Master Music Theory For Guitar with The Top Rated Books (2023)

Best Music Theory Book For Guitar
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Ever heard the phrase, “music theory is hard”? Or met someone who claims they’re just a “by-ear” musician and they don’t need to learn any theory?

They might sing a different tune after flipping through the best music theory book for guitar! Even musical prodigies like Mozart didn’t skip to study theory; he spent years mastering composition.

Now, it’s tempting in the digital age to rely on a quick online search and trust every self-proclaimed “expert” out there. But here’s the twist: not all that glitters is gold. Some online guides regurgitate incomplete or even misleading information.

And just as you wouldn’t ignore a looming hurricane, why start your musical journey on shaky ground? Dive in as we uncover some great books for guitar theory, curated by genuine experts, ensuring you kick off on the right note.

8 Recommended Guitar Theory Books Worth Reading

Diving right in, let’s explore the eight guitar music theory books. These have been handpicked for their quality and are categorized based on skill level, from beginner to advanced.

Authored by seasoned pros, these books span from essentials for beginners to deeper insights for those already strumming away confidently. Ready to amp up your skills? Let’s get started!

1. Music Theory for Guitarists by Tom Kolb

Music Theory for Guitarists Book/Online Audio (Guitar Method)

  • Level: Beginner
  • Publisher: Hal Leonard LLC
  • Pages: 104
  • Tablature: Yes
  • Available in Paperback

Hal Leonard LLC is one of the largest music publishing companies that publish sheet music, songbooks, software, and other related resources for teaching and learning music. Hal Leonard’s 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 toward intermediate and higher-level players.

Though the publisher claims that the Hal Leonard Guitar Method book is designed for anyone just learning to play guitar but in this case, an absolute beginner guitarist 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 guitar theory book to have if you are aspiring to become a real musician. Tom Kolb did a great job of stuffing great information in these 104 pages of unadulterated knowledge in music theory for guitarists.

Using plain and simple terms and easy-to-understand diagrams, learning guitar is guaranteed if you 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 book provides.

2. No Bull Music Theory for Guitarists by James Shipway

No Bull Music Theory for Guitarists

  • Level: Beginner
  • Publisher: Headstock Books
  • Pages: 107
  • Includes free downloadable audio
  • Available in Audiobook, Hardcover and Paperback

No Bull Music Theory for Guitarists provides a comprehensive guide to music theory tailored specifically for guitarists. It covers the landscape from basic theory elements such as the musical alphabet and tones and semitones, to advanced guitar techniques and concepts.

The book’s 12 chapters delve into a range of essential music theory concepts, including intervals, major and minor keys, chord sequences, and more, serving as a valuable reference for those aiming to deepen their understanding.

One of the book’s standout features is its pedagogical approach, incorporating clear explanations, practical examples, quizzes, and even an appendix of chord structures. These tools ensure readers not only understand the content but can apply it practically.

The free audio files accompanying each chapter are an added advantage, catering to auditory learners and those on the go.

Best suited for beginners to intermediate guitarists, this book is also beneficial for singer-songwriters and students preparing for college auditions or entrance exams. However, some very advanced guitarists might seek more in-depth explorations.

One limitation is its focus on foundational topics, potentially leaving out more niche or advanced music theory concepts.

Nevertheless, for those feeling overwhelmed by guitar techniques or the jargon of other resources, this book offers an accessible and straightforward way to navigate the world of music theory.

3. The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory by Joseph Alexander 

The Practical Guide To Modern Music Theory

  • Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Publisher:
  • Pages: 112
  • Includes 200 downloadable audio tracks
  • Available in Paperback

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 worldwide critical acclaim.

This Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists explains how music works in a very clear and comprehensive way. 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.

This guitar guide breaks down music theory concepts using easy-to-understand examples that help readers appreciate and apply the concepts. The book emphasizes how understanding theory enhances playing and listening skills, sparking creativity and new ideas in a fun way.

4. The Circle of Fifths for Guitarists by Joseph Alexander

The Circle of Fifths for Guitarists

  • Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Publisher: Fundamental Changes
  • Pages: 66
  • Contains many supporting audio examples
  • Available in Paperback

Guitar: The Circle of Fifths for Guitarists is an instructive primer on applying music theory concepts to the guitar fretboard. Author Joseph Alexander focuses on the circle of fifths, a fundamental theory tool for understanding keys, scales, and chords.

Though aimed at beginners, this book can benefit any guitarist looking to deepen their grasp of how music theory translates to guitar. Mr. Alexander expertly breaks down intricate concepts like scale patterns, chord construction, and the Nashville numbering system into easily digestible lessons.

With audio examples for each topic, readers can directly apply the theory to guitar playing. The book excels at connecting abstract ideas like intervals and chord progressions to tangible skills like improvisation and chord voicings.

While an intermediate understanding of scales and chords is helpful, true beginners will find the lessons are paced and explained clearly. The main drawback is a lack of song examples to reinforce the concepts.

However, Alexander succeeds in demystifying complex theory in a practical guitar context. Guitarists of all levels will gain theoretical foundations to inform their playing, listening, and appreciation of music.

5. Guitar Fretboard Workbook by Barrett Tagliarino

Guitar Fretboard Workbook

  • Level: Intermediate
  • Publisher: Musicians Institute Press
  • Pages: 80
  • Suitable for guitar tutors
  • Available in Paperback

A very thorough book that fully explains the music concept in a straightforward 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 music 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 concept is one of the admirable skills 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.

6. The Guitar Handbook: A Unique Source Book by Ralph Denyer

The Guitar Handbook: A Unique Source Book

  • Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Pages: 256
  • Comprehensive reference guidebook
  • Available in Paperback

This Guitar Handbook is one of the most complete handbook any guitarist can wish for. Ralph Denyer can explain chords, major and minor 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 guitar playing skills and knowledge.

I highly recommend this well-rounded book that touches on the different styles of guitarists, the 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.

7. Vaideology: Basic Music Theory for Guitar Players by Steve Vai

Vaideology: Basic Music Theory for Guitar Players

  • Level: Advanced
  • Publisher: Hal Leonard
  • Pages: 96
  • The full-color instructional book features artwork by Vai
  • Available in Paperback and spiral-bound

Vaideology by renowned guitarist Steve Vai is a notable addition to the pantheon of guitar music theory books. This volume not only offers readers a comprehensive understanding of music theory but also injects Vai’s unique perspective and insights, making the learning process engaging and insightful.

At the core of this book, readers will uncover the essentials of guitar theory and technique — from chord construction and scale relations to advanced topics such as modes and harmonics.

While it provides foundational music theory knowledge, Steve Vai’s own experiences and interpretations enrich the content, giving readers a more profound connection between theory and its application in real-world music.

Visually, the book is a treat. It’s adorned with color illustrations and artwork, amplifying the allure of its content. Aspiring guitarists seeking to learn guitar might find some sections a tad advanced, but the book serves as a lasting companion that one can return to as their skills mature.

On the downside, absolute beginners might find certain sections a bit overwhelming. However, for those truly invested in enhancing their craft and understanding of the guitar, “Vaideology” is an invaluable resource that seamlessly bridges foundational concepts with more advanced concepts of guitar artistry.

8. The Guitar Grimoire: A Compendium of Formulas by Adam Kadmon

The Guitar Grimoire: A Compendium of Formulas

  • Level: Advanced
  • Publisher: Carl Fischer Music Publisher
  • Pages: 211
  • Includes over 6,000 diagrams, charts and graphs
  • Available in Paperback

The Guitar Grimoire is a manual that puts every scale on the tip of your fingers. This great book can be described as an encyclopedia that houses the most complete set of scales and modes and over 6000 different charts, chord diagrams, and graphs.

The Guitar Grimoire has well-thought-out explanatory text that is easy to understand. Many users report that this book is imperative if a guitarist wants to master arpeggios and scales. The varied and detailed work helps readers broaden their shredding and ranges. In fact, the vast extent of work makes this the only book people need to learn and perfect their shredding.

The Guitar Grimoire presents its theories in a well-thought-out and clean manner. The different scales and techniques this book shows can help a guitarist develop their creativity.

Also, despite this book not quite being for the grassroots level, many users have felt that mid to high-level beginners can benefit from this book too. After all, this book is aimed at being a knowledge repertoire that can bring new forms to the table for any guitarist.

Now that I have listed some of the top 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 in 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?

best guitar music theory books

The best way to learn guitar music theory 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 more 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 guitarists who have learned to play guitar by self-taught or “by-ear” methods, relying heavily on ear training rather than formal learning theory. However, one cannot argue that basic understanding of music theory, including how to read music or read sheet music, offers a distinct advantage.

Not only does it provide a comprehensive resource for advancing your skills, but it also bridges the gap between traditional notation and tablature. As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power,” and this principle rings true in the realm of guitar playing.

How does Music Theory Help a Guitar Player? 

Learning music theory helps a guitarist by providing him with 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.

Final Words

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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About the Author

Founder & Editor | + posts

Thomas M., the founder of Guitar Top Review, boasts 15+ years of guitar experience and was a church band member in L.A. Transitioning from piano to acoustic guitar, his first love remains his Taylor GS Mini. Alongside like-minded hobbyist friends, he launched the site, driven by a deep love for music that transcends professional boundaries.

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