Music Theory - What???

Music Theory - Do You Need It?

You probably know or have heard of people who never went to college, or barely got of high school, but yet went on to be wildly successful. Through hard work, determination and persistence many of these people wound up becoming millionaires living the life of the rich and famous.

On the other hand we have all known people that had the degrees and sheepskins. That spent years in the hallowed halls of higher learning only to wind up in a mudane job with little room for advancement, or, out of work altogether.
theory 1 01What's the moral of the story? It is that the "act' of getting a formal education, although admirable, in no way guarantees success in a given pursuit.

The years of studying, the sleepless nights and untold dollars spent on a higher education can leave one no further ahead of the game than the "uneducated" individual that just "jumps in there" and gets busy!

Music Theory - The Reality

Much of the same can be said about playing music. The profession is littered with individuals that worked hard to get a degree in music and have a thorough knowledge of music theory, but would be hard pressed to get on stage with a band and just "jam" through improvisation.

In my early years I became enamoured with the idea of taking my music to the next level by pursuing a degree in music. I enrolled in college as a music major and spent several semesters learning how to analyze and dissect the music that I had, up to that point, played strictly by "feel" and instinct. It was by far an unrewarding experience for me.
theory 2 01The Allman Brothers got their start in my hometown of Macon, Georgia. They lived here for many years and there is a story around town that during their heyday, Dicky Betts, the famous lead guitarist, approached a music professor at Mercer University and wanted to pursue a higher education in music theory.

As the story goes, the professor sagely advised him that a formal education would do nothing but dilute what Dickey did naturally. That focusing his thoughts and energies on learning the "theory" of playing guitar could have a serious negative impact what he did by feel and instinct. That he would run the risk of "over-thinking" his playing which can slam creativity into a brick wall.

Of course every individual has their own goals and desires. Many guitarists have their sights set on a career in classical music, or, to one day become a music educator. These are pursuits where a formal education in music will be of good use.

What It Means to You

As a beginning guitar player you will eventually discover which path is right for you. You may discover an affinity for the ins and outs of music theory and want to pursue a formal education.
fretting 04On the other hand, you may just want to learn "how" to play without the shackles of having to analyze "what" you are playing. It's totally realistic to become a proficient guitar player without having to spend years learning music theory.

The truth is, much of what you "need" to know about music theory and concepts will be acquired through the process of learning to play.

I can personally attest to the fact that some of the best guitar players I have ever met did not have one bit of formal music theory education. In fact, many never even had the first guitar lesson!

In my life I had the honor of sharing stages with major recording artists and was able to tour internationally making a good living in the music business without the need for a degree in music.

As is so often the case with schooling, there can be an overload of "book knowledge" that never sees the light of day in "real world" applications.
too old 4This is in no way meant to diminish the pursuit of a formal education in music. It is an admirable pursuit that is a good fit for those of that mindset.

This is only a discussion to solidify the concept that you can become a very good guitar player by focusing on playing by ear and by feel, without having to spend countless hours in the study of music theory.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions!

Keith Dean

keith01 lowKeith Dean is founder of and a 30 year veteran of stage and studio. He toured extensively as a road musician throughout the US and Europe, was a former lead guitarist for Jason Aldean, and has shared stages with Little Big Town, Wild Rose, Winger, Confederate Railroad and more. He is a published songwriter, owned and operated a successful music store, and has instructed numerous students in guitar.

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