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Differences between music theory and harmony

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Too many guitarists don't know the differences between music theory and harmony. Here is a little explanation.

Basics required for this lesson : None
Practice this lesson : None

Music theory

Music theory is the set of signs that allow us to write the music and therefore to read it. Keys, staves, notes (Round, white, black, eighth notes, triplets, ...), Silences (Pause, Half pause, sigh, half-sigh ...), beats bars and other signs, etc...

Music theory is the alphabet of the musician

The fact of learning to read notes on a staff in order to play an instrument is music theory. Playing written rhythms in order to learn to recognize all the rhythmic patterns that can be found on a partition, is rhythmic music theory (or again, music theory).

However once you start speaking about scales, intervals and chords, it is not anymore music theory but harmony. We sometimes find the concepts of harmony in music theory books. Example: the C scale. You have to read the notes to play this scale, which corresponds to knowing the music theory. But don't be mistaken: simply speaking about this scale corresponds to harmony


Generally speaking, harmony consists of:

  • The scales,

  • The intervals,
  • Chords (and how they work)
  • musical analysis (Harmonic and melodic)
  • and more...

This is why we can often hear: This guitarist plays like god without knowing music theory.

Yes, except that it is not because a guitarist does not know music theory that he does not know harmony! On the contrary, these musicians know every details concerning harmony.

To summarize, it is clear that one can play guitar without knowing music theory, however, without harmony, you will be quickly lost. Learn or do not learn music theory, that's your choice. But do not trifle with the harmony because it is essential for the understanding of music as a whole.

Well, I hope that now everything is clear to you and you are not confused anymore between Music Theory and Harmony.


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Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence
(Robert Fripp)