Introductory Readings in Music Theory

The following readings are suggested for Music Theory majors when they first begin their study. Music Theory is a widely diverse field, with many different topics and approaches. While this list is but a mere sampling of possible readings, it gives a sense of the breadth and depth of the field.

See also: Additional Readings

Analysis overview

Bent, Ian. Analysis?(New York: W. W. Norton, 1980 & 1987).

Cogan, Robert and Escot, Pozzi. Sonic Design: practice and problems (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981).

Cone, Edward T. Music: A View from Delft, ed., Morgan, Robert P. (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

Cone/Lewin Colloquy:

Cook, Nicholas. A Guide to Musical Analysis (New York: George Braziller, 1987).

Dunsby, Jonathan?and Whitall, Arnold. Music Analysis in Theory and Practice (London, Boston: Faber Music, c1988): 11-73 [tonal] & 105-172 [atonal]; 209-232 [music & meaning].

Katz, Adele T. "Heinrich Schenker’s Method of Analysis," Musical Quarterly, XXI/3 (1935): 311-29.

McCreless, Patrick. "Rethinking Contemporary Music Theory," in Keeping Score: Music, Disciplinarity, Culture, eds. Schwarz, David, Kassabian, Anahid,?and Siegel, Lawrence (University Press of Virginia, 1997): 13-53.

Tovey, Donald F., "The Larger Tonality," in Beethoven (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1944): 28-40.

Models of Analysis

Stein, Deborah. Engaging Music: Essays in Music Analysis (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) [Introductory essays on Phrase Rhythm, Hypermeter, 12-tone analysis, Form in Rock, atonal music].

Writing Analytical Prose

Guck, Marion A. "Analytical Fictions," Music Theory Spectrum 16/2 (1994): 216-231.

Marvin, William. "Introduction to Writing Analytical Essays," in Engaging Music: Essays in Music Analysis (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).


Bailey, Robert, ed. "Analytical Study" in Richard Wagner: Prelude and Transfiguration from Tristan und Isolde. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985): 116-134.

Harrison, Daniel. "Supplement to the Theory of Augmented-Sixth Chords," Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Autumn, 1995): 170-195.

Rosen, Charles. The Romantic Generation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press): 1-115.

Stein, Deborah?and Spillman, Robert. Poetry into Song: Performance & Analysis of Lieder (NY & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996): 125-137.

Tovey, Donald. "Tonality in Schubert," in The Main Stream of Music and Other Essays (Meridian Books, Inc: New York, 1949): 134-159.

Music and Cognition

Davidson, Lyle, and Scripp, Larry. "Surveying the coordinates of cognitive skills in music," in The Handbook for Research in Music Teaching and Learning, ed. Colwell, Richard?(New York: Macmillan, 1992): 392-413.

Huron, David. Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation (Bradford Books, 2008): 1-18.

Lewin, David. "Music Theory, Phenomenology, and Modes of Perception," Music Perception 3/4 (1986): 327-92.

Form Theory

Caplin, William. Classical Form (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999): 1–21.

Hepokoski, James and Darcy, Warren. Elements of Sonata Theory (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006): 23–50.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style (New York: W.W. Norton, 1972): 19-42.

____________. Sonata Forms (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980: 96-126.

History of Theory

Christensen, Thomas. "Music Theory and its Histories," Music Theory and the Exploration of the Past, eds. Hatch, Christopher?and Bernstein, David (New York & Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

Music and Meaning

Agawu, Kofi. Playing with Signs: A Semiotic Interpretation of Classic Music (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991): 26-50.

__________. Music as Discourse: Semiotic Adventures in Romantic Music (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2009): 41-74.

Cone, Edward T. "Schubert's Promissory Note," 19th Century Music 5/3 (1982): 233-41. [Reprinted in Frisch, Walter, ed. Schubert: Critical & Analytical Studies (Lincoln & London, 1986): 13-30.]

Graybill, Roger. "Whose Gestures? Chamber Music and the Construction of Permanent Agents," in New Perspectives on Music and Gesture, eds.?Gritten, Anthony?and King, Elaine?(Ashgate, 2011): 221-41.

Hatten, Robert. Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994): 29-66.

Maus, Fred. "Music as Drama," in Music and Meaning, ed. Robinson, Jenefer Robinson (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press): 105-130.

Neo-Riemannian Theory

Cohn, Richard. "Introduction to Neo-Riemannian Theory: A Survey and a Historical Perspective," Journal of Music Theory 42/2 (1998): 167-80.

Music Theory Pedagogy

Davidson, Lyle,?and Scripp, Larry. "Sight-singing at New England Conservatory of Music," Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, 2/1 (1988): 3-9.

__________. "A developmental view of sight-singing: The internalization of tonal and temporal space," Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, 2/1 (1988): 10-23.

__________. "Framing the dimensions of sight-singing: Teaching towards musical development," Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, 2/1 (1988): 24-50.

_________?and Meyaard, J. Sight-singing ability: A quantitative and a qualitative point of view. Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, 2/1 (1988): 51-68.

Rogers, Michael. Teaching Approaches to Music Theory,?2nd ed. (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003).

Karpinski, Gary. Aural Skills Acquisition: The Development of Listening, Reading, and Performing Skills in College-Level Musicians (Oxford, UK & New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Performance?and Analysis

Cook, Nicholas. "Analysing Performance and Performing Analysis," in Rethinking Music, eds. Cook, Nicholas?and Everist, Mark (NY and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999): 239-61.

Lester, Joel. "Performance and analysis: interaction and interpretation," in The Practice of Performance, ed. Rink, John, (Cambridge, UK & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995): 197-216.

Levy, Janet. "Beginning-Ending Ambiguity: Consequences of Performance Choices," in?The Practice of Performance, ed. Rink, John,?(Cambridge, UK & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995): 150-69.

Rink, John. "Analysis and (or?) performance," Musical Performance: A Guide to Understanding, (Cambridge, UK & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002): 35-58.

Rhythm?and Meter

Lerdahl, Fred?and Jackendoff, Ray. A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1983).

Lester, Joel. The Rhythms of Tonal Music (Carbondale, ILL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986).

Rothstein, William. Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music (New York: Schirmer, 1989): 3-63.

Temperley, David. "Hypermetrical Transitions," Music Theory Spectrum 30/2 (2008): 305-25.

Set theory

Straus, Joseph N. "A Primer for Atonal Set Theory," College Music Symposium, vol. 31, pp. 1-26. (College Music Society, 1991).

____________. “Two Post-tonal Analyses,” in Engaging Music: Essays in Music Analysis (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005):?215-225.

Timbral Analysis

Cogan, Robert. New Images of Musical Sound (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).

See also: Additional Readings