Learning music theory is a topic that has divided musicians for many years. Many players swear by the rules and regulations that theory provides them while others prefer to use their ears and play ‘from the soul’.
At PMT, we believe that there is a perfect middle-ground that will teach you how to become a better guitarist (or pianist, saxophonist, cellist.. and so on!)
Why Learn Music Theory?
Music theory is a fantastic roadmap for players to use to give them guidance and help in many areas of playing. Theory can, on the surface, appear intimidating and like a big vast sea of information.
But, if you can break it down into useful segments, theory can be much easier to learn.
In this blog we’re going to talk about 5 key benefits to learning music theory and what it can do to help you as a musician.
How Long Does it Take to Learn Music Theory?
Every musician is constantly learning and developing new ideas, and studying music theory is very much a never-ending endeavour. By learning the essentials of music theory you will be able to gather more complex knowledge over time, improve your ear training, and explain to your friends exactly why seventh chords sound so good!
Nowadays there are a plethora of resources available for musicians to develop their skills, with guitar lessons, tablature, and sheet music all available on the internet. The best way to learn music theory is very much a personal preference, so explore all of the resources available to you to find what works best!
Whether you use books to learn music theory or learn music theory online, the knowledge you gain from theory can be applied across all instruments and develop your skills as a musician. If you play guitar for example, incorporating guitar theory into your practice sessions will allow you to flourish into a better musician overall, not just show you how to be a better guitarist.
Before we get started, it’s important to remember that theory concepts can be interpreted differently by different players. While the overall “rule” it tells you is the same, the way you approach visualising this rule can differ from other players. This is totally normal, and as long as you end up with the correct result, the path you choose doesn’t matter too much.
Why is Music Theory Important?
If you’re still unsure about why you should learn music theory, keep reading to find out how it can help you.
Here are the top 5 benefits of learning music theory:
1 – It Can Help You Write Chord Progressions
You can use music theory as a compositional tool.
If you learn how a major scale works, and then what chords are associated with each note from the scale, you instantly get a list of 7 chords that all fit into a specific key which will all work together.
The same is true by using a minor scale.
This is a great use for theory because if you’ve just started writing songs, or you want to start writing songs, it can give you an instant starting point. Once you have a starting point with the rules as they are, you can bend those rules to create something unique.
2 - It Helps You Figure Out What Notes You Can Play Over Specific Chord Progressions
Once you’ve written a chord progression or learnt a chord progression that you want to play over, theory can serve as a useful map of what scales and notes will sit over what group of chords.
As a general rule, if you write a progression that comes from a major key, you’d predominantly be looking to stick to scales in that key that are major-leaning. The same is true for minor chords - but this time with minor scales.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but this is a great way to start imagining it.
Scales can be moved all around the fretboard to easily fit the key you’re playing them in.
Check out this video for more:
3 – It Helps You Learn Songs Faster
By understanding how chord progressions work and how key works, you can speed up the process of learning songs.
If you know what key a song is in, you can almost guarantee that the chords that fit into that song will have been drawn from a theory rule that matches that key. There may be a chord that sits “outside” the expectation but knowing what the expectation is allows you to figure out when something is intentionally outside that.
Just by knowing the rule, you can essentially “guess” the chord progression of the song, except you aren’t guessing blind. You’re guessing within the theory boundaries of what is expected of that key.
It also helps work out what key to play lead guitar in and what scales you can play over the track.
4 – It Helps You Work Out Other Theory Concepts
Theory concepts can all feed into other theory concepts.
If you know that a major scale has 7 notes - all numbered as intervals, 1 through 7 - then you can build chords and other scales.
Knowing that a major chord is made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th note of a major scale means you can figure out major chords anywhere on the guitar. Knowing the only difference between a major and a minor chord is flattening the 3rd note by a semitone means you now can work out all your minor chords.
See where this is going?
5 – It Helps You Communicate With Other Musicians
Musicians have their own language, especially if you aim to work as a professional musician.
Having a basic understanding of things like intervals, chord progressions, key and other basic theory concepts allow you to always be ready and always be able to think on your feet when you are thrown into a situation as a musician.
Having a simple understanding of theory really could save your gig!
If you still need some help with playing Barre Chord shapes, go Back to our full lesson and get comfortable playing them. If you're feeling comfortable with these new shapes and want to carry on learning about music theory, hit Next to find out all about the CAGED system.
About The Author:
This lesson on music theory was written by Leigh Fuge who is a professional guitar player and teacher. Leigh works with MusicTeacher.com and their network of professional music tutors to deliver high quality lessons to students all around the world, both online and face-to-face. This includes online music theory lessons, suitable for students of all learning abilities - including complete beginners.