Finding The Best Guitar Theory Book – An Essential Guide

The best guitar theory book is one that you keep coming back to – Let’s explore your options!


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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • Our top 10 picks of the best guitar theory books
  • Why reading books is important for learning music
  • How to find the right book for your skill level
  • What to look for in the best guitar theory book

Take Your Understanding Of Music To A New Level!

Musicianship is everything.

It’s the difference between putting your fingers on the fretboard to make sound, and pulling something beautiful out of the guitar.

  • When we’re learning the guitar, there are so many mechanical and technical skills to work on that it’s easy to get caught up in those and miss the bigger picture.
  • A music theory book (or a good collection of music theory books) can help you transform your playing while growing your understanding of how music works.

The best guitar theory book is one you’ll keep coming back to over and over again with a new and deeper take on the information each time.


In looking at the best guitar theory book for you, we’ve compiled our experience and found that while the selections below can have some huge differences. However, they are all very helpful in these ways:

  • Unlike music theory books for people studying music, these books do not require you to already know how to read standard notation.
  • Some of these books are straight music theory books that apply to every instrument, helping you to apply the ideas to guitar or voice or wherever you choose.
  • Other books focus on applying music theory directly to the guitar in practical ways.
  • The concepts of music theory, at least in Western music where the guitar traditionally lives, are the same in each book, so you can choose any book to get started.


Why Learn Music Theory At All?

Maybe you’ve heard the old expression that goes something like this: “Well, John Lennon didn’t know anything about music theory, and look at all the great songs he wrote!”

It’s true that there are a whole lot of brilliant and beautiful songwriters who didn’t sit down in a classroom and learn all the names of things before making their mark on the artistic world.

  • As a guitarist, songwriter, singer, or any kind of musician, you certainly don’t need to be hip to all of the musical jargon out there.
  • It certainly does help, however to be able to communicate to your band, fellow musicians, or listeners.
  • This is precisely what music theory is there to teach you.

The principles of music theory are organized into a structure.

Even the strangest-sounding and most atmospheric music exists with reference to that structure.


Here’s a great example of how a little music theory goes a long way: chord shapes.

  • Pretty early on in learning guitar, we learn how to make an E major chord.
  • With a little music theory knowledge, you can take that E major chord shape and move it up the neck of the guitar to make 11 other major chords.
  • Without that knowledge, it looks like you have to learn 11 other things in order to learn the other 11 major chords shapes.

If you learn the piece of music theory that shows you what the notes are going up the frets on the E string, however, you can make the other 11 major chords using just that E major chord shape.


Learning music theory unlocks your access to everything that happens on the guitar all the way up the neck.

  • It also helps you identify the things about a song that sound cool, so that you can emphasize them in your arrangements or in your own songwriting.
  • Learning music theory shows you the notes that go with a melody so that you can accompany or support that melody.

Most of all, learning music theory uncovers all of the patterns and systems you need to know to make it easy to understand and play the music you love.


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Best Guitar Theory Book 1: Music Theory for Practical People

This is hands-down the best guitar theory book that is not strictly limited to guitar.

You can use this book to gain a general understanding of music theory.

Ed Roseman’s Music Theory for Practical People has been used in community music schools for decades and is one of the friendliest approaches to theory ever written.

That’s because the material starts from the very basic elements of music and works through, in a logical and easy-to-follow way, how those elements work together.


Each chapter of this book presents one fundamental concept, such as the major scale, intervals, basic chords, and chord progressions. The chapters are ordered to build on each other.

Included with the explanation of each concept is a short discussion of why the concept is important to understanding the overall structure of music theory and how you can use that concept in your musical life.

This is the best guitar theory book for those of you who would like a friendly and easy-to-read breakdown of the fundamental principles and structures of music.


Best Guitar Theory Book 2: Hal Leonard Music Theory for Guitarists

If you’d like to learn about how music works specifically on the guitar, preferably while playing your guitar, Hal Leonard has got you covered.

Music Theory for Guitarists is the companion book to the Hal Leonard guitar course that shows you how certain components of music theory work on the guitar.

It starts with the basics of the guitar, laying out a fretboard chart and showing you how to tune the guitar.


Music Theory for Guitarists is intended to accompany the rest of the Hal Leonard guitar course, and so the concepts are introduced consistently with that series of books.

This is the best guitar theory book for people who are interested in using the Hal Leonard method, which emphasizes learning melody and the notes on the guitar before doing much with chords.

The material is introduced in a way to enable you to specifically practice each concept on the guitar along with a CD or audio files.


Pro-Tip: Know your learning style! If you enjoy learning things from reading books, then a general well-written book may be the best guitar theory book for you.

If you like to hear what’s happening while you’re learning it, then you may prefer an audio-enhanced book.

Best Guitar Theory Book 3: Fretboard Mastery

The best guitar theory book for everyone is the book with just the right mix of theory explanation and practical application.

If this isn’t your first guitar theory book, Troy Stetina’s Fretboard Mastery might turn out to be your favorite.

The book is not an easy read for the dabbler, and that’s a compliment!


Fretboard Mastery gets you started right away with ear training, which is the single most important skill to develop if you ever want to understand what to do on the guitar.

Ear training takes time, experience, attention, and patience, and everybody has to start somewhere. This is the best guitar theory book for starting that process.

Fretboard Mastery isn’t a complete music theory book, but it gives you plenty of scales, patterns, and harmony concepts and will keep you busy and improving for a long time.


Best Guitar Theory Book 4: Guitar Theory for Dummies

If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, maybe you know some chords and someone somewhere along the line taught you a couple of scale patterns. But how does it all fit together?

If this is you, your best guitar theory book might be one that takes you from the very basics through some pretty advanced concepts.

Guitar Theory for Dummies, is obviously from the famous For Dummies series, and true to most of the books in the series, it gives you tons of useful knowledge in characteristically easy-to-digest form.

It’s a great hybrid book, focusing on music theory from a guitarist’s perspective.

Not all the information in the book is specifically geared toward guitar, but it’s all about how to use fundamental music theory principles on the guitar.


This book is not geared toward absolute beginner guitarists. Music theory often comes to us as we play the guitar in bits and pieces that we usually just can’t connect.

That’s where Guitar Theory for Dummies comes in.

Concepts like numbered chord progressions and modes are difficult to understand even when you use them all the time, and this book provides a lot of good connective tissue.

This book is written in plain language and it’s friendly, so if you have been struggling to understand some theory concepts, this is the book that just might give you your long-awaited “aha!”


Best Guitar Theory Book 5: Guitar Fretboard Workbook

As much as we love reading a well-written book that waxes poetic about the beauty of music theory systems, sometimes we just want a workbook.

Guitar Fretboard Workbook is exactly that.

Each chapter is the equivalent of one private lesson on the guitar, and many instructors use this book in conjunction with different songs that illustrate whatever principle is being taught in each chapter.


This book is not intended to replace guitar lessons; there are no cool riffs from famous rock songs to motivate you. It’s simply theory on guitar.

A main feature of Guitar Fretboard Workbook is a focus on the CAGED system.

If this is your first time hearing about this, get ready to have the entire fretboard open up, because it is an excellent way to demystify the guitar beyond the third fret!


Best Guitar Theory Book 6: Guitar Mastery Simplified

For an absolute beginner, learning music theory as you go can be a really freeing way to begin to play the guitar.

Guitar Mastery Simplified isn’t necessarily teaching you everything you want to know about theory while using the guitar, but it teaches you how to play the guitar using theory.

Some of us are “why” learners, meaning we want to know how everything works from the very start.

This book is for us.


This is the best guitar theory book for beginning guitar as well as theory at the basics, even if you are not a beginner at the guitar.

Fundamental theory concepts are covered, as well as guitar-specific theory and technique principles like the CAGED system and how to count and strum.

Many theory books gloss over rhythm, but rhythm is arguably the prime component of music, and this book takes the time to help you understand why and how to make rhythm happen on the guitar.


Best Guitar Theory Book 7: Berklee Book of Jazz Harmony

You knew that sooner or later we’d get around to mentioning something from Berklee.

The Berklee College of Music has books and certificate and degree programs available for you to take your music as far as you want to go.

Some of their theory books apply mainly to people who need to write music in standard notation, but the best guitar theory book they have put out is The Berklee Book of Jazz Harmony.


This book is here for you whenever you are ready to start tearing apart chords.

  • It’s labeled as a jazz book, but it is really essential if you want to understand on a deeper level how harmony works.
  • This book is not for the beginner musician, and it is not limited to only guitarists.
  • This book is best for people who already have a bit of working knowledge of intervals and chords.

If you want to understand how chords move, this is the best guitar theory book for you.

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Best Guitar Theory Book 8: The Jazz Theory Book

While we’re on the topic of jazz theory, the Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine picks up where the Berklee book leaves off.

  • This is the best guitar theory book for anyone at an intermediate to advanced level of playing who is serious about learning as much as possible about jazz.
  • It’s up to you to put the concepts on to the guitar, because this is a book designed for all instruments.

If you do, you will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of how music – not just jazz – works.

Best Guitar Theory Book 9: Garage Band Theory

If you’re not into the world of jazz harmony, there’s still plenty of music theory instruction to be found just for the guitar.

Duke Sharp’s Garage Band Theory is a fresh and unpretentious compendium of everything you need to know about theory, written in a friendly and conversational way.

Ear training, practice exercises, how to do that thing you always wanted to do – it is all covered here by someone who is clearly passionate about wanting you to succeed on the guitar.

Best Guitar Theory Book 10: Vaideology

Did you know that legendary guitarist Steve Vai has written a music theory book just for us guitarists?

Vaideology is more than just a celebrity guitar player writing a book.

This is a pretty thorough manual covering a lot of basic music theory concepts that don’t necessarily get a lot of attention in other books, like dynamics and phrasing.

It is not a complete guitar instruction system, but it will help you to develop the vocabulary you need to become a musician. It’s is also an interesting read!

The Best Guitar Theory Book Is the One You Use!

Whether you’re looking for a music theory book to use on the guitar or a guitar book that teaches you music theory, you’ll get a lot of benefit from any of the titles above.

Take your time, go through your book multiple times, and supplement with a live teacher or online lesson!

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