My Mentality On Theory

Honestly though, most of the readers are not planning to dive head first into the professional musical world. Even so, one can't escape theory forever.

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Theory theory theory ... Tonality? What? Polymodal chromaticism? What? As an amateur guitar teacher I always ask my students this question: "Do you want to learn music through playing guitar or do you want to learn to play guitar music?" The first means that it is within your interests to, in addition to learning guitar, gain knowledge of universal musical elements that are applicable to various western instruments. The second implies that you simply want to sound cool, emulate a style, and/or learn quickly. I call the first "Why" and the second "How." In actuality the Why encompasses the How (but for the sake of this paragraph I'm keeping them separate). So what's the difference? The Why method takes a lot more effort for both the student and the teacher, and also has the tendency to turn off those with no musical background. The How method yields faster, initially satisfying results but there is a definite limit to how much can be taught formally without simply going over songs (which can be done on your own, saving money). Now, without thinking, pick "How" or "Why." If you went with your average-joe instinct, the easier, shorter method seems more desirable. In fact, that is completely natural... what's the point of the first method? The honest truth is, if you adhere strictly to the "How" you'll be able to get along just fine in the guitar world. You might even join a band and become superstars on Fuse (or what's left of MTV). Who doesn't want that? ... I compare learning guitar without theory to a caveman who just discovered fire. He knows that when he rubs two rocks together they make sparks. However, he does not know the name "fire" or "spark". The caveman may be able to grasp the concept of heat by feeling it (and possibly getting burned), but he doesn't understand what heat is. Why did I choose to learn theory? I didn't, as far as guitar goes. I began playing trumpet in 2nd grade, receiving private lessons until freshmen year in high school. When I picked up a guitar, it only seemed natural to apply the theory I already knew to guitar and learn some new things (especially switching from a monotonal to a polytonal instrument). So personally, I never had to ask myself the "How or Why?" question. With that said, my point of view on theory and musicianship is pretty biased... As mentioned earlier, joining a rock band and clawing to fame is one of the options for the diligent, theory-illiterate guitarist. With that said, that is probably the only serious option for those kind of players (meaning besides being a hobbyist or a collector/dealer). With an above average amount of theory, one can become a studio musician, a guitar teacher, or even an ensemble guitarist. Music on a higher level is extremely competitive. There is such thing as a musical resume, and it does take an extreme amount of work to get to a high position in this magical world of sounds. That's a common misconception parents and outsiders have as far as the nature of a musical career. The difficulties can even be seen through the mainstream bands most of UG hates. Ever notice how some bands you dislike suddenly disappear? Most likely it's because they couldn't perform on the road or even in the studio (which made the label turn to hiring studio musicians), causing them to be dropped from their label. That in itself has little to do with theory- the point is that it is not an easy task to be hired for anything relating to music. Learning music theory tips the scale in ones favor GREATLY. Guitar stores prefer to hire teachers that will be able to teach as many students as possible and keep the students coming. The likelihood of none of the pupils wanting to learn theory is slim. Often, it doesn't even come down to the type of students one receives. A certified guitar teacher, who took and passed a test that involved deep understanding of theory, will ALWAYS get a job before an unlicensed one. Studio musicians in decent studios are pretty much expected to be machines. They are handed scores and expected to be able to reproduce them flawlessly in both rhythm and style every time. The standards are rediculously high and to say "I don't know too much theory but I'm REALLY good, trust me" is simply not enough. Honestly though, most of the readers are not planning to dive head first into the professional musical world. Even so, one can't escape theory forever. One of the great joys of playing music is jamming with other people. What if someone were to take charge of the jam and say "blues in B," expect everyone to improvise over a simple chord progression? That's theory (duh). Nobody treads the road of guitar without coming across some theory, even the so called prodigies with superhuman abilities understand theory. What makes them so different is that they've taken theory and put it in their own terms. Some may have even built their own musical concepts (that may or may not already exist) from the ground up and therefore have a better understanding of them. My personal view is that knowing theory is valuable in ways beyond simply getting a decent job - its a way to become a "complete" musician. Especially in the case of the guitar and piano where the ability to harmonize with oneself and build chords, it is a crime to the instrument to refuse to aquire more knowledge when available. All it comes down to is patience and resourcefulness. There plenty of books, especially from the Berklee Press that can be of great help to those who have a good reason not to receive private lessons. Guitarism (made up word) is a mental practice as well as a physical one. Building chops and muscle memory is only half the battle. I guess I'm going to start a series of undetermined length called "My Mentality On: ____" This could be the only one (so it wouldn't actually be a series) or I could be writing on my death bed. Who knows? It's like writing improv. Feel free to contact me with ideas/feedback. I'll write about almost anything music related, within reason. My e-mail is notajock2day@yahoo.com. Stay Classy, Ben (NotAJock2Day)

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    thedarkblues06
    ShaDoW0lf wrote: DaveGilmour1189 wrote: Ever notice how some bands you dislike suddenly disappear? Most likely it's because they couldn't perform on the road or even in the studio (which made the label turn to hiring studio musicians), causing them to be dropped from their label. but a7x hasn't flopped yet. good article though The reason a7x hasn't flopped out yet is because Synyster.. and all of them, in fact, know their theory. Listen to any of their songs and its plain that they know WHY they do what they do, not just HOW. Meh, whats wrong with playing Jazz? Jazz kicks ass. Shreading kicks ass. Theory kicks ass. Guitar kicks ass.
    Hell yeah. I agree here. Theory rocks...but it's a long difficult road.
    soulflyV
    guitarshark2099 wrote: marcus00 wrote: Theory is boring, and doesn't help you to shred. Just learn enough to get by. Hahaha.... Good one. My teacher told me about a kid he was teaching once who said he didn't want to learn any theory, he wanted to do his own thing and be 'different' than anything that's ever been done. I can't believe people have this mindset when they go into learning an instrument. Mention this to any of your favorite 'shred' artists out there and they will laugh in your face. Why do you think guitar magazines are filled with guest lessons by Wylde, Hammett, Satrinani, etc...? You really think they "just shred"? Sure, there are exceptions out there like Buckethead, Hendrix, etc... But how many guitarists are there/have there every been and how many virtuoso players are there? well i mean you didnt start really hearing and seeing hendrix until 66, so he had probably a good 10+ years on the guitar. he had to learned some sorts of theories like scales. he never admits it but i highly doubt he just sat around and play notes that somehow sounded good.
    and i dont think he ever will
    JBurner
    Yeah I like how people cite Hendrix as a player who don't know is theory... it makes perfect sense, just as long as you don't look at or listen to his music. Another thing i'm enjoying is the hippie-ass theory vs. experession argument, or even theory vs. "the free spirit of rock n' roll!!(!)" argument... please, don't be a chode. For one thing, even the rediculously simple and expressionate is supported by theory, it doesn't mean complex or limiting, it means notes have distinct relations to each other. Even if you were to randomly pluck notes in no specific order, rhythm, or time signature, it still would be supported by theory of some sort. And if you play around with notes, not really knowing what your doing until you get something you think sounds good, the end result will still be supported by theory. It's just that that if you "know" theory, you know exactly how to get what you weant, using what, in the least time consuming and efficient way possible, ultimately in the context of improv. I thik the problem is, not just with guitar but really for any art form, is that people are ignorant and instead of being humble and learning it, they do the easy thing and wear their ignorance like a badge of honor. This is also how religion starts. Maybe I'm just getting a little outta line but that's what I think at this hour
    Hate Me
    Theory is a huge help in creating your own music. You may be able to emulate your favorite player by using tabs and playing out by ear but in the end you usually end up sounding exactly like that person. You can learn every Ozzy song ever and be able to play your ass off like Zakk or Randy but you will never understand how it works and so you just end up doing the exact same thing they do/did. I took music theory in high school and it helped me put everything in perspective and guided me to want I wanted to create. One thing about theory that most people get trapped in is following all the "rules" of music theory and never breaking out of the box. And yes you will end up learning some theory that you will never need but what is it going to hurt? I mean chances are I won't be using choral part writing that much but it didn't hurt me to learn it. (well almost didn't hurt ( )
    garypalys
    Seems to me you need to learn how to play before you can understand theory... maybe I'm wrong
    Hammer_On
    I Believe its best for a Noob to start with a [u]few[u] tabs then learn minor pentatonic, one position at a time, and major scale, one position at a time. And learn how to form barre chords. This is what i ended up doing and Its been Very Beneficial. Its good to get acquainted with the fretboard FIRST, then start learning theory over time. after learning some theory you can play in alternate tunings for proficiently. I taught myself everything about theory. its still and always will be ongoing but i've learned enough to play very well. If you want to teach yourself theory, then do this. First get a chart that will show where the notes are on the fretboard, provided your tuned standard, and the download the offline version of musictheory.net at http://www.musictheory.net/downloads.htm... this is been a lot of help. Ethan out
    the little guy
    umm... i'd have to say theory is a good tool... but nothing goes against the love for the instrument if u have a good ear... i know a guy who doesn't even know what notes the open strings are and he can sit down and jam all night with the best of 'em... i mean i kinda suck at listening and playing... but i suck at theory more... so i can just hit and miss stuff... but i can improvise solos over just about any blues or rock scale... and i know no theory... so i guess its really a matter of the type of person u are... the thing that really gets me though is if you know too much theory you might end up composing what sounds good on a theory level but lose the feel and passion of composing music from the heart... but there's guys out there that write cool shit without even knowing any theory... hint hint Slayer... like i said it depends apon ... or is it upon... anyways the person ==little guy out
    Kunundrum
    MyFuriousNipple wrote: "Theory is boring, and doesn't help you to shred." That's a complete contradiction.
    true. How will you shred if you don't have complete mastery of scales? You will just master the chromatic scale? Or you'll just copy someone else's song note per note? You do know that more often than not, shredders are improvising...
    GoldenTouch
    "Theory is boring, and doesn't help you to shred." This guy wasn't even serious, so stop ****ing arguing with him....please
    eli_yates
    i tell you what pisses me off... after a few years of playing guitar i finally figured out how to solo well enough in the pentatonics to "get by". well, then i found out that most guitar "gods" actually use like 3 scales per solo... my mind was blown and now i feel hopeless lol... one because it was pentatonic and two because that the only scale i know... lol... damn my limited knowledge of scales!
    eli_yates
    the little guy wrote: umm... i'd have to say theory is a good tool... but nothing goes against the love for the instrument if u have a good ear... i know a guy who doesn't even know what notes the open strings are and he can sit down and jam all night with the best of 'em... i mean i kinda suck at listening and playing... but i suck at theory more... so i can just hit and miss stuff... but i can improvise solos over just about any blues or rock scale... and i know no theory... so i guess its really a matter of the type of person u are... the thing that really gets me though is if you know too much theory you might end up composing what sounds good on a theory level but lose the feel and passion of composing music from the heart... but there's guys out there that write cool shit without even knowing any theory... hint hint Slayer... like i said it depends apon ... or is it upon... anyways the person ==little guy out
    i watched a video once where kerry king said the name of the scale the key of the scale and what kind of chord he was using... but maybe he was just reading a cue card?
    RevolverX
    I neglected theory until I had been playing for about a year and a half. I played the sax for years before playing guitar, so I had the basics anyway: keeping time, key signatures, etc. But I think everyone should learn some theory. Not knowing theory limits what you can do - and that sucks. The point of playing an instrument is to be the best you can be. If you don't know theory, good luck playing jazz or fusion. Even advanced metal relies on time signature changes that demand some knowledge of theory. I challenge you to play Greg Howe's "Dance" without knowing about time sigs. At the end of the day, theory isn't even that hard. Everything builds from very basic formulas, and there are tones of ways of approaching it. Personally, I subscribe to the Holdsworth school of visualizing entire scale shapes all over the neck, and forming chords out of that rather than playing static, cliched progressions. It's funny, because at the end of the day, everyone knows some theory. Long-haired kids in guitar stores noodling in E Harmonic Minor, whether they are aware of it or not, are recognizing intervals central to that scale.
    yngwierawks92
    i can relate to some of that stuff especially what you said about the jammin w/ friends lol. but yeah this is a cool article ya should keep them coming
    Mcassidy42
    One of my friends dosn't know anything about theory, and it's pretty hard to have a fun time jaamming because of that, I'll write a simple metal powerchord riff, and he go's off on some type of wanky blues style of playing, i'm personnaly glad I have a novice understanding of this, and hope to learn more.
    Blade1096
    Just thought I would share a personal story on this topic. I played guitar for 20yrs. Self taught, locked in my bedroom, several hours a day bangin away to Randy Rhoad, EVH,....etc. I wish now that at an earlier age someone would have turned me on to theory. 2 years ago I joined my first band after all those years of playing. My leads were very average in my opinion..as were my chordal progressions and my songwriting. Then a friend turned me on to theory. And oh man, did the light bulb come on inside my brain. I am now twice the musician, lead player and songwriter that I ever was. The point of this story is, yeah play by feel and emotion, thats great. I did it for years. But, I promise ya theory is very very valuable and IT WILL make you a better player in my opinion. My advice to all you young players out there is do yourself a favor. Look into theory. I'd much rather hear someone say "Wow man what did u just do?" than "hey man that sounded jus like Zakk Wylde". Just my 2 cents. Have a great day.
    niguitars.com
    rik231 wrote: This is my attitude to it all....why it works is a good tool to have, how it works/how you work it, is up to you. Do not get stuck inside the theory box, use it as a guide and a tool, dare to be different or you`ll end up playing jazz! lol
    WTF jazz breaks more rules than most rock and metal put together
    amorebelladonna
    rik231 wrote: This is my attitude to it all....why it works is a good tool to have, how it works/how you work it, is up to you. Do not get stuck inside the theory box, use it as a guide and a tool, dare to be different or you`ll end up playing jazz! lol
    Jazz is one of the most inventive genres ever, not to mention difficult, you NEED to know theory if you want to be successful in the music world, and although hendrix didnt have a lot of theory, if you analyze his riffs, and his songs, it becomes increasingly evident that he had some understandy of theory. Learning peoples songs are great, but whats even better is to learn the chords, learn the mood and melody, and then with the knowledge you have in theory, throw your own mix into it, and make them your own. Peace
    Wylde14
    DaveGilmour1189 wrote: Ever notice how some bands you dislike suddenly disappear? Most likely it's because they couldn't perform on the road or even in the studio (which made the label turn to hiring studio musicians), causing them to be dropped from their label. but a7x hasn't flopped yet. good article though
    ive never heard of that band (which may prove my point, or i just dont listen to whichever music that is)
    flamecas
    Theory is boring, and doesn't help you to shred. Just learn enough to get by.
    I know more music theory than you, and I'm 12. I bet I could kick your ass in a guitar duel.
    CapnKickass
    I'm planning to start taking lessons when i graduate and get a job I'll learn theory and how to play different styles, and make songs it will be sweet..
    metalhead987
    i like your thoughts on "how or why". it makes a lot of sense. i too started in band on a monotonal and moved onto bass and am slowly moving onto guitar. like you, adding theory came naturally to me and without question. to fully understand how to play and be a true musician, you need to learn theory. it may be the long way, but i pays off in the end.
    Firestrung
    Hmm, I think learning theory is definitly a good thing to do. However, a lot of people run into trouble when they let it dictate what they 'should' do in musical situations. I would say its a balancing act, learn from theory and let it inspire you, but know when to ignore it. It seems like most of the comments here are about shredding, and it's understandable to want to know about your modes and scales and different techniques, like tapping and sweeping. I think what I'm most 'against' is the standardizing of music. Using theory to compose by saying, 'Well, since I'm going I IV I V, then I should go i, V, I, IV, I for the chorus.' Other examples would be saying, 'standard 12 bar blues in E', which all makes sense when you're doing covers or playing background music, but to progress in my own music, sometimes I have to force myself away from thinking 'What makes the most sense', and trying to think 'What makes this sound good'. It's not always the same answer. Sometimes it is, though. I find theory, for my own personal use, is a good BUILDING tool. I look back on the skeleton of a song I started, and though I don't think about theory for the main parts, I find myself going back and then understanding what I did, and using my theory to build on those ideas, like adding new parts, instruments, etc. In my very humble opinion, theory is a good thing, but always keep the mindset that it is what it is. A THEORY of what music is, a THEORY of how music works. There will always be ideas that don't fit into what might be taught to you in books or by teachers, but its good to learn the rules before you start to break them. Keep rocking, everyone!
    The way to hate
    Shadoein wrote: sounds like ur one of those ppl that treats theory like its the be all and end all..... i personally think some ppl r more ****ing ceative/outgoing ..w/e and just have a feel for the instrument and can just pick it up and play by ear and ****ing rock hard with limited theory ... i think this has to do with whats happeening in your life what drugs ur on (if any ) etc so while ur sitting there in ur room with ur nose in the books ill be on stage kkthnx
    You're a complete tool. I "study" theory I guess you can call it, and if you went on stage with me, you could sit there and wank in the minor pentatonic box (90% likely that is all that you know, and you'd probably be off key)while i play through a library of scales and modes following the progession. You won't go anywhere EVER in music with your "ima rox starz!!!!" attitude. You child. Pwnt.
    rhcpfan27
    great article. i love applying theory to playing the guitar, it makes everything so much easier.
    d_lord1
    rik231 wrote: All top boys know there theory and many such as Kirk, zakk.....the list goes on are classicly trained, many rock guitarists agree classical is a bit poo!
    I had classical guitar lessons for a while and got to rade 2 but I didnt really learn any theory at all (which was one reason i stopped, also i hated the teacher) i just learned a few scales and pieces which I can't even remember now. I dont really know much theory at all and I am teaching myself (well, trying to) through all these lessons in magazines and on the internet. Does anyone know a good way for me to learn keys, scales, modes, just theory in general? (especially keys, i dont have a clue about them :s)
    The way to hate
    pos69sum wrote: Theory is boring, and doesn't help you to shred. Just learn enough to get by.
    lmfao. What a moron.
    k1ng_pooh
    i agree comletely, my other guitarist cannot jam because he is ignorant. well have something good going adn hell start strummer really ahrd randum strings and it pisses the hell out of me (guitarist) and our bassist
    killabob
    very true, it all makes sense. I need to learn more theory... i can play, and it sounds good a lot of the time, (to me anyway) but i need to know more really. anyway, great articles dude (Y)
    Gregoric
    I tried to learn guitar with no theory knowledge for about 2 years n it was fine when I was just playing tablature and stuff but as soon as I got into a little band and was expected to write stuff I was completely screwed lol. I mean I don't know alot of theory still (slowly trying to teach meself) but knowing where your notes are on your fretboard and knowing how to put scales ontop of chords etc. and knowing your scales or whatever does help alot. I think you can still be creative even with theory knowledge, and u can always bend the rules ever so slightly
    poona
    M...Agreed. Learning theory helps you understand what you're doing. You don't need to shred to be a good musician, but learning theory can help you aquire more understanding of what you're actually playing, and also gives you knowledge of musical devices you might not have used before, giving you more creative space. I myself tried to put off theory, but now I'm working my way through the ABRSM music theory books, its been a pretty enjoyable experience actually. That being said, you can't let theory take over your musical instinct, which is (in my opinion) the most important.
    poona
    Gregoric wrote: I tried to learn guitar with no theory knowledge for about 2 years n it was fine when I was just playing tablature and stuff but as soon as I got into a little band and was expected to write stuff I was completely screwed lol. I mean I don't know alot of theory still (slowly trying to teach meself) but knowing where your notes are on your fretboard and knowing how to put scales ontop of chords etc. and knowing your scales or whatever does help alot. I think you can still be creative even with theory knowledge, and u can always bend the rules ever so slightly
    The great thing about writing your own music is that you can make the rules, you don't need to follow what J.S Bach did or anything like that. I think when you make things 'fit' it takes away the creativity.
    SL!!!
    The way to hate wrote: Shadoein wrote: sounds like ur one of those ppl that treats theory like its the be all and end all..... i personally think some ppl r more ****ing ceative/outgoing ..w/e and just have a feel for the instrument and can just pick it up and play by ear and ****ing rock hard with limited theory ... i think this has to do with whats happeening in your life what drugs ur on (if any ) etc so while ur sitting there in ur room with ur nose in the books ill be on stage kkthnx You're a complete tool. I "study" theory I guess you can call it, and if you went on stage with me, you could sit there and wank in the minor pentatonic box (90% likely that is all that you know, and you'd probably be off key)while i play through a library of scales and modes following the progession. You won't go anywhere EVER in music with your "ima rox starz!!!!" attitude. You child. Pwnt.
    hahaha. truth.
    wik3dspid3r
    all this talk of virtuso players and not one mention of God him self Stevie ray vaughn or john fursciantte
    Notoriousdoc
    ValascoDaGama wrote: pos69sum wrote: Theory is boring, and doesn't help you to shred. Just learn enough to get by. Shredding is boring, and doesn't help you to Play. Just learn enough to get by
    Haha, brilliant! I end up getting really wound up when my guitar playing peers don't understand even the most basic theory, it makes everything so much harder.
    DownNdirtyRockG
    really cool article! ive been playing for a year and a half and have only just started to look at thoery and i must admit i find all a bit daunting right now but for me its essential that i get my head round so as i can take the next step. any help and advice would be cool guys, thanx.
    DownNdirtyRockG
    yeah coolo article! ive been playing now for 1 an a half years and have only just looked at theory and at the minute it all seems very daunting and damn complicated but i know its a must if im to move on to the next step. so long as i can get my head round it. any advice or help would be cool guys, thanx
    jus235
    You could know all the theroy a conductor knows but if you can't apply the knowledge by jamming with people, or writing licks and chord progressions. All that knowledge is a waste. Theroy helps But Apply it, by experimenting, to perform at your full potential.
    Guitar_Poet
    marcus00 wrote: But how many guitarists are there/have there every been and how many virtuoso players are there?
    LOTS. i discover more and more, the more i listen to certain players. for instance, my favorite band is Dream Theater.... a band full of virtuosos. then i looked into Liquid Tension Experiment (side project..)... tony levin.. steve vai... joe satriani... martone... eric johnson... victor wooten... john mclaughlin... virgil donati.. james robinson... al di meola... steve morse... pace de lucia... alex lifeson... neil peart... billy sheehan... [if you're unaware, these are not all guitarists]... hmm the list goes on.
    callum2903
    hey, yeh great article, i play trombone drums and guitar with drums its fine to get by without that much theory because its all about the feel u get form the song that decideds what u play, but im in a jazz band with the trombone and its is so annoying cause our bassest is great at what he does, but like most bassests he is self taught, so knows jack shit on keys and stuff so when it some to jamming since u cant corospong frets to trombone postitions that easily i it take ages to figure out what he has to play to play in key. same happens with my guitar in a band im in with that, but at least you can just shift position if it sounds rong, and make it sound like a slide, but still music theory is essential to being a good player, i dont think the " how" method really works past the extent of playing intermediate stuff, and certianly doesnt work if your in a badn,,, u will just polay covers after covers cause u have no idea how to write songs! thats my veiws on tihs topic, lol, feel free to rip em to shreds
    Quicksand15
    i think all these shred guitarists sound pretty much the same...they are technically great, but IMO they don't have an own style. their music has no soul, its just technic i think finding an own style (with theory or without it) is the most important thing in music...
    Papercliptro
    I'm always suggesting to people that they go into the theory class our high school offers for a short kind of introduction to theory. Since I did, I've gotten a lot better as a guitarist as well as a violinist but I still have much to learn. However, when I write, I don't always apply theory. It sometimes helps me to just put what I think sounds good even if it doesn't match the rules I've learned. Great article, though
    MadBudha
    Great article and good subject--though we differ I think theory can be over applied like any general rule. People who say anything is possible generally don't mean the possibility of impossibilities. That being said theory is useful communication method and to deny it and its influence on most of the music we listen to is a bit foolhardy. However I must say it is more foolish to follow theory as if it is some penal code and you'll get fined. I use both theory and a departure from theory. This way I know when I am bending and breaking rules and I believe this lends to my creativity. Straight theory with out some solid key changes is the most bland music to my ears.
    and1balla15
    Heres a fact about shredding. When you go and shred in front of a crowd, they would probably go like "YEAH! thats my boy!" but after 5 seconds of shredding, like at 200bpm, the song would get boring and the crowd would get bored quiet easily.