I have just enough knowledge and experience to know that I started out wrong. I am no expert. I still have a lot to learn. But, here's my brief story of getting started in trying to learn music theory on my own.
About 18 months ago I bought a new guitar. It’s my first guitar since selling off all my stuff 16 years ago. I knew the most basic stuff about music. I knew the notes of the musical staff. I knew the difference between a sharp and a flat. I knew crescendo and decrescendo and what an arpeggio is. I remembered some boxes for learning scales. When I was younger I just wanted to learn how to play songs. I took lessons and then got to the point where I could figure out most AC/DC songs by ear. I still needed to have someone show me the lead parts. I couldn’t figure those out. And I guess I was too impatient to take learning music theory very seriously.
Now, fast forward to the present...I wanted a self-guided learning method. I was too busy for lessons, besides I didn’t want the pressure of a teacher watching me stumble around and playing notes and chords. I started looking around the internet and asking questions about the pentatonic and scales. I decided that I wanted to learn more serious music theory, but not too much. So I started with the pentatonic. The fewer notes must be easier than the full major scale right? Then, folks “in the know” start telling me about modes and I start getting the idea that modes are really important. Then, I learn that there’s major pentatonic, minor pentatonic, and blues pentatonic scales. I chose A blues pentatonic as a starting point, and I start working with that learning and teaching my fingers where all the notes are on the fretboard. It’s been a worthwhile method. I’m learning where the notes are. But forget notes. Modes are where it’s at man. I was learning but it just wasn’t getting all the relationships right between scales and modes and chords and melody and harmony.
Alas my free-flowing, unstructured, self-directed program has been faulty. Shock! Horror! Incredible.
Recently, I've been told that my focus on modes is the wrong focus. And I am quite thankful for the liberation that has given me. A more important and better focus is to learn chording and chord construction to enable chord tone melody and solo improvisation. After that is learned, then one may begin discussion and thinking about modes.
I have learned a great deal about guitar playing over this past year. My learning regime might have been a bit more productive if I had a better start. I guess it's my own fault for not taking lessons or not buying that Frank Gambale DVD that gets such good reviews. But, then I didn't want to be forced into learning at a pace that I wasn't comfortable with. I wanted a well directed, self-constructed, self-teaching method. Now, that's funny. But, I'm not the only one that does this. There are folks all over the internet like this…There is something to be said about the comfort of learning at one’s own pace. But, there's also merit to lessons and playing with other who can see and hear what you play to make suggestions to improve.
All this to say…with my thirty minutes of experience with music theory …learning about chord construction and chord tone playing is where the real learning is. As I have been directed by former member Seafoamer and forum members such as Tone4Days, Osensei, GandLMan, BungelowBill and others.
Learning chord construction and the extensions is the way to learn how to use the notes in the boxes. If your struggling with modes right now. Forget modes for a while and just learn scales and chord theory and you will get to where you want to be faster than simply trying to play and memorize the notes of a certain mode.
I really have Mr. Osensei to thank for slapping me around and setting me straight.