To many guitar students Music theory is not high on their list of priorities when it comes to learning guitar. In fact it would be safe to say that most guitarists have a limited knowledge of music theory. Guitar students on the whole are different to most other music students. Most guitarists take up guitar due to a passion for guitar music. I am not saying that piano players and say violinists are not passionate but the truth is most take up these instruments as young children often inspired by parents wanting to expose their children to the educational benefits of learning music which of course is a great reason. But because lets say popular guitarists tend to start of their own accord often around the same age they start identifying with their favourite music idols they are less focused on the educational aspects of music and more the performance side of the equation. Typically they just want to play in a band as soon as possible. Many guitar heroes in fact either have a very limited knowledge of theory (Jimi Hendrix was certainly no professor of musicology) but as we know this does not limit their creative or even technical potential.
So with all this in mind why bother learning music theory? Good question really. Most of us speak perfectly good English yet have very little knowledge of English grammar. Here is what I think. Music theory facilitates your understanding of music. Theory can help you to compensate for other areas you may be weak in such as aural which is common amongst late starters. When I started learning music at age 14 years I was relatively late. Music is like a language and languages are best learned from birth. In fact there is now scientific data that shows how the brain actually filters out sounds based on your environment. Children who live in Japan for example only here 5 sounds in their language. In English it is 8 sounds. This explains why Japanese people speaking English have trouble distinguishing between the sounds V and B. Ask them to say “I love you” and they will say “I lub you”.
In music hearing the different scale or chord sounds may be difficult but a knowledge of theory can help believe it or not. Here is how. When I was a teen I had friends who had been learning music since as young a 2 years. They could easily pick the difference between the different chords. I could not. My ears were just not trained. So I studied music theory and after about 12 months I came to understand the possibilities. I started working out how to play songs from ear through a process of elimination. I knew for example that if a certain scale sounded okay with the song there were only so many chords that would fit the song. By trying different chords I established the best matches. It was my theoretical knowledge that allowed me to do so.
The book I started with many years ago is the same one I still recommend to this day. Its callBrimhall’s 3 in 1 theory. To order a copy just visit G4 GUITAR SHOPPING and use the Amazon SEARCH.
David Hart – Program Director
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