Music theory

Music theory is a field of study that aims to investigate the various elements of music, including the development and methodology to analyze, listen to, understand and compose music. The Oxford Dictionary of Music describes three interrelated aspects:

  • The first refers to the so-called musical “rudiments”, which in teaching are reduced to notational elements such as key signatures, time signatures, rhythmic values ​​and others. According to this, the theory is considered an indispensable part of the study of harmony, counterpoint and musical form.
  • The second refers to the study of musical writings from ancient times to the present day (aesthetics, notation, acoustics, design of musical instruments, performance practices, etc.).
  • The third aspect refers to the field of musicological studies, which pursue a definition of the processes and general principles of music, an area of ​​research that can be differentiated from analysis by taking as a starting point not the individual work or interpretation, but the basic materials that make it up.
    Music theory is often concerned with describing how musicians and composers make music, including tuning systems and composition methods, among other topics. Due to the increasingly broad conception of what constitutes music, a more inclusive definition could be the consideration of any sound phenomenon, including silence. However, this is not an absolute guideline; for example, the study of “music” in the liberal arts college curriculum Quadrivium, which was common in medieval Europe, was an abstract system of proportions carefully studied at a distance from actual musical practice. But this medieval discipline became the basis for tuning systems in later centuries and is generally included in modern studies of the history of music theory.

Music theory as a practical discipline encompasses the methods and concepts that composers and other musicians use to create music. The development, preservation, and transmission of music theory in this sense can be found in oral and written musical traditions, musical instruments, and other artifacts. For example, ancient instruments from prehistoric sites around the world reveal details about the music they produced and potentially some of the music theory their creators might have used. In ancient and living cultures around the world, the deep and long roots of music theory are visible in the instruments, oral traditions, and musical creation of today. Many cultures have also considered music theory more formally, such as written treatises and musical notation. Practical and scholarly traditions overlap, as many practical treatises on music fall into a tradition of other treatises, which are regularly cited as scholarly writings cite earlier research.

In the modern academic world, music theory is a subfield of musicology, the broader study of the cultures and history of music. Etymologically, musical theory is an act of contemplation of music, from the Greek word θεωρία, which means looking, seeing; a contemplation, speculation, theory; a sight, a spectacle. As such, it is often concerned with abstract musical aspects such as pitch and tonal systems, scales, consonance and dissonance, and rhythmic relationships. In addition, there is also a body of theory that deals with practical aspects, such as the creation or performance of music, orchestration, ornamentation, improvisation, and electronic sound production. A person who researches or teaches music theory is a music theorist. Undergraduate study, typically up to the MA or Ph.D. level, is required to teach as a tenured music theorist at an American or Canadian university. Methods of analysis include mathematics, graphical analysis, and especially the analysis made possible by Western musical notation. Comparative, descriptive, statistical and other methods are also used. Music theory textbooks, especially in the United States of America, often include elements of musical acoustics, musical notation considerations, and compositional techniques (harmony and counterpoint), among other topics.

A person who specializes in music theory is a music theorist.