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The Trials And Tribulations Of The Devil's Instrument.

Theory 101

Music theory is Greek to a lot of guitarists. And in reality, like Greek, it is another language. Just like html is a necessary language to IT developers, music is a necessary language to musicians. And just like learning any foreign language, you should start with the basics. So here we go.

So what is music theory? It is understanding the basic elements of music. The basics, not in any order, are the beat, pitch, rhythm, harmony, melody, structure, and dynamics. Now that your eyes are starting to glaze over, let’s make this a little fun and look at each one of these and how they apply to the guitar.


Pitch is the sound you hear when you play a string on the guitar. When you play a string, that string vibrates. It’s this vibration that is transmitted through the instrument ( on acoustic Guitars, it comes out of the hole in the top, and on electric guitars, the pickups ” pick up ” the sound, it goes through the cord, and out through the amplifier ). Some pitches are higher or lower than others, and by placing a finger on the fretboard, you can change the pitch, or the sound the string makes. That what pitch is, nothing more and nothing less. Later on, we will assign names ( or note names ) to those pitches.


The beat is the pulse of a piece of music and is how fast or slow the pitches ( notes ) in a piece of music are played. In short, it’s what you tap your foot to in a song. How fast or slow the beat is is called the tempo. You can have a fast tempo, like Through The Fire And Flames, or a slow tempo, like Smoke On The Water.


Rhythm is a repeating pattern of beats put together. Rhythm is a repeating pattern of beats put together. Rhythm is a repeating pattern of beats put together. Rhythm is a repeating pattern of beats put together. Get it? Rhythm is found everywhere, the sounds of footsteps, the dripping of a faucet, the boom boom boom boom of Hip Hop Music, and those first chords to Highway to Hell. The beats can be long or slow, but they always repeat in a recognizable pattern.


A melody is simply any tune that you can sing, hum, or play that’s recognizable on it’s own. Like Mary Had A Little Lamb, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, or Ring Of Fire. Usually it’s something you can’t stand to hear one more time. However, it’s an integral part of music. It’s a combination of pitches and beats that form a melody that once stuck in your head, it never leaves. So the next time you play Ode To Joy on your guitar, remember, that’s a melody.


Harmony is a little more complex to define, since there are so many degree’s of definition. In our case, in the guitar world, a combination of pitches ( notes ) with specific intervals is harmony. What did I just say? What is an interval? An interval is the difference between two different pitches. For example, if you play one string, and then a different string, you’ve played two pitches ( notes ). That difference between those two pitches ( notes ) is an interval. Just like different pitches will be assigned different note names, different intervals will be assigned different interval names. Sounds confusing, but don’t worry about it. It’ll make sense later.


Structure, also know as form, is the parts of a song. Usually verse, chorus, bridge, pre-chorus, etc.


Usually unheard of in the guitarists world, dynamics are simply playing loud or soft. Is designated by certain notation under the music, such as p for piano or f for forte.

These are the very basics of music theory. Memorize and understand these basics, because everything else will build off of these. Thanks for looking.