How much music theory is enough?

Whilst waiting for Justin to complete beginner Grade 3 and whilst consolidating my guitar playing skills I took a plunge and got some Music Theory books and read them. I’m also considering getting subscription for Justin’s music theory course. Now, the thing is, as I saw from the books I read (Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music theory and Music Theory for Dummies) it’s extremely deep area and has some topics that give some serious headaches. However I liked the fact that I learnt why I like some music and why I don’t like some other things. For example I realized that my animosity towards jazz stems from fact that it’s “free-form” music style with very little structure beneath it. It truly sounds chaotic to my ears. Now, I’m not saying it’s bad genre and don’t wanna hurt anyone feelings but I do find it chaotic music and one which I simply can’t stand. Also, I realized that most of the advanced concepts (9th chords, 11th’s, 13th’s and many other complex topics) apply heavily to jazz and mostly experimental/avant-garde genres. Also, I learnt about counterpoint and realized why the classical music that uses such technique doesn’t sound right to me. Having two different melodies in song simply do not sound nice to me. Perhaps I listened too much of pop/simple stuff, but doesn’t matter.

What I actually wanna ask is, since music theory is such a vast subject, what should I focus on learning? I would love to know how to write a song, weather for guitar or maybe one day piano, doesn’t matter. I would love to hear a song I like and play it back easily on my instrument. What I am not interested though is playing jazz, venturing into experimental genres, arranging for whole band or orchestration. Also, I must mention that playing music is and will remain a hobby, since I don’t plan to build career out of it. I would love to be able to play most of folk/pop/country, simple and famous classical compositions and other less experimental songs without any issue. Someone may ask why limit myself in learning music theory, but as I mention it’s my hobby and I have limited time for this hobby. It’s hard for me to imagine benefits of learning compound chords or 9th, 11th, 13th chords and some advanced topics which simply sound horrible to my ear and have little practical use outside jazz and experimental/avantgarde music. I would just waste my limited time on something I’d actually never use.

I found one answer on the internet which I’ll quote here, but I would love to hear opinion from someone who has similar aspirations and has learnt theory to confirm what music theory is actually beneficial for the aspirations I have.

This is the answer I found on the internet:

Here are a few categories/subcategories of theory you should probably have a grasp of, in order to make music that is theoretically grounded, but not mastubatorily complex, in order of (in my opinion) when you should learn them, as some follow from others:




chords and arpeggios



orchestration (which instruments to group together in a piece)


unison and counterpoint



subdivisions and meters


time signatures


I’m sure others will have different opinions, this is just the rough idea of what I was taught in theory in my first year, where I began to get a grasp of how to write and understand music.


You don’t need to know any theory to play music. I played for over 40 years knowing almost no theory. It wasn’t until around 2010 when I started reading different guitar related forums like Justin’s that I took am interest in theory.
Has it made me a better player? No it hasn’t but I do understand music more.


For the interest and the hoped for uses you have described, Justin’s practical music theory course would be an excellent choice.
If you have read two full books in their entirety you will have been exposed to many concepts and much knowledge that will be superfluous to any of your short to medium term needs.
Justin teaches it and then gets you to use it.


Hi Richard, just a quick query…once I’ve settled into my new practice space and got a structured routine going, I’m planning on purchasing the theory course. Is it interactive? Is there information to download on print off to study? Or is it through video learning? Sorry for the Qs and if there’s a topic where this is already covered :v:

That’s an excellent reply. I failed the first time i tried to learn guitar and a good part of the reason was teachers who pushed theory on me too much and too early. The reason: “It will make you a better player in the long run” is too vague and completely wrong if the struggle with theory makes you give up.

I do recall a justin lesson where he states words to the effect that if you are learning theory, it needs to be for a more specific goal than just it will make you a better player.

The second time around that I picked up the guitar, and this time successfully, I avoided any theory like the plague. But that changed over time. I remember attending a master guitar workshop and a number of the participants including the guitar maestro there were having theory based discussions.

At that point I realized they were talking in another language and I couldn’t even participate in the conversation because I didn’t understand the language. So I started embracing learning theory. Some of what I’ve learned has made me a better player and it’s been enlightening. There have also been moments of pure confusion. :slight_smile:


Ive been doing Justins Theory course for about 2 1/2 years, alongside the main course.
Its been the foundation of my learning to be honest, and I think it is the pinnacle of Justins teaching.
It is;

  1. Extremely well structured and taught, starting from the very beginning.
  2. Intensely practical. This gets the theory on the guitar immediately, where it belongs.
  3. Progressively, it allows you to, in many ways, become your own teacher. This is invaluable.

Highly, highly recommend it. An absolute steal at the price too. Also comes with some pretty detailed workbooks. I dont think you’d find a better theory course for guitar anywhere, period.

Cheers, Shane


I’m sure you can learn to play guitar without any theory. Just like you could learn to drive a car without knowing the road rules. OK, it’s an imperfect analogy- one will get you killed, the other won’t- but you get my drift!

Like Shane, I’ve found Justin’s paid theory course excellent. The theory has been invaluable in helping me on my improv journey. I’ve had lots of “a-ha” moments that have helped immensely.

It’s no substitute for practice though. Theory alone won’t make you a better guitar player, but I think it will get you there quicker.


I’ll throw my two cents in.

I began my journey about 10 months ago and swore I would stay away from theory. It’s part of the reason I stopped taking guitar lessons 60 years ago.

While my grand daughter was taking lessons I started sitting in on some of her lessons. She had an excellent young instructor. We started discussing theory and he was a big supporter.

Fast forward I just finished a theory course at a local community college. I probably failed the course, or barely passed anyway, but I got a lot out of it. Understanding scales, key signatures, chord structure is something I strongly feel will help me.

I had signed up for Justin’s course several months ago and was taking it in parallel to his beginner courses. Justin’s theory course is excellent! I turned to it when taking the theory class at college. The college instructor should take Justin’s class to learn how to teach theory. Justin explains things in a way that is relevant and understandable.


I would recommend Justin’s course as its gradual, systematic and done in bite sized chunks. Do one module at a time and keep doing then until you reach a point where you have had enough.

You will pick up bits and pieces on these topics just by doing the standard courses that Justin has. He also incorporates little bits of music theory, almost incidentally, throughtout the standard lessons.


@jacksprat @sclay @rlegault some great reviews here, will definitely be checking it out. It’s a real shame the lifetime access option is no longer available, but sounds like it’s still good value :v:

There are video lessons, written content, online ‘tests’ that you could describe as interactive at the end of each module. The downloadable content is pdf format but the newer content has superceded it … the pdf contains the old PMT course that was only download some time back in time.

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Yes, I saw synopsis of Justin’s PMT courses and it does look like he covers the most important parts without going too deep! I’ll definitely subscribe to it when I catch some free time to concentrate on it.

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Cheers Richard, you’re a legend :+1: I’ll dive in once I’m set up :v:

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grade 3 has been finished for about 2 years :thinking:

You started with some controversial ideas there, @SkyBlue :sweat_smile:

Jazz surely can be chaotic but structurally, a lot of it is, 16 or 32 bars of a chord progression looping pretty much from the beginning to the end and musicians soloing over it. In that way, it is probably simpler than most pop songs :slight_smile: It is typically harmonically and rhytmically very complex though, you may not like that.

I highly doubt you do not like having two different melodies in a song! Then you would be pretty much discarding the Western music! A singer singing over a guitar and a bass line is at least 3 different melodies at the same time. Most songs with simple chord progressions, especially in relatively simple genres like pop and rock, follow the rules of counter-point harmony. It must be something else that you do not like about classical music, perhaps you haven’t found the right theoretical explanation yet.

From the sounds of it, you want to learn just enough theory to support you with non-complex genres. I did not do Justin’s theory course but it very likely is just what you are looking for.

Personally, I learn music theory for the sheer enjoyment of it and I probably won’t ever get to use the theoretical information I already have (not that I know too much but learning theory takes a lot less time applying it. You can learn a new scale in 5 minutes, then spend 5 years mastering it while playing). So a possible alternative is, not to worry about learning “enough” theory, just learn whatever you can anyway. If you enjoy it, that is.

Learnt a lot of music theory whilst playing piano. Vast majority isn’t just unnecessary for playing the guitar but serves almost no purpose whatsoever so I’d say make sure you’re not just learning theory for the sake of it as a lot might have no use for the guitar. I’d definitely leave out counterpoint (love Bach, love playing it, hate learning it). My take is to try and learn it in context to try to supplement a song you’re learning.

One of the best things for me is that the more basic theory you know the more ‘hooks’ you have to try to remember/understand a piece of music.

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I can’t say if that’s right or wrong, because there’s a lot of theory I haven’t learnt yet. But the lessons I’ve completed so far in Justin’s theory course have been geared entirely to playing guitar.

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Justin remade grade 3 and few lessons are still missing like playing with looper in module 21, some palm muted strumming and duet in module 22 intro video and few other tone videos. I wonder if anyone knows when will final few videos be released? I know Justin is a busy man and provides all this wonderful content for free, but I am completionist type of person and I can’t move on without completing everything in current grade. Although it gives me ample time to consolidate all grade 3 stuff and, as mentioned, learn some theory.

Yeah, true… Probably some other thing I didn’t like. It’s confusing this thing about voices/melodies. As I said, I had real headache moments reading those books. So I might very well confuse some things. Had to use dictionary quite a lot too XD

where are u seeing missing vids? theres nothing in the index about looper in mod 21 or muting in mod 22? :thinking:. just press on, its not that important :man_shrugging:t3: