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Thread: I can play well...

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2015

    I can play well...

    ...but I have no idea what I'm doing... Please help.

    I think there are a lot of folks like me too, where do I go from here? Do I learn this ambiguous cloud of music theory, is that even what I should call this knowledge that I know exists? Do I need a strong understanding of composition? Do I need to master musical/tonal mathematics ala fibbonacci or phi?

    I've been playing close to 20 years with limited training (Mel bay blue book lessons at age 13 >~<), and I play a few hours or more a day. I love metal, bluegrass, classical, progressive rock and classic rock and can play most of what I'm interested in if I leverage tablature. I know lots of technique fairly well too. What do I do now? I want to talk the talk too. "Oh, 5 sharps with a root note of blah, ya... that's a J#m7 scale or call it a flatted fubar with a dominant Arrrgh"! Better yet I want to understand it. I've talked to local musicians and teachers in my small rural area and no one can help, they're either too advanced to understand my qualm, or not advanced enough to help. I could care less about site reading, I am hopelessly lost on how to progress my favorite hobby from here.

    Any help appreciated, thanks in advance.


  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Twickenham, UK
    "Talking the talk" is exactly what theory is about - no more no less. Not all musicians need it, of course. You've obviously got along fine for 20 years without it...
    I'm guessing you know some basic theory terms, such as chord names. You know when you're playing an "E" or "G" chord, right? - even if you do only associate those names with shapes and not sounds.

    I suggest a theory book aimed at guitarists, so you can relate the jargon immediately to the instrument. This is a good one:
    Don't forget to play while reading. The words, blobs and lines can make your brain go all funny unless you can hear what they're talking about all the time. (The book does come with a handy CD too.)

    Another thing I'd recommend is to try analysing any songs you know. Obviously until you have some theory jargon under your belt you won't have the tools to do it academically, but at least try looking for patterns, taking things to pieces. Try to learn vocal lines (by ear if necessary) and see how they relate to the chords. Listen out for what sounds like the key chord ("tonic") - it's not always the first chord of the song, but is almost always the last chord, and always feels like the gravitational centre of the song; the chord the song could finish on at any point. Think about how the other chords (and the tune and riffs) relate to that.

    Remember you already know a lot of the rules of music already. You know when it sounds right and when it sounds wrong; you know a lot about what goes with what (just from learning all the songs you know). The theory is only giving you labels to describe all that. It will never tell you that something that sounds right is actually wrong, or vice versa.
    The only jargon you really need is (a) what helps you organise your current knowledge better, and (b) what helps you talk to other musicians (or understand what they're saying), if and when you need to.

    There are some great theory websites, but the best ones are not guitar-friendly (because music theory applies to all instruments - there is no "guitar theory"). But try them if you like (it will cost you nothing apart from maybe a scratched head..):
    Last edited by JonR; 01-09-2015 at 10:00 AM.

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