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Music Theory Secrets You Missed as a Kid

Music theory is wonderful, exciting, and enormously useful. But for many musicians who received any kind of music theory education growing up, the experience is usually exactly the opposite. Music theory classes can feel one step removed from strict math classes where the concepts never really seem to apply to “real life.” 

But have no fear – just because you had a bad music theory education (or no formal music education at all) in the past doesn’t mean you can’t give yourself a fantastic one now. In fact, learning music theory now with the music chops you already have means that you’ll be able to actually apply everything immediately. 

There is a beautiful world of music theory you can discover and use. Here are a few music theory secrets from that world.

Theory Is Just a Naming Convention

First, when it comes right down to it, music theory is just a way to name sounds. It isn’t derived from a set of archaic principles. Instead, it is just a way to name and talk about how (in general) humans hear sound. There are no rules – there are only sounds with names to be explored and reveled in.

For instance, a key is just a pool of notes that sound “pleasing” and are useful for making musical ideas from. A chord is just three or more notes stacked on top of each other. A motif is just a short musical idea – exactly the same as a phrase you might say in any other language.


Start learning music theory and see how the concepts are used in modern music. Download the free ebook – Inside the Hits: The Music Theory Behind 10 Hit Songs


You Don’t Ever Need Perfect Pitch

Second, you do not need perfect pitch to understand, explain, or play any music you hear. You just need a decent understanding of theory. For example, theory teaches you to name the function of the chords. This gives you a way to train your ear to hear these functions in any music and quickly figure out the exact names of chords being played. You can do this with any sound – chord or not – in music. Developing this skill can give you a huge leg up in all musical situations.

Theory Can Break You Out of Creative Ruts

One of the most common reasons many of us get stuck in creative ruts is that we keep running over the same musical ideas without reflecting on what they are, how to talk about them, or how to use them. Music theory provides a way to name what we are doing and intentionally to reframe and create new musical ideas.

For instance, if you learn that you are always using major chords, you can shift your focus and throw in a few minor chords instead. If you always play rhythms made out of eighth notes, you can learn about and use triplets. Once you start using theory this way, you will never have to be stuck in another creative musical rut again.

Final Thoughts and More Music Theory Secrets

There are so many more ways that theory can enable and empower your creative work – and it is all something you can start learning and using today. One of the best ways to start exploring music theory is through an online course. There are tons of options out there, but if you want to learn theory with modern examples from popular hit songs, check out Hit Music Theory.

Now go make some music!

Discover the music theory secrets you missed as a kid: by Daniel Roberts

Read more like this at http://hitmusictheory.com

Want to get the music out of your head and into the world? The best way to do that is to pay attention to the sounds around you. Here are some habits that you might want to develop to become a better musician.

Stop guessing what the chords might be

Instead, learn about keys and harmonic function. This will take enormous amounts of guesswork out of the process. You don’t have to try twenty chords if you know that it can only be one of six chords you like in a key.

As we show you in Hit Music Theory, almost all music has a key. Keys are used to organize how we hear sounds and make it possible to quickly find harmonies and other musical ideas that fit with each other.

For instance, if I am playing in the key of A major, I know right off the bat that the chords A, B-, C#-, D, E and F#- will all work very well with each other. Since we usually hear musical ideas inside of particular keys, the more aware of which chords are in which keys, the more you can limit how many chords you need to try to find the sound you hear in your head.

Develop your ear and become a better musician

Believe it or not, you can learn to connect what you learn in theory to particular sounds you hear in music. You can train yourself to do this to such a degree that you can begin to identify EXACTLY what is going on without any instrument at all.

Notice what key you are in.

Training yourself to do this does not require perfect pitch. Instead, you can use things like solfege and other ear training approaches to hear how the music functions. The reason this is possible is that each note in a scale has its own kind of sound (this is why we like some riffs and not others, some chords and not others, etc – we already can hear it all, we just don’t know what to call each thing we hear). If you give a name or syllable to each pitch in a scale, you can start to identify the sound of a particular note in a scale with a particular syllable.

The process of developing your ear never ends, so don’t worry about getting it right all the time. Learn the language of music and make it a priority to sing (singing these notes with syllables is really helpful) and analyse the music you listen to. The more you do it, the better you will become. Once you start being able to hear these notes and sing them, you can tie them into your understanding of keys and chords and identify the chords you are looking for even faster.

Make it your daily practice to identify everything you hear

Many of the best musicians seem to always be analyzing everything they hear out of natural curiosity. So many things in our world have pitch, harmony and rhythm. You can practice grooves to your washing machine, for instance. My electric toothbrush hums a middle C when I turn it on. Most pop songs use the same four types of chords inside of a major key (I, V, vi and IV in case you were wondering). Just stay curious and listen actively to whatever is around you all the time.

My electric toothbrush hums a middle C when I turn it on.

Then, when you sit down to practice, take the same curiosity you are developing by listening to everything around you and apply it to everything you play. Notice what key you are in. Be aware of the scale you are playing and the riffs you like to play that fit in it. Name the chords you are using and be aware of how they function inside the key you are playing in. The more you do it, the more natural and second nature it will become to identify, play and write what you hear.

Put it on the page

As you start to get comfortable identifying what you hear, make it your daily practice to take a little time each day to write down something that you hear or are learning to play. It can be a chord progression, riff, rhythm or anything else.

Name the chords you are using and be aware of how they function inside the key you are playing in.

Remember that music is a language. You learned to write by just doing it every day in school. Every language takes time to learn to speak and write fluently. Don’t be afraid of doing it wrong. The only way to do it wrong is to not try.

Enjoy the process and give yourself the time to enjoy and work on music every day. Before you know it, you will find yourself being able to write down your own musical ideas with ease.

By Daniel Roberts

Learn music theory and become a better musician at http://hitmusictheory.com