Lessons in Music Theory for Guitar (and everyone else)
Music “theory” is concerned with how music works. We can think of it as the language of music, containing an alphabet, spelling rules and grammar.
It starts with the little black dots and what they all mean.
Then music theory explores how the notes relate to each other. These are the rules, tendencies, and patterns that create music.
Music theory helps us learn and memorize pieces easier, and can help us make expressive musical and phrasing choices.
Music theory is universal, and is not specific to any one instrument. So the same concepts that work with guitar also work with piano, violin or tuba.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Music theory is a language. It starts with a few core ideas, and builds on them (to infinity!).
As such, don’t expect to get everything in one sitting. Instead, allow this to be an ongoing study that deepens over time.
At first, all this may seem like a lot. It is! It’s common to experience a bit of overwhelm.
Narrow your focus to just one or two lessons, then move to the next when you feel comfortable. You have all the time in the world.
Only progress as quickly as you can stay interested, curious, and enthusiastic.
You don’t have to understand just yet how all this pertains to guitar. Just absorb the concepts as a separate study, and in short time you will notice and recognize certain elements on the guitar.
If you are new to music notation, you may enjoy the full course, How to Read Music for Guitar.
Getting Started with Music Theory
In the lessons below, the piano keyboard is sometimes used for visual reference. It’s okay if you’re not familiar: you’ll pick it up quickly.
This page can act a resource to come back to later. You may like to bookmark this page, so that it’s handy when you need it. You can also click the yellow “add to favorites” button at the top of this page.
Choose below to learn basic music theory, or to test yourself on your music knowledge.
For the best understanding, go in order, and complete each lesson. If you like, you can use the fretboard quizzes at anytime. You need not wait to start on them.
Music Theory Basics
- The Staff, Clefs, and Ledger Lines
- Notes on the Staff (Quiz)
- Note Duration (notation)
- Rest Duration (notation)
- Ties and Dots
- Steps and Accidentals
- Measures and Time Signatures
Rhythm and Meter
These lessons use the piano for demonstration purposes. Just remember that a “half step” equals one fret on the guitar. A “whole step” equals two frets on the guitar.
- Generic Intervals
- Specific Intervals
- Identifying Intervals on the Staff (Basic Quiz)
- Identifying Intervals on the Staff (Advanced Quiz)
Scales and Key Signatures
Guitar Fretboard Quizzes
- Identifying Note Names on the Fretboard Quiz (frets 1-5)
- Identifying Note Names on the Fretboard Quiz (frets 1-12)
- Identifying Intervals on the Guitar Quiz
(–Special thanks to www.musictheory.net for their generous help with these lessons! You can find more lessons there.)
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