How Music Works: A Beginner’s Guide

2 hours a week for 8 weeks

music score

Why are some piano keys white and some black? What does ‘A major’ actually mean? What is harmony, and how does it work? How do you read music? The answers to these questions hold the key to a deeper and more rewarding understanding of music. Designed for absolute beginners, and taught in a practical and down-to-earth way, this course explores and demystifies the inner workings of music. No musical knowledge is necessary.

Course Outline

Introduction: Listening to music

  • The elements of music
  • Terms we use to talk about music

How pitch works

  • A little about the physics of sound
  • Black notes and white notes
  • Sharps and flats

How melody works

  • Perfect pitch and relative pitch
  • What makes a good melody?
  • Scales and Keys: what ‘major’ really means

How rhythm works

  • Tempo and pulse
  • What is a time signature?
  • Bars and barlines
  • Swing and straight, simple and compound
  • What does syncopation mean?

How harmony works

  • Consonance and dissonance
  • What are chords?
  • Chord progressions
  • Minor scales and keys
  • Relative majors and minors
  • Modulation: Changing key
  • The Cycle of Fifths

How form works

  • Structure in music
  • The effect of form on the listener
  • Through-composed, binary, ternary
  • Theme and variations, Rondo form, Sonata form

How texture works

  • What is texture in music
  • Using layers for contrast and effect
  • Monophonic, homophonic, and polyphonic textures
  • How texture is used in music
  • Texture throughout history

How instruments work

  • Why instruments sound different
  • Instrument families
  • Strings
  • Woodwind
  • Brass
  • Percussion

Performing music

  • What it takes to be a musician
  • Interpretation of music
  • What conductors do

Orchestration and arrangement

  • How instruments work in combination
  • Changing musical styles
  • Some great arrangements

How music notation works

  • How pitch and rhythm are notated
  • Score reading and analysis
  • Following music notation
Book cover How Music Works

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In hard copy book form, through Lulu Press
$22 + postage


“Hard to improve on. Susan’s presentation was well-organised and well supported by excellent visual and sound aids (as well as her piano skills). The presentation was very informative and very entertaining and attention-grabbing and holding”

“Unique course – much appreciated – very well taught”

“Excellent presenter. Well organised and prepared with appropriate examples to explain the material. First class presenter”

“Susan was always extremely well prepared, enthusiastic and willing to answer all questions”

“Excellent – and thoroughly enjoyable – Susan is a gifted educator and communicator. Susan is capable of explaining complex concepts in a variety of ways!”

“Susan is an enthusiastic, approachable and professional educator. It was a pleasure to be in her class”

“For somebody who is tone deaf but has a family who makes music Susan was able to bring me closer to understanding what makes it happen”

“A very good, enjoyable, interesting course and very well presented. Susan is definitely a class act”

“Well designed course for those without any knowledge of music”

About Susan Deas

Susan Deas is a professional musician, lecturer and teacher. She has been teaching music appreciation courses for more than twenty years, through Sydney University's Centre for Continuing Education, WEA Sydney and at other venues. Her training includes a Bachelor of Music with a major in Performance (Piano) and Musicology, a Master of Music Studies (Studio Pedagogy), a Bachelor of Arts (Communications), and an A.Mus.A in Musicianship. Susan teaches piano and music theory to adults and children, and plays piano and organ at various venues around Sydney. Susan is an accredited piano teacher and musicianship teacher, and is on the Council of the Music Teachers’ Association of NSW.

More about Susan’s qualifications

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Susan’s other music courses