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Music theory


Music theory is a set of systems for analyzing, classifying, and composing music and the elements of music . Narrowly it may be defined as the description in words of elements of music, and theinterrelationship between the notation of music and performancepractice. Broadly, theory may be considered any statement, belief, or conception of music ( Boretz , 1995). The academic study of music is called musicology .

Music theory generally follows the pattern of attempting to reduce the practice of composing and playing into rules and ideas.Generally, music theory works are both descriptive and prescriptive, that is they both attempt to define practice and toinfluence later practice. Thus, music theory generally lags behind practice in important ways, but also points towards futureexploration and performance. Musicians study music theory in order to be able to understand the relationships that a composer orsongwriter expects to be understood in the notation, and composers study music theory in order to be able to understand how toproduce effects and to structure their own works. Composers may study music theory in order to guide their precompositional and compositional decisions. Broadly speaking music theoryin the Western tradition focuses on harmony and counterpoint , and then uses these to explain large scale structure and the creation of melody .



Music theory describes how sounds , which travel in waves , are notated, and the relationship between what is sounded, or played, is perceived by listeners. The study ofhow humans interpret sound is called psychoacoustics . In music thesewaves are not usually measured by length (or wavelength ) or period , but by frequency .

Every object has a resonant frequency which is determined by the object'scomposition. The different frequencies at which the sound producers of mostinstruments vibrate are given by the harmonicseries . The resonators of musical instruments are designedto exploit these frequencies. Different instruments have different timbres because ofvariation in the size and shape of the instrument.

Often the fundamental aspects of sound and music are described as pitch , duration , intensity , and timbre .


Sounds can be classified into pitches , according to their frequencies or their relative distance from a reference pitch. Tuning is the process of assigning pitches to notes . The distance in pitch between two notes is called an interval . Notes, in turn, can be arranged into different scales and modes . The most common scales are the major and minorscales .


Rhythm is the arrangement of sounds in time . Metre divides time into regular intervals, called measures (or bars in British English). The time signature specifies how many beats are in ameasure, and which kind of note lasts for one beat. Syncopated rhythms arerhythms in which normally unaccented beats are accented. Playing simultaneous rhythms in more than one time signature is called polyrhythm .


Melody combines notes pitches with rhythm. In a piece of music, the melody is themost identifiable theme. Melodies will often imply certain scales. Counterpoint is the study of combining and layering more or less independent melodies.


Harmony happens when two or more notes sound at the same time, although anunaccompanied melody can still imply harmony. Melodies are often structured around sequences of chords , called chord progressions .


Music notation is the graphical representation of music. Notes andrhythms are represented as symbols on the musical staff , along withdirections indicating the key , tempo , dynamics , etc.


See: Musical analysis and Schenkerian analysis .


  • The AB guides, written by Eric Taylor, are published by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music , famous for their gradedmusic examinations.
    • The AB Guide to Music Theory, Part I; ISBN 1854724460
    • The AB Guide to Music Theory, Part II; ISBN 1854724479


  • Boretz, Benjamin (1995) Meta-Variations: Studies in the Foundations of Musical Thought. Red Hook, New York: OpenSpace.

External links

Contributors please read WikiProject Music terminology if you consider working on these subjects.

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