Top 10 Music Theory Books
Here is a list of 10 of the best books on music theory. Each is suited for a specific type of musician.
Most of these books contain information about general music theory and worksheets or exercises for learning concepts of music theory, however, I have included some books that are instrument and genre specific as well.
Also if you are looking for more online music theory tools and lessons check out my post on the Top 10 free music theory websites.
#1 – The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis (3 Book set)
2. Workbook: The Musician’s Guide Workbook (Second Edition)
3. Music Score Anthology: The Musician’s Guide Anthology (Second Edition)
My #1 recommendation is a textbook used in most university music schools in the United States. It’s my personal favorite, but take a look at the list and see if the others suit your particular interests or skill level more closely.
This textbook and it’s accompanying workbook and music anthology are the gold standards of music theory books. It starts at the very beginning by teaching the basic elements of music and quickly progresses to teaching diatonic and chromatic harmony as well as musical form. The focus of this book is western classical music and uses musical examples from the classical, romantic and 20th century periods of musical history.
This is also the set of textbooks I use in my private lessons for music theory. This set covers all the possible needs of my students. However, if you are looking for a jazz or popular music-oriented approach I would recommend a different textbook and approach.
#2 – The Jazz Theory Book
Mark Levine’s jazz book series is top notch for learning the scales, chords and voicings for jazz harmony and is endorsed by jazz education giants Jamey Aebersold, James Moody, and Dave Liebman.
This book is solely focused on jazz harmony, but could be used for any popular music style including rock or pop because the harmony can come from the same scales.
Also don’t miss Mark’s The Jazz Piano Book if you are a pianist who wants to learn how jazz piano chords and scales work in a simple, straightforward way.
This updated and expanded edition of The Complete Idiots Guide® to Music Theory breaks down a difficult subject in a simple wayeven for those who think they have no rhythm or consider themselves tone deaf. With clear, concise language, it explains everything from bass-clef basics to confusing codas.
Whether you're a student of music or a music lover, Music Theory For Dummies presents you with essential information on how to read, write, and understand music, as well as helpful hints on composing, arranging, and creating original melodies, harmonies, and chords.
These three are essentially the same style of book and offer a general overview of music theory with chords scales and beginning harmonic functions. If you have no experience at all with theory these 3 are more user friendly than the first two books I suggest. Of the three I like the Complete Idiots guide better.
This book is an all-in-one piano specific method. So it teaches about the piano, how to play it, how to read music, and music theory in one book. It is very basic but is great if you have NO piano or music theory knowledge.
This book is a guitar specific method. Tom Kolb’s book uses an accompanying CD to teach guitarists of all levels practical music theory knowledge. The book is great becuase it uses simple terms and diagrams to help explain the included 94 tracks of guitar specific music examples, scales, modes, chords, ear training.
#8 – Fretboard Theory
This book is Kindle only but for the guitarist that is looking for a music theory method that focuses on the fretboard it’s a great book. Desi Serna’s book teaches music theory for guitar including scales, chords, progressions, AND modes. These are the tools you will need to understand hundreds of popular music songs including rock and jazz.
This book is a small but information packed general music theory book. It’s got some great reviews on Amazon. One of the reviews of this book said “I found this little book in a music store one day, and decided to buy it. I’ve bought lots of other general music theory books before, but I’ve NEVER seen so much packed into such a small volume. On top of that, the book is written so precisely with the performer in mind, and with practicality as its main focus. …. It also swiftly addresses the bogus argument that so many rock musicians use an excuse: the myth that learning music theory will limit your creativity. On the contrary, music theory facilitates communication and lets you better express the creative ideas you have in mind.
The last book I recommend if specific to people wanting to teach music theory to thier kids that are taking music lessons. Alfred’s Theory Made easy for Kids has a fun and visually stimulating method of introducing music theory concepts gradually. I would not recommend this for an adult beginner but for kids there is no better book.