Why is music theory such a pain for so many guitarists? It comes down to this same root problem time and again. Unfortunately, most will continue to learn this way and struggle. But here's why this approach is overwhelmingly ineffective and the much easier way I've discovered instead for guitarists to learn music theory.
Interviewer: "When you sit down with Paul to write a song, how do you do it?"
John Lennon: "We do two things one after the other. First we sit down, then we write a song."
Why is music theory such a pain for so many guitarists?
Maybe you've experienced this.
You're excited about learning the guitar. You feel like you'll finally be able to express the musical ideas that have been floating around in your head. And you've been told music theory is the key. It's what's most important.
Only... Every time you do pick up that book on theory... You almost immediately put it down again. It's too complex, too boring, and too abstract to actually be useful for anything. And so your understanding of theory suffers. You never really grasp all the deeper inner workings of the guitar, like you know you should.
And it holds back your creativity in many ways: figuring out songs, composing songs, creating riffs, writing licks and solos, improvising, and so on.
Am I way off base or has this been your experience with learning theory?
And you know what?
That's mostly how it was for me as well. It wasn't easy. But I did eventually get a better grasp of it than most people manage to.
And what I in fact discovered was... The reason it's so difficult comes down to the same root problem time and again... ineffective methods.
The way most guitarists learn theory is in bits and pieces. Gluing together ideas they learn from books, videos, and other players... all in their own unique way.
But the problem arises when these guitarists then try to TEACH what they've learned (mostly intuitively) to other players.
Most guitar players are NOT teachers. They assume knowing how to learn a difficult subject means the reverse is true. Nothing could be further from the truth. They may understand guitar, but they are far from knowing how to teach it. The 80% failure rate speaks volumes. (source: John Sizemore, founder of GuitarZonline and 20 year veteran player)
So what's the solution?
It turns out, there's actually a much more effective approach to learning music theory than we've been led to believe by the books and DVDs out there.
Let me explain...
Picture this for a second: Imagine you are at a social event, like a party or a house gathering of some sort.
You know only one person, the host. Her name is Sally. Everyone else is a complete stranger.
What would you do if you get bored and want to make new friends?
Well, the easiest thing would be to start with the people you know: The host.
So you spot Sally talking to some friends, and you walk up and pat her on the shoulder.
"Hey gorgeous," you smile, "Great party. When's Tom heading over?"
"I'm so glad you made it! The big guy is running late, but says he's driving over this afternoon. Are you having fun?," she says.
"Oh don't worry about me, I'm enjoying the food," you reassure her.
"Don't be silly. I'll introduce you to Joanne."
She then introduces you warmly to the friend she's been talking to. The two of you immediately hit it off and talk for the next hour. When Tom arrives, you grab some beers and invite them both over to the backyard where its more quiet. And continue getting to know each other better.
At the end of the gathering, you exchange numbers with Joanne, and discuss a possible restaurant you'd love to take her to next week. It's the beginning of a wonderful new relationship.
QUESTION: Would you stop there?
Would you never call her up to say hello?
Would you never make the restaurant date happen?
Would you go out and meet 100 new people the next day?
Ridiculous as that sounds... That's actually how most people approach music theory.
They don't develop a deep "relationship" with each piece of theory they study.
They think that just being "introduced" to the idea in a book means they know it. That intellectual understanding is what counts.
They don't bother to "call them up" and even "take them out on dates."
And by not pursuing an ONGOING relationship with each piece of theory they learn, they never truly learn anything. It's stays theory. And never becomes a useful part of their guitar playing arsenal.
The fact is, music theory is not something you need to understand intellectually. It's more of something you need to INTUITIVELY grasp. Just like language, studying the rules isn't enough. You need a deeper understanding that reaches into your very subconscious. At that level, you OWN it and can use it as you please. To write hit songs, create killer riffs, or even "speak" with your guitar by improvising. You can be damn sure Jimi Hendrix was not figuring out theory in his head every time he got on stage. It was automatic and intuitive.
Do you think you can really achieve that just by reading something a few times? By understanding something intellectually? Or by running up and down a scale all day till your ears hurt?
This is why I recommend you take a different approach. One where you first develop the intuitive, practical understanding of music theory. And start with "the host," the knowledge you already know.
THEN and only then, do you branch out and gain the intellectual understanding of it slowly over time. Using books, videos, or whatever means you prefer.
The result? Any theory you learn actually STICKS. And becomes useful. So you can enjoy the benefits of that "relationship" for life, for improvising, writing songs, crafting licks, or anything else you wish to do with the guitar.
Most people do this back-asswards (intellectual understanding first), or give up before ever understanding theory at all.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Anything related to guitar can be learned much more effectively if the correct approach is used from the beginning. Theory is just another case of this.
I hope this will help you begin moving in the right direction.
About the Author:
For more online mentoring and other must-have lessons on learning the guitar, visit www.nobsguitar.com, the best-kept secret of self-taught guitarists from over 117 different countries. Today, it has become one of the premier sources of accurate information, useful knowledge, and uplifting inspiration for scores of self-taught guitarists. Johnny's lessons have appeared on top guitar websites such as Ultimate-Guitar, GuitarNoise, and many others. He has just released a new book titled: "The No B.S. Guitar Advantage: Secret Strategies Most Guitarists Will Never Tell You About to Go From Beginner to Head-turning Guitar Player Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible."