Music Theory Study Tips: Learning Scales and Chords

Music theory—at the mention of these four little syllables, countless musicians go running for cover. We get it. Music is art, and art is self-expression. When you start mixing words like “theory” in, it suspiciously sounds like we’re trying to tell you how to express yourself. But art theory isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. We’re going to tell you why and throw in a couple of music theory tips for learning scales and chords too.

Why Do We Have To Learn Music Theory?

You may be thinking, “I can play my instrument just fine without the technical mumbo-jumbo. Why do I have to learn it?” We’re glad you asked, frazzled music student! Music theory is the study of why and how music sounds the way it does. It offers musicians far more than a head full of dictionary definitions. Knowing the theory can:

  • Provide you with tools to compose music.
  • Gives you a language to discuss music with others.
  • Improve your ability to learn new music independently.
  • Deepen your appreciation of music.

Think of music theory as a set of tools or a roadmap that will help you travel into the inner roads of song composition. Ready for a musical road trip? Here are some tips to help you get started.

Music Theory Tips for Studying Chords, Scales, and Theory

Start Small and Work Up

Learning music theory is like a staircase. If you take the steps too many at a time, you’re going to fall. So, it’s best to start with the smallest concepts and use them to step up to the more complex ones. The stairs often look like this:

  • Notes: These are the building blocks of music. There are twelve of them per octave in western music.
  • Scales: A scale is a group of notes that creates an octave.
  • Intervals: An interval is a gap between two notes.
  • Chords: The sound of two or more notes played at the same time create a chord.
  • Chord progression: This is a series of several chords played one after another.
  • A key: A key is a group of pitches that make the foundation of a song. You may know this by looking at the number of sharps and flats there are.
  • Key modulation: This is a change from one key to another.

There are dozens of other concepts in music theory. But if you follow this progression (get it?), it’ll give you the building blocks you need to understand these concepts.

Listen to Music You Like

Intervals and key modulation have a way of sounding cold and unfeeling, and that’s not an easy headspace for learning new things. Your best bet is to see how those concepts play out in songs. Here’s a music theory tip: pick a few tunes you like and listen for their chord progressions. See if you notice any similarities or differences between songs in different genres.

Be Consistent

Just as you need to sing or practice your instrument every day to improve, you must practice music theory for it to settle in your mind. Even if you take just a few minutes every day to listen to a few chords or try to identify intervals you hear on the radio, you’ll get it down eventually. And if you have questions, our music teachers in Portland can always lend you a hand.