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- I have learned the basics but I can’t play many complete songs yet.
- I can play plenty of songs but I struggle with barre chords.
- I can play plenty of songs using barre chords–I need help with playing lead guitar.
- I’m past all of this. I want to understand music theory and master the fretboard.
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Guitar Music Theory by Desi Serna
Welcome to GuitarMusicTheory.com where you can learn the inside secrets to popular guitar music. See how scales, chords, progressions, modes and more fit into your favorite songs. Go beyond guitar basics and get to know how music works on the guitar fretboard. Gain the skills necessary to compose and improvise your own music.
This website is run by Desi Serna who is the author of several instructional guitar books and videos including Fretboard Theory and Guitar Theory For Dummies.
What is Guitar Theory?
What is guitar theory? While music theory pertains to music in general, guitar theory pertains to the guitar specifically. Typically, this includes only those aspects of music that enable guitarists to find their way around the fretboard, play music, and compose. You won’t get far on guitar without learning chord shapes, scale patterns, chord progressions, note positions, and intervals. You won’t accomplish much if you don’t understand keys, modes, harmony, chord relationships, and scale applications. Without some understanding of rhythm and without developing technique your playing will never take shape. By learning guitar theory, you equip yourself to play songs, compose your own music, and improvise. Learn more about guitar theory
What Scales Should a Guitar Player Learn?
In music, a scale is a series of notes played in ascending and descending fashion. Scale notes make patterns on the fretboard, which guitarists finger and pick position to position. Guitar players use scales to play melodies, riffs, solos, and bass lines.
There are countless types of scales that can be played on guitar, but did you know that popular music is mostly based on just two types of patterns? That’s right. Familiar genres of music like pop, rock, blues, and country use scale patterns based on the pentatonic scale and major scale. Another type of scale, the harmonic minor, is worked into these patterns on occasion. If you want to be successful playing popular styles of music, then you need to focus your attention on these indispensable scales. Learn more about guitar scales
What is the Secret to Building and Using Chord Forms on Guitar?
There are literally thousands of different kinds of chords and chord shapes that can be played on the guitar, but did you know that most are related in some way to just five core forms? In the open position the five forms are C, A, G, E, and D. What does that spell? CAGED. With the guitar CAGED chord system, you barre each of the five open forms and move around the neck playing different chords in other positions, but that’s only the beginning!
You see, the CAGED system doesn’t end with making barre chords. Each chord form has a related arpeggio pattern. The notes from each arpeggio pattern are used to make all sorts of chord shapes. And these chords aren’t just used for strumming. Lead guitarists use the CAGED system to map out chord tones within scale patterns, and then they target these notes while they solo so that their lead lines are guided by notes relating closely to the chords and progression. Learn more about the guitar CAGED chord system
How Do Guitarists Play Chord Progressions and Use the Number System?
Music is always based on movement. Almost every song is composed using a group of chords that move from one to another. A chord progression is the way in which chords are put together to form a series of chord changes. As chords change they determine the music’s movement and a song’s structure. Composing a chord progression requires you to understand relationships between chords and concepts involving the way chords lead to and pass from one another. Learn more about guitar chord progressions and playing by numbers
What Are Modes and How Do Guitarists Play Modal Scales?
One of the biggest mistakes guitar players make is to assume that the modal concept is just a theoretical idea that doesn’t really have a practical purpose. Most music is based in a mode in one way or another and recognizing modes is critical to understanding how music works. Chord progressions, melodies, harmonies, riffs, lead guitar solos, and bass lines are all derived from modal scales in some fashion. Understanding the modal concept is absolutely necessary if you want to become a knowledgeable, versatile player.
In a nutshell, here’s how modes work. The major scale has seven notes, and any one of them can be used as the starting point, or the primary pitch, of a piece of music. In other words, you don’t always have to base music off of the first degree and chord of the major scale. The sound of the scale changes depending on which degree is primary. Learn more about guitar modes and modal scales
How Do Guitar Players Learn the Fretboard?
With a combination of vertical frets and horizontal strings, the fretboard (or fingerboard) is essentially a grid. When arranged and played on this fretboard grid, notes, scales, chords, and progressions make shapes and patterns. Guitarists visualize these shapes and patterns in order to navigate around the neck. Furthermore, guitarists understand how musical elements fit together by fitting their pieces together like a puzzle. In fact, you can build chords, compose chord progressions, and determine correct scales to play simply by relating to shapes and patterns, with little or no regard to key signatures, notes, sharps, and flats. Even if you take the traditional route of thinking, you still have to translate the music concepts to the fretboard and connect the dots, so to speak. This is why guitarists usually prefer to make use of guitar tablature and neck diagrams over standard notation. Learn more about the guitar fretboard