The Down & Dirty Guide to Music Theory
by Tom Michero

Jump Into the Fundamentals

Don't read music but want to know how it works? Don't worry. This book was written with the non-reader in mind. It tackles the subject of music theory in a practical way that is easy to understand. Whether you are new to music or just brushing up, this guide shows music theory in plain language with loads of illustrations.

"Music Theory" is the term used to describe the study of how notes, chords, and scales work together to make music. Contrary to the its name, music theory is not some pie-in-the-sky hypothesis about how musicians "should" write music. Rather, it explains how musical tones relate to each other. Music theory does not crimp a musician's creativity any more than learning the alphabet hinders a novelist.

Open to Greater Musical Creativity

What you do with music theory knowledge is limited only by your own musical imagination. And, when you know how music is made you can use that information to your advantage whether you are playing an instrument or composing a song. This 57-page book shows the "need-to-know" principles of music every musician can benefit from. With this knowledge, you will learn the difference between playing an instrument and playing music.

This book shows:

  • Notes and Frequencies
  • Building Scales
  • Origination Modes
  • Chord Construction
  • Chord Substitution
  • Intervals
  • Chord Progressions.
  • Music Vocabulary.
  • and more..


  • The topics covered in this book represent the musical concepts most relavant to musicians. The book is geared toward both the beginner musician as well as the accomplished musician who wants to better understand the mechanics of making good music.

    How "Theory" Can Help You

    Music theory is often mailigned by musicians who claim it stiffles their creativity. Nothing could be farther from the truth! If anything, music theory gives your creativity more dimensions to work in. I believe that musicians who express their adversion to music theory are saying more about their fear of learning than the actual subject itself.

    Music theory is not a set of rules to be memorized and then mindlessly followed. Not at all. It is an explanation of how musical tones relate to each other through time. It is up to the musician to use these tonal relationships to create an aesthetic and/or emotional effect.

    Simply put, music theory gives musicians a tonal vocabulary that they can use to express themselves more fully. For a beginning music student, music theory is like a set of bicylce training wheels that will keep them out of musical trouble. For the advanced musician, music theory is the paint they apply to their musical portraits.

    When You Learn Music Theory You Can:

  • Hear tonal relationships
  • Compose with confidence
  • Communicate with other musicians
  • Teach music
  • Write vocal harmonies for a melody
  • Improvise with others
  • Master chords and their function
  • Transcribe music
  • Circle of Fifths

    This 57-page book shows what every musician needs to know about how music is made. With this knowledge, playing your instrument will be a whole lot easier.


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    table of contentsContents
    the major scaleThe Major Scale
    Diatonic yardstickThe Diatonic Yardstick
    Chord formulasChord Formulas
    Major Chord ProgressionsMajor Chord Progressions
    Minor Chord ProgressionsMinor Chord Progressions
    Circle of FifthsCircle of Fifths
    Steps to Music TheorySteps to Music Theory

    How the "Dirty Guide" Came to Be.

    I wrote the "Down & Dirty Guide to Music Theory" in order to give people a working knowledge of music theory as fast as possible. I wanted to focus on the issues that musicians face most often when writing or analyzing music.

    You Said, "Give Me More."

    Before writing the "Dirty Guide," I developed the Harmonizer as a tool for helping musicians easily "compute" intervals, chord progressions, and chord formulas. It was created for those who knew basic music theory but needed a tool to help apply their knowledge in every key. Though it came with a booklet to aid the beginner, people asked me to create something that provided a broader introduction to music theory.

    There Are Two Types of Books

    I looked around to see what other books there were on the subject and discovered that there are two types of books on music theory, 1) those that are too ponderous, and 2) those that don't explain enough. So my aim became clear. Write a book about about music theory so people who are becoming musicians can understand it and use it.

    My Own Experience

    I drew upon my own experience with learning music theory when my teacher taught it like it was a set of rules chiseled into stone tablets. I did not want it to be like that. I wanted people to see what I saw in music theory, namely a pattern that repeats. I believed that if one could think of music theory as patterns rather than rules it would make more sense. One could even have the freedom to create their own patterns.When I saw the "pattern" of music so much fell into place for me. It finally felt like something I could actually do. I don't have a very good ear but after learning a little music theory, I could identify chords and chord progressions by ear. That was big for me! I think since I don't have rock-star talent I am better able to explain music theory to regular people. I've been there.

    I Want People to Have Ah-Ha Moments

    I ended up creating a book that is heavy on examples and illustrations to give the reader several ways to understand each musical concept. I wanted people to see how simple music theory is and make a book that was full of ah-ha moments for them. From what people tell me, this book does it.
    Chemists It's not rocket science. It's not brain surgery. It's not even dog grooming but it is what every musician needs to know.

    Tom Michero