Last Updated on March 3, 2023 by Ben
7 Best Music Theory Books for Guitar
If you’re an aspiring guitarist, you’ve probably heard the term “music theory” thrown around quite a bit.
Perhaps you’ve even studied it in some capacity, learning about scales, chords, and the like.
But do you apply that knowledge to your playing?
If you learn theory just for the sake of theory, it is pretty much useless without putting it into practice and applying it to your playing.
Therefore I’ve chosen to recommend some of the best music theory books for guitar, which I believe can improve you as a guitar player.
Many guitarists overlook the importance of theory in their practice, assuming that it’s only necessary for “serious” musicians or classical players.
However, the truth is that understanding music theory is crucial for any guitarist who wants to become a versatile and well-rounded player.
Applying music theory concepts to your guitar playing will help you understand and navigate the fretboard more effectively, improvise and compose more creatively, and communicate more effectively with other musicians, which is essential for getting you to “say what you musically want to say.”
In this post, we’ll highlight some of the best music theory books for guitar at different playing levels.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, these books will provide valuable insights and practical exercises to help you to push your guitar playing forward in performing music.
Disclosure: We are a professional review site that receives compensation from the companies whose products we review or recommend.
Best reference theory book for beginners
Most beneficial for Beginner-intermediate guitar players.
The book’s main focus: At 256 pages, you’ll get a comprehensive guide to teach you fundamental guitar techniques, music theory, and instrument maintenance.
The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer is a highly respected, helpful resource and essential reference guide for guitar players.
It covers a wide range of topics, including the history of the guitar, how to choose the right instrument, basic music theory, and practical playing techniques.
Key standout features:
- Comprehensive chord dictionary with hundreds of chords and chord variations. The chord diagrams are clear and easy to understand, and the accompanying explanations and commentary provide helpful context for each chord.
- An excellent guitar maintenance and repair section covers everything from changing strings to fixing a warped neck. This information is invaluable to keep your instrument in top playing condition.
- Denyer’s writing style is easygoing and engaging, making the book fun to read and learn.
- The book was first published in 1982. While it has been updated and revised in subsequent editions, some information may be outdated or less relevant to contemporary guitar players. For example, the guitar technology and equipment section may not include the latest digital effects or amplification advances.
- The book doesn’t go into as much depth on certain areas. For example, the section on music theory is merely a good introduction.
Here’s a lovely review of this book:
Two “applying the theory” books for advanced players
Most beneficial for Intermediate-advanced guitar players who want to deepen their understanding of music theory. It is well-written, easy to understand, and provides practical examples you can apply to your playing.
“Music Theory for Guitarists” provides a comprehensive approach to music theory for guitar players.
It covers various topics, including scales, chords, intervals, arpeggios, modes, and more. It also includes practical examples and exercises to help you apply the concepts to your playing.
Key standout features:
- Clear and concise explanations of music theory concepts.
- Kolb breaks down complex topics into easy-to-understand language and provides numerous diagrams and illustrations to aid in understanding.
- The book is also well-organized and progresses logically, making it easy for readers to follow along.
- It shows precisely how music theory can be applied to your playing.
- The book assumes the reader already has basic guitar knowledge and can read music notation and tablature.
Most beneficial for Intermediate-advanced players interested in modern popular music styles such as rock, jazz, and blues, who want to deepen their understanding of music theory and its practical application to these genres.
“Contemporary Music Theory” is a well-written guide to music theory that uses real-world examples to demonstrate the concepts and includes practical exercises and tips for applying the theory to songwriting and improvisation.
Key standout features:
- A clear approach to music theory, with a focus on modern popular music styles
- Real-world examples from popular songs to demonstrate the concepts
- Practical exercises and tips for applying the theory to songwriting and improvisation
- The book may be too basic for advanced musicians looking for more in-depth coverage of music theory topics.
- The book’s focus on popular music may limit its applicability to other genres.
Two “fretboard theory” books for beginner-intermediate players
Most beneficial for: beginner- intermediate who want to develop a thorough understanding of fretboard theory and learn how to apply it to the guitar practically.
The book’s main focus: The guitar’s unique fretboard and teaches how to use it to understand and play music.
It’s a popular guitar instruction book that takes a unique approach to teaching music theory and fretboard navigation.
The book is also designed to be a reference guide, with each chapter building on the previous one to create a comprehensive understanding of the guitar.
Rather than simply teaching theory for its own sake, Edwards demonstrates how to use the concepts in real-world playing situations.
Key standout features:
- Written in a clear and accessible style.
- Easy-to-understand language
- Highly useful for guitarists who want to improve their improvisation skills.
- It focuses primarily on rock and blues styles, so it may not be as helpful for guitarists interested in other genres.
- Somewhat repetitive in its explanations of certain concepts and may make it feel overly long for some readers.
- It does not include a comprehensive chord or scale dictionary.
Although the following review comes with poor video quality,
it can still show the benefits of one of the best music theory books for guitar:
Most beneficial for intermediate-advanced guitar players who want to improve their knowledge of the fretboard and become more proficient at playing and improvising in different styles and keys. Not for players looking to develop speed, accuracy, and other techniques.
This book provides exercises and drills to help players learn the notes on the guitar fretboard and improve their overall understanding of music theory.
“Guitar Fretboard Workbook” by Barrett Tagliarino will help you understand and master the guitar’s fretboard. It’s organized around a series of exercises and practice routines designed to help guitar players develop their fretboard knowledge and playing skills.
Key standout features:
- Focuses on practical exercises and real-world applications of music theory.
- Filled with hands-on exercises and practice routines that help guitarists develop their skills in a step-by-step, easy-to-follow format.
- The exercises cover a wide range of topics, including scales, chords, intervals, arpeggios, and more, and are designed to apply to all styles of music.
- Primarily focused on music theory and fretboard navigation, it may not be as useful for guitarists looking for more practical guidance on technique and playing styles.
- The book is written in a dense, text-heavy style, which may make it less accessible or engaging for some readers.
- The diagrams and illustrations are helpful, but there are fewer of them than in other guitar instruction books.
- Assumes a certain level of knowledge and skill on the reader’s part.
Yet again, an excellent book that a Musician Institute instructor wrote.
Here’s a review by Barrett Tagliarino (the author) himself:
Must have theory book for improvisation
Most beneficial for Intermediate to advanced guitar players looking to deepen their understanding of music theory and develop their improvisational skills.
“The Advancing Guitarist” by Mick Goodrick is a highly regarded and influential book that has been a favorite among serious guitar players for over three decades.
This book is challenging but rewarding and provides a wealth of knowledge and insight that can benefit your playing by providing you with a comprehensive guide to developing your understanding of the guitar and exploring a wide range of topics, from music theory and composition to improvisation and performance.
Key standout features:
- One of the key strengths of “The Advancing Guitarist” is its approach to teaching. Rather than providing a step-by-step guide to playing the guitar, Goodrick focuses on developing the student’s overall understanding of the instrument, emphasizing improvisation and creativity. The book encourages readers to think outside the box and explore new ways of playing and thinking about music.
- Another great feature of “The Advancing Guitarist” is how it blends theory and practice. The book provides a solid foundation in music theory, practical exercises, and examples to help you apply that theory to your playing.
- The book is quite dense and challenging to work through.
- Not as valid for players primarily interested in a specific genre or style of music.
- Writing can be challenging to understand without a solid foundation in music theory fully.
- The book primarily focuses on jazz and improvisation, which may make it less useful for players interested in other genres or styles of music.
- The book may not be as helpful for beginners or less experienced players.
Must have theory book for correct practice
I’ve also wanted to include this book as one of the best music theory books for guitar, although it’s not a pure theory book.
“The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar” by Jamie Andreas is a useful guide to developing a solid practice routine and improving your guitar playing with an emphasis on technique development which I believe can help any guitarist to consolidate his skills.
The book is focused on the idea that good technique and practice habits are essential for becoming a proficient player and offers a structured approach to developing these habits.
Key standout features:
- It teaches players how to practice effectively and improve their technique, which is essential for applying music theory concepts on the guitar.
- Offers a clear and structured set of guidelines for developing good practice habits
- Various exercises and examples to help you apply these principles to your playing.
- The book offers a wealth of information on posture, hand positioning, and fretting techniques.
- The book focuses on technical development, which may not be as helpful for players interested in exploring creative or improvisational aspects of guitar playing.
- Focuses on acoustic guitar applications.
- The book is less focused on music theory. It may not be as helpful for players interested in developing their understanding of music theory and how it applies to the guitar.
How to choose the best music theory books for guitar
Learning music theory can help you understand music’s structure and improve your playing. However, with so many music theory books available, choosing the right one for you can be difficult.
Here are some tips to help you choose the best music theory books for guitar:
- Look for a book specifically designed for guitarists.Many music theory books are available, but not all are specifically designed for guitarists.
Look for a book that focuses on the unique aspects of music theory for guitarists, such as chord progressions, scales, and arpeggios.
- Consider your level of experience.Music theory books range in difficulty from beginner to advanced. Consider your level of experience when choosing a book.
If you’re a beginner, you’ll want a book that explains the basics of music theory in an easy-to-understand way.
If you’re more advanced, you’ll want a book that delves deeper into complex concepts.
- Check the author’s credentials.
Ensure the book’s author is a reputable and experienced musician or music educator.
Look for books written by respected guitarists or music theorists with a track record of success, like the books presented in this post.
- Look for practical applications.
The best music theory books for guitar include practical applications that you can apply to your playing.
Look for books with exercises and examples that help you apply what you’ve learned.
- Read reviews
Read reviews from other guitarists to get an idea of the book’s effectiveness.
Look for books with positive reviews from musicians who have found the book helpful in improving their playing.
Summary of the best music theory books for guitar
While all musicians need to understand music theory, guitarists, in particular, can benefit significantly from studying it.
Because the guitar is such a versatile instrument with a unique set of challenges, understanding music theory can help guitarists navigate the fretboard easily, improvise and compose more effectively, and communicate more effectively with other musicians.
The books presented above will help you understand the underlying principles of music theory and provide practical exercises and techniques for applying that knowledge to your guitar playing.
So if you’re ready to take your guitar playing to the next level, consider getting even several best music theory books for guitar.
By this, focus on technique development, fretboard familiarization, and applying “dry” music theory to playing.
For technique development and correct practice routines, get “The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar” by Jamie Andreas”
For an extensive beginner’s reference guide, use “The Guitar Handbook” by Ralph Denyer.
And For developing your improvisational skills, use “The Advancing Guitarist” by Mick Goodrick.
Thanks for reading this, and I hope the books you’ll get out of this post’s insights will help you to get better quickly.
Other guitar development books:
If you’d like to season up your chord vocabulary with jazz-sounding chords and somewhat understand them theoretically as well,
check out the: Mickey Baker book.
For the advanced jazz guitar players… have you heard about Joe pass’s nameless-jazz-chords method book?