Best way to learn music theory


When you want to learn music, there’s always a common path to take: you learn music theory, then you put it in practice with a music instrument and it makes sense, you can’t try to play a song if you don’t know what notes to play.

The problem is obviously in the details, music theory can get really complex and abstract if you don’t know how to tackle it, especially if you want to become extremely good at it and even more if you want to compose music, we’re gonna focus on beginners here.

In this post we’re gonna give you a list of options for the theory part, so you can try the ones that suit you, we’ll tell you where you can get them, how much they cost, if they are theory or practice, etc.

Best app to learn music theory

Ableton – Learning Music 

Ableton course for browsers is a free interactive way to learn the basics of music composition.

It starts by allowing you to make a simple song then it teaches you how to make each layer for it (baseline, melody, beats). At the same time it gives you some examples and explains why certain notes go well together.

This is a great place to start if you want to understand how everything connects at the end before you get to that level, but that’s not the only thing ableton has to offer.

Ableton – Learning Synths

If you are interested in electronic music or anything synthesizers you should try ableton synths course. This free course for browsers it’s also interactive and it explains concepts that overlap with music theory like pitch, amplitude, attack, modulations, shapes, etc.

One last thing to add is that both courses have a place called the playground where you can mess around with the course tools to make simple songs and sounds, recommended even if you don’t want to take the course. 

Light Note – Guide to music theory

Light note is a free to start (theory is free, the rest is paid), interactive, browser course made to cover basics of different topics.

The course covers a little bit of 4 things, theory, composition, ear training and guitar theory, it doesn’t go in depth in any topic but you’ll understand all the topics really fast and with no problem since (in my opinion) is the best explained course.

If you want to get a little bit of everything or don’t know where to start you should try it. My only problem is that you can finish the course in a day or two, so if you want to save the money, you can try looking for the topics one for one online.

Music Tutor 

This is a free app, to help you practice music sheet reading, it doesn’t have a theory section but you can use it alongside other courses listed here.

The app works by giving you a note then asking you which one of the 12 notes it is, you have a minute to score as many points based on the amount of correct answers and the accuracy (if you get one note wrong it lowers the % of accuracy and gives you a new note).

The reason why it’s free it’s because it has ads, you can buy the “remove advertisements” if you want, you can also change the duration of the test, the range of notes (treble, bass, alto) and their naming (C, D, E, F, G, A, B – Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si).

Skooli.com

You may have heard of websites like tutor.com, where you can select a topic and get a tutor to explain you that topic for that day or several. 

Tutor.com doesn’t have music tutors, but skooli does; when you enter you need to type a question or a topic, then a list of teachers will appear, some are online, some are not, you can see their profiles and reviews, so you can choose one to help you.

This is of course paid but it really helps if you are stuck in one or two topics, this also works as a great resource for regular schools and online schools, if you need to study for an exam, you can get a tutor one day because spending money and having someone there helps to keep focus.

Perfect Piano 

This is another free app (with ads of course) focused on teaching you songs on the piano. You can choose how you play, you select a song from their preload library or a downloadable extended one; then you chose a difficulty (easy, medium, hard) and a way to see the notes to play like sheet music, waterfall or fallen notes (fallen notes is just waterfall with the music sheet symbols).

If you have ever played games like guitar hero, you will understand immediately the concept, just a quick note, playing the piano on the phone is horrible, the screen can only show a few notes before the keys get to small, it’s also hard to memorize songs using this method, so if you want to practice your piano skills connect a midi keyboard and enjoy, if not look somewhere else.

Perfect Ear 

Continuing with the free apps, Perfect Ear is focused on becoming good at listening and identifying notes. 

It works like this, you read some theory, then you do exercises. The theory is intervals, scales, chords and rhythm; the exercises go from reading, identifying sounds, comparing sounds and even singing (i sing really bad, so i can’t tell you if it works properly or not).

To me this is a great app to practice that specific theory, but you won’t get all the topics you need to start reading sheet music, so i suggest using this alongside a course or other apps.

Yousician 

This is a paid app (free to download, paid to get all the content,i believe freemium is the word) to learn guitar, ukulele, bass and singing, piano is in another app. You need to sign up with facebook or email and have the instrument ready. 

It works like this, you play a note into your device (android, ios and pc) microphone and it will register the note, similar to a video game called rocksmith (minus the cable), you can learn from a library of songs and each song is divided in mini lessons, so you can understand what you are practicing before you put it all together.

This app is excellent for instruments like ukulele and bass since there’s not a lot of alternatives for those instruments, personally i think it’s really good for guitar and piano too, but those depend more on your preferences with other options. 

The only reason i wouldn’t download this app is if none of these instruments are the ones i want to learn or if i don’t have the instrument yet.

Free Courses

If you straight up search “free music theory course” on google and youtube you’ll find a couple of websites and youtube playlist that are very decent, we recommend:

These courses are all free and share some things to consider. They will not hold your hand and they get hard to complete because you may just skip parts that you didn’t understand completely, you may not skip some parts, but you may still don’t understand some topics.

I also don’t recommend trying this if you have trouble with discipline and consistency, I know I do, when I’m watching a video it’s hard to keep focus and not switch to something else, this also applies a little bit to some of these other options.

Complete trainer 

This is a triple pack, 3 apps from the same developer, all of them work the same but cover different topics. They are called complete music reading trainer, complete rhythm trainer and complete ear trainer.

The apps are made to practice drills,for example in the reading trainer you need to identify notes on a music sheet, each exercise introduces a new note, then they add sharps and flats and then they change the clef. 

They give you a little bit of theory if needed, an arcade mode, achievements to make it feel more like a game.

So you may already noticed, this is pretty much the same as Perfect ear, so i recommend trying both to see which one you like better, or just download the specific trainer you want.

Learn to Sing 

As you can see there is a lack of complete trainers, there is no complete singing trainer, this app is pretty much it, you get a little bit of theory then you go through exercises, you listen to a note, then you try to sing that note.

There is a problem with this app, it works, but it feels really cheap, the user interface looks bad and the sound recognition is not that smooth (at least not as smooth as perfect ear in my opinion).

The theory doesn’t go in depth, for example it tells you to have a good posture, breathe, eat healthy and that’s pretty much it. It has a lot of drills, so if the problems listed before doesn’t matter to you, this is your app.

Piano Academy

This is a paid app, we’ll have a 7 days free trial, but with limited features, it’s a full piano course, with videos, exercises and a song book, you can connect your midi keyboard and play along.

This is a very beginner friendly, step by step, by the hand course and it gets to a very complex by the end, you may not like the style though, it’s one of those courses that the moment you play your first note, they’ll say “you are a natura”l and  “you have talent”, feels a little fake, but not a big deal anyway.

What can i tell you, if the app is not flooded with ads it will cost you a good amount of money, and it makes sense, if you have the money and want to have a very smooth experience, this is it, if not you can try Perfect piano.

Vivace

This is the last app, it’s free and it’s a practice reading music sheets app, similar to Complete music reading trainer, except it feels cheaper and has less features, a good option to get more drills if you want.

I include this app on the list just to make a point that at certain points, music learning apps become very similar, and usually (not always) one of the most downloaded apps is the best one, then you’ll find clones, less refined versions or very specific apps, so the more apps you look the longer it will take you to find another good app.

Paid Courses

If the free courses and free apps are not good enough you can always look for the paid courses to get no ads and a better experience (in average).

Here’s 1 course we recommend per platform:

Conclusion

In my opinion, if you need someone to be there to keep you going you should try a school or skooli.com. If you don’t, I suggest you get a paid course and practice using one app for theory and another for your instrument; for example if i want to learn piano i will choose a theory course with Perfect Ear and perfect piano.

Luis Gerardo

Musician as a hobby for +6 years, documenting every instrument in simple words for this website.

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