Music Theory for the Guitarist
Why music theory is important
Music theory is an important part of the foundation for any musician for several reasons. First, it deepens our ability to understand the structure of music. Let’s pretend you have to give a speech in a foreign language. Wouldn’t it be important to understand the meaning of the words? It would be impossible to give the speech without having a thorough understanding of the meaning and structure of the speech and the words.
Music theory, like language, enables us to understand the structure and meaning behind a musical composition. Secondly, music theory allows us to speak with other musicians in a common language. It serves as a short-hand for referring to important points in the music.
Music theory is helpful for every kind of student and guitar player. When a guitar instructor is teaching students to study music theory is not to simply torture them with the information but rather a deep understanding of music theory makes a musician more literate. It makes a musician who can not only speak the language of music but read and write it as well.
Learning music theory can boost music performance. There are two things that performers must constantly work at: reading music and memorizing music. A deep understanding of music theory makes both tasks infinitely easier.
Reading music has a lot in common with reading words. When we first learn to read words, we must sound out each individual letter before we can form the entire word. Then, over a period of time, we begin to recognize the entire word with a glance. Later on, we can recognize a group of words in one single thought. This is what allows us to become fluent readers.
In music, groups of notes form chords, and groups of chords form phrases. Music theory is what allows us to recognize these chords and phrases and become fluent readers. If you are good at reading music, you are probably also good at music theory.
Many young musicians rely heavily on motor memory (tactile memory). This is the most unreliable form of musical memory. If you have ever seen someone miss a note and completely freeze on stage, this is a result of motor memory. The fingers only know where to go based on where they’ve been and one mistake can completely derail the performance. Harmonic memory allows us to store large selections of music and thousands of notes in our memory under just a few common chord progressions.
It is impossible to understand the structure of a piece of music without a solid music theory background. If you are a beginner guitar player and are looking to take lessons, find an instructor who teaches music theory. Without it, understand what you are doing and how you are reading music is going to be impossible.