A little bit of musical theory never did any one any harm!

People studying theory, their heads didn’t implode, their eyes didn’t pop out, they weren’t bored into a permanently catatonic state. As far as I’m aware no students have ever been harmed in the process of studying musical theory.

In fact, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, it even does most musicians a reasonable amount of good to study a wee bit of the old theory – shock horror!

English: Music theory circle of fifths diagram
Music theory circle of fifths diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it’s boooooring! Why do I have to do it? I’m getting by ok!

Sure, you can get by kind of ok without really making an active effort to study or learn about the rudiments of musical form. But there comes a point where this approach is really quite limiting. You’ve spent goodness knows how much on guitar lessons (and each your teacher really should be going through some theory and concepts with you), but without that theory element you’re kind of – no, not kind of, you are – limiting the ultimate use of that learning.

It’s like growing a plant without fertiliser. Yeah sure it grows, reasonably tallish, a few branches, kind of green looking. Pop some poo on it though, or other fertiliser of some sort and watch that sucker grow! Whoosh! Super tall, strong, healthy, vibrant green , thick lush foliage.

So just ticking along is like your plant growing in regular soil. You making an active attempt at learning and applying some theory stuff is the supercharged form of guitarist!

It’s not a hard or as tedious as you think…

Look. I should know about this. I hated it, the study of theory, as a whipper snapper (and not so whipper snapper….). It seemed as dry as a dog biscuit, and as useful as a chocolate teapot. I was of the opinion that I was going just fine without needing to write out the various key signatures in an exercise book.

To be honest, I was a little scared of it (partly driven by my numerical dyslexia) and studied it begrudgingly. However, once I’d tapped the surface I actually found it wasn’t as perplexing as I’d thought it was. There are lots of patterns and once you’ve learnt one it, it was actually relatively straightforward to build that up into the next level of learning.

And you know me dear reader, I tend not to believe in doing things purely for the sake of just doing something. It’s got to have a meaning, a purpose. Well, let me tell you. Once I embraced the idea of studying with my full attention and intentioned becoming a better musician (important distinction here from just guitarist) it really benefitted my playing – learning pieces became a lot easier and faster, as did learning and playing them from memory, as did sight-reading.

The better one understands something, the easier it is to work with, and then gives you even greater licence to get creative and bend the rules!

And studying theory doesn’t mean sitting down an hour a night and plodding through a textbook from 1956. Bloody hell, how boring is that? So not enticing! I wouldn’t do that either, or wish it on my worst enemy!

Just applying the consistency thing here helps a lot. Can you plug five minutes of “study” onto the start or end of your practice? Or even in the middle for a wee physical break in your practice? Ask your teacher for some pointers on where you could start relative to your current level of knowledge.

Before you know it, the language of music will become a second language to you, it will become second nature.

So which one are you? Are you boosting your guitar playing, learning and musicality sufficiently with the fertiliser of theory? Hmmmm?!


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