Don’t Be A Guitarist That Refuses To Learn Music Theory: Here’s Why

Acoustic Guitar

Many guitar players believe that learning Music Theory will actually hinder their ability to progress on the instrument. This is COMPLETELY false. Learning Music Theory basics will drastically improve your playing.

Refusing to learn the basics of Music Theory for playing guitar prevents a player from having a deeper understanding of the instrument and music composition in general. Understanding Music Theory opens many doors/avenues for improvement that otherwise would never have been discovered by the player.

Don’t buy into the bad advice that learning Music Theory will make your playing more rigid or be detrimental to your musical creativity. This type of advice only comes from players who are intimidated by learning the technical aspect of music. Theory improves your ability to improvise, write songs, play by ear, and master MANY additional techniques that help speed up your path to guitar wizardry. Let me elaborate…

Learning Music Theory is a core building block to improving one’s guitar playing abilities.

It really is pretty illogical to believe that having a deeper understanding of your instrument and music would hold you back from progressing.

That’s like saying that a pilot would be hindered in his ability to fly a plane by having a deeper understanding of the physics behind how a plane has the ability to takeoff, fly through the air, and land without crashing.

Or a Software Engineer actually being held back in some manner by having a deeper grip on the complexities of Computer Science .

Music Theory understanding gives a guitar player MUCH more freedom to explore his instrument and improve the ways he can use it create beautiful songs, chord progressions, melodies, and improvisations.

It opens the player up to understand WHY certain chord progressions or songs were written the way they were. The more advanced players and song writers do not simply poke around on the guitar, cold guessing what notes or chords may sound good together. They have a system for it, and it’s called Music Theory.

Having the ability to know what chords or notes will sound like when played in sequence together is an amazing skill that provides so much more value to the sounds that you can produce with your instrument.

And honestly, it’s really not that hard to understand once you put a little effort into how Music Theory works. I admit at first it can seem a little confusing. There is new vocabulary to be learned as well as certain concepts that in some ways, seem similar to math. Although, basic Music Theory is much easier to comprehend than complex math.

Music Theory helps the player to gain a better understanding of how the notes are arranged throughout the guitar fretboard and how to find recognizable melodic patterns to recall when writing, transcribing, or improvising along with a piece of music.

Honestly, it’s difficult to sum up all of the benefits a player can obtain while disciplining himself in Music Theory concepts. Especially in just a few paragraphs. But just know, the work you put in to train your brain to understand the technical aspects of music will pay large dividends every time your fingers touch the strings.

Don’t let yourself believe that Music Theory is too complicated for you to comprehend. It’s not. If I can do it, anyone can.

I know, when you finally sit down and try to make a go at this whole “Theory Thing”, a lot gets thrown at you all at once.

  • Scales
  • Chords
  • Progressions
  • Root Notes
  • 5th Chords
  • 7th Chords
  • Major
  • Minor
  • Whole Steps
  • Half Steps

“What is all this crazy jargon??? Do I have to memorize all of this”. Well, yes, you honestly do. And I know that it seems intimidating at first but the knowledge comes with a little persistence and a little time.

I personally remember being very confused in the beginning, but I made a conscious decision not to give up before breaking though the initial “bad part”.

Start by simply understanding what a Half Step is and what a Whole Step is in music. These terms refer to how the distance between notes are measured in music.

Then, move on to your first scale. The Major Scale. Everything in music is derived in reference to how the notes in the Major Scale naturally occur. Explained in basic terms:

The Major Scale is a pattern of Whole Steps and Half Steps that begin on a designated note. The pattern is as follows:

Whole Step, Whole Step, Half Step, Whole Step, Whole Step, Whole Step, Half Step.

That is it. Every major scale beginning with any note in music follows this exact pattern.

Look at you, already learning Music Theory before you even knew it!!!

Without some Theory knowledge, song writing can be a difficult endeavor.

Another lesson I learned the hardest way possible (my signature method) was attempting to sit down with the guitar in my hands and write a nice sounding, original piece of music.

With no Music Theory knowledge this can feel like a monumental feat.

“What chords should I use? Am I allowed to use these chords together? This sounds pretty good to me, will others think it sounds good?”

I hated this feeling. The feeling of uncertainty in my playing ability. How did all these people that I listen to on the radio KNOW that what they were writing was acceptable to the listener’s ears???

With Theory knowledge you can be confident that the chords and melodies that you are arranging fit logically within an acceptable set of sounds that is pleasurable to a listener’s ears.

You’ll learn that if you decide to start a chord progression with your favorite chord (we’ll use D major for the example), you have two immediate, logical, always amazing sounding chords to transition to next. G major or A major. These chords are the respective 4th and 5th chords derived out of the D major scale.

Perhaps you want your tune to have a darker, more ominous feeling to the chords. Well, when playing in your decided key of D major, you can be certain that if you transition to an E minor, B minor, or F# minor chord (the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th chords from the D major scale) you’ll be able to achieve just that.

A solid understanding of theory literally just gives you a set of chords you can use in your compositions. No guessing, no lack of confidence, no need for confirmation from your guitar instructor, you just write and it sounds great.

Once you begin mastering the rules of Music Theory you’ll also begin to know how and when it’s is acceptable to break the rules. What I mean by this is adding chords and melodies to chord progressions that fall outside of the natural notes found within any given scale.

Just know that comprehension of Music Theory does not limit your song writing ability. It vastly expands the set of tools at your disposal that you can use to create original, beautiful, impressive sounding music that you’ll be confidently proud to play for the world.

Learn to improvise the correct way. Know what notes sound right.

Alright, you want to learn how to play a Guitar Solo. How do your favorite players know how to explode across the Fretboard with such speed, elegance and ease? How do their fingers know exactly where to land on every single note? There must be some trick, magic, hack, or key to unlock the door of guitar freedom. You guessed it. They studied Music Theory.

These players put the work and practice in to understand how all the different notes, chords and melodies work together in unison.

If a player has a lead section coming up in a song, and he understands how musical scales are connected across the neck, he has the freedom to continuously play melodic patterns over any given underlying chord that is being played by the rest of the band.

Say he is about to improvise over this chord progression:

A minor, C major, G major, E minor.

Ohh he’ll be licking his chops waiting for this one. A perfect progression for a guitarist. All familiar chords, easily reachable scale positions, a perfect situation for his go to improv scale. The Minor Pentatonic.

He is in luck, he has learned some basic Music Theory that will help him tremendously as he attempts to impress his listeners.

You see, he understands that this chord progression is derived directly from the C major scale, or its relative minor scale, the A minor scale. He has memorized the Pentatonic shapes across the neck and knows that he can play essentially any note, in any pattern, and everything he plays will sound “right” to his listeners ears.

And this is just the beginning. After learning how scales are made, the player learns how those scales actually create chords from within them. Then, builds to the understanding that if you use the chords created within a scale and play that scale melodically on top of those chords, he’s hit a musical pay dirt.

The C major chord is made by playing the notes C, E, and G together at the same time (they are played harmoniously or In Harmony). Would it not then make sense to play a scale that contains these three notes? Through studying theory you will begin to understand which scales sound correct over which chords because of the notes found within the scale.

I don’t want to get too deep into the intricacies of Music Theory in this article. It is a discipline that takes some time and effort to learn and cannot be totally explained in a few paragraphs. But please, if nothing else, take this away from this article:

The time and effort spent on learning Music Theory will pay off in unmeasurable ways for your guitar playing confidence and ability. It doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t come overnight, but if you put the work in you WILL see improvement. GUARANTEED.

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