Music Theory Makes You Stronger: How To Study Music Theory And Become A Better Musician

Tommaso Zillio

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You've been told a lot of times that you have to study music theory, but you can't see how learning all these chords and scales is going to help you? Do you feel trapped by the "rules" of music theory? Are you afraid to get your creativity stifled by music theory?

It's quite common for all of use to feel this way... after all, at a superficial glance music theory does not seem to offer any direct benefit when you start to play the guitar. Indeed, if you've been reading anything regarding guitar online (which is really likely if you are here), you have heard at least once that music theory restricts or impede your abilities, whether we are talking about composing music, improvising, or even simple technical skills.

While I had a similar opinion when I started, what I discovered later is that this widespread misconception is due to the fact that most people have simply no idea how music theory needs to be studied. Worse, many musicians seems to like to say that they never learned music theory, or that music theory is useless... and if you repeat something enough times, then most people will believe it true.

The good news is that studying music theory correctly is not hard at all. If anything it is much easier and more fun at the same time... and once you know how you have to approach theory, you will see how immediately and practically useful it is for ALL kinds of guitarist (or musicians in general), whether you want to compose, or be able to improvise, or just play a few songs.

While a full review of how to approach music theory is way beyond the scope of this article, here are some important points that you can implement immediately and that will put you on the right path:

Remember That Music Theory Has No Rules

Despite the protest of some people, music theory has no "rules". Not a single one. The origin of this misconception is due to some people who open a theory book and read the first few pages, that usually list thing that you "can" and "can not" do. When they close the book (to not open it again) they are under the impression that music theory imposes many rules, and so it will "limit" the composer.

This is simply not true. Most books/courses on music theory are not to be taken as a "list of rules", but as "training methods". They aim to give you a series of exercises for you to practice and yes, those exercises have rules... to help you stay focused on what you need to learn! They are just meant to be training wheels, and they are going to be abandoned later!

In fact different exercises in the same book/corse will have different rules (hence the confusion some people have when they read the book without help), because they focus on different aspects of music. But our "first few pages" reader will never realize that because they never finished the book :-) Think about it the next time someone talks about "rules" in music theory.

It's Like Going To The Gym

If you go to a gym, you probably practice movements that superficially have very little to do with real-life applications: presses, lifts, squats... to the eye of the novice they all look a bit artificial. And yet, if you train regularly, you will be able to perform better a number of real-life tasks like, say, moving furniture around the house.

You never practiced moving furniture in the gym. But by doing the exercises that your trainer gave you, you became stronger. And since you are stronger, moving furniture became an easier task for you. There's nothing strange in that.

People often ask me how learning scales and chords is going to help you as a musician. Sure you can use scales and chords to compose a song... but the real reason to learn theory is because "it makes you stronger" as a musician.

This does not mean that scales and chords can not be applied immediately. It means that the more familiar you are with them, the more you are able to create sounds that you would not normally have created.

It Works Both Consciously And Subconsciously

Many people are hesitant to learn theory because they don't want to be burdened by it. What they think is "I don't want to think about chord tones and scales degrees when I play... I want to think about music". And you know what? I agree with them!

Suppose you are driving a car. Are you thinking about all the articles of the road code when you drive? Surely not. And yet you ARE respecting the road code (I hope...) because you learned the read code when you got your driver's license and INTERNALIZED it. That is, you don't need to think about it consciously: your subconscious is doing all the work for you.

This is true for guitar playing too... and in fact you know it already! When you play, are you thinking "ok, now I'll lift the middle finger and use the ring to fret the 3rd string at the 7th fret"? Unless this is the first time you play that piece/exercise, then chances are that you have already internalized these movements, so you are NOT thinking consciously about them.

What many guitarists don't understand is that it's the same for music theory! Personally, when I solo I don't think about "hitting chord tones" (for instance), but I have internalized the sound and position of chord tones, so I play them when it is appropriate, 'naturally', without consciously thinking about them. This is not magic, just the consequence of "training" my music theory skills in the same way I trained my technique.

In Conclusion

Music theory, far from being the "monster" that many want guitarists think it is, is actually one of the best "secret weapons" for any musician... provided you find the right sensei and you dedicate some time to train it correctly.

If you need help in orienting yourself in your study of music theory, you can find here a free map of music theory. This map will help you to know where you are, and in what direction you need to go in order to learn what you need to learn.

Do you want to get a free map of music theory so you will orient yourself and not feel lost anymore in all the things you need to learn? You can find it by clicking on the button below:

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