Hi all. I've been playing the guitar for quite a few years but just now trying to nail down a decent theory foundation.

Right now just learning the basics - major/minor scales, intervals, arpeggios, and chord structure.

My question is - should I be trying to learn all of this whilst learning the note names, or just learn the patterns and then the corresponding notes later? I'm ok at identifying notes in the first 12 frets by themselves, but when I'm playing a certain scale, interval, or arpeggio I can't quickly identify a certain degree or note within by name.

Should I be trying to know, for example, when trying to do/learn/memorize diminished arpegios in a given position that the diminished 5th is a certain note, or where it is in the pattern, or both?

I ask because as I go through these it is very slow going, having to go back to the root note (mostly when playing the second octaves) and figuring out the intervals from the root. I strictly use the interval patterns for this, completely ignoring what actual note the is that needs to be played. At that point the only actual note I'm cognizant of is the root.

Does this make sense? I want to make sure I'm not missing a major step in learning this stuff. While I'd think to learn the patterns and the notes in each (given whatever key I'm in) come later, some of these patterns aren't sticking to where I can just roll through then in multiple positions...I have to continue to stop and think about where the next interval is. I've got the major and minors down ok but others are taking awhile. Seems like a ton of patterns to memorize to be proficient. Just practice more, right? Ha!
Technically, yeah you should learn the notes and where theyre all located first. Then learn the scales. But its going to take a long time either way so have the patience and it will pay off.
I would argue that there is no right or wrong way to learn theory. I have gone through many regiments of learning scales, note names and the like, and my advice is to make sure that you don't get stuck doing one or two things.

When you get bored of one exercise move on to another. In time everything will start to stick. It's just like learning guitar technique. You learn one song, then you learn an exercise, then you learn another song. Each song/exercise you play builds on the last and over time everything gets cleaner and better.

It's the same with learning theory. Every concept is dependent on other things so just keep trying to learn and you will constantly make new connections. Good Luck!
well, learn the scale degrees imo. where they are located and what they sound like.
As you learn arpeggios and scales you will learn the notes on the fretboard.

Edit: Quick elaboration. You learn learning a C major arpeggio up and down the fretboard will let you know where all the c, e and g notes are. Consequently you will know where all the c#, e# , g# notes are by moving all those notes up one half step, etc. The cool thing about guitar is that you can literally just move your shapes around and learn from there.
Last edited by ouchies at Apr 28, 2014,
Yes, definitely learn all the note names and intervals. Music is made of notes, not finger positions!

An easy way is to write out all the scales and their diatonic triads, and then sit down to work them out. It will be painfully slow the first few times, but if you're diligent you'll see some real improvement within weeks. By the time you get all 12 major scales and their triads, the finger patterns will be more than obvious; no need at all to learn them first.

The real value is being able to see/hear/feel all the different musical relationships no matter where they are on the neck.
I went from chords -> arpeggios -> scales. It was nice to know chords first, then learn scales on top of those because when you learn chords, you start to know where the root notes for those chords are, and from there you can start learning patterns that scales use and apply them to different areas of the guitar.

I like to learn scale patterns, and then know what key I am in, so that way I don't have to memorize individual notes per se. I can just jump to a point on the guitar and apply the patterns there based on the root note, or 5th, or whatever.

Hope that helps.