Navigating the Music Theory Maze

Navigating the Music Theory Maze

Jackie Collver, Writer

Music theory can be…confusing. The Encyclopedia Brittanica defines it as “the study of the concepts and compositional methods involved in the creation of music.” There are so many complex terms that can make it difficult to understand. Learning these terms often leads to more unknown terms, sending eager learners through a maze of Wikipedia articles.  


Ways to navigate this labyrinth do exist, though. 


First, it may be a good idea to figure out why you want to learn music theory. For instance, are you trying to understand musical qualities like tone and texture, or do you want to explore compositional elements like dynamics and rhythm? This way, you can start somewhere with definitions you need to know without getting bogged down with too many terms.  


This carries us to another tip: research simple definitions before moving on to the harder material. For example, if you want to learn about notes in a chord, you can study first, third and fifth notes. This can help you decipher which seventh and ninth notes you want to use if you’re improvising or composing music. When you play a chord, try to recognize these notes within it.  


Thirdly, studying why certain note combinations work well while others don’t is an interesting component of music theory. Knowing which notes belong in which scales is a good tool to help you understand musical keys.  


When learning about different keys, it can be fun to add certain notes to see how they sound in scales. These added notes can be tied into more music theory concepts later, like blues notes, when you lower either the third, fifth or seventh notes in a major scale.  


It also might be a good idea to study some piano before really diving into music theory. It may be easier for you to see the notes in chord. It’s also easier to practice scales on the piano since you can find the notes than on an instrument like the guitar. Counting frets, for me at least, is harder than counting keys. 


Without a doubt, music theory is a twisted maze that’s hard to navigate. However, through finding simplified definitions of chords and looking at basic scales, you can find your way through it. Understanding music can be hard, but hopefully these few tips will help any aspiring musician like myself. It will take some time and effort, but you can do it! Just take it on definition and Wikipedia article at a time.