Guitar Theory - How to Learn What You Absolutely Need to Know!

The 3 Biggest Guitar Theory Lies

By Don J. MacLean

Did you know that anywhere from 90-95% of all guitarists never learn guitar theory? 

The reason? 

There are 3 big lies about guitar theory:

Guitar Theory Lie # 1

"Music theory only covers out-dated concepts that have absolutely no use for today's guitarist"

Guitar Theory Fact # 1

Music theory is simply a classification of techniques musicians have used for hundreds of years.

When music theory is applied to the guitar it is called guitar theory, guitar music theory, or music theory for guitar.

When you learn basic music theory you learn techniques and principles that work in all styles of music.  As you move into more advanced music theory you learn techniques that are specific to different styles of music.

Guitar Theory Lie # 2

"If I learn guitar theory, I won't be able to play with any feel, and my music will be cold and mechanical"

Guitar Theory Fact # 2

Guitar theory gives you tools that you can choose to use to understand music and utilize to create your own music. 

The keyword here is choose. You can still turn off your analytical (theoretical) mind and compose freely or just play.  The choice is ultimately yours. 

Guitar theory can open doors to ideas that you would never come up with on your own. 

Music theory gives you tools you can use when you get stuck. 

Let’s say you were playing the guitar and came up with a great riff, the only problem is you can’t figure out where you should take the riff next. 

One option is for you to keep messing around on the guitar and hope that you stumble across something that works. 

You could also try to “hear” where the riff sounds like it wants to go to.  You then need to translate what you hear in your head onto the fretboard.  When you understand guitar theory you are able to classify sounds, so you will usually be able to identify what you are hearing in your head and because you can label the sound, you will be able to replicate the sound on the guitar. 

Your other option is to simply determine what should come next.  In other words, you determine what key you are in, what chords are used in the riff, or, are implied by the riff, and with your guitar theory knowledge you can start to work your way through your options.  You then simply select the one that you like best.

Knowledge is power.

Francis Bacon

Music theory gives you the power to make choices among things that you would otherwise have to stumble across. 

Guitar Theory Lie # 3

"Guitar theory can be really boring"

Guitar Theory Fact # 3

Guitar theory itself is not boring.

The presentation of music theory for the guitar can sometimes be boring.

This isn't unique to guitar theory.  Pick any subject and randomly select 10 books.  I'm sure you will find that most of those books would be great for insomniacs.  You might get one or two out of the ten that are real page turners.

I'm sure you get my point.  In any subject you get lots of sleepers and only a couple of real page turners.

So here's the real important point: Now that you know the power that music theory gives you, you should have no problem staying motivated as you work through any music theory book or course.

Always keep in mind that guitar theory will save you time and allow you to ultimately understand music.

Guitar Theory Power Learning Tip: Ask the Right Questions

A great way to keep music theory relevant and engaging is to keep asking yourself these questions as you learn guitar theory:

1.  “How can I apply this to the guitar?” 

2.  "How can I use this in my guitar playing?"

So whether the theory book or course shows you how to use the concept on guitar, you should always look for ways you can apply the new theory to the guitar.

This also brings up the point that any time you work on a theory book you should always have your guitar in hand.  Play EVERY example in the book.  This is really important because it makes learning theory an active process.  The more active you are in your learning, the better your results will be.  Active learning is one of the main principles of accelerated learning.

You should also be on the lookout for ways to apply the concepts to writing songs. As you learn new theoretical concepts, look for songs that use these techniques.

Even the most basic concepts of music theory can have profound applications.  The most basic theoretical concepts are used in literally hundreds of thousands of songs.

Finally, remember that understanding music theory will make it much easier to write your own music.  Song writing isn't as hard as you may think.  Guitar theory gives you a powerful song writing toolkit.

There are some good music theory books available, but very few, are easily accessible for today's guitarist.  That's why I wrote the Absolute Essentials of Music Theory for Guitar.

Remember that theoretical concepts are only as good as their application. As you learn new theoretical concepts you must be able to see how they can be applied to the guitar.

For a quick and easy way to learn guitar theory check out the Absolute Essentials of Music Theory for Guitar:

Learn the Guitar Theory You Need to Know Now


Don J. MacLean is one of North America's leading authorities on accelerated learning methods for guitar. Don is the author of over 30 books including How I Got Killer Guitar Chops While I Was Still in High School: Confessions of a High School Shredder, 21 Secrets to Learn any Guitar Song Super-Fast, 7 Secrets to Learn any Guitar Chord Super-Fast, Guitar Essentials: Chord Master Expanded Edition, The World of Scales, and the Absolute Essentials of Music Theory for Guitar.

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