Music students sometimes view music theory as a boring subject that is not integral to their mastery of an instrument. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Although music theory does not sound very exciting on the surface, it is actually a very necessary component of musical training and can improve a musician’s sight reading, musicianship, and ear training abilities. While there are college programs available for those who would like to pursue music theory academically, there are also numerous self-paced programs available on the Internet, and many of these are free.
The following are some of the best online resources for learning about music theory:
1. Ultimate Music Theory
One of the top online music theory resources is the Ultimate Music Theory (UMT). This website offers resources for instructors and students alike and provides a solid music theory foundation that expands on the key fundamentals of music: melody, harmony, and rhythm.
For students, the site offers a combination of online instruction and companion workbooks that cover the basics all the way to advanced concepts, with a focus on reviewing previous content and repeating skills. UMT also prepares students to take Royal Academy of Music exams.
Ultimate Music Theory also provides lesson plans and worksheets, as well as video lessons, for music theory teachers to use. An addition, teachers can access the site’s free resources, including extra worksheets and certificates of achievement. There is also a music instructor blog, where instructors can get tips and advice on implementing the program. For those interested in professional development, the company offers its UMT Teacher Certification Course.
2. Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People
One of the most fun and engaging music theory resources out there is Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People. This site offers a variety of different printable, engaging, music theory infographics on topics ranging from the history of music theory to modern music theory concepts, and it adds new materials on a regular basis. Perfect for students and teachers, each item is available free of charge—although larger, poster-size versions of the infographics, which can be a wonderful addition to any music classroom—are available for purchase. Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People is funded entirely through donations and the sale of music theory-related merchandise, such as hats, buttons, and T-shirts.
Another valuable online music theory website is musictheory.net. On the company’s website, visitors can access a number of free music theory exercises on topics to help them identify key components and work on ear training. Students can also take advantage of free, customizable, lessons on a variety of topics, including measures and time signature, key signature calculation, and phrases and cadences.
Musictheory.net supports itself by selling mobile applications for iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads. It offers 39 animated music theory lessons as well as a number of offline tools and exercises to help students practice when they don’t have an Internet connection.
Music instructors can use musictheory.net to assign and track homework. They can also communicate directly with their students and provide instructional feedback via the site. Additionally, students can use the site to turn in homework, check their progress, and verify that they’ve completed their music theory exercises.
This online learning platform was created in 2012 by two Stanford professors who wanted to give more people access to college-level instruction. Today, the site partners with more than 145 universities around the world to offer online courses in a multitude of fields, including music theory.
One of Coursera’s courses is Fundamentals of Music Theory. This six-week class, taught by professors from the University of Edinburg’s Reid School of Music, covers topics such as intervals, pitch and scales, as well as basic harmony, with the goal of helping students achieve a deeper understanding of music theory and enable them to critically analyze music from both an entertainment and historical standpoint.
In addition, Fundamentals of Music Theory reviews the musical concepts in Western music theory, ranging from a basic level of understanding to more advanced concepts for seasoned musicians. Students who complete the class receive a Course Certificate to share with their social and professional networks. Additionally, students can review other students’ assignments and provide each other with valuable feedback, which not only helps students grasp music theory concepts, it also helps foster social interactions and enables bonds to form within the group.