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Stop Bugging Me About Music Theory!

If you troll through the internet looking for music theory +  guitar, you find people telling you that you need music theory. Some of them are angry about it.

 

Nobody needs music theory.

 

Unless you want to make a career out of music. Most people not learning guitar in college or university (which happens to be most people) aren’t interested in going pro.

 

Some are.

 

In which case, learn your theory. It’ll be easier to make a living. The rest of you? Don’t worry about it.

 

Some background

I’ve taught theory and composition in university.

 

Some truth

You don’t need music theory to play the guitar.

 

Some more truth

You’d probably be happier if you knew some music theory. You might even be able to play the guitar better.

 

I’ve tried to address the second truth by posting about note-reading, building chords, defining terms, key signatures, etc, but only when it applies to making something.

 

I haven’t addressed the first truth because there’s not much to say about that. You either agree or disagree.

 

Here’s what I think:

 

Play and learn

Just play the guitar. Theory will follow practice.

 

Learn a scale and you have a finger exercise. Use that scale to play a solo on a jam track and you’ll know about keys (most jam tracks – from books or internet – tell you what key you’re in).

 

This won’t tell you a ton about keys, but you’ll know that you need to relate the scale to the key.  If you don’t, everything you play will be hit and miss.

 

You won’t like that, and you’ll learn more about the key/scale relationship. You’ll learn that you need to use the letter-name of the key as the first note of the scale. In other words, start the scale on C if you’re in the key of C.

 

Examples:

 

  • C minor pentatonic on a blues in C
  • C major pentatonic on a country song in C
  • C major scale on a tune in C major
  • C minor scale on a tune in C minor

 

If there’s any information in those four statements that you didn’t already know, you’ll search, find, and learn. Or you’ll take a few lessons. You might even want to study theory as a separate thing.

 

When you get dissatisfied with playing in the same place on the guitar, you’ll learn about modes. These allow you to play the notes of a scale anywhere on the guitar.

 

When you get dissatisfied with the number of chords you know, you’ll learn more and figure out how to use them. My postings on songwriting and on chords might help with that.

 

Be curious

If you’re curious about music and the guitar, you’ll move down a path of increasing knowledge and interest. At some point, you’ll probably get a teacher if you need advice or direction.

 

If you’re not curious about music and the guitar, then ask yourself why you’re holding a guitar. There’s no shame in putting it down and finding something you’re more interested in.

 

Whatever you do, don’t let people make you feel bad for not knowing music theory.

 

Just play the guitar.

 

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