How To Get Started With Music Theory

Guitarists: Start Learning Music Theory With The Right Foot Forward

4 minutes read, by Tommaso Zillio

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Are you a complete beginner and you don't know anything about music theory? Would you like to start learning music theory and the amazing possibilities that this will open for you with the right foot? Or maybe you think that theory is not important and you can totally do without?

The first important thing to realize is that you're not alone in that. Every single greatest musician ever existed started at the point in his life when they didn't know anything about music. It doesn't matter how great they are now, all your guitar heroes have been in the exact same situation that you are in.

At the same time you better get started. After all, if you're reading this article you probably know already that if you don't have at least a basic grasp of theory then your musical abilities are incredibly limited.

Despite the widespread and false notion that many musicians do not know any music theory, the reality is that all those people learned how to compose music in the old-fashioned way: by studying it. A refusal to accept this basic fact will only harm you and prevent you from writing the music that is already inside you and that is waiting to come out.

So here's a few suggestions on how to get started:

Don't Panic

Many people before you learned music theory and not all of them where incredibly intelligent or even particularly sharp. The truth is it doesn't take a PhD to learn music theory, all that is required it's a little bit of patience and a little bit of application.

Paradoxically, the only thing that can stop you is yourself. I have seen many students being so afraid of music theory that they flat out refused to even hear about it. Don't do this to yourself! Just learn theory a little piece at a time, step by step, at your own pace. Like in many other things in life, the only thing that there is to be feared is fear itself.

Realize You Know A Lot Already

  • Can you play at least 2-3 chords on your guitar?
  • Can you strum a rhythmic pattern?
  • Can you play even just one scale on your guitar?

If you have answered "yes" to at least one of these questions, then you know already more than you suspect. Scales, chords, and rhythms are some of the basics of music theory, and even if you know only few (or one!) of them and you don't really know how they are "built",you know at least one thing. You know how they SOUND.

Don't discount the knowledge you have only because you do not know yet how it connects with the music you hear or what your more knowledgeable guitar friends talk about. You'll get there. Just realize that you are not really starting from absolute zero.

Start Small

Let me state the obvious: you do not have to learn EVERYTHING there is to know in music theory by tomorrow. So don't start with a grandiose study project that you will never follow because it's too big. Focus on understanding the basics, and remember that quality of understanding is much more important than quantity.

Incidentally, if you want some help on starting small, I do have a free eBook available at my website called "Beginning Music Theory" that can help you with starting small. The important thing is that you improve a little every day, and soon you will be beyond what you thought was possible for you at the beginning.

Play Everything You Learn

The MOST important piece of advice that I can give you for studying music theory is also the most FUN advice: every time you learn something, play it.

If you learn how to build extended chords (add 9, add11 and the like), then play them on your guitar. If you learn a scale, play it on your guitar. If you learn how to use a chord progression, then play it on your guitar.

Music theory means nothing unless you HEAR what you are learning. Always learn with your instrument close by, and use it often.

Find A Competent Teacher

According to the legend, Haydn learned to compose by reading books and doing exercises all by himself because he was too poor to pay for a teacher. Then again, those were times when "poor" meant "I don't know if I'm eating today, and let's hope it does not rain...", and we can safely assume that if you guys are here reading this article, you are reasonably sure you will fill your stomach before the sun goes down and you have a roof over your head.

That is: yes, you CAN afford a music teacher.

The important point is that you have to find a teacher that:

  1. is competent (that is: he or she can play)
  2. is able to communicate and teach clearly what you want to learn (most musicians fall awfully short here)
  3. is relevant to your goal (that is, do not go to a jazz teacher if you want to learn metal, and vice versa)

It does not matter if the teacher is a local one or an online one. So.. start searching!

Get Started!

That's pretty much everything you need to start. If you follow the advice above, you are off to a good start - in fact, as long as you keep these things in mind, you simply can't fail.

The road is just under your feet so... start walking! And if you need some help with scales and modes on the guitar (one of the BIG topics that will make you a better player in a short time) then click on the button below:

FREE Music Theory Map
Map of Music Theory
Download the FREE Map of Music Theory that will tell you what is the next topic you need to study

By submitting your info, you agree to send it to Guitar Mastery Solutions, Inc. who will process and use it according to their privacy policy.
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