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California Institute of the Arts

Approaching Music Theory: Melodic Forms and Simple Harmony

California Institute of the Arts via Coursera


This course is about how music works. It is about the relationship between the technical and aesthetic details of music. It is also about how developing a meaningful theoretical vocabulary can help you think and talk about musical style, and how learning that vocabulary can expand your appreciation for music.

In this course you will learn music theory not by looking at theory itself, but by listening to, looking at, and—yes!—writing your own musical examples. By hearing, seeing, and writing yourself, you will learn about classical, modern, ancient, pop, jazz, and folk styles.

Through lectures, relevant examples, and numerous practice assignments, we will examine fundamental aspects of melody. We will move into working with two voices and counterpoint, and finally to three voices and the beginnings of harmonic function.

This is an intermediate-level course for musicians and composers who already have some understanding of music theory through previous study. If you are a musician or composer looking to build a deeper understanding of music theory for composing, performing, or improvisation, you have come to the right place. If you are an amateur lover of music or, perhaps, play a musical instrument and want to develop a deeper sense of appreciation for music theory, aesthetics, and history, you are also in the right place!


  • Course Overview
    • This introductory module lets you know what is involved in the course. Come on in!
  • Melodic Structures: Lines, Shapes, and Simple Modes
    • In this module, we will being to develop a vocabulary that is useful in describing the technicalities behind musical expression. To do this, we will start right away closely examining some actual, real music. First we will look at some Gregorian Chant (which, come on, can be stunningly beautiful). Second we will use some slow classic Jazz to thoughtfully build our vocabulary.
  • Melodic Structures: Simplicity, Repetition, and Change
    • In this module, still looking at single melodic lines, we will start to branch farther afield to describe some useful technical descriptions of the differences between different simple and complicated musical styles.
  • Combining Pitches: Consonance and Dissonance
    • Now we will start to describe different ways to think about playing pitches simultaneously. Carefully considering our terms, we will listen to a wide spectrum of styles before settling in to focus on the basics of common practice rules.
  • Cadences and Basic Harmonic Function
    • Beginning with a fuller examination of cadences, we will come up with ways to describe chords and harmonic function that help us talk and think about different styles of music. Finally, we will consider how our newly constructed vocabulary can help us describe the function and aesthetics of more and more complete pieces of music.

Taught by

Marc Lowenstein


4.7 rating at Coursera based on 142 ratings

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