The Best Music Theory Textbooks of 2021

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Are you looking for a guide to help you excel musically?  Are you struggling in your Music Theory course and in need of some help? Music Theory can be a hard subject to grasp, but with the right materials, you can. This comprehensive list will provide the best book options for students, performers, and even composers.  Not only that we will also provide you with options for varying levels of expertise, but we will also give you options at different price points. Although we do provide you with some of our favorites, the runner ups and value picks are still excellent options for a more limited price range and specific needs. Keep reading to see the best Music Theory textbooks being offered and to find the perfect one for you.

If you want to just get back to studying, get our top choice for music theory textbooks here.

Our Top Favorite
The Jazz Theory Book
Our Top Runner Up
Music Theory For Dummies
Our Top Value Pick
Harmony: Fifth Edition
Book Title
The Jazz Theory Book
Music Theory for Dummies
Harmony
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Favorite
The Jazz Theory Book
Book Title
The Jazz Theory Book
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Runner Up
Music Theory For Dummies
Book Title
Music Theory for Dummies
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
Harmony: Fifth Edition
Book Title
Harmony
Prime Eligible?

Last update: 2021-08-31

Our Favorites for Best Music Theory Textbooks

The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine

Mark Levine‘s, The Jazz Theory book comes highly recommended from students, teachers, and even musicians.  This is a comprehensive guide that builds upon previous knowledge of the student.  Although the title can be slightly misleading The Jazz Theory is about more than just jazz and is relevant to varying forms of contemporary music.  Many say that the book introduces concepts smoothly.  It explains things in a way that makes sense to users and leaves them feeling better about their skills.  Many users also say that they practice the examples for continuous growth.  Although this isn’t a newer book, The Jazzy Theory proves that it still holds its value for musicians and is extremely affordable. Although this may not be the best Music Theory book for beginners, it is perfect for someone with a bit of prior knowledge.

What Makes it Unique?

  • The Jazz Theory provides Information on chord and scale relationships as well as instruction on tackling improvisation and reharmonization.
  • Many users of The Jazz Theory book say that after only reading a few pages their confusion begins to wane, and the book helps them to understand topics that were previously confusing them.

Why Choose this Book?

  • The Jazz Theory is great for songwriters or advanced students. It helps individuals think creatively.
  • It is also great for individuals looking to self-study after a long hiatus from music.
  • The Jazz Theory is also one of the best books for piano methodology.

On Sale
The Jazz Theory Book
  • Levine, Mark (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 522 Pages - 06/01/1995 (Publication Date) - Sher Music (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


The Element of Music: Concepts & Applications by Ralph Turek

The Element of Music: Concepts & Applications comes highly recommended from a number of music professionals.  This is a two book, 2-year learning program which is used for many Music Theory courses across the country.  It is composed of Volume 1 & 2.  Volume 1 of The Element of Music: Concepts & Applications focuses on enforcing Music Theory concepts and compositional skills.  Volume 1 also has built-in aids throughout the text to ensure that students are grasping what they are reading.  Volume 2 of The Element of Music: Concepts & Applications is the 2nd part of this 2-part series and focuses more primarily on vocals.  This includes 4 part harmonies and harmonic relationships.

What Makes it Unique?

  • The Element of Music: Concepts & Application Volume 1 and 2 comes full of musical examples to reinforce the items learned throughout the text.
  • It also provides a workbook which can be purchased separately for student use to work through and practice the concepts in the book itself.
  • Outside of the workbook, there are other aids available for purchase to use with your The Element of Music: Concepts & Applications textbook. These include a supplemental CD and another textbook which may be used which is called, The Analytical Anthology of Music.

Why Choose this Book?

  • The Element of Music: Concepts & Applications is perfect for students looking to build their knowledge and skills on a continuous basis continuously.
  • It is also an excellent resource for teachers, as both books can be used without becoming dull.

On Sale
The Elements of Music: Concepts and Applications, Vol. 2
  • Turek, Ralph (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 448 Pages - 12/01/1995 (Publication Date) - McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


Our Runner Ups for Best Music Theory Textbooks

Music Theory for Dummies by Michael Pilhofer

Contrary to its name, Music Theory for Dummies, is excellent for any price point and perfect for a beginner level student.  Music Theory for Dummies is one of the best Music Theory books for guitar, piano or bass which teaches at the pace of a general college Music Theory course.   It comes jam-packed with information from getting starting with Music Theory to instrument tone color.  Many users of Music Theory for Dummies were surprised at how well written the book is and how genuinely it flows.  However, if you are a more advanced Music Theory student who is looking for a more in-depth experience, this may not be the book for you.

Music Theory for Dummies uses piano keys to explain topics.  It provides a general foundational view of what users should know in relation to Music Theory.  Some users who would describe themselves as real “dummies” in relation to Music Theory would not recommend Music Theory for Dummies for true, ground zero, beginners. Some say that it is more technical than expected.  Other beginners tackled the book head on by rereading chapters to ensure they have grasped the concept before moving on.

What Makes it Unique?

  • Music Theory for Dummies provides a solid foundation for users and is full of a number of drawings and even a CD which can be used as a supplemental resource. The CD aids the reader in memorizing scales and notes by heart.
  • Terms and concepts are explained in terms which are easy for the user to understand and process.
  • Music Theory for Dummies gives you just enough information to be dangerous. Although items are not explained in grave detail, it provides enough information for users to grasp and practices the basics of a concept.
  • It provides a great explanation of the logical sequence and chord construction.

Why Choose this Book?

  • If you are someone who is able to learn music by ear but have not fully grasped the concepts in Music Theory, this is the perfect book to get you started.
  • Music Theory for Dummies starts very basic and grows the user’s knowledge with each chapter. Music Theory for Dummies is excellent for someone who has a base knowledge and genuinely wants to advance their skills.

On Sale
Music Theory For Dummies
  • Pilhofer, Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 07/11/2019 (Publication Date) - For Dummies (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice by Vincent Persichetti

Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice is an excellent read for a more advanced Music Theory student.  Vincent Persichetti created a book that was not only easy to read but with great examples all written by him.  It also provides examples of musical works and publishers which supplement the material learned in each chapter. Persichetti focuses on the first half of the 20th century in this text.  Many people who have used the textbook find that it is highly informative, well written, and can even be inspiring.  Some readers also say that Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice picks up where many college students may leave off, making it perfect for students who are looking to continue learning after their courses may be thru. Since the book examines musical composition from the beginning of the 20th century, the author explores how chords, intervals, and other scales are employed in modern music.

What Makes it Unique?

  • Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice includes writing prompts at the end of each chapter in order to directly apply the concepts learned.
  • It starts simple with items like scales and grows in difficulty as you progress.

Why Choose this Book?

  • Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice is perfect for someone who is looking to not only learn but learn by example. There are a lot of great examples from Persichetti’s work as well as the various example list he provides of 20th-century composers.
  • It also provides several fun samples to work through at the end of each chapter.

Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Vincent Persichetti (Author)

Last update: 2021-08-31


Our Value Picks for Best Music Theory Textbooks

Harmony by Walter Piston & Mark DeVoto

Harmony is a great book and a potential reference guide for students.  It is a comprehensive text that was initially created more than 40 years ago but has been updated to stay current with the times. Though the core of the book remains the same, the fifth edition contains seven new chapters.  This new edition includes four sections directly related to harmony.  Harmony by Walter Piston may not be the most affordable option for a reference guide.  Harmony is an entry-level college text perfect for someone who already has a basic familiarity with reading music and music harmony. It doesn’t matter what instrument you play.  Harmony is one of the best Music Theory books for bass, guitar, or whatever instrument your heart desires.  Many music teachers and professional see Harmony as a standard and one of the best Music Theory textbooks.

If this is your first time studying harmony, this probably will not be the book for you.  Although items are explained thoroughly, they will not be sufficient enough for someone who is lacking prior knowledge.  Piston uses a large amount of vocabulary which he assumes the reader is familiar with.

What Makes it Unique?

  • Each section of the book starts with definitions of the topic and a variety of musical examples for students to reference.
  • Harmony is exceptionally reader-friendly and described in a way students can understand, although some exercises may be tricky.
  • Readers also have the option to purchase the workbook sold separately. The workbook includes activities, and much more.

Why Choose this Book?

  • If you are a college student looking to further your knowledge or you are struggling with Music Theory, this is the perfect Music Theory textbook for you.
  • Harmony is also ideal for advanced music students and musicians to use as a reference guide.

Harmony: Fifth Edition
  • Piston, Walter (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 592 Pages - 03/17/1987 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


Pocket Music Theory: A Comprehensive and Convenient Source for All Musicians by Hal Leonard

Capitalizing on the success of the Hal Leonard Pocket Music Guide, Pocket Music Theory: A Comprehensive and Convenient Source for All Musicians is a pocket guide to Music Theory and harmony.  It covers a variety of topics like intervals, chords, key signatures, and so much more.  One added bonus is that it is filled with helpful information straight from the Harmony & Theory course at the Musicians Institute.  The book is segmented into three parts.  These parts include the following.

  • Tools: Notes, Rhythms & scales
  • Structure: Chord & Chord Progression
  • Variations: Melody & Harmony in the Real World

Pocket Music Theory: A Comprehensive and Convenient Source for All Musicians can be found for extremely low prices and comes in at 176 pages. Readers of the book say that although it starts with concepts that a high schooler should know the topics become far more advanced after the first 50 pages.

What Makes it Unique?

  • Hal Leonard’s book is exceptionally well organized and perfect for beginners with some prior knowledge or more advanced individuals.
  • Being that it is a pocket guide, it contains the essential information explained in a simple manner.
  • The Pocket Music Theory: A Comprehensive and Convenient Source for All Musicians aims at providing knowledge that is practical and can be easily applied.
  • It does an excellent job of cutting out any fluff as the book is narrated from the perspective of a musician.
  • Pocket Music Theory: A Comprehensive and Convenient Source for All Musicians provides information on practices like finding the vital center, information on signatures, and so much more.

Why Choose this Book?

  • Pocket Music Theory: A Comprehensive and Convenient Source for All Musicians is perfect for the student looking for a quick reference guide or something to carry with them if needed.
  • If you are a teacher looking to keep a guide on your shelf to reference, this can be the perfect addition to any collection.

Last update: 2021-08-31


Summary of the Best Music Theory Textbooks

Putting everything together, in this guide we reviewed the following:

Our Top Favorite
The Jazz Theory Book
Our Top Runner Up
Music Theory For Dummies
Our Top Value Pick
Harmony: Fifth Edition
Book Title
The Jazz Theory Book
Music Theory for Dummies
Harmony
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Favorite
The Jazz Theory Book
Book Title
The Jazz Theory Book
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Runner Up
Music Theory For Dummies
Book Title
Music Theory for Dummies
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
Harmony: Fifth Edition
Book Title
Harmony
Prime Eligible?

Last update: 2021-08-31

Music Theory can be a hard topic to grasp.  Being that it is the study of the practices and possibilities of music, it encompasses a large number of smaller topics.  You are mostly learning the language of music.  This language includes reading music, scales, chords, intervals, and so much more.  With so much information around you, it can be hard to find the best Music Theory textbook.  Unfortunately, it can be even harder to find affordable options.  This list contains excellent book recommendations for Music Theory textbooks and has something for everyone.

Music Theory for Dummies and The Jazz Theory are both highly recommended by their readers and extremely affordable. If you are looking for something on a more advanced level or someone with prior knowledge of reading and applying Music Theory Pocket Music Theory: A Comprehensive and Convenient Source for All Musicians by Hal Leonard and Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice by Vincent Persichetti are two excellent options.  However, these are just 4 of the books offered although a potentially daunting task, finding a Music Theory book which suits your needs has the potential to not only skyrocket your in-class performance but your overall musicality.

If you’re looking for the best AP Music Theory review books for your AP exam, then check out our guide on that here. Or if you’re looking for a high school elective list and guide, make sure to read our post here.

Check out our other comprehensive textbook reviews here.

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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