Learning music theory can be a daunting task, but thanks to the power of the internet there are many different approaches you can take to tackling it.

Music theory can seem like a daunting subject to learn, conjuring imagery of complicated charts and concepts, confusing terminology and chord denominations and a slew of rules. It doesn’t seem nearly as interesting as actually playing. 

But rest assured, music theory is not as dry and dull as you might think! And it’s quite helpful to learn. 

And if you’re here reading this article today, hopefully you’re realized that. This piece will help kickstart your theory high dive with some helpful tips and tricks that will make learning theory less of an ordeal.

However, if you’re really serious about tackling the task, I’d highly recommend checking out our eBook - Music Theory Made Easy: Piano Edition. It goes into a good deal more depth on the topic, and it is a great resource for pianists looking to learn theory quickly and easily.

Here are the best ways to learn music theory:

Online Sites & Videos

Given the technology we have in today’s day and age, we are fortunate enough to have access to a wealth of knowledge on the internet. A lot of musically gifted people with time to spare and an urge to share their knowledge have started to produce plenty of informative content on a number of sites. 

YouTube is probably the most popular, since videos lend themselves very well to musical lessons. A lot of channels have series based exclusively on learning theory, and they can be a fantastic resource for the curious student. A good number of them are very comprehensive, as well - and there’s no limit to the kinds of things you can learn. I’ll showcase a few of my favorite resources for you below:

One of the more popular and effective resources is Michael New's videos on YouTube - he uses a MIDI keyboard in tandem with a whiteboard to illustrate some of the points of music theory to great effect. His videos are informative and well produced, so if you’re looking to learn, his channel is a great place to start.

LightNote is an online website that gives a great visual breakdown of core musical concepts through a very clean and well-designed UI. It’s very well organized and works through step by step, answering common questions and encouraging you to come to your own conclusions. They also have a section specifically dedicated to piano theory!

Musictheory.net is one of the oldest tools online, so they have a good amount of experience teaching through the medium of the internet. The offer an app for your smartphone, and they break musical concepts down into easy to digest pieces, making them a good option for self-starters with a busy schedule and inconsistent time to dedicate to learning theory. 

Utilize Books And Exercises 

A time tested method, pianists have been learning from music books since sheet music was first made. There may be more resources available to students now, but that doesn’t mean that music books are any less useful. 

Supporting your local music store is a good thing to do if you can, and they are likely to have a good selection on piano theory books that will help broaden your understanding with exercises and core concepts. Your local music store also offers a personal touch and expertise you can’t find online. Personally, I would recommend using traditional methods in tandem with online resources to get the best of both worlds, but you may find something that works better for you instead.

Try Taking A Formal Class

If you are the kind of student that benefits from a scheduled and structured learning experience as opposed to setting your own pace, you might consider taking a formal course. 

Your local college or community college might offer a theory course, and a great deal of colleges offer courses online. Failing that, a lot of online services offer distance learning programs independent of accredited institutions, focusing specifically on music and music theory. 

Having a set lesson plan and access to professional insight is certainly helpful for learning - the only drawback is that most of these programs don’t offer their services for free. If you have the time and money to invest in your learning, however, it can be a tremendously effective way to learn.

Learn The Important Fundamentals 

The basics are crucial before moving on to some of the more advanced points in theory, and they don’t typically require much to get a running start with. Something that almost any music student will begin learning is the Circle Of Fifths (which we go over in great detail in this article).

the circle of fifths

If you’re unfamiliar, the Circle of Fifths is a tool that illustrates the relationship among the 12 tones of the chromatic scale. It begins at the top with C major, and moves around in fifths each step clockwise, hence the name. At the top of the circle, the key of C Major has no sharps or flats.

Reading the circle starts from the top at C Major and rotates clockwise by fifths, the following key of G having one sharp, the key of D having 2 sharps, and so on. It can also be read counter clockwise, with the key of F possessing one flat, and so on. 

What is most helpful about the Circle of Fifths is that it breaks down key signatures into an easy to remember progression, making it easier to recognize how many sharps or flats a key has without expending too much effort. Going hand in hand with the Circle of Fifths are scales, something that I’ll talk about in more detail shortly. 

Learn Your Scales 

Almost every music student will have some exposure to scales, usually quite early on. Some of them don’t mind them, and a few have a powerful dislike of them. But regardless of your attitude towards scales, they are undeniably a vital component to learning music theory.

Scales compose chords in their key with harmonics in their interval. That’s a wordy way of saying that the notes in a scale make chord arrangements that sound good, and learning them helps you learn chords - and learning chords helps you play piano. 

If you progress along with theory, scales will be more and more indispensable. You can name an interval from any root note, build major and minor triads, and infer a lot of information from key signatures.

For example, if you know the key signatures for each scale by heart, you don’t have to try to memorize if a fifth away from B is an F or an F#. You just know that the distance from any kind of B, to any kind of F, is some kind of fifth.

There’s unfortunately no way around it - if you want to be a successful pianist, you’ll need to know your scales!

What To Take Away

As daunting as learning music theory may seem at first glance, there are so many resources available to you to start learning that you are bound to find a method that works works well for you. Having a solid grasp of theory is incredibly helpful in honing your skills as a pianist, and it is never too late to start. It may not be the most exciting part of learning music, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important! It may take a little discipline, but things worth doing aren’t always easy.