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Are you hoping to become the best guitar player around? Have you been skimping on music theory so far?
If you’ve been working to become a great guitar player, you may think that great playing comes from the heart. Music theory may seem like something that’s meant more for stuffy music majors and oboists than for guitarists and those with rockstar ambitions.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Great guitar players take the time to understand music theory. Even if they aren’t studying the guitar in a great music school or academic program, they realize how important music theory can be to influence and improve their playing.
So, why learn music theory on guitar exactly? In this article, we’ll tell you everything that you need to know.
What is Music Theory?
Before learning about why music theory is important, let’s start with the basic question: what is music theory?
At its most basic level, music theory is a set of rules, concepts, and observations that define the “language of music”.
Like with the rules of a language, music theory exists to define how music works and how the different parts of it interact with each other. Music theory aims to define why music sounds pleasing to our ears and how it all fits together.
This includes many different elements including melody, pitch, harmony, rhythm, texture, structure, expression, dynamics, and much more.
Advantages of Learning Music Theory As a Guitarist
Now that you understand the basics of music theory, let’s move on. Here’s why you may want to start learning it yourself.
1. Teach Yourself Guitar On Your Own
One of the top reasons why you may want to start learning music theory as a guitarist is that it can give you more independence.
Players who become great at the guitar don’t rely only on a guitar instructor to learn new techniques. They’ll have a “learning mindset” and will use the internet, books, and simple trial and error to learn more about the instrument.
By learning music theory as part of this, you’ll become equipped with the tools to better teach yourself how to play the guitar, whether you’re an adult, a teenager, or even younger.
With knowledge of how notes connect with one another and how chords are formed, you’ll be able to teach yourself new things on a regular basis. You’ll begin asking the right questions when it comes to learning the instrument.
By learning music theory, you’ll no longer have to ask your instructor for help every time you want to learn something new. You can work on your own to determine a new way to form a certain chord, create a great chord progression, or bust out a riff.
2. Get Along With Other Musicians
Another great benefit of learning music theory is that it makes playing with others much easier to handle overall.
If you’re in a band or will be working in a professional musical situation in a recording studio or on stage, knowing some music theory and some accompanying lingo can help you quite a bit. You’ll be able to get on the same page with band members more easily. Also, when creating arrangments for songs, music theory can give you skills to more easily explore your options.
By learning more about rhythm, key signatures, dynamics, and other music theory essentials, you’ll become more “professional” and will be more effective when playing in a band or simply jamming with others.
3. Write Better Songs
Perhaps one of the best things that music theory can do for you as a musician is that it can help you to become a better songwriter.
Music theory can equip you with better tools for writing songs. When you understand how melody, rhythm, chord structure, and other aspects of music theory fit together, it allows you to write better music.
A strong understanding of music theory can give your creativity more direction and can allow you to write songs in ways that make a bigger impact and do a better job of connecting to listeners.
4. Nail Your Favorite Songs and Riffs
If you’ll be playing other people’s songs or trying to nail legendary guitar riffs on the guitar, then learning music theory can also be a great help.
While guitar tablature can help you learn a song or a piece of music, it often fails to outline every note perfectly. Many times it doesn’t give proper instructions for how to play it precisely and it leaves off essential elements such as time signature, note length, and more.
As part of learning music theory as a guitarist, you’ll also learn how to read and use standard notation. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to read sheet music when learning guitar pieces and will be able to more accurately play songs, riffs, and licks that you enjoy.
However, music theory can also be helpful even if you still choose to use guitar tabs pretty often. Learning music theory will give a better feel for different rhythms, chord progressions, and dynamics. This can help a lot when trying to make sense of a guitar tab.
5. Build Your Improv and Lead Guitar Skills
Of the many benefits of learning music theory, one of the best is that it will help you get better at improvising on the guitar.
If you dream of playing killer guitar leads and making some serious magic happen while up on stage, you’ll have a much easier time doing it if you know music theory. While some guitar players are true naturals, the majority of great lead guitarists know music theory inside and out.
Knowing musical theory helps you understand exactly how each note on your fretboard fits together and which ones will work well in a particular key. This helps lead guitarists to choose the right notes at the right times for the right songs.
If you want to become a great improviser, be sure that you learn your fretboard well and work hard to understand guitar scales, modes, key signatures, and other essential aspects of music theory.
6. Have an Easier Time Picking Up New Instruments
If you ever want to transfer your skills and experiment with instruments other than the guitar, then learning music theory will also be well worth it.
Have you ever seen one of those people who seem to be able to pick up any instrument and can play it well within seconds? Oftentimes, this is because these people understand music theory and can translate their current knowledge on one instrument to others. Once they understand how a new instrument is tuned, the rest becomes easy.
By understanding music theory, you can become one of these versatile musicians as well. You’ll begin to understand how chords are formed and how notes work together. This can translate into picking up other instruments quickly and easily.
Understanding the Benefits of Learning Music Theory As a Guitar Player
By now you should have a pretty good understanding of the best reasons why to learn music theory on the guitar. While there are more benefits than those on the above list, it’s better if you discover them for yourself.
Be sure to start slow and take it one step at a time, and pretty soon you’ll start experiencing the benefits of learning music theory as a guitar player.
Ready to start learning music theory? Check out this post to discover the top music theory books to use when getting started.
Hi, I’m Harrison! I created this website to help musicians navigate the ins and outs of their craft and to help them choose new instruments and gear to add to their collection. I have 15 years of experience as a guitarist and singer and have also played many other instruments throughout the years including the bass guitar, piano, banjo, mandolin, and harmonica.