The big question!
Do you really need to know music theory to become a great guitarist or musician? We hear the same old arguments all the time.
Theory stifles creativity!
Hendrix and the great blues players didn’t need theory!
Who wants to stick to rules, theory is for geeks
To be honest, I think statements like these are the most ridiculous and uneducated responses to this debate I have ever heard. The argument is a pointless one from both sides because the real answer has nothing to do with the need to be strictly educated or non educated in theory. The real question is do you need to know theory and if so how much do you need to know. All of this depends purely on your chosen style of music and your goals as a musician. Generally speaking you could probably assume the following.
- Play camp fire style guitar – No theory required
- 12 bar blues guitarist – You could go quite far without theory
- Advanced blues guitarist – It starts getting harder without but still possible
- Rock guitarist – Yes and no, depends how far you want to go
- Advanced rock improviser – Very few will get by without good theory knowledge
- Jazz guitarist – Few will get by without good theory knowledge
- Classical composer – Theory is an absolute must
The above list I would argue is fairly accurate, but as I said, generally speaking. There will always be musicians in either camp that will argue with it but the fact is, you can only generalise because even though it will be true for the majority of guitarists, it has been proven many times there will always be somebody that comes along and shows that great musicianship can be achieved for every genre at every level with no music theory knowledge. The important thing to remember here is that these kind of people are in the minority and as the music becomes more challenging the prodigies become less common.
When it comes to the less demanding styles the amount of theory required is actually not that much and is surprisingly easy to learn. Basic knowledge can go a very long way and even if you firmly believe you can get by without it you would be forcing yourself to miss out on a huge amount of learning resources because if you don’t fully understand something then you are unlikely to find ways to apply it. Playing with ideas is one of the best ways to increase your own ability to create fresh ideas. At it’s simplest level theory is a means of musical communication if nothing else.
Never forget that no two people are the same. Just because one person might be able to get to a great level without theory knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean you can do the same. The most important thing to understand about theory is the music came first, it is nothing more than an explanation of what musicians have done over the course of many years. Is it wise to ignore all this information and then go figuring it out all over again on your own. Refusing to learn basic theory is doing just that because you can avoid it all you like but even with no knowledge of it at all you will still end up “sticking to the rules” whether you realise it or not.