Whether you're a music teacher trying to pick a book for class, or a casual musician trying to expand your know-how, the process of picking out a music theory book can be a challenge. There's no one book that works for everyone, -- some theory is geared more toward pianists or toward guitarists -- but we've done some research to separate the musical wheat from the chaff.
1. Music in Theory and Practice is a classroom staple. If you've taken AP Music Theory or any similar course in college, you've probably been exposed to Bruce Benward. His theory books first started appearing in the 1960s and even posthumously, he continues to have a major influence on music theory. Focusing on both basic theory and form, the supplemental CDs and exercises help bring real-world application to an occasionally obtuse topic.
2. Mark Sarnecki has produced some truly great music theory books from his Complete Elementary Music Rudiments to his Elementary Music Theory texts. Both texts cover a nice range of introductory and intermediate lessons. Topics include: basic musical terms, major/minor scales, the circle of fifths, key signature, time signature, chords, cadences, transposition, and rhythm. As a recommended text by the Royal Conservatory of Music, Sarnecki's work can be well-trusted.
3. Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory is another great music theory text for focusing on training your ear. Complete with CDs to improve your listening skills, this text provides concise lessons appropriate for a wide range of musicians.
4. If you're looking for a college-level text, Walter Piston's Harmony is a classic. A former Harvard professor, Piston won the Pulitzer Prize twice for distinguished music composition. Which is to say, he knows his stuff. While his text contains very few errors, he doesn't exactly write for the average musician. If you're looking for more advanced lessons in harmony and composition, he's your man. Otherwise, it might be better to stick with something like the following...
5. Seriously, who doesn't love flash cards? Alfred's Complete Color Coded Flash Cards for All Beginning Music Students might not be the way that Mozart learned music theory, but they certainly are effective. Including all the symbols, terms, and notes that any beginning student learning an instrument might need to know, these flash cards are economical and allow musicians to study on the go.
This is far from a comprehensive list of how to learn music theory. How did you learn and what music theory textbooks did you use?