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