Music theory is the language of music and the study of how music is put together. Having an understanding of music theory is helpful in many ways. For example, when teaching it is much easier & quicker to communicate ideas to a student if the student has a good knowledge of theory. If you play in a band ideas can be passed around and expressed clearly and concisely if the members have good theory knowledge. For lead guitarists theory helps you put the right scale with the right chords. For writers and composers it provides clear direction on chord progressions and melody.
Almost all of the top guitarists today have a good knowledge of theory as well as strong technique. If you want to join them you will need the same.
Music was around a long time before theory came along so it could be said that theory is just a way of writing down and remembering things that sound good. I have come across students who have no musical knowledge what so ever but have written some great music. When we have sat down and analysed what they have written we have found that their music conforms with accepted music theory. The reason for this, I believe, is that we grow up listening to music and are conditioned to hear music in a certain way. Therefore when we write music it conforms to the musical patterns we have grown up listening to. If somebody can write music with no theory knowledge what is the point of learning theory? By learning why your music sounds a certain way theory can help you recreate that sound or avoid it. It should also open up new musical avenues for you to explore.
Finally, music theory will help you gain an insight into how your guitar works. Attempting to jam with other musicians without theory is guesswork usually. Theory gets you straight in and playing something cool which surely is what playing an instrument is about.
Next up: Lesson 2 – Naming the notes
Guitar tab is a method of getting guitar music on paper without having to read music. The advantage of tab is it is relatively easy to learn and you can be learning songs very soon after learning to read it. The disadvantage is tab has no rhythm notation so can be tricky to learn songs you are not familiar with.
The horizontal lines represent the six strings on the guitar. The thickest E string is at the bottom up to the thinnest E string at the top. You read tab from left to right so the first three notes in the above example would be played one at a time.
The numbers on the lines tell you which fret to play. The first note you would play on the above example is the 3rd fret on the A String.
A zero represents an open string, so the second note on the above example is an open D string. The third note would be the second fret on the G string.
When the notes are stacked on top of each other like at the end of the above example this means you play the notes at the same time. Hopefully if you play the last stack of notes together you should end up with an A Major chord.
There are many more symbols associated with tab but we will learn these as we go along.
A chord is a group of notes played together to create a certain type of sound. The type of sound the chord makes depends upon the notes used in the chord. There are many diferent types of chord with Major and Minor chords being the most common. When you learn a new chord listen carefully to the sound and mood it creates. The following chord is a D Major.
The horizontal lines on the diagram represent the frets with the double one at the top being the nut. The vertical lines represent the strings with the thickest on the left. The black dots tell you where to put your fingers and the numbers next to them tell you which finger to use. An “X” next to a string means dont play it and an “O” next to a string means pluck the string without fretting any notes, this is called an open string.
When playing chords first of all make sure you are only plucking the strings you should be doing. Then pluck the strings one at a time starting with the thickest and make sure each note rings out clearly with no unwanted buzzing or muting. If the chord isn’t sounding right you will have to adjust your fingers and sometimes press a little bit harder. Check your fingers are only on the string they should be and are not resting on the fret wire. When you are happy the chord is correct it is time to strum the chord. Strumming means playing all the notes at virtually the same time plucking the strums using a downward sweeping motion.
Next: Beginners Chords