At some point in most of our musical careers, be it professional or just playing for fun, theory has raised its head. If you can’t be bothered with all that, then you can get away with it to a certain extent on the guitar, especially if it’s rock guitar that you play.
But playing piano or wind or stringed instruments, you have no choice. You have to learn it. That gives those people an advantage because there is no other way. But with a guitar and its modern-day playing styles, it is easy to avoid the theory and get the pedals out and make some noise.
- Top 7 Best Guitar Music Theory Books You Should Buy in 2023 Reviews
- 1 The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists – Best Intermediate Guitar Theory Book
- 2 Guitar Fretboard: Memorize The Fretboard In Less Than 24 Hours – Best Guitar Fretboard and Music Theory Book
- 3 Guitar Theory For Dummies – Best Beginner Guitar Music Theory Book
- 4 Vaideology: Basic Music Theory for Guitar Players – Best Overall Guitar Music Theory Book
- 5 The Guitar Handbook: A Unique Source Book for the Guitar Player – Best Guitar Music Theory Reference Guide Book
- 6 Guitar Fretboard Workbook – Best Budget Guitar Music Theory Book
- 7 The Circle of Fifths for Guitarists – Best Advanced Guitar Music Theory Book
- Interested in Learning More About the Guitar?
- What are the Best Guitar Music Theory Books?
Learning Theory Makes Sense
No doubt, understanding some music theory helps you understand your guitar a little better. It shows you what it is capable of. Even an understanding of basic guitar music theory will make you a better player.
And if you happen to write music on your guitar, then you are going to see a dramatic improvement. Getting to grips with harmony, scales, and musical form is one of the best ways to become a better guitarist. So, let’s look at some of the best guitar music theory books currently on the market and find the perfect one for you.
Top 7 Best Guitar Music Theory Books You Should Buy in 2023 Reviews
1 The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists – Best Intermediate Guitar Theory Book
This book is written by a man who has published over a hundred books on guitar theory and technique. However, it is probably not a book for a complete beginner.
A Basic Understanding
The way the lessons are constructed and the terminology used assumes a basic understanding of theory. To get the best from this book, you will therefore need to have the basics in place. If you are just starting on guitar theory, then this may not be the book for you.
The Learning Process
It is very much a process based on the completion of different exercises. The idea being the more exercises you complete, the more you learn. That is true, providing that the completion of the lesson is not rushed just to be able to say you have completed it.
For the complete beginner, just throwing exercises at them doesn’t achieve much, in my view, unless there is a full understanding of what they are trying to achieve and how to go about it.
There is a discipline involved that can easily be broken down. The student ideally should have some guidance in the early stages. The tendency is when left on your own that if there is something you don’t understand, just skip it.
That doesn’t work because what you have skipped you will need later on. It is why I say that a series of exercises that increase in difficulty is best suited to those with a basic understanding.
If You Have the Basics
If you do have the basics in place, then this is a book that will take you a few steps further. It talks about the importance of scales and the various scales used. You will get to use arpeggios and harmony. You will also look at how some solos are created and why.
There are some audio tracks that you can download that will offer new things to listen to and practice. A good learning option with this book is that it is available on Kindle. Set at a reasonable price point on both Kindle and in paperback, it is a decent option.
- Contains information on scales, arpeggios, and harmony.
- Available on Kindle and in book form at a reasonable price point.
- Not best suited to a complete beginner.
2 Guitar Fretboard: Memorize The Fretboard In Less Than 24 Hours – Best Guitar Fretboard and Music Theory Book
Every guitar player, whether just starting out or with some experience, needs two things. The second of those is to learn the root, the third, and the fifth for every scale. However, the first is to understand the fretboard, and that is what this book is all about.
The Importance of The Fingerboard
You do need to have a decent awareness of the fingerboard and know your way around it. If you don’t, that can hinder your playing and your progress. It seems that many teachers only make passing references to it and skip past it quite quickly to other things.
But it is a fundamental part of the guitar and needs to be appreciated for what it brings to the instrument. It isn’t there just to hold the strings.
Learning How To Use it
Knowing a few scales is a start, but how many do you know? Do you understand what makes them work? Being able to play a few chords is a help. But do you understand how they are made up and why they sound like they do?
And what about when it comes to playing a solo? Do you know instantly on your fingerboard where to find the notes for the chords of the song?
Why learn About the Fingerboard?
I know many good guitar players who go from one song to the next. From one solo to another. But they don’t understand how it all works and what they could do to make it sound better.
If you are immediately aware of where your next note is, you become a better player. And then when the time comes, and you need to transpose notes or chords, it is easy. Being aware of the fretboard and how it can help you will give you a greater understanding. Not only of your playing but of music in general.
What This Book Will Teach You
- It will teach you how to find notes that sound great when played together.
- You will see scales not just as random groups of notes.
- See chords in the same way, not just as shapes of where you put fingers.
- It will teach you how to memorize your fretboard.
And all that knowledge is available in this book. It is not a book that carries every theoretical answer. There will be other theories to come you must learn. But it is a great start. Available in paperback and Kindle at a nice price point. This should be considered one of the best guitar music theory books.
- A great introduction to the fretboard and its workings.
- Plenty of instruction on scales, chords, and notes at an attractive price.
- Won’t be suitable for advanced players if they have this information already.
3 Guitar Theory For Dummies – Best Beginner Guitar Music Theory Book
I have always disliked these books that offer a subject “for dummies.” You see them covering a range of disciplines. People aren’t dummies at all. They are just inexperienced and haven’t yet acquired the information.
That is not being a dummy. Perhaps the people who gave this book its title are the real “dummies” for not understanding the negative connotations a title can offer. But it does work brilliantly as a marketing tool, so hat’s off for that!
If you are wondering exactly where to start learning guitar music theory, this might be a good place. It does offer some very basic instruction across a range of musical theories. That’s why I have included it. And so, if you are looking to get the music theory bandwagon rolling, this could be a good choice.
If You Are Very New to Music
It covers a range of simple theories, talks about scales and chord construction and how to construct a solo. It teaches why certain sounds work well together using chord progressions. And will introduce you to keys, tonal centers, and key changes. How to form chords on the fretboard is also covered as it helps you understand the importance of the shapes.
Included are songs to learn as well as some scale patterns using audio and visual content accessible online. It comes in book and Kindle formats. It forms a step-by-step guide through those early stages and then takes you a bit further. I would quite like it if it wasn’t for the title.
- Covers a lot of basic information.
- A good resource that doesn’t specialize but covers a range of topics.
- Quite expensive compared with some.
4 Vaideology: Basic Music Theory for Guitar Players – Best Overall Guitar Music Theory Book
If you like books that are visually exceptional as well as having good content, then this is going to impress you. Written by Steve Vai, who needs little introduction, it is quite a work.
He may have had some help writing it, but his knowledge is all included, and that is what you need. But the artwork and color drawings that adorn most pages are his work. It is almost worth buying just for those.
Basics Plus a Bit
It takes you through a lot of theories that are fundamental to your development as a player. It goes into the basic theories as well, but also covers technique and also how some of his songs were constructed.
You can sense from the way it is written that he understands the importance of theory. But unlike some publications, this is a book on how music theory works with the guitar. If you are starting from the beginning, it is a good place.
Advice and Visuals
He goes into a lot of detail about the technical aspects. In some ways a bit too deep for a beginner. But this is a book that will stay with you as you improve. It has practical exercises and personal tips. Diagrams, and importantly, practice methods.
- Reading as well as writing music.
- The difference between Experiential and Academic learning.
- Chords, Scales, and Key Signatures.
- Modes and Harmonics.
And as I mentioned, great color artwork on every page. It comes in a Kindle version as well as a spiral-bound print. A nice idea that allows you to lay it flat when you are studying and playing.
- Packed with useful and relevant information for students at a range of ability levels.
- Spiral-bound option, full of great color artwork.
5 The Guitar Handbook: A Unique Source Book for the Guitar Player – Best Guitar Music Theory Reference Guide Book
When you are learning something new from a book, it is a positive if that book can later become a reference manual. By that, I mean you can refer to it time and time again. This Guitar Handbook is exactly that. This book about theory on the guitar starts from the ground up and progresses you through the various theories it is important to grasp.
Not A New Publication
This is not a newcomer to the library of music theory publications. It has been around for about 40 years. The fact that it is still being bought and used is a testament to its ability to teach you what you need to know.
A One-Stop Mine of Knowledge
What I like about it is that it covers a range of other topics as part of the discussion, even on how a guitar is built and the important elements. But, of course, it is the theory aspect that is most important.
There are theoretical and practical lessons for guitar beginners right up to more advanced players. That is why I say it can stay with you as a reference guide. It is a tool for all levels and abilities.
Theory With Technique
It also covers a range of genres. Theory needs to be combined with technique at times. This book does that by looking at Blues, Folk, and Jazz styles.
While some theories have an impact on all styles of playing, some are unique to a genre. This book covers all of that and more.
If I have to find a negative, then it is that this is a paperback-only resource. But the 256 pages are packed with useful advice you will want to keep at hand anyway. So the negative could actually be a positive.
These later additions are full of color photos highlighting both acoustic and electric instruments. And an extension now covers the changes in amplification, recording, and technological aspects.
One great thing is that it will introduce you to the music of King Crimson and guitarist Robert Fripp. That could be worth the purchase price alone. Easily one of the best guitar music theory books you can buy. A little more expensive than some but it has everything you need.
- Packed with great information and topic ranges.
- A reference tool for players at all levels.
- Some may think it is expensive.
6 Guitar Fretboard Workbook – Best Budget Guitar Music Theory Book
This is another book that concentrates on what you need to know about the Fingerboard. It focuses on is how the fingerboard is structured and how chords are created, and applies to both Acoustic and Electric guitars.
A Technical Approach
In teaching about the fingerboard and chords, it does go into some specialist areas. The foundations of music theory can be important to understand as they form the basis of most things. Modes and the relationships of chords are high on the priority list.
The Musicians Institute
This book takes the basis of its information from the core programs of the Musicians Institute. You can, therefore, expect it to be quite technical in its approach. The concepts and essentials are included and cover theory at a range of levels. It will teach you how to build a chord and scales and, most importantly, encourage familiarity with the fretboard.
You will not be required to read music to participate in these more advanced learning programs. Available on Kindle and paperback.
- Concentrates on the fingerboard and its relationship with chords and scales.
- Plenty of information, some of it technical at an attractive price point.
- Might be a little technical for some players.
7 The Circle of Fifths for Guitarists – Best Advanced Guitar Music Theory Book
Let’s move up the technical ladder a bit with a book that probably would not be called basic guitar music theory. If you have not heard of the Circle of Fifths before, this probably isn’t the book for you to start your theory journey.
However, If You Have Some Theoretical Knowledge
Then this is a book that will suit you if you want to delve a little deeper into scales and keys. It might be viewed by some as an advanced music tutor. But it is just taking more advanced concepts and providing basic explanations.
Complicated Theory Made Easy
Although to some, the Circle of Fifths and associated music theory is complex, the author explains it all very clearly. You are taken carefully through the method and the reasoning in a simple to understand way.
The book includes links to examples of the particular topic being discussed. One excellent aspect of how the author teaches is to get you listening to the individual notes in a chord. The emphasis is on how they relate to each other.
Providing you have a basic grasp of theory then this will be an interesting and instructive book. It will be an introduction to the theory of “the Fifths” that will give you plenty of benefits. It is available in paperback at a cost-effective price point.
- Easy to read and subject explained in a methodical style.
- Discusses the importance of a useful theory to learn.
- You will need some basic music theory knowledge to benefit from this book.
Interested in Learning More About the Guitar?
We can help with that. Have a look at our handy articles on How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar, How Much Do Guitar Lessons Cost at Guitar Center, How Much Does It Cost To Restring A Guitar, Guitar Fret Wire Sizes, Different Types of Guitars You Should Know, and Best Guitar Games to Help You Learn Guitar for more useful information.
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What are the Best Guitar Music Theory Books?
There will be those that consider learning theory on a guitar is unnecessary. But to fully understand the instrument, you need theory to open the door.
For the thoughtful, creative player and songwriter, there is no substitute for this knowledge. There are plenty of options to start you on your way. And every book we have looked at has its points to offer. It is not as daunting as it may seem at first.
But, if I had to choose a theory book for the guitar, then I would go for …
Full of useful information about a variety of things that need to be learned. But as it is also presented in a spiral-bound format, it is easy to use when practicing. And then, of course, there are the drawings. A great book to keep with you. So, well done to Mr. Vai and all those that helped along the way.
Until next time, let your music play.