Music Theory for Guitar Players

Last Updated On:
January 15, 2022
Music Theory for Guitar Players
Music Theory for Guitar Players

6 Second Summary

To understand beginner (and even intermediate) music theory, all you need to understand is the major scale; do, re, mi, fa, so , la to, do. That’s it!

With that musical Swiss army knife, you can “pick the lock” of music theory and understand how the most commonly used chords work, how improvisation works, and unearth all sorts of other scales and concepts.

In the future, more lessons will be made to expand on that conjecture, but for an introduction on how that works, feel free to read the article below!


Learning and applying musical theory can be extremely intimidating, especially for beginner guitarists.

Music theory comprises of hundreds of complex topics, making it hard to identify the areas that are most essential and will have the biggest impact on your playing.

But what if I told you I was able to learn all the fundamentals of music theory from the comfort of my home in just a few months?

Well, I did. And best of all, so can you.

In this article I am going to shine a light on some of the foundations of music theory and why they’re important.

Finally, I am also going to share some information about some online tools that helped me and countless other players like me wrap our heads around music theory.

How I Learned The Basics Of Guitar Theory From Home In Just A Few Months

Hi, I’m Reggie.

Reggie with guitar

I’m a 62 year-old retired foreman.

Ever since I was 12 I’ve wanted to learn to play the guitar.

And while I got pretty good in my college days, it wasn’t long before the old axe started gathering dust out in the garage while I focused on my career and family.

Ever since I left college, I just never had the time to sit down and dedicate myself to the guitar.

But that all changed once I retired.

All of a sudden I had all the time in the world, and it didn’t take long for me to dig out my old 6-string from the garage and start practicing.

I even took lessons from a local teacher, but that didn’t quite work out.

Soon after, however, I discovered the wonders of learning guitar online.

There was just one problem:

I wanted to do more than simply learn how to play a handful of the earworms from my generation.

Now that I had the time, I wanted to learn the guitar properly, and that meant learning theory.

And, while regular search engines are a great source of all kinds of information, they are far from the best place for a beginner guitarist to try and explore music theory.

While I found a handful of useful websites, videos, and blog posts, finding this kind of quality information took a lot of time.

But regardless, I managed to wrap my head around some of the fundamental topics of music theory including scales, intervals, chord theory, and even some of the basics of improvising and soloing.

Below I’ll shed some light on what I know on each of these areas.

Then, make sure to read on to find the exact places I went to to learn all of this in just a few months.

The Wide World Of Music Theory

As I mentioned earlier, the world of music theory is massive.

Hence, attempting to cover everything about this topic in a single article is virtually impossible.

Nonetheless, I’ve done my best to summarize some of the most important aspects of music theory for beginner guitarists below:

  • The Musical Alphabet

The musical alphabet is a term that refers to the 12 names given to the notes used in Western music.

The alphabet consists of 7 natural notes and 5 sharps or flats, which are identified with a # or b symbol, respectively.

The 7 natural notes used in Western music are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. These are the white notes on a piano and usually the first notes you’ll learn to identify.

These natural tones are followed by 5 sharp/flat notes. These are the black keys on a piano and fall between some of the natural tones.

The terms sharp/flat are used to identify whether a note lies above or below a natural tone.

F#, for example, refers to the note directly above F natural, while Eb refers to the note directly below E, for example.

These 12 notes make up the entire musical alphabet. The order of the notes is always the same and simply repeats itself up and down the neck of a guitar or length of a keyboard.

Understanding the musical alphabet is essential for understanding the foundations of musical theory.

By knowing the notes that make up all Western music it becomes easier to understand how songs are constructed and how various styles of music (like Blues or Jazz, for example) get their distinct sounds.

Memorizing these notes and their relationship to one another is also important for understanding scales and the construction of chords, melodies, and more.

  • Intervals, Scales, and Musical Keys

The spaces between notes are referred to as intervals.

More specifically, intervals actually refer to the difference in pitch between notes, but thinking of them as spaces is enough for most beginners.

Understanding these intervals is crucial for understanding scale theory and the general idea behind musical keys.

Even if you’ve never been exposed to music theory, you’ve likely heard about the idea that pieces of music are played in keys.

These keys refer to a set of notes that essentially make up a song, also known as a scale.

Scales are made up of 7 different notes that work well together based on the specific intervals that lie between them.

For example, the key of C Major contains the following notes:

C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.

Each of these notes can be given a number, or degree, starting on C (the 1st degree of the scale) and ending on B (the 7th degree of the scale).

Intervals can be counted past the 7th up to the 13th and can be differentiated by their “quality.”

The intervals between the notes in the key of C give the key a specific sound.

Many musicians would describe this sound as “happy,” seeing as major scales have a distinctly happy kind of sound.

You’ll eventually learn more about the unique sound of keys as you move beyond basic note and interval theory and begin to explore different scales.

By understanding intervals, scales, and musical keys, you’ll eventually be able to grasp the basics behind Western music and begin to understand the foundations of different genres (from pop right through to modal jazz).

Understanding these concepts is also really important for understanding how pieces of music are composed and opens up a lot of doors when it comes to understanding song structure.

  • Chord Theory and Progressions

Understanding chord theory is arguably one of the most fundamental aspects of music theory for guitarists.

By learning to play some basic chords and understanding how they’re constructed, you can quickly start learning a variety of songs and even experiment with writing your own original tunes.

Chords are made up of groups of notes. In fact, all it takes to build a basic chord is 3 notes.

These notes are taken from a specific scale or key. To explain this, let’s look at the C Major scale as an example.

As we mentioned above, the notes in C Major are:

C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.

To identify the chords within this key, all you need to do is identify the root, 3rd, and 5th note for each degree of the scale.

Here’s how this works:

Starting on the root note (C), count up three notes. This brings you to E,

Then count up 5 notes from C (to G) and you’ve found the 3 notes that make up the first chord of the scale: C, E, and G

You can repeat this process for each note in the scale to identify the rest of the chords in the key.

For example, D minor (the second chord of the scale) is made up of D, F (the 3rd), and A (the 5th).

Unfortunately, chord theory is much more complex than that. However, by wrapping your head around it early you’ll be able to better understand how songs are constructed and identify simple patterns that make up some of your favorite tunes.

  • Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm

Melody, harmony, and rhythm are the core components of any piece of music. A clever interplay of melody, harmony, and rhythm is essentially what makes music so interesting to our ears.

To better understand the differences between each of these terms, it helps to define them.

Melody is basically the result of playing notes of different pitches. The way these notes are played create different melodies which, most of the time, are singable or recognizable.

Harmony, on the other hand, refers to the relationship between 2 instruments playing a melody together. In a piece of music, you may hear 2 different instruments harmonizing by playing 2 similar melodies.

Finally, rhythm usually refers to the beat or “pulse” in a piece of music. This is essentially what you clap, click, or dance to.

As your skills as a guitarist improve you’ll become more aware of how melody, harmony, and rhythm affect your playing

For example, you may learn classical guitar pieces with a strong harmony between 2 lead guitars. Alternatively, you might learn rock riffs with a strong, recognizable, and memorable melody.

Finally, you’ll also learn new playing styles that use certain rhythmic techniques to add extra flavour to your playing.

  • Improvisation and Soloing

Many beginner guitarists are fascinated by the idea of improvising an epic solo.

Unfortunately, improvising and soloing usually requires at least a solid understanding of music theory, and is therefore something most players learn later on.

Improvising is a fascinating skill that allows you to explore new musical ideas and concepts on the spot. For many musicians, this can be very inspiring and rewarding.

Learning to improvise involves a sound understanding of most of the aspects of music theory we mentioned above, including everything from basic concepts like scales and keys, to more complex topics like harmony and rhythm.

Hence, it’s not hard to see that improvising and soloing are two techniques that usually come up a bit later in your journey as a guitarist.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have years of experience to get to this level.

In fact, I’ve managed to develop a pretty solid set of guitar skills that allows me to explore some of the basics of soloing and improvisation in just a few months.

Best of all, you can do the same.

Take Your Knowledge Of Music Theory To The Next Level

At the beginning of this post I bragged that I’d learned basic guitar theory in just a few months.

And while this post hopefully helped introduce you to some of the different areas of music theory, it is far from conclusive.

As I mentioned earlier, music theory is an extremely vast concept with thousands of sub-topics, each of which has been the subject of countless books, DVDs, and blog posts like this one.

So, where can you go to develop your theory knowledge like I did?

I recommended checking out Jeff Scheetz’s Street Theory for Guitarists course on True Fire as well as Music Theory: Square One, a 10-week intensive workshop by David Wallimann on JamPlay.

Here’s how these 2 courses helped me build a strong foundation of music knowledge:

Professional Lessons From Professional Musicians

Both Jeff Scheetz and David Wallimann are really talented and experienced musicians with a passion for teaching.

By taking on their courses I essentially got personal, in-depth lessons from both of them right in the comfort of my home.

At the same time I had the freedom to tackle the material in times when I felt motivated as well as take my time to move through each lesson at my own pace.

All of the material in both courses was also neatly presented in an easy-to-follow format that made sense, even to an older fella like me!

For example, David Walliman’s Music Theory: Square One on JamPlay is designed as a 10 week introduction to the foundations of music theory:

In these 10 lessons you’ll cover basic concepts like major and minor, integral intervals, and chords, as well as more complex topics like keys and modes.

Jeff Scheetz’s course takes a similar approach but is arguably much more in-depth, combining 45 video lessons, multiple jam tracks, charts, diagrams, and more.

In his course, Jeff covers everything from the basics of the musical alphabet and the major scale to chord inversions, harmony, soloing, and much more.

If you’re looking to get the most out of both courses, I suggest starting with David Walliman’s workshop at JamPlay for a solid introduction to the world of music theory before diving in deeper with Jeff Scheetz’s course.

Nonetheless, both programs are extremely beneficial, especially for beginner guitarists like you and I looking to wrap our heads around music theory.

To find out more about each course, make sure to check out the JamPlay and True Fire websites.

Remember that you can get a free trial of JamPlay for a limited time by clicking the yellow button below.

So, what are you waiting for?

It’s time to learn some theory.

Click Here To Get StartedStart Learning For FREE

For technical details on the major scale, visit our friends at Killer Guitar Rigs.