Some guitarists have a lot of excuses when it comes to learning music theory. Guitar teacher Zachary A. shatters these excuses, busts a few myths, and shares why music theory is so important for guitarists after all…
Music theory is a vast, almost unending, amount of knowledge. Many of music’s greats studied and had schooling for decades. In all honesty I do not believe that you ever really finish studying, at least when you are dedicated and when you have the desire to learn music.
The study and journey continues throughout your whole life. You are always learning new tricks and new parts of the musical language. Music, just like English, has a set of grammatical rules. Similar to English, the more rules you learn, the better you will be able to formulate sentences or musical structures.
Now with guitar you can learn quite a bit without knowing all too much theory. However, to tap into your true potential as a musician you really need to know theory. I will give you five reasons how learning music theory can be help you stand out as a guitarist. As well I have included some excuses I have heard over the years to why people don’t need to learn music theory.
1. Music Theory Helps You Play By Ear
I’ve heard quite a bit of excuses when I tell people who are setting out to learn guitar that they need to also learn theory. They include “well why do I need to know theory, I can just play by ear”. Now in this case if you can play by ear, you can’t really know what it is you are playing unless you know some theory. You won’t know what key you are playing in, or how to play in a particular scale. You won’t know which chords go together and why. Music theory helps you understand what you are hearing, and this knowledge will help you to improvise or write your own music.
2. Music Theory Won’t Hurt Your Creativity
Another famous excuse, “theory will stifle my creativity” a statement that couldn’t be more far off. In fact, the more you know about theory, the more easily you will be able to apply to your creativity. This is the same as when writers learn new words or new approaches to writing. These new tricks make it easier for them to get the story out of their head in the way that the writer envisions.
This example is the same for a musician, you may have some melody, rhythm or guitar riff playing in your head, but when you try and write it down and get it on paper you either, flat out can’t or perhaps you aren’t able to get the exact music that you have playing in your head. This can be excruciatingly painful and stressful.
3. Music Theory Helps You Write Your Own Music
Through theory you will be able to command what musical thoughts you will have. if not at least you’ll know the vocabulary and be able to articulate what it is you are trying to do. The vocabulary of music is just another one of those helpful tools in articulating your musical ideas to help you stand out as a musician and guitar player.
4. Music Theory Helps You Learn Smarter
Another great thing about having knowledge of music theory is when you are applying the teach-yourself approach, by perhaps reading up online or finding old textbooks and journals of teachers. I know there are a lot of music help books out there; I have bought more than a handful of these books myself.
In some cases, more information is not always the best option, especially if you don’t have a working knowledge of theory. You could just wind up very, very confused! With knowledge of music theory under your belt, you will have the ability to cut through the noise to find what information is actually going to be helpful to you.
5. Music Theory Has Been Proven to Work
Another reason music theory can be beneficial to learning how to play the guitar is that it has proved to work for countless amount of years by too many names to list. I’ve heard this excuse more times than I can count: “Well, insert a famous musicians name here, didn’t know theory so I don’t need to know it”. I’m sure Frank Zappa, Allan Holdsworth, Guthie Govan, Joe Pass, John Scofield, just to name a few would just roll on the floor laughing at this sentiment considering how long each spent studying music and perfecting their guitar-playing skills. Each of the guitar players I have mentioned all have an extensive amount of schooling and are all considered master virtuosos at music. And on top of all that, I am sure learning guitar theory didn’t hamper their creative output one bit.
One of the best things you can do for your playing is to find a guitar teacher who knows a lot about guitar theory, a mentor. Someone you can trust, and who can help answer any questions you may have. For example, if you were hiking up the Alps you would want to hire a guide, right? No matter how much research you do online and how many people you talk to, a guitar teacher will still be the one who can give you the most reliable knowledge, and keep you going while you are on your adventure!
Zachary A. is a guitar instructor in Katy, TX specializing in beginning and intermediate students. He is currently earning a degree in music theory. Learn more about Zachary here!
Photo by Benny Lin