

Has there been any progress in the last few years? Nice tools or courses?

I know the basics and can read music, but my chord theory is very weak.

Just saw this Jacob Collier masterclass posted, although it’s actually 2 years old

1 Like

Andrew Huang has some music theory stuff. He sometimes mentions Adam Neely’s vids but I think Neely tends to go for the more nerdy side of music theory.


I can’t stand Andrew Huang voice so before Neely’s channel (more advanced) i’d recommend https://youtube.com/user/MusicTheoryForGuitar

It is well explained and not only for guitar, a topic at a time.
Gives also nice tips for composing.


Forgot about Rick Beato, also on YT. He teaches from both guitar and piano contexts.

Some people prefer Beato, others don’t care for his style.

A typical Adam Neely video is 30 min. of exposition on the brilliance of the “All By Myself” chord changes.

Whatever, check out whoever you like on YT and go with the teacher whose style suits you.

Most music theory that I learned was in a more traditional fashion - the 3-course sequence for 1st-year music majors at the university. As an engineering major, I thought of taking the other music theory course sequence - the one that’s dumbed down for non music majors. I’m glad I went for the more serious one.

As far as recent content, I don’t go out of my way to do point-by-point comparisons of Beato vs. Huang vs. Neely, but they seem ok for learning something instead of just watching your favorite cat videos. Most of my new learning has been from more focused content like jazz guitar, R&B rhythm guitar, etc.

The AB Guide to Music Theory Vol 1: Amazon.co.uk: Taylor, Eric: 9781854724465: Books and
Music Theory for Electronic Music Producers: The producer's guide to harmony, chord progressions, and song structure in the MIDI grid.: Amazon.co.uk: Allen PhD, Dr. J. Anthony: 9781727863024: Books
The former being cheap and used by everyone who ever did grade 3 music in any instrument ever.

1 Like

Production Music Live has a few theory course that are very well done and at a good price.

1 Like

Listening to this audiobook as I cook:

There’s an app called Complete Ear Trainer that I would recommend. It’s actually quite hard work to make progress through it - but the progress is real. I’m now much better at hearing intervals and harmonies and it’s genuinely useful in songwriting- saves a lot of time fumbling for the note you hear ‘in your mind’s eye’, you can just play.


Cool lesson from Matt Johnson. Don’t be quick to skip it if you don’t play keyboard, though. With careful observation and a little imagination, you can apply this to whatever instrument you play - be it sequencer, guitar, Linnstrument, tracker, or whatever.


yeah, his stuff is good. i’m kinda sorta getting back into learning to play piano. it’s humbling, to say the least. i especially enjoyed the neo soul one where he says he’s self taught, then proceeds to rattle off a pile of chords. time and experience go a long way.