There are those who know precious little where music theory is concerned, and then there are those who practically live and breathe it. Many musicians have gone on to write really beautiful songs with either a very limited knowledge of music theory or no knowledge of it whatsoever. With that said, even though levels of experience and theoretical knowledge vary from person to person many guitarist/musicians will admit that they somehow figure it out and manage to write songs that can in a whole lot of instances, end up ranking very high on the music charts.
The fact that some people manage to write songs that rank high on the music charts doesn’t mean that the majority of songwriters and/or guitarist will be able “Collect Two Hundred Dollars and Pass GO,” so to speak. The level of understanding and proficiency that is reached in music can be really different from one person to the next depending upon what their particular goals are, but if I were advising anyone, (and I kinda am in my blogs), the one thing I would suggest would be to at least acquire enough musical theory knowledge to where one would understand why some chords work well together and others don’t … however good they may sound individually.
Two things that I believe are missing in many guitar lesson formats is the teaching of arpeggios and chord to scale order where the student learns what succeeding chords occur after a particular chosen chord. For example, the chords in the key of C major are C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, and B diminished. Also missing from some curriculums is how the student/guitarist might use scales to find chords that are contained within them. Just as important as the preceding elements, the learning of intervals also known as scale degrees needs to be incorporated. Just to give you an idea as to how intervals work, a perfect 4th above C is F and a perfect 5th above C is G.
There is yet another piece of the puzzle to consider, and that is note value, which plays quite nicely into the whole concept of music theory because knowing how to count is crucial when playing a musical instrument. This is not only true when playing notated exercises from a book, but also when improvising riffs and solos. Knowing how to count enables you to create different phrasings that may potentially go into your solo. Counting is also required because even the best guitar solos only last for a certain given number of measures within a song or piece of music.
Here is video lesson to get you started on counting: Guitar Fundamentals: Notation and Counting Whole Notes
When a particular chord progression or riff/phrase is being played with a 1-2-3-4 count it will sound quite different if it is changed to where you would now be playing the same chords and notes as:
1-2 & 3-4,
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 or
1-e-&-a 2-e-&-a 3-e-&-a 4-e-&-a, or any other combination thereof.
Another important aspect to remember is that when we hear a piece of music we are hearing the chords, which make up the vast majority of the song being played in one scale format or another. Riffs and phrases can and do suggest what scale is being emphasized, and depending on which chord voicings and/or riffs and phrases you choose that will determine what scale they’re derived from.
Here is another video lesson to get you started on chords: Guitar Fundamentals: Two Note Chord Drills Part 1
Where Do We Go From Here?
In the future I hope to elaborate more on this, but in conclusion, chords and notes which are ordered in a certain way may suggest that a particular mode scale is being utilized. Depending on this order it may be anything from an Ionian to Lydian, to Dorian or even Phrygian mode scale. All of these I could write pages of explanation on, and of course I will cover them in a later commentary, but for now just remember that a little knowledge and understanding of theory can take you a lot further than you would otherwise be able to go without it.