What theory books should you use? 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). I found the Berklee books below to kind of cover a bit of both.
Recommended books I use with my students
- Berklee Theory Books – For an overview or self study I recommend the Berklee Theory Book 1 and Berklee Theory Book 2 which are pretty good and have an answer key at the end and audio samples to download for listening and musicianship. Plus, the books are halfway between classical and jazz studies. Guitarists, even classical guitarists, need to know a little about the popular music work and jazz chord symbology as it even comes up in classical guitar scores. It’s just good to know.
- RCM Theory Books – Use these RCM Theory Books only if you study with a qualified teacher to help. You’ll need a teacher for these unless you are extremely self motivated and look up stuff on your own. These books are not the best but they are graded and good for my classical students (student who will want to write theory exams). It’s very slow going with lots of practicing the written work but it is a great start and very comprehensive, yet graded.
Guitar Specific Theory/Fingerboard Knowledge Books
- 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.
- 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.