Well, it’s basically the study of all things musical. This includes the bread and butter stuff like pitch, rhythm, scales, intervals and chord construction. But it’s also the study of how it all works together and how you can use it! Building your knowledge of music theory is probably the biggest investment you could make when learning any instrument, and…it doesn’t have to be slow or tedious.
When I started learning guitar, all I wanted to do was play! I don’t think I’d even heard of the term “music theory”. My first teacher just showed me some chords to strum and I was off to a flying start playing guitar. This worked great for a few years. I would just learn more chord shapes, pick a song I wanted to play and then play it over and over till I memorised it. I learned a scale or two and then dabbled in improvising – which is making up guitar solos while someone else plays chords. This was so addictive! I could not believe how good I sounded (well… how good I thought I sounded…). And my friends thought I sounded good too. Which was great, except that before long I hit a wall.
I realised that my skills were “shallow”. I discovered this most clearly when I started with a new guitar teacher. The way he played was fantastic. When I jammed with him, his solos were amazing!!! So much richer with musical ideas. Even the way his fingers moved on the fretboard was so different to how I played. And when we played a song together and he was playing chords, he would spontaneously throw in chords I had never seen before – but it sounded awesome! It’s like he had some sort of super musical power.
It was like he was playing the guitar, not that the guitar was playing him. He had complete freedom and could do what ever he felt would suit the moment. I was absolutely hooked.
How did he do it? What was his secret? Answer: music theory. After seeing that, I knew I needed to learn theory, but here is the key factor that made it so attractive to me: I saw theory being used!
It was theory in action, which meant I could see the reason for it and the benefit of it and why I should bother with it. From then on, my lessons became a mix of learning songs and techniques, but also learning about how music worked and how it could be manipulated. Every time I learnt some new kernel of musical wisdom I would experiment with it and become so inspired by all the possibilities I could discover. I have never looked back or regretted learning theory, and it has opened so many doors in my musical career, that would never have been possible otherwise. Many of my own students would say the same.
I’d like to give 5 key reasons why learning theory will build your musical mind and make you a greater guitarist and musician.
If your playing skills are ahead of your theory, you’ll be limited. If your theory is ahead of your playing skills, you’ll always be moving forward.
At every point you learn something – do something with it. For example, If you’re learning notes, play it smart and get yourself a note training app like Tenuto, or check out a website called Music Theory. Or, you could get a manuscript pad and write out notes. In fact, the physical act of writing out notes will massively increase the speed of your learning.
Well…hopefully I’ve managed to get the idea across that music theory matters. hopefully you’re about to embark on a very interesting journey of musical discovery, which is a very exciting journey indeed. Just make sure you use it.
Do you see a need for theory? How could it help you become a greater musician?
If you found this post helpful, I’d really appreciate it if you could share it with other like minded souls who seek to become more than just a guitarist!