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5 Reasons Why Guitarists Should Learn Music Theory

“It’s a waste of time.”

“You don’t need that.”

I’m sure you’ve encountered those comments about music theory somewhere along the way through your guitar learning process. Well, I’m here to prove these sayings wrong.

Let’s go!

What Is Music Theory?

Music theory is the practices and possibilities of music, as defined by Wikipedia

There are many analogies for music theory; my favorite one is grammar. Music is the language, and music theory is grammar. Grammars are rules as to how words should be placed together. 

Music theory, however, is a set of guidelines instead of rules. You can also think of them as rules, albeit rules that you are free to break. Now that I think about it, some grammar stuff isn’t strictly followed either (slangs).

Anyway, you don’t “need” music theory to play an instrument nor to enjoy music. Some might even argue that learning it will remove the magic (it seriously won’t). However, it is highly ENCOURAGED to learn music theory. 

Saying “trust me” is definitely not enough, so I curated this list to encourage you further.  

5 Reasons Why You Should Learn Music Theory

1. A Whole New World

A new fantastic point of view. Yes, just like the song in Aladdin. Music theory is like the key to opening this unique universe you’re gonna love. The music you love? You’ll come to appreciate them wholeheartedly. You’ll understand what the writer’s or composer’s message is a lot better.

After you’ve learned all there is to know about the guitar (without music theory), you might hit a boundary. That’s the limit, that’s the door. You can only reach so far without it. However, if you choose to open the door, you can further progress your music journey. Wherein the limit is your imagination.

The best example is the chord progressions. The ones you know “pre-theory” are probably something simple. Once you learn the theory behind it, there’ll be numerous possibilities you can explore.

Furthermore, with music theory, you can learn any new instrument faster!

2. Knowledge Is Power

This is especially true if you plan to be in a band. Imagine if you don’t have any understanding of how music works. Then someone says, “Let’s make the modulation more energetic.” Will you be able to respond correctly?

In a way, this will improve your communication skills among our fellow musicians. 

Anyway, with it, you’ll understand why specific notes are arranged together, when a sharp or flat makes sense, etc. Basically, you’ll be more mindful of the music you’re playing.

I am assuming that you know a lot of songs by now. The question is, can you quickly remember and play them? I’m guessing it’s hard (unless, of course, you have a photographic memory). 

Anyway, understanding how music works will update your music retention. You’ll recognize the piece quicker with just a few common chord progressions as the hint. 

Unfortunately, remembering isn’t the same for everyone. On that note, music theory still helps with the storing and retrieval of “music memory” in our brain.

3. Read, Write, and Play Accurately

Consider this comparison of tablature and standard notation.

Tablature is definitely easier to understand, especially for beginners. Sheet music, however, is kind of intimidating as there are more symbols.

Guess what? Sheet music is actually more accurate than a piece of tablature. A tab doesn’t specify how long a note should be played, what the dynamics should be, nor what the other musicians should be playing.

Furthermore, to correctly play a song based on their tab, you’d have to listen to the song first. While with the knowledge of music theory and sheet music, you might not even need to. Because it’s all there, the key, rhythm, progressions, dynamics, etc.

It can also drive you to be more creative. Your transcribing skills will significantly level up! The most remarkable part? You can master songs a lot faster.

4. Learn Independently

Before anything else, it’s okay to rely on others. This is an entirely different matter. Now, as a beginner, you sometimes have to look up how a chord should be played, right? (By the way, there’s nothing wrong with that, especially as a beginner.)

What I mean is dependent on memorization. The usual way is to memorize chords, riffs, progressions, etc. Well, if you know the behind the scenes, you won’t need to “memorize.” Good news, eh?

Let’s make a scenario. Let’s say that you don’t know how to play “Fmaj7b5.” What do you do? Well, ask Google, am I right? (Then again, this is totally okay.) If you know music theory, you’ll recognize how to play it right away. Yes, even without searching it up.

5. Think Fast!

These reasons aren’t just centered on the music world. It can even improve your personal skills, such as critical thinking and time management.

A lot is going on when playing music, especially with sheet music. The melody and harmony that needs to be played together, what frets and strings to press, the loudness of your playing, and the next stanza to play. Perhaps, while even singing. These are all happening continually and quickly.

So after you learned to sight-read, you might not know it, but it probably improved your critical thinking skills.

Over to You

There are more reasons or benefits when learning music theory. These five, however, are the ones that had the most impact on me. And I thought sharing it with you will be worthwhile.

You should look at music theory as a suggestion. It’s not precisely a set of rules that you should follow. I mean, to an extent, but you should also explore, it’s full of possibilities, remember? 

By now, you probably know how to play guitar (or any musical instrument), don’t you?

Let’s go back to grammar. When you learned how to speak, you surely didn’t start with the grammar. It all starts with sounds, words, phrases, sentences, and so on. Grammar comes late. 

Same with music theory. It’s BETTER if you already know how to play the guitar even if it’s just the basics. If you start learning music theory without prior knowledge in playing, it just won’t make sense.

Now, I hate to break it to you but learning music theory isn’t quick. It’s progressive. It takes time and commitment. But with all the benefits afterward? I’d say it’s worth the hard work.

Finally, there’s NO one right answer when it comes to music. It isn’t science nor math; it’s an art. It depends on you (the artist) on how you want to convey your message.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether you should study music theory or not. Although, I do hope that I was able to encourage you to learn music theory. 

Happy playing!


About the Author: Hannah Rivers, owner of Strum Avenue, is a guitarist and content writer with the goal of helping others find their melody. She believes that music is a universal language that can express our thoughts better than ordinary words.

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