Idiot’s Guides: Music Theory, 3rd Edition

New edition of the best-selling book about music theory — more than 200,000 copies sold!

Many people find music theory a tough subject– but it doesn’t have to be! The best-selling Idiot’s Guides: Music Theory, Third Edition, is a concise and clear guide that teaches any budding musician (and even more experienced ones) how to read musical notation by navigating the basics of reading and composing music. This book covers:

  • The basics of tones, including pitches, clefs, scales, intervals, and major and minor keys.
  • The building blocks of rhythm, including note values, basic notation, time signatures, and tempo, dynamics, and navigation.
  • How tunes are created, starting with melodies, chords, chord progressions, and phrases and forms.
  • The basics of accompaniment, including transcribing, accompanying melodies, and transposing to other keys.
  • Composing and arranging, including coverage of musical genres and forms, how to compose your own music, arranging for voices and instruments, working with lead sheets and scores, and performing your music.
  • Helpful reference appendixes, including a glossary, chord charts, and instrument ranges.
  • Exercises at the end of each chapter, and an answer key appendix.
  • All-new coverage of genres, composing, and arranging.
  • Expanded online ear-training and transcribing exercise content.

Music theory is the study of music’s basic notes, chords, scales, and more, and how they combine into composed pieces of music. But studying theory can be like learning a new language. This helpful guide breaks down all the complicated concepts and teaches you music theory in easy-to-understand terms with lots of examples and over 100 practice exercises. In it, you get:

  • A primer on pitches, scales, intervals, keys, and musical notation.
  • Pointers on using time signatures, tempo, and dynamics to navigate a piece of music.
  • Guidance on combining tones, rhythms, and chord progressions to create music.
  • A study of harmonies, counterpoint, chord substitutions,  turnarounds, and more.
  • Advice on composing your own music and arranging for voices and instruments

BONUS: Over 1 hour of listen-and-learn ear training audio instruction available online!


NOTE: If you’re having trouble accessing the online content, follow these steps:

  1. Go to
  2. Click the cover for this book.
  3. Click the DOWNLOAD AUDIO TRACKS link.
  4. When prompted by the SAVE AS dialog box, choose a location for the file.
  5. Once the file is downloaded, unzip it. (If you’re using Windows, right-click the file and select EXTRACT ALL; if you don’t have this opinion, use an unzip program such as WinZip to extract the files.)
  6. Double-click to open the extracted file.
  7. There should be two folders inside. Double-click the THEORYaudio folder.
  8. You now see individual files for each ear-training exercise. Double-click an exercise file to open it.


Author: Michael Miller

Publisher: Alpha Books

Published: June 2016

Page count: 348 pp.

Price: $24.95 print, $12.99 digital

ISBN: 9781465451675

Purchase at

Purchase from

Comments (49)

  1. Ronda Buckingham August 13, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    I an not able to follow online with the web address in the book. Please tell me how to get to the ear training course.

  2. Margot Thomas January 26, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    When will the web page be ready for use???

  3. Jim Fallon April 29, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    None of the links you have given work as of4/29/2017 incliding the link reference in the book,…

    The links you referenced in your replys , only some example youtube playlists are availiable if you click on “read more” on DK’s description of the book..
    Looks like these will never be posted or fixed..disapointment

    • Michael Miller May 1, 2017 at 10:34 am

      Jim, thanks for commenting. I know we’ve had problems with the web content referenced in the book (changes at the publisher caused them all, and they tool way too long to fix), but they seem to be working fine now. The links to all the YouTube and Spotify playlists work for me — can you be more specific on the issues you’re experiencing? If there are still problems I want to get them corrected.

  4. CJ May 4, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    None of the links provided. Y you or the publisher are working. Any advice?

  5. nafatli kalter May 13, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    I am unable to access the ear training course. I bought the book because I thought it cme witha cd loke the edition I took out of the library. Could you either send me the cd or fix the glitch everyone seems to be complaining about. The link they say works DOESN’T!!!!
    Thank you
    Naftali Kalter

    • Michael Miller May 15, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Naftali, I apologize for all the issues with the book’s online content, the publisher has really made a mess of this. However, if you go directly to the new link on the book’s web page ( and scroll to the Book Extras section (you may have to click the Read More link to see the whole page), you’ll see the text “Download Music Theory Ear Training Course.” Click this and you’ll download a ZIP file with all the audio files for the course. You’ll need to extract those files, of course, but then you’ll have 40-some separate audio files, one for each lesson in the ear training course. It’s working now.

  6. Brainslug May 18, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    What about the non-audio online material?
    The book says to find chord references, etc. at
    I can not find any of these documents. I was able to download the audio files and see the playlists, but none of the other references.
    Could you please post the correct link here?


    • Michael Miller May 23, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Sorry about that, the publisher had some content management issues. (The links were there but were being cut off at the end of a long page.) It’s fixed now, and all the content is now available. Sorry for the issue!

  7. Joseph Morris June 18, 2017 at 11:30 am

    Was finally going to buy this today for my kindle but the book has become unavailable for “significant quality issues with the source file supplied by the publisher”.
    When can we expect to be able to purchase again?

    • Michael Miller July 14, 2017 at 10:12 am

      Joseph, I have no idea what’s going on with this. I’ve contacted the publisher and they’re looking into it, but haven’t given me an answer yet. I’ll post here when the book is available in Kindle format again. (And, to be clear, it’s still available everywhere in traditional print format!)

  8. John Rathnam June 26, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Hi Michael,
    On Pg 59 it says, “When you move clockwise…you’re moving through the fifths… when you move counterclockwise, you’re moving down through the fifths (and the flat keys).”

    It’s “fourths” when moving “counterclockwise,” correct?

    • Michael Miller July 14, 2017 at 10:09 am

      John, no, you’re still moving down in fifths. Up in fifths, down in fifths too. (There is the concept of a circle of fourths, but that’s a slightly different thing.) So from C you go up a fifth to G, then another fifth to D, then another fifth to A, and so forth. Or you can go down in fifths, from C down to F, then down to B-flat, then down to E-flat, and so forth.

  9. Francisco Ortiz July 22, 2017 at 10:29 am

    I just bought this book and sorry for saying it but I’m one of may who can’t download the Audio Tracks for Each Chapter the audio contents on are not available, it links you to an error page that shows the following message “This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below.”

    Best Regards.

    • Michael Miller July 24, 2017 at 10:30 am

      Francisco, the publisher tells me they just moved their website to a new host and that broke a ton of links for a ton of books. They’re working to get everything fixed, but as yet I don’t have an ETA for when the links for my books will be fixed. I’ll post here on my site when I know they’re working again. I apologize for this mess — I wish the publisher would get their act together!

    • Michael Miller August 4, 2017 at 11:09 am

      Francisco (and everybody else affected), the publisher just got the download links fixed. Try it now, it should be working.

  10. Ron Meyer August 2, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Do you when the problem with the download audio files will be fixed. I tried today and got the following error message:
    BlobNotFoundThe specified blob does not exist.

    I was able to download the Bonus Materials.

    • Michael Miller August 2, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      Ron, I talked to my editor just this morning. Still no ETA for getting this fixed, but she promised to kick some butt and get someone moving on this. The problem is a lot higher up at the DK level, and it apparently affects a lot more books than just this one. Still, it’s on their plate, just don’t know yet when it will get done.

    • Michael Miller August 4, 2017 at 11:09 am

      Ron (and everybody else affected), the publisher just got the download links fixed. Try it now, it should be working.

  11. rust September 13, 2017 at 12:15 am

    the download links was fixed,i can download the bonus things

  12. Tom September 24, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    I cannot get the download link to work. It opens a new page, completely circular!

    • Michael Miller September 25, 2017 at 10:58 am

      Tom, make sure you’re going to this link: Scroll down to the BOOK EXTRAS section and click the DOWNLOAD AUDIO TRACKS link. (Doesn’t look like a link, but it is.) This should download a ZIP files with all the ear training files.

      • Jamie October 31, 2017 at 10:41 am

        This is absolutely positively false advertising. This link has not work since I purchased this book and I want to know how I can get a full refund. I will be purchasing another book. Total waste of money spent!

        • Michael Miller December 4, 2017 at 12:52 pm

          Jamie, the link has been working for some time now. (With a few short periods of downtime from the publisher, admittedly.) Make sure you follow these steps:

          follow these steps:

          1. Go to
          2. Click the cover for this book.
          3. Click the DOWNLOAD AUDIO TRACKS link.
          4. When prompted by the SAVE AS dialog box, choose a location for the file.
          5. Once the file is downloaded, unzip it. (If you’re using Windows, right-click the file and select EXTRACT ALL; if you don’t have this opinion, use an unzip program such as WinZip to extract the files.)
          6. Double-click to open the extracted file.
          7. There should be two folders inside. Double-click the THEORYaudio folder.
          8. You now see individual files for each ear-training exercise. Double-click an exercise file to open it.

  13. That Door January 2, 2018 at 5:06 am

    Hello. I recently read the second edition of this book. It was my introduction to music theory. I knew pretty much nothing about the subject beforehand. Overall, I think it is an excellent starting point, and I’m grateful for it. However, there are a few things that bug me. If these things haven’t been changed in the 3rd edition, then maybe they could be changed in a possible 4th edition.

    This is my main complaint: you don’t explain downbeat, upbeat, or backbeat (you just start using the terms out of nowhere starting with page 68), and you don’t even mention the concept of “weak” and “strong” beats in the time signatures (and so I was quite confused when I came across this concept on my own).

    I did my own research and was left confused, as these “-beat” terms are very frequently interchanged depending on who you’re talking to (which is something else the book should clearly explain). The way some people do it — and the way used in your book — is that every basic beat is called a downbeat (in 4/4, 1 2 3 4 are all called downbeats) while the and’s in between are the upbeats. Some others call 1 and 3 downbeats, while 2 and 4 are upbeats. Sometimes 1 and 3 are on-beats, while 2 and 4 are off-beats. Sometimes off-beats means the ee-and-ah’s. Sometimes thejhdP*#$^fjun974i8jg! CONFUSING!

    From what I gather so far, the old, traditional, classical, “proper” terminology seems to be this: there’s only one downbeat, and it’s the first beat in a measure. An upbeat is a beat that directly precedes a downbeat (so, the last beat in the previous measure). 1 and 3 are “strong” beats; they’re the on-beats. 2 and 4 are “weak” beats; they’re the off-beats. The divisions in between the basic beats are called … nothing in particular, I guess? They’re the “weakest” of all, so they are also “off-beat”? I guess? I don’t know. *sigh*

    Which leads into the whole beat “strength” thing, and my confusion with how notation and actual playing intertwine. On one hand, the implication seems to be that time signatures — like all notation — are to be slaves to your musical ideas, not the other way around. Notation and its rules are there simply to facilitate an easily readable organization of an array of different musical ideas. I thought different time signatures were merely different ways to represent a piece of music, and I was to pick the one that gave the most efficient and logical visual representation of a particular piece of music, and that it would sound exactly the same no matter what time signature it was in. And this is indeed the case on computer software, it seems. On the other hand, I see talk about beat strengths and how some signatures emphasize certain things that have an affect on the sound and the feel of the music. But how does … If the … I … CONFUSED!

    So, yeah. I feel like maybe there are a few crucial pieces missing to your rhythm chapters that are leaving me scratching my head in frustration. I’m still wandering and stumbling around in the dark on a lot of concepts, but your book has at least given me a candle where all I had was pitch-black darkness. So for that, I thank you.

    Is there a summary anywhere of what has changed in the 3rd edition compared to the 2nd edition?

    • Michael Miller January 5, 2018 at 1:16 pm

      Thanks for your considered comments. You’re right that the word “downbeat” has different meanings in different situations. It also doesn’t help that less-literate musicians sometimes use the word incorrectly. The correct usage is the one I had in my book, it’s basic beat of every measure. So if you’re in 4/4, each quarter note is a downbeat; if you’re in 6/8, each eighth note is a downbeat.

      However, in some situations, a conductor might conduct a different beat as the strong beat, essentially making it a downbeat. This happens most often with faster tempos. For example, if you’re playing in 6/8 at a fast tempo, the measure might be subdivided into two “downbeats” on the 1st and the 4th eighth note. This is for convenience, of course, when you can’t physically conduct all eighth notes — and when the musicians and the audience “hears” two beats in a measure.

      In addition, some untrained musicians might refer to only the first beat of a measure as the downbeat — i.e., the first quarter note in a measure of 4/4. This is simply sloppy or just plain wrong. Yes, the first beat of a measure is a strong beat, but that doesn’t make it the only downbeat in the measure. Still, you’ll hear it.

      Backbeats are the 2 and the 4 in a measure of 4/4. Upbeats are the first subdivision of the main beats — for example, the “ands” of the 8th notes in a measure of 4/4. “Off beats” don’t really mean anything — could be upbeats, could be backbeats, different people use the language as they will, and not always correctly. (For example, I played with a bass player last weekend who translated my calling a passage “straight 8ths” as playing a “walking” bass on each quarter note in a measure of 4/4. We definitely were not speaking the same language!)

      Anyway, next edition we do I’ll try to elaborate this some more. I do not have a comparison of the differences between the 2nd and 3rd editions of the book — to be honest, the changes were minor; not much changes in the world of music theory from year to year!

      Thanks for writing!

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