This handbook is a topically organized book of reference on music theory that I learned.


  • Melody is the soul of music
  • There’re many ways to write a melody
  • It’s complicated as many factors to consider
    • The theme of music
    • The characteristics of the audience
    • The emotions that it wants to express

Interval Melody

What the duration is?

  • The time a pitch continues

What an interval is?

  • A term to describe the pitch gap
  • The distance between two pitches
  • Unit is degree

For example:

  • C->C: 1 degree
  • C->D: 2 degrees
  • D->E: 2 degrees
  • C->E: 3 degrees

Interval classification:

  • Homophonic Repetition (1 degree)
  • Progressive Progress (2 degrees)
  • Jumping Progress (3 degrees or higher)
    • A small jump (3 degrees)
    • A big jump (3+ degrees)

Interval restriction:

  • 1-3 degrees: unrestricted
  • 4+ degrees: Be cautious, not too frequent
  • 6+ degrees: Must be reversed

Reference specification:

  • Range within 12 degrees
    • performance
    • singing
    • sounds lacking in coherence
  • Stagger interval classes
    • Keep active
    • Keep stable

Pros and cons:

  • Doesn’t require inspiration or creativity
  • Can randomly write many non-repetitive melodies
  • It’s possible to write a very bad music if without adjustment
    • Must be modified and adjusted after it is written.

What the tension is? Describe the intensity of the music and melody.

  • The tension of melody
    • Accumulating tension
      • After the tension is accumulated, it must be released in some way
    • Releasing tension
    • Push music forward
  • Four development trends
    • Ascending Progress (Accumulating tension)
    • Descending Progress (Releasing tension)
    • Staggered Progress (Keeping tension)
    • Quiescent Progress (Keeping tension)

The rule of accumulation and release of tension:

  • Through the pitch of the notes
    • Pitch rise (Accumulating tension)
    • Pitch drop (Release tension)
  • Through the length of the notes
    • Short notes (Accumulating tension)
    • Long notes (Release tension)


Harmony functions

What the chord is?

In Harmonics:

  • Two or more sound are emitted at the same time
  • The functions and features of sound (good or not, bright or dim, nervous or smoothing, what function does it play in music development, etc.)
  • Classify, organize and study the characteristics and functions in different ways

Objectively speaking, there is a big difference between playing one note and playing multiple notes at the same time.

After combining the notes. the sound can be:

  • Sunny or Soft
  • Uncomfortable
  • Special effects or interesting feeling


  • The simplest chord among all the chords in harmonics
  • A chord composed of three notes superimposed in thirds
  • Root, third and fifth

Understand the interval deeply:

Since classification method of degrees is a bit rough

For example:

  • C -> D: 2 degrees (A black key of c#, a whole tone)
  • E -> F: 2 degrees (No black key, semitone)

Both are 2 degrees, but the intervals are different, which is inaccurate, to solve this problem, we add prefixes to them.

Degrees Semitones Short
1 0 P1
1 m2 or A1
2 M2 or d3
3 m3
4 M3
5 P4
6 A4 or d5
7 P5
8 m6
9 M6
10 m7
7 11 M7
8 12 P8

Prefix meanings:

  • P: Perfect
  • A: Augmented
  • d: Diminished
  • m: Minor
  • M: Major

The classification of triads:

  • Major Triad (M3 + m3, bright, happy, vivid, optimistic)
  • Minor Triad (m3 + M3, dim, sad, lifeless, hesitate)
  • Augmented Triad (M3 + M3, uncomfortable)
  • Diminished Triad (m3 + m3, uncomfortable)

There’re many ways to express chord, the most commonly used are the below three ways:

  • Symbols(The English alphabet of phonetic names)
    • The most commonly used notation in jazz and modern pop music
    • The letter of root note + the characteristics of the chord
      • C or Cmaj
      • Cm or Cmin
      • C+ or Caug
      • C^o or Cdim
  • Roman Numerals
    • The most commonly used notation in classical music
    • The uppercase or lowercase Roman numerals + the characteristics of the cord
      • I
      • i
      • I+
      • i^o
  • Figured Bass Notation
    • Focuses on recording the transposition and interval relationship of music

The classification of harmony functions:

  • Tonic function (T)
    • Very stable, smooth, relaxing and satisfying feeling
    • Plays a role to start or stop music (just as your home)
    • At the beginning and end of a piece of music
    • I, iii, vi
      • I is the most typical one
      • iii and vi are relatively weak in functionality (A temporary home like hotel, )
    • Disadvantage
      • Too stable
      • Boring and no development
      • Needs other function chords to help it
  • Dominant function (D)
    • Unstable
    • Strongly want to continue to develop, and eventually return to the Tonic function (outside)
    • Be interspersed in the development of music
    • V, vii^o
      • V is the most typical one (V7 is stronger than V)
      • Vii^o and vi are relatively weak in functionality
  • Subdominant function (S)
    • Not so stable, but not particularly unstable (T < S < D)
    • As the bridge, let the chord connections become diverse (Bridge between home and outside)
    • IV, ii
      • IV is the most typical one
      • ii is relatively weak in functionality

The role of harmony functions:

  • A guide to write the harmonic progression
  • Push music forward

The progress is as below:

(Unstable) –(Resolution)–> (Stable)

Harmony progression

It’s written using the logic of functional harmony

Different types of Functional Progression:

  • Functional progression
    • Starting with the T
    • Sequential connection
      • T -> T/D/S
      • S -> T/D/S
      • D -> T (D is quite tense to return to be stable)
    • C -> F -> G7 -> C
      • In Chinese: 启 -> 承 -> 转 -> 合
  • Termination progression
    • Plagal Cadence progression
  • Sequence progression
  • Non-functional progression (with non-functional harmony, focus on the environment and which harmony can express it)

Notation Systems

Note name Solfège name function name
C Do Tonic
D Re Supertonic
E Mi Mediant
F Fa Subdominant
G So(Sol) Dominant
A La Submediant
B Si(Ti) Subtonic (or leading tone)
C Do Tonic

For the Solfège:

  • Movable do
  • Fixed do