Music theory is the all-encompassing study of the practices and possibilities of music. By reading about music theory, you’ll learn all about how music is made, including composition methods, tuning systems, and more.

So, what are the best music theory books? We've gathered them up in this guide so you can find out which ones are worth the read.

Best Music Theory Books

Below are the top 10 books on music theory. These books can help you develop a better understanding of the background and practices of music.

1. Music Theory for Dummies by Holly Day 

Music Theory for Dummies by Holly Day

Get more out of music with this essential guide for beginners. Music Theory for Dummies makes music theory easy to understand by simplifying each topic. In this, you’ll find everything you need to know about becoming fluent at reading musical scores, knocking out beats, and more. Whether you’re a music student or a music lover, this informative guide contains all you need to know. 

With Holly Day’s expert instruction, you’ll be able to create original melodies and better understand music theory as a whole. By the end, you’ll get more out of music theory than you ever thought was possible. 

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2. Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory by Andrew Surmani

Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory by Andrew Surmani

In this widely popular book on music theory, you’ll gain an in-depth understanding of the language of music. Created for listeners and performers of any age, this is an all-in-one theory course with all of the essentials on music theory. With concise lessons and exercises to help you improve your skills, you’ll be able to put your knowledge to action.

The perfect book for any music student, this book will teach you about note values, tempo marks, and more. 

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3. The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine 

The Jazz Theory by Mark Levine

If you’re a student of jazz looking to learn more, this is the book for you. In this, you’ll find all of the gaps in jazz theory that are traditionally glossed over. In this, Levine takes a robust approach to jazz theory, making this the all-in-one resource to learn about this classic type of music. 

Often referred to as a “music degree in itself,” this book will help you learn about jazz and apply new techniques to your practice. 

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4. Music Theory: From Beginner to Expert by Nicholas Carter 

Music Theory- From Beginner to Expert by Nicholas Carter

Music Theory: From Beginner to Expert is the ultimate step-by-step guide to understanding and learning music theory effortlessly. In this #1 best-seller, you’ll find helpful exercises and audio examples to help you hone in on your skills. Whether you’re looking to become a better player at your instrument or play any chord that seems impossible, this book has all the tools you’ll need.

While music theory may seem too complex or tedious to learn, this book remains engaging and fun for the reader. To solve all your problems in music theory and become proficient in your field, this is the book for you. 

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5. Basic Music Theory by Harnum Jonathan

Basic Music Theory by Harnum Jonathan

Basic Music Theory is the go-to book that’s helping students everywhere learn how to read, write, and understand music. In this revised and updated edition, you’ll be taken through the complex world of music through clear and concise instruction by Jonathan. With his experienced teaching skills and refined methods, you’ll have the expert instruction you need.

By reading this, you’ll discover how easy it is to learn symbols, use memory devices to remember each term, and more. With this book’s musical dictionary, practice aids, and staff paper, you’ll have all the tools you need to understand basic music theory. 

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6. Music Theory for Guitarists by Tom Kolb

Music Theory for Guitarists by Tom Kolb

Music Theory for Guitarists contains everything you’ve ever wanted to know about music theory, but were too afraid to ask. In this, you’ll find music theory instruction being explained in terms of a guitarist. Kolb teaches basic chord instruction, scales, shapes, modes, and more. 

If you want to understand how music theory applies to the guitar, this is the book for you. Understanding how music theory applies to your instrument is key to becoming proficient in your area of expertise. 

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7. The Everything Music Theory Book by Marc Schonbrun 

The Everything Music Theory Book by Marc Schonbrun

If you’re a musician who’s looking to take music to the next level, this book will teach you how to do so. In this, professional musician and music editor Marc Schonbrun takes you through the underpinnings of music theory in the format of a step-by-step guide. 

In this, you’ll learn about chord and scale construction, musical form and development, and harmonic analysis. By the end, you’ll be able to master all of the important subjects that make up music theory. 

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8. Music Theory 101 by Brian Boone 

Music Theory 101 by Brian Boone

Music Theory 101 is an essential primer on the basics of music theory. In this, you’ll gain insight into rhythm and melody. In this comprehensive and easy-to-understand guide, you’ll learn about the basics of music theory that have stayed the same despite the changes within each genre. According to Boone, understanding these basics is key to becoming a successful musician.

All novice musicians are lifelong learners, and this will teach you how to understand sheet music, how keys are identified, and more.

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9. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory by Michael Miller

The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Music Theory by Michael Miller

In this updated and expanded edition of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory, you’ll find simple instruction on a complex topic: music theory. Even for those who have no rhythm or consider themselves tone-deaf, this book will help you understand music theory like never before. 

You’ll find a comprehensive ear-training section, new helpful CD lessons, aural exercises, and more to help you apply your new skills. 

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10. How Music Works by David Byrne

How Music Works by David Byrne

How Music Works is an engaging celebration of music, a topic that Byrne has spent a lifetime thinking about. In this, you’ll explore how music is shaped by its time and place, how new technologies have altered our relationship with performing, and more. Further, you’ll learn about the patterns within music theory that have remained constant over the decades.

According to Byrne, music is part of a larger pattern of adaptations and reactions to the world around us. Understanding its cultural and physical context is crucial to appreciating its importance. 

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Learning Music Theory

Ultimately, the books above will help you refine your knowledge about music theory and put your skills to use. Whether you’re a new music student learning how to play the guitar or a seasoned musician, these books will help you come to a greater appreciation and understanding of music theory as a whole. 

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