For many people, music theory is a dry, uninteresting subject that is painful to learn, and hard to put into practice. I have never been cursed with this mindset. In fact, I have always enjoyed learning about music and the theoretical aspects behind it. But I am always on the lookout for other ways of thinking, and sometimes I come across gems on music theory that I like to share. This article is about one such gem that I found. It is effectively a course on basic music theory, but takes an approach which I found to be refreshing and pretty logical. It is a course from The Teaching Company, called Understanding the Fundamentals of Music by Professor Robert Greenberg.
Theory Without Books
The main benefit of this course is that Dr. Greenberg assumes that you will not be reading music. In fact, he assumes that you can’t read music. This means the course is all about the music, and not about the music notation, or analysis. While I don’t think this is completely sufficient for a composer, I do believe that if you are relatively new to composing and music theory, this is probably the best way to get acquainted with the concepts of music theory. It gives you a grounding in reality first, from which you can pursue deeper knowledge of theory.
What Understanding the Fundamentals of Music Covers
Music theory, even basic music theory, is still a vast subject. Dr. Greenberg decides to approach it from the ground up, not starting at theoretical issues like notes, or chords, or form. Instead he starts with timbre. But he does it in a very entertaining way. He pretty much covers all of the main instruments of the orchestra, and gives you interesting tidbits about their history or where they’ve been used. I found the section on timpani pretty funny.
From there he moves on to beats, tempo and meter, giving a once over the world of the two defining features of music – time. The other defining feature really being sound.
Following that, he moves on to pitch, modes, intervals and the different tuning systems.
What Every High School Student Should Know
As I said a little earlier, I was a music theory nerd most of my life. My love affair with theory really started in high school though, when I began composing on my own on a regular basis. But most of my theory was self-taught. I would look for things that I heard repeatedly in the music, and try to figure out what was going on. In particular, I remember “discovering” the diminished chord. This was that strange, dastardly sound that I always heard in cartoons when they tied the kidnapped woman to the train tracks to be swooped up at the last minute.
After going through this, I wish I would have had a course just like this one. It is thorough, but not to the point of boredom. And it covers concepts that were pretty much alien to me at that time.
The most important thing it brings up, and something that is near and dear to my heart is functional harmony. The concepts in this section rival some text books in the way it is described, but the entertainment factor is far higher. And the cost for this is pretty reasonable compared to some music theory books. I would even wager that this rivals many community college courses on music theory, especially since you can re-listen to them.
Go Forth and Learn Basic Music Theory
I realize this is not for everyone, but if you are relatively new to music, theory, composing, or you just want to have an entertaining brush up on your basic music theory, then once again, I highly recommend Understanding the Fundamentals of Music by Professor Robert Greenberg.
P.S. I had the digital audio version, and not the DVDs. I don’t know if they offer anything in particular over the audio, but if you have any experience with them, let me know.