Tommaso Zillio: Four reasons why you need to learn music theory for guitar
Time and time again you’ve heard that learning music theory is necessary, but do you believe spending hours learning chords and scales doesn’t need seem as productive as forging your own style? Does theory just sound like a trap? Are you of the belief that creative players don’t need theory?
I’ve heard this many times before, and I get it, because at the first glance theory is confusing and doesn’t look like it has any immediate benefits when picking up the guitar. And everybody who has spent time trying to learn a thing or two on the Internet has come across at least one article that says theory is useless for learning about composition and improvisation.
I heard these arguments time and time again when I started learning guitar theory as well. The worst part is that some of the people writing these articles haven’t even really learned theory, and feed into a confirmation bias, which then allows the false idea that you don’t need theory to be the best you can be to spread without a second thought.
The truth is that it really isn’t difficult to learn guitar theory the proper way. The best part is, the more you learn, the more you will see just how useful it is, and that feeling of learning something and immediately putting it to use in improvisation and composition is intoxicating.
It’s not possible to go over all of the right way to learn theory in a single blog post, but here are a number of places to get your foot in the proverbial door:
The Conscious And The Subconscious MusicianSome people believe that learning theory will turn them into a calculative, predictable musician, believing that they will have to think before they act in every situation. They believe that when they go into a solo, they will have to think about the tones, scales, and finger placement instead of just thinking about the music. And I absolutely agree, I don’t want to be thinking about these things either.
Pretend you’re in the driver’s seat of a car. When you hit the road, are you thinking about all of the rules of the road, or are you just driving in a safe manner? You’re probably just driving. And without thinking of all of these rules, you’re still able to maintain a safe speed while respecting the laws of the road because you learned and internalized these rules before you got your license. Just like music theory, it’s the subconscious that’s doing the heavy lifting.
So of course, this same idea applies to playing guitar, and you’ve probably seen this yourself. When you make a B chord, you intuitively know that you have to barre the second fret, and make an A chord pattern with your other fingers. Unless you just learned that chord from this article, you don’t think about it — you just do it.
If this can be done for basic chords, then it is exactly the same for music theory! When I start need to build up tension for the turnaround, I’m not doing math in my head to figure out where the right 7th chord is, I just intuitively know which chord it is and when is the best moment to play it for maximum effect. I don’t have any cosmic powers, I just practices and internalized enough theory to do it without thinking about it.
A Workout For Your FingersPeople 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 realise 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 favourite 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.
The “Rules” Of Music Theory Don’t ExistThe 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.
In ConclusionMusic Theory isn’t as awful as many guitarists will have you believe; in fact, it’s actually one of the greatest tricks up every musician’s sleeve, so long as they had the right teacher.
If you need a hand finding the best way to approach the topic, then feel free to navigate to my website using the link below, where you can find a free map of music theory. Using this map, you’ll be able to figure out where you are and how to get to where you want to be.