#1
Sorry if this is a wrong placed thread, I'm a bit new to this.

Anyway, something I've been wondering lately, is how I should go about learning theory? Seems like there are many ways to begin, and it kind of confuses me. For instance, I see many guitar theory lessons on the internet, and I also see just plain music theory lessons. I've got a full music theory book course that is supposed to cover the "essentials", but I'm not sure what would be the best route.

My main aim is to have a solid understanding of chord theory for guitar. Improvisation, composing solos, things like that. I also want to learn theory relative to bass, but it confuses me a lot. I feel maybe the guitar theory lessons I'm seeing may be starting from a mid theory knowledge..? Because whenever I try to understand it, I get completely lost when the major scale is first mentioned.

Does anyone have any advice on the best area to start?
#2
If you have a book, just go through lesson by lesson. As long as there is an answer key, you can check your progress. If it has CD, definitely listen to the examples. If not, play them on a keyboard or guitar. It's important to understand what the concepts sound like.

And there's no theory specific to guitar. Applying the theory to your instrument and music is the point of learning this stuff in the first place. The knowledge does no good if it's not practiced on the instrument.
#3
all (western) instruments play the same 12 notes, and music theory relates to notes. the idea of "guitar theory" is twisting up technique and theory in a way that is usually convoluted and often taught by people who don't know much theory themselves.

for the technique part of "guitar theory", just learn music. you can use tabs, or sheet music, or whatever you need to get to where you can play music that interests you, and can play it alongside the track so you can hear your mistakes and differences. use trial and error: if it sounds out of tune, it probably is; if it sounds like you're playing the wrong note, you probably are. your ear will tell you what you're doing wrong, and you just have to figure out how to make your hand work in a way that pleases your ear without making your hand uncomfortable. there are plenty of good resources on proper pick, finger, neck-grasping techniques, as well as economy of motion, as long as you're taking them as just those subjects and look at multiple sources and make sure it feels relatively comfortable to you.

as far as the theory side of it, growing your ear will help immensely. you can use ear training programs (miles.be used to get recommended here a lot), or just work your way to simply learning music by ear. it tends to help when you actually gain valuable to you, like being able to play a cool song, so i usually recommend the latter.

a workbook will help you learn what intervals, scales, and chords are, and you should absolutely invest in learning all of those things fully on paper and how to play them on guitar, but a huge pitfall i see a lot of new players make is that they get a basic proficiency at guitar with tablature and youtube tutorials, then dive head first into theory, thinking that if they use big words they found by gobbling 100 pages in a week they'll get better rather than slowly and methodically thinking through things in the context of the guitar.

once you learn the basics - your notes, intervals, scales, and chords, for the most part - you'll mostly want to have a theory book or website as a reference tool for when you have a question about a specific pattern you notice a lot. that way, you'll slowly ingest bits and pieces with anecdotal evidence that will actually cement the knowledge to you.

you're not in a 1-semester college course, you're not in a race. putting in 15 minutes every day just going over some simple ideas or applying basic concepts to songs you're learning or already know will go a lot farther than trying to shove it all in at once and burning yourself out.

remember that music and music theory are a language. if you open a Spanish textbook and just look at the vocabulary, halfway remember it, and move onto the next chapter, you're not going to learn Spanish. if you sit and analyze and memorize the text thoroughly, and write out all the exercises, you'll learn to write Spanish, but you won't be able to speak it fluently. with any language, you have to immerse yourself in the culture of that language - listen to Spanish, watch Spanish TV, try and relate what you hear to what you know and research or catalog what you don't.

music is the same way, and it's a lot easier because music is all around us. when i'm at a restaurant and i hear a crappy pop song, i'm making a chord chart in my head and trying to figure out exactly what key it's in. it takes a long time, but it's worth it when you get there.

it sounds like a liberal "just go with the flow, man" kinda spiel, but i still get messages from people on facebook who ran their head against a wall years ago learning modes or some big words they heard a "guitar theory" teacher say, and they're still asking the same dumb questions that could be answered by "play it on your guitar and see if you like how it sounds." try not to be that guy, and just enjoy the ride. music is a big and wonderful world and it's overwhelming at first, but take down the bare basics and just learn music that interests you and the rest will reveal itself over time
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#4
Music theory is the same regardless of the instrument you are playing. There's really no such thing as "guitar theory". Well, you could say it's how the theoretical concepts apply to the fretboard. To me, when I see "guitar theory", it usually means teaching scale shapes or chord shapes or something like that. It doesn't really teach you anything about theory, it just gives you some shapes (which I guess is fine if you are interested in learning new shapes - but usually it doesn't explain the actual theory behind those shapes, so if you are actually interested in learning theory, it won't help). That's just how I usually see the term "guitar theory" being used.

What Hail said above is great advice. It's important to know the sound. If you learn a new theoretical concept, try to recognize it in actual music. I think many times it's better to just listen to music and if you find something that sounds cool, figure out what it is. For example if the "cool sound" is the chord progression, figure out the chords and figure out their function in the key. This is a much more effective way of learning than just memorizing some theoretical explanations from a book. But I would say use both - use a book as a reference and learn from actual music. And I also do what Hail mentioned - if I hear a pop song that bores me, I start analyzing it. I may figure out the chords or the rhythm or the melody or whatever.

I would suggest learning songs by ear. That's the most fun way of training your ears, and at the same time you will also learn to play the songs, so it will be beneficial both to your ears and your technique. I would also suggest analyzing what's happening in the songs that you learn to play.


Asking questions here in Musician Talk is also a good idea. I learned a lot of stuff just by asking questions, trying to use my own knowledge to help others (teaching is one of the best ways of learning) and just by reading other people's threads. We are not going to teach you everything but if you have questions about specific songs or something like that, we will help.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Oct 23, 2016,
#5
Great advice above (as usual from those three), I'll just add my $0.02... (If I repeat what they said, so much the better...)
Quote by AverageKamijoe

Anyway, something I've been wondering lately, is how I should go about learning theory? Seems like there are many ways to begin, and it kind of confuses me. For instance, I see many guitar theory lessons on the internet, and I also see just plain music theory lessons. I've got a full music theory book course that is supposed to cover the "essentials", but I'm not sure what would be the best route.
All theory is the same - no such thing as "guitar theory", it just means "music theory made guitar-friendly". Which is fine, of course.

The important thing is to be able to PLAY the stuff you're reading about, so you can hear what it sounds like - which is why guitar-friendly sites (or books) are handy if you don't read standard notation. Standard notation is the language that books use to lllustrate their concepts. As an illiterate guitarist (no offence! many good ones are), you may prefer guitar-friendly material. If you understand notation, you can use any theory text.
Quote by AverageKamijoe

My main aim is to have a solid understanding of chord theory for guitar. Improvisation, composing solos, things like that.
OK, hold it right there. Knowledge of theory may or may not help you in those specific goals. What will undoubtedly help you much more is learning to play lots of songs, especially playing melodies (vocal lines), and copying licks you like from other people's solos (and not just guitar solos). It's a language, and that's how you build your vocabulary. Theory (the "grammar" of the language) is handy for helping you conceptualize what you're hearing, give it names, organise it in your head. But all the greatest composers and improvisers in pop/rock music (even in jazz) learned their craft "on the job" - listening to their heroes and copying them. Theory is handy - I'm not suggesting you don't learn it! - but secondary to that.
Quote by AverageKamijoe

I also want to learn theory relative to bass, but it confuses me a lot. I feel maybe the guitar theory lessons I'm seeing may be starting from a mid theory knowledge..? Because whenever I try to understand it, I get completely lost when the major scale is first mentioned.
OK - in that case, you're probably right, those lessons are starting at some mid-level. You need to go back to basics.

A good theory site (not guitar-friendly unfortunately) is http://www.musictheory.net/lessons. You can see it starts by teaching you about notation. Don't skip that! (But you will have to find out how to play the notes on guitar if you don't know already.)
Tip: as a guitar player, you only need to know about the treble (G) clef. As a bass player, you'd need to know the bass (F) clef. The notes are all the same on guitar or bass, but bass clef covers a lower region, and the notes are in different places on the staff.

If you want a guitar-friendly book, I'd recommend this: http://www.halleonard.com/product/viewproduct.action?itemid=695790&

Remember it's good to consult 2 or 3 (or more) sources for theory, because you get different perspectives on the same concepts, and what might be confusing in one source might click for you on another. Here's a couple more good (free) sites:
http://www.dolmetsch.com/theoryintro.htm
http://www.teoria.com/en/tutorials/
Again - make sure you start at the beginning and don't skip anything. Confused? Go back a step or two. Make sure you play and listen to everything. Confused right at the beginning? Find another source.

Any questions on specifics, you can of course ask here.
Last edited by jongtr at Oct 23, 2016,
#6
it seems like you're getting information overload.
just pick one route and stick to it
#7
I will add...in addition to the study of music theory...add the study of diatonic harmony..as these two disciplines work hand in hand..as one will explain the other in many ways...
play well

wolf
#8
As Hail says, learning theory isn't a race etc. Music is something you keep on learning for life ... new sounds from theory, new sounds frokm experimentation, new ways of using these inm different musical contexts. The more you get into this, the more you'll probably want to get into it ... it's addictive once you start hearing the results.

Be aware that different aspects of theory are relevant to different genres of music. And a lot of seminal works on theory cover classical music, where conventions were different ti what is acceptible to the ear compared to now.
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#10
I think Howard Goodall's 4 part series called "How Music Works" (which can be found on youtube) is a pretty good place to start.
Si
#11
Simply put:

1) learn the C major scale and learn to name the intervals ( learn what a major third is and a 4th and a 5th etc.)- this is literally step 1.
2) learn the harmonized C major scale using basic 3 note chords. Cmaj, D min, Emin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Amin, etc.- play those chords up the neck in order to understand the sound.
3) learn to name each chord in that scale by its number ( i.e. learn what II, V, I means). start thinking of chord progressions by those numbers rather than the actual chords.
4) now harmonize the major scale using 7th chords - cmaj7, dmin7 etc. just play the chords/arpeggios is order to hear the sound.
5) learn how chords are named and formed in relation to the major scale and its intervals - a Minor chord has a minor 3rd -etc.
6) learn the A minor scale - you'll notice it has all the same notes as C major - because it's the relative minor scale of C.

That will get you started on functional theory and its a lot of information to take in. The next step after that is to try and analyse simple songs in C and map them out with the roman numeral system - so I, IV, V for a basic rock song etc. Next, learn the G major scale and repeat all the steps above. Here you will notice that E minor is the relative minor. Play a II, V, I in the key of G major - you'll notice that it sounds identical to a II, V, I in the key of C, it's just in a different key, much like moving a capo around and strumming the same song in different positions.

The first goal you want to achieve is to able to quickly identify what key a riff is in and to be able to think of each chord in terms of the roman numeral relationship. This will start you out in learning what notes will work when improvising. Playing over a "II, V, I" chord progression in any key is essentially the same, you're just playing in different spots, but the sounds are the same and the relationships between the notes are the same.