This is a review of the best guitar theory books you can find right now, checked and approved by a guitarist in 2023
If you’re a guitarist looking to step up your game or a beginner wanting to learn some fundamentals, you must be very picky with choosing a good theory book. Picking the wrong one can make you frustrated and brake your progress.
As a guitarist, and after reading many theory books and doing in-depth research, I made this list to help you choose the best theory book for you as a guitarist.
Let’s get started.
Our Best Guitar Theory Books
- Hal Leonard’s Music Theory For Guitarists by Tom Kolb
- The Practical Guide To Modern Music Theory For Guitarists by Joseph Alexander
- The Guitarist’s Music Theory Book by Peter Vogl
- The Circle of Fifths for Guitarists by Joseph Alexander
- Guitar Fretboard by Guitar Head
- Guitar Theory For Dummies by Desi Serna
- Vaideology by Steve Vai
- The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer
- No Bull Music Theory for Guitarists by James Shipway
- Music Theory Idiot’s Guides by Michael Miller
10 Best Guitar Theory Books Reviewed
Here is our list of theory books we think are best for you to be a better guitarist.
Hal Leonard’s Music Theory for Guitarists (Tom Kolb)
This book has an enormous amount of information. It touches on all the concepts necessary for an ardent guitarist.
This theory book comes with the most important elements of music theory for guitar, including chord construction, chord progressions, chord substitutions, and scale patterns for any key. The accompanying recordings provide 94 tracks of music examples, scales, modes, chords, ear training, and much more.
It starts with the Layout of the fretboard, tuning, and intonation.
The next chapter explains the musical notation in enough detail, which will be helpful throughout your journey ahead.
The author didn’t shy away from addressing advanced concepts either. Some chapters explain exotic scales like Lydian Dominant, altered scale (aka Super Locrian), etc. Also, I enjoyed how he treated Locrian Mode on a major scale.
As many of you know, Locrian is much more challenging to work with. This book provides exciting methods to work with Locrian, like the triad over bass approach.
A good ear is one of the most important abilities for a musician. This book dedicates a fair number of pages to ear training. You will find references to well-known songs to guide you to recognize intervals by ear, a practical approach to Ear Training, and suitable practice materials.
Another selling point of this book is the quizzes at the end of each chapter. This will enable you to test your understanding of the relevant concepts.
To be honest, this book is aimed at intermediate to advanced guitarists. This is more of a workbook with straightforward information, which is unsuitable for beginners.
The Modal Harmony chapter needs to go deeper into the subject. Major and minor pentatonic scales are included, but the arpeggios are straightforward.
So, if you are already familiar with the concepts and want to brush up your knowledge, I would recommend “Hal Leonard’s Music Theory for Guitarists” for you.
The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists (Joseph Alexander)
“…I feel that there is a tendency for guitarists to know the theory, but not know how to make music with it…” this excerpt, taken from ‘The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists,’ encapsulates what the reader is going to get from this book.
From the very start of the book, diatonic harmony will be prioritized. You will be introduced to major scales and how to construct and play them in all keys.
There will be a very brief explanation of the circle of fifth, natural minor scale, and relative minor scale of a major scale. After these chapters, you will have enough understanding of what a major scale is.
In the following chapters, you will dive into chord construction, harmonization of melody with those chords, and transposition of chords. These basic concepts will help you understand the chord-scale relationship. How to use Chords from outside a key will be addressed here, and you will love it.
Next, you will enter the colorful world of extended chords, also known as color chords. You will also learn how to name a chord. Both concepts will transform how to compose and analyze a chord progression.
The author of this book has taken his time while writing on modes of a major scale, and you will notice that in no time. You will be provided with the chords and common chord progressions for each mode. Another intriguing aspect is the inclusion of 2, 3, 4, and 5 note patterns for each mode. These will change and transform how you perceive and use a scale in your solos.
As a final word, although this book is better suited for intermediate guitarists, beginner self-taught guitarists will not be disappointed if they are prepared to put themselves out to learn from this book.
The Guitarist’s Music Theory Book (Peter Vogl)
If you want to experience how a professional guitarist approaches music theory, this book will be right up your alley.
Peter Vogl has done an excellent job breaking down the rudimentary music theory concepts. Amazingly, it has treated intervals, a fundamental concept in music theory, individually with proper diagrams. So you will have a solid understanding of what intervals are.
Then you will be introduced to scales in the same manner as the intervals – simple, clear, and intuitive. Along with the major, natural minor, and pentatonic scales, two other important minor scales, namely Harmonic minor and Melodic minor scale, will be explained to you. Peter Vogl has presented the scales in such a way that it will help while you solo using them.
After that, chord construction and progression are explained in detail for each scale commonly used in western music. The author has compiled all the necessary concepts regarding chords in this section, and many things will make sense to you.
A unique feature of this book is the Nashville Number System, a method of transcribing music. This will give you a new perspective on chords and chord progressions.
The ear training section is noteworthy as well. You will get tips and techniques for ear training with online access to audio samples of the ear training section and all the other examples of this book.
You will appreciate and love this book if you are a beginner and a self-taught guitarist. Try this book first before you take up any other book.
The Circle of Fifths for Guitarists (Joseph Alexander)
This is the second book on the list by Joseph Alexander. He is an expert elucidator which is proved one more time in his book “The Circle of Fifths for Guitarists.”
This book, as the name suggests, is all about ‘the Circle of Fifth’ which is a specific and simple arrangement of 12 chromatic pitches of western classical music theory. These 12 pitches are arranged in a circle in such a way that every pitch is a perfect fifth of the previous one if you move clockwise.
The book opens with chapters on two fundamental concepts: intervals and scales, before teaching you the construction and significance of the circle of fifth.
Then he explains what accidentals are (sharps and flats) and how they relate to key signatures.
The book shows numerous usages of the circle of fifth, like modulation to another key, finding key signatures, relative minor scales, and chord progression.
An intermediate player would learn new things from this book. This book only focuses on a specific concept, and a beginner should find a comprehensive book, so I would not recommend this book to a beginner.
Guitar Fretboard: Memorize the Fretboard in Less Than 24 Hours (Guitar Head)
Another short book that focuses on a specific subject. As you can guess by the name, this book will teach you all about fretboards. This is a necessary lesson for guitarists of all levels. It would be perfect for beginners.
Scales are presented with techniques to move them all over the fretboard. This is an essential skill necessary for playing solos, licks, and even chord progression.
The biggest benefit of this book is it simplifies how you write a song or improvise on guitar. Mastery of the fretboard is directly correlated to how well you play and improvise.
Memorizing the fretboard seems impossible to beginners and intermediate guitarists, especially if they are self-taught. It will be much easier with 35+ tips and exercises presented in this book.
I believe anyone can take this book up and learn something new from it, but this should not be your primary music theory book. And whether you can memorize the fretboard in less than 24 hours, as this book claims, entirely depends on you.
Guitar Theory for Dummies (Desi Serna)
If you are a visual learner who prefers diagrams, this book will be perfect for you. Desi Serna, the author of this book, made sure to provide enough diagrams for the readers.
This book will explain intervals in enough detail. Octave patterns and other intervallic patterns are well explained.
This book includes the CAGED system, which is excellent for learning and playing chords. The dreadful barre chords will be much easier in the light of the CAGED system.
Roman numeral system is commonly used to identify the chords in a scale. This book will teach you that. Although Functional harmony is not explained in detail, it is good enough for beginners.
In studying chords, you would learn chord inversions and voice leading. You can implement the idea of passing chords to break the monotony of a progression.
In the last part of the book, the author gives a brief analysis of ten famous songs. For beginners, this will be a great resource.
Audio tracks are available for the exercises in this book. This book includes tons of topics that will be valuable to beginners.
Although the treatment of scales and modes is not as good as other parts, it will be a great book for beginners. But you must be willing to work hard.
Vaideology (Steve Vai)
Steve Vai needs no further introduction. He is an extremely talented, creative, and versatile musician. Throughout his long and successful career, he has experimented with and created new sounds, styles, and techniques inspiring a whole generation of guitarists. This book bears the mark of his talent and ingenuity on every page.
I wish I could recommend this book to every guitarist out there, but to my utter dismay, I cannot. This book is not for beginners. Even intermediate guitarists might struggle with the complexity of this book.
This book includes every concept that a standard theory book does. But what sets this book apart is the sheer number of concepts it touches on. From fretboard layout to polyrhythms, this book has all under one cover.
You will be trained in rhythm and groove with an experimental and intriguing approach that will speak the volume of Vai’s wisdom as a legendary guitar virtuoso.
He didn’t forget to include enharmonic and note recognition exercises, which was brilliant.
As an intermediate guitarist transitioning to an advanced one, this book will lead you to your goal if you accept the hard work you have to put out.
I don’t think this book alone will be enough to turn you into a well-rounded guitarist. In reality, a single book is never enough. So never entertain such unrealistic expectations for your own good. Another bad news is the quality of the physical book, which, according to many customers, is not on par with a book as well-written as this one.
All in all, Vaideology is a unique book that will challenge you as you read on. Give it a chance, and you will love every word of it.
The Guitar Handbook (Ralph Denyer)
The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer is a unique book in its own right. It will prove itself for both beginning and advanced guitarists. Consider it a complete book on guitar, including materials for both acoustic and electric guitars.
It expounds on how guitars are made and maintained, which is rare for music theory books. Many chords with great voicings are good enough to enrich anyone’s chord vocabulary.
The concepts get a fair amount of explanation with proper diagrams and illustrations. This familiarizes the reader, of all levels, with musical ideas with proper speed.
A beginning or self-taught guitarist can easily pick it up, and they will learn something valuable every time.
And also, the revised edition (1992) seems a bit better than the original one (1982). Make sure to order the right edition.
No Bull Music Theory for Guitarists (James Shipway)
The most common problem with guitarists, or any other musician, is that they don’t know where and how to start. As a self-taught guitarist, James Shipway is well aware of that. And that awareness might have been the motivation behind the creation of this book.
After discussing the fundamental 12 pitches, tones, and semitones, you will be guided to the major scale. The Major Scale will be the primary focus of the following chapters. As a beginner guitarist, you will be properly educated in the way of the Major Scale.
Like most of the other books, the Pentatonic Scale will be tackled with care and in enough detail. What’s really good about this theory book is its treatment of augmented and diminished intervals.
Minor scale harmony will get enough spotlight, not as much as a major scale. Minor scale harmony needs a bit of a more careful approach for a beginning guitarist. This does exactly that.
This book will be a good gateway book to music theory for beginners. That is why I would recommend this book to them.
Music Theory Idiot’s Guides (Michael Miller)
This book by Michael Miller is an absolute gem for beginners. It even answers fundamental concepts like “What is pitch?”
A self-taught guitarist will learn Rhythms in a ground-up approach with chapters on Tempo, Dynamics, and melody, which is remarkably good.
This book will prove to be useful for classical guitarists as it addresses Harmony and Counterpoints along with other basic and advanced concepts. Moreover, this book stands out because it includes chapters on Instrumentation and Performance.
Music Theory Idiot’s Guides is a perfect book for beginners, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to them.
If you have been playing guitar for quite some time and seeking help from any online resources, you are bound to come across the term “Music Theory.”
As a curious guitar student looking forward to improving your compositional skills and analyzing your favorite songs, you might have realized that understanding music theory is essential.
Learning music theory concepts will help you understand the patterns and structures that underlie music, allowing you to improvise, compose, and sight-read.
What is Music Theory
Music Theory is a set of principles used for composing and analyzing a piece of music. Like any other art form, the field of music is dynamic.
New styles, techniques, and even tuning systems are being introduced to the pool of existing musical knowledge. Music Theory is a systematic approach to explaining how and why all these things work.
Misconception about Music Theory
“Learning Music Theory will ruin my creativity” is a common misconception among many guitarists. It’s like saying learning the chess tactics will hold me back from being creative on the chess board. It sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
Getting acquainted with the fundamental concepts of music theory will get a beginner, even an intermediate guitarist, out of the habit of “mindless noodling.”
Of course, you may compose a fantastic chord progression or an interesting jazz line independently. But developing these ideas into a mesmerizing musical piece becomes easier if you know why those ideas sound good. This is why learning the concepts of music theory is necessary.
Music theory For guitar
Music theory for guitar is merely the application of music theory concepts, from the basic to the advanced guitar. Owing to how the notes are distributed across the fretboard, certain patterns are much easier to play on guitar than on some other instruments.
For instance, octaves are much closer to each other on guitar fretboards than on a keyboard.
There are some limitations as well. Thus, for guitar, music theory is tweaked a bit so that it is simple, efficient, and intuitive to visualize and implement all the concepts on the fretboard.
What is a Guitar Theory Book?
A guitar theory book is a resource that helps guitarists to learn the principles of music theory in a practical and approachable way.
Depending on the level of the guitarists these books aim at, they often cover a wide range of topics, from basic music notation and scales to advanced improvisational jazz concepts.
They typically include exercises, examples, and practice questions to help reinforce the concepts presented in the book.
Benefits of Using a Guitar Theory Book
Any well-written book that follows a ground-up approach to music theory will always be beneficial. Every book will introduce musical notation right at the beginning and continue to use this throughout the book.
Getting familiar and comfortable with musical notation early on will grant you many benefits. After learning notations, you can analyze scores and write down your ideas and compositions.
Take up any music theory book, and go through it with ease. Some concepts are much easier to understand in written form. Also, as the score gives a visual representation of a piece of music, this, in turn, will enable you to find interesting patterns and insightful relationships among notes.
Furthermore, theory books offer a copious of exercise. These exercises are often an excerpt from famous songs by various artists or standards by formidable jazz musicians. This is excellent if you want to see how the concepts play in an actual song.
Also, chord and scale diagrams and images of proper hand position and posture are beneficial.
How Do You Learn Guitar Theory?
The building blocks of music theory, particularly Western Music Theory, are Harmony, Melody, and Rhythm. You need to work on these three aspects to learn music theory.
To do that you should consider the following three things.
Choosing the Right Book for You
Choosing the right book is a crucial step in your learning process. A wrong book would slow your progress or even kill your enthusiasm and interest.
You must consider your learning style as well as the pedagogical style of the author.
Music theory books can be comprehensive or dedicated to a specific concept, style, or genre.
You need to choose by your current skill level and interest. If you are a visual learner, you need a book with enough images and diagrams.
Consider Your Skill Level
Being aware of your own skill level is another thing to consider. Guitar theory books are available for guitarists of all skill levels, from beginners to advanced players.
Make sure you choose a book that matches your current skill level. Otherwise, you would be overwhelmed or bored with the material. Many books include quizzes or guides to help you determine your skill level.
Check out Online Resources and Private Lessons if Needed
You might need help understanding a specific concept or need additional help. There are many online resources and private lessons available.
There are forums and YouTube videos with materials from basic to advanced music theory and guitar techniques.
These are fantastic resources, but some of them might contain misinformation. For this, you should seek help from private tutors who can provide accurate information and proper guidance. Books and other online resources cannot substitute for a mentor.
Choosing the best theory book for a guitar is a great way to improve your skills.
Consider your skill level and learning preferences to find the best one for you.
If you don’t understand a subject or it’s hard for you, there are many great ways to master it, such as online lessons or watching an online video.