21 September 2009

Music Theory Every Guitarist Should Know

Music theory can be intimidating for beginner guitarists, and even for some of us more experienced players. The good news is that a lot of music can be understood with only a few essential items of musical knowledge. Here's a list of seven essentials you should learn.

1. Chromatic Scale
The chromatic scale is the foundation of all the other music theory, so you really must know it. It's the alphabet that you use to spell all the rest.

2. Intervals and Frets
Intervals are the foundation behind all the scales, chords and melodies you will play on the guitar. Knowing the relations between frets, notes and intervals will help you to really get to know the guitar neck.

3. The Major Scale
Knowing the major scale formula is the key to unlocking many musical mysteries. The pattern of whole and half steps is not hard to remember, commit it to memory:

Whole step - whole step - half step - whole step - whole step - whole step - half step

4. Major and Minor Chords
All chords share the same basic note formula, the one, three and five notes. Major chords have a major third, minor chords have a flatted third - one half step, or one fret smaller than the major chord.

5. Major Key Chord Formula
The major key chord formula tells you the quality of each chord - major, minor or diminished - in a major key. Commit this formula to memory and along with the major scale you'll be able to find the chords for songs in any key.

I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii-dim

6. Minor Key Chord Formula
I haven't included the minor scales in this list because they are a little more complex than the major scale and I don't find them essential for all guitar players. But the minor key chord formula is useful for finding the chords of minor songs.

i - ii - bIII - iv(IV) - v(V) - bVI - vi - bVII - vii

7. Chord Progressions
A chord progression is simply a series of chords. Many songs use the same progressions, so if you memorize progressions learning to play more songs becomes easier.

The most commonly used chord progressions are based on the I-IV-V, ii-V-I, and I-vi-IV-V-I chords. When you've mastered these move on to study the cycle of fourths and cycle of fifths.

There you have my list of music theory you should know if you want to play guitar. You'll be able to take your playing a long way with a firm grasp of the listed concepts.

What about you, do you think there's an essential item of music theory I have forgotten in this list? Use the comments below to tell us about the music theory that's helped you gain a better understanding of how to play guitar.


Learn acoustic guitar with 153 step by step video lessons, acoustic jam tracks, ear training and music reading software. From beginner through to advanced player with Jamorama Acoustic complete learning system.

If you enjoyed this post sign-up for more free guitar tips from Not Playing Guitar delivered by email or to your RSS reader.

Photo by pfly.


Sarge said...

This is a really good list Gary..I can appreciate the time you put into it.

Ed in St Pete, FL said...

Hello Gary... had to resubmit to correct my spelling from the last comment.. lol... your lesson was well laid out and concise and to the point that will lead and take a player to a new level. I learned those basics from the start a few decades ago as well as I also learned all of the diatonic chord scales as tetrachords as well as triads and played them as 7th's, then as 9ths, etc.. into the 2nd register.. this kept me busy for a long journey of learning the eternal process...

Gary Fletcher said...

Hi Ed, thanks for your suggestions. Those are some good ideas to explore once you've got the basics down.

Subscribe in a reader

Not Playing Guitar

All content copyright (c) 2007-2018, Gary Fletcher. All rights reserved.