Learning Music Theory

This is a really nice 29 minute video covering the basics:

And then:

The other videos on the Underdog channel are also pretty good.


The Great Myth of the Medieval Tritone Ban

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Would you recommend this for learning to become better at playing synth keys and get to know chords? I’ve arrived at a point where I always noodle the same stuff due to my lack of playing skills and think that a starter to get me into practicing keyboard with a focus on electronic/new wave style music would be great.

I don’t think it’s a completely straight forward answer to your questions. Some people get a lot of ideas from learning theoretical aspects of music (even the term music theory is somewhat problematic) while others get totally stuck because of it. Usually because having a little but not enough knowledge can make some people nervous about doing something “incorrect” and that it makes them doubt their ability to judge if something sounds good or not.

Personally I think it’s great to learn as much as possible just be aware that your ability to make choices based on your judgment is the most important knowledge of all.

It’s also important to be aware of that often theoretical concepts are presented as facts but they are in fact highly debated among highly skilled artists and scholars.

For example when it comes to your question about the kick and bass. It can sound great to tune it to the root but it also depends on what you consider being the role of the bass line. If it has any melodic information at all then some of the theory advocated for in “techno music theory” goes right out of the window immediately.

My advice would be to learn all you can while you feel motivated but never feel like you “have to” do a certain thing just because someone said it. Your own judgment is what will make you improve above all :blush:


An old friend who used to teach piano to children and adults told me she always starts adults off by learning how chords work. I struggled with basic theory for years before she suggested this to me. My knowledge is still super basic but I get by well enough for dance music.

That video alone?

No, because it’s focused on rhythm and not so much on adding to your chord vocabulary. Then again, if your main focus is rock and pop, you will need to work on playing in good time with a beat, sooner or later - for this purpose the video is great.

I have a Vidami video looper pedal and for me it’s a game changer. It lets me slow down Youtube videos and loop any part of them, all hands-free. If you don’t have such a pedal, you can use the speed settings in Youtube to slow down the video, to make it easier to learn stuff.

Matt has other videos on his channel that should be helpful for your goal of learning more chords.

Also learning the keyboard parts to favorite songs by your favorite artists should be part of your process. Any theory lessons you try out will make more sense when you also work with real songs. Of course you should pick a song that you feel comfortable learning - for example, I wouldn’t take on “Rio” by Duran Duran because the keyboard part is heavily reliant on the Jupiter-4 arpeggiator and I don’t have a Jupiter-4.


Finding an interesting way to get into it helps a lot. Personally, I love channels like 8-bit Music Theory because I’ve spent so much time gaming and know much of the music inside and out.

Having songs broken down and theory applied really opened my eyes to the language of music theory.

Charles Cornell is another favorite of mine for similar reasons. Good at sharing his knowledge in an entertaining way, and uses plenty of examples from stuff I love.

I guess my point is find a way that makes it interesting! Decide what kind of music you love to listen to or make and see if there are teachers that use that style as examples.

That said, the more I learn, the more I learn I don’t know.


+1 to 8 Bit Music Theory. That guy is great.

And I think you nailed it with your comment to focus on a specific style. Music theory is a very broad term and there isn’t one set of rules. It’s genre specific. Jazz theory has a very different set of rules than classical theory than rock theory than blues theory, etc.

OP, if there is one main genre that you want to learn more about, start there, and as you learn more and want to incorporate other styles into your own music, then start breaking out into music theory for other genres.


These are great points, and I’d like to add to them!

A lot of amateur musicians (no shade here, I consider myself an amateur) consider music theory as a set of rules and thus are afraid it will “box them in” or “stifle their creativity” when the truth is the opposite. Music theory is simply a way to describe how and why certain sounds fit together. It’s not a collection of rules, it’s an attempt at a descriptive language. Once you learn a couple things and start to see how the parts connect together, it opens up worlds for exploration!

I personally find the piano a great tool for understanding music theory since everything is basically laid out in front of you.


The idea that learning music theory will ‘stifle creativity’ is like arguing that having a dictionary will stop you from being a creative writer.

Just remember: it’s descriptive, not prescriptive. You can still do whatever you want. A lot of the wildest, most offensively bizarre music of the 20th century came from products of the conservatory who knew all the principles (and wanted to break them).

I would also ask: are you an incredibly creative rule-breaker now? Do people hear your music and shake their heads in surprise and confusion, asking 'how did you ever think of that?" What, exactly, is the risk here?

The risk is not that your creativity will be dulled by a need to use the ideas you’ve learnt; it’s that you’ll realise you’re already using a very narrow spectrum of those ideas, which is potentially a blow to the ego.


Is that like one of them " History of French war victories" books you used to get in the joke shop where all the pages are blank?


Those two comments up above are brilliant.

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dude, i’m dying looking at that youTube intro. seriously, how the fuck do you count a dotted QN in 3/8 and then change to 2/4 LMAO, dying… 7/4? LoL

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There’s also https://www.earmaster.com/ which I need the time to go through :stuck_out_tongue:

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Haha :joy: kind of. There seem to be a lot of videos past couple of years offering “music theory” from the perspective of techno or other dance music genres. Even though it’s not bad advice in the videos it is often in my opinion presented as too rigid rules so potentially seems limiting on people’s creativity. I think it could be presented more as a point of view and not the typical “this is the secret that makes music sound professional” kinda thing.

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Oh yeah, YouTube is stuffed with all that sort of nonsense. Most of it seems to be adverts for some plugin or other.

Story time. Last weekend I visited San Francisco where my daughter was involved in a vocal music festival. One of the concerts featured cabaret style music. The pianist for the entire concert made my jaw drop. I spoke with another classically trained pianist attending the event, and he said that all the pianists at the festival were shaking their heads in disbelief after hearing this guy. He was a virtuoso with amazing control over dynamics and texture, and he followed the singers perfectly. I have never heard better piano playing live. The zinger: My daughter told me the guy was reading from lead sheets. Very well-prepared, sophisticated lead sheets, no doubt. Even if every note had been written out, the performance still would have been amazing. I noticed during the concert that he was not turning pages during individual pieces, so I suspected he was using lead sheets. Given the sheer number of notes he played, each song, if written out properly, would have spanned several pages.

So, yes, learn music theory.


Well, yes, if you want to be a concert pianist, I’d suggest you might need to know a bit of music theory.

But if you want to bang out a bit of the old techno on the Digitakt or whatever, not such a big deal.

learning music theory as well as learning one’s instrument(s) is part of the joy of music making…it’s not imperative to do either, but it helps fluid, confident expression to do both.