I am a self-taught student of piano for one year. I am curious and interested in learning music theory side-by-side with the piano technique. I have noticed that usually the music theory material: YouTube videos, books, internet articles, etc., do not teach how to apply the theory just learned.

The YouTube videos mainly focus on concepts like, how to build seventh chords, but do not teach what to do with them.

Is there good material for this?

  • I think it's much easier to apply music theory through composing or improvising than just playing existing pieces - are those things you are interested in? – topo Reinstate Monica Feb 12 at 13:55
  • Yes. I am indeed interested in it, composing and improvising. – Rodolfo Feb 12 at 16:08
  • I’m voting to close this question because off-site resource requests included finding extrnal material to lean music theory is off-topic. – Dom Feb 15 at 0:29
Theory describes, it does not command.

If we start from that quote as an assumption, then if you want to apply theory, you describe something with it, either to others or to yourself. Or others describe something to you.

If someone described the construction of seventh chords to you, they used music theory to do that describing. If you understood it, now you should be able to build a seventh chord and that would be an application of music theory. If you can describe the same to someone else, then you are able to apply music theory in a different way.

"What to do with seventh chords?" Congratulations, you just applied music theory. In order to ask such a question, you have to know music theory. Now someone could describe the usage of seventh chords to you, and that would be another application of music theory.

"How to build seventh chords?" and "How are seventh chords used in practice?" are two different questions. I think the usage of seventh chords is a wider topic, so it may be better left for a different tutorial, or as an exercise for the student to find seventh chords in existing music and try to understand what they did in those contexts.

Have you tried to find seventh chords in existing music? How would you describe those instances? Have you tried to add notes to plain triad chords to make them major sevenths or dominant sevenths? Did you notice any differences between triads and seventh chords?


There is no single good answer to your question. I remember when I was a kid (uphill both ways) I had the same questions and struggles. Ultimately I found the best teacher to be myself and friends.

Invite other musicians and singers over, hang out in the choir or band room, volunteer to accompany a church choir, get permission to practice at your local college music building. Just hang out with other musicians, jam, ask questions, listen and watch, steal. If you hear something you like, ask what it is and try it yourself. Actually doing it in front of other people is more valuable than ten practices. You can't become a good and well rounded musician alone. You need to experiment and breath with other musicians.

If you have ever studied a foreign language you know that sitting in your room reading books can only take you so far. To learn and to learn quickly, you need to be around people who speak that language then listen and speak to them. How did YOU learn to speak? Not from a book, but by hanging out with and imitating mom and dad. The dog, too, in some households.

Then, as you get a good and practical foundation, books will augment and amplify what you know from experience. I have a friend who learns a new word a day and each day she calls to ejaculate it within our conversation because application is more valuable than study.

In the words of one of our century's great philosophers, "There is no try, only do." - Yoda.


Play the songs you know and like from chords and sheet music and look up the chord theory, chord progressions, chord accompaniment.

Btw. there are lots of piano playing books with theory (form, chords, progression etc.)


I have noticed that usually the music theory material: YouTube videos, books, internet articles, etc., do not teach how to apply the theory just learned.

The usual music theory material isn't YouTube. It's in textbooks or when looking a historical sources they are often called treatises.

This forum isn't supposed to be about recommending resources, but you should at least know about Rameau, Treatise on Harmony as one of the most important historical theory sources, and Kostka, Tonal Harmony is a very popular college theory textbook.

Personally, I like my first edition Piston, Harmony and refer to it often.

You can try searching Google for "music theory bibliography" or "music theory libguides" to peruse theory texts. Also, you can look for "music theory syllabus" to find actual course syllabi and their required texts. Those materials are the usual stuff of music theory.

Some web resources can be good. I like the music theory posts of Adam Neely and Rick Beato. But both of them base their videos on the kind of theory taught in college. You won't really get all they have to share without a strong foundation in that college level theory. Their videos are more of theoretical discussions and not like a general course in music theory. It's stuff that comes after learning a good foundation in theory.

Regarding "what to do with..." the theory taught. One important concept to look up is functional harmony. That's basically a theory of chord progressions. Tendency tones and non-chord tones are two other topics to look up for practical information related to melody.


All the time you're playing, you're applying music theory. Playing in 4/4? Notice how each bar must contain the 4 equivalent, and be split evenly (we hope!). Playing in key A? Notice the 3 sharps. Find an odd note? It'll have an accidental, lasting the bar. Playing 3 notes simultaneously? It's a triad - what's it called?

Music theory is both simple and complex, often simultaneously. When you find out about a new bit of theory, write something out featuring it, then play it. Found out about intervals? C>F♯ sounds just like a diminished fifth - why isn't it - what is? Write some out, play them.

Try talking , explaining what a feature is, to another musician. Appreciate how using the language of theory clears up (usually!) ambiguities and misunderstandings.

And, you can take part of what you are currently playing, and strip it down theoretically - trying to work out what theory bits are applicable.

In other words, use theory in your playing, that way, it'll make more sense - or elicit more questions for this hallowed site!

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