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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory, 2nd Edition (Complete Idiot's Guides (Lifestyle Paperback)) Paperback – September 6, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 187 customer reviews

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Paperback, September 6, 2005
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Idiot's Guides: Music Theory, 3E
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Michael Miller is the author of several successful music guides, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Songwriting, Second Edition, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Solos and Improvisation, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Drums, Second Edition, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Complete Idiot's Guides (Lifestyle Paperback)
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: ALPHA; 2nd edition (September 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592574378
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592574377
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.8 x 10.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I like this book, and I think it does a pretty good job of explaining music theory, but it is lacking in some areas. For example, the circle of fifths discussion leaves you not completely understanding the usefulness of the concept.

After finishing this book, I read the "Dummies" music theory book, and found that it often does a better job of getting concepts across, including a far better and more useful explanation of the circle of fifths. I recommend reading both books, as one reinforces the other... each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, but together they give you a pretty rounded introduction to music theory. If you are only going to read one and you are a beginner, I would have to recommend the Dummies book for its clearer presentation of the basics of both melody and rhythm. On the other hand, if you already have a pretty good grasp of intervals, scales, keys, and rhythm, you might find more useful information in the Idiot's Guide.

Both books have their share of errors, but the Idiot's Guide has a corrections list posted on the author's website, whereas the "Dummies" authors apparently can't be bothered to post an errata list (and believe me, there are a load of printing mistakes in the "Dummies" book).
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My background is in engineering and computer science. However, I do a lot of multimedia programming, and when it came to writing code for computer music I was at a loss because I have no formal musical training whatsoever. I've never played an instrument and I probably never will. However, I found it disabling to be unable to read music or understand the language of music theory when it came to reading the many helpful works on computer music that are in print and on the web. This book appeared to be what I was looking for and it turned out I was correct in my choice. It takes you from the absolute beginning, assuming you can't even read music, and takes you from intervals through phrases through counterpoint and into composition and performance. There are very helpful exercises at the end of every chapter with solutions at the end of the book, making this a good choice as a textbook or an excellent and inexpensive means of self study.

Part one talks about the notes of a scale,the different types of clefs and staves, the intervals between notes, major and minor scales, and keys and key signatures. Part two, on rhythm, starts by teaching you what simple whole notes are and moves on to sixteenth notes and syncopations. Also covered are time signatures, tempo and dynamics, and how to navigate through a piece of music. In part three, Tunes, you learn how to put tones and rhythms together to create a melody. Next you learn how to add chords to your tunes and find out about chord progressions and song forms. At this point, you have what you need to create your own pieces of music. Part 4, on accompaniment, teaches you how to train your ears so you can write down music as you hear it. You'll be able to create simple accompaniment parts on piano or guitar.
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Format: Paperback
I feel that this is a very solid primer for people either new to music, or people like me who are returning to playing an instrument (in my case the guitar) after many years. I studied the piano/keyboard in my childhood and early teens, but ultimately stopped and are now getting back into music after many years. Needless to say I had pretty well forgotten all of my previous music theory, and needed to start back at the beginning. Mr. Miller's book thus far has been invaluable in helping me get started, and it has done so in a way that isn't threatening or overwhelming.

There are a couple of areas that I have run across that need to be addressed however.

1: Do not recommend attempting to work through this book without either owning or having ready access to a keyboard or piano. Keep in mind that I'm writing this from the standpoint of the beginner when I say this. Although this book is supposed to be geared for all instruments, starting with Chapter 2 the material may prove to be confusing without being able to reference an actual keyboard. While the author does make this point in the introduction, this is something that I notice has been skipped over in the book's description and likewise would likely be missed by someone who is simply browsing for a book on the subject.

2: The ear training disk. Good in concept, but weak in execution. The way Mr. Miller approaches the subject is to play a note on the disk, then have the student copy the note on the piano, then write it down on music paper. Personally I like the approach as it not only develops the ear training but also sight reading and reinforcing where the notes are on your instrument.
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***I'm thoroughly enjoying this book, but I did find a couple of errors (I guess he is a good teacher!). In any event, I went to his website and found this errata page - no, not "erotic" page - with corrections to both the 1st and 2nd editions (and sure enough, he had corrected the error I discovered). Enjoy the book, it's great!***

Corrections to the Second Edition
Chapter 1, p. 5: The frequency for middle C is actually 261Hz, not 256Hz -- and if you can hear that difference, you have golden ears! In addition, middle C on a guitar is the fifth fret of the G string, not the A string.

Chapter 2, p. 21: The Note on perfect intervals is slightly misleading. Put more simply, the whole concept of perfect intervals has to do with the ratios between frequencies; perfect intervals sound so closely related because their frequencies are closely related. For example, a perfect octave has a ratio of 2:1 between the two frequencies -- the octave is twice the frequency of the starting pitch (which is called the fundamental). If the fundamental is 440Hz, the octave above is twice that frequency, or 880Hz. Similarly, a perfect fifth has a ratio of 3:2; you take the starting pitch and multiply it by 3/2 to get the perfect fifth above (660Hz for a 440Hz fundamental). A perfect fourth has a ratio of 4:3; multiply the fundamental by 4/3 to get the perfect fourth (586Hz for a 440Hz fundamental). Other intervals have more complex ratios, which make them less perfect. For example, a perfect third has a ratio of 5:4, not quite as simple as 2:1, 3:2, or 4:3. Put into a series, each increasingly complex interval/ratio forms what is called a harmonic series, and the individual intervals/ratios (in order) are called harmonics.
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