The value of music theory

bigstockphoto_Guitar_Player_3125946I know when I was a teen learning guitar was simply about learning songs. I recall my motivation for lessons was just about finding someone who could workout some songs I really wanted to learn. I had little to zero interest in learning scales, reading or music theory. I found such topics laborious and even irrelevant but then came a turning point at around 17 years of age. I was a relative late comer to music (starting at 14yo) so in contrast to many of my musical colleagues who began music lessons at age 5yo and 6yo my aural skills were weak. Unfortunately the later in life you begin learning music the harder it will be to master the aural skills. Much like language. Young brains absorb new languages at an astounding pace as any parent knows and music is really just a language. Young music students almost always have an advantage over late starters especially when it comes to aural ability.

Using theory to fill in the gaps

While I did not really understand this advantage as a teen (at the time I just thought they were more naturally gifted) I recognised my ear was not as reliable as I would have hoped. This was the early 80’s by the way and there was no Internet and guitar tab was rare. We mostly had to rely on our teachers writing out songs and of course our own ears. I realised (thanks to my teacher) that music theory actually compensated for my poor aural skills. Music is made up mostly of predictable patterns. Understanding the theory behind those patterns made it easier to work out songs. I could literally predict the next chord or pattern. My ear may have been weak but my understanding of musical theory soon filled in the gaps. I now understood the value of music theory.

Balancing skills and songs

Aural is just one of several guitar skills you need of course but the above is just an example of the importance of skill development opposed to simply learning songs. Songs for the most part will come and go. Go ahead and learn your favourite songs because that is what its all about but always be mindful of the skills and try to balance your practice time evenly between skills and songs. When you have the skills learning new songs should become easier. If you have difficulty learning a new song try to assess why and isolate the skills you perhaps need to work on.

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