Four Avoidable Music Theory Mistakes You Could Be Making

Author: Tommaso Zillio

Author: Tommaso Zillio

Tommaso Zillio - professional guitarist and guitar teacherA quick google search on music theory will give you pages upon pages of information, but how much of it really applies to you as a player? Which rules are meant to be followed, and which are meant to be broken? Learning music theory can often leave beginners with many questions that I am going to help clear up for you in this article.

I have met plenty of guitar players who are convinced that learning music theory is nothing but a waste of time. I have already written an entire article for those people (, so that is not what we are talking about here today. The following is for those people who know how valuable theory is, but are just having a hard time getting the hang of it.

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There is a big misconception out there that to fully understand music theory takes years to do.

The reason people so often believe this to be true is because many musicians aren’t learning theory the correct way. This is especially the case for self-taught musicians, though there are also some teachers out there who can get this wrong. Don’t let this discourage you. These mistakes are pretty common, and also pretty easy to correct once you know about them.

All it takes is to identify those problems areas. So once you are finished reading this article, you should be well on your way to more efficient learning.

Being Too Strict On The Rules

If theory is all about learning the rules of music, then how can you possibly be to strict with them? Well, there’s actually more to music theory than you might think. What you should do is learn exactly what the rules are so you can properly break them.

I can assure you no harm will be done if you try breaking the rules, but the key is to know why you are breaking them.

Its better to think of what you learn in theory as suggestions rather than rules. Theory explains what and why certain things sound good in music, and if everyone followed these suggestions to a tee then we would have no originality. Instead, play through what you learn enough times to get used to the sound of it and use this sound as your guide to explore your own ideas.

Pretending The Rules Don’t Exist

Sure, in theory you aren’t going to want to follow EVERY single thing you read about. However, you still have to recognize that the rules do exist (and for a reason).

There are far too many out there who continue to tell themselves they do not need theory. As a result, their music is going to sound either unoriginal (as they only know how to copy other people), or noticeably amateur (because theory teaches how to make musical ideas sound more interesting).

It is completely acceptable to break the rules of theory, but how can you break the rules without first learning what they are? If you choose to pretend these rules don’t exist, then you are limiting your capabilities as a musician and slowing any progress you might be making.

You must first learn what the rules/suggestions of music theory are so you can then go on to bend them and truly make them your own.

Taking The Creativity Out Of Theory

Theory is simply a tool to help you reach your musical goal. While each goal will change depending on the person, it’s always going to include some form of artistic expression. Whether you are hoping to play better solos, write better tunes, or find out why certain chords work well together, it’s all about being creative.

This is why I find it odd that so often students feel their creativity is being stifled when learning theory. Again, this is only because they aren’t learning it or being taught it correctly.

The only thing music theory should do is make playing your instrument more easy and fun, and this is accomplished by always finding the creativity in it. A great way to do this is once you learn a concept in theory, to then go ahead and try using it in your own playing. You can write your own tune with it, or try re-harmonizing a cover tune. Once you do this enough times you will be amazed at how quickly you catch on.

Continue Learning

Since reading this, if you now realize you have been making one of these mistakes, fear not! These mistakes are easily reversible. Now that you are able to identify the problem, you can eliminate it and continue on your road to progress. Learning theory the right way is only going to help you to quickly and efficiently become a better musician and polish your skills as a player. So have fun with it!

About the Author

Tommaso Zillio is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher. Visit Tommaso’s site to know more about music theory for guitar and visit his YouTube channel for more videos

Too Much Reading, Not Enough Playing

As you are studying theory, you should always ask yourself “How does this apply to my playing?”. Theory isn’t just learned to impress your friends at a dinner party. It actually makes playing your instrument more easy and enjoyable.

Don’t get too caught up in trying to understand everything you read about right away. Even if you only fully understand one out of the first ten things you read, you are still making progress. And if something really isn’t making sense to you, pick up your instrument and at least get used to the sound of it. It’s all about taking those little steps.

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