What theory books should you use? Well, to be honest, having a good theory teacher is the best course of action because they will challenge you to engage with the material not just memorize it. Classical music theory and musicianship is a long-term study that can take years but it’s well worth the effort. Most music schools and conservatories have music theory classes which are an affordable and comprehensive way to learn. That said, there are a number of books I can recommend. On a side note, a little bit of jazz study can go a long way in terms of fingerboard knowledge (and be fun too). Jazz is a literal interaction with music theory and will teach you a great deal about your guitar (but not necessarily all the notated theory and classical harmony etc).
- RCM Theory – RCM Theory Books along with a qualified teacher. You’ll want a teacher for teacher for these unless you are extremely self motivated and look up stuff to compliment it. They have nothing to do with guitar, which in a way, is better because you’ll learn all the same stuff that pianists and string players learn. These books are not the best but they are graded and perfect for students. It’s very slow going with lots of practicing the written work but it is a great start and practical for students.
- Hal Leonard – Theory for Guitar is great in terms of learning about the fingerboard overall due to all the diagrams and its specific focus on guitar. You won’t learn all the written classical theory but you’ll have access to a lot of fingerboard knowledge. I use it with students to improvise and relate the shapes to their pieces.
- Berklee – For just an overview or self study you could try the Berklee Theory Book but it’s hard to retain the info in these overview books. Could still be hard without a teacher.
- Shearer – The newer The Shearer Method (Shearer/Kikta/Hirsh) are a nice comprehensive 4 book series including a harmony for guitar book. These are good but make sure you have gone through all the books from the beginning.
- Jazz – Another approach is jazz or improvisation, this can be a great way to engage with music theory. There are tons and tons of jazz books such as Jody Fisher’s book or the Hal Leonard book to start out. It’s a huge world and these books are geared toward electric guitar fingerings but still useful and fun