Theory

Do you need theory for the guitar?
Learn to play the guitar without any theoretical knowledge
Everyone learns differently
5 good reasons to learn music theory

"Music, as an expression of the human heart, represents everything that has happened - the entire human experience at that very moment is expressed." John Coltrane

Listening to music is one of the most popular leisure activities in the UK and one of the few that are popular in all generations. According to a representative survey, 83% of British listen to music at least once a week as a leisure activity.

Music touches a lot of people without all of them knowing anything about music theory. But what about when you want to make music yourself? Do you have to understand the theory to learn guitar?

Many guitar beginners resist theory because they don’t think it’s necessary and it just keeps them from practicing. In doing so, they forget that harmony can help beginners learn guitar and help them make faster progress.

Do you need theory for the guitar?

To learn to play guitar, you don’t have to be an expert in music theory. Many of the world’s most famous guitarists, such as Jimi Hendrix, have not acquired any theoretical foundations and have never studied guitar harmony.

But if you are not lucky enough to have excellent musical hearing and feeling, you can make your life as a musician much easier with a little theory.
Learn to read notes

If you play classical guitar, you won’t be able to avoid learning to read music. Classical music is written in standard notation; also for guitars. To do this, you don’t need to worry about harmony at first. You just play what’s on the notes.

For all other guitarists, reading music is not compulsory. Outside of classical music, guitar notes are recorded in the form of tabs. So if you are already familiar with tabs, you can use them to play many songs.

Tablatures are easier to read than classical sheet music, but they also contain less information. The rhythm of a song is not always clearly recognizable from this. So you will have to listen to the original over and over as you practice to be sure what to play.

Being able to read music can help you when you play with other musicians and also when you deal with minor and major chords. Because this is not just guitar theory, but general and therefore also uses musical notation.
For classical music, one uses the concert guitar.
If you play classical guitar you will learn to read sheet music. | Source: Zibik via Unsplash
Guitar: Harmony – what do you need it for?

Quite simply, it takes some knowledge of minor and major to understand how chords, melodies, and entire songs are made up. If you try to play your favorite songs by ear, it will be easier for you with some theoretical knowledge.

At the latest when you start improvising or composing your own songs, you may regret not having started the theory earlier. In order for a solo to sound good with the accompaniment, so that your song sounds harmonious and musical, the appropriate scales must be played or harmonic chord progressions found.

Doing all of this correctly without theory, just by ear, is very difficult and time-consuming for most people. The legendary musicians, who understand none of this, often have a very special, rare talent or have perfect pitch.

The harmony theory for guitar can also help you to understand your guitar better. If you find it difficult to memorize all the notes on the guitar fretboard, you can use the theory to understand how the guitar fingerboard is structured and make it easier for you to remember.

Chords and the corresponding fingerings are also easier to remember if you know how they are structured. You no longer have to look up every single grip. If you know which notes you need for a chord, you can find them yourself.
With a little music theory

you can remember guitar fingerings and chords better.
Learn music theory and understand chords better. | Source: Freestocks. via Unsplash
Learn to play the guitar without any theoretical knowledge

Especially at the beginning, you can learn guitar well without any theoretical basics. You can replay your favorite solos with the help of tabs and find the fingerings for the most important chords and imitate them.

But if you belong to the “normal mortals”, you will get very slowly and with difficulty without any theoretical knowledge.

If you want to play the guitar without any theory, you have to be able to rely 100% on your ears. And if you are not one of the few people who were born with perfect pitch, you have to train your musical ear first.

You will then have to try a lot in order to distinguish the different sound qualities and classify them for you. To be able to reproduce it later, of course, you have to remember everything. It’s easier if you at least know the names of the chords.

How long does it take to learn the guitar? That depends entirely on the level and previous knowledge. Learning to play guitar without any theoretical knowledge is not impossible, but it takes (for most people) much longer than if one or the other theory lesson is taken in between.

No matter how you learn, training your hearing is an important part of learning to play the guitar. The less theoretical you have, the more important your hearing is. However, you can train your ears with the help of harmony. The theory will help you to better classify, name and finally replay the tone sequences and chords you hear.
Learning to read music is just a small part of a music theory class.
Being able to read sheet music opens up new possibilities on the guitar. | Source: Marius Masalar via Unsplash

Otherwise, I can only advise you to actively listen to music as often as possible. This means that at that moment you are doing nothing but listening to music: no cell phone on the table, no crossword puzzle, no distraction.

You then concentrate entirely on the music and try to understand chord progressions and melodies. Will the key change at some point? Does it always sound nice and harmonious or are there also dissonances? Ask yourself all sorts of questions and listen to the song until you can repeat it on the guitar.
Everyone learns differently

Let’s now leave out the very special talents. Even among people without outstanding talent, there are huge differences in how they learn and also in what has to be learned.

While someone by nature has a good sense of rhythm, someone else has already trained their hearing well as a toddler without even realizing it. A third person lacks both, but has particularly skilled fingers, and so on.

Become aware of your own strengths and weaknesses and do not let yourself be unsettled, especially when compared to others. The better you know yourself, the more precisely you can work and make rapid progress in learning to play the guitar.

If you observe yourself closely and are honest with yourself, you will also find out to what extent theoretical knowledge helps you when learning the guitar and what you should particularly focus on.
5 good reasons to learn music theory

We have already looked at the most important advantages of music theory knowledge for guitarists in detail. All in all, learning to play the guitar with a theoretical background and harmony theory will be easier for you and you can save a lot of time!
Harmony does not only apply to the guitar. Just exchange ideas with other musicians.
The language of music is universal – this also applies to music theory. | Source: Mitch Boehn via Unsplash

But there are actually other good reasons to deal with music theory and these do not only apply to guitarists:

Speak the language of the musicians. If you are familiar with music theory and know the most important terms, you can easily exchange ideas with other musicians. No matter what instruments you play and what style of music you are at home in. You have a universal language at your disposal with which you can decipher the music you have written down and share it with others.
Train your photographic memory. Music can not only be heard but also written down in the form of a score. Recognizing a note, finding the right note on the instrument and immediately hearing the corresponding sound challenges the brain. Practicing imagining a note when you see a written note (and vice versa) will help you memorize new pieces.
To be able to read notes, help 

ft to understand harmony; with the help of harmony one can train one’s hearing. That should be reason enough to start learning to read music today. You will see how everything is somehow connected and it is not even that complicated anymore when you start to understand the connections.
With classical notes you can also write down rhythms precisely. Music can be written down very well and down to the smallest detail with musical notation. While many other things could still be described with words, that becomes impossible with rhythm. If you write a song yourself, you will definitely want to record the result. Even if you write it down in tabs, there is only one way of writing rhythms.
Look believable. Especially among classical musicians, you will probably not find anyone who is not familiar with music theory. Sometimes it looks a little different in bands. Nevertheless, if you can read notes and have additional theoretical knowledge, you can be sure that you will be able to follow conversations and express yourself precisely. This makes contact with your fellow musicians easier and more relaxed.

Do not get discouraged. Theory doesn’t always have to be as dry as it is in a dark classroom. Music theory goes hand in hand with practice. So you will pick up the guitar again and again during your theory lesson.
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