The 10 Best Music Theory Books in 2021 for Students and Teachers

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 want to learn alongside them. I’m constantly asked which books I recommend so I’ve put together a list of my favourite 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.

The Best Books For Learning Music Theory

So here is my list of what I think are the top 10 books on music theory for students and teachers that are essential reading for anyone learning music.

#1. Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory Book

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Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians (Book & 2 CDs)
766 Reviews
Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians (Book & 2 CDs)
  • Book and 2-CD set
  • 75 exercises, 18 units
  • Authors: Andrew Surmani, Karen Farnum Surmani, Morton Manus

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 walk though 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 having hundreds of questions for you to answer on each topic as you work through it. Not only that but it also includes eat 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 highly recommended by us.

#2. The Musician’s Guide to Theory and Analysis

The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis
97 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.

#3. The Jazz Theory Book

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The Jazz Theory Book
747 Reviews
The Jazz Theory Book
  • Levine, Mark (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 522 Pages - 06/01/1995 (Publication Date) - Sher Music (Publisher)

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 courses required reading list, it’s easy to understand and a complete 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 contains more than 750 examples to bring you up to speed with the language of jazz musicians. A very worthwhile investment for any musician and we’d highly recommend picking up a copy.

#4. The Ultimate Guide To Music Theory

For those of you studying for an ABRSM music theory exam knowing what you need for each grade can be tricky. To help, we’ve written a book to take you through the syllabus and make music theory easier to digest.

Each guide walks you through all the topics included at 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.

#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

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Barron's AP Music Theory, 3rd Edition: with Downloadable Audio Files
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Barron's AP Music Theory, 3rd Edition: with Downloadable Audio Files
  • Scoggin, Nancy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 696 Pages - 01/01/2018 (Publication Date) - Barron's 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
386 Reviews
Music Theory for Computer Musicians
  • Music Theory For Computer Musicians
  • Many DJs, gigging musicians, and electronic music producers understand how to play their instruments or make music on the computer, but they lack the...
  • Beneath all the enormously different styles of modern electronic music lie certain fundamentals of the musical language that are exactly the same no...

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 know 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

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Music Theory For Dummies
716 Reviews
Music Theory For Dummies
  • Pilhofer, Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 07/11/2019 (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 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 an 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

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How to Read Music in 30 Days: Music Theory for Beginners - with exercises & online audio (Practical Music Theory)
1,746 Reviews
How to Read Music in 30 Days: Music Theory for Beginners - with exercises & online audio (Practical Music 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 alongside 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 we love this little book and it definitely deserves a place in our top 10.

#10. Music Theory in Practice

Music Theory in Practice (LIVRE SUR LA MU)
1,406 Reviews
Music Theory in Practice (LIVRE SUR LA MU)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • TAYLOR ERIC (AUTHOR (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 along side another music theory textbook, but 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 from me.

So, Which One Should You Get?

I hope that helps give you some ideas of which music theory books to buy. There are 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. That being said, if you could choose just one, I’d go for Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory. It’s very comprehensive and gets fantastic reviews from students and teachers.

Sale
Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians (Book & 2 CDs)
766 Reviews
Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians (Book & 2 CDs)
  • Book and 2-CD set
  • 75 exercises, 18 units
  • Authors: Andrew Surmani, Karen Farnum Surmani, Morton Manus