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Understanding the Fundamentals of Music

Enjoy a deeper understanding of music’s compositional structures—even if you can’t read a single note—with this fascinating introduction to the basics of music theory.
Understanding the Fundamentals of Music is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 295.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from I wish I'd had this course available 30 years ago As a musician (bassist) of over 45 years, there were/are a lot of things regarding music theory I've always wondered about. This course answers so many of them. I have not watched the whole series but, rather, many of the episodes over and over again. Each time I learn something or understand something a bit better. My performance is better because of the understanding I come away with. As far as I'm concerned this is a college course and has to be studied and time put in, in order to understand it thoroughly. If you play an instrument by ear or read music and want to know why we play what we do. I can't recommend this course enough.
Date published: 2024-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great overview but difficult to watch sometimes I have to appreciate his knowledge of the subject matter but at times, I found him to be condescending and some of his comments were outright uncalled for. (he made a comment about being more unstable than a super model who did not take her meds) I found his commentary like that off putting. He also seemed to yell at us sometimes. Lighten up dude. As I watched, I imagined what would it be like sitting down with him and eating a meal. I believe he would dominate the conversation, and talk so over people that most would tune him out. I am a beginning cellist and want to learn more about music theory. This course was pretty advanced for me at times. I also am an experienced teacher who has taught thousands of adults at all levels. He also plays a lot of musical selections but NEVER gave credit to the people/group that performed them. Other music course have said, This group is playing this piece. That would have been nice to know. This is a course I will watch again but will have to ignore his tone sometimes. He is one of those people that knows his subject matter very well, but expects others to know it as much as him. Short of his tone, jabs, and awful attempts at humor this course was very informative.
Date published: 2024-05-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from This course does NOT teach the fundamentals This course does NOT teach the fundamentals of music at all. It is a music appreciation course of classical music so it seems as the lecturer is focused on the orchestra. Much is interesting, but i have some issues as follows: 1. as noted above this does not teach the fundamentals of music as expected 2. i found a typo in the video subtitles.. tibre instead of did this escape attention of reviewers of the course. 2. while the lecturer is very articulate and obviously a learned person, he uses the term "my friends" to address the audience.. Unbelievable. I know this is sometimes used as a kind of salutation, but realistically, we are NOT his friends. I put a lot of meaning in the term "friend" or "friends" and he uses it loosely so that it means nothing. I got this course at a good price, so i will listen to it and learn what he presents, but I am disappointed that it really is not a course on the fundamentals of music, but more properly named, "an appreciation of orchestral music".. that is really the subject. Interesting, but if i were to advise a friend of this course, i would tell them that it is not a course on the fundamentals of music..
Date published: 2024-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Get This Course -- Especially if You Are Young! All my life I've loved music, but have never understood keys, triads, diminished, augmented, etc. etc. How I wish that I had taken this course 50 years ago when I was 21. Having said that, be advised that it is very rich and one will benefit from revisiting some or all of the lectures multiple times. But oh what a return there is. And professor Greenberg is famously passionate, clear, and entertaining. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2022-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Filling in detail If you’re musical it confirms your knowledge but fills in a vast amount of detail and colour. And all presented in the most entertaining and amusing style.
Date published: 2022-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous teacher Robert Greenberg is a fabulous teacher, great story teller and a comedian. I owe much of my app5of music to his courses.
Date published: 2022-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic Professor! This man's enthusiasm is infectious! I played violin for 9 years in my youth, recorder for 5 or so, and I'm an old chorister, so I find it easy to follow. But clearly explained for newbies.
Date published: 2022-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic professor, superb course Professor Greenberg is a gifted teacher and a master of his topic. I found his presentation delightfully challenging and satisfying. He presents with excellent humor, lively flow, phenomenal expertise, sensitivity to the learning process, and a true love of his field. This course expanded my understanding of music well beyond my expectations, opening my world to the technical aspects of music as well as world-historical contexts of music development. I'll be following Professor Greenberg's courses further, without a doubt. I am a well-read, well-educated person with plenty of experience in university environments, and I can say without qualification that Professor Greenberg is an exceptional educator.
Date published: 2022-04-30
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Professor Robert Greenberg offers a spirited introduction to the mysterious realm of music theory—the complex syntax of structural and instrumental resources that composers draw on. Sidestepping the necessity to read music, these lectures represent a rare opportunity for learning music theory—for understanding the processes of composition. The course will reward you many times over as you find yourself enjoying much deeper connections with the language of music.


Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.


San Francisco Performances

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.

He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres.

Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

You can find more music content from Robert Greenberg on Patreon:

By This Professor

The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works
Music as a Mirror of History
Great Music of the 20th Century
Symphonies of Beethoven
The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works
How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition
The Language of Music

01: The Language of Music

Professor Greenberg begins the course with an introduction to one of the musical language's key syntactical elements—"timbre," or the actual sound or tone color of an instrument or instruments—beginning with the string section of the orchestra.

46 min
Timbre, Continued

02: Timbre, Continued

His exploration of timbre continues with plucked string instruments and woodwinds—both single-reeds and double-reeds—as well as a discussion of the concept of transposing instruments and dynamics.

45 min
Timbre, Part 3

03: Timbre, Part 3

You conclude our discussion of timbre with the brass and percussion families before moving on to the evolution of the orchestra from the early 17th to the 20th centuries.

48 min
Beat and Tempo

04: Beat and Tempo

A simple definition of music offered in Lecture 1 was "sound in time." Moving from our exploration of the "sound" aspect of music, we now begin an exploration of the role of "time" in music.

44 min
Meter, Part 1

05: Meter, Part 1

Meter refers to how individual beats are grouped in a given passage. This lecture considers two basic types, duple meter and triple meter, the "dance meter" of which the waltz is the most enduring and popular example.

47 min
Meter, Part 2

06: Meter, Part 2

Examine some of the ways a composer can manipulate the listener's sense of beat and meter, including syncopation, compound meter, additive meter, and asymmetrical meter.

45 min
Pitch and Mode, Part 1

07: Pitch and Mode, Part 1

After three lectures of discussion about the "time" aspect of music—rhythm—you will return to its sound aspect, introducing and defining terms such as noise, fundamental frequency, pitch, pitch collection, note, melody, harmony, interval, octave, and overtone and Pythagoras's role in "discovering" the overtone series.

44 min
Pitch and Mode, Part 2

08: Pitch and Mode, Part 2

Professor Greenberg continues his discussion of pitch and mode with a focus on the essential building block of the Western pitch systems—the octave—and its importance in tonal music. In this lecture you will also explore musical modes.

46 min
Intervals and Tunings

09: Intervals and Tunings

Resuming you focus on pitch, you will turn once more to Pythagoras, and his investigation into what is now known as the overtone series. This paves the way for an examination of intervals, the evolution of tuning systems, and an introduction to the major pitch collections.

45 min
Tonality, Key Signature, and the Circle of Fifths

10: Tonality, Key Signature, and the Circle of Fifths

This lecture explains the concept of a tonal center, or tonic, discusses how musical keys are constructed and how they relate to one another. It also introduces a fundamental graphic and conceptual aid in understanding keys and their relationships—the circle of fifths.

45 min
Intervals Revisited and Expanded

11: Intervals Revisited and Expanded

An interval is the relationship between two pitches, and can range from the most simple in terms of acoustical ratio, where the two pitches blend well, to the most acoustically complex, where the pitches blend poorly. This lecture explores that range, from the simplest—the consonant, stable octave—to the most complex—the dissonant and unstable tritone.

48 min

12: Melody

Begin with an examination of the single most important aspect of music: melody. Here you will look at the four basic types of thematic melody: word melody, vocal melody, vocally conceived instrumental melody, and instrumental melody; and continue with an examination of musical motives and motivic development, and the function of motives in creating melody.

46 min
Melody, Continued

13: Melody, Continued

This lecture reviews and builds on the analysis of thematic melody begun in the previous lecture. Instrumental melody is discussed, along with other types of melody, including accompanimental melody, countermelody, periodic melody, and continuous melody.

46 min
Texture and Harmony, Part 1

14: Texture and Harmony, Part 1

The idea of texture in music—the number of different melody lines in a given section of music and their relationship to one another—is introduced by discussing the four basic musical textures: monophony, polyphony, homophony, and heterophony.

47 min
Harmony, Part 2—Function, Tendency, and Dominance

15: Harmony, Part 2—Function, Tendency, and Dominance

Functional tonality is the tonal system that dominated Western music from the 16th to the 20th centuries. It is at its heart about tension and release. This lecture discusses the roles of various harmonies.

41 min
Harmony, Part 3—Progression, Cadence, and Modulation

16: Harmony, Part 3—Progression, Cadence, and Modulation

Professor Greenberg concludes with the concepts of harmonic progression, the movement from one chord to the next; cadence, the progressions that serve as musical punctuation marks; and the techniques of modulation, by which a composer can change keys during the course of a movement.

48 min