Get help with your music theory!

This site is designed as a resource for music theory students to increase their understanding of music theory, and to enhance their ability to quickly translate this knowledge to the keyboard and into musical notation.  I have been teaching college level music theory for over 30 years in Northern California.  During this time, I developed many successful and simple methods to develop student's understanding of music theory and notation, as well as numerous techniques to help students make faster identification of chords, simplify principles of theory rules, quickly understand figured bass symbols, spot errors in assignments, and speed their ability to translate chord progressions to the keyboard.

These tips and techniques are based on a practical musical approach, to encourage thinking about music theory and notation in the same manner that a musician thinks while actually reading and performing music.  The goal is to develop fluency in seeing what is there on the musical page with clarity of understanding, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

     Use your eyes, not just your ears

As musicians, we are used to depending on our ears to hear what is going on in a piece of music.  But many times when studying music theory, we need to depend on our eyes instead, on our ability to “see” what is going on “on the page.”  This skill of seeing is often underdeveloped, since it is often easier to let our ears do the work.  By improving our ability to observe and understand what is on the page, we can greatly improve our skills in music theory and analysis.  Once the visual understanding and aural skills are more closely matched, music theory does not usually seem so intimidating and frustrating.

When working on music theory homework, listening to a lecture in a music classroom, or taking a test on theory or and analysis, you may not be able to go to a piano to play a passage so that your ears can assist you.  Or perhaps your piano skills are not up to the necessary level to play the passage in question.  Or maybe no recording exists of the piece you wish to study or analyze.  While studying music, you may have experienced all these problems at one time or another. This is why it is essential to develop your skills at visual musical analysis.

[Note: an important companion skill is audiation, being able to hear the music in your head.  While these lessons are not designed particularly for that purpose, they will assist you with that as well, since once you can quickly visually identify something, such as a type of cadence or a chord quality, it will be easier to “hear” it in your head.}

Below is a series of tutorials to increase your skills in studying music “by eye,” to raise them to the level of the skills you have mastered “by ear.” These are techniques to help you quickly identify what is going on, scanning for the most meaningful bits of information, without a lot of bogging down in note-by-note analysis. They are based on many years of observations of the working/thinking patterns of my theory students at the College of Marin in northern California.  I hope they will help you improve your understanding of music theory and analysis, as well as help you do your assignments more quickly and accurately with less frustration. 

Take some time to investigate these “visual” skills in the first section.  Once you have mastered these, I think you will find you can do your work more quickly and accurately.  There are also additional tutorials and tips on principles of diatonic and chromatic harmony. I hope these techniques will help make your study of music more enjoyable.

This site is still under construction.  Not all lessons are working yet.  Your patience is greatly appreciated.

     Improve your visual musical analysis skills:

Using the staff to solve problems, rather than keyboard

The magic of perfect fifths  (required reading!!)

Intervals – quick methods for writing/analyzing intervals

Analyzing keys I – determining whether a piece is in major or minor

Analyzing keys II - analyzing cadences and modulations in larger works

Quick tips for reading figured bass numbers

Quick tips for spotting the roots of chords

Visual recognition of qualities of seventh chords

Numbers, numbers, numbers!

Error detection I – checking for parallels in your work

Error detection II – common mistakes

Tutorials on diatonic harmony:

Too many theory rules! A short list of principles to use

A few simple principles for chord doubling

Raising or not raising the 6 th & 7th scale degrees in minor

All about 6/4 chords

How to easily put non-chord tones in your music

A foolproof method for resolving chords


What chord to use: good root movement


Tutorials on 7th chords & chromatic harmony:

Building seventh chords

Secondary chords I - secondary dominants

Secondary chords II - secondary leading-tone chords

Modulation - by common chord to close and distant keys

Mode Mixture

Neapolitan Chord

Augmented 6th chords

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