Music theory consists of conventions and terminology developed over many hundreds of years
related to sound and its notation for notes, harmonics, chords, scales, intervals, rhythm, harmony and expression.
Guitar theory is simply music theory applied to the guitar.
Music theory is generally taught with the aid of a piano, and if you're a guitarist, you
generally miss some very important concepts that apply uniquely to our instrument. We believe that guitarists
should learn music theory on the guitar and not on the piano. We show our reasoning here and begin our explanation
with the following rule:
Guitar vs. Piano
Guitar is easier to start playing than piano -
yet more difficult to truly master.
The reason for this is that most guitarists start out by strumming chords. Most Rock or
Folk songs can be played using three chords, which can be learned in short order. The problem comes when you attempt
to play notes (by ear or notation), chords, scales, intervals at different positions on the guitar. It becomes
apparent that the guitar is more complicated than you would think, given your ability to quickly strum the chords
of a song.
First of all, there are many factors that make the technique of the guitar difficult:
- There are many different ways to play a single note! With your plucking
hand, you can play notes with a pick, your nails, or with the top sides of your nails for powerful Flamenco Rasgueados.
You can also play notes with your fretting hand too, via hammer ons, pull offs. On a piano, it is vastly simpler,
you play a note by playing and holding a key down.
- To play a single note on the guitar requires you to, in general, use a coordinated
simultaneous action of both your right and left hands! (Unless you play an open string or perform a
pull off/hammer on). This is also in contrast to the piano where only one finger is required to play one note.
To play fast on the guitar requires that you play with both hands at the exact same time, requiring additional
- Six of the notes on the guitar continue to play after you pluck them, they are
the open strings, and you must take special care in not only playing these notes, but also in stopping them from
ringing when you are done playing them! This would correspond to the piano having 6 out of the total 88 keys that
would continue to play even after releasing the key - i.e., that would have to be stopped manually somehow.
In addition to the problems associated with technique, there are other factors that make
guitar theory itself difficult and unique:
- You can generally play the same note in multiple locations on the guitar. For example, given a sheet music note, you have to decide
on which of the multiple locations on the guitar you're going to play that note at. (On the piano, that note
exists in only one place on the keyboard.) This means that generally, you are able to play the same melody in different
positions on the guitar.
- Virtualoso Guitar teaches you all of the notes on the guitar in "Learn Notes"
mode and once you know the notes, drills you thoroughly on this topic in "Play Tunes Anywhere"
mode. You will master the fundamental notes of the guitar when you finish these modes.
- You can play harmonics on the guitar. (You generally can't do this on a piano.)
Harmonics have there own special symbols that don't specifically tell you the exact location to play them at either.
This is due to the fact that many of the natural harmonics have multiple occurrences on the guitar as well.
- Virtualoso Guitar teaches you where the natural harmonics are, completing your mastery
of the fretboard.
- You can also play notes of the exact same pitch with very different timbres (or
sound qualities), by changing where on the string you pluck the note or where you actually fret a given note on
the guitar. (The piano hammer strikes the string in only one place, generally giving you the same timbre for that
note.) On the guitar, you can make a note more bell-like or more harsh, allowing you to control the emotion that
you are painting onto a melody.
- Virtualoso Guitar contains high quality sampled sounds, enabling you to hear the differences
in timbre of equivalent pitched notes.
- With a guitar in standard tuning, (E2 A2 D3 G3 B3 E4), the interval between the second
and third strings differs from the intervals between the other strings. You have to keep in mind this difference
when you are crossing the boundary between the second and third string. In other words, a whole step, C to
E, going from string 3 to string 2 doesn't have the same "jump" as a whole step going from string 5 to
string 4. (On the piano, the distance between a C to the next higher E is always the same.) This makes learning
intervals and hence chords on the guitar, more difficult.
- Virtualoso Guitar inherently tests you on this topic, with tests covering the entire
breadth of the fretboard.
If you are an aspiring guitarist, then it is for these reasons that you should study guitar
theory and not music theory on a piano. Virtualoso Guitar was specifically designed to teach and test you on
these guitar specific elements of music theory, in an environment containing high quality sampled sound, realistic
3D virtual guitar and interactive sheet music notation. The knowledge that you will gain from this testing
will help you greatly in your quest to master the guitar.