I'm completely new to music theory, and would like to learn general music theory. I decided to buy a book on music theory. The book I want to buy was published in September, 2005.

The book: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory (2nd edition)

Is it a good idea to go for a book that is now ~12.5 years old? Have things in music theory changed within the last two decades?

  • 2
    My guess is that it's like most other areas of scholarship: Not much has changed regarding how we see the music of 200 years ago, but some things are likely different in how we see the music of 20 years ago. And that means you won't really experience a problem with 20 year old theory until you are several years into your studies and have covered all the time-honored basics. A 20 year old introductory book is probably fine. A 20 year old book on rock music would leave a lot out, like all of dubstep. – Todd Wilcox Dec 15 '17 at 22:13

Short Answer

If your goal is to understand the music theory in "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory," then no: nothing has changed.

Long Answer

It depends on how you define "music theory." To most of the world, "music theory" is really just "the fundamentals of music": how to build this chord, how chords progress from one to the next, what a given phrase structure is, etc.

But if you mean academic music theory, there are two areas that I would say are the two biggest developments for the non-academic.

The first is called Sonata Theory, developed by James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy. It's a different look on "sonata form," and one that has been very popular ever since its introduction. It's hard to summarize in one sentence, but it's basically a goal-driven approach to sonata form that tries to relate a given piece to other sonata movements of the time. If you're interested in checking it out, this article would be a good starting point. If you're still curious, check out this subsequent article. And if you want more, check out their book.

The second is called Schema Theory. This is again hard to summarize, but it basically explains compositional practice (especially in the Galant) by looking at how these composers were taught. This article is helpful, but it's a bit outdated; your best bet is to check out the book.


Nothing much has changed. But there have long been different approaches, and even different ideas of what 'theory' is. Best if you tell us which book you're considering, and what YOUR musical purpose is. Do you want to explore how music 'works'? Or do you want a strategy for jazz soloing?

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