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An introduction to music theory

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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.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 8 hours
  • Updated Friday 26th February 2016
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under Music
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An introduction to music theory


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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 A224 Inside music [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . It covers ground similar to that found in the syllabus of the Associated Board Theory Grades 1–3 (ABRSM, 2011).

All of the music notation examples included within An Introduction to Music Theory are provided within Sibelius’s Scorch Player. This allows you to listen to the examples whilst following the notation.

You will need to have the Scorch plugin installed to play the music notation examples. If you do not already have the Scorch plugin installed on your computer, you will be prompted to download it at the first example you use.

Common compatibility/technical issues which students have encountered when using An Introduction to Music Theory

Some students have reported experiencing compatibility and technical difficulties when trying to view and use parts of An Introduction to Music Theory with Internet Explorer 9 or Google Chrome. The material works best when viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or Firefox 3.6. Scorch is not currently compatible Firefox 4.

Please note that browsers and operating systems are frequently being updated and it is quite likely that Sibelius Scorch can work with more recent versions of IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome browsers, but you are best advised to check the latest compatibility information within the Sibelius support pages that are listed below under Useful Sibelius Scorch links.

The materials are designed to work with desktop computers only so will not be compatible with the AVID Scorch plug-in for iPad which will only support Scorch examples and text documents that are in pdf format.

Useful Sibelius Scorch related links

This page gives the latest instructions on How to install Scorch for desktop and at the bottom is an indication of the minimum hardware and software requirements for using Scorch either on PC or Mac. You can also download and install the Scorch plugin from this page if the browser has not detected and installed it when the introductory music theory pages first load up.

This page gives advice on Scorch compatibility issues.

This AVID knowledge base article provides information for users of recent operating systems and browsers (e.g. Windows 8.1 with Internet Explorer 11 who experience a “Memory Corruption in Windows Process Heaps” error.

The Sibelius UK technical support phone number is currently: UK: 01753 658585 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)

This free course is an adapted extract from the Open University course A224 Inside music.

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