What Is Music Theory for Guitar?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Music theory for guitar is the practice and knowledge associated with playing the guitar. Playing a guitar takes some skill and plenty of practice, and music theory for guitar will allow a potential guitarist to understand the musical structure of the instrument and the techniques for playing the guitar effectively. Part of this music theory is learning to read and understand musical notation.

Musical notation is the language of music when it is written down. A guitar student will need to learn music theory for guitar by learning to read musical notation. During this process, he or she will learn what each note on the staff stands for; the notes on the page will correspond with a position or several positions on the neck of the guitar, and learning where those notes are will allow a student to play music written on the page. Learning this part of music theory for guitar is important, but it may not always be the first step in learning to play the guitar.


Learning the layout of the neck of the guitar is one of the first things a student will be taught when studying music theory for guitar. Each string creates a different tone, labeled by a letter representing a musical note. The strings on the guitar create the tones E, A, D, G, B, and E when no fingers are depressed on the strings. This is known as the open position or open tuning. When a guitar player depresses his fingers onto the strings in front of metal pieces affixed to the neck of the guitar known as frets, the tone of the string will change. An E tone can be changed to a G tone, for example, by pressing one's fingers in the correct position.

The student will learn how to create chords as well. Chords are a major part of music theory for guitar, and every guitar player will need to learn some of them. Chords are created by depressing several strings at once and strumming those strings together to create a specific tone. The guitarist will also likely need to learn scales, which are collections of notes that work well together musically; these scales are learned by repeating the positions on the guitar neck that will produce complementary tones.


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