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conksu's picture
Brooklyn, NY
Nov 2004
6 years ago

I consider myself a decent guitar player and a very creative musician, but writing songs has always been a challenge because I really don't know the theory behind what I'm playing. Most of the time I just get lucky when the chord I play sounds like what I hear in my head.
Does anyone know any good books or other resources to learn some music theory and how it relates to guitar? I have SOME music theory background, so it doesn't have to be totally beginner level....

Thanks.

ShredCrazed's picture
Greenville, RI
Dec 2004
7 years ago

Not sure if this could work for you but when I started learning theory I went out and bought a scale book. After studying that for a long time all the patterns just started fitting together in my head like pieces a puzzle and suddenly I understood how to contruct all the different chords and what notes belong in each key etc.

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BlueHeaven's picture
New Jersey
Jun 2005
10 years ago

One thing I would suggest if you are having trouble finding what chord to go to next is to learn your circle of fifths inside and out, including all relative majors and minors. This will help you from just randomly hits chords and not knowing which chords will fit.

Also, learning how to modulate (switch from one key to another) is very usually and help to create a less drone sounding song that uses the same 3 chords over and over. Learn your 7ths for this and your diminished chords. Knowing that say F 7th wants to pull to B flat is some of the most usefull information when trying to write a song. There are hundreds of theory books out there, I dont know which one is better than the other though, trick is just to practice and get a feel for which chords progressions work.

Heres a nice chord progression not might not seem obvious as an example.

C maj, G maj, F maj, F min.

Also, try learning other songs people have written, that will give you better ideas as to what kind of chord progression you want for the sound in your head.

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GDan's picture
London
Nov 2002
4 years ago

Learn about intervals, learn about how chords relate to each other.

And if anyone tells you, "I never learn no music theory an it makes me more unikue" punch them in the face.

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ClassyRock's picture
Dallas, Texas
Apr 2005
2 months ago

For blues and rock 1 - 4 - 5 progressions are pretty common. In rock you can pretty much play power chords or any good sounding chord in that progression. In blues it depends on what string the root is on and there are 8 bar blues and 12 bar blues and they have a turnaround and stuff.

Art is selling your wounds to those who will never experience calluses.

Art is not a mirror heald up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.

Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.

If you think you're free, no escape is possible.

No matter where you go or what you do, you spend your entire life within the confines of your head.

You can't wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.

Would there be this eternal seeking if the found existed?

conksu's picture
Brooklyn, NY
Nov 2004
6 years ago

Thanks for your suggestions. I was really hoping to find a resource (a book, website, whatever) that would give an large scale view of how chords and progressions work. So I have a full understanding of what I'm playing, rather than just following a formula. So it becomes a tool rather than a crutch, basically.

BlueHeaven's picture
New Jersey
Jun 2005
10 years ago

Just another tid-bit that may seem a little off, and may not be an option for some, but learning the piano, at least the basics such as the chords and scales on a piano while help you out tremenously with any theory you might want to learn or be lacking. All music students (at least in a college level) are required to take loads of piano courses. Most people start out on piano anyway, then decide they don't like it and go to guitar, but the piano helps you visualize the music better than a guitar usually.

As for theory books and the like, Alfred's is prob the most popular.
Maybe you would want to start with a book entitled "Scales, chords, and arrpegios."

I personally started out on piano(about 10 years), and still actively play, but now consider my self a guitar player(about 7). Theory always came easy after visializing the piano rather than a guitar.

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conksu's picture
Brooklyn, NY
Nov 2004
6 years ago

Yeah, I've been thinking about that for a while. I'm self taught, so the guitar is limiting because when thinking about chords, I tend to think of the shape of the chord rather than the notes I'm playing. I think learning piano would make you focus on that more.

evilenaz's picture
prattville (montgomery alabama)
Jun 2004
8 years ago

i used to be one of those guys that was like "i dont need theory" now that ive had a couple of theory courses for my minor i know that i dont really need theory, but it makes playing so much more enjoyable, as i dont really have to wrack my brains to come up with parts or play along with a band. i, like you, picked up a little theory from guitar magazines or whatnot, but my eyes werent really opened until i took theory courses in college. in my humble opinion, a class taught by a professional, where you get a grade (incentive to practice and study) is the best way to learn theory. while i still dont know much, the two semesters i had were priceless in how much they helped me as a musician. not really physically, my chops are still laughable, but mentally, i feel more cofident as a musician, plus i get off a little when i get to correct my friends who play guitar. plus i was always a little frustrated with just getting guitar books and whatnot.

a college course may not be accessible to you, but similar routes are all over the place.

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orpheus_2's picture
Jun 2004
1 year ago

theory can be the rotten apple!!!!!!!!!!!!
seriously why have a book a scale a teacher tell you what is suposed to sound and not!!!
now i would say (this is the opposite of what i did) just keep going at it until you find the notes and your ear will get better that the search for whatever note/chord you are looking for will get shorter and shorter. it is about the music in your head right, believe me theory can corrupt you.
all the great guitar players( holdsworth, landau,l metheney etc) studied theory but all my favorite musicians(adam jones, massive attack, robert smith, coil ...you see i am not much of a guitarfan per se) sound like they didn't.

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ClassyRock's picture
Dallas, Texas
Apr 2005
2 months ago

BlueHeaven's totally right. I started on piano, (about 4 years) and still play. My teacher did and does give me all classical music and we study theory. I visualize all my chords and scales and other theory-esque things with piano. The main reasons I started guitar were to become versatile but more so so that I could play more of the music I like. Unfortunately, my guitar theory is behind. Obviously all the terms and so forth are the same, but I don't know the chords on guitar like I do on piano. With piano someone can say a chord name and my hand just naturally plays it. In guitar I have to visualize it on piano, figure out the notes, find the notes on gutiar, and then figure out the best hand position. But it was similar with piano at first. I suppose with time I'll become better with guitar also. Sites like www.guitartricks.com and www.cyberfret.com may help you. I've never used Alfred books with guitar, but my first year or so with piano I used them. I'd say get some straight theory books and just study them.

Art is selling your wounds to those who will never experience calluses.

Art is not a mirror heald up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.

Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.

If you think you're free, no escape is possible.

No matter where you go or what you do, you spend your entire life within the confines of your head.

You can't wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.

Would there be this eternal seeking if the found existed?