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Eric Larson
Bio/Chem/Patent Translator for 8 Years

Arkansas, United States
Local time: 04:32 JST (GMT+9)

Native in: English Native in English
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Music is one of my main hobbies and one of my fields of translation. I made an interactive tutorial on Western tonality and thought this would be a good place to share it with others. So here it is:

Interactive Tutorial On Western Tonality

This tutorial differs from most music theory courses in the following ways:

1. It is made entirely from links to other websites, so it does not always flow smoothly and a lot of information is redundant.

2. I emphasize tonal structure throughout and omit or delay information that is not necessary for understanding tonal structure. For example, the only classical form that I introduce is sonata form because it is one of the simplest examples of how classical form relates to tonal structure. Although many important aspects of music such as counterpoint are also interdependent with tonal structure, I omit them completely since the only goal of this tutorial is to introduce the concept of tonal structure as quickly and easily as possible. Once you understand the concept of tonal structure, hopefully you will find it as exciting as I do and be motivated to pursue other topics in tonal (or atonal) music by yourself.

3. This tutorial is based on the philosophy that tonal structure is the common element in almost all Western tonal music, be it Baroque, Country, Bebop, Metal, Hip-hop, you name it. Many music theory courses focus almost exclusively on classical music, but I am trying to avoid that approach. Classical music has developed tonal structure to a more sophisticated level than any other genre, but I have used genres other than classical as much as possible, especially where they have contributed ideas not found in classical music.

4. This tutorial is meant to be experienced more than read. I tried to avoid links to reading material as much as possible. I want you to experience tonal structure with your ears and eyes through sound clips and animations.


Main Sources Used For This Tutorial

Reading Music

Scales, Keys and Key Signatures



Roman Numeral Analysis and Figured Bass (triads only)

Voicing and Arpeggiation

7th Chords

More Scales

Phrases, Cadences and Chord Progressions


Mode Mixture, Tonicization and Modulation

Chromatic Chords

Tonal Structure and Form

More Harmonic Analyses

Extended and Altered chords

Medieval Church Modes



Main Sources Used For This Tutorial


Reading Music

You can skip this section if you already know how to read music. I would rather have omitted this section, but unfortunately it's difficult to learn music theory without reading notation.

The staff, clefs and ledger lines

Note duration

Measures and time signatures

Rest duration

Dots and ties

Simple and compound meter

Odd meter

Steps and accidentals

Summary of accidentals

Scales, Keys and Key Signatures

Although this section also contains some fundamentals of music notation, you might want to go through it anyway even if you can already read music. It may contain some information about music theory that you don’t know and that will be necessary for subsequent sections.

Major scale

Whole and half steps in scales, with an example of a melody built from a scale

Minor scales

The above link mentions dominant and seventh chords, but don't worry about those now.

Relative Scales

Tendency Tones and Minor Scales

Redundant with the above minor scale webpages, but explains the varieties of minor scales based on tendency tones

Names of scale degrees

Key signatures

Key signatures

Identifying key signatures

Key signature calculation

Building key signatures

Scale constructor

Do the major and minor scales and skip the others for now


Generic intervals

Specific intervals

Interval inversion

Interval constructor with inversions

Interval identification and construction alternate methods

Interval exercises: identification, construction and ear-training (based on differing scales)" target=abc>


Introduction to triads (major, minor, augmented and diminished)

Identifying triads

A Melody with chords

Triad inversion

Chord constructor

Diatonic triads

Triads and Minor scales

Summary of Triads and Scale degrees

Triad chord symbols in jazz

Roman Numeral Analysis and Figured Bass (triads only)

Baroque notation is useful for analyzing more than just Baroque music. The basic concept, if not the notation, is necessary for understanding all types of Western tonal music. This section only deals with triads.

Introduction to baroque Chord symbols (triads only)

Roman numeral analysis (triads only)

Baroque chord symbols (triads only)

Figured bass triad symbols (triads only)

Alterations in figured bass (triads only)

Analysis example

Voicing and Arpeggiation

Voicing chords (triads only)

Chords in Musical Practice

7th chords

7th chord symbols in jazz and pop music

Diatonic 7th chords

7th chord inversion

Do the triads and 7th chords but skip extended chords for now

More Scales

Diminished scale

Whole-tone scale. Note that the 1st, 3rd and 5th scale degrees correspond to an augmented chord, just as the same degrees of a diminished scale correspond to a diminished scale.

Sound clip of a whole-tone scale at the beginning of Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life"

Chromatic scale

Pentatonic scales

Phrases, Cadences and Chord Progressions

This is where it starts to get interesting

Phrases and Cadences (important concept!)

Circle Progressions

Common Chord Progressions

Basic Harmonic Function

This webpage refers to the overtone series, but don’t worry about that. If you are interested in the overtone series, I have oodles of information about it on my own music webpage


Redundant with the above webpage on cadences but contains additional information and refers to harmonic function

Composing with triads in First Inversion

Composing with triads in Second Inversion

Chords in Inversion

Redundant with the above webpages on composing in inversion but contains additional information and examples

Principles of Part Writing

Nonharmonic tones

Non-chord tones

Similar to the above Nonharmonic tones but with additional information and examples

Analysis example


Basic Melodic Principles

Mode Mixture, Tonicization and Modulation

Mode mixture



Chromatic Chords

Secondary Dominant Chords

There are three sections. When you finish one section, there’s no menu to go back and start the other sections, so you might want to return to this page and click the link again

Exercises: Secondary Dominants Identification

Exercises: Secondary Diminished 7ths Construction

Exercises: Secondary Diminished 7ths Identification

Augmented 6th Chords

There are six sections. When you finish each section, there is no menu to go to the other sections, so you might want to go back to this page and click the link again. Be sure to check out the section on tritone substitutions used in jazz improvisation

Other Chromatic Chords

Redundant with the above Augmented 6th Chords webpage, but introduces additional types of chromatic chords.

Neapolitan Chords

There are five sections. When you finish each section, there is no menu to go to the other sections, so you might want to go back to this page and click the link again.

Tonal Structure and Form

This is where it gets really interesting!

The purpose of this section is to demonstrate the relationship between tonal structure and form, not to explain form per se. Although form is a deep and complex subject in itself and there are many types of classical forms, this section will only cover sonata form because of its simplicity and ubiquity.

Tonal structure in a Bach’s Menuet in E major

This analysis really ties together all of the information introduced so far so you can see the point of it all.

Sonata Form in Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.

This is just a simple introduction to sonata form to make it easier to understand the next link.

Sonata Form in Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusikk.

Not everything is spelled out here, but if you have been paying attention you should be able to see how it relates to the material covered so far. The chords are written at the bottom and match the numbered measures of the sheet music. You can see the typical tonic à dominant à tonic progression of the entire piece as well as within the phrases (you have to identify those yourself since they aren’t labeled). In other words, you can see how tonal structure operates at both the phrase level and the level of the entire composition. Note the use of a secondary dominant chords to modulate to the dominant key and then back to the tonic key.

More Harmonic Analyses

Now that you are a pro at harmonic analysis, here are some challenging analyses of real compositions.

Analysis of Chopin’s Prelude # 4

Analysis of Chopin’s Prelude # 8

Extended and Altered Chords

This section is especially relevant if you are interested in jazz or impressionist classical music

9th chords

11th and 13th chords

Augmented and diminished 5th chords

Extended chord construction

Harmonic analysis of Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin

This analysis includes extended chords as well as pentatonic scales.

Medieval Church Modes

The Medieval church modes are generally used in any of the following three ways or combinations thereof: In Medievel church music melodies were built from the modes without relation to chord progressions (chord progressions hadn't been discovered yet!). In impressionist, neoclassical and modal jazz music, chords are built on or from the degrees of modes. In some types of jazz and rock (especially heavy metal), modes are played over their corresponding diatonic chords, for example, a Dorian mode over a minor 7 chord.

Gregorian modes

Jazz modes

Jazz modes and chords

Jazz modes and parent scales

Sound clip of Dorian mode in part of "The Drunken Sailor"
(link temporarily broken)

Sound clip of Lydian mode in some of "The Simpson's" Theme

Sound clip of Mixolydian mode in The Beatles' Norwegian Wood

Sound clip of Mixolydian mode In Gregorian Chant
(link temporarily broken)

Sound clips of Dorian, Lydian and Mixolydian mode in Debussy's Fetes.
Scroll down to the bottom of the webpage to find these sound clips

Finally, I recommend listening to Miles Davis' "So What!" from "Kind of Blue" for an example of pure improvisation (the recording is a first take) based on two alternating Dorian modes and accompanied by piano chords built in fourths (rather than the usual thirds) from the modal degrees.

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