If someone asked you how to play a first inversion Bm7(b5) chord, what key G# Phrygian was related to or even how to create a secondary-dominant chord, chances are you’d probably stare at them and shrug your shoulders. Most musicians never take a complete and comprehensive music theory education, and you know what?

That’s totally fine.

Most musicians we look up to probably don’t even know what key they are in, or why the chords they play work together.

Today, there are more musicians (especially guitarists) than ever before thanks to the internet and greater accessibility to musical instruments. This allows everyone an equal opportunity to become an amazing musician, or genuine hobbyist, who loves to pop open a beer after work and jam to some 80’s hair metal. That being said, most professions in today’s music industry require their new hires to understand theory to some extent (i.e. music teachers, private instructors, composers, sound engineers, studio musicians, pit musicians, music therapists, film scoring etc).

Why not seek a higher musical education and get ahead?

Why not assist and understand your songwriting?

This series is aimed at helping each and everyone of you understand the wonders of music theory. Unlike a college course, we will be applying it directly to the guitar itself.

Let’s get started!

Understanding Music

We have to start somewhere, so bear with me on the first 2 lessons so we can get all of the basics out of the way. I guarantee you’ll appreciate learning the basics so you can really dive into and learn all of the good stuff later on!


All music is based upon sound. Without sound, we do not have music.

In order to discuss and learn music, we must use the common musical language.

All music is made up of notes. A note is simply a pitch produced by a musical instrument. Every note in music has a letter name, and the musical alphabet is made up of only seven letters:  


In addition to these Natural Notes, there are 5 Chromatic Notes as well: (sharps and flats)

A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab

In music, we refer to every set of 12 chromatic notes an Octave. Once you hit the same pitch on another spot on your instrument, you’ve reached another octave, and the note names repeat.

Let’s take a look at a guitar fretboard:


As you can see, there are multiple places where you can play the same note and pitch in various octaves. It’s pretty simple once you learn where the sharps/flats are. You might notice how the chromatic notes have 2 names, these are called Enharmonic Equivalents. Enharmonics will come in handy when we discuss key signatures, since the proper usage of these terms is totally dependent on the current key of a section of music.

The Staff and Clefs

Now that you know the names of the notes, and where they are on a guitar, we can start looking at a piece of music.

Music is most commonly notated using the Staff, which consists of five horizontal lines on which musical notes lie. The lines and the spaces between the lines represent different pitches.

-Lower pitches are lower on the staff

-Higher pitches are higher on the staff

A blank staff by itself tells us nothing, so we use Clefs to tell us which notes correspond to which lines or spaces.

The most common clefs are the Treble Clef (also known as the G clef) and the Bass Clef (or F clef).

From here we can figure out the other note names on a treble clef simply by going forward or backward through the musical alphabet: (A,B,C,D,E,F,G)

Treble Clef

The note names in Bass Clef are as follows:

Bass Clef

What happens when we reach the top or the bottom? We can simply add something called Ledger Lines, which temporarily extend the range of the staff.

For instance, the low “E” and high “C” as seen above. Ledger lines can go in either direction, and notes sit either on top of, or in between the lines.

Rhythmic Duration and Rests

Duration is how long a note or rest is to be played. Notes and rests are notated by fractional increments.

It all starts with a whole note. A half-note is half as long as a whole-note. A quarter-note is a quarter as long as a whole-note and half as long as a half-note, and so forth. Each duration will have its own symbol, as seen below:

Note Durations

What if we don’t want an instrument to play a certain beat of music? How do we distinguish those times of quite? In addition to musical notes, we use Rests to notate silence. Rests have the same rhythmic durations as notes, but look like these:

Rest Durations

Next, we will look at some rhythmic expansions. What if you want a longer note than a standard value? We can use dotted notes, as well as tied notes.

A Dot after a note indicates an elongation of the note by ½ of it’s original value. For example, if a half-note has a dot this tells us that the duration is a

Half-note + quarter-note.

Ties also connect the durations of notes together. For instance, if a whole-note is tied to a quarter-note, the duration then becomes a whole-note + quarter-note.

That’s all for the first episode of Wired Theory. The beginning may not be all that exciting, but trust me you’ll understand everything in future lessons even better.

In the next article, we will take a look at meter, time signatures, key signatures, and dynamics. After that, we can start diving into the meat and potatoes of music theory and all of the interesting stuff! The best way to really understand all of this is to apply it to your guitar. Each lesson will have something to go with it in terms of an exercise or diagram so you can really dive into it. 

Always feel free to reach out and contact me with any all questions you might have. Until next time, keep reading and rocking!

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This article written by community content contributor Zack Seif. Zack is a classically trained professional musician, currently at the helm of his solo project, Regression.

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