I am having trouble full understanding set theory, I have read many different articles, but I still don't understand most of it.

Is their a good way to thoroughly learn set theory? Maybe some books?

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    Do you mean math or music? Set theory is used in 20th-21st century music.... – Dekkadeci Aug 28 '18 at 23:58
  • Music, I would like to understand Set theory in music, so that I could study "Forte numbers". – TooCleverFox Aug 29 '18 at 1:36
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    If you don't define your terms, it's very difficult to address your question. But beyond that, if you don't understand the articles, in particular starting with the Wikipedia page, then you need to post exactly where you get lost. It would also be helpful if you listed your musical background: any basic theory, ability to read and/or play music, etc., so we know at what level to respond. – Carl Witthoft Aug 29 '18 at 11:53

I think the best book on Set Theory for music is Joseph Straus’ textbook Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory. It is not a simple text, I use it in an undergraduate class, but it’s closer to a graduate level. That’s especially true of earlier editions, but the newest edition (a rare example of a new edition that isn’t just a barely updated version of previous editions) is quite a bit more approachable. Like most textbooks, it is shockingly expensive for its relative size however.

If you have any Tonal Theory textbooks from prior theory studies, there’s a decent chance that some of the later chapters will give you a decent introduction. I know that both Kostka/Payne and Clendinning/Marvin do. It’s worth checking if that gives you enough of an introduction, especially if you already own the text.

In other words, this is one of those topics that actually is worth starting with a textbook, not by trying to dive into articles which will tend to assume prior knowledge. It’s still enough of a niche, academic area that people haven’t written many approachable or cheap introductions (that are good) yet. I would not recommend starting with Allen Forte’s book Structure of Atonal Music as it is more difficult and contains a number of oddities that have been ironed out over the years. It is an amazing book and well worth reading eventually, but it would be less helpful as an introduction.

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I can recommend Roig-Francoli's "Understanding Post-Tonal Music," though also with the caveat that it's expensive. I particularly appreciated that it balanced the Second Viennese School with other approaches to post-tonal music, and that it includes examples from living, active composers.

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  • This is definitely a plus of Roig-Francolì's book, and an aspect that his book does much better than Straus's (though he's getting better with each new edition). – Richard Aug 30 '18 at 0:24
  • Thanks for this recommendation, I read a phenomenal Ligeti article by Roig-Francoli but hadn’t heard about this text. Could you clarify: do you mean that set theory is discussed involving a sphere of composers wider than the second Viennese school, or does the book go into lots of analytical areas beyond set theory? – Pat Muchmore Aug 30 '18 at 16:53
  • @PatMuchmore It's been a few years since I worked through the book, and I'm having trouble finding my copy right now, but I think mostly the former, though perhaps a bit of both. I remember, for example, that it starts by analyzing pentatonic and whole-tone music by e.g. Debussy in terms of pitch-class sets and transformations. But it also definitely makes a point of talking about more aspects of music than just pitch. – LiberalArtist Aug 31 '18 at 16:07

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