Rick Beato - more show & less tell @ the power of theory

I’m sure the teachers out there will love this. It made a hoooge impression on me…

A few days ago Beato posted this Top Ten Underrated Guitar Solos of All-Time vid. I’m watching as he recreates the Cars’ “Just What I Needed” solo on the spot - 8:05-9:13. No lead sheet in sight. He just identifies the chord progression out of the air, and then with his interval training, instant recognition of every note on the fretboard and intuitive sense of the chord relationships (plus I don’t know what other wells of musical wisdom), he just puts all the notes together.

Doubted my take on this at first, but he replied to my e-mail (humbly, I should add) that yeah, no prep or anything; he can just do stuff like that…!

At 12:50-14:26, his #1 pick, it’s like watching a kid in a candy store as Beato’s listening to a cover of Lionel Ritchie’s “Running With the Night” that’s got an added guitar solo (wasn’t in the original '80s version). The man is ecstatic! Although here he doesn’t play, you can see that as with the above tune, he’s thinking along with the guitarist and is able to just marvel at the decision making (which is what improv often is) - because he really gets it.

Me, I’m dumbstruck marveling at the marveling! I’ve read and heard a lot of explanations regarding the importance of theory; I’ve never seen one take shape in front of me. It made the application of theory almost three-dimensional.

Beato is a gem:)


He is. My only quibble is that he tends to drone on (and on) in his videos. Sometimes he gives a theory lesson with no practical application (i.e. double harmonic or major harmonic theory videos).

I’d love to get him a beer or two and pick his brains, though. What a nice bloke.


He’s awesome but why do you assume he did that “on the spot”. I would assume he learned those solos. He’s known for having a great ear so I’m sure it wasn’t too much learning.

Seems to be the case with most music theory teachers. Although the concepts are simple, the contrived nature of theory can really mess with you unless you’re at that point where you understand most of it.

I think this is a huge issue in teaching it, we take for granted and assume others know info we know, so it can be hard to convey the ideas when such a large nomenclature is involved.

I asked him via email; he admitted to (more like ‘took credit for,’ but again, he did it humbly) doing it on the fly.

That’s why I posted it - it’s a rare instance of actually getting to see/hear what all that knowledge can yield.

I’d argue specifically this is aural skills more so than theoretical knowledge, but each assist the other. But I get it! All the more reason to be diligent about ear stuff.

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I agree, I reckon it’s more to do with your aural skills.

I find that having the theory side of things clear helps me “store” and access that aural information easily. In other words, my personal experience is that labelling a specific cadence or pattern helps me identify and use that information.

All the better if I can associate a specific bit of theory to a song!

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It is a clever and great solo but the theory behind it and the process of analysis of it is incredibly easy. Any guitarist with a bit of facility on the fretboard should also be able to call out a chord progression like in this solo (I V vi III) and identify how the solo notes relate to it. That’s just theory at it’s most basic.

Interesting. Trying to get my head around that… Let’s say for the sake of argument that a guy has those great aural skills - he can ‘play by ear’ - but doesn’t know squat about theory. (I don’t know if that ever happens in reality, though I do know that SRV flunked theory in high school, so…)

Are you saying that that alone would enable him to do what Beato did?

Basically I agree with your hypothetical, though it wasn’t exactly the point I was making, but very close.

First, yes, many people can hear something like that solo play it back on the guitar, or figure it out in not that much time, and not be able to tell you the intervals, roman numerals for the chord progression, note names, etc.

And many people out there could tell you the intervals, roman numerals, etc, but perhaps struggle to do it by ear very quickly.

I think that people general refer to music theory when they’re talking about the practice of naming things; naming conventions, naming common occurrences. We call a D minor triad a D minor triad instead of a saying “Well, it’s this note, that note, and that note” because the notes are used together often enough that it’s convenient to name them something. Same is true for something like a minor plagal cadence or modal mixture or anything simple or complicated.

But back to the minor triad as an example, yes, some people can play a minor triad when they hear a minor triad yet not know (or care) it’s called a minor triad. However when those folks then learn that it’s called a minor triad, if they remember that it gives them means to organize the sound like @jllopez articulated well. When you have the sound of a minor triad memorized, every time you hear it you know exactly what it is…then it becomes easier to build off of that, like memorizing the sound of different inversions, or a m7 chord, or a m6 chord.

If music theory is just naming things, then its isolated use is to look at music on a page and write an analysis of what’s happening. That’s pretty cool and all, but for everybody except music theory teachers, the goal is to use theory in conjunction with other skills to accomplish useful musical tasks like learning a solo quickly, knowing how to improvise over a chord progression, being able to choose from many options for what to do in the next measure of one’s own composition, etc.

Think of the music theory a bit like delegating to an assistant…it makes a lot processes faster and more efficient, but you need to tell the assistant what to do.

So when somebody works on their ears, they can do so without any organizational system, but it’s certainly a lot harder and less practical.

For whatever it’s worth, this skill as it applies to the Cars solo is a lot more common than you might think. It’s great that it got you excited, it’s just also a relatively simple bit of music for someone who has been spending hours every day playing and figuring stuff out, theory or not, for a few decades. It IS a notable accomplishment or benchmark, it’s also just not super rare.

I suppose there’s an encouraging message in all of this, which is, that type of skill is achievable for many! Just takes putting in the work on the ear training and other related stuff.

I have to figure out music for students all the time, and I also just simply enjoy transcribing, so I’ve gotten faster and faster with it or over the 25 years or so. Just like anything else, the more you do it…!

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I figured the ‘experts’ around here might get a chuckle out of my boyish enthusiasm for Beato’s ‘magic’:wink: This stuff is where you live, after all; but for a theory-noob it’s like, shazam!

All that you wrote was helpful - thanks - but in terms of this bit in particular…

I think I’m starting to get a feel for this, in just a very general way, from watching Beato. And so I’m wondering: if I want to take this further but not to the greatest heights like Beato (or you!) has, how to go about that exactly…?

A challenge in learning from people who know everything (I know, it only looks like they do, but you get me) can be that they might think that you, too, need to know everything, and so they want to teach you everything. I’m pretty into diy, so I’ll ask it like this: are there materials out there that do a good job of bringing a moderate amount of theory into one’s playing without going all-in?

I think that it’s helpful to get specific about tasks, activities. I have a few beefs with the way people use the term ‘music theory’

  1. It’s insanely general…as in “knowing about scales and relationships and stuff.” When you dig in, it gets hard to really parse out what exactly is ‘theory’ and what isn’t, at least in my opinion.

  2. At the same time, there’s a bit of a black and white thing, like you’re alluding to, of “knowing theory” vs “not knowing theory.” I “know math” up until about maybe 8th grade level when I kind of stopped being a good student and didn’t really absorb any of the more complicated concepts. I “know a bit of math?” you know what I mean, it’s kind an odd thing to make distinctions. The whole point is that, unless you’re specifically trying to make a living out of teaching theory alone, music theory is just supposed to be a collection of things that can make certain musical tasks more efficient.

The math thing is a good analogy…what do I need math for these days…I do need it, but I’m not thinking “Oh I need to know more math.” Instead I wind up running into some problems when doing our budget or figuring out some scale worksheet or something, then I figure out what tools or function I need to solve that problem.

So since you quoted my bit about composition, a good example is like, if you want to learn about composition or songwriting, look for material on those subjects. And if those texts/videos/telegrams etc use music theory terms or concepts you’re not familiar with, go look those up! Keep it tight and relevant to the thing you’re actually trying to do.

Here’s a really simple example: if someone is trying to become a great songwriter in a pop/folk genre, then knowing the fretboard up and down and tons of inversions and arpeggios just isn’t really relevant. And if somebody wants to be a great rock n roll lead guitar player, then learning a bunch of jazz harmony might be interesting or beneficial, but it’s certainly not relevant or essential. ETC

And I did edit my post initially because I didn’t want to trivialize the enthusiasm - I really do think it’s great - and it IS notable, and it IS an awesome goal. Keep that excitement up!


I appreciate that answer, and I plan on running with it. It’s hard to tell someone, hey, you don’t have to know as much as I do if you’re just trying to do X or Y or Z. And it sort of suits my personality to be the guy who goes hunting through the books and websites for exactly what he’s after. There are definitely down-sides, but it works for me - so hopefully it will where music & theory are concerned, too.

I love that line (saw it here somewhere recently, I think) from Frank Zappa: if you wanna get educated, skip college and go to the library. I did my time on campus, and yeah, I probably would have learned way more just Abraham Lincoln-ing it - get the books you need, read, find people to answer your questions!

That’s one of the ways this forum is so helpful for me. So again, thanks:)