6 Things Most Guitar Players Don't Understand About Music Theory

Here are some of the major roadblocks that can delay or completely stop your understanding of music theory, together with some suggestion on how to get rid of them.

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"You should not study too much theory or you will destroy your creativity." Do you agree with that? If you do, you are probably better off not reading the rest of this article as I am going to show that this and other commonly held beliefs about music theory are completely false and harmful to you.

When I started playing guitar I was a strong believer in the "learn-by-yourself" method i.e. collecting all the information I could from Internet, journals, book, and friends. After all, the more information the better, no? What I did not realize at the time is that there is a lot of bad information handed down as if it is the absolute truth, and I was completely incapable of discriminating between the useful stuff and the damaging stuff. In short: I needed some help from somebody who actually knew things.

Of course eventually I found help, and now I am here to offer some.

The first thing to know is that music theory is not "hard": everybody can understand it. On the other hand, music theory is "complex": is made by many little things that all work together, each one of them being simple.

Of course, it would be a daunting task to learn all of them at the same time. This means that there IS a simple way to go through music theory (more than one in fact), but it also means that if you encounter these thins in the wrong order, then you are going to be completely confused. In fact, as we are going to see in a minute, there are many approaches to music theory that are common on the net that are simply damaging to your progress if you try to follow them.

So, let's have a look at some of the major roadblocks that can delay or completely stop your understanding of music theory, together with some suggestion on how to get rid of them. This list is not exhaustive, but it covers at least some of the major problems:

I Don't Need Theory: I Can Play by Ear

I wish I had a dollar for every person I heard saying that so I could retire on a private island and not work for the rest of my life. And while sipping my Mohito, I would reflect on the fact that this "play by ear" excuse is just that: an excuse. In fact most of the people that use it have never done any ear training worth mentioning: they can't transcribe the songs they like, they can't play the musical ideas that pop in their minds. Ultimately for them "playing by ear" means adopting the "Hail Mary" strategy: playing something random while hoping that something good will come out of it. Most of the time, it doesn't.

We musicians need to know theory as writers need to know grammar. It is not the ONLY thing we need to know (far from it), but it is absolutely necessary. While it is a common occurrence for many famous musicians (or their fans) to boast that they do not know any theory, once you go and actually check the facts you will find that this is never the truth (the first one to post in the comments that "Hendrix never studied theory" will get a pat on their head and a lollipop before being sent back to music pre-school).

So, now that we have established that there ain't such a thing as a free lunch and we need to actually put some effort in if we want to be great or at least good, let's see what not to do.

I Need No Ear Training

It goes without saying that the previous point should not be construed to mean that you do not need to train your ear. Duh.

Learning music theory and training you ear go hand in hand. Trying to do only one is like trying to ride a bicycle without one wheel: useless, overly difficult, and a guarantee that you will hurt yourself. In fact I do take the radical position that ear training and music theory are in fact the same thing. If you think about it, all music theory concepts can be explained as "If you do X, that's how it sounds": "If you play a cadence, it sounds this way," "if you play the notes of the chord while improvising it sounds this way," etc.

As you can see though, if you don't know what "this way" is for every single concept you learn, then you are not really learning much! This is why there are a lot of people who say that music theory is useless: they didn't connect the "formal" aspects of music theory with the actual reality of music. After all, a map of your city is useful only if you know the relationship between the funny lines on the paper and the actual streets.

Luckily, there is a very simple solution for that: every time you learn something new in theory, play it. Make sure you have at least 3-4 examples for each concept you learn (you can compose them yourself in case).

Theory Will Harm My Creativity

If music theory destroys creativity, as many claim, then it follows that never in the history of music there was a musician who knew music theory and was creative at the same time. In other words, all the following musicians composed uncreative music: Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Tchaikovskij, Coltrane, Parker, Django Reinhardt, Hendrix, Satriani, Vai, Jason Becker (Yes, Hendrix knew theory. Get over it!) I don't think this is a tenable position, in fact I find it plain ridiculous.

The truth is that if you study theory the right way, then it helps and support your creativity.

The wrong way to learn it is to think of theory as a set of "rules" to follow otherwise the "music theory police" will put you in jail. But this is not what music theory is: rather you should think of it as the collective experience of all past composers, a set of procedures and "tricks" that you can use when appropriate to move from a musical idea to a complete piece. Of course, even if you do not know anything about music theory you might have an occasional spark of musical genius, but you won't know what to do with it.

I Can Teach Myself

Would you consider teaching yourself how to drive a car? What could go wrong after all? :-) Learning to drive by trial and error does not seem the best idea, right?

By the same token, you should not consider teaching yourself music theory by trial and error. You may thing that while trying to drive a car you can hurt people, there is no harm done in trying to learn theory without help. Or is there? Sure, there are musicians out there who are able to compose even if they did not study music theory. But I can't help to think that all these guys had to rediscover the wheel by themselves, that it would have been so much easier for them if they knew more theory, and in fact what songs we are never going to listen because these guys didn't realize their full potential? What could they have done if they knew more?

The composer with the greatest amount of raw talent ever was probably Mozart. And even with his incredible natural gifts he had to study composition for more than ten years. Unless you think you are more talented than Mozart, then don't try to learn alone.

The Information Is All Available on the Net

The net is a great resource, and there is definitely a lot available just one click away. And yet all this information can work against you rather than helping you. How? Well, in order to be useful to you, the information you come across needs to be relevant to what you want to do. You see, you will need to study different things if you want to compose music for film than what you should study if you want to improvise on a blues. It's not that one is "better" or "more difficult": they are just different and require a different skillset.

For this reason - and I realize I'm not the first to say that - you need to know what your goals are and have a plan in place in order to reach them. Without a plan you are simply going to end wherever chance will take you, and in most cases this is not what you wanted at all!

In order to help you find what your goals are and how to arrive there, I have written for you a "map" of music theory that you can download and will show you where you are and what you need to study next. You can find a link to it at the end of this article.

I Can Ask My Friend Joe

Everybody has a "friend Joe" that is supposed to be more knowledgeable. But are you really sure that he actually knows what he's doing? Where did he learn what he knows? In fact, this is a good question to ask regardless if you apply it to your friend Joe or to your teacher or to the author of the article/book you are reading.

I am probably stating the obvious, but many self-styled "teachers," both online and offline, are simply coping each other without really understanding all the concepts they copy. And when you read a copy of a copy of a copy of the original concept, then it is no wonder you are getting confused! You would be surprised how many WRONG things I found in books an DVDs that are sold all over the net.

My point here is: trust only people who are actually doing what you want to do! Do not buy books from people who say "I am a teacher but not a performer/composer/writer." These people do not have a first-hand knowledge of what they teach, and most likely there are errors in what they teach. Of course with this I do not mean that all teachers are failed musicians - this is simply not true. But make sure to check the quality of your information source.

As a side note: when I say you have to check your teacher, I do not mean to ask him if he has a music degree. There are many musicians out there who do not have any "official" degree but are still very competent in what they do and teach. The only relevant question is: is this person able to do what you want to do? It's not the piece of paper, it's the actual skill that counts.

What Should I Do Now?

Three things:
  1. Forget about learn-by-yourself books for the time being.
  2. Decide what you want to be able to play and write down a plan on how to arrive there. If you need help in this respect, download this map of music theory that I wrote for you and will tell you where you are and what is your next step.
  3. Either follow your plan, or take it to a competent teacher that will help you implement it in the fastest way. Don't waste your time by running in circles.

About The Author:
Tommaso Zillio is a prog rock guitarist and teacher with a passion for Music Theory applied to Guitar.

This story was written by a UG user. Have anything interesting to share with the community? Submit your own story!

236 comments sorted by best / new / date

    TheFlake
    I used to think like that but than I realised that I was wrong so I begun studying theory and I can say that it's the way to progress. Absolutely awesome tips!
    lee.deane.528
    Maybe it's just me, but for me. "All great guitarists KNOW theory, that doesn't mean that they have studied it" to quote another thread. Not all great guitar players know the names of every scale. And some people train their ears just by listening to something and replicating, over and over again. I know someone that has more than 50 hours of tabbed instrumentation that knows not a single scale name. And lastly, you dont need ear training to know that some frets dont sound appealing when you press them down. But maybe that's just me.
    wlewis248
    If you want to break down what you actually said you just defended a giant time-waster. The guy effectively spent time learning all about an instrument without the ability to communicate it with other musicians.
    i7862362
    I am sure theory does help a musician progress in his musical abilities. but wlewis248, your statement is quite ridiculous. unless he's planning to be a teacher, who gives a damn if he communicates verbally about how great his theoretical knowledge is. if he's able to communicate via sound, thats all that matters.
    GangsterLi
    Definitely! I used to think theory was stupid because of famous guitarists that didn't know it but after learning theory, I have progressed so much as a musician and a guitarist.
    travislausch
    I agree with a lot of this, but I think the idea that you can't teach yourself is kind of BS. I managed to do a damn fine job of it on my own. Not to claim I'm a genius like Mozart or anything, but I could hold my own against a lot of rock musicians out there as far as theory goes.
    chris0186
    I'm a bassist and playing with guitarists who know nothing about music theory is the most frustrating thing I've had to deal with. I just won't deal with people who won't make an effort to understand theory. Once you get a grasp of some of the more basic parts of it, it really opens up your playing and what you're able to write.
    Arby911
    Nice troll post... Bassist....Theory.....Pffft.. j/k!!
    tommaso.zillio
    "Bassist....Theory.....Pffft.." Chris: I do agree. Nothing more frustrating than having to explain what scale to use on a secondary dominant, and then having to settle for another chord progression in Aeolian or another 12 bar Blues because that's the only thin they can play over.
    Arby911
    While I've been critical of some of your offerings in the past I have to say that this one is excellent! I'm still not supportive of your name/email requirement for the offered 'map' but the information presented here was spot on.
    tommaso.zillio
    Arby911: since you like this article, why don't you give me the benefit of the doubt? Get the map, and if you don't like it or don't like my newsletter I will PERSONALLY remove your email from all my archives (just pm me on UG). I hate spam with a passion, and I would never spam you.
    tallica89
    "this form could not be submitted" when i try to fill out my email for the music theory map
    darionapoli74
    Awesome article T! Fear is the only obstacle in my experience and sometimes it takes time to overcome that...
    FoxAndTheHound
    I minored in music in college and took several courses in both classical and jazz theory. I feel every musician should have a background in theory, whether or not they use it is up to them. It just helps you to view things in different ways, and it certainly helped me progress my playing
    BlueJayWater
    I think it just comes down to people being afraid of what they don't understand. I use to be like that 100%. After a lot of trial and error, I'm on my way with Theory. The thing I still question, is when to learn it. That's why people have trouble with it. It's always forced on them when they are simply not ready. I was offered numerous times to be educated with it, but I felt I could barely play F right, how the hell could I figure out Consonance? The idea should always be floating around, but it has to strike at the right time for people to learn it, otherwise they build the ideas they do now, and it just becomes a circle.
    blssdful1
    Dude thank you for posting this. Im a bass player and a guitarist who never got serious about the music. Now with this i know i can learn music theory to get better riffs and better Basslines. THANKS.
    kcmoon5150
    Hendrix never studied theory
    tommaso.zillio
    Write your address here, and I'll send you a lollipop as promised.
    USCENDONE BENE
    Your views are insightful but you can't get people to learn things by being a prick. Your attitude in the whole article is preachy and you sound like an ass.
    tommaso.zillio
    I think the attitude is in the eye of the beholder here. The lollipop thing was a joke, and my comment to kcmoon is tongue-in-cheek (as I assume is his comment)
    USCENDONE BENE
    "Do you agree with that? If you do, you are probably better off not reading the rest of this article" I'm glad no teacher or professor i've ever met has had that attitude.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Why would he bother to invite you to read the rest of the article, if you're not interested in the points of the article or reasons to learn music theory in general?
    USCENDONE BENE
    Because people should be encouraged to learn this stuff. A push in the right direction, not a 'oh you won't like this, don't bother'
    crazysam23_Atax
    And, if they're already opposed to learning it, you'll NEVER convince them. Until someone is ready to learn, you can't force them to learn.
    lightdark
    Actually, You can convince people to learn theory, even if they don't want to. At first I didn't want to learn it, but I wanted to learn how to make my own songs, and I knew that learning music theory would help that. Now I've made several of my own songs and have a intermediate to advanced grip on theory. I've learned theory by myself. I have several books, a dvd, and several favorite articles on theory. The best articles I find, are free, and found on ultimate guitar under the columns heading. That and the lessons section on here.
    Vicious_Turtle
    neither did hetfield, but they arnt creative cause they don't know much theory right? (SCOFFFFF!!!!!)
    cmvideo
    It's really funny how threatened people feel when you call them out on how they learn and tell them there's a better way. This comment section is hysterical. I took lessons for years when I was a teenager. My guitar teacher was in a metal band but also was a classically trained guitarist. He started to teach me theory in a certain progression and it made sense. But it does get complex and you do have to THINK and study and be able to understand mathematical concepts. At that point at 17 years old, I checked out. F that... I know enough 'basics' and can come up with enough cool stuff by jamming and noodling on my own, and maybe reading some books. Well, if your goal as a musician is to be in Nirvana, I guess that is acceptable. But what happens is your playing doesn't progress at all and you compound bad habits by not learning proper theory and technique. I was a terrible player in my 20's because I didn't learn anything. Now in my 30's I've revisited some of that theory that I should have learned 20 years ago and my playing is NOTICIBLY improving by leaps and bounds. Things that I hear in my mind, I can now put into sound. I think a lot of people are put off because you do have to use your brain and comprehend some concepts that may not initially make a lot of sense. So they shut it out, reject it as stupid or useless, and say they'll be fine on their own. That's cool if you will accept certain limits a a guitar player. But if you really want to take you playing to an advanced level, you can't do it without properly understanding music theory. Basically what this article is saying is it's all building blocks... you have understand one concept before moving onto the next. It's common sense. All this author is saying is that not getting the concepts in the proper order will confuse people, teach you the wrong things (or get you to the right things much slower) and turn you off to theory. That's when theory seems stupid and pointless.
    NewModelNos15
    I have found theory incredibly useful myself, but I know people who arrived at a similar level of understanding without ever conceptualizing it. I know one guy who never even learned tabs, could shred like a mutherf**#3r. Of course this was based on an understanding of music theory, but an instinctual rather than conceptual one. It happens. Every one is different. I'm very happy studying worked for all of you but you have to admit it comes easier to some than others. This coming from someone in the latter group. C03x1st ya'11
    crazysam23_Atax
    Could the guy who could shred like that communicate his musical ideas in a concise and understandable fashion though?
    NewModelNos15
    He was coherent, if that's what you mean. Uneducated does not mean stupid, you know. Talking to him is a lot easier than you guys, that's for sure.
    Linkerman
    "Would you consider teaching yourself how to drive a car? What could go wrong after all? : Learning to drive by trial and error does not seem the best idea, right?" Bad, really bad example. I'm an amateur race driver (rally, karting, track day racing, etc.), and studying theory in physics and mechanical automotive engineering will only get you so far. The same can be said about lessons by professional pilots; they'll only give you a little bit more of theoretical knowledge to add to all the stuff you already studied. How do you learn, then? By getting on the seat and actually driving . A lot of it is trial and error, too -- getting to know how the car reacts on cornering, or under braking, or at higher speeds... For example, only after spinning around a few times you'll start to be able to counter a snap-oversteer. Hell, when i first learned how to drive, i was told how everything works, and then i started driving around in an empty parking lot, so i could fix any errors without crashing into something/someone. Granted, i already knew how to ride motorbikes, so i already knew the mechanics of clutch shifting, but many people learn to drive by trial and error anyway, without a single problem. Basically, learning to play guitar and learning how to drive have pretty much nothing in common. It was a bad comparison.
    tommaso.zillio
    I was thinking more about learning to drive a car on a public road. Would you take a 16 year old who never drove before, put him behind the wheel, and tell him "that's the highway, go there and learn how to drive"? Is he even going to be able to start the car if you don't explain him how? You have already a lot of knowledge about how to drive. You are like someone who has mastered the basics of music theory and is able to start figuring how to combine them by himself. I never said you don't need practical experience - you do. AFTER you got the basics down (like clutch shifting, steering, braking, etc...).
    Linkerman
    No, but throwing an inexperienced driver into a public road is like throwing an inexperienced guitar player on stage. Your comparison, once again, is really poor -- driving and playing guitar are two different worlds, too different to make analogies between them IMHO (even if they're a little better phrased like the one i just posted).
    tommaso.zillio
    Well, if you don't like the analogy, you don't like the analogy On the other hand, I think you agree on the message behind it, right? That's the really important thing, and I think it's coming across even if the analogy is imperfect.
    Linkerman
    Actually no, i don't agree with the message behind it. I know quite a few guitar players who learned by themselves, "by trial and error", and they're insanely talented. Their writing and composition skills are far beyond most guitar players', and i honestly don't see how their self-taught learning process hindered them, at all.
    tommaso.zillio
    I agree that you don't see how they are hindered. That they are actually hindered or not is another thing though Once you really know your theory, you will wonder how could you do it before. Sure, if you are willing to throw in LOTS of time, effort, frustration, trial and error, then sure, you can compose great songs. Or you can study your theory seriously, and then with the same amount of effort and time compose a whole album that is 10 times better. Anyway, I argued this already in the article. You can believe me or not, it's YOUR musical life
    Linkerman
    No, i don't believe you simple because i've witnessed proof that you're wrong first hand. Now you simply sound like a snake oil seller.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Here's the problem, Linkerman, you're sitting here going, "I know guys who didn't learn theory, and it worked for them! Hmmmph!" You seem to think, because a feel talented people muddled through learning the basics of theory, that means people shouldn't study or don't need theory in general. But the problem with that line of thinking is that most of us don't have the talent to just muddle through it. "But that doesn't take away the fact that they're extremely good at guitar playing and musical composition -- even better than many people with solid theory backgrounds, like myself -- and that they got to that level by themselves pretty quickly -- again, even faster than many people with solid theory backgrounds, like myself ." This is great. It doesn't mean a thing though. Just imagine how much faster they would have reached that place of being excellent composers if they had sat down and learned theory.
    NewModelNos15
    crazysam do you work for this guy or are you really that gullible? He NEVER said people shouldn't study. I'm beginning to think your entire existence here is part of this guys' ad campaign, or some larger, more nefarious force.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Hahahaha! Because I agree with him, I must be in league with him? Oh, that logic...hahaha!
    tommaso.zillio
    "your entire existence here is part of this guys' ad campaign, or some larger, more nefarious force." Crazysam... resistance is futile... you will be assimilated... by the "Hess-clan" or whatever hahahaha. NewModel: that's hilarious. You made my day
    lightdark
    I do think that Linkerman said that he knows theory. I really wish people would read all of something before they argue with it. I do agree with varying points of both sides of this argument. Let me try to clear some things up between you both. Linkerman's correct where he said the whole thing about needing to actually do something instead of sit there and study it. I could study theory all of my life, but if I never actually play anything, how will I know what to do if I all of a sudden have to play in an orchestra. I'd freeze up. Now, I'm not saying that I study theory all of the time, or that I play in a symphony. I don't do either. I do however have a good understanding of intermediate to advanced theory, and I have the technical abilities to play some intermediate to advanced things on the guitar. There are some people who can play by ear, and are great at it. My Grandfather could play the organ and piano by ear. He couldn't read music, and he didn't know theory. If he heard a song he could pretty much play it. That doesn't have anything to do with composing, but it's further proof of one side of the argument. I know people who know scale shapes. Not the theory that goes into making those patterns. They are pretty decent at soloing and improvising on the spot. Theory is a good tool, and opens up a whole bunch of possibilities, but if someone just wants to learn a few songs and maybe make one for someone, they don't really need theory to do that. after all, if it sounds good, and it's musical, then it's music right. I do know theory, I can play the guitar. I am mainly self taught. I have had a few people to guide me, but I learned all of my theory almost entirely by myself.
    crazysam23_Atax
    "Linkerman's correct where he said the whole thing about needing to actually do something instead of sit there and study it. I could study theory all of my life, but if I never actually play anything, how will I know what to do if I all of a sudden have to play in an orchestra." Tom covered this already in the article. I would argue, by the way, that if someone doesn't study music theory and the technical aspects of their instrument, that they're not a musician. They might still be a composer or guitar/bass/piano player. However, if they don't study music (read: theory) actively or haven't done a lot of that in the past, then they're not a musician. They're simply a player of their respective instrument.
    lightdark
    So you're saying that my Grandfather, and all musicians that don't know theory, aren't musicians. That doesn't make any sense. You don't have to be a composer to be a musician. Plus, you completely ignored my point. And just so you know, Tom didn't cover that in the article. I re-read it to make sure.
    xtrife
    My god, dude, really? It doesnt take a genius to get what he said and see why the analogy was not wrong or bad. You're also disagreeing with him for the wrong reason. He doesnt say people wont learn by themselves or by trial and error at all, he says it will be a lot better / faster to do it the music theory / teacher way. I must say this reviewer DOES have a lot of patience to put up with these comments and replying to them.
    Linkerman
    He's not a reviewer, this is not a review. This is a veiled self-promoting ad. He's replying to the comments because he has to save face in order to sell his product. Even though he's completely wrong in a lot of fronts.
    tommaso.zillio
    Free to have your own opinion, I guess. At least I DO write articles and put them on UG. Where are your articles?
    tommaso.zillio
    As your comment are written right now, it seems like you are just searching for an excuse for not sitting down, opening a book and start learning. Fair enough, then I'll take this excuse way. Don't learn theory from me. Learn it from somebody else who is competent. Don't give me a penny. Now that I'm not getting ANYTHING from you, I can't be a snake oil salesman, can I?... and I STILL recommend you learn theory. Happy?
    Linkerman
    I know theory, and i've paid an excellent teacher at a music school for lessons for a few years when i first started. So you're completely wrong, once again. "Now that I'm not getting ANYTHING from you, I can't be a snake oil salesman, can I?" That's just plain ridiculous. Even if one doesn't buy your snake oil, you're still a snake oil salesman.
    tommaso.zillio
    Ooooh, so you DIDN'T learn theory by yourself. Kinda makes my point
    Linkerman
    I didn't, but as i said twice before, i know quite a few guitar players who never learned any theory and taught themselves what they know. And they still play extremely well and write excellent music, even better than many guitar players that studied theory and took lessons from professional teachers. There are a couple of ways to learn how to play guitar and write music, and self-teaching is a way as valid as the others IMHO. And to be clear, i also don't agree that learning theory speeds up that process. Every person is a different case, i've seen self-taught musicians progress faster and achieve better results (even in the long run ) than people who took lessons. So no, it doesn't make your point. You're still trying to maintain an argument you lost a while ago.
    Calymos
    Thank you for being a sane person in an insane collection of people.
    tommaso.zillio
    So you have more than one "friend Joe", as I describe in the article. That's grand, it makes your argument more solid I suppose
    Linkerman
    Wrong again. Don't you get tired of failing so much? They're not what you describe as "friend Joe " in you ad (not article), quite the opposite. When anyone asks them something, they're the first ones to tell'em to resort to someone else with their theory-related questions. Actually, more than once they referred me to people who needed help, precisely because they realize their lack of knowledge in that field and know that i have a solid background, having learned from one of the highest regarded guitar teachers in the area. But that doesn't take away the fact that they're extremely good at guitar playing and musical composition -- even better than many people with solid theory backgrounds, like myself -- and that they got to that level by themselves pretty quickly -- again, even faster than many people with solid theory backgrounds, like myself . It shouldn't be needed, but i'm going to repeat myself since you're clearly not very bright: Each person is a different case. Some people need and will benefit greatly from studying theory and having planned lessons, others can do perfectly fine by themselves. In your ad (not article) you try to make people believe that it's absolutely necessary to learn theory if they want to be any good. It isn't. You're wrong, get over it. Also, after noticing some of your replies to other dissonant voices that came up, it's extremely obvious that you may have a lot of music theory knowledge, but you're not very knowledgeable in other areas...
    lightdark
    Well, Micheal Angelo Batio says that he developed his double guitar playing completely on stage. That blows the analogy into pieces.
    theogonia777
    One thing I should mention about a lot of people is that they know more theory than they think they do. I guy like Jimi Hendrix for example... dude claims that he didn't know any theory, but that really isn't true. See, a lot of times when people say they don't know theory... what it really means is that they don't think they know theory because they were never properly instructed on it. The same can be said about anything really. Just because you weren't ever formally educated and don't know the proper terms in some area doesn't mean that you don't know it.
    theogonia777
    Actually, a very famous example of this is the song "Whipping Post" by the Allman Brothers. There's a quote by Gregg Allman on the song: "I didn't know the intro was in 11/4 time. I just saw it as three sets of three, and then two to jump on the next three sets with: it was like 1,2,31,2,31,2,31,2. I didn't count it as 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11. It was one beat short, but it didn't feel one short, because to get back to the triad, you had two steps to go up. You'd really hit those two hard, to accent them, so that would separate the threes. ... [Duane] said, 'That's good man, I didn't know that you understood 11/4.' Of course I said something intelligent like, 'What's 11/4?' Duane just said, 'Okay, dumbass, I'll try to draw it up on paper for you.'"
    NewModelNos15
    You bring a lot of sense to the discussion. There are different ways of knowing that are not being given due credit here, however solid a lot of the advice is. And Bach was the composer with the greatest amount of raw talent. This is irrefutable. Get your facts straight. Mozart had unrivaled form, Beethoven unbeatable intensity, but Bach's music was complex (and, in my opinion, beautiful) in so many ways that have not been matched since (no, not even by Dark Side of the Moon. Thriller fans, forget it)... but I agree with the central point, that learning theory can only make you stronger.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Actually, Bach had to learn all of his stuff. He had some raw talent, but he spent years and years under teachers before he become an excellent composer. But your main point is correct.
    tommaso.zillio
    Bach IS a better composer than Mozart, goes without saying. My point is that Mozart had an head start because he had more "natural inclination" to music. He was gifted, in a sense. Both had to study a lot though.
    blink_fan
    "Beethoven unbeatable intensity" You should listen to "The Shape of Punk to Come" by Refused. Or maybe The Bronx first album.
    aldo.chircop
    The sentiment of most negative comments here can be summed up as: "Don't say I need to start thinking. I hate having to think!"
    lightdark
    I just posted some comments, why don't you read those. I actually like to think by the way. yes I know music theory as well, but the things the author of this ad has said aren't what he says they are. I've learned theory by myself. That goes against the ad makers set of rules right there. If you don't believe me, ask me a question about theory. I don't mind answering questions. Oh but wait then I'd be that "Joe" guy by answering someone else's questions right. It's not only what he's saying, the attitude with which the ad maker is saying them with. He's disrespectful. If y'all are fooled, go ahead and buy into this guy's stuff, your loss not mine.
    aldo.chircop
    At the beginning of this article, Tommaso stated that he too started out learning theory by himself, as many others do. He goes on to say however that once he found someone who could guide him, it made a great difference in his clarity and depth of understanding. Since he experienced both scenarios, he IS able to make a comparison and know what the difference is. If you have only ever learned by yourself, then you cannot make that comparison. So how on earth do you support your statement that what he's saying is not true?
    NewModelNos15
    That's simply not logical. If lightdark truly has learned theory by himself, he would have the same knowledge as one who studied theory (in a sense, we learn EVERYTHING by ourselves). It's that simple. The question is in whether or not he HAS - however, if he hasn't, it does not prove that people can't learn by themselves. He can't support his statement, unless he can prove that he has indeed learned completely on his own - but that doesn't mean his statement isn't true, or that your logic is anything but faulty.
    lightdark
    I have. If you don't believe me, go to this link. I can make modal vamps, although I find those kind of boring since you're locked to one mode, for it to be truly modal that is. I know how chords are formed, interval-wise that is. I understand how to analyze a piece of music and transpose it. I do know theory. I promise. I realize there's a whole lot more to theory, I do know a lot more than just what I listed out. If you need proof, just let me know, so I can prove it. I do appreciate you understanding my side of the argument though.
    NewModelNos15
    Oh, I didn't mean to call your knowledge into question. I was just saying that we don't know how much you know, and, regardless, his point was illogical. Sorry bud, didn't mean to sound like I was questioning your ability.
    Leather Sleeves
    Wow, a lot of comments. Great article. I think one of the most important points, (and one I'd never thought of or heard someone suggest before), was to find a teacher who's actually doing what you want to be doing. Although finding a good teacher around here's probably harder than learning on my own, but I guess I should try.
    Smegal
    I have little to no music theory however what I heave learnt I have learnt through years of practice and observation. It is not impossible to learn on your own if you have the right mindset and ability to research effectively. But it is rather limiting, as I said i have little to no musical theory knowledge, I know maybe 3 scales and how to modify them (Which i picked up through practice) and that's all you need really to compose a decent song. Technically my band doesn't exist anymore but I still have them tabbed out and on gp4
    tommaso.zillio
    I have two comments to that: 1) Yes, it is possible to learn by direct experience, but you could have learned all that in a month or two with a good teacher. 2) There is much more to theory than "3 scales and how to modify them", and lots of the stuff you probably don't know (and may not even know it exist at this point) will help you immensely in writing great - not just decent - songs.
    Smegal
    Well I agree fully. I could have learnt faster but I didn't have time for lessons, i learnt everything at frist through thurough observation and practice when i could steal my bros guitar. I played for fun and thats all that mattered Actually i know a lot of the theory that exists I just don't know the details I memorize key details and I could prattle on about penatonics, dissonance and whatnot but I rarely use it. When I compose I go by feel, I find where I wanna begin with it, be it a chord or a sequence of notes. I play the notes while thinking of how to push it forward and use my experience to assertain the direction. I try to avoid common meter when possible as that is too mundane.
    crazymez89
    Why is everyone so aggressive? I personally thought this was a solid article. a little all sweeping Yes. But the points being made are good. This is why I always talk with drummers. Guitarists always have to be better than every other player in the world. If you disagree then read something else dont start having a go. It serves no purpose. It helps no-one.
    DreamGate
    I like to think of guide lines that allow you to do anything you want. Although its a little ironic. I pity people who ignore it completely.
    david.peavy.712
    In my 40 years I regret not learning music theory much sooner. I would have been a much better player for it, and explored the fretboard much deeper..and it IS deep. Theory expanded my playing, into a larger vocabulary especially with chords, lead voicing, & becoming a more tasty player. Think about it when you get into ruts..& ruts are guaranteed, anyone says who no is suspect. The great news is I had a blast learning it once I committed to do so.
    Arby911
    After reading all the comments here, I'm going to register at his website simply because he's handled them all with grace and dignity (which is more than I would have done, given the utter buffoonery of some of the respondents). As I mentioned previously, I am not in complete agreement with his business model, but his personal conduct is exemplary, which leads me to believe he's an honest businessman. Haters, you've failed in your mission. Go away.
    lightdark
    So insulting people is responding with grace and dignity, yeah sure. He called someone grammatically challenged, that's insulting someone.
    Arby911
    I think you need to go and reread the exchange, the poster in question was grammatically challenged. If you think that's an insult, stick around, I'll show you what real insult is...
    lightdark
    Well, if you want to insult me go ahead, I can think of some too. Oh and by the way, even if someone's native tongue isn't English, He doesn't have to have the attitude that he's better than everyone else here. Look at some of his answers to Linkerman. Some of those are insulting, and some of them are spoken with a very immature attitude. Oh and just so you know, I did read it before I posted that. either way it's still insulting, even if the other person is understanding.
    crazysam23_Atax
    He wasn't insulting that guy. That guy's native tongue isn't English. It isn't an insult to say that someone who isn't a native English speaker might be grammatically challenged. Yes, Tom did come off snarky, but I think he wasn't aware that the guy didn't speak English as his native tongue. Anyway, it wasn't an insult so much as statement of fact.
    tommaso.zillio
    Well, can't really fault me if my model of "quiet dignity and grace" is Gene Wilder:
    That is to say: light up guys. See things with a bit of humor.
    N7Crazy
    Though I agree with you, I must point out that theory very technically speaking, is not nessecary - It is completely possible to create great music, knowing only the basics of your instruments (chords, minor/major scales). But (to argue against my own point) to do so requires a very strong sense of composition, melody and creation, in other words, the person would rely on his talent alone. Yet, it is possible, granted the right conditions, and genetics. Btw, you're plain and simply incorrect when you cite Django Reinhardt to know theory, when it's common knowledge (for jazz-fans, that is) that he allready played at a very high technical level without knowing a single thing about theory...
    tommaso.zillio
    So your point is that you don't need theory but you need chords, minor/major scales, a sense of composition and melody... But this IS music theory, what else would it be? And I DID say that some people have figured out some of it by themselves (I already answered a comment on that).
    N7Crazy
    A sense of composition and melody is not theory - That's merely a expansion of the term of "talent" - Talent is not knowledge of theory, and the knowledge of minor/major scales and chords is not theory, since theory goes a lot around the "how" and "why" the things you know work, while for the individual know merely knows these things, he knows nothing more than "This works together with this", and doesn't know why it works, or how it works.
    tommaso.zillio
    I'm sorry, but when I look at thinks like major scale, chords, musical form (that ultimately gives you a sense of composition), melody writing, etc I find them in books with the words "music theory" in the title, not "natural talent". So if "Talent is not knowledge of theory", and "A sense of composition and melody is not theory That's merely a expansion of the term of 'talent'"... why did somebody with that much natural talent as Mozart actually needed to study music theory? Talent is NOTHING. No matter how little talent you have, if you study your theory you can do everything. No matter how much talent you DO have, if you do not work with it you will never do anything with it. By and large (and I'm not talking about you in particular) I see people talking about "talent" when they want an excuse to not study theory. Either they "don't have the talent" so they don't study because it's useless, or they "do have talent" so they don't study because (they think) they are already there. That's bullshit.
    bassgiant
    "No matter how little talent you have, if you study your theory you can do everything." You're terribly wrong in the Tommaso. There are millions of examples of people who have succeeded in learning the most advanced theory (yes there is advanced theory despite what you've said in an earlier comment (All theory is basic)), yet they may not have the TALENT to play/use it practically. A person can be a genius at music theory but if they haven't the coordination in their hands, the talent in their fingers, they CAN'T do EVERYTHING. Obviously I'm not saying there are a lot of music geniuses that haven't the talent, but it's a possibility.
    lightdark
    No, you had a pointless argument with someone who actually had a valid point that just got down-voted a bunch, from what I've read. All of your answers contradict what you've said before. Either that or you say something insulting like when you said something about someone have more than one friend "Joe". Keep in mind, that's just one example, I don't mind looking for other examples of either one, actually since I didn't put one up about the contradiction part, here is one. You said that some famous musicians who claim not to know theory actually do, read this and find the contradiction you know it's there. " Sure, there are musicians out there who are able to compose even if they did not study music theory. But I can't help to think that all these guys had to rediscover the wheel by themselves, that it would have been so much easier for them if they knew more theory, and in fact what songs we are never going to listen because these guys didn't realize their full potential? What could they have done if they knew more?" and: "While it is a common occurrence for many famous musicians (or their fans) to boast that they do not know any theory, once you go and actually check the facts you will find that this is never the truth..." Where is the contradiction again?" That whole thing is a contradiction, but if it must be put in simple language for the one who doesn't see it, the contradiction is the part where you said that some composers don't know music theory, and then you said that people can't write music without actually knowing theory. Some of that is in your words, some of it is in mine. But that's pretty much what you said. And that is how you contradicted yourself.
    Jasonbts
    Flea didn't know jack about theory up until the last album, and Billy Sheehan admittedly only knows very very basic things.. I agree theory is a HUGE advantage but it's by no means a requirement to be one of the best. I myself use theory to figure out small things but for the most part I just know how to translate what's in my head to the fretboard. I'm not claiming to be a big shot bassist that is the authority on this, just giving my humble opinion from experience.. Not everyone NEEDS theory, although it is a nice tool to have.
    Calymos
    http://www.musictheory.net This covers the majority of the basics. While I do agree with this guy, for the most part, he's bullshitting about the whole internet thing. If you look hard enough, it's more than possible to learn a great deal of theory. Certainly a teacher will help, but in the end, you've got to do the learning. I've come from both sides; I was self taught from 12 to around 19, and I've been taking jazz lessons since from a local guitarist (graduate of my university, and friends with the jazz faculty there) who is currently supporting himself by gigging and teaching guitar lessons. I've probably learned as much theory from that website as I have from my teacher. Good luck, and remember that even 15 minutes of serious study will make an impact in your learning. The important thing is discipline, so learn daily, if even it's only a little bit.
    tommaso.zillio
    I'm glad you cite musictheory.nt, as it is one of the prime example of what I say above. While I commend the authors for their effort, they are making your life more difficult. For instance (and this is a non-comprehensive list): - Notice how the "basic" lessons are ALL about reading music. As I wrote extensively in another column here on UG http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/columns/g... music reading is NOT music theory, the two are largely independent and you should learn your theory before you learn how to read (and many Suzuki teachers would agree with me on these points) - Then they go immediately on compound meters and odd time signature BEFORE they even do the major keys. I guess they want you to play Dream Theater before you can play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - Then they even have you learn all inversion of 7th chords BEFORE you put together a chord progression with triads! As if 7th chords are just objects you can put one after the other... 7th chords arise due to voices moving in a specific way. This is not a different "style" of learning: if you learn to build 7th chords (and suspended chords, and altered chords...) with moving voices, your chord progressions sound MUCH better, MUCH faster and are MUCH easier to learn... I could go on and on regarding this specific site. This is just to show you that I was not bullshitting: there ARE very specific issues with what I see on the net in most sites, and these issues are making YOUR life much more difficult than it needs to be.
    Calymos
    You know what, no. Absolutely not. Music theory- by definition, mind you - is the study of musical notation. It is the written language of music, which is impossible to separate from the spoken language- if you play it, it can be written. I intrinsically disagree with what you're saying, and simultaneously believe that you are committing multiple informal logical fallacies by means of red herring, reification (citing self as source), and slippery slope. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the website going over compound meter- by saying "I guess they want you to play Dream Theater before you can play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", you're suggesting that what they are doing is misleading; there are quite a few simple folk songs that run in 3/4, (Star Spangled Banner, Take me out to the Ballgame), and for that matter, I'd say that popular songs such as Pink Floyd's Money in 7/8, suggest that this is an integral part of music theory. As far as learning all of the inversions go, I again disagree with you, but not on terms of the site itself. If somebody is going out of their way to learn music theory, this is not the end of their journey; this is part of it. What you're suggesting in this counter argument is that this is the only site the student is going to be looking at, and this should, quite simply, not be the case. Resources aren't like that; they do not exist in a vacuum, and should not be treated as a linear expanse of knowledge. Personally, I went through the first little section of the website and then proceeded to learn the things that I was interested in, completely skipping most of the site. Also, you say :"This is not a different "style" of learning: if you learn to build 7th chords (and suspended chords, and altered chords...) with moving voices, your chord progressions sound MUCH better, MUCH faster and are MUCH easier to learn..." -however, this is entirely subjective. A side effect of learning theory is that you learn to teach yourself, and as such, one would experiment more. This is contradictory to what you say in the rest of your paragraph, as "7th chords are just objects" is inherently false. I mean, really, if somebody is learning what an inversion is, don't you think it follows that they would then explore different ways of creating them? So moving back to my original point, I believe that you're committing the fallacy of ambiguity. You're citing yourself as a source, and frankly, you are not a reliable one. You've got some good points, and I do not disagree with everything you say. However, for you to rag on people about learning online, and then cite your source, to me you are tarnishing your own name. I'd be more than happy to continue this, if you feel it necessary. I've used this website for the past 7 years, and do not appreciate users like you trying to scare young guitarists into downloading your ebook, especially considering how hypocritical your argument is for it.
    NewModelNos15
    You can find great theory information on wikipedia for Christmas' sake. Making sense of it is a different story, but the only type of misinformation out there is the type seen in this article. Music theory is pretty straightforward, there is not a lot of room to make things up. Learn the circle of fifths, friends: that alone will take you far. Learn sevenths and all your other intervals. Practice scales and learn your keys. Arpeggios will make people think you're a God. There's not much to it, you just have to apply yourself. What you DON'T have to do is give this guy (or ANYONE) your money. Lessons are fine. Study is great. But this guy is a sham.
    tommaso.zillio
    If you think that knowing your keys/chords/scales is enough, be my guest. Sure, all information is out there. Exactly like I say in the article. For that matter, Wikipedia is great for math an physics too - really well done and with great example. But I don't think anyone will take seriously a scientist who was Wikipedia-trained, and with good reason. You see, you can find all the information you want, it won't you do any good. What you need is feedback. Interaction with an human being who know what you want to do and what he is talking about. "there's not much to it". Then you know very little. Honestly there is A LOT to it. You should see the pile of books that I have on my desk. You should not underestimate the depth of your art (music).
    NewModelNos15
    I've written a rock opera. What the f*ck have you done besides spam people? NO ONE is saying training or study of theory is bad. What we ARE saying is that you are a fraud. You are attempting to mystify theory so people will think they need you to decode it, and I am telling them they don't. But of course you're going to reply back with some comment about how I need you. You don't even know who I am. Take your patronizing solicitations somewhere else.
    tommaso.zillio
    I *love* when people take it personally The main message of this article is: "you need someone competent to help you realize your full potential". Not only I never implied it should be me, but I gave you guidelines on how to find a local teacher. Do you need me? No. Do you need someone to help you? Hell yes. Congrats on your rock opera BTW. As for what I've done, Google is your friend
    NewModelNos15
    Hey look, I shouldn't have called you a fraud. You seem to know a lot about theory and it's not a nice thing to say. But you should know that your point here is not entirely logical, and if you press it people will continue to point that out. However, you're trying to encourage people to learn theory, which I respect and appreciate. But if you teach people that they need a teacher, you're already teaching them wrong. Some people can write incredibly complex music without ever conceiving it as anything but a series of changes. Your message is good but it is flawed. You said something about how we need feedback, well, maybe you should consider the feedback we're trying to give you on your presentation here
    lightdark
    Why don't you just tell us what you've done? It'll be a lot easier than googling it.
    keithmichael
    You just come across as such a massive elitist douche. I looked up what you've "done" and it's not much. I'll admit you're "talented" on guitar. Don't take that as a compliment. you can play. But what you play isn't mildly interesting or engaging, nor are your compositions captivating. This is likely why you've never achieved anything in the forefront of a musical endeavor, you know that old saying. Those who can't do, teach.
    Calymos
    Since I've just been brushing up on my theory, I think it's relevant to share this with you- (http://www.teoria.com/)- because it has a much higher caliber of information than musictheory.net . Also, I've been thinking a lot about why your article got such a rise out me, and to put it simply, it's because of your tone. You strike me as extremely arrogant, and when your article is aiming at impressionable young guitarists, it has a tendency to have a huge impact on them; portraying, or being, arrogant as a teacher leads towards students being arrogant as well. As a former sound engineer, I can tell you with complete honesty that we do not need more arrogant guitarists. I do not entirely disagree with the information that you're giving, I've already conceded that point. I've learned my theory from many different sources; the internet, guitar teachers, college courses, and simply by listening. So when you say that getting a teacher is a good idea, I agree entirely- having a teacher helped me reach a place that would have been difficult to reach on my own, though it would still have been doable. Learning is a personal quest, of sorts, and for your tone to suggest that there's only one way of doing so does this website a disservice. At the very least, if you're going to continue to submit articles, could you please take a more neutral tone? ---- "You should not study too much theory or you will destroy your creativity." Do you agree with that? If you do, you are probably better off not reading the rest of this article as I am going to show that this and other commonly held beliefs about music theory are completely false and harmful to you. ---- This just reeks of poor teaching. The people you're trying to convince into learning music theory are being immediately singled out and told to, essentially, stop reading the article. Instead, why not something like... "Do you think that learning music theory will stifle your creativity? In my experience, the opposite is true and here are a few reasons why..." This way you're not attacking the people you're trying to help. I mean, again, I'm all for your message. Theory is useful, helpful, and with practice, a bit of fun. But if the first thing you do is make somebody feel bad, you're not going to convince them, you're going to cement their take on the situation. I'll repeat, I don't disagree with you about everything- I just wish you'd say it nicer and without suggesting that it's impossible to do it another way.
    FERAL1975
    so this is basically an ad then
    david.peralta.7
    Hi I think this article is awesome! I've been playing guitar for almost 6 months already and your article really helped me save 6 months more. Hahaha. At the first 2 months I had a hard time starting cuz I've been reading books. And studying alone with cord charts. And I thought that is all. But I happen to came by this article. kinda took its content to action. It really helped me understand more about playing guitar. At first who wouldn't be discourage when ou saw the cord chart with a lot of cords you haven't learned add up the scales and etc., so I had a teacher(guitarist) help me. He told me in music theory is a is really important(I think of it as a tool and tricks that helps you)to have a bigger advantage. That can help you excel more and faster. I've been also learning in teoria.com. The simplest way to put it in my opinion "learning music theory is like having a map so that you don't get lost" it's like having a manual. Thanks. Again.
    lightdark
    I have a suggestion that's really easy and free. It's called clicking on the lessons link on this very website, and choosing a category that fits your needs. Also, there are some Theory lessons and explanations under the columns section of this website. Pretty much all of the theory I know, from the basic pentatonic patterns to what makes a chord, to the modal scales and theory behind those, I've learned from this website. Now, there are some articles on here that aren't very good and just aren't right, but thanks to the voting process, you'll be able to find the good articles that are at the very least correct.
    stevopar
    Understanding music theory is very useful and there are multiple ways to acquire this knowledge. The music came before the theory, the rules we're derived afterwards. This guy sounds like a huge *****, there's nothing more annoying than a prog/metal guitarist who thinks they know everything.
    HomerSGR
    This is a good article, which builds a lot on what you think would be common sense. However, I do not agree with your statement that you have to be able to do something to teach it. Someone who has a perfect grasp of a concept may still not be able to use it - and more importantly - someone who is able to do something may not understand the concepts behind it. Ability is something completely different from understanding.
    crazysam23_Atax
    If you never learned to cook a steak, could you SHOW someone else how to do it? You could tell them, "This is how I learned to do it". But if that person then said, "Ok, show me please", you'd be stuck. And they'd probably go, "Why should I listen to you, if you've never even done it? How do I know what you're saying is actually correct?" The proof is in the pudding, as they say.
    bassgiant
    I don't think that's what Homer means. I'll provide an example of doing and not understanding. Someone can learn the theory of a subject. For example, take biology. At school level, it's all about learning off definitions, or learning theorems in maths... you can learn them off and write them dozens of times, but doesn't mean you understand them.
    crazysam23_Atax
    And, using my smaller example, the point was that if you never actually have done something yourself (such as cooked a steak), then saying it's done such and such a way is useless. Similarly, if you never (for instance) learned how to do a barre chord, then you can't really teach someone else how to do it. You'd have no idea if they were doing it wrong.
    tommaso.zillio
    That's why you should check if they can DO something with it. They learn the theorem by heart? Useless. Can they solve an actual problem with it? Then they know it. "the theory of of a subject" SEPARATED from that subject is useless. Being able to do something is necessary (but not sufficient) in order to understand it.
    thexsunrosered
    There is a distinct difference between learning notation and learning composition. Learning notation is a fundamental part of learning theory, while learning composition can only happen after an understanding of theory is cemented in a student. Anyone who has ever been schooled in music will know this is true. You can't gain a legitimate understanding of theory without learning notation.
    SlapHand
    Very good article! Thx for sharing your knowledge, Tommaso Shaking my head here over some of the comments. There is no such thing as a free lunch! If you wanna be a "top musician" you gotta do your homework an theory is a BIG part of it. To ignore theory is like going to a new town to visit a friend without looking up the address first. You have to knock on every door until you find him. Good luck with that!
    NewModelNos15
    It's possible to know where your friends live without knowing the specific address. Point=null
    NewModelNos15
    Oh, and this just happens to be your first post? Could you be a more obvious salesman?
    SlapHand
    Salesman? Because Im new here and don't agree with people bashing the article?
    tommaso.zillio
    Hey SlapHand. Welcome to UG! Get used to be accused of being paid by the author of an article (or be a fake account) if you agree with him - it's the norm here. NewModel: if you think SlapHand and me are the same person, you know you can report us to a moderator? Please do. I'm sure they will be happy to reassure you
    lightdark
    No one said that you two were the same person, so where'd you get that from? Although salesman could imply that, it more likely was meant that you two were advertising for the same site.
    nsterken
    I personally enjoyed your article, tom. I agree and disagree with you at the same time and I will try and explain a bit why, even if it is a bit vague. While I agree with the spirit of your message, I do not agree with the letter. What the other folks are trying to tell you is that you are too devoted into your mindset and as a human being, we know that to be dangerous (see Adolf Hitler, a man solidly anchored 150% in his convictions.) My point is that in 300 years, music theory could be totally different than what we know now. The type of music theory system we use now did not exist way back, say 2000 - 5000 years ago yet they still had some way of teaching music in a theory as folks studied at seminaries and schools to learn the craft. To rigidly say that you can only go so far without learning things a certain way is closed minded and irrelevant in today's age: there are simply too many ways to skin a cat. While there are only a few methods that will be MUCH more beneficial and condusive to the goal, which you elude to and try to say, there isn't a right or wrong way to approach it: each individual is different. Therefore, no teacher can accurately look at a student and say, this is the way that you will learn best. That's too rigid and destined to failure. Everyone commenting would commend you if you could simply say, that is my opinion, not, the law of the universe. God created the waves that make sound as well as the space time continuum that we exist in and use to measure and gauge the intervals between notes that creates the harmony of music in the first place. YOu did not create it, therefore you are not an ultimate authority on it. You learned a method created only a short time ago (relative to the cosmos). You have studied it and can be considered a reliable counsel on it, but not an authority on it. Also, while I agree with debunking the myth that learning theory will not kill your creativity, i also do not totally agree with the idea that learning theory will enhance your creativity or that theory is the ultimate path to creativity. The musician is the ultimate path to his own creativity, not a system that some goofball satanist (if you disagree with this, look up the numerical value of every pope's title that ever was, they all equal '666'). So here, I highly disagree with you. The teachers I personally like the best are the one's who tell you to learn the basics of theory and then, break them! Now, this can only be done once you have learned the theory. But once you have, when you break the theory, you are doing it deliberately. I also think you do not understand the essence of what the theory is. I will try to explain it. It is a language. Very simple. A written language of music. Just like english, french, japanese, xml, java, HTML, C++. All these are languages, all have a system, a set of rules and, in essence, are all a sort of theory or theorum. All of them can be broken and actually make provisions for when they need to be broken. For instance, in English, I can type 'F%$k you, you DUMMMMMBBBBBELLLL!' When you read it, you can now imagine and 'feel' the emotion much more than if I had correctly typed the words out. Though I have broken the rules, these structures are still allowed and even provided for in the theory of the language, sometimes appearing as slang or explatives (not sure proper names). Same thing in music theory. Sometimes, you need a LLLLLOUOOOOOUUUDDD SHOUT!!#!#)#@#*! Here, you would have to break the basics, no matter how 'complex' you layer them, as you put it, to achieve it. So, your lack of humility in this area is what I am simply pointing out here. I know you already have your comeback ready, and that is fine. You have a right to voice your opinion in this country as much as the next guy. And you are a reliable source on the subject, as I mentioned I agree with your article for the most part. But, hey, this is simply my own opinon, nothing more.
    def52dpy
    while it is completely possible to create great music without understanding theory, the truth of the matter is understanding theory will help you immensely. all guitarist know some degree of theory even if you didn't know it was theory. All chords are created out of specific notes in a scale. this is theory. Many players create great music with only knowing a few chord shapes and pentatonic scale patterns. Again this is still music theory. You may not know what every interval or mode is but the fact that you can play a scale is still music theory. Understanding music theory will expand your knowledge of how to use chords and scales. That will allow you to create more freely. It will also help you to move around the fret board more fluidly and effortlessly.
    Scottzar
    So as someone who knows little theory, where do I start?
    Calymos
    As a guitarist on Ultimate Guitar, I'm going to assume that guitar is your main instrument. With that assumption, I'd say the best place for you to start learning theory would be to learn the notes of your fretboard; once you've learned that, I'd say you could stand to learn the various forms of rhythm (eg 4/4, 3/4; the durations of the notes, quarter notes/eighth notes), your major and minor scale in C (for starters, it makes learning the rest a bit easier), and how to build chords (intervals in groups of two and more, arguably). A good site for the basics is (http://www.musictheory.net ), but really, I'd say stick with that for the basics until you have a rough idea of what exactly you want to learn. I'd guess it seems a bit complicated when you're looking at the whole thing- if you take it piece by piece, and take the time to play and listen to what you're learning as you work through the site, it does become manageable with practice. Another benefit to this site is that he has ear training; this will let you learn a bit from the main page, and then listen to it and help you to associate the sound with the concept. This will help you develop your ear, in turn making simpler to translate your imagined music to the fretboard .I'm not sure how much you know, but once you figure out what you're really interested in, there are a plethora of other resources out there beyond this. If that seems especially daunting, and keeps you from going after it on your own, but you still want to know, I'd say your best bet is to find a teacher. I do think that it is very important to note something, however. In the end, it doesn't matter what the teacher tells you, if you don't actually take the time to learn what they put in front of you. I've been taking jazz lessons for the past few years, but without the discipline to work through the material my teacher has placed in front of me, I've only made a few spurts of progress. A great teacher is only as useful as your desire to learn, yes? With that said, a great teacher is also an extremely valuable resource. If you find somebody that really knows their shit, and also has a style that you can mesh with, you can easily, with focus, make huge leaps in your understanding of music. There have been quite a few times when I've been sitting at a musical plateau for weeks, and then I go over my papers from my teacher and something just "clicks". It's a different kind of "click" than the self taught one, though, and for me has made my writing much more fluid, and could be totally different for you; having a more experienced guide let you know where to go is invaluable. More concisely, having an effective teacher will let you know what you should learn next. These are not mutually exclusive, either; the best way to learn is from lecture and practice, so it follows that using the internet as well as a teacher would be the best way. That way, when you're not sure about what you found online, or if something just doesn't make sense, you have a professional that can answer your questions. This is a wall of text already, so I'll stop here. Good luck, and remember to enjoy your journey. Take it at your pace, one step at a time. Oh, and sorry I'm so long winded. TL;DR : (http://www.musictheory.net ) if you're good at learning on your own, or a teacher if you're more into having personalized guidance. Both if you're really serious about it. Music Theory: "the study of the theoretical elements of music including sound and pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony, and notation"
    JelloCrust
    Advertisement!
    crazysam23_Atax
    WHERE? WHERE? SHOW ME!...
    Calymos
    The entire thing is an advertisement. Just because it isn't a paid thing doesn't mean it isn't an ad. Have you read the definition of the word lately? "the action of calling something to the attention of the public, especially by paid announcements" Now, especially doesn't mean every time. He's calling attention to his website; like you suggested above, there's a chance that he's getting ad revenue. Either way, it's an ad. A self aggrandizing and inflammatory ad, at that.
    tommaso.zillio
    "A self aggrandizing and inflammatory ad": you are going to learn faster with a good teacher, and here's how to find one locally. If this is an ad, then I suck at writing them. Not only I do not offer any products, but I'm sending you to local teachers. I must have skipped marketing 101 And I get no ad revenue on my website (there no ads on it)
    Sambana
    I took ear training and theory for 2 years, (was told that i have a really good ear by more than one instructor). It was helpful to a certain extent, but I don't get why you think everyone needs to keep doing it. Keep paying for classes learning someone else rules for music. It was enjoyable to learn it but I prefer righting my own music and being an artist rather than a scientist.
    Arby911
    Calymos, you're sort of acting like a pedantic douche here. By your definition, the previous sentence was an 'ad' for your douchery...since I called it to the attention of the public. Have a nice day.
    NewModelNos15
    And in doing so, called attention to your own douchery. Hey man, what's up with this house of mirrors?
    link no1
    The first thing to know is that music theory is not "hard": everybody can understand it.
    I'm sorry but this is an opinion, not a fact. Some people may genuinely find music theory a hard thing to grasp, the same as with pretty much every subject. Other than that, the article is pretty spot on.
    austhrax
    Good article,i am by know means looking to study theory but i do know the basics when i had lessons when i was younger and even though its very limited it has helped me,mainly what the basics notes and chords are.
    Calymos
    Just so you know, Tommaso, I do appreciate that you've started an actual discussion. I've said my piece, and while I still do not agree with all of your posts, we DO agree that many guitarists can get much further by taking the time to understand what they are playing. Thank you for starting the discourse, it is valuable.
    Satrianifan281
    I play a virtuoso style but haven't learned much theory yet, I'll definitely going to have to start soon and this article will really help.
    flatwound
    I love how it says this article is 99% spam free, when the entire article reads like spam, and then you click on the link, and it takes you to a site that assures you you are only one click away from the map you need. Damn you spam monger! And damn myself for clicking on it lol.... 99% spam free
    Ripshadow
    I'm confused. Where's the link to Tom Hess' site? I think a lot of guitarists and musicians are interested with stumbling upon their own stuff that sounds cool by themselves and the extremely broad, and misunderstood, idea of music theory being like a shortcut to said 'stuff' (i.e input chord progression -> recieve the correct notes to play over it) mightn't just appeal to them. I've heard plenty of people say that "Hendrix never studied theory" crap alright, but I think to say this: "The composer with the greatest amount of raw talent ever was probably Mozart. And even with his incredible natural gifts he had to study composition for more than ten years. Unless you think you are more talented than Mozart, then don't try to learn alone." ..is a even sillier thing to say, totally different end of the spectrum and just as wrong I feel. It doesn't take a musical genius to know that a V-I cadence sounds great to end a song on, and through the combination of ear training and basic theory, one could learn a lot of things by themselves. Of course I imagine the more advanced levels of theory like the stuff they teach for university jazz courses or whatever might get heavily diluted through the internet. But for the basic theory, sites like this and magazines like Guitar Techniques are fantastic I think. Anyway where's that Hess link?!
    crazysam23_Atax
    Tommaso isn't Tom Hess. If he chooses to post certain Tom Hess articles, he can. But don't call him Tom Hess. Also, your point about Mozart. The point of not learning music theory alone is so that you can have someone explain things to you. In other words, you have an experienced guide. It's like if you were hiking in the remote parts of the Andes Mountains, you would hire a guide. You could just hike it without a guide, but the guide knows the best routes and what to do in emergencies and such because he or she has been training longer than you have.
    Ripshadow
    Never said he was the ubiquitous and all powerful Mr. Hess 'crazysam23'. And don't bother with the commands either lad. I might as well respond to Tommaso's reply below, and I'll break it down a bit also. When I quoted you in my first post, the part about Mozart, I commented on your faulty logic. To put it in my own words this time, you said that if one were to attempt to learn theory by themselves, and unless they believed they had the same raw talent as Mozart ('Talent is NOTHING,' you said in reply to N7Crazy below remember?) they would fail. I went on to say that it doesn't take a musical genius to know that a V-I cadence sounds great to end a song on. Ironically it was through musictheory(dot)net that I learned about cadences a few years ago. I learned this information through the internet anyway, and I connected the dots myself as to how powerful the resolution sounds firsthand. You seemed to believe that I thought the V-I cadence was an outline of what all of Mozart's music was. Your deductive skills are baffling. And I don't agree with your assertion of 'only basic theory' either, but I'm not merely going to write a large reply just because it would look impressive. I just know you're wrong. The argument of building blocks is pretty much universally applicable, it's just some basics are more basic than others. It's not that I disagree with the general idea of the article Tommaso. Music theory is beneficial to all musicians. I just don't agree with any of these Hess clan articles that tend to claim we 'Joes' are too thick and lazy to learn theory for ourselves. It's over aggressive marketing. Nice to see diversity of opinion anyway.
    Fender52
    Ripshadow,I have read what you have to say and all I have gathered from your convoluted, poorly-worded, and unnecessarily extensive comments is that you are simply an ass.
    NewModelNos15
    Unless you were familiar with the area and an experienced hiker. And once again I must say Johann Sebastian Bach "had the greatest amount of raw talent" (whatever that even means) of any composer before or since. Don't believe me? Go listen to Magic Flute, then the Brandenburg Concertos.
    tommaso.zillio
    What I meant is that Mozart was the one with the largest head start. He had a phenomenal musical memory. He had an incredible facility at learning piano technique. A great natural attitude to performing too. He had many of the possible advantages that genetic can give you. And YET he still had to study - under a teacher. What I DIDN'T say is that he was the best composer - just the one who started with the largest initial advantage. Mozart is, in fact, quite an average composer compared to many others. Bach, to take your example, is much better as a composer. Incidentally, Bach is also someone who had little natural attitude and had to work really hard to achieve what he did. How? Again, studying under a teacher. What you hear in Bach it's just the product of hard work, anyone of us can do the same with enough study. Bach said it himself in his letters
    bassgiant
    To say Mozart was average makes me genuinely believe you are a retard when it comes to classical music... Stick to guitar... I'm genuinely offended by how much you THINK you know about classical music
    rebel13ster
    Uh, whether or not Mozart's a great or average composer very much depends on how much you enjoy lengthy scale passages interspersed with the occasionaly arpeggio. He's certainly not objectively good in the same way that Bach is.
    Zan595
    Good tips; but saying that no musician has ever gotten anywhere without theory is just ridiculous. You can argue that they use theory without realizing it, but you can't argue that every successful musician ever has been a theory wiz.
    tommaso.zillio
    I didn't say that. I said this (from the article above): "Sure, there are musicians out there who are able to compose even if they did not study music theory. But I can't help to think that all these guys had to rediscover the wheel by themselves, that it would have been so much easier for them if they knew more theory, and in fact what songs we are never going to listen because these guys didn't realize their full potential? What could they have done if they knew more?"
    Zan595
    This is the part I was referring to. "While it is a common occurrence for many famous musicians (or their fans) to boast that they do not know any theory, once you go and actually check the facts you will find that this is never the truth..."
    tommaso.zillio
    To the risk of being obvious, but again I never said, as you claim, that "no musician has ever gotten anywhere without theory". I say: "it is a common occurrence for many famous musicians (or their fans) to boast that they do not know any theory" and "this is never the truth". Quite a different thing.
    Zan595
    So...it IS possible for a musician to become professional without knowing theory. HOWEVER, if they tell anyone "Yeah I don't know any theory.", and their fans tell people they don't, then suddenly they're lying about knowing theory because "this is never the truth"?
    tommaso.zillio
    You are trying really hard to find a contradiction where there is none. Again, I said: "Sure, there are musicians out there who are able to compose even if they did not study music theory. But I can't help to think that all these guys had to rediscover the wheel by themselves, that it would have been so much easier for them if they knew more theory, and in fact what songs we are never going to listen because these guys didn't realize their full potential? What could they have done if they knew more?" and: "While it is a common occurrence for many famous musicians (or their fans) to boast that they do not know any theory, once you go and actually check the facts you will find that this is never the truth..." Where is the contradiction again?
    Zan595
    The second paragraph. "While it is a common occurrence for many famous musicians (or their fans) to boast that they do not know any theory..." Referring to famous musicians being open about not knowing theory. "Once you go and actually check the facts you will find that this is never the truth ..." Referring to the same musicians (or fans) lying about having knowledge of theory every single time an artist says they don't know theory. Explain to me how this doesn't contradict the first paragraph?
    tommaso.zillio
    This comment will be edited with simple language to help the grammatically challenged. Paragraph 1: you can compose without studying theory. But in order to do that, you have to rediscover theory by yourself. Thereby, you know a partial, approximate version of music theory. Imagine what you can do with the real thing. Paragraph 2: Some famous musicians boast that they don't know any theory. When you check the facts, this turns out not to be true. Clear now?
    Zan595
    Ah, so the second paragraph is referring to using theory without realizing it? Sorry, English was sort of a language I was forced to learn growing up after moving to the U.S, a lot of phrasing still sounds odd to me.
    bassgiant
    See this is where you should have clarified instead of being an a** to a person who was confused with YOUR phrasing.
    Calymos
    It's difficult to argue a losing battle when you restrict the use of ad-hominem attacks and sockpuppet accounts, man.
    guitarist5477
    Great article with good information. Unfortunately I don't really have money to hire a teacher to help me out. Also at this point in my life I don't have the time to study books and/or watch videos. I mostly learn a lot by covering a lot of songs and improving to them using different scales. It has helped my ear and my song writing a lot. I'm sure once I'm out of college and settling down with my mid life crisis, I'll have the time to learn more about music theory. I shall conquer the beast as best I can when the time comes.