How many chords does a musician need to learn before they are ready to jump into the world of music theory? Is there a way to know when the right time is? Or is any time the right time when it comes to theory?
Many beginner musicians get this idea in their head that there are certain things they have to learn before beginning to understand music theory. For instance, a certain amount of scales and chord progressions. I know this because I too was one of these people when I was first learning. How did this idea work out for me? And how might it play out for you?
To answer this, it’s important to understand that reading music notation is not the same thing as learning music theory. Make sure to take a look at this article before you make up your mind on theory.
To make this easy for you, if you are a musician who already knows a handful of scales and chords, then it is without question time for you to start learning some theory if you haven’t already.
Is This A Good Idea?
Let’s break down this whole “taking time to learn chords and scales before music theory” idea. While this is a situation many beginner players might find them in, even more advance players might still be convinced to put of learning theory. So before you decide one way or another, consider the following:
After you learn a handful of chords, whats next? What can you do with this information? Perhaps you will read a couple chord charts and play some tunes, but what happens when you are asked to transpose that song to a different key? If you’ve yet to start learning theory, you might be asking yourself why and how this is done.
In brief, if you are playing a tune that happens to be awkward to play (for example, they all land on barre chords) or perhaps if you are accompanying a vocalist who needs a quick key change to fit her vocal range, then you need to know how to transpose a set of chord progressions to accommodate this.
What are some other possibilities for all these chords you’ve been learning? If you are drawing a blank, you might want to think about looking to music theory for some ideas.
Am I Not Good Enough To Learn Theory Yet?
Often what puts beginners off learning music theory is that they think they aren’t skilled enough yet, or that music theory is difficult, boring and/or useless. It makes sense why one might feel this way, as often times theory isn’t always taught properly and students are left without ways they can apply this new knowledge.
If you can believe it, however, theory is actually a skill that can be used to make music more interesting, fun, and exciting. And if you take the time to learn it properly, I promise you will see why.
If you are still feeling sceptical, but also intrigued enough to learn more, take a look at my free eBook that teaches music theory from the very beginning. It will help those who don’t quite know where to begin. And remember to have fun with it!
It Can Spark Interesting Ideas
So you learn a few chords, which helps you to play a couple tunes. And it feels so exciting and new at the beginning. But you will find that after too much time passes doing the exact same thing over and over, that the motivation to keep playing will seem to dissipate before you even have a chance to learn theory.
This feeling can be heightened by the fact that other musicians around you seem to sound better and do cooler things with seemingly the same set of chords that you know. I can tell you right now that the difference is that these people took the time to learn a bit of theory. Perhaps without even realizing it.
Often when people compare their playing to others like this, they come to the conclusion that they simply do not have enough talent for their instrument. But the truth is, with the right practicing tools and know how, you have every chance to be just as good (if not better) than the ones you admire.
A lack of theory knowledge can stifle creativity may result in convincing you that you have no cool or interesting ideas to contribute to music, when really all the ideas are there, you just don’t know how to properly express them yet.
So When Is The Right Time?
If I haven’t quite made this clear, I highly recommend you to start learning theory from the very beginning. This isn’t to say you must go out and get your PhD in music theory to truly get the most out of your instrument. But even just a brief introduction to key signatures, rhythms, and transposition can do wonders for you.
If you are concerned that learning these rudiments are somehow going make you a dull person, just remember that when studied properly, theory should work to improve your playing and make it a more enjoyable experience.
So the rule of thumb is that whenever you choose to start working on your playing technique in any way, be it chord progressions, scales, or sweep picking, that it is then the right moment to learn theory as well.