Music Theory for Beginners

From the different types of notes to how to form chords, this is music theory every beginning music student should know.

Clefs, Notes and the Staff

The treble clef
The treble clef. Public Domain Image

Want to learn what are the common symbols used in music? Here's a tutorial that will walk you through the kinds of clefs, types of notes and the staff.

Dotted Notes, Rests, Time Signatures and More

Dotted Half Note
Dotted Half Note. Public Domain Image

Learn what are dotted notes, rests, the position of Middle C, time signatures and more in this tutorial that will guide you through different music notations.

Natural Notes and Natural Sign

Natural Sign. Public Domain Image from Wikimedia Commons

As a beginner you may be realizing that music has its own language and in order to be able to play correctly there are many musical symbols and concepts you must first learn. What are natural notes and what does the natural sign do? Learn the answer here.


Fermata. Public Domain Image from Wikimedia Commons

Enumerates the different types of rest symbols and their meaning.

Double Accidentals

Double flat
Double flat. Image Courtesy of Denelson83 from Wikimedia Commons

Sharps and flats are also called accidentals. But what are double accidentals? The quick answer here.

Repeat Signs

de capo
de capo. Image Courtesy of Denelson83 from Wikimedia Commons

In music there are certain repeat signs used to indicate which measure or measures should be repeated. Here's more information on repeat signs.

Ties and Triplets

Ties. Image Courtesy of Denelson83 from Wikimedia Commons

There are music symbols used to signify if a note should be held and/or when three notes should be played in equal duration. In this case the tie and triplet sign is used. What are ties and triplets? The answer here.

Expression Marks

Pianissimo. Image Courtesy of Denelson83 from Wikimedia Commons

Dynamic signs and articulation marks are abbreviations or symbols used to signify the volume of a piece of music. It also indicates whether there is a change in volume as well as the musical phrasing. Here are the commonly used expression marks.

Beats and Meter

Beats are used as a way of counting time when playing a piece of music. Beats gives music its' regular rhythmic pattern.


The Italian word at the beginning of a music piece indicates how slow or fast the piece should be played.

Key Signatures

Key signatures are the flats or sharps you see after the clef and before the time signature.

Table of Key Signatures

For quick reference use this table of key signatures in both major and minor keys.

Circle of Fifths

The Circle of Fifths is a diagram which is an essential tool for musicians. It is named such because it uses a circle to illustrate the relationship of different keys that are a fifth apart.

Major Scales

The major scale is the foundation from which all other scales are formed.

Minor Scales

Notes on the minor scale sound solemn and sad, there are three types of minor scales:

Chromatic Scale

The word "chromatic" comes from the Greek word chroma meaning "color'. The chromatic scale consists of 12 notes each a half step apart.

Pentatonic Scales

The word "pentatonic" comes from the Greek word pente meaning five and tonic meaning tone.

Whole Tone Scale

The whole tone scale has 6 notes that are all a whole step apart making its intervallic formula easy to remember.


An interval is the difference between two pitches measured by half steps.

Harmonic Intervals

Notes that are played together or simultaneously create harmony. The interval between these notes are called harmonic intervals.

Melodic Intervals

When you play notes separately, one after another, you are playing a melody. The distance between these notes is called a melodic interval.

Major Triads

A major chord is played using the 1st (root) + 3rd + 5th notes of a major scale.

Minor Triads

A minor chord is played using the 1st (root) + 3rd + 5th notes of a minor scale.

Major and Minor 7ths

The symbol used to signify a major 7th is maj7 while min7 stands for minor 7th.

Dominant 7th's

A dominant 7th uses the symbol of a note name + 7. For example: C7, D7, E7, etc.

Invert Triads

Chord inversions are used by composers and musicians for modulation, to create a melodic bass line and generally to make music more interesting.

sus2 and sus4 Chords

Sus is an abbreviation for "suspended", it refers to chords that doesn't follow the common triad pattern.

Sixth and Ninth Chords

There are other chords, like the 6th and 9th chords, you can use to make your music more interesting.

Diminished and Augmented Triads

There are two more types of triads called diminished and augmented chords

Dissonant and Consonant Chords

Consonant chords sound harmonious and pleasing, while dissonant chords elicit a feeling of tension and sounds like the notes are clashing.

I - IV - V Chord Pattern

For each key there are 3 chords that are played more than others known as "primary chords". The I - IV - V chords are built from the 1st, 4th and 5th note of a scale.

Playing the I - IV - V Chord Pattern

Many songs, especially folk songs, use the I - IV - V chord pattern. An example is "Home on the Range" played in the key of F.

ii, iii, and vi Chords

These chords are built from the 2nd, 3rd and 6th notes of a scale and are all minor chords.

Playing Chord Patterns

You can play around with various chord patterns to see what other melodies you can come up with.


Modes are used in many types of music; from sacred music to jazz to rock. Composers use it to add "flavor" to their compositions in order to avoid predictability.