I. Fundamentals

This section introduces students to the basics of music notation, including rhythm, pitch, and expressive markings. Students also learn to construct and identify rudimentary harmonies, including intervals (two-note chords), triads (three-note chords), and seventh chords (four-note chords).


The Fundamentals section assumes no previous familiarity with Western musical notation. However, each chapter in this section assumes familiarity with all preceding chapters; for that reason, it is recommended that chapters are studied in order.


In the section’s first chapter, Introduction to Western Musical Notation, students are encouraged to think about the ways in which they might write down (or notate) their favorite song or composition. The next six chapters (Notation of Notes, Clefs, and Ledger Lines through Other Aspects of Notation) focus upon the notation of pitch and the expressive and stylistic conventions of Western musical notation.

Next, students are introduced to the conventions of Western rhythmic notation in the subsequent four chapters (Rhythmic and Rest Values through Other Rhythmic Essentials). Pitch is then revisited, beginning with the spelling and identification of scales, key signatures, the diatonic modes, and the chromatic collection (in Major Scales, Scale Degrees, and Key Signatures through Introduction to Diatonic Modes and the Chromatic “Scale”).

The following chapter, The Basics of Sight-singing and Dictation, presumes knowledge of the concepts in all previous chapters. It can be used as a stand-alone chapter in an aural skills class or within the context of a music theory or fundamentals course. Finally, the construction of harmonies is explored, from two-note Intervals through four-note Seventh Chords.

The Triads and Seventh Chords chapters deliberately do not include inversion or figured bass, as this is covered as a separate topic (Inversion and Figured Bass). This chapter, along with Roman Numerals and SATB Chord Construction and Texture, can be used as introductions to part-writing, counterpoint, music appreciation, or music history courses.


The Fundamentals section is designed for a wide audience, including high school students (and those taking AP Music Theory), collegiate non-music majors (and musical theater majors), and collegiate music majors.


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OPEN MUSIC THEORY by Mark Gotham; Kyle Gullings; Chelsey Hamm; Bryn Hughes; Brian Jarvis; Megan Lavengood; and John Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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