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The Down and Dirty Guide to Music Theory

by Tom Michero


Jump Into the Fundamentals

Don't read music but want to know how it works? Don't worry. This book was written with the non-reader in mind. It tackles the subject of music theory in a practical way that is easy to understand. Whether you are new to music or just brushing up, this guide shows music theory in plain language with loads of illustrations.

"Music Theory" is the term used to discribe the study of how notes, chords, and scales work together to make music. Contrary to the its name, music theory is not some pie-in-the-sky hypothesis about how musicians "should" write music. Rather, it explains how musical tones relate to each other. Music theory does not crimp a musician's creativity any more than learning the alphabet hinders a novelist.

Open to Greater Musical Creativity

What you do with music theory knowledge is limited only by your own musical imagination. And, when you know how music is made you can use that information to your advantage whether you are playing an instrument or composing a song.

This 57-page book shows the "need-to-know" principles of music every musician can benefit from. With this knowledge, you will learn the difference between playing an instrument and playing music. This book covers:

Notes and Frequencies
Building Scales
Originating Modes
Chord Construction
Chord Substitution
Chord Progressions
Music Vocabulary
and More.

The topics covered in this book represent the musical concepts most relavant to musicians. The book is geared toward both the beginner musician as well as the accomplised musician who wants to better understand the mechanics of making good music.

How "Theory" Can Help You

Music theory is often mailigned by musicians who claim it stiffles their creativity. Nothing could be farther from the truth! If anything, music theory gives your creativity more dimensions to work in. I believe that musicians who express their adversion to music theory are saying more about their fear of learning than the actual subject itself.

Music theory is not a set of rules to be memorized and then mindlessly followed. Not at all. It is an explanation of how musical tones relate to each other through time. It is up to the musician to use these tonal relationships to create an aesthetic and/or emotional effect.

Simply put, music theory gives musicians a tonal vocabulary that they can use to express themselves more fully. For a beginning music student, music theory is like a set of bicylce training wheels that will keep them out of musical trouble. For the advanced musician, music theory is the paint they apply to their musical portraits.

When You Learn Music Theory You Can:

  • hear tonal relationships
  • compose with confidence
  • communicate with other musicians
  • teach music
  • Write vocal harmonies for a melody
  • Improvise with others
  • master chords and their function
  • transcribe music
  • Circle of Fifths

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    circle of fifths


    The Harmonizer deals with music theory and so does the "Down & Dirty Guide," so which should I get? They differ considerably in their approach to music theory.

    The Harmonizer
    The Harmonizer is a music theory "calculator" which can be used to solve a wide range of music theory problems. For instance, the Harmonizer could be used to show things like, all of the keys that use the G major chord, or what notes make up the F Mixolydian mode, or what chords make good substitutions. It comes with a 40-page booklet that explains how to use the Harmonizer as well as many music theory basics.

    The "Dirty Guide"
    The "Dirty Guide" is designed to be and introduction to the subject of music theory. It covers the same topics as the Harmonizer but in a more fleshed-out way, especially on the fundamentals such as scales and intervals.

    My Recommendation
    The Harmonizer could be used in conjunction with music lesson assignments. I would recommend it for the musician who is interested in writing and/or analyzing music. The "Dirty Guide" is well-suited to the beginner who is not yet actively composing.

    clef "This book can make you a better musician. What's wrong with that?"
    No music-reading skill required.
    $16.95 Paper Edition
    $ 12.95 eBook Edition
    Order Now

    See What's Inside!

    Click on the pages below to view.
    table of contents


    the major scale

    The Major Scale

    circle of fifths

    The Diatonic Yardstick

    Ring of Chords

    Chord Formulas

    Ring of Scales

    Chord Progressions

    chord function

    Minor Chord Progressions

    secondary dominants

    Circle of Fifths

    chord progressions

    Steps to Theory Mastery

    How the "Dirty Guide" Came to Be.

    I wrote the "Down & Dirty Guide to Music Theory" in order to give people a working knowledge of music theory as fast as possible. I wanted to focus on the issues that musicians face most often when writing or analyzing music.

    You Said, "Give Me More."

    Before writing the "Dirty Guide," I developed the Harmonizer as a tool for helping musicians easily "compute" intervals, chord progressions, and chord formulas. It was created for those who knew basic music theory but needed a tool to help apply their knowledge in every key. Though it came with a booklet to aid the beginner, people asked me to create something that provided a broader introduction to music theory.

    There Are Two Types of Books

    I looked around to see what other books there were on the subject and discovered that there are two types of books on music theory, 1) those that are too ponderous, and 2) those that don't explain enough. So my aim became clear. Write a book about about music theory so people who are becoming musicians can understand it and use it.

    My Own Experience

    I drew upon my own experience with learning music theory when my teacher taught it like it was a set of rules chiseled into stone tablets. I did not want it to be like that. I wanted people to see what I saw in music theory, namely a pattern that repeats. I believed that if one could think of music theory as patterns rather than rules it would make more sense. One could even have the freedom to create their own patterns.

    When I saw the "pattern" of music so much fell into place for me. It finally felt like something I could actually do. I don't have a very good ear but after learning a little music theory, I could identify chords and chord progressions by ear. That was big for me! I think since I don't have rock-star talent I am better able to explain music theory to regular people. I've been there.

    I Want People to Have Ah-Ha Moments

    I ended up creating a book that is heavy on examples and illustrations to give the reader several ways to understand each musical concept. I wanted people to see how simple music theory is and make a book that was full of ah-ha moments for them. From what people tell me, this book does it.

    Music Theory Formula It's not rocket science. It's not brain surgery. But,
    it is what every musician needs to know.
    Tom Michero

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