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Learn music theory with online courses and programs

Enrich your appreciation and engagement with the universal language of music through the study of music theory. Learn more with edX courses.

What is music theory?

Music theory is the study of the fundamental principles that underlie the structure and composition of music. It encompasses concepts such as notation, scales, chords, rhythm, harmony, and form. It helps create a framework for understanding why music works the way it does and how to experiment with what's possible. 

Music theory encompasses not just the sounds but also the fundamental language of music. You learn key signatures and chord progressions, among other music notation concepts, and music history to help bring that theory into practice. Music theory may have an intricate exterior, but at its core, it's a collection of names for aspects of music that you already hear around you. Learning the musical grammar helps you both appreciate and create music with a more comprehensive understanding.

Music Theory | Introduction Image Description

Music theory course curriculum

Learning music theory can provide a deeper connection to music as an art form and empower learners to read and interpret sheet music, compose their own melodies, and improvise with confidence. An introductory music theory course might cover topics such as:

  • Musical notation

  • Major and minor scales

  • Intervals (distance between notes) and chords (harmonies)

  • Rhythmic patterns and different meter signatures

  • Structure of musical compositions

  • How music theory has evolved over time and its influence on various musical genres and periods

Start building the knowledge you need to work in the music theory field with edX. From accelerated boot camps to comprehensive programs that allow you to earn a bachelor’s degree or (for more advanced learners) a master’s degree, there are many different learning formats available to fit your needs. You can also explore executive education courses specifically designed for busy professionals. Find the right course for you.

Explore jobs related to music theory

Learning music theory can open up a variety of exciting and rewarding career opportunities in the music industry and related fields. While some careers directly involve musical performance and composition, others benefit from the analytical and creative skills developed through studying music theory. 

Some potential career paths for individuals who learn music theory could include:

  • Musician/Instrumentalist: Performs as a solo artist or as part of an ensemble in various music genres, such as classical music, jazz, rock, or pop.

  • Composer: Creates original music compositions or arranges existing pieces for different instruments and ensembles.

  • Music instructor: Teaches music theory, instruments, or vocal techniques in schools, conservatories, or private music studios.

  • Music therapist: Uses music to help individuals with physical, emotional, or cognitive challenges to achieve therapeutic goals.

Each of these roles will have different education and skills requirements. Some employers may seek candidates with a degree in music theory, depending on the role. Before deciding on a specific learning path, research the positions you hope to pursue and align your coursework with your career goals.