Why Study Music Theory?

Why should you as a guitar player care about music theory? In short because you should like music so much you care to understand how and why it works.

Why is that?

Because research is important to you. As a guitar player you should have a natural curiosity as to what makes makes music sound good or bad.

I get asked quite a bit about chords from beginner guitar students, questions like:

“Why do they call this a major (or minor) chord?”

“I can hear the difference between major and minor but I don’t understand why.”

“Why do some chords sound good together and other chords sound bad together?”

The answer to all these questions is found in the study of music theory.

I have guitar students who want to learn how to play lead guitar. They approach me with comments and questions like these:

“I must be untalented, how do those guys come up with incredible guitar solos on the spot?”

“What is a scale and why do lead guitar players tell me to practice them?”

“Why do certain scales only sound good with certain chords? Every time I try to play a scale over my song it sounds good sometimes and then awful! Why?”

Again, the answers are found in music theory. Intermediate guitar players will ask me questions about composition and transposition.

“I can usually hear and copy easy piano songs on my guitar, but some songs are too difficult for me to hear and copy. How can I improve this?”

Study music theory.

“What does the band director mean by ii, V, I in G? I’m lost!”

The answer is in music theory.

“My girlfriend wants me to play the song in a higher key so she can sing to it, how do I do this?”

Music theory has the answer.

“What makes a song sound happy or sad and how can write like this?”

Once more, music theory can explain this.

“How do televisions work?”

I don’t know… anyways, moving on. Do you get the picture?

Music theory provides many answers to the musical problems you will encounter as a guitar player. Music theory does not need to be hard or intimidating. There is an easy and practical way to study and understand it without all the technical “stuff and fluff” you will find in a college class. It does require a little effort, study and practice, but the payoff is tremendous for any musician.

Music theory helps with communication between different players on different instruments. I could show a guitarist how to play a lead guitar part by writing down every note and having him or her copy the phrase. That’s 200 notes one after the other. This takes a long time and memorizing 200 of anything is difficult.

Or I could show the same guitar player how to play lead guitar part by saying, “play a C-Major scale over the I, vi, IV, V progression in C-Major.”

That my friends is an instant solo without a bunch of time-intensive, inefficient memorization.

Music theory works for any musical instrument. Showing a piano player what you are doing on your guitar will get you nowhere unless the pianist knows how to play guitar. Telling that same pianist to “play a ii, V, I progression with a swing beat” will get you instant results from the pianist and the rest of the band.

Players who understand music theory can show up to gigs without ever rehearsing. Band directors can pass out chord charts and leave the band to do the rest if they understand music theory, regardless of what instruments they play.

That is the power of music theory.

Music theory is also important to sight reading because it helps the musician to recognize key signatures instantly. Knowing this triggers a menu of possibilities within the song which narrows down the piece of music into certain chords and melodies. Experienced players who understand music theory use this information to read more efficiently.

What I have shared here is only scratching the surface of how understanding music theory can help you as a guitar player. Our guitar instruction integrates music theory into the curriculum providing our members with a balance of guitar playing and understanding of how music works.

If you aren’t a member yet, please check us out. If you are a member, go forth and practice!