Make sense of theory?

I have a bit of a learning disability where I can’t connect the dots as people assume A leads to B, which isn’t how my brain seems to work.

An example.

Imagine knowing the alphabet and a dictionary full of words, but not how to form a sentence with them that has any meaning, just word salad is all you can come up with. An acute lack of understanding, and connecting the dots to form an understanding of the material.

Can anyone help me find the connections to put me on a path to understanding?

I feel the information I’ve learned lacks any kind of context over the last 35 years and it’s a puzzle I’ve not been able to make sense of or apply any meaning to.

Are you asking how music theory is actually useful? I’m not really sure, but if you find out, kindly share it with me!

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Yep, I mean what’s the point of it if it’s just an after the fact thing, why bother? I doesn’t exactly give me ideas and so far has been very little help to me, and I think it actually stopped me from being creative in some ways because I started thinking I have to be in key rather than just playing what sounds good.

Well, there are applications like scholarship (publishing papers, etc.). I suspect it’s also useful in methodically trying to figure out why something might not be working, and perhaps to give ideas to help bump something forward… but the Greeks were very clear, great music comes from the gods, where the muses whisper into the ears of a composer. I’m sure that there are some good theorists here that will give more elaboration about the value of theory.

With this in mind, sounds like you’ve maybe learned theory/harmony as ummm trivia perhaps? In that case there’s no context, and therefore it’s not too useful. There’s lots of folks out there much more versed in the arcane harmony arts than I, but I might suggest perhaps giving yourself an actual reason to learn theory and maybe make it somewhat more situational, and “cause and effect” if that makes any sense.

Often times, following your instincts and playing “what sounds good” is just what the doctor ordered. Rge "theory part of that is giving what you think sounds good some sort of name. Lots of the greatest musicians in history didn’t exactly know “correct” theory but if you pay attention to what sounds good, and observe patterns I think you might be on the right track.

Ask lots of questions, play a lot and try to document/transcribe what you play and you’ll be in great shape in my opinion!


Perhaps try thinking of theory less as a set of rules, and more as a way to describe, and therefore repeat, what sounds good to you.

For instance, let’s say you’re jamming over an E chord, and you randomly play 11th fret on the B string and then bend it up a half step, and you like the result. By using basic theory, you can figure out that you bent from a #4 to a perfect 5th - now you can use that same idea over a different chord without just relying on your ear. Over an A chord, you’d know in advance that bending D# up a half step to E would have the same sort of sonic effect.

Yeah I think that’s part of my problem, I don’t look at the fretboard and think “this fret is this note on this string”. To me thats too slow and gets in the way, sorta like playing fast and chunking, you can’t sit and think about it like that, or at least I can’t think of it like that.

I learned the notes, and pentatonic, blues and diatonic scales, made up some of my own pentatonic scales using intervals and that was literally the first time I used theory to create something new that sounded interesting to me.

I see jazz and fusions players just don’t seem to care about any of it and just play notes that sound good over whatever chord they are playing.

I tried to learn classical stuff because I so love Randy Rhoads, but the way they teach with boring unmusicial sounding exercises drove me not to play at all. I mean imagine picking up a Mel-Bay book in this day and age, it just doesn’t work.

I think theory needs something like Cracking the Code to have it all make more sense, instead of just memorize this information type of teaching, its incedibly boring for someone with ADHD and has nothing to do with music when it’s presented without any kind of context.

Someone probably has already thought of this, but where to find it?

Guthrie Trapp and Tomo Fujita are two highly respected guitar educators who both emphasize the importance of mastering triad shapes up and down the neck and being aware of what chord degree corresponds with each note within a given triad shape.

In this first video, John Mayer (who has taken lessons from Fujita), talks about mindset and philosophy around learning enough to be able to deconstruct things you like and “rip me off in more fundamental ways”:

On to meat and potatoes, the video below by youtuber Jack Gardiner might be a little overwhelming, and at times perhaps a bit intentionally so in order help him sell his paid content. But it does the best job I’ve seen of concisely yet thoroughly explaining the basics of triads. Some pausing and rewinding might be necessary to digest everything that’s here, but there’s a lot of good information crammed in. (jump to 1m47s)

A less detailed video where Guthrie Trapp talks passionately about the importance of learning to apply triads: (jump to 4m50s)

Tomo Fujita on applying triads: (triad details start at 4m35s, but watch from the beginning for context)

Longer and less structured video with Fujita and youtuber Brett Papa talking about how knowing some jazz and theory can help you play better:


I found Frank Gambales video on what chords to put under what modes… I’m honestly surprised no one has ever relayed that information before. I think that’s what I meant by assumed knowledge, people expect you to know this and forget what it’s like.

I’ll check those Frylock, except the JM one, I really can’t stand him. Thank you, the more the better.

I bought Beato’s stuff last year, it’s such information overload and no context again…