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Gain an understanding of the basic building blocks of musical theory and notation. This free course, An introduction to music theory, will introduce you to music staves, clefs, rhythmic and pitch values, rhythmic metre and time signatures. This OpenLearn course provides an introduction to music theory pitched at a level equivalent to Grades 1–3 of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music theory exams. You can test your understanding as you proceed by completing simple multiple-choice questions.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- understand the basic building blocks of musical theory and notation
- understand music theory to the level demanded by Grade 3 of the Associated Board of the Royals Schools of Music theory syllabus
- understand music theory to a level required to move on to Open University Level 2 and Level 3 Music courses, e.g. A224 Inside Music.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 The content
- 2 The basics
- 2.1 The staff
- 2.2 Clefs
- 2.3 The great staff
- 2.4 Middle C and ledger lines
- 2.5 Writing notes
- 2.6 Reading notes
- 2.7 Review 1
- Group 1: writing notes
- Group 2: identifying note names on the treble staff
- Group 3: identifying note names on the bass staff
- Group 4: identifying clefs for notes on both the treble and bass staves
- Group 5: identifying note names of notes with ledger lines
- Group 6: identifying more note names of notes with ledger lines
- 3 Rhythm and metre
- 3.1 Time values
- 3.2 Triplets
- 3.3 Time signatures
- 3.4 Review 2
- 3.5 Dots and ties
- 3.6 Grouping and beaming notes
- 3.7 Review 3
- 3.8 More time signatures: compound time
- 3.9 Grouping and beaming notes in compound time
- 3.10 Review 4
- 4 Rests
- 4.1 Values and dots
- 4.2 Grouping rests
- 4.3 Grouping rests in compound time
- 4.4 More on grouping rests
- 4.5 Review 5
- 5 Pitch
- 5.1 Notes of the bass and treble staves: a reminder
- 5.2 Semitones and tones, and the scale of C major
- 5.3 Semitones and tones, and the scale of G major
- 5.4 Major scales having key signatures with sharps
- 5.5 Semitones and tones and the scale of F major
- 5.6 Major scales having key signatures with flats
- 5.7 Review 6
- 5.8 Minor scales: the natural form
- 5.9 Minor scales: the melodic and harmonic forms
- 5.10 Relative minor and relative major
- 5.11 Review 7
- 6 Accidentals, degrees of the scale and intervals
- 7 Harmony: the triad
- 8 Scores: performance directions
- 9 Review
- 10 Trainers for eye and ear
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
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An introduction to music theory
This free course, An introduction to music theory, introduces you to the basic concepts of western music notation and music theory that you need to know before you embark on the Open University course. It covers ground similar to that found in the syllabus of the Associated Board Theory Grades 1–3 (ABRSM, 2011).
Sound files have been provided for all the music notation examples as it is important for you to be able to listen to the sounds represented by the notation. There is an audio bar below each notated example; click on the button on the left side to play and pause the relevant sound file.
This free course is recommended preparatory material for the Open University course A224 Inside music.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Friday, 26th February 2016
Last updated on: Friday, 26th February 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
- This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - see our FAQs for more information.
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