Differences between Music Theory and Harmony

Learning music is not just about being able to play an instrument. Part of it is learning what essentially music is and what is its structure. Many would neglect the theories behind music. Now, it is focused on just being able to make some sound from a musical instrument.

If you could do that then you can consider yourself a musician. True, but, it is not the full background of a good musician. There is more to just playing musical instruments in music. In line with this, many would ask, what is the difference between music theory and harmony?

Music Theory

Music theory is basically the general fundamentals of music. Put it this way, music theory is like learning a language, the language of music. Basically, in music theory you learn the ‘grammar’ of music. This basically makes up the fundamentals of music itself. Through this, you will be able to understand more how music is created and why is it created that way.

Why study music theory?

Many people who consider themselves ‘musicians’ did not take up music theory. They just simply know how to play with their tones and notes and make up really good music. But understanding music theory can make you a better performer since you have a better understanding at how music works, how it is created and what makes up a good tune.

You won’t get stuck on the common basic chords and even make up something of your own that would best fit your song. Furthermore, knowing music theory will help you have a wider range of knowledge about music which will make it easier for you to write, teach, arrange, compose, perform and improvise a tone to your satisfaction.

What makes up music theory?

  • Pitch – this part of music theory pertains to the high and low tones of music. A pitch is produced by a certain frequency of the sound waves. It can be measured but perceiving a single pitch is difficult because when a tone is produced, it is still a complex combination of frequencies producing that tone.

Differences between Music Theory and Harmony

  • Scales and Modes – these two pertains to the arrangement of tones to create music. This is where tones are arranged such that a certain sound can be produced through this series of tones. Since this is mainly used in making a song, well, this is one part of music theory you would want to delve into.

Differences between Music Theory and Harmony

  • Rhythm – this is produced when sounds and pauses are arranged. Rhythm usually brings up the jive and groove in a song.

Differences between Music Theory and Harmony

  • Melody – this is the arrangement of tones that are arranged such that it reaches a climax and then ends in a state of rest. Melody is usually made from the pitch systems like the scales and modes.

Differences between Music Theory and Harmony

  • Chord – A chord is considered as a group of scales that is combined to make a sound. Chords makes up the structure or foundation of a song. They make a song have its own sound. For instance, when you play a guitar, you play the chords in order for you to produce the sound of the song.

Differences between Music Theory and Harmony

  • Harmony – this is simultaneously using pitches or chords to make a sound. Harmony is known to be the study of chord construction and progressions.

Differences between Music Theory and Harmony

These are just some of the fundamentals that are part of music theory. As you can see, Harmony is one of those fundamentals.

Take for instance, a group of singers singing a song. In order for them to make a ‘harmony’, not all of them will be singing in the same pitch or tone. Each one of the will be singing in a different pitch such that they could make a sound that is harmoniously good. Generally, harmony can be made up of the following:

  • Scales and modes
  • Intervals
  • Chords and how they contribute to make a harmony
  • Analysis of music (identifying whether the sound is harmonic or melodic)

As you can see, the different fundamentals under music theory also makes up harmony. That is why knowing music theory is important if you want to be good at making good music. These are important concepts that are needed for you to be able to understand music more.

The most common idea of harmony is that it is made up of triads. Triads are made up of three notes to make up a chord.

Differences between Music Theory and Harmony

In the figure above, the chords are in root position, which is the simplest way to make up a triad. The root is the name of the chord or the lowest note. The third chord is a third higher than the root note and the fifth a fifth higher of the root chord. This simply summarizes that a triad is made up of a stack of thirds in root position.

Here is a set of variety of triads that can be done to make a harmony:

Differences between Music Theory and Harmony

  • Diminished triad – this is called a diminished triad because the fifth triad is lowered to a minor triad. This is also stacked with two minor thirds.
  • Minor triad – it is a stack of a minor third and a major third
  • Major triad – it is a stack of a major third and a minor third
  • Augmented triad – this is the least common among the triads. It can be made up of two major thirds stacked together.


These are just the basic concepts that make up harmony. But with this knowledge you will be able to picture out how music is made and what it looks like in a music sheet. Many musicians nowadays rely on online tutorials to learn to play a song in an instrument.

The days of sheet music are diminishing because of its less availability. Most of them are being sold online and it is easier to learn from a video rather from a sheet. But the beauty of music is in its notes. This is its basic nature, its soul. That is why learning music theory and harmony are important.

So what then is the difference between harmony and music theory? Music theory is simply the general concepts of music and harmony is one of those fundamental concepts. As mentioned above, harmony is just like putting together the chords and pitches to make a sound.