Cracking the music code

13 November 2016

Recently, I've spent a lot of time learning to play guitar better and studying music theory. While the art of guitar is a whole different story on its own, in this blog post I want to share some tools and resources that helped me to better understand the fundamentals of music theory. I tried everything from this list myself and liked it, and some of these tools I now use almost everyday.

Music theory

Don't worry, in real life everything is much simpler. © Coursera.

There are many reasons to study music. If you play an instrument, the knowledge of some music theory (at least notes, simple chords and so on) makes everything so much better. And even if you are just a music listener, a bit of understanding of what is going on in your favorite tunes will definitely enhance your experience.

I play guitar for several years, so when I started studying more music theory this summer, I wasn't a complete beginner. However, most of the resources below are relevant for any level of proficiency – you may teach yourself with them even if you have zero initial knowledge and don't play any instrument.

So, here is the list.

Online courses

Online courses are a fun and approachable way to start studying music. All courses below teach from zero level.

Introduction to Music Theory by Berklee College of Music – fun and short online course on the edX platform. This one is quite entertaining and presents you the material in a way that even little kids would understand (which is good). However, the course is more like a teaser for the real stuff, and covers very little material.

Fundamentals of Music Theory by The University of Edinburgh – interesting and challenging (some quizzes and assignments are really tough) online course on the Coursera platform. This one is more in-depth than the online course by Berklee above, and focuses more on the logic and the reasoning behind concepts.


Books are the best way to learn the music theory thoroughly. In fact, there are lots and lots of textbooks covering every imaginable aspect of the music. The books below, however, focus on learning all the necessary things fast and from any level of proficiency.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory – despite the silly title, this is a really good textbook covering basically everything you need to know about music theory. In addition, it's written in a fun and friendly language, and is accessible even for a complete beginner. If you want to use only one thing from this list, choose this book.

How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond – a nice book focusing on the physics and psychology behind music. Recommended if you are interested in the fundamentals of music and sounds, and how this all actually works.

Apps and software

Thanks to the technology, there are a lot of great applications for learning music theory and everyday use. Mobile apps in this list are for Android phones (as I have an Android phone myself), but in most cases there are similar apps for other platforms as well. Web apps and other software in this list are available for every major platform.

Audacity – very simple yet powerful tool to record yourself. You may record several instruments on different tracks, do the editing, and much much more. And all this completely free.

Guitar Pro – must have tool for all guitarists, Guitar Pro also allows to write, edit and play music in a standard notation, making it a valuable software for any musician.

EarMaster – a great software which allows you to improve your rhythms, ear training and music theory skills. EarMaster is used by music schools all over the world, and you can also easily use it just by yourself.

DaTuner Lite – my favorite guitar (and pretty much any other instrument) tuner. You can also use it for many other purposes: for example, check which note you are singing.

Metronome Beats – my favorite mobile phone metronome. Easy to use, accurate and powerful.

Google Metronome and Timer – simple yet powerful metronome and timer/stopwatch right in your Google search page (just google for "metronome" or "timer" basically). Super easy to access and use.

Perfect Ear – a nice Android application to improve your rhythm, ear, music theory and singing right in your phone.

Rhythm Trainer – this is what it sounds like – a mobile application to improve your sense of the rhythm and time. Simple to use and fun.

MusicTheory.net exercises – nice set of music theory exercises. Ear training, chords, intervals, note identification on piano or guitar – lots of useful stuff (there are also a lot of music tools and lessons on the website which you might like).


Finally, some random points which you might find useful if you want to study music:

Have fun learning music theory!