Why music theory for guitarists is different than other instruments

By Janus Buch

In my day to day work as a full time guitar teacher I’m often contacted by people who wanna learn music theory, because they think it will make them better guitarists. While it is true that learning some theory will help you get better at guitar, how you go about it is very important as there are some key differences in learning theory as a guitarist versus other instrumentalists. This article aims to give you an insight to why this is the case and how you should approach this subject to help you play guitar better.

The specific challenges on the guitar versus other instruments

One of the hardest aspects of the guitar is finding your way around the fretboard. Simple knowing where all the A notes are by heart is something that will take the average guitarist weeks if not months to get down. On the other hand, knowing where all the A notes are on a piano will take the average 6-year-old thirty seconds to a minute, once he or she has been explained how the key on the piano looks. The reason for this is the visual layout of piano with its different shaped and coloured keys. The guitar unfortunately does not have this luxury. Add to this the fact that the EXACT same note can occur up to 6 dfferent places on a 24 fret guitar and you start to realise why you need to approach theory on guitar in a different way, than on a piano for example. Let me write that again. One key on the piano, can be played in 6 different places on the guitar. The complexity of the guitar fretboard means that we have a lot to think about already and we have to be smarter about what we are adding on top of that in order for our mind not to get lost.

Shorten the distance from mind too making music

If we wanna learn music theory in order to become a better guitarist, we have to do it in a way that does not fill up our minds with stuff that makes playing guitar more complicated. A great example of this is people who have some experience playing piano before taking on the guitar. These people tend to go though the piano in their mind, before applying things to the guitar making the road from their mind to the guitar even longer. So if they have to figure the notes in a specific key or what the third of a certain chord is, in their mind they will go to the piano and count the keys and try to find the notes on the guitar. This approach will never work in a real live musical situation, as this simple takes to long time. There are lots of such examples and your key takaway here is this: Whenever you encounter a musical concept or some theory ask yourself the following; is this way of approaching this the shortest way from my mind to the guitar. If you do not do this all the time, it will be very hard for you to actually be able to use whatever concepts you do learn.

About the author: Janus is a professional guitar teacher as well as the fourer of the number one guitarschool in Denmark; Bredballe Guitarskole. Here he is offering Guitarundervisning i Vejle for Voksne to adults whether they are beginners, intermediate or even advanced guitar players. He gives clinics as well as offering regular free seminars. So if you are serious about mastering the guitar and you are willing to do your part, together we can make your guitar playing dreams a reality.

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