Guitarists and Music Theory

As people may or may not know, I’m quite the guitar enthusiast. I love playing it, so for some strange reason a few years ago, I had a fantastic idea to start running a guitar blog. About a year in, after I was feeling confident enough to begin sharing my experience with others as I already was at school, I decided to open the blog for questions of any kind. No limitations whatsoever, but I feel like I should’ve known better.

I’d made it clear to the followers that I was an intermediate guitar player running a blog, and obviously many people were beyond my years or knowledge as they came to me asking about the neck/string tension, electric wirings, or pickups, and have mercy because I still didn’t know what the tone knobs did, and at the time I don’t think I ever changed an entire guitar’s set of strings. I was lucky, however, that over the years, a lot of beginners have come to me asking about callouses, tips on getting started, lessons over self taught, and those questions I could answer with ease.

All of a sudden as I started taking Music Theory II, that’s when when all these music theory questions started pouring in. What had started out as a humble blog for people to share their problems turned into an even greater community for people to ask questions about not only guitar, but theory. I guess one person asked something, and I got a little ahead of myself and boasted, “Hey. I’m taking music theory. I’ll answer your all theory questions.” People have asked me things about chords, like how do major, minor, augmented and diminished chords work, how do they work on the guitar, inversions on the guitar, modes, transposing modes…My favorite was explaining how a suspension and 5° are not the same thing (You can read my response here and the follow up question and answer here). My resolution for this problem was simple for me since we’d ended on suspension/non-chord tones before we left for the summer. It was my favorite part of theory because I felt it was easiest for me to understand, and being a guitar player, I can honestly say I’d been using suspensions before I could even rightly define them, but next problem has its resolution perhaps in the future.

One question, however, and surprisingly on Sunday, stumped me for a moment and I had to go back to Theory I from when I took it in my junior year of high school.

We hadn’t covered this yet in Theory II, and even more surprisingly, we briefly covered it on Monday; Modulation. I didn’t know much about it, and to be honest, I still don’t, but I figure that through out this course, it’ll eventually be touched on, but for the time being, I had to dig into my little brain and see how theory could help me figure out how to answer the question.

The person basically had asked if I could tell them how to change keys in the middle of a song, and I had to go back into my mind as mentioned before, and I still don’t really understand it so this is what I told them, “All I remember is the 5th of II? Right? Music theorists…or was it 2nd of V…either way, one of those notes there, you use the 7th chord, but who has time for that? Not me…My Sweet Lord Modulates 2 half steps. He took that major chord (D) added the 7th (D7) then the fourth of that chord with a 7th (B7) and went from D to E. It’s worked for me on other things, but here’s another link that also better explains how to do it” (mind you that the guitar blog isn’t a formally run, but you can see the original question and answer here). I honestly and hardly remember what on earth finding a chord built on the 5th of II did. I just vaguely remembered my good ol’ choir director saying, “Eventually, you use that for modulation,” and feeling smart, I allowed it to stick with me. I’m not all too sure if that’s right or not, and couldn’t exactly even explain what George Harrison did in My Sweet Lord to achieve the key change. Someone with a little more theory knowledge had to come in and help explain better, in turn teaching me something just before getting back into Music Theory. You can read their response here, and it was nearly verbatim of what Dr. Albrecht told us literally the next day.

I found it funny that we touched on modulation the Monday after I got this question, and also talking about non-chord tones today in class. It makes me happy that I know theory since I’m going to school to teach music, I can use this knowledge for now to help others…for free, but it’s a tool that I would’ve liked to have were I in their position as beginner guitarists who want to know theory but don’t have the best access to it.

Here’s my credibility