We spent 26 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. 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. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work.

10. Tonal Harmony

Stefan Kostka’s Tonal Harmony rarely discusses chordal theory at all, and when it does, it often uses obscure chords that tend to perplex, rather than enhance, one’s understanding. Still, it’s a rich repository of musical knowledge that is otherwise organized intuitively.

  • Focuses on 4-part harmony
  • Helpful practice exercises
  • Assumes some prior knowledge

Brand Tonal Harmony
Model pending
Weight 2.9 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

9. Theory of Harmony

Written over a century ago by one of the world’s most legendary composers, Arnold Schoenberg’s Theory of Harmony remains a seminal text to this day. It offers an integrated framework for not only understanding the “how” of the musical craft, but the “why,” as well.

  • Considered a scholastic masterpiece
  • Shows its age occasionally
  • Frequent philosophizing may irritate

Brand Theory of Harmony
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

8. The Complete Musician

At a whopping 960 pages, The Complete Musician is a comprehensive tome studied in some of the world’s most prestigious conservatories. However, it often breaks with traditionally accepted nomenclature, inventing terms that may confuse pupils already versed on the subject.

  • Good value for the price
  • Bloated writing obfuscates meaning
  • Confusing and disorganized diagrams

Brand The Complete Musician
Model pending
Weight 3.7 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

7. The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis

Provided with your purchase of professor Jane Piper Clendinning’s The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis is a digital code that gives you access to interactive exercises specifically tailored toward helping you internalize the lessons.

  • Helps develop compositional skills
  • Workbook is included
  • Not ideal for autodidacts

Brand The Musician’s Guide to
Model pending
Weight 2.8 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

6. Hal Leonard Pocket-Sized

The Hal Leonard Pocket-Sized is a condensed reference guide that covers everything from basic intervals and scales to modulation and reharmonization. It’s a great option whether you’re a beginner new to the subject or a touring musician looking for refreshers between gigs.

  • Well-organized index
  • Very affordable
  • Lacks depth for serious students

Brand Hal Leonard
Model pending
Weight 3.5 ounces
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

5. Basic Music Theory

Basic Music Theory is characterized by a humorous and encouraging writing style that makes an otherwise intimidating subject approachable. Jonathan Harnum, manages to cover challenging topics while making them appear simple.

  • Author has phd in music education
  • Less expensive than most options
  • Suitable for students of any age

Brand Basic Music Theory
Model pending
Weight 1.3 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

4. The Elements of Music: Concepts and Application

In the first volume of The Elements of Music: Concepts and Application, there is a large focus on understanding the relationships between melody and harmony. The author’s prose has a unique, colorful lilt to it, likely a result of his past experience in fiction writing.

  • Good resource for teachers as well
  • Over 500 pages without being dull
  • Teaches song structure analysis

Brand The Elements of Music:
Model pending
Weight 4 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

3. Twentieth-Century Harmony

Twentieth-Century Harmony offers a rigorous examination of some of the more advanced theoretical concepts, including dynamic expression, ornamentation and harmonic behavior. However, it’s mostly limited to the first half of the 1900s, so you may find it lacking in breadth.

  • Explores atonality
  • Includes writing prompt exercises
  • Ideal for aspiring composers

Brand W. W. Norton Com
Model pending
Weight 1.1 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

2. Jazz Theory Book

Mark Levine’s highly-acclaimed Jazz Theory Book is the definitive text for instrumentalists and singers interested in the genre. It advocates for ear training as a way to develop the student’s aural skills, which ultimately opens the door to imaginative improvisation.

  • Studied in universities globally
  • Improves sight-reading abilities
  • Great resource for self-teaching

Brand Sher Music
Model 1883217040
Weight 2.7 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

1. Music Theory for Dummies

Music Theory for Dummies is a serious resource for beginner and intermediate students. Though the name might not suggest it, there’s plenty of challenging information to work through, and it’s presented in a concise, well-paced manner.

  • Aids in reading musical scores
  • Includes a chord chart
  • Writing has no hint of condescension

Brand For Dummies
Model pending
Weight 1 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0