When you picked up the guitar, did you constantly hear that you need to learn theory, but don’t believe that it will bring out the best musician in you? Do you believe the “rules” of theory subdue players? Do you fear the theory will stifle your creativity?
This is a very common belief, as theory, at a glance, doesn’t look like it offers any real reward when learning how to play guitar. Of course, if you spend any amount of time reading articles and tutorials about playing online, then you’ve certainly come across one of two posts saying it will only hold you back when learning the basic composition skills.
I felt this way when I first started as well, but what I found out is that most people who hold this belief don’t know how to study music theory. The worst part about this though, is that when people spread this message, it reaffirms the false belief that theory doesn’t actually help students learn to become great musicians, when in reality, the opposite is true.
That said, it isn’t difficult to learn to study theory the correct way. It can actually be easier and more fun than you expect — and once you start to get the hang of it, it’s usefulness and practicality becomes immediately clear for every type of musician, whether just for improvising, learning songs, and especially composition.
While going over the best approaches to music theory in their entirety is beyond a simple article, here are a few good places to start off:
Playing Using The Subconscious Mind
Some people don’t want to be burdened by thinking about the music they are creating. The believe that by thinking about different tones, modalities, and scales will slow down their playing — they just want to think about the music. I for one completely agree with that.
Think about when you’re behind the wheel of a car. Are you concentrating on all of the rules of the road? Most definitely not. But even if you’re not consciously thinking about it, you’re still following the laws, because you memorized and internalized the rules when you got your license. At this point, you don’t need to recall these memories every time you see a road sign, you just intuitively follow them.
This is exactly the same for guitar players, and I guarantee if you’re reading this, you already know something about that. When you switch from an E chord to an A chord, you don’t think about lifting each finger and placing it on the right part of the fretboard. Unless you’ve never made that movement before, then you have most likely already memorized the movements and don’t consciously have to think about each finger placement.
And if you can do that without thinking about it, then with practice, you will see exactly the same results when you’re learning theory. When I go into a sweet blues solo, I’m not thinking about which mode I’m moving into when the turn around hits, but I intuitively know which one is going to sound best, and how I can move there in time so that it feels right. I’m not a wizard, this is just a result of climbing all those mountains.
The “Rules” Of Music Theory Don’t Exist
The biggest opposers of music theory dislike it because of all of the “rules,” but in reality, there aren’t any rules, and players will be encouraged encouraged to break the “rules” they learned in the future. This idea comes from the type of people who skim a couple pages of a book, and read that there are things they are not supposed to do. When they put the book down and never pick it up again, they are left with a sour taste, believing the “rules” only served to hold them back from compositing truly meaningful music.
Of course, this isn’t the truth. These lessons are not meant to be a “rule book,” instead they’re supposed to be a set of instructions for learning a concept; sure, that exercise might have a couple rules — but those are there so you can learn the basics, which you will certainly break later on.
Some sets of exercises from the same sources will have different rules for a similar outcome, which can cause confusion, but that’s because they focus on an entirely different concept that will be learned with time. Of course, the person who only reads a couple of pages won’t be able to fully synthesize the learning objective without reading the entire book. Just remember that next time somebody tries to talk you out of learning theory.
A Workout For Your Fingers
People that work out at a gym know what it’s like to repetitively practice simple movements, such as squats, or a dumbbell press that don’t have many applications in real life; for people that don’t work out regularly, it just looks like an artificial practice. The thing is, people who do this everyday do realize real-world benefits in everything they do.
You’re not running a marathon or death race in the gym. But by working with a trainer and doing the exercises over and over, you become stronger, and all of the sudden that race, along with climbing large flights of stairs becomes much easier. There’s nothing strange about that.
People ask me what benefits they will see from learning guitar theory. Of course, one of the easiest benefits is that you will be able to use chords to write a song, or the scales to play along with your favorite tune; but the real reason is that it will make you a stronger, more diverse, player.
You’ll be able to apply these basic skills as you learn them. But the biggest benefit is as you learn more chords and scales, you’ll begin to learn how to make sounds of your own, and play music that you would not normally have been able to.
Music theory isn’t the soul crushing beast that some fervent deniers call it — it’s actually one of the secrets behind every great musician — that is, for those who have found the best teacher to help learn it the right way.
If you want to learn the best ways to learn theory, feel free to navigate to my website where I have a music theory map in the link below. This map will help you find out where you are on the spectrum, and help guide you to were you need to go next.