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Lessons in Music Theory for Guitar (and everyone else)

Music Theory is how music works.  It’s the rules, tendencies, and patterns that create music.  Being familiar with it makes learning and memorizing pieces easier, and can help you to make educated musical choices (and avoid schmaltz).

It’s important to note that the guitar arranges the notes of chords, arpeggios, scales, etc. in a way that’s tailored for the layout of the strings and frets of the guitar.

So what you play on the guitar will sometimes look different on the page than what you see in the lessons below.  But all the concepts and lessons are universal, for every instrument and style of music (in the “western world”).

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Music theory is a language.  It starts with some core ideas, and builds on them (to infinity and beyond!).

As such, don’t expect to get everything in one sitting.  Instead, allow this to be an ongoing study that deepens over time.

At first, all this may seem like a lot.  It is!  It’s common to experience a bit of overwhelm.


The remedy is to narrow your focus to just one or two ideas or lessons, then move to the next when you feel comfortable.  You have all the time in the world (even if you’re old!)

Only progress as quickly as you can stay interested, curious, and enthusiastic.

And above all, keep practicing your guitar!  Don’t let theoretical knowledge derail your practical work (pieces, technique practice, sightreading, etc.)

You don’t have to understand just yet how all this pertains to guitar.  Just absorb the concepts as a separate study, and in short time you will notice and recognize certain elements on the guitar.

Quick Notes to Get Started

In the lessons below, the piano keyboard is sometimes used for visual reference.  It’s okay if you’re not familiar: you’ll pick it up quickly.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You’ll need to login with your free account to view these lessons.  If you don’t have one, create a username and password here.

This page can act a resource to come back to later.  You may like to bookmark this page, so that it’s handy when you need it.

All that said…..

Choose below to learn basic music theory, or to test yourself on your music knowledge.



These lessons use the piano for demonstration purposes.  Just remember that a “half step” equals one fret on the guitar.  A “whole step” equals two frets on the guitar.


(–Special thanks to www.musictheory.net for their generous help with these lessons!  You can find more lessons there.)

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4 Responses to Lessons in Music Theory for Guitar (and everyone else)

  1. trulyyours February 13, 2018 at 5:27 am #

    I’m lost again. Not sure how to navigate a quiz. I don’t see instruction offered. I can’t seem to get past “go”. Please advise me. Thanks.

    • Allen February 13, 2018 at 11:10 am #

      Hi Jeff,
      I recommend you start with the Music Theory Basics tab. That will get you started. You can use the quizzes later if you choose to.

      Thanks much,

  2. RO November 2, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    Allen ,
    Wow-two mouths full!
    This will take some time to understand and learn-just by doing a fly-by.
    Thank you for this very educational and informative article. It sure has lots to learn about and ask questions.
    Thank you

    • Allen November 2, 2015 at 9:29 pm #

      Hey RO,
      You’re absolutely right. Not something you’d likely absorb in one sitting. But you can use it as a reference, and inch along as you have the extra minute.

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