Music Theory

The 10 Best Music Theory Books In 2024

Written by Dan Farrant

Last updated

So you’re on your journey of learning about music, and you want to know what the best music theory books to buy are. Or you’re a parent needing to help your child who’s studying and wants to learn alongside them. I’m constantly asked which books I recommend, so I’ve compiled a list of my favorite ones for you to check out below.

In this post, I’ll summarise a few of the different options available for learning and also some of the music theory worksheets with exercises. All of these books I either own and use with my own pupils or have been very highly recommended by music teacher friends. Let’s dive in.

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1. A Complete Guide To Music Theory

If you’re new to music theory and want a step-by-step walk through the basics, then we’ve written a book just for you.

Our series, A Complete Guide To Music Theory, is designed for beginners and those coming back to music after a break to quickly get up to speed on everything you need to know when reading and notating music.

We’ve broken all these complex topics into five books, each guide walking you through all the topics included in that grade with loads of detail and examples.

What’s great about it is that it’s an eBook, so you can download it instantly and print it out or just read it on your phone or tablet when you’re out and about.

2. Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory Book

Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians (Book & 2 CDs)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Surmani, Andrew (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

If you’re learning an instrument and want to understand what’s going on behind all the notes, then a must-have in your library is Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory. It’s a complete walkthrough of everything you need to know when learning how to read and write music.

The book is made up of 75 lessons that teach you all the fundamentals of music theory, as well as hundreds of questions for you to answer on each topic as you work through it.

Not only that, but it also includes training CDs so you can test and train your ear to recognize what’s going on, too. With all the answers included and at a very reasonable price, it really is an essential book for any student or teacher of music theory and is highly recommended by us.

3. The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis

The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis
132 Reviews
The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis
  • Clendinning, Jane Piper (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1008 Pages - 06/01/2016 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

Up next, we have a great theory textbook that is commonly found in university music course reading lists: The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis. It’s a very comprehensive guide to all things theory, covering not only the fundamentals and basics but then moving on to cover more complex harmony and form.

It has a workbook that comes with it as well as an anthology of examples used as reference. It uses examples from the classical tradition, so won’t be suitable for someone looking for help with pop or jazz theory, but will definitely still be helpful.

4. The Jazz Theory Book

The Jazz Theory Book
  • Hardcover Book
  • Levine, Mark (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

If you’re studying jazz in any shape or form, an absolute must-have is Mark Levine’s Jazz Theory Book. Endorsed by jazz legends Jamey Aebersold and Dave Liebman, it’s a library of information that every jazz student needs to have in their arsenal. Found on probably every university jazz course required reading list, it’s easy to understand and a completely comprehensive look at everything you need to know about jazz harmony.

While it’s written for intermediate and advanced players, the 500+ pages of this book contain more than 750 examples to bring you up to speed with the language of jazz musicians. It’s a very worthwhile investment for any musician, and we’d highly recommend picking up a copy.

5. Music Theory for Guitarists

While all the books we’ve looked at so far in our list are suitable for musicians learning any instrument, sometimes it helps to have it explained in the context of the one you’re learning. Music Theory for Guitarists is exactly that book for those learning how to play the six strings.

Written by expert guitarist and teacher Tom Kolb, he takes you through his method using plain and simple terms along with visual diagrams, especially for the fretboard. Along with the book, you get access to over 90 audio tracks with examples of all the topics it covers to help you really understand the ideas when applying them to the guitar.

6. Barron’s AP Music Theory Book

AP Music Theory: with Downloadable Audio Files
632 Reviews
AP Music Theory: with Downloadable Audio Files
  • Scoggin B.M.E., Nancy Fuller (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 696 Pages - 01/01/2018 (Publication Date) - Barrons Educational Series (Publisher)

For those of you studying for AP music theory exam, we’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Barron’s AP Music Theory. It’s an invaluable tool to help navigate all the things you need to know to be able to pass the AP music theory exam.

Each chapter goes in-depth into all the content you’re required to know, starting with the fundamentals and moving on to harmonic organization, progression, composition, dictation, and analysis.

But, what we love about it is that it also includes downloadable audio tracks to help you practice for the aural section to help you be completely prepared, along with two practice exams and answers.

7. Music Theory For Computer Musicians

Music Theory for Computer Musicians
487 Reviews
Music Theory for Computer Musicians
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hewitt, Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Music theory doesn’t have to just be for instrumentalists. If you’re a DJ or music producer then knowing music theory can be a huge leg up when it comes to composing, mixing, and producing music. This book is written for those people and designed to help those interested in making electronic music learn the fundamental theory ideas that will help them level up their tracks.

It teaches with the MIDI keyboard as the center and looks at different software, too, to help you break down the language of music, even if you have no prior knowledge of playing an instrument. If you’re looking to write and produce your own music, it will massively help and is a must-have.

8. Music Theory For Dummies

Music Theory For Dummies, 4th Edition
1,481 Reviews
Music Theory For Dummies, 4th Edition
  • Pilhofer, Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 06/21/2019 (Publication Date) - For Dummies (Publisher)

You’ve most likely come across one of the For Dummies series of books, as they cover pretty much every topic under the sun. They’re usually a great overview of a topic, and the one on music theory is no exception. It has all the things you’d look for in a music theory book for beginners, breaking down the topic into easy-to-digest chunks in a simple and logical order.

It’s written well and laid out clearly, and covers a large range of different topics, including some more modern music theory such as rock, jazz, and blues, as well as composing, arranging, harmony, and chords. It also has a CD included with loads of musical excerpts so you can listen to examples as well as read them.

9. How to Read Music in 30 Days

How to Read Music in 30 Days: Music Theory for Beginners - with exercises & online audio (Practical Musical Theory)
  • Ellul, Matthew (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 171 Pages - 10/24/2017 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

If you’ve tried learning to read music, then you’ll know how much is involved. This guide to reading music is designed to help you break down those topics into easy, manageable sections. It’s the ideal companion for someone learning an instrument and wanting some extra help with the theory along the way.

It’s written with incredibly clear diagrams and over 100 written exercises, so you can put into practice the things you’re learning to test your knowledge and how well you’ve understood the ideas. Couple that with the online audio listening challenges and you’ve got a winner. We love this little book, and it definitely deserves a place in our top 10.

10. Music Theory in Practice

Music Theory in Practice
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • ERIC TAYLOR (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

And last, but by no means least, we have the Music Theory in Practice series by Eric Taylor. Each book takes you through a series of different topics that you’ll need to know about for that particular grade following the ABRSM syllabus. It then has lots of different questions for you to answer to practice and see how well you’ve understood the concepts and ideas of music theory.

It’s not got loads in the way of explanations, though, so is more to give you practice questions alongside another music theory textbook.

Still, I’m a huge fan of these books and can happily recommend them to any music student. You will have to buy the answer papers separately, though, but other than that, they’re really good and highly recommended by me.

Bonus: Honorary Mentions

There are so many wonderful music theory books, far too many to list here, but there are a few more that I wanted to mention, so I have listed them below.

So, Which One Should You Get?

I hope that helps give you some ideas about which music theory books to buy. There is a lot to choose from, so it can get a bit overwhelming knowing which one to go for. Finding the right music theory book is like finding the right teacher.

Each book explains things in a completely different way. What I will say is you don’t have to choose just one. Try a few and see which one you find easiest to take in.

If you’re looking for a digital book that you can get instantly, give our eBook, A Complete Guide To Music Theory, a try. It has a 30-day money-back guarantee, too, so you’ve got nothing to lose.

If you prefer something that you can hold, then I’d go for Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory. It’s very comprehensive and gets fantastic reviews from students and teachers.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.