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Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups

Theory for dummies

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by thumbpick, Dec 2, 2012.

  1. thumbpick

    thumbpick Tele-Afflicted

    Nov 22, 2012
    Ive got a few miles on me, have a decent ear, know hundreds of tunes,various styles, can pick a few solos apart, even come up with my own stuff but, the better I get and the more I play, the more I feel like I really dont know a dam thing musically. If I can play anything great,or arrange something Im happy with, its usually because of hunting around for the right notes or positions and having the tenacity of a pitbull to pull it all together. I am amazed to watch pickers like Scotty Anderson or Joe Pass, play endless wonderful lines, flowing as easy as crap through a goose! Im thinking lately its all my fault. I know some theory but I really dont know, THEORY. I know bits and pieces of a bunch of theory systems,but I find sitting down and going over theory is like doing math. Id just rather be playing. Has anyone gone through this, and more important has anyone found a real common sense approach to theory. Id love to find a real eye opening ah ha moment, that would make theory sense to me and open my musical doors. Thanks for your time and help.

  2. jbmando

    jbmando Poster Extraordinaire

    I go through it all the time, and I know some theory. The only common sense approach to <THEORY> that I can think of for a player with your skills is to learn the major scale and the harmonies for all the scale tones and know where they are on the guitar. It doesn't make us play like Scotty Anderson, but we know what we're playing and why it goes together.

  3. twangjeff

    twangjeff Tele-Holic

    Feb 2, 2010
    Houston, TX
    I would reccomend taking a theory class at your local community college. Having a good understanding of the basics will help when you try to get into harmony and jazz theory.

  4. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    I think you are missing just one piece of the puzzle. Here's what I recommend:

    1. Make a chart spelling all the notes of the major and minor triads. You should probably do the dominant 7ths, minor 7ths, and major 7ths. The triads are most important, followed by the dom. 7ths. Put these into columns labeled root, 3rd, 5th, 7th.

    2. If you don't read music, then make a chart showing the note names of the pitches in the treble clef.

    3. Learn enough about rhythmic notation to be able to label the notes of a melody on beats 1, 2, 3, 4.

    4. Take a melody of any song that also has the chords written above.

    5. For every bar, circle the notes on beats 1, 2, 3, 4.

    6. Above each circled note, write 1 3 5 7. 1 means the note is the root of the chord; 3 means the note is the third, etc.

    This exercise will show you how the notes of a melody relate to the chords in the accompaniment. You will run into some situations that don't neatly correspond to this scheme. Most music will be that way (except for nursery rhymes, seriously). If this gives you some ah-ha moments, then you will need to learn more about dissonance (neighbor notes and passing tone are the most common types).

    Treat this as a self diagnostic test. If it clicks for you, then you might want to start memorizing the notes in the chords. I didn't mention scales, but those won't be needed if all you are doing is labeling chord tones on the beats. Once you get into non-chord tones, or dissonance, then you'll need to consider the scale as well.

  5. Tonetele

    Tonetele Friend of Leo's

    Jun 2, 2009
    South Australia
    I was lucky (??) - had to study music theory for a year as a kid before picking up any instrument. Larry F has it right. Also buy a book called "The Complete Guitarist" by Richard Chapman. It has every chord, scale and mode you'll ever need.Then ,the work begins my friend, practise all the scales you think you'll need. Knowing scales backwards is the key to playing a solo, at the least you won't hit a bum note. Good luck.

  6. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

    May 28, 2012
    Merced, CA
    You know, your post title actually has the answer. There's a pretty good book called "Music Theory for Dummies." I don't know a ton of theory, but I get by, and this book was one of the first I ever read. It also has a companion book called "Music Composition for Dummies" between the two, they give a really solid introduction to theory and they're cheap.

    Also, the thing that really worked for me was just taking a couple of college courses in theory and harmony. You would be amazed how much gets covered in just the first year of a music major. It's probably more than any guitar player needs. These classes tend to focus on Classical music, but the music most of us play is largely based on the harmony of Western Classical Music, so you should suffer through it even if you hate classical. Having a comprehensive introduction to theory and harmony is great for putting all those "bits and pieces" into context. Now, I work at a college, so it was easy for me to just ask the teacher if I could sit it. I know it's not that easy for everyone, but there are also a ton of options at community colleges or online.

    One last thing. Reading music is essential to really understanding theory. However, it doesn't have to be a big project. I'm not talking about sight-reading, which I still cannot do worth a damn. All you need to do is learn the pitches on the staff and the basics of key signatures, and you can understand a lot of what's going on in a chart or score. I hate to admit it because I didn't read notation for the first 10 years I played, but things opened up a lot when I finally sucked it up and learned to read. You may already know how to read, but if you don't, I highly recommend It's free, very easy to use, and has tons of great information. They also have a slick ipad app for a few bucks.

  7. brewwagon

    brewwagon Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 6, 2009
    the delta bc
    make some guitar chase charts based on the nashville system
    of songs you might already know
    example kodachrome by paul simon


    gimme shelter stones

    from How Music Really Works by Wayne Chase

  8. Thethrash

    Thethrash TDPRI Member

    Dec 8, 2012
    I am in a similar situation as you and I don't have the access to take theory in Community College ATM. But hope this helps you, I am watching Theory lessons on youtube,

    Lypur has a channel on Youtube where he teaches music theory
    Here is the link

  9. den15betts

    den15betts TDPRI Member

    May 7, 2009
    Cheshire, England
    All advice here will help. What really took me forward was:

    1. Understanding the steps between notes in a scale (eg. half steps between 2 and 3 and then 6 and 7 in a minor scale). Learn this for minor, major and mixolydian first. (And maybe pentatonic/blues scale of that's your bag).
    2. Learning the spellings of the chords for the major, minor, dominant and diminished chords.
    3. Learn the 'harmonisation' of at least the major scale, and see how songs' chord progressions can be analysed using the Roman numeral notation.

    All this will really help you understand why songs sound the way they do.

  10. bobsway

    bobsway Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 25, 2012
    Erie, Pa, USA
    I learned a good deal about theory when I was young just because music interested me so much it was sort of inevitable. Couldn't imagine trying to go back at this age and try to retrofit it into my playing if I didn't already know it (old dog, new tricks and all).
    Thing is, theory cuts both ways, it can prevent you from trying things because they don't fit 'theoretically'.
    I bet for example that John Lennon didn't know jack about theory , but he came up with some really interesting changes and melodies. He just didn't know that they weren't supposed to work.
    Anyway, my biggest help came from a book I stole from my high school library(sorry) called Practical Music Theory by James Lincoln Collier, a good read.

  11. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    1. Who in the world would ever do that?

    2. Anything can be explained by theory. Take a chord progression. Thrown in any chord at random, and a theorist can explain its function using the tools of theory.

    3. If you're doing it by ear, you're doing it with theory. If you hear resolution, direction, repose, unexpected things, you're using theory. Theory doesn't disappear if you do it by ear without any labels or terminology at all.

  12. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

    Are obeying the rules of theory like obeying the laws of thermodynamics?


  13. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    There's a funny story about theory in the annals of music. The Viennese composer, Arnold Schoenberg, wrote a piece for string sextet that he entered in some kind of competition. The judges rejected it on the grounds that it contained an unclassified chord.

  14. bobsway

    bobsway Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 25, 2012
    Erie, Pa, USA
    Well, me.
    Lots of times I've discovered things that sound really nice accidentally, things that wouldn't have occurred to me to try otherwise.
    You can always retrofit theory to explain them after the fact.
    Of course I'm not a "composer", but too much emphasis on theory can channel you into certain thought patterns and stultify creativity.
    In theory.;)

  15. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

    Unclassified or unclassifiable?

  16. dman

    dman Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 28, 2008
    Antioch, IL
    +1. I'm fortunate to live close enough to Milwaukee that I can take theory courses at the WI Conservatory of Music, but I'll bet that a community college would have something to offer. I'd also recommend Tom Kolb's book "Music Theory For Guitarists". I'm working my way through it now and it's quite beneficial and easy to understand.

  17. TelecasterSam

    TelecasterSam Tele-Holic

    Apr 25, 2003

    There is so much to cover here, but if you take an "example" song to apply theory to, you can then use that info and apply it to other songs. It will eventually help you to learn songs faster, both solos and chord progressions, and how the notes relate to the chord changes.
    I'd start with picking (no pun intended) a key and learning the major scale. For example, Silent Night in the key of C, using the C major scale that starts on the 5th string 3rd fret. Maybe you're already familiar with scales, I don't know, but learning the major scale from C on the 5th string up to the C on the 2nd string is a good place to start. There will be some open strings. Just play the C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Then, starting on the 2nd string C note, go up the higher octave of the scale, C, D, E, F, G. That will cover all the notes needed for that song.
    Now use your ear to pick out the melody, using only the scale notes. Since you now know what notes not to include in your search for the melody, it narrows your choices and you will probably be able to figure the melody out quickly.
    As you play the melody, be thinking of what chord would be played behind each note. As the chord changes in the song, notice what note you are on and see how that note relates to that chord.
    That is a real simple example, but it seems to work on all songs. You play in a scale and the rhythm player is playing the chords that are in that key. There is a lot more to it, but that's a start. I hope that helps.
    I use the number system a lot. In figuring out chord progressions and also in transposing or changing a song to a different key, using the number system for chords in a key helps. For example, the key of C uses chords C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, B diminished, and C. It is do re me fa so la ti do, or 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.
    The major scale is also thought of as 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, with 1 being the root, in this case C, and 8 being an octave higher(C). Anyway, the chords are usually going to be the 1, 4 and 5 with sometimes one of the minors of that key, or how I was taught, maybe an "off" chord. Those chords also have numbers. If the song in C has a Eb chord, that would be a flat 3rd. It's nice to know this if you're changing the song to a new key. You will know to use the flat 3rd in the new key, etc.
    There is a lot more, but it all starts with learning the major scale in each key, the chords that relate to each scale, etc. It is good to learn the major scale in each key in several places. That means different fingerings, say out of a C chord shape, an A chord shape, an F chord shape, etc. Those are the 3 I find easiest to relate to. I'm starting to ramble so I'll stop! Let me know if that's what you're wanting to know.
    Then there's the blues/rock scales and combining the major with the blues or minor scale...I don't know it all, just enough to make things so much easier to get around the fingerboard. I've found the major scale to be the roadmap.

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