4 Mistakes Guitarists Make When Learning Music Theory

Tommaso Zillio

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4 deadly mistakes in learning theory

Are you struggling to learn music theory? Are you confused by all the "rules" and concepts that you read about on the net and can't make sense of it? They told you that theory was useful but you don't see how and you just want to get better at playing guitar? Well, I've been there too. Let me explain.

As we know, there is a good percentage of guitar players who do not think that music theory is useful, and I already made my case for that. This article is NOT about those players. This article is about the players who realize that knowing theory is important and they are really trying... but are not succeeding, or at least not succeeding fast enough.

You see, people think that it takes years to master music theory. It shouldn't.

The problem is that many musicians (especially self-taught ones... though even for schooled ones it depends how good your teacher was) do not learn music theory in an effective way. There are a few stumbling blocks along the way, and even the most talented musicians can hit one (what did you think having a teacher was for? To avoid making stupid mistakes!)

So let's see some of the most common mistakes that guitarists make when they are trying to learn theory, and how you can hopefully avoid them:

Focus Too Much On The Theory And Not On The Application

Whenever you study theory you should ALWAYS keep one thing in mind, and that is it:

Theory is a means to an end.

The ONLY reason you are studying music theory is to become a better musician. This is the only thing that counts. That means you should not be concerned about:

  • If you do not understand everything. Even if the first time you hear a concepts you understand only 20% of it, you are still improving as a musician. You can come back to it later to understand the rest.
  • If it "makes sense" or not: try to PLAY it, and once you know the sound, you have everything you need

Following The Rules

But wait, isn't music theory made of rules? No, in reality there are no rules in music theory. You should learn the "rules" as they are, and then break them.

Trust me, if you break the rules of music theory, I can assure you that the Music Theory Police Department is NOT going to knock on your door at night to arrest you.

Take everything you learn in music theory as a suggestion. In music you usually follow those suggestions unless you have a reason not to - and that's why these suggestions are broken all the time. So play it a few times as explained, then try to break the "rule" and hear how it sounds. Memorize how the suggestions sounds as this sound is your guide.

NOT Following The Rules

At the opposite end of the spectrum of course are guitarists that "do not need theory", so they think that they can dispense even learning the suggestions.

Invariably their music end up sounding either unoriginal (because they are unwittingly copying many other before them... how do you think you can make original music without knowing how music is made?) or clumsy and goofy (music theory also teaches how to make our ideas sound better)

"But Tommaso, you just said I should break the rule" YES, I did. But BREAKING the rule is different than IGNORING it. If you pretend that the rules-suggestions of music theory do not exist and never learn them, you are ultimately doomed to never go beyond them.

But if you learn them, and make them your own... THEN you can really break them.

Or, if you want it even shorter: you cannot break a rule if you don't know it exists.

Ignoring Creativity Training

Again, music theory is the means to an end. The end - your goal- is different for each one of us, but for ALL of us there is an element of creativity in it. Some want to learn to improvise, others to compose, others to express themselves... but all of us want to be creative with it, even if it's just putting our own spin on a piece written by other musicians.

Isn't it strange, then, that music theory is generally taught in a way that frustrates creativity? I think it is, and the only explanation I can find is that most music theory teachers are either lazy or not that creative themselves.

Fact is, learning music theory and connecting it with your creativity is one of the most fun and enlightening experiences a musician can have (with your clothes on, at least). Challenge yourself to do something creative (write a song, improvise a solo) with every single music theory concept you learn... and then you'll see how fast you will learn!

Keep Learning!

So, if you are among these guitar players who are earnestly trying to learn music theory, but cannot seem to progress, check if you are making one of these mistakes. Then eliminate it. You will see that you will learn at a much higher pace, with much less effort, and the skills you acquire will be more refined and useful.

And if you need some help to move forward in your pursue of music theory knowledge, be sure to click on the button below and read the page that will appear:

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