Skip to main content


Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.

Gustav Mahler

These are principles in theory; there are exceptions in practice.”—How many times have you said these words to your students? And how many times have you come across those “exceptions” yourself, and how many times have you actually used them?

The growing disparity between the traditional music theory and the realities of the music industry is becoming increasingly apparent by the day. Particularly with the advent of the internet, where information flows rapidly and music evolves at an astonishing pace, music theory seems to be progressing at an incredibly slow pace like a tortoise walking.

Currently, when it comes to music theory for popular music, the major approach revolves around chord and scale systems rooted in jazz, typically exemplified by the methods like Berklee College of Music. That kind of theory was developed targeting primarily at the bebop of the 1940s. The 1940s!

Since then, there have been numerous revolutions in the world of music. For instance…

  • The birth of rock. Music returned to triads and evolved further into power chords.
  • The birth of electronic music. Synthesizers became commonplace. Chord progressions became optional in music development, with timbre becoming essential instead.
  • The birth of rap music. Humanity finally realized that melody had been quantized to 12 tones. Around that time, sheet music started hitting the bottle a little harder.
  • The birth of MIDI and DAWs. Now you can make music even if you can’t play an instrument! Learning chord names is no longer a requirement for songwriters.
  • The remarkable spread of bass music and trap music. Chordless music is now everywhere, and the Phrygian mode has lately been decked out in Chanel and Hermès, cruising in a Benz.

Who among the great predecessors who formulated chord&scale theory could have envisioned such future? The music theory that once was young and fresh is now as old as grandpa.

Trying to fit such divergent music into one framework is nearing its breaking point. Now’s the time when we expand that “frame” just a little bit more.

Therefore, the philosophy of Liberal Music Theory is to update theories by incorporating various optimizations for 21st-century popular music while inheriting the great legacy of existing theories. This is not an act of denying tradition; On the contrary, this is the very essence of what should be called tradition—to kindle the fire before it fades.


What does “Liberal” stands for? Of course, it doesn’t mean marching through the streets with placards or splashing paint on paintings in an art museum. According to Oxford language, its definition is as follows:

willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.
Oxford language

Exactly as seen here, we respect differences and welcome new ideas. That’s the fundamental philosophy of Liberal Music Theory (hereinafter referred to as LMT).

Gather the Branches.

To succinctly describe the characteristics of LMT, it is to “Integrate and encompass multiple branches through a meta perspective.”

From rules to layers

While today’s classical harmony books may introduce chord symbols, or jazz harmony books may explain blues systems, they are essentially positioned as “supplementary” material after the main content has been covered and are not integrated as part of the “system”. In LMT, explanations transcend the philosophies of multiple schools. And through such comparison, learners will deepen understanding of each genre further. This method is best illustrated in this article:

Nexus Preferences by Genres


First introducing classical progression rules, then moves directly into ii-V-I, then transitions to pop progressions like 1-5-6-4, and further to blues and even electronic music forms, all seamlessly… With the text covering this much range, there’s no need for awkward excuses like “there are exceptions in practice” anymore!

Gathering “branches” is the foremost foundation needed to “preserve fire”, isn’t it?😉

Ensuring Peace for Learners

In today’s interconnected world, where people from all over the world converge online, transcending schools with a meta-perspective is paramount because, even now at this moment, in some corner of the globe, a fruitless argument is brewing over the function of IIIm, whether “dim” stands for a triad or a tetrad or whatever.
We’re not teaching music theory to learners so that they can waste time on such nonsense, are we? Teaching the locality and historicity of music theory is now almost a duty for educators, I believe.

For the Music of the 21st Century.

Next, LMT aims to encompass even the new music of the 21st century within its scope, constructing theories that regard them not as “exceptions,” but rather as central parts.

For instance, It is a foregone conclusion to list non-classical topics like pentatonic scales and power chords in the table of contents. Such topics have long surpassed the phase of being a matter of “acknowledge or not” and including them is no longer particularly groundbreaking.

LMT goes even further by incorporating into its framework truly crucial information for 21st-century music, such as the pitch strategy in rap flow and the clave rhythms of Afro-American music.
The crucial point here is that these topics are not relegated to the appendices as “extras”; rather, they are listed alongside conventional items like “motif development” or “secondary dominants”, treated as entirely ordinary materials.
This is essentially a reflection of what is happening in the actual music industry. In line with the diversifying music landscape, music theory should also encompass diversity within its system.

Just as we introduced Carissimi in the discussion about the Picardy cadence, soon after, we explain the manners of rock ‘n’ roll and reggae with the V-IV retrogression. In the article about pedal point, the introduction of the music spans from Coldplay to Michael Jackson, Eminem, Damian Marley, and Hans Zimmer, all the way back to Coltrane, and finally to J.S. Bach.
Looking at the curriculum where the past and present are integrated, it becomes clear that LMT’s endeavor is not at all about disregarding tradition, but rather about connecting the flames of tradition to the future through the threads of history.


Below, I detail the finer elements that characterize LMT.

Monism in Tonality
In contemporary times, frequent modulations between relative keys and non-traditional progressions have made it difficult to distinguish between relative major/minor keys. Taking this into account, the theory itself acknowledges the ambiguity of key and builds upon it as a premise. And we refer to it as Monism in tonality.
Six-based Minor
Due to the aforementioned “Monism”, conflicting interpretations of Roman Numeral Analysis are commonplace in today’s songs. Furthermore, in the current musical landscape where the V-I cadence in harmonic minor is not so much a standard, the significance of treating major/minor keys as a contrast of parallels has diminished. Taking these into consideration, we adopt the concept of “Six-Based Minor“, where the tonic chord of the minor key is labeled VIm instead of Im.
Prime Chords
One great convention in classical theory text, yet unfortunately dismissed by jazz-popular theory, is the exclusion of the VII chord. In classical harmony books, deferring treatment of the VII chord helps construct a system more applicable to practice. LMT adopts this idea by excluding the VII chord from its foundation, referring to the remaining six chords as “Prime Chords“.
Nexus System
While there are 30 possible combinations among the six “prime chords”, I~VIm, most books only cover a few progressions that are essential for their genre, neglecting others. As a result, there is an abundance of “progressions disregarding theory” in the world, diminishing the value of theory, making it look like “armchair philosophy”. Viewing daily progressions like 6-1-5-2 as irregular makes theory look even more outdated.
LMT introduces all 30 combinations as useful. Now any progression is “regular” and “following theory”😇
This section, the latter half of Chord Chapter I, is called “Nexus System“.
Tonal Gravitation Theory

LMT holds a highly systematized theory of melody, which is still uncommon in traditional text. At its core lies the “Tonal Gravitation Theory“. Referring to numerous books, here and there you can discover explanations likening the organism of tones to “gravity” or “magnetism”. While these metaphors are useful, they are often employed only a few times and may not provide readers with a clear sense of the overarching logic that permeates the entire theory. In LMT, concepts such as tone stability and tendency are carefully introduced, allowing for a logical integration of elements like the three minor scales, church modes, blue notes, and chromatic approaches.

Another feature is its discussion of melodic tension/resolution not solely as a derivative of chords but as standalone. This resonates with the theory advocated in a book by Jack Perricone of Berklee College of Music.

Good-bye Figured Bass
Except for Chapter VII, which covers classical harmony, LMT does not adopt figured bass. Instead, for inversion analysis, it employs notation such as “I/3” or “V7/7”, “slash + bass degree”. This style is observed in some recent popular music theory books and internet contents. We are in need of standardized inversion notation in the realm of popular music theory, and we hope that this simplest and most efficient notation will become more widespread.
Melodic-Harmonic Divorce
Melodic-Harmonic Divorce, also known as “Textural Stratification” is one of the hottest topics in academic field these days. It refers to any phenomenon where the melody doesn’t align with harmony, typically playing different scales. For example, listen to “Circles” by Post Malone and you can hear the major scale melodies (incl. la) are played over the subdominant minor IVm (incl. la♭). Blue notes are the famous ones too.
Such tendencies are highly pronounced in contemporary music, and are even becoming more extreme, as exemplified by the case above. Essentially, this is the polymodalization of music, which LMT sees as one of the crucial characteristics of 21st-century music. Therefore, Though the topic is rarely written in normal theory books yet, LMT extensively explains this (especially in Melody Chapter IV, which has not yet been translated tho).