Music Theory and Composition Lessons in Vancouver, WA

Effinger Music Studio helps advancing musicians expand their understanding of music through intensive, well-rounded music theory seminars. You may have covered foundational music theory topics in private instrumental lessons, or you may have experience with an instrument and want to learn about the analytical tools and knowledge you need to understand the music you are playing. These seminars will help you elevate your artistry by covering topics in a level of detail and depth that cannot be accomplished during a private lesson. From college entrance exams to music composition, we can help you analyze, interpret, and compose new music in our Theory and Composition Lessons.

Some Advanced Music Theory Concepts You Can Learn

This is not a comprehensive overview of what we'll cover in music theory seminars, but here are some topics that may be covered based on your existing knowledge, experience, and your goals:

Advanced Chordal Analysis

We will learn how to describe music in terms of chords. To do this, we will learn about different kinds of chords (often called harmonies) that appear in music. We will learn how those chords are constructed, how they appear in the music, and how the chords can be ordered to create progressions that meet or violate the listener's expectations.

We will learn about many different kinds of harmonies, their functions, and how they arise naturally in the music as a consequence of good melodic writing. These harmonies include:

  • Diatonic Triads (Major, Minor, Diminished, and Augmented)
  • Diatonic Seventh Chords
  • Secondary Dominants
  • Secondary Leading Tone Chords
  • Extended Dominants (Dominant 9, 11, and 13 chords)
  • Neapolitan Chords
  • Augmented Sixth Chords (Italian, French, and German)

As we learn about these different kinds of harmonies, we will learn how they can be used to create cadences that the composer can use to modulate from one key to another. We will learn about a variety of modulatory techniques, which include:

  • Common Chord Modulation
  • Common Tone Modulation
  • Enharmonic Modulations
  • Chromatic Modulations
  • Sequential Modulations

We will learn about two primary notational methods that are used to analyze music. Pop Chord Symbols are often used by performers or composers who focus in jazz and contemporary songwriting, and Roman Numerals are often more useful for making sense of scores predating the early 20th century. We will analyze pieces using these two notational methods, see how they complement each other, and see how they are powerful tools for getting into a score and understanding the music from a structural and compositional standpoint.

These topics are typically presented by highly qualified piano teachers over the course of many years of lessons, and to all musicians who study music at the collegiate level. If you are a prospective music major, or currently study another instrument and want to increase your understanding of music theory, you can benefit from these theory and composition lessons to get ahead of your peers and elevate your musicianship. These classes would be especially useful to you if you wish to test out of any music theory prior to starting a degree as a music major.

As we learn about tonal harmony and its development through the 17th, 18th, and 19 centuries, an emphasis will be placed on how the harmonies arise as a natural consequence of counterpoint and good voice leading. What is counterpoint and voice leading?

Part Writing

Part-writing is a fundamental concept in music theory that involves the treatment of each note in a chord as an individual melody (often called a voice). The manner in which these individual voices are handled is based on a set of basic melodic principles musicians call “voice leading”. Many of these voice leading conventions arise from a 17th Century practice called figured bass, in which a single bass note is written with a series of prescribed intervals that are to be played above the bass and music be “realized” by a keyboardist. The composer uses numeric symbols that indicate the intervals above the bass note which guide the realization of a chord. Though this practice is not used in many contemporary settings, it was so pervasive in the late 17th and early 18th centuries that its notation became a part of our modern day roman numeral analysis.

Part writing and realizing figured bass are useful steps to learning how to harmonize a melody. Harmonization has many applications in popular music contexts, and is also a great tool you can employ as a composer and improvisor. Realizing figured bass and harmonizing is a great application of your knowledge of harmonies, keys, and modes. It is also one of the tools used by composers like Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart. These composers used their knowledge of part writing and counterpoint to compose the masterworks we know and love today, and you can use it to compose the masterworks of tomorrow!

Musical Form

Through the lens of form we will discover the structure of music from great composers of the past, and see how that structure can be applied to your own compositions. On the small scale, this means learning how to diagram a musical phrase, and on a larger scale, it means learning how to describe complete pieces in terms of a musical form.

We will learn about the most frequently occurring musical forms, including:

  • Binary Form
  • Rounded Binary and Ternary Forms
  • Rondo Forms (and all their various permutations, including Sonata-Rondo)
  • Sonata Forms
  • Variations
  • Various Dance Forms including the Scherzo and Minuet & Trio

We'll study scores, assign worksheets for you to analyze, and provide access to our vast lending library which includes orchestral scores so you can analyze music on your own. While the forms listed above can be used to describe most music, we can also discuss other analytical tools and structures like Schenkerian analysis, set theory, and twelve-tone serialism to investigate music from the 21st century by composers like Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg.


Found most often in early western church music (think Gregorian Chant), and then revived in the late 20th and 21st centuries by composers like Debussy and in most Jazz styles, modes are alternate forms of the diatonic major and minor scales found in most of the music we study. We will learn about the seven different diatonic modes:

  • Ionian
  • Dorian
  • Phrygian
  • Lydian
  • Mixolyadian
  • Aeolian
  • Locrian

We will also learn about different types of scales altogether. These “synthetic” scales are constructed using fundamentally different rules and patterns, and include:

  • Octatonic Scales
  • Hexatonic Scales
  • Pentatonic Scales
  • Whole Tone Scales
  • Mixed Modes (Phrygian-Dorian and Lydian Mixolydian)

We will look at examples of pieces that use these modes and scales, and experiment with compositions using these modes.

Orchestration and Transposition

Writing for ensembles (including the orchestra) requires additional considerations to ensure the performers can play the music you've written for them. We will learn about the timbres, ranges, and capabilities of different instruments, and considerations for composing for different combinations of instruments.

Some instruments “transpose”, which means the note that comes out of the instrument is different than the one you write on the page. For example, for a B-flat clarinet, when you write a C, the instrument will play a B-flat. We will learn how to write for these transposing instruments so you are equipped to compose and arrange for ensembles that include them.

Who Would Benefit From Music Theory Seminars?

From high schoolers to adults, both amateur and professional, we want to work with anyone seeking to sharpen their music theory and compositional knowledge and skills.

High schoolers benefit from advanced music theory coursework for a few reasons. It will prepare you for the AP Music Theory course offered in many high schools, help you pass MTNA tests like the WSMTA Music Literacy Program and ABRSM exams, and prepare you for pre-college music composition contests offered by organizations like NFMC (which can lead to college acceptance and scholarships). You can learn more about the WSMTA Music Literacy Program in our August 2023 Blog Post.

Incoming or returning college students seeking extra preparation for undergraduate or graduate entrance exams may benefit from our theory-intensive classes. If you are a non-major studying music in college, we can help you test into desirable college theory and composition courses.

Adult amateurs can also find a great deal of joy in the study of music theory. A comprehensive knowledge of the structure and function of music will allow you to enjoy the orchestra, chamber music recitals, and even pop concerts on a much deeper level.

We can also help current professional musicians and teachers who want to brush up on previously studied material, or resume their study of new topics with the structured guidance of a teacher.

Whether you plan to audition for a music degree at Central Washington University, or simply enjoy attending the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, please get in touch!