Top 10 Music Theory Books

music theory

Top music theory books that will give you a better grasp over the theory behind the music that you love.

There are several music students who have been playing their musical instrument (piano, guitar, etc.) for several years but still do not have a good understanding of music theory (especially the advanced topics).

Then there are students who have been learning piano and theory for several years, have completed their grade 8 exams, but do not own any music theory books (for reference, just in case you want to revisit a topic for further clarification).

Remember, music theory is a huge subject that covers many areas. To get a good working knowledge of everything takes a long time, effort and commitment.

Here, we take a look at the best music theory books available for beginners, and also for the advanced players.

Advanced Music Theory Textbooks (Recommended )
Laitz’s The Complete Musician.
Pros: Extremely thorough, good pedagogy.
Cons: Dense reading can put off some readers.

Clendinning/Marvin’s Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis
Pros: Thorough, easy to read (conversational writing style).
Cons: Definitions are not always clear in text, although the glossary helps solve this.

Harmony and Voice Leading
List Price: $217.95
Price: $217.95
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Aldwell/Schachter’s Harmony and Voice Leading
Pros: Bible for part writing. Extremely thorough; the standard text for part writing.
Cons: Doesn’t discuss much outside of part writing.

More good books:

Recommended with reservations:
Benjamin/Horvit/Nelson’s Techniques and Materials of Music.
Pros: Good information presented in outline format. Concise and clear.
Cons: not very in-depth; few musical examples. If this kind of thing appeals to you, then great.

Turek’s Elements of Music.
The tone of this textbook is extremely conversational, also has much more jazz in it, and has some material directed at guitar players.

Not recommended:
Benward/Saker’s Music in Theory and Practice. Does not promote an understanding of concepts, but rather rote memorization.
Kostka/Payne’s Tonal Harmony. Again, does not promote an understanding of how chords work—chord function is not explicitly addressed, only chord spelling.

Books on Chords and Scales

Chords and scales are the basics of music theory. As a beginner, you may have learnt only a few chords and scales, but there are many more to be learnt.

For learning chords, a good book is The Chord Wheel, its about understanding chords and chord relationships!

For learning scales, a good book is Musical Scales of the World by Michael Hewitt.

Beginning Music Theory

Majority of music students, looking for theory textbooks, are studying music at secondary/high school level or have spent a couple of years taking music lessons, and need a theory book to help them understand music better (and to pass their exams).

Here are some more music theory books, but not as advanced as the list above.

Music Theory for Dummies

Introduces you to several concepts, in an easy to understand manner. Perfect for hobby students and musicians.

Music Theory for Computer Musicians
For DJs, gigging musicians, electronic music producers, who know how to play their instruments or make music on the computer, but have limited knowledge of music theory. This book helps them take their music-making to another level. There are a lot of musicians, DJs, electronic music producers who know how to create tracks using software, but are not very good with music theory. This book is for them. The basics that are taught in this book applies to all kinds/styles of music and will help you to take your music one notch higher. See PRICE on Amazon.

The Chord Wheel: The Ultimate Tool for All Musicians: Be a better musician with this chord wheel. Understand key structure, transpose keys quickly, and lot more. No music reading is necessary.

Musimathics: The Mathematical Foundations of Music (MIT Press): Introduction to the mathematics and physics of music; essential reading for musicians, music engineers, and anyone interested in the intersection of art and science.

The AB Guide to Music Theory Vol 1
If you live in the UK, you would definitely have heard about this book, it’s the standard text for GCSE level study. It covers everything you need to pass a GCSE level music theory exam.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music TheoryThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory, 2nd Edition (The Complete Idiot’s Guide) by Michael Miller.

Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians (Book & 2 CDs) (Essentials of Music Theory) by Andrew Surmani, Karen Surmani, and Morton Manus.

Edly's Music Theory for Practical People Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People by Ed Roseman.

Learning to Read Music (How to Make Sense of Those Mysterious Symbols and Bring Music Alive): Learning to read music (by Peter Nickol) is an important skill for orchestral musicians and most session players, but perhaps not to the musician who makes music at home. But if you really want to learn to read music, this is a good book to have.

Teaching Little Fingers to Play: A Book for the Earliest Beginner by John Thompson – Wonderful first piano book for kids!

Piano & Keyboard All-in-one for Dummies by Blake Neely – Gives you a good overview on Piano/Keyboards. It is suited more for adults than for kids

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory Book by Michael Miller. Basic theory book! comes with a CD which has listening examples and exercises

Music Theory for Practical People by Ed Roseman. It is Witty and covers all the beginner music theory basics. Can be used by all – from teens to adults

Most of these books can be found (new or used) online or at various universities for music majors.

Have any questions or feedback, or want to suggest few other books, let me know in the comment below!

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