Lessons in Music Theory for Guitar (and everyone else)

Table of Contents:

Music “theory” is concerned with how music works. We can think of it as the language of music, containing an alphabet, spelling rules, and grammar.

It starts with the little black dots and what they all mean. Then, music theory explores how the notes relate to each other. These are the rules, tendencies, and patterns that make music sound “right” (or “not right”, depending on the goal of the composer).

Music theory helps us learn and memorize pieces more easily.  When we learn guitar music theory, we can make more expressive musical and phrasing choices.

Music theory is universal and is not specific to any one instrument. So the same concepts that work with guitar also work with piano, violin or tuba.  But should you really spend time learning it?

Should You Learn Guitar Music Theory?

If you’re just starting out on guitar, you would be better advised to work on more practice elements of theory.  Learn and practice bouncing between the most common chords.  Do some finger exercises to get your hands working.

As soon as you have a physical practice underway, then start learning the language of music.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

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

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 overwhelm.


Narrow your focus to just one or two lessons, then move to the next when you feel comfortable. You have all the time in the world.

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 a short time, you will notice and recognize certain elements on the guitar.

If you are new to music notation, you may enjoy the full course, How to Read Music for Guitar.

Getting Started with Music Theory

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.

This page can act as a resource to come back to later. You may like to bookmark this page so that it’s handy when you need it. You can also click the yellow “add to favorites” button at the top of this page.

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

For the best understanding, go in order, and complete each lesson. If you like, you can use the fretboard quizzes at any time. You need not wait to start on them.

INSTRUCTIONS – How to use the lessons below:

Click on one of the accordion topics below.  Then click on the yellow highlighted line, and use your right or down arrow key to see the lessons.  On mobile, click on each line in turn.  Enjoy!

Music Theory Lessons

Rhythm and Meter


Scales and Key Signatures



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

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

Become a Member and Play More, Beautifully!

“The basics are the basics, and you can’t beat the basics.”
Charles Poliquin

Join the program that takes you from the beginning fundamentals to advanced mastery, so you…1

  • Move your hands safely and fluidly
  • Enjoy fulfilling practices and meaningful work
  • Play beautifully with expression and flow

Click the button to take a step towards an
organized, effective guitar practice. >>>