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Genuine Popular Music Theory.


“Liberal Music Theory (LMT)” is a new music theory school (branch) that, while maintaining an equal foundation for classical theory and jazz theory, incorporates even the new styles created by recent popular music into the theoretical framework, primarily targets popular music such as rock, EDM and hip-hop.

Do you know that there are different schools of thought in music theory, and as a result, their contents can vary significantly?
The current general “popular music theory” is based on the theories developed in the world of jazz and classical music, predating the emergence of so-called “popular music” genres like rock, funk, techno, reggae, hip-hop, EDM, etc.

So, if you have come across “rules” or “prohibitions” in music theory, they are merely conventions formed before the birth of contemporary popular music. How much of these are really crucial for modern popular music?

LMT does not impose the notion of “correct” way of music. It is a theory of freedom and benevolence, embracing all the diverse developments in music.

No Rules. Just Laws.

Break the Boundaries.

Certainly, history and tradition are valuable, but that “history” should also encompass the modern music created by rock stars, rap stars, and so on. A history of breaking taboos is undeniably a history of the development of music.

Therefore, LMT has absorbed numerous techniques that general theories dismissed with terms like “exceptions” or “discouraged,” embracing them as “useful techniques” through the study of contemporary songs. Thus, LMT has no prohibitions whatsoever. No matter how outlawed a method may seem, it always explains “how to master it and make use of it”. LMT never denies the sensibilities of learners and is shaped to value the individual thoughts and pride of each learner as an artist.

It’s Up to You How Far You’ll Go.

Make Your Choice.

Not all music theories are necessary for everyone. The range of theories to be learned varies greatly depending on the genre and composition methods one engages with.

Therefore, the content on SoundQuest is designed with the assumption that it is okay to stop midway. There is no need to read through the extensive articles listed in the table of contents. With no prohibitions, you won’t end your learning feeling constrained. Even if you decide to stop learning after just one chapter, the content is planned to enable various practical applications with the knowledge gained up to that point.

Relationship with Other Schools

Some may be concerned that learning something different from “ordinary music theory” might make it difficult to communicate with others. However, rest assured that careful consideration has been given to this aspect.

  • LMT encompasses all the content explained in the general level of “Popular Music Theory.”
  • Existing theoretical terms are used without any changes.
  • Whenever LMT proposes a unique (original) theory, it is explicitly stated as such.
  • When using unique names or terms coined by LMT, it is always clearly specified.

LMT is more like a “remix version”, reinforcing and integrating knowledge that was previously scattered among different schools, rather than constructing a totally unique theory from scratch. It is tailored to fit the contemporary pop music landscape.


Since we address the perspectives and notations of each school on an as-needed basis, LMT can be seen as a school that can smoothly engage in conversations with practitioners of any schools.

In the world of music theory, disputes over definitions and notations are constant. One aspect of this stems from not understanding the fact that systems differ for each school, leading individuals to believe their knowledge is “correct” and others’ are “incorrect.”

LMT doesn’t subscribe to the idea that “one is correct”. Instead, it explains “why” systems differ for each school. By doing so, the differences in musical perspectives across genres become visible through theory. Understanding various theoretical systems enriches creativity and musicality. LMT represents a 21st-century music theory centered around diversity.

Why is music theory generally considered difficult, leading to the frustration of many people? For instance, you often hear stories like the following:

  • Terms are introduced one after another in a single explanation, making it challenging to remember.
  • Forced to memorize terms, without a clear explanation of their practical use.
  • Explanations are overly detailed, hindering the progression of the discussion.
  • Various chord types are introduced, but it’s unclear how to differentiate and use them in practice.

This is actually an inherent issue in text books on theory. Specifically, explanations that are beautifully “organized” are often challenging for beginners to comprehend.


It is a quite standard method in music theory texts to introduce many sound types and many terms in a single session. However, the basic norm of learning is “gradually from the essential”. Listing various types of scales and chords all at once may be effective as a “summary”, but it deviates significantly from the ideal as a “textbook”.

Organized ≠ Ideal Curriculum

For instance, while “English grammar books” systematically organize topics such as parts of speech, mood, voice, tense, sentence structures…, “English textbooks” often skip such abstract discussions and start with simple sentences like “My name is Yoko. I’m from Japan.”

In other words, the ideal forms of “explanatory contents” and “learning contents” are completely different. This is a surprising blind spot. Attempting to “learn” through an “explanatory book” without realizing this fact can lead to immediate stumbling blocks.

Delicate Course Construction

More specifically, when learning English as a second language, expressions like “Let’s-” are acquired very early on. However, it is not until several years later that you learn the grammatical classification, understanding that “Let’s” is originally an abbreviation of “let us” and recognizing its function as a verb in the “causative” category. Similarly, when you learn the most basic interrogative sentence “Do you-?”, you won’t be taught the grammatical knowledge that the “Do” in it is called an “auxiliary verb” until much later.
Looking at it this way, the curriculum for learning is a quite winding sequence, specifically reconstructed for “new learning” and “practical use”, making it clear that it has been designed as a dedicated course.

Curricula in school education, such as English or mathematics, deserve respect. They are meticulously crafted to ensure that knowledge is acquired gradually. Starting from essential and applicable knowledge, each piece of information is learned step by step with careful adjustments. This approach is logical, given the assumption of a long course over 10 years from elementary to high school.

In the case of functions

SoundQuest’s content, taking inspiration from the structure of such curriculums, is constructed with a keen awareness of this mechanism.

It focuses on “teaching only the essential knowledge first even within the same category” and “introducing only basic concepts now and dealing with the details later.” As a result, it employs unit divisions that others absolutely wouldn’t attempt. Some content that is typically taught in one session is divided into four sessions.

Difference in levels of understanding

Therefore, it’s not surprising to see the vast number of articles on the contents page. This is because the content is finely divided, meaning the burden per session is minimal. Especially in the early stages, there are articles that can be read in just five minutes.

Structure of “Assumed Forgetting”

“Grammar books” or “dictionaries” generally do not revisit topics that have been covered once. Writing the same thing twice is considered aesthetically unpleasing for explanatory books. In contrast, “learning materials” review Level 1 when Level 2 of a unit arrives. It’s perfectly fine to write the same thing twice. This is because it operates on the assumption that “humans are creatures that forget, and it’s normal not to master something in just one go.”

SoundQuest is a “learning content,” so naturally, it progresses while duplicating and repeating content. Within that, it gradually thickens knowledge like “The formal name of the chord introduced before is this,” or “Although it wasn’t introduced at that time, there’s also this kind of usage…”

Save and Exit

LMT adheres to the standards of the educational field, assuming a prolonged period of learning. Therefore, in LMT, it’s perfectly normal to stop midway. It’s not considered a “failure”. Theory is a quest, and learning is like a game. It’s common to “save and exit” the game for a moment, isn’t it?

As mentioned earlier, in systematic “explanatory books”, the amount of memorization required in the early stages inevitably increases. So unless you overcome the initial “wall” of memorization, you can’t proceed any further.
On the other hand, LMT is designed with the assumption of interruptions from the start, so the curriculum is created accordingly. After acquiring a bit of knowledge, it immediately attempts simple practical application. Therefore, even if there is a “save and exit”, you can have a decent theoretical framework with the knowledge you have, which can be applied to practice and analysis. This is easier to imagine using the figure mentioned earlier.

When You Drop Out

Experiencing the tragedy of getting stuck in explanations of terms and concepts without reaching practical techniques and ending up feeling frustrated — such a fate is not gonna happen in LMT.
It’s akin to someone learning English as a second language, who, even if they remember only a few basic English phrases in the early stages, can somehow manage basic communication. We just grab the really important things first.


With each step forward, you achieve proportional results. So, there’s no need to brace yourself when you start learning LMT. Just taking a step in will allow you to feel a bit of the world of music theory. Let’s start studying music theory with a light heart!

A curriculum cannot be perfect. Teaching something in advance implies postponing something else. Here, I will also explain the weaknesses of SoundQuest’s curriculum.

Delay in Types and Names of Chords

In SoundQuest, the emphasis in the early stages is on the expression variations created by basic chord combinations rather than introducing advanced chords. Therefore, the introduction of various chords such as “sus4”, “aug”, and “dim” comes later compared to ordinary texts.

HighlightsAdvanced chords: Introduced in Chapter III

To use a cooking analogy, while other content has an “Seasonings” chapter where all seasonings are introduced before moving on to the “Cooking” chapter, SoundQuest involves initially introducing only salt and pepper, explaining the dishes that can be made with them, and then proceeding. Therefore, for someone who wants to quickly learn the types of chords to play existing songs based on chord sheets, SoundQuest’s course may take a more circuitous route.

Delay in Rules for Improvisation

One of the reasons for having rules in music theory is to ensure that when performing improvisational ad-libs with others, the sounds do not clash in an awkward way.

Available and AvoidGuidelines for improvisation: Details are in Chapters IV and VI

While SoundQuest explains general points early on, detailed explanations come later. The fundamental assumption is always focused on individual, free songwriting. Therefore, for those who want to quickly become proficient in ad-lib sessions and learn theory for that purpose, SoundQuest’s course may take a more circuitous route.

For those with such goals, it is recommended to learn from different content or to learn while using other content simultaneously. For differences when compared to other schools of thought, refer to the introduction chapter in the main text.