Transcribing Music Theory: Super Musician

Here are some tips and thoughts about why music theory and figuring things out by ear are important!

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Here are 3 important things in music theory to memorize... 1. All the notes of your instrument 2. All the Key Signatures 3. All the Chords and Chord Tones for each key Question: Why do this? Answer: To gain a more complete understanding of your instrument, and to know where you are at all times and to know why what you are playing may sound good and why it may sound not so good. Question: Is there an easier way? Can I get around not knowing any music theory and not knowing where any of the notes on my instrument are located Answer: I have found if you do not want to learn any music theory one can still play and in fact get quit good. Tons of great players have done it, and this is what I think ones options are if they want to get really good, but do not want to learn any music theory. No Music Theory Option 1: (I highly recommend doing this In addition to also understanding music theory) To simply transcribe tons and tons and tons of songs, solos, rhythm playing, song forms, etcso many that you can use the memory of those solos to dictate what you should play when you hear it in the context of a song. Your memory of all the songs and solos that you've learned and transcribed will trigger a muscle memory with your fingers and mind, and it will be like you are speaking with your instrument. Simply reacting to what you hear like you would if you were carrying on a conversation with someone. You will see all the patterns, and scales, and key signatures more as shapes that you equate to things that you've learned from solos, songs, and other musicians. You will have a working knowledge of the theory, but will not know why any of it works. You just know it does. This is actually a great way of learning, and this way combined with an understanding of music theory can dramatically improve your playing and improvising in a much quicker way than just theory alone, or just transcribing alone. Wtih theory you can take one thing that you transcribe and play it in other keys. Know how to change it around and play it over other chords. Basically multiplying everything that you already know. No Music Theory Option 2: (I do not recommend doing this) The slowest way of improving... Not transcribing solos and simply to use trial and error or "noodling" around, fishing for the right note, not having a clue why anything you play sounds good or bad. Getting Started: The Keys: The Sharp Keys: C MAJOR C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C G MAJOR G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G D MAJOR D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D A MAJOR A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A E MAJOR E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E B MAJOR B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B F# MAJOR F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, E#, F# C# MAJOR C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#, B#, C# The Flat Keys C MAJOR C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C F MAJOR F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F Bb MAJOR - Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb Eb MAJOR Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb Ab MAJOR Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab Db MAJOR Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db Gb MAJOR Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F, Gb Cb MAJOR Cb, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb To Start Memorizing the Chords and Chord Tones Just Use these simple rules: 1) Chords are built in 3rds - Root, 3rd, 5th. Start with your root, skip a note, then you've got your third, skip a note, then you've got your fifth. 2) If you do that in a major key you end up with this pattern, harmonizing over each note of the scale: (examples are in the Key of G major) I = MAJOR ex. GBD ii = minor ex. ACE iii = minor ex. BDF# IV = MAJOR ex. CEG V = MAJOR ex. DF#A vi = minor ex. EGB vii = diminished ex. F#AC Note: To memorize anything quickly, simply use NOTE CARDS, and make out a set for your Key Signatures, a set for your Chords per Key, and a set for your chord tones per key. Carry them around with you and when you are waiting in line or just don't have anything to do. Pull them out and start memorizing them. In a month or so you will see dramatic improvements.

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    turtlewax
    Very good article...but normally isn't "learning by ear" realy just gonna be noodling around trying to find the right notes your hearing at first anyway? Until you get realy good and can do it instantly I suppose.
    demoniacfashion
    It's been a long time since someone quit me good. The cards suggestion is good. That's how I learned all the notes on the staff. I also recommend taking up another string instrument or the piano so that your understanding of music isn't restricted to only what you can do on guitar. And about the argument between knowing your theory and not. We should treat guitar just as we do other instruments. There's lots of virtuoso pianists and violinists that don't know much theory but still kick ass because they were either subjected to lots of education on their instrument or they just had the natural talent. Now for the rest of us mere mortals, learning music theory is what makes us musicians and not just fools with instruments in our hands.
    jld8111
    AngusJr wrote: hmm..... music theory is **** XD do you think Eddie Van Halen read any music theory?? answer **** NO! he just practiced ALOT and fooled around with the guitar hours hours per day instead of fooling around outside! with enough practice you can get big.... Do you thing Angus Young read any music theory? no XD PRACTICE MY FRIENDS PRACTICE! if you practice enough then you will be aviable to just listen to a song and play IT!!!! JUST REMEMBER THAT PEOPLE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND EVEN MORE PRACTICE. Anyone can become a super guitar player JUST PRACTICE ENOUGH... MUSIC THEORY IS WASTE OF TIME! but! it's needed if you want to play classical etc If you want to write good music, knowledge of music theory is important.
    miss_janet
    vIsIbleNoIsE wrote: miss_janet wrote: You know, i think this article sucks. It gives very little actual music theory and merely lists off a few things with little (and misleading) explanation. First, there is way far more to chord construction than merely basing said construction on thirds. Basing your chord constructions simply on the 1-3-5 notes is rather rudimentary and very limiting musically; thus lacking in variety of chordal textures to ones muscial knowledge. Further, the article gives nothing on keys other than to merely list off some major scales, never discussing the relationship of a key to a scale. Finally, there are a veritable multitude of possible scales other than major scales- each with its own unique feel. One would do well to study up on music theory, in general, and as it relates to the guitar, specifically, while learning songs that are of interest to you, in addition to musical experimentation. This way you will become a better and more rounded musician. -janet "Getting Started:" - this article QED. besides, i think the main point of the article came before the bit of theory.
    Actually, the title of the article is "Transcribing Music Theory: Super Musician". That implies that the main point of the article has something to do with music theory- specifically: transcribing music theory, while relating a paucity of music theory transcription. Then the article starts "Here are 3 important things in music theory to memorize..." further mentioning the key phrase "music theory" and reinforcing the idea that the article relates knowledge of music theory, while in fact relating very little actual knowledge of music theory. The article also misleads the reader by stating "Chords are built in 3rds - Root, 3rd, 5th." In actuality, only some chords are built in 3rds. i still stand by my original comment, especially the conclusion where i state that "One would do well to study up on music theory... This way you will become a better and more rounded musician." i sincerely hope that this reply clarifies my position. -janet
    vIsIbleNoIsE
    miss_janet wrote: You know, i think this article sucks. It gives very little actual music theory and merely lists off a few things with little (and misleading) explanation. First, there is way far more to chord construction than merely basing said construction on thirds. Basing your chord constructions simply on the 1-3-5 notes is rather rudimentary and very limiting musically; thus lacking in variety of chordal textures to ones muscial knowledge. Further, the article gives nothing on keys other than to merely list off some major scales, never discussing the relationship of a key to a scale. Finally, there are a veritable multitude of possible scales other than major scales- each with its own unique feel. One would do well to study up on music theory, in general, and as it relates to the guitar, specifically, while learning songs that are of interest to you, in addition to musical experimentation. This way you will become a better and more rounded musician. -janet
    "Getting Started:" - this article QED. besides, i think the main point of the article came before the bit of theory.
    miss_janet
    You know, i think this article sucks. It gives very little actual music theory and merely lists off a few things with little (and misleading) explanation. First, there is way far more to chord construction than merely basing said construction on thirds. Basing your chord constructions simply on the 1-3-5 notes is rather rudimentary and very limiting musically; thus lacking in variety of chordal textures to ones muscial knowledge. Further, the article gives nothing on keys other than to merely list off some major scales, never discussing the relationship of a key to a scale. Finally, there are a veritable multitude of possible scales other than major scales- each with its own unique feel. One would do well to study up on music theory, in general, and as it relates to the guitar, specifically, while learning songs that are of interest to you, in addition to musical experimentation. This way you will become a better and more rounded musician. -janet
    srfames
    One of the oldest arguments comes up against guitar players who are either "For" theory or "Against" it. I own a rock school, and the majority of my students have a solid understanding in the basics of theory so that they are able to understand how to improvise, or create their own lead breaks and songs. I have some who only want to learn sweeping and shredding, that's cool, we don't push anyone to learn anything they don't want too! However, I have been playing guitar a long long time, and my experience shows that once you are trained in theory, let's say really comfortable counting complex time in as recorded music; it's amazing how fast you can learn new songs and play them close to the original. We do it every day, and I can see a huge difference in those trained in theory and practical (Both), and those who fall back from theory. Anyway, that's my experience teaching. So don't knock it until you try it! Jim
    whocares09
    This was not a good article in my opinion, you didnt mention how scales are formed, and how they relate to the Key signatures. You should have brought up an easier way of remembering which key signatures have which flats or sharps, by using the circle of fifths or the order of flats. You didnt mention how different chords are formed, like how a minor triad consists of a minor third, or how a diminished chord is formed. You should have also mentioned how the chords are found naturally in the key signature. Instead of just listing off the chords.
    rythymroach
    If I may add another comment, Let me say this to those who feel theory is a waste of time. you can learn to drive a car but if you do not know directions or how to tell the difference in north, south, east or west or understand how to read a map you will drive around and get lost unless you are close to home! same goes for guitar or any instrument, you may have acquired the ability to play one but if you do not take the time to understand the theory that is the driving force of music you will always be equally lost unless you are playing something you learned by tab, visuals or ear. guitar is an acquired talent no one is born a great guitarists, great guitar players are made, and the tools they use to become such is an extensive and very thorough understanding of what makes music work!! let me say here you do not have to read music or tab to get a grip on theory, you can find it anywhere if you seek it. Also let me say this don't ever expect to take lessons and learn theory quickly, because I believe strongly from experience that music stores will actually withhold theory teaching from you and instead show you a song or a lick to keep you happy because they realize if you knew the damn theory you would not need them in the first place!! So decide if you want to be a half ass guitarist, or a good one. it's all about choice, we all have the ability to grasp it, it's not so difficult to catch on to it and explode inside musically. along with lots of practice to get your fingers equipped with "finger memory" you will be a well rounded musician. and if you cannot or will not learn the c major scale all over the neck of your guitar from top to bottom you should take it outside and burn it because you don't deserve to hold it.
    rythymroach
    Great article, I teach guitar and piano and am constantly amazed at how many young guys want to jump into playing without preparing their minds with the theory of music. I have even performed in a band with a guy who was a ripping guitarist, but you were bound to play the songs he knew in the keys he was accustomed to playing them in. Unfortunately sometimes singers need things in keys they can sing well in and in situations like those he was completely and utterly defective and it was like teaching a three year old guitar. In my opinion there are guitarists and their are guitar players, there are guys who don't know a minor from a major or a mode from a scale yet they can burn through tablature at tempo and amaze you, yet they cannot tune their guitars without assistance from a tuner, they don't know anything about dominant's or mediants, they do not know the difference between consonant sound andf disonant sound, they think a circle of fifth's is liquor bottles behind a bar and so on. the other side of this is a guy who starts out with a c major scale and recognizes the fact that all music hinges off this scale, they then will understand that if you count to the fifth in that scale you get the next scale in music and walla it has one sharp in it, go five more styeps and add another sharp and so on, they learn that guitar and music is easily understandable and quite simple in it's entirety and go on to become well rounded guitarists or musicians who can change keys on demand, create new and interesting shapes and sounds and tap into that magical crossroads midnight method that turns you into a guitarist who can improvise on the spot and really show off their talent, but they understand from the beginning that it is a learned process not a lucky event!! if you can say your abc's up to the letter "G" then you are equipped with the ability to not only learn theory but to master it, so now ask why do so many skip it and just waste a lot of time winging it so to speak? I believe it's because we live in a generation where the ideals of instant gratification are instilled deep in our pysche and no one wants to have to work through something and learn it anymore. if you will please always remember this, " remember the little things because one day you will look back and realize they were the big things" all great musicians know there theory eddie van halen included one guys comments were untrue eddie and alex Van halen were both classically trained on Piano years before they ever touched their respective instruments and their Dad was a concert clarionietists as well those two had theory drilled into them from all corners and guess what it show's!!! Skip the first and most important steps in the process of learning how to play and I guarantee at some point you will have to return to those skipped steps or you will NEVER PROGRESS ANY FARTHER!! TAKE IT FROM SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN THERE I WASTED LOT'S OF YEARS TRYING THRE FINGER MEMORY RETENTION TRICKS AND THEY ARE USELESS WITHOUT THE THEORY!
    Caohla
    buttermilkxxx wrote: Hey that was a good article but i have a question. Im not quite sure i understand what transcribing the solos would do, and by transcibing you mean moving them to another key. Sorry but thats kind of a noob question but help would be appreciated.
    You're thinking about "transposing" a solo or melody. "Transcribing" a solo or melody is listening to it, and accurately writing down the actual notes (or tabs) and rythms being played.
    turtlewax
    a year probably won't even get you anyway near halfway there... but this article is definetly very informative
    SimplyStrings
    This is like ****ing shit theory. No ones gonna go anywhere with this piece of trash theory in mind. It's either you know the god-damn theory or not. And it makes you a hell of a lot better if you do. And you can't just learn theory from an article on the internet. It can't be done in a week. It takes about a year to get it well. And even then there's always more to learn.
    buttermilkxxx
    Hey that was a good article but i have a question. Im not quite sure i understand what transcribing the solos would do, and by transcibing you mean moving them to another key. Sorry but thats kind of a noob question but help would be appreciated.
    ACFCPatrick
    AngusJr wrote: hmm..... music theory is **** XD do you think Eddie Van Halen read any music theory?? answer **** NO! he just practiced ALOT and fooled around with the guitar hours hours per day instead of fooling around outside! with enough practice you can get big.... Do you thing Angus Young read any music theory? no XD PRACTICE MY FRIENDS PRACTICE! if you practice enough then you will be aviable to just listen to a song and play IT!!!! JUST REMEMBER THAT PEOPLE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND EVEN MORE PRACTICE. Anyone can become a super guitar player JUST PRACTICE ENOUGH... MUSIC THEORY IS WASTE OF TIME! but! it's needed if you want to play classical etc.
    it's rather ironic that you site eddie van halen. I don't know if you knew this or not, but EVH is classically trained and was before he became a rock guitar god. so saying that theory is a waste of time is not true at all.
    gizmodious
    I honestly believe that memorizing all the keys and chords come with time, but you have GOT to memorize the fretboard, bare minimum. ... I mean what are you going to do, start counting frets when you band mates ask you to hit a note? Please.
    Zaphod_Beeblebr
    Turtlewax: yes and no; while it can be a bit like that sometimes if you have a good understanding of theory you can use that knowledge to lead you to where the piece should go next then use your ears to find out if you're right or not. Also if you ahve a good understanding of scales and intervals you can sometimes identify the notes of a piece relative to each other without even needing an instrument to work with and from there on it's just a matter of finding the right key.
    Josh Geohagan
    Angus Young isn't even a good guitarist. He was just in a popular band. The same could apply to any rap or pop artist that doesn't know anything but still sells millions of records. Just because you are popular does not mean that you are musically gifted. Technical proficiency and musical knowledge are two completely different things. Someone may be able to play incredibly fast up and down the neck, but if they don't know theory, it's just pointless noise. The real guitar players knew theory.
    KidCanary
    Ierius wrote: Angus is not great, three or four chords per song? please, thats as far as you'll get if you know nothing. study theory!
    Yeah, becoming a multi-millionaire in one of the biggest bands ever is as far as you'll get if you know nothing.
    bpazolli
    Slash 602 wrote: I sort of disagree with this article. Because the guitar is laid out in a way where specific shapes of chords and scales can be moved around freely on the fretboard, I don't think that memorizing every note to every single scale and arpeggio is really necessary. As long as you UNDERSTAND how scales, chords, intervals etc. work and fit together (i.e. music theory), you should be able to learn anything by ear.
    I agree forget about learning all notes on the fretboard by name. Just remember scale patterns and chord construction. Trying to learn all the notes on the guitar is like trying to learn the guitar like it is a piano. The instruments are different and the biggest advantage of the guitar is it's ability to play in different keys with ease. Trying to memorize all the notes on the fretboard and then know the notes of each scale sought of defeats the point of the guitar.
    Ierius
    the difference between being a guitar player and a guitarist lies in how much do you know and understand and are able to use your instrument (music theory) Really big guitarists like steve morse, al dimeola, or really good ones like guthrie govan got that far because they studied long and hard to know everything they know. Angus is not great, three or four chords per song? please, thats as far as you'll get if you know nothing. study theory!
    Slash 602
    AngusJr wrote: hmm..... music theory is **** XD do you think Eddie Van Halen read any music theory?? answer **** NO! he just practiced ALOT and fooled around with the guitar hours hours per day instead of fooling around outside! with enough practice you can get big.... Do you thing Angus Young read any music theory? no XD PRACTICE MY FRIENDS PRACTICE! if you practice enough then you will be aviable to just listen to a song and play IT!!!! JUST REMEMBER THAT PEOPLE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND EVEN MORE PRACTICE. Anyone can become a super guitar player JUST PRACTICE ENOUGH... MUSIC THEORY IS WASTE OF TIME! but! it's needed if you want to play classical etc.
    I'm not even going to bother... I sort of disagree with this article. Because the guitar is laid out in a way where specific shapes of chords and scales can be moved around freely on the fretboard, I don't think that memorizing every note to every single scale and arpeggio is really necessary. As long as you UNDERSTAND how scales, chords, intervals etc. work and fit together (i.e. music theory), you should be able to learn anything by ear.
    crabhammer217
    You can tab a song perfectly without knowing much about music, but if you do know musical theory I can assure you u tab them much much faster. As to playing, you dont need any theory unless u want to improvise solos and stuff. There its ESSENTIAL.
    travs2448
    AngusJr wrote: hmm..... music theory is **** XD do you think Eddie Van Halen read any music theory?? answer **** NO! he just practiced ALOT and fooled around with the guitar hours hours per day instead of fooling around outside! with enough practice you can get big.... Do you thing Angus Young read any music theory? no XD PRACTICE MY FRIENDS PRACTICE! if you practice enough then you will be aviable to just listen to a song and play IT!!!! JUST REMEMBER THAT PEOPLE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND EVEN MORE PRACTICE. Anyone can become a super guitar player JUST PRACTICE ENOUGH... MUSIC THEORY IS WASTE OF TIME! but! it's needed if you want to play classical etc.
    Acctually Van halen and angus young used music theory. As a child he played piano and took classes in piano and music theory. Do some research before you make a stupid and arrogant post next. and practicing onvolved theory. Just practicing guitar alone isnt gonna make you the van hallen or angus young.
    -tempest-
    AngusJr wrote: hmm..... music theory is **** XD do you think Eddie Van Halen read any music theory?? answer **** NO! he just practiced ALOT and fooled around with the guitar hours hours per day instead of fooling around outside! with enough practice you can get big.... Do you thing Angus Young read any music theory? no XD PRACTICE MY FRIENDS PRACTICE! if you practice enough then you will be aviable to just listen to a song and play IT!!!! JUST REMEMBER THAT PEOPLE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND EVEN MORE PRACTICE. Anyone can become a super guitar player JUST PRACTICE ENOUGH... MUSIC THEORY IS WASTE OF TIME! but! it's needed if you want to play classical etc.
    i disagree slightly. although i know very little musical theory(almost none) i can confidently say to you that with practice all day in correlation with knowing theory you would get much better faster. that my opinion though
    AngusJr
    hmm..... music theory is **** XD do you think Eddie Van Halen read any music theory?? answer **** NO! he just practiced ALOT and fooled around with the guitar hours hours per day instead of fooling around outside! with enough practice you can get big.... Do you thing Angus Young read any music theory? no XD PRACTICE MY FRIENDS PRACTICE! if you practice enough then you will be aviable to just listen to a song and play IT!!!! JUST REMEMBER THAT PEOPLE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND EVEN MORE PRACTICE. Anyone can become a super guitar player JUST PRACTICE ENOUGH... MUSIC THEORY IS WASTE OF TIME! but! it's needed if you want to play classical etc.
    Aneoclassicguy
    Ok nice article. When you mean remember the chords in each key mean for example C- Cmaj, Dm, Em .. .... or C- Cmaj7, Csus4, C.....
    Colohue
    I disagree with your three rules. The notes of the fretboard are essential yes, but once you know theory key and chord composition become a much easier method than learning them individually while also being more theoretically worthwhile.
    Philly080
    I really need to learn all the notes of the guitar on each string because really all I know are the notes in open position. Thanks for opening my eyes on that
    LnyBrd
    Nice post. I am a "noodler" and can tell you that you are spot on. Option two is definately not the best way to learn.
    Clabbe
    I'm gonna put those 3 "rules" as my new god untill i can pinpoint any chord and note in a sec if someone just asks "take a C# note on the G string".
    EdguyRule_22
    I think that everyone knows music theory is what makes a guitarist. People who can't figure it out go one way, and people that can go another. Music theory IS important to me, but if you don't know anything about theory and can still play shows that entertain and are having fun - then what's the harm. To each his own.