- Claude V. Palisca
- and Ian D. Bent
Theory is now understood as principally the study of the structure of music. This can be divided into melody, rhythm, counterpoint, harmony and form, but these elements are difficult to distinguish from each other and to separate from their contexts. At a more fundamental level theory includes considerations of tonal systems, scales, tuning, intervals, consonance, dissonance, durational proportions and the acoustics of pitch systems. A body of theory exists also about other aspects of music, such as composition, performance, orchestration, ornamentation, improvisation and electronic sound production. (There are separate articles on most of these subjects, but for more detailed treatment of the most fundamental of them see in particular Acoustics; Analysis; Counterpoint; Harmony; Improvisation; Melody; Mode; Notation; Rhythm.)
The Western art music tradition is remarkable for the quantity and scope of its theory. The Byzantine, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese and Indian traditions are also notable in possessing significant bodies of theoretical literature. Recently there has also been some theoretical treatment of jazz and other genres of popular music. This article, however, will deal exclusively with the Western art music tradition. (For these other traditions ...