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Theory? When, if, how?


(@minotaur)
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Joined: 14 years ago
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When I was taking lessons we started getting into chords and scales, you know, I-VII and the whole Maj/m, whole step/half step, playing the I IV V progression. My teacher would write out the chords in a scale, out of order. I had to determine the scale and the number (I-VII) of the chord. I usually always got them right, except for once or twice having a "d'oh!" moment. I created a colored chart in Excel of the scales and the chords, and their positions. Off the top of my head I can't remember it all but it comes back to me when I review the chart.

Since I am going it alone for the time being, with learning from sheets and books, and concentrating on changing and forming chords, strumming patterns and timing in specific songs I am working on, when is it advisable, necessary, helpful to get into theory?

If I should get into theory, is it possible to go it alone from books and videos, or is it advisable to take a course, let's say at a community college for music theory? I'm not ready mentally or financially to go back to weekly lessons.

Whatcha think?

It is difficult to answer when one does not understand the question.


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(@blueline)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 1705
 

I'll qualify this by saying I have read and continue to use Noteboat's book. I've not studied/learned theory as well as I'd like. I'm no expert and know enough to be dangerous. That said-- I'd say start as soon as you can. What could it hurt? In fact, I beleive it could only help. (Based on everything I've read and what is sure to follow) If you've already laid down the foundation, why not begin to build upon it? It can only make you a better musician.

Teamwork- A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.


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(@minotaur)
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Joined: 14 years ago
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Thanks. My only concern was that I might confuse myself with things I may not use, or have any relevance right now. Or that could be a non-issue. There's probably no harm in reviewing over and over. I could break out my charts, and do a little reading in my Guitar for Dummies and Rock Guitar for Dummies.

It is difficult to answer when one does not understand the question.


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(@davidhodge)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 4485
 

Just by playing the guitar you're learning theory. The thing is that you may not know exactly what you know. This sort of thing not only varies from teacher to teacher but also from student to student. Without any practical reason to practice it, theory often remains mysterious to beginners.

Based on what you say you're concentrating on, I'd personally advice not worry too much about theory. But try to make notes of some things - which chords seem to get played in certain keys, for instance. Or what notes you're adding to chords to change them (D to D7, for instance). Just keeping the obvious things in mind will make theory more of a snap when you get 'round to "formally" looking at it.

And, again not to blow our own horn, but you can get a lot of practical theory from many of the lessons here. Not only on the "Theory" lesson page, but most of the song lessons include bits of theory sneakily designed to be understandable without you being aware you're learning theory. That is, if you read the text of the lesson and just don't skip ahead to the MP3 files and tablature.

Peace


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(@joehempel)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 2418
 

One thing that I noticed, as I'm just starting to get into a bit of theory myself after 10 months of playing is that once you learn a basic thing like with scales or chord creation is that it pretty much can be applied anywhere you go on the guitar.

One thing I did recently was start to write down each note for all the major and minor chords from memory, and do that at least three times a week, that way it will help me learn why chords are constructed the way they are, and why things work when they do.

I've also learned that theory is much more fun when you actually understand what's happening and how it all works

I still don't really know jack about theory, but I hope that this helped a bit. :D

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


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(@minotaur)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 1092
Topic starter  

Based on what you say you're concentrating on, I'd personally advice not worry too much about theory. But try to make notes of some things - which chords seem to get played in certain keys, for instance. Or what notes you're adding to chords to change them (D to D7, for instance). Just keeping the obvious things in mind will make theory more of a snap when you get 'round to "formally" looking at it.

Great. I like the way you think!

Seriously, I need to pay attention to what and why.
And, again not to blow our own horn, but you can get a lot of practical theory from many of the lessons here. Not only on the "Theory" lesson page, but most of the song lessons include bits of theory sneakily designed to be understandable without you being aware you're learning theory. That is, if you read the text of the lesson and just don't skip ahead to the MP3 files and tablature.

Peace

Yes, I have to spend more time reading the lessons and articles here. They're great. I've already picked up a bunch of tips and techniques. The Heart Of Gold lesson got me playing it (well, as much as I can say I can play it :P ).

It is difficult to answer when one does not understand the question.


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(@minotaur)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 1092
Topic starter  

One thing that I noticed, as I'm just starting to get into a bit of theory myself after 10 months of playing is that once you learn a basic thing like with scales or chord creation is that it pretty much can be applied anywhere you go on the guitar.

One thing I did recently was start to write down each note for all the major and minor chords from memory, and do that at least three times a week, that way it will help me learn why chords are constructed the way they are, and why things work when they do.

I've also learned that theory is much more fun when you actually understand what's happening and how it all works

I still don't really know jack about theory, but I hope that this helped a bit. :D

Yes that does help, and I know exactly what you mean. Thanks. :)

It is difficult to answer when one does not understand the question.


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(@kaspen)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 57
 

Learn as much as you can about theory! Every aspect of it. I've yet to learn something that makes me a worse musician. You won't be able to apply it for a long time, because it takes a few years for it to be second nature. The brain needs to process it forever until it gets out to your fingers, but once it's there you will see yourself as a painter who just got 10 new colors to use. Sure, you can make wonderful drawings in black and white, but wouldn't you want the option to use more if you wanted to?

Just my 2 cents.


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(@rcsnydley1)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 59
 

To me there is nothing better than understanding what I am doing and why I am doing it. With that said let me tell you about a couple of guitar friends of mine. Friend #1 studied music theory in college, but not on guitar. He claims that he has never applied it to the guitar. However, the fact of the matter is he applies it all the time with out even knowing it and it makes him a much better guitar player, more versatile. Friend #2 is like the guitar players I've heard David talk about, the ones who think theory is for other musicians, but for guitar players, if you learn it it makes you a wimp. He is actually a very good guitar player technique wise, but does not know his way around the fretboard. So, if you ask him what he is playing he can't tell you or if you tell him to play this, this, this and that he can't do it if you don't show him.

Then there is me, I have taken the time to start to learn theory and the fretboard better. What has this done for me? I can now play stuff that I didn't know existed before. I can take a lead, albeit meager, when asked. I am back writing songs again, ones that aren't the same thing over and over again. In a word I am EXCITED about the guitar again.

So, for me, it all boils down to; knowing theory can always help. As you study through it you will come across things repeatedly and eventually they take root and you realize one day that you have learned a smathering of theory and it didn't even hurt. Learn all you can, if you continue to take it in it will stick and eventually will all fall into place.

Ric

"I've got blisters on my fingers." - Ringo Starr


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 Cat
(@cat)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 1225
 

Just by playing the guitar you're learning theory.

Hey...wish I hadda said that!

Don't look for any sort of structure to what you want to feel as you play. Sure, put in your practice regimen...but take a break every now and then. Hit just ONE simple chord...LISTEN to the inherent intervals...pick one of 'em...then chase after it. It's tough for me to describe it any bettern' that. You might end up with just ONE following chord that feels right. So what?! Another will follow...a chord cycle will materialise out of nowhere...with associated cycles teeming up like recombinant DNA pieces.
Just by playing the guitar you're learning theory.

That pretty much sums it up...

Cat

"Feel what you play...play what you feel!"


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(@chris-c)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3460
 

I'd put it this way:

Theory makes a great servant but a bad master.

If you drudge your way through theory because you think you must, and end up feeling that it's telling you how to play, then I'd see that as the 'bad master' angle.

But if you get interested in it and take it steady, when it feels right, then it can be a fascinating journey and a very useful tool indeed. Pretty much what Rcsnydley#1 said, I guess... :D

Want a practical example?

I'm hacking away playing G, Em, C, D7, G and not raising any kind of sweat, when someone says "Hey, I can't sing it in that key, can we do it in D instead?".
Key? So it was in a key, eh?? Transpose? You mean NOW!? A couple of years ago I'd have been stuck ..... But now with added extra ingredient THEORY X.... :D

G, Em, C, D7, G
= I, vi, IV, V7, I

So- ta da....

D, Bm, G, A7, D

It can be done in your head quicker than it took to type that out. Of course, given the quality of my head, and my typing, I don't make any guarantees about its accuracy, but I soon find out if it's wrong once I start playing... I get yelled at...


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(@combs)
Eminent Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 30
 

Recently I was watching a doco on the Simply Red lead. Can't remember his name. He was showing the presenter one of his songs and didn't have a clue what one of the chords was. He just used his ears to work out what was good. This would annoy me and I find that I tend to look something up if I am unsure. That way I gradually build up knowledge, but it is only that knowledge which is relevent to me and will tend to stick.

Sometimes something will tweak my interest on Guitar Noise so I will chase it down (thanks guys). I also listen to David's podcasts and get led into some avenues of interest from that. There is another British site which is very good and has some good You Tube lessons. I have a look at some of those as well. Basically just getting a feel.

This assumes that you have some basic understanding to start with, which it sounds like you have. You know what a scale is and how a major chord is formed etc.

Recently I was learning Peaceful Easy Feeling and I wanted a bit of an intro. The verse starts D, G, so I wanted something around those shapes to make life easy. So I slid the D up the neck until it sounded right, then down until it sounded right again, ensuring I was only hitting GB & E, then into the D proper. I was doing that for weeks when I watched a You Tube on triads. I had heard of them before, but hadn't taken much interest. So I learnt that what I was actually doing was playing two triads leading to the G. Surprise surprise the first of these turned out to be the G triad. No wonder it sounded right. The second is A# triad, which isn't in the G scale and it isn't the 5th of the 5th, but it sounds cool.

I have added some triads into other songs now where there are great swathes of the same chord. The triads sound different, but the same.

Anyway, my thoughts are if you are just playing for fun, learn for interest. Don't make a major task out of it or it could detract from your actual playing time, which is probably more important.


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(@joehempel)
Noble Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 2418
 

Chris C, I don't know why, but you putting the transposing the key of G to D and putting the numbers under it just made my day! I actually understand how to transpose into a different key now from those two little lines. It just made much more sense than the pages and pages of explanation on other sites that I've seen.

Thanks!

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


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