Guitar Music Theory – Four Essential Parts for all Beginners

Starting to learn to play guitar is a fun and exciting journey. However, as you may already know, it isn't just about learning to strum a few chords. To really shine as a future musician, you also need to understand the basics of music theory. Having dedication to learn music theory from the very start will go a long way in helping you to become a confident and skilled musician and more importantly, to enjoy what you play!

Don't worry, we don't plan to bombard you with grueling and complex guitar theory right now, however, what we are going to do is share with you the four essential parts of guitar music theory that should have your musical confidence reaching for the stars. Ready to get started? Great, so are we!

The Musical Alphabet - What Chords Are Made Of

When you learn to play a chord, you are actually playing a combination of notes. Think about it this way; each finger presses down a note and when several notes are played at the same time, they form a chord. This isn't just for guitar, all musical instruments play notes to make piece of music.

While a melody is made up of single notes played one after the other to create a tune, a chord is formed by playing several notes at the same time to create harmony. Can you see how important it is to know the notes of your musical alphabet? So, what is our musical alphabet? Actually, it is quite easy:


Much easier than our full English alphabet, right? So when you learn a new chord make sure you ask (or learn how to figure it out if you are self-teaching) what the notes of the chord are and see how they relate to each other.

We should also add that your musical alphabet will repeat over and over again on your instrument. This is actually easier to visibly see if you look at a piano keyboard, ask a pianist to show you the musical alphabet and you will note that it repeats all the way up the keyboard. The same thing happens on your guitar, however, since we have 6 strings to work with the pattern repeats over 6 lines instead of one straight line like on the piano (no, that is not to be taken as a temptation to switch to piano!)

Whole Tones And Semitones (Half Steps And Whole Steps)

Also known as half steps and whole steps, whole tones and semitones are what form music. A whole tone means going from one letter of the musical alphabet to the next one, either up or down. So what would be a whole tone up from A? That's right, it's B. How about a whole tone down from F? You've got it again, it's E. Easy!

A semitone (or half step) is the half way between each one. Yes, we know this initially doesn't make sense since on the musical alphabet above there isn't anything between each letter, however, that's because we haven't yet introduced you to sharps and flats. Let's do that now!

Sharps And Flats

A sharp sign means that a note is raised by a semitone (a half step). A flat sign means that a note is lowered by a semitone (a half step).

So, let's look at it this way, the note C sharp is between C and D; the note D sharp is between D and E. For the flats, we can say that the note B flat is between A and B; the note D flat is between D and C.

It's all looking quite straightforward right now, right? Sorry, to say but there is one exception that we need to learn about; here it comes.

The BC And EF Exception

For reasons which we are not yet going to get into, not every note in the musical alphabet is separated by a whole tone. Between B and C is only a semitone and between E and F is only a semitone. If you are feeling a little confused, allow us to outline it clearly for you:

WT - whole tone  ST - semitone

A to B - WT

B to C - ST

C to D - WT

D to E - WT

E to F - ST

F to G - WT

G to A - WT

Finally, let's put this to work on your actual guitar. To go up a whole tone you need to go up two frets. To go up a semitone you need to go up one fret. Give it a try now!


Can you see how music theory doesn't need to feel like a mission impossible? In fact, by taking the time to master these four basic essentials you have already laid the foundation to a large chunk of all the music theory you will ever need to know!


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