Book review: Music Theory for Computer Musicians

Two weeks ago, I’ve reviewed Michael Hewitt’s second book, Composition for Computer Musicians. I’ve decided to go for Hewitt’s first book, dedicated to the explanations of music theory.

Content and opinions

The book follows a strict progression in music complexity.

It starts with several chapters on music basis: what defines a musical sounds (pitch, tone…), the definition of a note, the basic major scale, what a rhythm is, and what a score is. It’s not a classical approach. There are indeed a lot of things that are not needed when you use a computer approach (the special transposition clef, …). Of course, it’s always interesting to learn about them, but from a pure computer musician point of view, it is not.

Once this basis is grounded, Michael Hewitt starts the study of harmony with intervals. It is the different intervals inside the major scale. A small chapter introduces the meter, which is important for rhythm and the feeling that the music will convey. After this parenthesis, a chapter studies in depth the chords, and also the different triads in the major scale. Then the same is done for the natural minor scale. Once two scales are known, the author makes a new aside on the melody. Then new minor scales (I didn’t know about them, it was really interesting) are presented.

Once the chapters on the usual scales are over, the author goes one step further with augmented and diminished intervals in the new scales (compared to the major one), and their inversion. Then there are chords inversions that can bring a new tone inside a track. A new parenthesis works on rhythms (its difficulty is very close to the added difficulty on harmony in the last chapters) and then, the author addresses additional scales.

Funny enough, the first scale was not pentatonic, but major and then the different minor ones. Pentatonic is fondamental in a lot of different music styles and it is also more simple than the others. I think this is where the actual construction of a song can begin. After the different types of triads, the author tackles root movement, and then the relationship between keys, and the different modes.

The final line encompasses the seventh chords, exotic scales, complex harmony (ninth chords, …), arpeggiation and then intonation. These chapters are not mandatory in composition, but they add a peculiar touch in a track.

Each chapter has a set of questions, they are almost too easy, but it is just a way for the reader to check if she understood everything. It’s not enough to create, but practice is mandatory as usual.


I especially enjoyed the last chapters. I learnt a lot on the different kind of scales, and I could put a name on some stuff I learnt by accident. Even if you don’t know a thing, you can learn a lot and with the help of the CD, you can listen to interesting sonorities. Although there are some mistakes, the benefit is vastly overwhelming.

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