Best Music Theory Book for Guitar in 2021

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Have you ever encountered someone who said, that “music theory is hard”? Or a person telling you that they are more of a “by-ear” type of a musician, and they don’t need to learn any theory? If only they get their hands on a Best Music Theory Book for guitar, their limiting beliefs will surely change.

Even the great Mozart who could very well be the most naturally gifted musician the world has ever known had to study theory and composition for many years.

People say that “ignorance is bliss”, or you can’t be hurt by something you don’t know. Tell that to people who live on the path of an approaching hurricane and see their reaction.

Just like in music, whether you want to learn how to play any musical instrument, your first step is to gather the right information to help you get started. Nowadays it’s easy to just search the internet and learn from so-called “experts”.

The problem with this is that oftentimes, these are people who just copy from one another and do not fully comprehend the concepts they are trying to teach. This can be harmful as learning the wrong information have its consequences. So it’s better not to take chances and get the correct knowledge from real experts from the start.

Top 6 Best Music Theory Book For Guitar

  1. The Guitar Handbook: A Unique Source Book for the Guitar Player
  2. The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists
  3. Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know
  4. Fretboard Theory (Volume 1) Paperback
  5. Guitar Fretboard Workbook 2nd Edition
  6. Guitar Theory for Dummies Paperback

Best Guitar Learning Book Reviews

We have come up with the 6 best guitar theory books from well-known authors who know their craft. These are the best guitar books on the theory that took years to write and it can only help you whether you are a beginner or an advanced guitarist who wants to fine-tune your knowledge and skills.

1. The Guitar Handbook: A Unique Source Book for the Guitar Player

The Guitar Handbook: A Unique Source Book for the Guitar Player - Amateur or Professional, Acoustic or Electrice, Rock, Blues, Jazz, or Folk

This is one of the best guitar theory book and the most complete handbooks any guitarist can wish for. Ralph Denyer can explain chords, scales, and guitar concepts clearly and concisely. The illustrations are simple yet extremely helpful. This book encompasses 10 years of technological change in recording and amplification.

Some of the topics contained in the book are the following:

  • History of the guitar
  • Biographies of famous/influential guitarists
  • How guitars are made/how they work
  • Music theory and how it applies to guitar
  • Basic skills
  • Intermediate and advanced techniques for different music styles

This handbook shows the quickest way to reference guitar chords and scales.

It doesn’t talk down to the reader it motivates them to extract as much information they can from this book to improve their playing skills and knowledge.

It’s a well-rounded book that touches on the different styles of guitar players, construction or anatomy of guitars, etc. What most readers will appreciate is the “Playing Guitar” section, where tuning, technique, scales, chords, and so much more are comprehensively explained.

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2. The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists:  (Guitar theory) 3rd Edition

The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists: The complete guide to music theory from a guitarist's point of view (Guitar theory)

Written by Joseph Alexander, a guitarist and expert tutor for over 20 years. His guitar instruction books have been published in four different languages and have sold over 350,000 copies to worldwide critical acclaim.

This Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists, explains in a very clear and comprehensive way how music works. From the difference between a minor and major scale, to how chords are built, common chord progressions and so much more.

Even those who have already ample knowledge about how music works are surprised how they get a new and fresh perspective of things that they already know.

The straightforward and very clear explanations on different subjects related to the principle of music make this a go-to-book for any guitarists who are serious about improving their skills and knowledge.

Joseph Alexander is a prolific author having written 30 guitar guides. He breaks down each concept in an easy-to-understand example that some readers have learned to appreciate. He emphasizes that the theory for guitar enhances one’s playing and listening to music, which adds to new ideas and promotes creativity in a fun way.

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3. Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask 

Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask (Guitar Method)

Hal Leonard LLC is one of the largest music publishing company that publishes sheet music, songbooks, software and other related resources for teaching and learning music. Hal Leonard Guitar Method is based on years of teaching and includes some best guitar teaching ideas.

Hal Leonard’s Music Theory for Guitarists by Tom Kolb unveils the secrecy of music theory using simple terms and diagrams. This guitar method book is also geared towards the intermediate and higher level guitar players.

Though the publisher claims that Hal Leonard Guitar Method book is designed for anyone just learning to play guitar but in this case, an absolute beginner may find it a bit complex and may not be able to keep up so prior knowledge of music should help.

Knowing how music is put together and why it sounds the way it does is just one of the mysteries that is unraveled in this book. Scale construction, intervals, triads, and more are all explained in a clear and concise way that the reader will appreciate.

Many “lightbulb” moments will come to you and you’ll wonder why you haven’t thought of it that way before. If you are not a guitarist and play another musical instrument, this could be the quickest way to transfer your existing knowledge to a guitar.

This is the book to have if you are aspiring to become a real musician. 

Tom Kolb did a great job of stuffing great information in this 104 pages of unadulterated knowledge in music theory for guitarists. Using plain and simple terms and easy to understand diagrams, learning is guaranteed if you will put in the work.

Also, Hal Leonard grants you access to 94 audio files kept in their site library so you can practice along with the examples every best guitar books provide.

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4. Fretboard Theory (Volume 1) Paperback

Fretboard Theory (Volume 1)

Rolling stone magazine hailed guitarist Desi Serna as a “music-theory expert”. He is also the author of the popular “Guitar Theory For Dummies” (also on our review list), and “Guitar Rhythm and Technique For Dummies”.

This book as the title suggests, focuses on the fretboard and emphasis on popular songs.

Fretboard Theory books will teach you how to play in the style of pop, rock, acoustic, blues, and many more. It boasts of being the only theory books for guitar in the world that includes important details to hundreds of popular songs.

This is an absolute must to add to any serious guitarist’s library. This is easily one of the most comprehensive guitar books that give a detailed explanation of the principle behind it. Desi Serna has a great way of explaining complex things in a simple and understandable and even relatable way.

This book is a steal and the hours of free online audio instruction and song learning videos are available to supplement the book. Also, free tabs and play-along backing tracks are available too through the instructions in the book.

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5. Guitar Fretboard Workbook 2nd Edition

Guitar Fretboard Workbook

A very thorough book that fully explains the music concept in a straight forward manner. The focus is on the fretboard where the notes are and how they relate to each other. It covers everything one needs for a rock-solid foundation.

This book will help you grasp the full essence of the guitar and allow you to communicate with other musicians regardless of their instrument. 

Guitar Fretboard Workbook deals with the theory and does a commendable job of explaining it well. This is another go-to-book that you use bit by bit when you need to go back to old material and refresh your knowledge. It’s a book that you keep handy ready to be referenced at any time.

Breaking down a complex subject and then turning it into an easy to understand the concept is one of the admirable skill of the author. It’s no surprise as Barrett Tagliarino has been a Musicians Institute instructor in Hollywood since 1989, and was Rock Department Head at Hohner Musikschule in Vienna, Austria. He has honed his teaching skills and applied them to this book.

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6. Guitar Theory for Dummies Paperback

Guitar Theory for DummiesIf you are a beginner and thinking about grabbing this book as the word “Dummies” appeared in the title, then you are wrong. This Guitar Theory For Dummies is not for beginners rather geared more towards the intermediate or advanced level players.

It is a clear and concise book explaining in clear and simple terms CAGED systems, among others. The explanation of a major and minor aspect of the Pentatonic Scale. Desi Serna explains all this in a very effective way without talking down to the readers.

It goes beyond guitar basics that’s why intermediate to advanced players will benefit more from this book. 

Those who wish to improve on their improvisational and compositional skills will find this book extremely helpful. Here are just some of the topics tackled in the book:

  • Pentatonic and major scale patterns
  • The CAGED chord system,
  • Chord progressions, and playing by numbers;
  • Roots, keys, and applying scales, plus modes and modal scales;
  • Intervals and chord extensions;
  • Popular song references and theory applications

If you already perceive basic theory for guitarists and want to know more advanced knowledge or if you are ready to step up and reach for the next level and also need the best music theory book for self-study, Guitar Theory For Dummies will definitely up your game.

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What Are Some Guitar Theory Books for Beginners?

Though we have already listed the best music theory books for guitar, most of those books are written only for intermediate or advanced level musicians. Absolute beginners who have no or very little prior music knowledge would be disappointed by following those books and usually give up after a few days.  Here we are mentioning two beginner’s guitar book (written in different aspect) for learning theory:

1. How To Read Music In 30 Days: Music Theory for Beginners – With Exercises & Online Audio

How to Read Music in 30 Days: Music Theory for Beginners - with exercises & online audio (Practical Music Theory)If you want to learn how to read music notation and master fundamental music theory, then this is the appropriate music theory book for beginners like you. The book has divided into three sections: rhythm, pitch, and expression.  It starts with the most basic stuff and gradually forwards to more complex concepts.

The author has mostly highlighted “how to read music” and the rhythm section but overlooked the method to use that knowledge on actual playing. However, readers can contact and get an answer from the author by email for any query arises from the book.

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2. Ultimate Guitar Chords, Scales & Arpeggios Handbook For Beginners & Up

Ultimate Guitar Chords, Scales & Arpeggios Handbook: 240 Lessons For All Levels: Book & Streaming Video CourseDamon Ferrante is a well-known guitar instructor and music professor who wrote this clear and comprehensive guitar handbook. This is one of the best guitar scale books that include a considerable amount of chords, scales, arpeggios, music theory, and fretboard theory.

The author has addressed fundamental knowledge like finger position, notes on the strings, etc. to explain every chord, scales, arpeggios, and other related guitar lessons. That is easy to grasp for beginners and very effective to apply that knowledge into one’s guitar play regardless of their skill level.

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Now that we have listed Best Music Theory Books For Guitar, let’s answer some of the most asked questions regarding music and guitar theory:

What is Music Theory for Guitar?

According to Wikipedia, music theory is the study of the practices and possibilities of music. As a practical discipline, it encompasses wide-ranging topics from methods to concepts and much more.

Theory for guitar tackles scales and key signatures, intervals, triads, Pentatonic scales, modes, and modal harmony, chord/scale relationships, and many more.

It is frequently referenced on how musicians and composers play and create music. Many cultures dating as far back as Mesopotamia and ancient China produced theories for music through writings that have been documented, providing solid proof that it has existed for thousands of years.

How to Learn Music Theory for Guitar?

The best way to learn music theory for guitar is through guitar books that have been written by authorities on the subject. The internet is an alternative source but the proliferation of unqualified “gurus” may only cause harm than good.

Known experts in this field have spent years of research and actual application that they’ve consolidated and made into guides, handbooks, and best guitar theory books for beginners and advanced guitarists. These are invaluable resources that have helped so many beginners and even professional guitarists for years.

A systematic and comprehensive music concept guide made by true experts can never be surpassed by internet “gurus” who at best can only give piecemeal information. Worse, they can harm the style of guitar playing by providing false concepts and information.

Do You Need to Know or Learn Music Theory to Play the Guitar? 

No, as there are guitar players who have learned to play guitar by self-taught or “by-ear” methods. However, one cannot argue that learning the principle of music is a great advantage for all regardless of their level of skills. As the saying goes “knowledge is power” and it is just the same in this area.

How does Music Theory Help a Guitar Player? 

Music theory helps a guitarist by providing him the rationale behind all concepts about guitar playing. Knowing the right notes, chord progression, pentatonic scale, triads, modes, etc. will make him understand and appreciate music more than not knowing them.

Many players who shun theories initially, and then decided to learn it was thankful that they did. Most of them attribute the vast improvement in the way they approach their music once they’ve understood the concept which they initially thought unnecessary.


Great guitarists who never studied theory for guitars are the exception rather than the norm. It’s hard to argue that gaining extensive knowledge about a particular subject makes you an authority. Music is no exception.

Theory for guitar players gives them a distinct and obvious advantage over those who have no idea about how music is made. Some will say it’s unnecessary, or that it’s only a “waste of time”.

The reality is, some of those who don’t want to learn are intimidated by what they think is a complex matter. Only to find out later on that it’s not as complex after all once they open up their minds.

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