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Most serious musicians eventually need to learn music theory. Like studying grammar when learning a language, music theory helps musicians understand how music is structured.

Music consists of some combination of pitch (single sound), horizontal (multiple sounds played in sequences to create a melody), vertical (multiple sounds played simultaneously to create harmony), and rhythmic elements. When combined, two or more of these elements create a unique composition.

Music theory is a framework for describing how those four musical elements combine to create a composition. Music theory also includes studying the rules and conventions of composers from various periods and compositional schools combine the elements. For instance, the harmonies on a Bach composition differ significantly from those in today’s jazz.