The 10 Best Music Theory Textbooks

video play icon 10 Best Music Theory Textbooks
The Elements of Music: Concepts...
The Complete Musician
Hal Leonard Pocket Music Theory

This wiki has been updated 16 times since it was first published in July of 2018. Knowledge of music theory will rarely ever hamper a musician, no matter how naturally talented. Rather, it enriches one's depth of understanding and opens up new possibilities. Whether you’re a student, composer, or performer, one of these books will be of use and interest to you. We've included volumes ideal for the classroom and those appropriate for teaching yourself. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best music theory textbook on Amazon.

10. Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory

9. The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis

8. The Complete Musician

7. Twentieth-Century Harmony

6. The Elements of Music: Concepts and Applications

5. Basic Music Theory

4. The Jazz Theory Book

3. Music Theory: From Absolute Beginner to Expert

2. Hal Leonard Pocket Music Theory

1. Music Theory for Dummies

Editor's Notes

February 03, 2020:

Whether you play the guitar or violin, are a composer or singer, one of these music theory books is worth picking up. Thankfully, much of the information covered in volumes like these is evergreen, but we still feel it's important to provide readers with tried and true classics like Jazz Theory Book alongside recently updated and expanded selections like the newly-added Music Theory: From Beginner to Expert. That being said, the latter was included at the expense of Theory of Harmony, which was written a century ago, contains frequent philosophizing, and is showing its age. We still recommend it to supplement your understanding, however, we no longer feel it's advisable as a first choice, especially if you're a beginner.

Because we felt this list was heavy on scholastic works such as The Complete Musician, The Elements of Music: Concepts and Applications, and Basic Music Theory, as well as books with advanced concepts like Twentieth-Century Harmony, we added Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory. This book offers a crash course and is ideal for newbies who are casually interested in the subject but don't want to go overboard. When placed alongside Music Theory: From Beginner to Expert and Music Theory for Dummies, we feel the list is balanced favorably toward both beginners and serious students looking to get into advanced topics.

We know everyone learns differently, so we wanted to provide a range of options to cater to that. Many of our selections are written succinctly and in a straightforward manner, with plenty of exercises and examples, as well as hard-won tips and tricks.


Gia Vescovi-Chiordi
Last updated on February 05, 2020 by Gia Vescovi-Chiordi

Born in Arizona, Gia is a writer and autodidact who fled the heat of the desert for California, where she enjoys drinking beer, overanalyzing the minutiae of life, and channeling Rick Steves. After arriving in Los Angeles a decade ago, she quickly nabbed a copywriting job at a major clothing company and derived years of editing and proofreading experience from her tenure there, all while sharpening her skills further with myriad freelance projects. In her spare time, she teaches herself French and Italian, has earned an ESL teaching certificate, traveled extensively throughout Europe and the United States, and unashamedly devours television shows and books. The result of these pursuits is expertise in fashion, travel, beauty, literature, textbooks, and pop culture, in addition to whatever obsession consumes her next.


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