What Is Guitar Theory?

A Guitar Player Using Guitar Theory

Guitar theory is really music theory, as it applies to the guitar. In many ways, the guitar theory that you learn here will be applicable to other instruments as well. Regardless of the instrument you play however, a basic understanding of music theory is incredibly important.

Now some people will immediately point out that they’re quite capable of playing by ear, and have never read a note of music in their life.

Fair point, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Personally, I don’t encourage most guitar players to even bother learning to read musical notation, because I don’t think you average guitar player is ever going to have a need for that skill. I know plenty of people who have played for years in bands and yet never once learned to read music.

In the same vein, I’m NOT advocating filling your mind with a ton of crazy Latin terms. You simply do not need those terms to become a great guitar player. Period.

So if you’re not talking about reading music, what do you mean by guitar theory?

Good question, I’m glad you asked!

By guitar theory, I’m referring to understanding the principles that make the things we play work on the guitar.

For instance, these are the types of questions that could be answered with some basic guitar music theory:

  • Why do G, C, D, Em, Am, and Bm chords all belong in the key of G?
  • How can I quickly figure out what chords are in, say the key of A?
  • Why are G, B and D the notes in the G major chord?

Of course with these questions, we’re just scratching the surface of what you can do with guitar theory, but I hope you see where I’m going with this.

Guitar theory is like understanding the mechanics of making music on your guitar. It gives you rules and reasons why certain notes work well together, and once you understand guitar theory, you’ll also understand how you can put those notes together in ways that are pleasing to the ear.

Will Guitar Theory Help Me Play The Blues?

Guitar music theory will help you, no matter what genre of playing you enjoy most. Music theory gives you the tools you need to take your playing as far as you want, in any direction.

Once you learn how to drive a car, there’s no limit on where you take it, right? You know how to drive, so you can go to New York, or Los Angeles – it’s the same difference.

The same holds true with guitar theory. Once you know how things work on your guitar, you can apply that to blues, to country, to classical, to jazz, to gospel or even heavy metal! It really doesn’t matter which direction you decide to take it!

In fact, it is precisely for this reason that I believe every guitar player needs to have a basic understanding of the music theory that makes their instrument work. Without a working knowledge of guitar theory, you simply don’t know what you’re missing out on…

Will Guitar Music Theory Make Me a Guitar God?

Nope – only hard work and a TON of practice will do that.

HOWEVER, I believe that learning guitar music theory is unique, in the sense that it can have a real multiplying effect on your guitar playing. What do I mean by that?

Well, with guitar theory, your fingers aren’t really learning anything, right? They already have a certain level of skill (presumably), and learning a bit of theory isn’t going to change how fast your fingers move.

That said, there’s the old adage that ‘knowledge is power’ and in this case, if you increase your knowledge of guitar chord theory, you’ll be far better equipped to tell your fingers what to play.

I can recall specific instances when I grasped a bit of guitar theory in a new way, and all of a sudden, my playing improved – NOT because I suddenly took some magic pill, but simply because I now understood WHAT to make my fingers play in a new and more creative way.

So in that sense, learning guitar theory can accelerate your ability on the guitar like nothing else can, in so short a time. However, please be aware that like anything in life, to truly excel at something, you’re going to need to dedicate a lot of time and effort. Guitar theory will help, perhaps more than any other single thing you can learn, but neither I nor anyone else can give you that silver bullet to make you a world class guitar player overnight.

So Let’s Learn Some Guitar Theory Already!

Great – I’m glad you asked!

I’ve prepared a short course that will begin to teach you some of the basics of guitar theory, and you can sign up to get started simply by entering your name and email in the form below. For starters, I’ll send you a cheat sheet that you can print off. This handy sheet has all of the chords in the five most common keys you’ll use on the guitar.

Remember, just enter your name and email in the form just above, and you can get started learning guitar theory today.