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Introduction to Music Theory

Why learn music theory? It’s not that you need to in order to create great music. On the contrary: knowing the rules too well might lead to an unwillingness to break them. Not that you can’t create nice music that is theoretically correct. But music that takes risks and breaks rules is so much more interesting! Lennon/McCartney didn’t know music theory, and they did pretty well. Why wouldn’t one want to follow their example?

But quite likely, you did not come here to read arguments against learning music theory. You came here to learn something about music theory. Personally, I think that that’s a great idea. You will have the tools to understand how music works, and you will also learn a language that you can use to communicate with other musicians.

Just be aware that I in no way claim to provide the ultimate, be-all-end-all reference guide to everything musical and theoretical. This music theory course is a companion piece to the guitar school. It was written by a guitar player for other guitar players. That is not to say that guitar players have different theories about music. The basics are the same for everyone. But I have done my very best to cull this material of everything that is not strictly relevant to guitar playing, unless it’s for completeness’ or contrast’s sake.

My final point concerns musical notation. Should you learn it or not? Once again: it is quite possible to have an extremely rewarding musical career without ever learning to read one note of music. If you have the possibility to record yourself, you don’t need to write it down to remember it. One could even argue that if you don’t remember an idea, it’s because it wasn’t worth remembering in the first place.

On the other hand, if you decide that you wish to learn about music theory, and study the subject hard, it is almost inevitable that you pick up at least the basics of notation along the way. I’m going to come down in favor of musical notation, if nothing else then for the fact that my music theory articles would not make very much sense without it. I wouldn’t recommend learning proper sight reading unless you really want to. But you can get a lot of help from musical notation, since it is way better than tablature as a memory aid.