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Basic Music Theory

Learn how music works – for rappers, singers, songwriters, musicians and music producers

Last Updated: November 2022

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On this page, you’ll find articles to help you understand basic music theory and how music works FAST – without unnecessary fluff and technical aspects.

You’ll learn just the essentials to help you make better music.

Use the guides below to learn everything you need to understand music theory quickly.

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Time & Rhythm in Music

In our music theory 101 course, learn how to count music and recognize how rhythm and time work.

Notes, Scales and Modes

In the music theory 102 guide, you’ll learn all the different notes, scales and modes in western music

All About Chords in Music

Learn everything you need to know about chords in music theory in this third guide.

Microphone Month at Sweetwater

Nashville Number System

In the music theory 201 course, you’ll learn the number system and how it makes everything easier.

Chord Progressions

In the last installment – music theory 202 – we get into chord progressions and the circle of fifths.

How to Read Sheet Music

In the latest installment of our music theory lessons, you’ll learn to read notation

Why Learn Music Theory?

Learning to make music can be a pretty intimidating project. If you’re a complete beginner you need to understand how time works in music and how notes relate to each other.

And what about playing a full song? Where do you even start with that?

When you know how music works to produce emotion through sound, your opportunities for music creation become limitless. You no longer struggle with knowing what to do or where to go next. It’s an essential skill-set for any musician or music performer.

Whether you’re a music producer, rapper/singer, songwriter or want to play an instrument, it’s important to learn how music works – not so you have to follow rules, but so you know the way different musical ingredients work together to sound good.

Frequently Asked Questions About Music Theory

Is Music Theory Important or Necessary?

Music theory is, simply put, “how music works.” If you want to make music – whether that means playing an instrument or writing your songs – then it’s very important you learn the absolute basics about how music works. You need to know what notes/scales/chords are and what notes go together, what rhythm means, etc. If you don’t know what the building blocks of music are, it makes it much more difficult to create or understand. You don’t need an in-depth, master’s level education in theory, but you do need to know the basics.

Is Music Theory the Same for All Instruments?

Technically, yes – the basics of music theory applies to whatever instrument you’re playing. You use the same notes and scales regardless of the instrument. However, different styles of music may have different theory rules. For example, western music theory differs in certain ways from “eastern” music theory. But many of the concepts, even then, will overlap various styles of music around the world.

Is Music Theory Hard or Easy?

Both – the fundamentals you need to learn like notes, chords, scales, intervals, rhythm/time, etc. are fairly straight forward to wrap your head around. However, there are more intermediate and advanced concepts that can seem cumbersome at first, especially if you approach it from an “academic” style. But if you really strip it down, the concepts become manageable. And you don’t need to learn the most advanced and obscure music theory in order to make amazing music – but you do need to know the fundamentals.

Does Music Theory Help Songwriting or Producing?

Absolutely – music theory is an essential part of understanding how music works. So if you’re planning on producing music or writing songs, you need to know what the building blocks are and how you can use them to craft your music. For songwriters music theory helps you understand what melodies and harmonies to write on top of the music, and when you’re producing theory will help you know what bassline works best with a particular chord progression or melody you created. Basic music theory is essential knowledge.

Does Music Theory Involve Math?

Technically, yes. Music theory is basically just math. But that doesn’t mean you need to be a wizard calculator in order to understand it. Really, basic music theory can be boiled down to recognizing different patterns – patterns of notes, patterns of chords, etc. Although the underlying mechanics of music theory are mathematical, you don’t need to do any math to learn how to make great music.

What Music Theory Should I Learn?

It’s important to learn the absolute basics and some of the more intermediate stuff involved with music theory. If you learn all about notes, intervals, scales, chords, chord progressions and diatonic harmony, rhythm and how to read music you’ll be in a great place to understanding how music works. Basically, just read the guides on this page and you’ll have a crash course in the fundamentals that are essential to your music making ability.

Does Music Theory Ruin Creativity?

Absolutely NOT! Knowing music theory will not ruin your creativity, it will actually help expand your creativity. Think about it like this – if you want to cook a great meal, wouldn’t it be good to know what different foods and spices taste like before you just start throwing things together? Knowing what everything tastes like before you cook your meal doesn’t box you in, it actually lets you be more creative in how you combine the foods and spices you’re going to use. The same goes for music – knowing how the building blocks work together allows you to get more creative in how you use them. Learn the rules, so you can use them and break them to create something uniquely spectacular.

basic music theory guides