Have you ever wondered who invented music theory? Music theory is the study of how music works and how it is constructed.

It encompasses everything from the fundamentals of rhythm and harmony to the complexities of composition and performance. But where did this discipline come from? Let’s explore the history of music theory and its origins.

The Origins of Music Theory

Music has been an integral part of human culture for thousands of years. The earliest known musical instruments date back to ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. However, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that music began to be studied systematically.


One of the earliest figures in music theory was Boethius, a Roman philosopher who lived in the 5th century AD. Boethius wrote a treatise called “De institutione musica,” which discussed the mathematical principles behind music. He introduced many concepts that are still used in modern music theory, such as the idea that musical intervals can be expressed as ratios.

Guido d’Arezzo

Another important figure in early music theory was Guido d’Arezzo, an Italian monk who lived in the 11th century AD. Guido is credited with inventing solfeggio, a system for teaching sight-singing using syllables like do, re, mi. He also developed a system for notating rhythm using square notes on a four-line staff.

The Renaissance

During the Renaissance period (roughly 1400-1600), there was a renewed interest in classical learning and arts. This led to a revival of interest in ancient Greek and Roman ideas about music theory.

Johannes Tinctoris

One important figure from this period was Johannes Tinctoris, a Flemish composer and music theorist who lived in the 15th century. Tinctoris wrote several treatises on music theory, including “Liber de arte contrapuncti,” which discussed the principles of counterpoint (the art of combining different melodies).

Johannes Kepler

Johannes Kepler was a German astronomer and mathematician who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He is best known for his work on planetary motion, but he also made contributions to music theory. Kepler believed that the intervals between musical notes were related to the distances between planets in our solar system.

The Baroque Era

The Baroque era (roughly 1600-1750) was a time of great innovation in music, with composers like Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi pushing the boundaries of what was possible.

Jean-Philippe Rameau

One important figure from this period was Jean-Philippe Rameau, a French composer and music theorist who lived in the 18th century. Rameau wrote several influential treatises on music theory, including “Traité de l’harmonie” (Treatise on Harmony), which explored the principles of tonality and chord progressions.

Modern Music Theory

In the 19th and 20th centuries, music theory continued to evolve as composers experimented with new forms and styles.

Heinrich Schenker

One important figure from this period was Heinrich Schenker, an Austrian music theorist who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Schenker developed a method for analyzing tonal music that emphasized the underlying structure of a piece.

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer who lived in the early 20th century. Schoenberg is best known for his development of atonal music, which lacks a tonal center or key. He also developed a system of composition called serialism, which uses a series of musical pitches to create a theme.


In conclusion, music theory has a long and fascinating history that stretches back thousands of years. From the ancient Greeks and Romans to modern-day composers and theorists, people have been studying the principles of music for centuries. Whether you’re a musician or just a music lover, understanding these principles can deepen your appreciation and understanding of this beautiful art form.