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Why Learn Music Theory as a Guitarist?

By Yann, published on 01/01/2019 Blog > Music > Guitar > Why Guitarists Should Study Music Theory

“How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?” – Jane Swan

Almost everyone in the UK likes music. Music, just like sport, is an integral part of thousands of children’s lives. However, this isn’t the only reason why people learn how to play music.

If you want to learn how to play the guitar, do you have to learn music theory?

Are you still looking for the answer to this question?

Maybe it’s because music theory sounds really boring was putting you off the idea of learning how to play the guitar.

In this article, we’re going to look at the relationship between music theory and playing the guitar and whether or not you should learn it.

Do You Have to Learn Music Theory if You Want to Play the Guitar?

Let’s put an end to all the suspense. No, you don’t have to learn music theory in order to learn how to play the guitar. However, guitar lessons, even one for a beginner, will probably draw upon music theory to help you improve your guitar playing.

When is the best age to start studying the guitar? You can learn musical instruments at any age. (Source: 2400474)

There are plenty of famous guitarists, such as Jimi Hendrix, who never learnt music theory and still became amazing guitarists.

Reading Music and Learning Theory

However, when it comes to music theory, we tend to muddy the waters. A lot of people think music theory involves sitting at school desks in front of a draconian teacher who’s making their students repeat after them.

This is enough to put anyone off the idea…

However, there are two main parts to music theory:

  • Learning to read sheet music
  • Concepts concerning music theory such as intervals, major skills, minor scales, arpeggios, etc.

If you’re learning to play the guitar with guitar lessons in a prestigious music school, these types of lessons might be unavoidable. Most classical pieces are not available as tablature which means that you will probably have to be able to read sheet music. However, you won’t necessarily need a profound understanding of music theory in order to read which notes you have to play.

Most guitarists, in fact, don’t even have to know how to read sheet music. A lot of songs are available as tablature. You just have to know about the guitar tablature in order to play the music. This is far simpler than learning how to read sheet music.

Guitar tablature tells you what you have to do on your guitar rather than which musical notes you have to play. This is useful if you can’t afford a guitar teacher, are just learning guitar for fun, and are just interested in strumming some basic guitar chords.

However, tablature doesn’t tend to tell you the rhythm or the note value. This can make playing certain songs complicated. A good understanding of music theory will help you learn guitar more quickly and make you a real guitar player sooner.

Find out more on how to start playing guitar.

Learning Music Theory to Improve Your Improvisation and Composition Skills

As you have understood, most beginners won’t need to learn how to read sheet music. Learning music theory isn’t obligatory and you can always go back to it later once you’ve got better at playing the guitar.

To get started, you should familiarise yourself with two key aspects of playing the guitar: rhythm and chords.

This way, you can immediately start enjoying playing the guitar without getting bogged down in all the dry and boring music theory.

However, if you’d like to know exactly why you’re playing what you’re playing, you need to know more than just where to put your hands on the neck.

On the other hand, after a few months or years, you might want to learn how to compose your own musical improvise and at this point, music theory will become essential.

You’re going to need to know how to put together scales, which chords go together with which scales, and which chord progressions make a good song, for example.

If you don’t know anything about music theory, you’re far more likely to play the wrong notes when you improvise.

Don’t forget to gauge your level before you start your lessons.

Can Anyone Learn How to Play the Guitar without Music Theory?

Firstly, music theory is not obligatory. But…

While guitarists like Kurt Cobain composed by ear and Django Reinhardt didn’t even know the names of notes or chords, these guitarists are the exceptions. They’re musical geniuses.

They had an incredible ear for music, unlike the average person. There isn’t one born every minute…

Where can you study music theory? The theory of music actually involves a lot of maths and physics. (Source: 777546)

We’ll assume that you’re just a mere mortal. You’ll need to develop your ear and constantly work on your technique.

Music theory will help improve your ear, knowledge of notes, scales, chords, and different rhythms that will help speed up just how quickly you can learn how to play the guitar.

Without any knowledge of music theory, it will be very difficult to compose or improvise. You can use different scales, phrases, and your knowledge of melodic theory to put together interesting licks, riffs, and guitar music.

We’re not just talking about composition. An understanding of harmonic and melodic structure is essential for anyone who wants to improve their creativity. Music theory doesn’t limit your creativity. In fact, it’s a way to get the most out of your musical instrument. A knowledge of music theory will open doors to your musical creativity.

The more scales and progressions you know, the more you’ll be able to draw on to compose music and improvise without playing a single wrong note whether you’re playing on your own or with your band.

Different Ways of Learning

While anyone can learn how to play guitar by ear, not everybody should. While some people are able to teach themselves how to play the guitar and are willing to put the time and effort into doing so, others will need the help of a guitar tutor or teacher and require a more structured learning approach in order to play given song.

Everybody’s different. Some people have a great ear for music and can learn instruments almost effortlessly.

However, learning music theory can fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Imagine how good Hendrix could’ve been if he’d studied music theory. We often tend to focus on objectives achieved and not the journey towards achieving said objectives.

Would he have been better had he learned music theory?

Or would it have been a waste of time?

The journey doesn’t really matter if you arrive at the same result, right?

The amount of time taken is what really matters.

Do you still think the results are the only thing that matters?

Why not think about all the famous guitarists that studied music theory and are just as good as Hendrix?

Check out these great tips for guitarists, too!

Five Good Reasons for Learning Music Theory as a Guitarist

While music theory isn’t obligatory, a knowledge of it could speed up just how quickly you can learn to play the guitar. It doesn’t matter whether you play the acoustic guitar, electric guitar, blues, classical, or rock, everything you do on the guitar, even tuning it, is based on music theory.

Can you play the guitar without music theory? Not every great guitarist studied music theory. (Source: Ribastank)

Are you sure you still don’t want to do it?

If you’re still not convinced, here are five more good reasons to study music theory:

  • Music theory is the language of musicians: if you know music theory it’ll allow you to speak to any musician in terms that they’ll understand. It’s a universal tool that allows anyone to play music regardless of the instruments they’re playing.
  • Music theory can help improve your visual memory since you’ll also be reading music and not just playing it. It’s a way to learn to play a given note just by seeing it on a piece of sheet music. This will help save you time when it comes to learning new songs.
  • By learning how to read sheet music, you’ll better understand music theory and will know how chords and scales are put together. This will help you learn how to play guitar more quickly.
  • You’ll learn the most common form of musical notation. While a lot of guitarists use tabs, these can only be used by those who play string instruments.
  • You’ll be more credible as a musician: as a classically trained musician, you’ll gain more credibility, especially in the eyes of other classically trained musicians. Knowing music theory is a huge advantage for guitarists or any other musician.

Don’t get discouraged.

How long does it take to learn to play the guitar? The more you study music theory, the more quickly you’ll learn to play the guitar. (Source: obBilder)

While music theory often gets a lot of bad press, it can be really beneficial. It might seem hard to believe when you’re sitting in front of a music textbook. It’s a lot more enjoyable to just play your guitar than sit down and hit the books. A beginner guitar course won’t cover as much theory as an advanced one but the more you advance, the more you’ll need theory.

You don’t have to sit down and read your entire music textbook in one go. You can study for a short period of time, then practice for a bit, then go back to studying, for example.

So when will we see you in your first music theory lesson?

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