A common question and concern for many guitar players is whether to learn guitar theory or not.
First let’s start by looking at what guitar theory really is…
What is Guitar Theory?
Guitar theory or guitar music theory is simply music theory applied to the guitar. Music theory is a way of classifying and organizing certain techniques that musicians have been using for hundreds or even thousands of years.
When you learn guitar theory, you learn what other expert guitarists and musicians have been doing so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And don’t worry; there is still lots of room to create your own unique guitar style.
When you understand how something works you will always learn much, much faster.
Imagine getting an acting role for a big movie. It pays really well, but the catch is that it is in a language you don’t know a word of. Would you try to learn all of your lines at once, or would you aim to learn the basics of how the language works first? The answer is obvious. When you know the basics of the alphabet and how the language works, you would be able to learn your lines much faster.
It’s really not that much different with music. Music is a language of its own. When you understand the basics of the music, you’ll learn guitar that much faster. On top of that, you will actually know what you are doing. This means you will understand things better and memorize things much faster.
Music theory is simply a way of classifying and organizing techniques that musicians have been using for hundreds or even thousands of years. When you understand the basics of music theory applied to the guitar, you will learn guitar much, much faster.
How Long Has Music Theory Been Around?
Music itself has been around for a very long time. We don’t know exactly when the practice of music making began, but we do know that one of the earliest bone flutes found in Europe dates back to around 36,800 B.C.E.
When music is passed down through generations by ear, it tends to change. This is not unlike what happens if you tell a story to someone and that story comes back to you after it has been told to many others. The result is usually that many parts of the story have been changed.
To better preserve music and the practice of creating music, it became necessary to develop ways to transmit and preserve it. Over time, various ways of writing music developed. This also allowed people to write what they had learned about music and pass this on. This meant that instead of starting from scratch, new musicians could shorten their learning curve.
Sometime around 1800 B.C.E. the Babylonians began to write what they had learned about music. They wrote about improvisation, performance, tunings, intervals, and musical styles. This influenced and helped shaped ancient Greek music which in turn influenced European music. This ultimately helped to shape today’s music.
Guitar Theory Simply
Guitar theory is simply a way of organizing commonly used techniques.
Music theory for guitar allows you to see the big picture of how music works and also allows you to zoom in and understand the fine details when you want to.
When you understand the basics of music theory, you will find that you can hear much more in music.
Think of it like this. Imagine you hear a sound outside and you have no idea what it is. You get up and look out the window and discover that it’s someone polishing their car with a special car buffer that you’ve never seen before. The guy shows it to you and lets you try it. You love it. You go out and get one for yourself because it will save you a ton of time. Now here’s the key point. You now know what it is and the sound it makes. Anytime you hear it, you will be able to identify that car buffer tool.
It’s the same with your ears and music. Once you know what a Dominant 7 #9 chord is and how it works, you’ll be able to identify it. Whenever you hear it, you’ll know it’s a Dominant 7 #9 chord.
When you know what the major scale is and how it’s used, you’ll be able to identify it by ear. If you don’t, you won’t.
If you don’t know what something is, how can you possibly understand what it is?
As you begin to understand the basics of music theory and how it applies to the guitar, you will find your memory for all things musical will start to improve more and more. This is because your brain likes it when you give it stuff that is organized and associated with things you already know. By learning theory basics, you make it easy on your memory system—allowing for quicker development of muscle memory. This is one of the keys to quickly learn and remember things on the guitar.
When you understand the basics of guitar theory, it will be easier to learn songs by ear. It will also be easier to write your own songs because you will be able to take sounds you hear in your head and transfer them to the guitar.
And if that’s not enough, you’ll be able to create your own guitar solos and much more.
Oh yeah, one more thing that most guitarists don’t realize about guitar theory…
It will save you way more time than it takes to learn. As I mentioned above, the brain loves it when you give it new things that are organized with structure and associated to things you already know. Your memory doesn’t do well when random bits of information are given to it.
Let’s say you needed to memorize the following:
Not so easy to do is it?
But what if you reorganize the letters this way?
CIA NBC CNN MTV EPA PHD
Understanding music theory will do the same except with notes! You’ll be able to take what appears to be random notes and extract meaning.
If you are ready to discover a proven, quick and effective way to learn the guitar theory you need to know, check out my complete guitar theory course called The Absolute Essentials of Music Theory for Guitar. You can learn more about it here:
To your guitar success,
Don J MacLean