I'm an amateur Spanish guitar player, I know Solfège and how to read music sheets (not expert though).
I'm looking for a book that teaches me music theory to gain more understanding and maybe try to compose something in the future.

Should I look for any music theory book given that I'm interested in composing for the guitar? I'm looking for something as focused on the guitar as possible, don't have the time to study many things that the pianists do.

I'm asking this question because I noted that Pianos music sheets differ from Guitars music sheets, so sorry if my question doesn't make sense.


The basics of music theory are the same across instruments. Notes, scales, chords, transposition, harmony, etc. are all intrument-independent at the theory level. I would not worry about finding a guitar-specific book until you have mastered the basics.

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    I agree, though one reason to find a guitar-specific theory book would be to have certain things illustrated in a guitar-specific context. For instance, some four-part harmonic resolutions might be tricky to adapt from piano to guitar, which is a lot more limited in terms of notes you can play at the same time. Nevertheless, you can get by on piano-oriented literature (which tends to be most common for music theory), as long as you acknowledge that you might not be able to play some things. – user321 May 18 '11 at 19:49
  • @Faza Fair point. – user28 May 18 '11 at 20:03

Short answer: No.

The difference you see in the sheet music is that for guitar you use the G clef and pianos use both the G and F clefs. This is not much of a difference except for the visual part. The notes are notes all the same. You can learn to read piano music in 5 minutes to know the F clef plus a week to get used to it.

About composing, if you don't have the time to learn what pianist-composers learn, you don't have the time to learn composition at all. Like Matthew said, apart from the technicalities of each instrument, the music itself is all the same.

A hint for a guitar player is that if you start in one area as opposed to another you might get some results quicker. For example, 'functional harmony' (I learned the term in Portuguese, I'm not sure they call it the same in English), the one that deals in terms of dominant, subdominant, etc, might be more quickly useful than say, the kind of harmony in Schönberg's "Theory of Harmony".

Learning that after a G7 chord you can have a C chord might be more useful than learning conduction of many voices in the short term. But if you're serious about composing you'll have to go through it all eventually. Harmony, counterpoint, structure, the whole thing.

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  • +1 esp for differentiating functional (diatonic) harmony from whatever that Schönberg guy was going on about. ;) (ofc Schönberg's work is legendary, I just find it rather abstruse) – Rein Henrichs May 16 '11 at 17:31
  • Yeah, his work demands a lot of work and patience and he usually rambles about all sorts of random stuff in the middle. Worth it, but definitely not for the newcomer. – Allan K. May 16 '11 at 20:22
  • I saw (and unfortunately failed to purchase) a book analyzing and critiquing Schönberg's work a while back. Wish I had snatched it up when I had the chance. Can't find it now. :( – Rein Henrichs May 16 '11 at 20:45
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    @Allan Bach's work is one of the more extreme examples of music that's open to reinstrumentation, because that's not where the substance is. You could never say the same of Sarasate for instance, whose compositions can only be played on a violin to make it worthwhile. In his case it wouldn't make sense to say it's all a "technicality". Given that the asker wants to compose specifically for guitar, I think it would be beneficial to be open to the idea of composing idiomatically for the guitar, even as a beginner. Practically speaking, it's probably not all that time consuming to learn anyway. – Rei Miyasaka May 17 '11 at 5:05
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    @Allan Actually, when I think of it that way, that instrumental specifics come from practice more than from theory, I have to agree. – Rei Miyasaka May 17 '11 at 17:14

Matthew's answer is correct. Music theory is sort of the science of how notes work together. It does not differ from instrument to instrument. Here are a few resources to get you started.

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As the others have noted, the general theories (namely harmony and rhythm) are the most important in the context of western music. But if you consider timbre and articulation as being a part of theory, then yes, there are theroetical aspects that are peculiar to certain instruments

For instance, plucked strings have limited sustain -- and this can in fact influence your choice of chords.

If you're interested in that sort of thing, even if you're composing primarily for guitar, you could look through the myriad of books on the subject of orchestration for inspiration.

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