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Old 05-04-2012, 08:41 AM   #1
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How much theory is enough?

I've been playing for a little over 4 years and I know some scales and memorized some useful patterns.

But unlike most people on SS.org, you guys can name scales, chords, almost anything off the top of your head.

So the main question is, how much theory knowledge does a guitar player need to know to progress in his or her playing?

Do I really need to seriously memorize every scale and chord in the book?

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Old 05-04-2012, 08:59 AM   #2
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In short, no.
Some famous players sometimes don't even know theory, they go by ear.

In long, it's a bit of both, sometimes it is alot better to know what you are playing and what you are doing. If you are writing in A minor or something one day, you may want to think ok I can play the harmonic minor here, then modulate to E here, then mind.... and go B here. It can break off into many different ideas if you think like that. But if you are just started or are seeing people talk continuous "music" don't be daunted or intimidated, some people just talk the language of theory. Some people don't.

But it is best to at least learn the basics of theory before you go anywhere.

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Old 05-04-2012, 09:06 AM   #3
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you don't really need to be able to know all the theory off the top of your head, but you should know enough that you have a variety of options when improvising in different scenarios

and i think most important is that you know the foundations of it, so that when given a new situation like in the studio and you want a new sound or something you'd be able formulate a scale on the spot and work with that

like playing over a Major-Minor chord
"I can use Lydian Dominant to get this sound, or Mixolydian to get this sound, or even Bepop Dominant to get this sound"

as opposed to "Major-Minor = Mixolydian cuz that's what i learned on the internet"
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Old 05-04-2012, 09:13 AM   #4
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There is no such thing as "enough theory."

However, at the same time, you don't need to memorize every scale and chord. That's not theory: that's rote memorization. Theory is understanding what goes into each scale and chord, how to construct them and how to use them. I can honestly say I've never sat down and memorized the C major scale in every position. Rather, I understand where the notes are on the neck, and which notes are in the scale. Theory to me is almost a shortcut: if I didn't know theory, I'd have to memorize a lot more, but instead I can see the functions of the music and where the next note is in relation to the current one.

Before SW comes in and posts it, here it is: Ricci Adams' Musictheory.net . This'll give you the basics. From there, it's up to you to decide where and if you stop.

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Old 05-04-2012, 10:11 AM   #5
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Enough to express yourself musically and communicate those ideas to others succinctly. How much of your native language is enough?

Check out my book: "Playing Guitar Musically: A Guide to Creativity on Guitar & Bass"
Buy the full book here. eBook - 5. Physical copies also available.
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Old 05-04-2012, 12:10 PM   #6
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There is no real answer to this, but I will invoke that pedantic little adage: knowledge is power. There's no such thing as too much, but there can certainly be too little. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that knowing the world around you somehow inhibits you.

Edit: I'll emphasize something that Varcolac said. You don't need to memorize a huge list of music stuff, you just need to gain an understanding of how a few things work. And, truthfully, very little of it has to do with scales.

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Old 05-04-2012, 01:59 PM   #7
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...and definitely don't buy into that crap that not learning theory helps you sound original. That's a piss poor excuse for lazy musicians.

I agree with alot of whats said, know enough to be able to improvise well in most any situation, and if you start to repeat yourself too much, it's time to expand the vocabulary <---GUILTY!! .

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Old 05-07-2012, 04:38 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Varcolac View Post
There is no such thing as "enough theory."
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Varco is on point, ricki adams is useful and teaches you to go beyond the run of the mill stuff

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Old 05-10-2012, 02:43 PM   #9
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Well, your question pretty much answers itself -

So the main question is, how much theory knowledge does a guitar player need to know to progress in his or her playing?


The most important thing is being able to use what you learn musically - eg, when you learn a chord, try and find many usable shapes and contexts for it, don't just memorise lists.
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Old 05-11-2012, 04:41 PM   #10
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I would say that too much theory is personal, that the moment it stifles your creavity/expression that you should ease up on it for a while and allow yourself to become one with what you've "learned" up to that point. Meaning to get your ears, your hands, and your brain into/around it.

One of my biggest stumbling block years ago was modes, mostly because I was over thinking them. I was so worried on the geometry of them and their formation that I didn't remember I knew those shapes already from knowing the scales, I completley missed how they feel and how they color the music they're being played to. I also did, and sometimes still (or always depending on your tastes) do, look at the fretboard as a way to show off manual dexterity more than developing melodic ideas.

Also keep in mind our ears are all different, that something that sings to you will sounds like crap to someone else and vice versa.

My guitar instructor was a jazz man, so there was a lot of time playing with/over progressions that "hurt" my ears. I can comp lines, repeating the licks together that make "sense" within the style of jazz playing, but I don't feel them, and while I get why the licks work together and over the progression... the music just leaves me cold.

Originally starting on the B3 organ as a small child and reading Bach for 10 years before moving to guitar @ 14, my ear for minor progressions hurt my instructor's ears to no end.

I will admit I do still have a spot in my ear for the bebop scale. It just sounds "right" to me.

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Old 05-14-2012, 07:46 PM   #11
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Thanks people of SS.org!

I never thought about learning enough to improv, but come to think of it, that's not a bad idea.

Thanks again for the input guys. Time to put all this confusion in the dirt!
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