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MUS 121 W — A Practical Introduction to Music Theory and Harmony

Quarter: Winter
Course Format: Online (System Requirements)
Duration: 7 weeks
Date(s): Feb 5—Mar 23
Drop Deadline: Feb 8
Unit: 1
Tuition: $385
Instructor(s): Ilias Chrissochoidis
Limit: 40
Status: Open
Please Note: Online courses have a new refund policy. The full tuition refund deadline for this course is 2/8 at 5:00 pm (PT); 50% tuition refund deadline is 2/13 at 5:00 pm (PT).
Feb 5—Mar 23
7 weeks
Drop By
Feb 8
1 Unit
Ilias Chrissochoidis
Please Note: Online courses have a new refund policy. The full tuition refund deadline for this course is 2/8 at 5:00 pm (PT); 50% tuition refund deadline is 2/13 at 5:00 pm (PT).
Music theory is often considered to be irrelevant to our experience of music. This course will demonstrate that the opposite is true—understanding the laws governing the art of sound enhances our ability to appreciate, enjoy, and even remember music. Reversing the traditional academic practice of moving from concepts to real music, we will start with concrete musical examples and seek to extract their theoretical premises. The opening of Richard Strauss’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra will serve as a roadmap, introducing concepts such as the overtones series, music intervals, major and minor modes, and chord progression. We will then use a repertory of well-known themes, songs, and large-scale compositions, from Greensleeves to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and from Flight of the Bumblebee to Star Wars, to expand our understanding of the theoretical foundations of Western music. Finally, we’ll learn how to use chords to harmonize a melody, and we’ll explore basic ways of composing music. A review at the beginning of each class and an online library of listening examples will help students absorb the teaching material.


  • Course sizes are limited.
    You won't have 5,000 classmates. This course's enrollment is capped at 40 participants.

  • Frequent interaction with the instructor.
    You aren't expected to work through the material alone. Instructors will answer questions and interact with students on the discussion board and through weekly video meetings.

  • Study with a vibrant peer group.
    Stanford Continuing Studies courses attract thoughtful and engaged students who take courses for the love of learning. Students in each course will exchange ideas with one another through easy-to-use message boards as well as optional weekly real-time video conferences.

  • Direct feedback from the instructor.
    Instructors will review and offer feedback on assignment submissions. Students are not required to turn in assignments, but for those who do, their work is graded by the instructor.

  • Courses offer the flexibility to participate on your own schedule.
    Course work is completed on a weekly basis when you have the time. You can log in and participate in the class whenever it's convenient for you. If you can’t attend the weekly video meetings, the sessions are always recorded for you and your instructor is just an email away.

  • This course is offered through Stanford Continuing Studies.
    To learn more about the program, visit our About Us page. For more information on the online format, please visit the FAQ page.

No music-reading ability is required.

Ilias Chrissochoidis, Visiting Researcher, WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Ilias Chrissochoidis is a music historian, composer, and pianist. He has authored dozens of research articles on Handel and opera, and has received fellowships from numerous institutions, including the American Council of Learned Societies and the Library of Congress. His music albums are titled Inspiratorio, Ringtones, Hellenotropia, and Eviva! He received a PhD in music from Stanford.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.