Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Everyone loves music, but do you love it and appreciate it as much as you could? It’s one thing to enjoy those songs that get stuck in your head, but there’s a real power to music that many don’t recognize — for example, music can treat dementia.
It’s amazing how much more interesting music becomes once you learn the underlying concepts that drive the creativity of musicians. As someone who’s taken his share of musical classes, I can say that I hear music in a different way than I did just a few years ago, and it has changed my life.
Music theory is comprehensive. It’s more than just learning how to read music or picking up instrumental skills. It’s more fundamental than topics like audio editing or sound engineering. It’s the exploration of all possibilities in music, and we still have so much left to explore.
Here’s how you can tap into the phenomena of music. The best part? Most of these amazing resources are free!
Many people think that an introduction to music theory is the first step towards musical appreciation, but Yale University’s Craig Wright doesn’t necessarily agree. In fact, he claims that the proper first step for someone who wants to learn music is learning how to listen to music.
Right off the bat, Professor Wright says that music is not always a passive activity. By being an active listener, you’ll find the experience to be far more rewarding, and that’s when appreciation and knowledge can truly start being cultivated.
This YouTube playlist is a series of 23 lectures from Yale’s Listening to Music course. Each lecture is a little less than an hour long, and by the end of the course you’ll know all about rhythm, melody, harmony, and all the nuanced differences that have made music so special over the last several centuries.
YouTube is such a hotspot for online education these days. You can learn all kinds of stuff, from theology and philosophy to more practical skills like woodworking. But before you learn instruments on YouTube, take a few days to learn the fundamentals of music.
Pebber Brown is a relatively well-known guitar enthusiast who has studied at five different universities and under 19 different mentors. He’s more than qualified to teach music, and the real treat here is that he provides a lot of great musical education on his YouTube channel for free.
The Music Fundamentals 101 series is a collection of 1-hour recordings of one of the classes he taught back in 2013. With over 23 videos in the series, the total length of this course is just under 20 full hours, and the content within is incredibly dense and worthwhile.
The two courses above are incredibly valuable and should not be skipped if you want to learn music theory in a comprehensive manner. But not everyone has 20+ hours to spend on a music theory course, and sometimes a not-so-comprehensive overview is preferable.
If that describes you, then you should head over to MusicTheory.net and check out their online lessons. They’re short, concise, and only focus on the most essential bits of knowledge. Topics covered include reading music and understanding rhythm, scales, chords, and chord progressions.
But personally, I think that this resource works best as a refresher and a cheat sheet. They offer an iOS app called Theory Lessons that lets you access these lessons in a portable manner. The app is available for $2.99.
We’re big fans of online education websites like Khan Academy. They provide so much value, and most courses can be taken without ever paying a cent, so take advantage of them while you can.
One free course in particular — Fundamentals of Music Theory — is available on Coursera. The curriculum comes from University of Edinburgh’s Reid School of Music and is designed for those who have absolutely no formal education or background in music.
Due to way Coursera works, you’ll need to catch an ongoing sFession to fully participate in this 5-week course. At the time of writing this, the latest course ran from August 3rd to September 20th. Fortunately, if you missed it, you can add the course to your Coursera watchlist to be notified when future sessions become available.
Like Coursera, Udemy is an online education platform that provides a lot of quality free content that can help you become a better you. For example, these Udemy courses on self-improvement can push you beyond your comfort zone and help you grow.
There are dozens of music-related Udemy courses priced between $10 and $100, which means you can get a complete well-rounded education for the price of two or three tutoring sessions from a local teacher. But if you aren’t ready to spend cash yet, we recommend the Music Theory Classes course.
Don’t be turned away by the educator’s age. Caleb Curry may look young, but this 18-hour course is packed with 180+ lectures that will teach you all about the science behind music, building chords, musical scales, and training your ear to truly hear music.
For those already have at least some exposure to music theory, then you should check out Ethan Winer’s Basic Music Theory series on YouTube. It’s broken into five segments with a total playtime length of about two-and-a-half hours. You could fit it into one evening if you really tried.
In such a short time, Winer manages to cover all of the nuances of foundational music theory without skipping over anything important. From start to end, it touches on enough material to count for a semester-long course in college.
But there’s a downside to material that’s this dense: the coverage is brisk. Someone with no musical background will find themselves lost within the first 10 minutes, which is why we only recommend it as a supplementary course to help solidify already-learned knowledge.
Lastly, for those who are seeking an actual college-level music theory course that can be taken online, consider enrolling online at Berklee College of Music. You can take individual courses without needing to pursue a degree.
Their Music Theory 101 course is a 12-week curriculum for absolute beginners. Its purpose is to help build a solid foundation in music, covering everything from pitch and rhythm to chords and harmony. By the end, you’ll be able to read music and write your own melodies.
Here’s the bad news: tuition for this course costs $1,249 if you want it to be worth 3 credit hours at Berklee (in case you’re seeking to attain a degree). The non-credit tuition goes for a discounted rate of $1,099, and if you want it to count for 6 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) then it’ll cost an extra $25.
The next term for this course begins on September 28th. Berklee College of Music is an accredited institute.
Everyone Deserves to Learn Music
Every culture in the world has some form of musical history. Music runs through our blood and it has the power to shape our hearts and minds. Whether by taking a simple free course or diving into it with a college professor, everyone should learn at least a little bit.
How is your musical knowledge? Which resources have been helpful to you? Are there any good online courses that we missed? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!