Class Central is learner-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Michigan State University

Getting Started With Music Theory

Michigan State University via Coursera


This course is a brief introduction to the elements of music theory for those with little or no music theory experience. We will explore pitch, rhythm, meter, notation, scales, keys, key signatures, meter signatures, triads, seventh chords, and basic harmony. If you listen to music or play music by ear, and you want to know more about how music is organized and notated, this course is for you.

By the end of the course, you should know all major and minor keys, how to read and write in treble and bass clef using standard meters and rhythmic values, and how to notate and harmonize a simple melody. This course can serve as a stand-alone basic music theory course, or it can be a springboard to more advanced theory and composition courses.

Your instructor is Bruce Taggart, Associate Professor of Music Theory at Michigan State University, in the College of Music, where he has taught undergraduate and graduate music theory since 1996.


  • Basic Materials: Overview, Tonality, Notation
    • Learning Outcomes: By the end of this module, you should be able to: (1) discuss the elements of music, (2) explain the difference between tonal and atonal music, (3) sing the tonic in tonal music, (4) identify the fundamental and partials of a note, (5) explain the difference between chord and harmony, (6) explain the five-line staff, (7) read and write notes using treble and bass clefs, and (8) identify rhythmic values in notation. You should be able to (9) distinguish between pitch and pitch class, (10) describe octaves and how to label pitches based on octave placement, (11) identify and write accidentals and find them on the piano keyboard, (12) and define equal temperament (the artificial scale used on the modern piano) and tell how it differs from other tuning systems.
  • Scales, Keys, and Intervals
    • Learning Outcomes: By the end of this module, you should be able to (1) describe the diatonic set and understand how it is used to create major and minor scales, (2) sing major and minor using solfeggio (solfege) syllables, (3) explain the difference between natural, harmonic, and melodic minor, (4) spell major and minor scales starting on any note using accidentals in treble and bass clef, and (5) spell parallel and relative major and minor scales. You should also be able to (6) identify and spell by size and quality diatonic intervals (within a key) and chromatic intervals (outside a key).
  • Rhythm and Meter
    • Learning Outcomes: By the end of this module, you should be able to (1) read and write all possible rhythmic values, including dotted notes and ties, (2) understand how many notes fit within a measure in various meters, (3) determine meter signatures based on note grouping, and note grouping based on meter signatures, (4) define the types of musical accent and how they create a sense of meter, (5) distinguish between duple and triple meters in notation and by sound, and (6) describe and identify metrical syncopation. You should be able to (7) write melodies on the treble, bass, and grand staves using correct meter signatures, note values, rhythmic grouping, stem direction and beaming, and key signatures and accidentals,
  • Chords, Triads, and Harmony
    • Learning Outcomes: By the end of this module, you should be able to (1) identify and spell major, minor, diminished, and augmented triads in root position and inversions, and (2) identify and spell major, minor, dominant, half-diminished, and fully diminished seventh chords in root position and inversions. You should also be able to (3) use Roman numeral labels to identify diatonic triads within a key, (4) write triads within a key when given Roman numerals, and (5) spell chords when given pop/jazz chord symbols.

Taught by

Bruce Taggart


3.8 rating, based on 4 Class Central reviews

4.5 rating at Coursera based on 729 ratings

Start your review of Getting Started With Music Theory

  • Jennifer Tyes
    This was a very informative class. I am a person not coming from a musical background so the course content was confusing and overwhelming at times. I did pass the course with an 89% which is not my best work. I understand the mathematics behind reading music and cannot wait to use my knowledge.
  • Saying this course is for beginner is a bit misleading. Who enrolled this course should be able to read music sheet and know some basic about music theory. And the professor sometimes doesn't explain anything, he just give us some exercise that very hard for those who have no basic. Most of the time during this course, I have to use search engine to be able to understand the lectures. And I don't know how these theories can be applied to the actual experience of making or listening music.
  • Anonymous
    This course is really concise. The instructor always gets to the point. You will never feel a second wasted. I used this as a refresher, for my music theory knowledge.
    This is one of the best courses on Music Theory on the internet by far.
  • Maria Clara Mathias
    I've had music theory lessons at school and I thought it would be nice to review some concepts and learn a little bit more about it. Though it has never been my favorite subject, I always thought of it as an interesting topic. I learned the concepts mentioned in the MOOC in a more connected and better explained way at school(in my opinion). I think it is a good course, but I do believe it could be better and that sometimes the professor could explain things in a more clear way. Anyways, I was able to review some concepts and it was fun :)

Never Stop Learning.

Get personalized course recommendations, track subjects and courses with reminders, and more.