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Learner Reviews & Feedback for Approaching Music Theory: Melodic Forms and Simple Harmony by California Institute of the Arts

140 ratings

About the Course

This course is about how music works. It is about the relationship between the technical and aesthetic details of music. It is also about how developing a meaningful theoretical vocabulary can help you think and talk about musical style, and how learning that vocabulary can expand your appreciation for music. In this course you will learn music theory not by looking at theory itself, but by listening to, looking at, and—yes!—writing your own musical examples. By hearing, seeing, and writing yourself, you will learn about classical, modern, ancient, pop, jazz, and folk styles. Through lectures, relevant examples, and numerous practice assignments, we will examine fundamental aspects of melody. We will move into working with two voices and counterpoint, and finally to three voices and the beginnings of harmonic function. This is an intermediate-level course for musicians and composers who already have some understanding of music theory through previous study. If you are a musician or composer looking to build a deeper understanding of music theory for composing, performing, or improvisation, you have come to the right place. If you are an amateur lover of music or, perhaps, play a musical instrument and want to develop a deeper sense of appreciation for music theory, aesthetics, and history, you are also in the right place!...

Top reviews


Jul 4, 2020

Great survey of Western music. I found it more of an appreciation of listening to music rather than a formal music theory course. There's lots of opportunity to learn different styles of composition.


Jun 26, 2022

Challenging, enjoyful and funny, all the elements you need to engage with a course content. I recomend it to everybody with an interest into deeper diving into music, with a hand/ears - on approach.

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1 - 25 of 81 Reviews for Approaching Music Theory: Melodic Forms and Simple Harmony

By Chris

Aug 9, 2019

I very much enjoyed this course. However, I will need more practice before I will automatically see all these things in the music I am studying.

I chose it primarily for the harmony part. I was pleasantly

surprised how helpful the first two weeks were for my general understanding of music and how the pointers

really helped me for composing music. I feel much more structured and oriented now, should I endeavour in writing music.

It also helped my analytical skills a lot. This is mostly due to the peer review assignments I had to review. This role change brought me a further understanding on the concepts treated in class.

As for counterpoint and harmony, it was a good start. I fell in love with counterpoint in particular and maybe got a bit addicted.

The harmony part was interesting to me - however, I feel we rushed a bit through the concepts. I would love to deepen my understanding there. this section could benefit from more exercises, not only the finals.

Also, the part tested in the finals is a very small aspect of what was treated in that lecture - to really understand the lecture I would like some more assignments.

If there is a follow-up course

available, I would be extremly interested!

On the structure& formal things:

I think the structure over all was very good. The "see one-do one-teach one" principle is very well applied and the course offers maximum teaching success given its online, remote form.

The questions in the forum were always answered quickly and well so.

To my feeling, the course's concept suffers a bit from the relatively low number of participants. In particular in week 3 & 4 there are not enough projects to review. I suggest that older projects from former students are still available to the new ones

as to counteract this partiular issue.

The class is definitely for people who have already practised music over several years and have had basic theory education. Otherwise, the exercises, especially imitating composing styles, would be nearly impossible with only the instructions given.

The hours indicated are but an indication. Writing music AND reviewing other people's music takes more time. In week 4 had to stop the video repeatedly to catch up with what was discussed and write down my thoughts, needed ca double the time.

Especially week 2 + 3 kicked my butt time-wise.

I was irked by the strong use of spotify and the link to The latter appears untrustworthy from the amount of data it collects from its users, and spotify also needs an account. Given that this class is an education, I would appreciate open source/open access platforms or simply hosting the music on coursera.

As a lost note, about week 1.5 I got used to the instructors humour and now it is an integral part of the fun in the class for me. Help!

By Angelina W

Jul 4, 2020

Great survey of Western music. I found it more of an appreciation of listening to music rather than a formal music theory course. There's lots of opportunity to learn different styles of composition.

By Harsh S

May 6, 2020

It's not simply a course but it's a journey through decades of music. What a fun way to learn! Especially with such an interactive and amazing instructor.

By Martin H

Feb 3, 2021

This course was really helpful for me. I have some experience with music, but didn't have to vocabulary that many people used to describe that we're hearing. This course filled in a lot of gaps for me without getting bogged down in the details of music notation and theory.

The material was presented in a clear and understandable way, and really gave a sense of wonder about the music we listen to.

By Suzi H

Aug 6, 2019

I really like the Teacher in this course. He is knowledgeable and funny. He seems to really enjoy what he does. I wish I had more teachers that were this engaging. I also enjoy the subject matter. Since learning the piano for 8 years Theory is starting to click. I'm hoping this class will help me to go further in my music studies.

By Paul G

Mar 13, 2021

Excellent, challenging course which opens your eyes and ears to many genres of music. Wonderfully presented with humour and concise descriptive explanation. Thank you

By Jan D

Jun 19, 2020

I can't overemphasize how good this course is. It's extremely well thought out. Thank you so much for making this available to a broader public!

By Tony B

Sep 11, 2019

Fantastic course! This course approaches music theory from a totally different angle. Hear it first and then look at the music score.

By Putz J

Sep 10, 2019

Completely different approach of teaching music theory. Even if you already studied music theory it is worth to take this course. It really goes deeply into our music recognition and creation process.

By Rafael M J

Feb 17, 2020

In first place, I have to say that the time required is much higher than 3-6 hours/week. At least for those of us not proficient at sight reading, writing and reading music, which is an important part of the exercises, takes a lot of time. I found useful to use a program to generate music scores.

The spirit of the course is of learning by doing. There are more than 20 exercises where the student has to write pieces in different styles, from folk to gregorian to atonal. two part counterpoint and more. There is not much theory but, at least for me, the experience has been very good. Reviewing others' scores and being reviewed is an interesting experience, because the same music can be perceived in many ways, depending of the listener/reader.

An important part of the course is listening to a lot of music in spotify. All pieces can be found also in youtube.

By Belen F d S

Aug 7, 2020

I enjoy a lot with this course. The teacher is amazing. He is very enthusiastic and cheers you up step by step, to get the different goals. You must work a lot, and in the beginning, you don´t know how to do it, but you can do it.

You learn how the music has gone changed along time and you find out the sense of it in each epoch. Also, you have to compose in that, and you review the works of your peers and vice versa.

You have a calendar with your homework and deadlines. You watch a lot of videos with explanations about a specific item, and all of them are transcribed. So, if you don´t domine the English language, you can read it, and ease it.

The most important thing to do is love music, and want to learn. Good luck

By Audrey K

May 16, 2020

I enjoyed this course. The instructor is engaging and makes it fun. A lot of material is covered, and I did feel, at times, that some of the music theory could be explained in a little more depth, but given the time constraints of a four-week course, I guess I understand. I'd like to see this course expanded to perhaps six weeks in order to cover things like avoiding crossing voices in counterpoint and I would have liked an exercise for three-part counterpoint. I also think a clearer list of prerequisite knowledge could be included for this course. Either that, or a quick lesson on chord inversions, for those who need it. If this course is expanded, I will take it again. That's how much I enjoyed it.

By Hilit U

Jun 15, 2020

Very good overall. The professor explains lots of important aspects of music theory. The writing assignments helped me comprehend the material and (in my opinion) are a must if you want to actually learn something (even the optional assignments). Four stars because personally I didn’t connect to the professor sense of humor and the playlists only on Spotify were also a bit annoying .


Apr 28, 2020

I really enjoyed this course! The teacher was great, but I wish we explained certain terms more before jumping into how they affect the piece. This course helped me to realize that I can compose things- I just have to sit down and start writing. Was a big help to my mental health to have something to do during the quarantine, and this class was great for that.

By Joy S

May 6, 2019

I thought I left a review for this. Strange.

By Justin J C

Dec 19, 2019

Pretty good, although the explanations are pretty lacking. I found myself being confused after several videos, even though the topics are somewhat elementary

By Richard G

Dec 1, 2019

Material was worthwhile. Instructor engaging.

By Andreas L

May 31, 2019

annoying, everything. The prof, the whole approach, ...

By Joyce R

Jul 14, 2020

Excellent lectures and assignments that reminded and expanded (greatly!) college music theory classes I took over 40 years ago. Playlists of additional music for listening for the four weeks of lessons were super bonus listening. As a songwriter I found the exercises expanding the palette of cadences I was using and make me dig a little deeper into song structure. GREAT class. Highly recommended.

I hope more classes by this instructor will become available here! Such as a followup to this one.

Oh, you MIGHT be able to slide through this class without much effort, but the written exercises are really key to getting the greatest value. And peer graded assignments enhance the experience.

(PS. I noted that husband was enjoying listening in on the lectures and playlists. Nice!)

By Roy J

Apr 2, 2021

This was a real ear opener for me, from Gregorian chant to romantic , to jazz and serial music Marc Lowenstein gives you a look at the underlying harmonic and melodic structures that underpin all styles and genres of music. The videos and lectures are well produced and informative and Marc’s sense of fun and exploration add an inspiring element to the learning process. This is a hands on course, you are expected to actively participate, sing along, compose a simple folk tune and even mark other student’s counterpoint assignments. For anyone interested in expanding their understanding of the elements of how music moves us and the structures underlying the magical experience of music this course is for you.

By Sara N

Oct 19, 2020

I do reccommend this course for anyone who is looking forward to improve his/her composition skills. This course gives you the necessary courage and confidence to start writing your own music. It works firstly on Writing melodies which was my first priority to get more familiar with composing melodies and then it helps you to understand the harmony part and write harmony for your melodies. The instructor is so creative in teaching, and he has an encouraging attitude which is really valuable in distant learning. He has a great ability in motivation the student to study and do the assignments.

The course and the Instructor truly deserve the 5 Stars.

By Lynn B

Jan 10, 2021

An amazing course which gave me a refreshing new look at appreciating a wide range of music and composing in different styles from an aesthetic point of view. Marc Lowenstein emphasised enjoying music through his enthusiastic and inspiring approach, encouraging participants to try out new techniques with an emphasis on fun! His use of videos, reading, Spotify, and exercises made it a varied and interesting experience, albeit rather challenging at times. For me, the course opened up new insights into music which I am now using in my own compositions. Many thanks and well done, Coursera!

By Jorge R O S

Nov 11, 2020

Words CANNOT describe how good this course was. It really changed my life as an aspiring musician. I would recomend this to anyone that's being playing music for some time, knows a little bit of theory and wants to push or enhance the definitions that you already have while learning new ones. You'll learn musical aesthetics and a little bit of composition parallel to the music theory behind it. TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!

Also, if this is your fisrt time with music, I'd recomend the other course of Coursera of Music Theory form The University of Edinburgh and then come to this one.

Good luck <3

By Erik A

Jul 16, 2020

Uses understandable terms and explains all concepts that are being employed. This course focuses less on the all the difficult terms and concepts in music theory, and more on how music makes us feel and why that is. When you have developed a sense of what each style of music discussed here is and what makes it that, you can do (optional) practices on the style, to test your understanding of it. Very well taught and all tests are not too much harder than what has been discussed in the course. All around a very good course for learning about music theory.

By Ed F

May 30, 2021

This was truly an excellent course. The focus is on understanding theory through listening and writing simple pieces. The content is well organized and the instructor is excellent. While the goal is learning theory and forms, the focus is really on appreciating and understanding different genres of music. The tone of the course is humor and lightness, however completing this course will bring one to a higher level of musical understanding and appreciation. I think one should take a basic music theory course before starting "Approaching Music Theory".