The Best Music Theory Books For Students And Teachers

So you’re on your journey of learning about music theory 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 for their ABRSM music theory exam 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 workbooks 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.

First, let’s cover some more general music theory books that aren’t specifically about an individual grade. They’ll cover more broad principles and I’d recommend having one of these to refer to as you learn and practice music theory, no matter what grade you’re taking.

However, some of them won’t break down what things you’ll need to know by each grade so make sure you have a copy of the latest syllabus so you don’t over complicate things for yourself.

First Steps in Music Theory – Eric Taylor

This small and handy music theory book is a great revision and reference guide for anyone learning and studying to be able to play and read music.

It covers lots of different topics across grades 1 – 5 and whilst it isn’t as in-depth as the following two books, it is easy to jump in and out of as and when you forget something. It’s laid out clearly, is suitable for all ages and considering how much information is in it and its price, it’s well worth it.

AB Guide To Music Theory Part 1

This book by Eric Taylor is a very common way to learn music theory and is actually one of the ways I first learnt. Part one covers everything you need to know for grades 1 – 5 and is a very in-depth look at music harmony and structure.

While it is very comprehensive it is quite hard to digest without a teacher and can feel a bit old-fashioned (I think it was first published in 1989). Still, it is a fantastic reference tool and I own a copy that I go back to when I need to check something.

AB Guide To Music Theory Part 2

The second book by Eric Taylor, The AB Guide To Music Theory Part Two, again is a very common way to learn music theory and is a book I’ve owned for many years.

Part two covers a lot more complex music harmony and structure and whilst you don’t necessarily need it for grades 1 to 5 it will be very handy for music exams beyond grade 5. It’s not an easy read though so I’d recommend still having a teacher to explain things that you don’t understand.

Like part one, it was published in 1989 it can feel a bit old-fashioned. But, it is a fantastic reference tool and I own a copy that I refer back to regularly and you’ll find very helpful if you’re doing grades 6 and above

Hello Music Theory’s Study Guides

Growing up I used the AB Guides to music theory but they were so hard to read and learn from. To help try and make music theory easier to digest I’ve been writing my own guides that I’ve tried to write as simple as possible.

Each one walks you through everything you need to know for that grade, covering all the topics in details with loads of examples. You can download them instantly for only £5.

Music Theory For Dummies – Michael Pilhofer and Holly Day

I’ve only recently come across this book but have been pretty impressed with it. It’s written well, and laid out clearly and logically and covers a large range of different topics including some more modern music theory such as rock, jazz and blues.

It doesn’t break it down, grade by grade which might be a problem if you’re studying for an exam, but, it’s got a lot of material in here and is explained well.

Music Theory in Practice

A really popular option for worksheets and exercises is the Music Theory in Practice series by Eric Taylor. Each grade takes you through a series of different topics that you’ll need to know about for that particular grade. 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. I’m a huge fan of these books and can happily recommend them to any music theory students. You have to buy the answer papers separately though but other than that they’re really good!

Hello Music Theory’s Worksheets

Over the years we’ve made hundreds of music theory worksheets to download for our students and now they’re available for you to download and print out. Going over every topic from grades 1 to 5 our PDF music theory exercise packs are great for students, parents and teachers to download and get practicing with straight away.

Because they’re PDFs you get them instantly and can use them as many times as you need. I’ve also included all the answers so you won’t have to make any additional purchases to mark them.

Theory Of Music Made Easy

Up next we have the lovely series of exercises and workbooks from Lina Ng. The Theory of Music Made Easy is very popular alternative the the Eric Taylor work books and is written in a very similar style and covers all the the same topics. It’s aimed at a younger audience and so has lots of nice illustrations to help engage them which is good too. One downside is that I couldn’t find the answers anywhere online. If you’ve got a music teacher that shouldn’t be a problem but if you’re learning alone it might be…

Summing Up

Anyway I hope that helps to give you an idea of some of the more popular options when it comes to music theory books. Finding the right music theory book is like finding the right teacher. Each book explains things in a completely different way so try a few and see which one you find easiest to take in.

If you have any questions or suggestions of others I should check out let me know in the comments below. Also, some of the links on this page are affiliate links which means if you buy them through the link I’ll get a small commission.

Dan Farrant

Dan Farrant

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 10 years helping 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. Since then he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.

2 thoughts on “The Best Music Theory Books For Students And Teachers”

  1. I have read a couple of the books which you have listed (AB guide to Music Theory 1 & 2), and I am currectly reading:
    ‘The Everything Music Theory Book’ by Marc Schonbrun.
    This is a well written tutorial, although I still find myself looking things up on the internet from time to time.
    Many thanks for you website.

  2. Hi Matt, Ah I’ve not checked that one out yet, I’ll try to pick it up over the summer and take a look. Thanks for the recommendation.

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