Best guitar theory book

guitar book

When first learning guitar, there will undoubtedly come a time where you’ll have to invest in the best guitar theory book. Learning music theory will improve your musicianship skills and allow you to become an accomplished guitarist. 

What Is Guitar Theory?

When discussing guitar theory, we’re talking about the ‘theory’ of the instrument. What this means for us as guitarists is that we’re aiming to gain a broader understanding of the instrument, as well as the nuts and bolts behind it. 

Guitar theory covers:

  • Learning the note names on the guitar.
  • Learning scales and understanding the theory behind them.
  • Learning chords and understanding their construction.
  • Understanding further elements of musical theory such as intervals, what a chord progression is, how to build chords and more.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the best guitar theory books are.

Best Music Theory Book For Guitarists

Music Theory For Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know But Were Afraid To Ask


If you’re looking for a comprehensive guitar theory book, then ‘Music Theory For Guitarists’ by Tom Kolb/Hal Leonard is well worth a look.
Although this book is suited more for advanced beginners and intermediate players, this book contains a lot of information that is guaranteed to expand your knowledge.

‘Music Theory For Guitarists’ by Tom Kolb is a great book for guitarists who are looking to move into the next stage of their musical journey. Broadly, this book takes you step by step through the following concepts:

  • The fretboard.
  • Theory basic.
  • Scales and key signatures.
  • Intervals.
  • Triads.
  • Harmonising the major scale.
  • Chord construction.
  • Harmonising the minor scale.
  • Determining key centres.
  • Blues harmony and the pentatonic scale.
  • Modes and modal harmony.
  • Other scales and modes, chord/scale relationships and Arpeggio.
  • Chord substitution and reharmonization.

As you can tell from the above list, there is a whole world of information available here. So whether, you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced player, this book is guaranteed to help you progress as a musician.

Furthermore, it’s a relatively affordable investment as most of these concepts will stay with you throughout your musical life.

In this book, Kolb doesn’t overcomplicate things. Music Theory is a dense topic, but Kolb manages to keep things simple and manageable by explaining things clearly. He also uses tab, notation and chordal diagrams to support the educational content.

One of our favourite things about this book is that Kolb uses quizzes throughout each chapter, this ensures that you are able to test how well you’ve understood the information.

Overall, if you’re a guitarist who wants to bolster their music theory, gives this book a try.

Pros

  • Covers a range of topics such as scales, modes, chords, note names and more.
  • Comes with 94 audio examples on CD.
  • Diagrams are clear and explain theoretical concepts well.
  • This is a Hal Leonard book which is an indication of a quality product.

Cons

  • The book is a little outdated. Although it comes with audio examples on a CD, downloadable versions would be more useful.
  • No kindle version but available as an Ebook.

Best Guitar Theory Book For Beginners

No Bull Music Theory For Guitarists: Master The Essential Knowledge All Guitarists Need To Know


If you’ve ever been confused by modern music theory concepts, then ‘No Bull Music Theory For Guitarists’ by James Shipway may be for you.
James Shipway is a guitarist and tutor with over 25,000 hours worth of experience teaching. In the book mentioned above, Shipway talks through a number of basic theory concepts that will help guitarists of any skill level.

If you’re a beginner guitarist who is looking to understand music theory, then ‘No Bull Music Theory For Guitarists’ is a great choice.

The book itself is split into 12 different chapters. Each chapter talks you through the very basics of music theory, covering topics such as the musical alphabet and tones and semitones and eventually delves into the major scale, triads, intervals, chord progressions, pentatonic scales and minor scales.

Although at first sight, this may seem like an overwhelming list of topics, they are useful to know and as the title suggests, gives you the ‘essential knowledge’ needed to master music theory.

If you’re a songwriter, this is great. As the book talks you through what chord progressions are and why they work so well. Or, you could be a beginner who wants to move your guitar playing forward by learning theory. There are some key elements within this text that are guaranteed to help your technique and playing.

One element that we love about this book is that it comes with additional online resources in the form of chord diagrams as well as free video and audio lessons. This is a unique feature that isn’t used on a lot of books.

Overall, this is one of the best guitar theory books available and is well worth a look if you want a practical guide to learning theory.

Pros

  • Available in kindle, handbook and paperback versions.
  • Free downloadable audio files and helpful videos are available with this guitar theory book.
  • Covers main topics such as chords, keys, intervals and scales as well as the music theory behind them.
  • Each chapter comes with a quiz to test your guitar theory knowledge, as well as clear diagrams.

Cons

  • Advanced guitarists may find this book a little lacklustre.
  • Doesn’t discuss music reading or sight-reading.

Best Theory Book For Learning Chords

Guitar Chords Bible: Instant Access To 1053 Chords


An essential part of learning the guitar is learning chords. When you’re playing guitar, 90% of the time you will be playing chords. Chords support the melody and as a guitarist, having a solid understanding of them is crucial.

However, when you first play guitar, it can be hard to know what chords to prioritise. This book by Guitar Head is a great choice for delving into this area further.

One of the best guitar books available is the ‘Guitar Chords Bible’. This is produced by the company ‘Guitar Head’ who are known for producing excellent theory books for guitar.

One of the main things we love about this book is that it covers a lot of ground. It moves from basic music theory topics such as major scales, intervals, triads and seventh chords.

From here, it gradually moves through intermediate topics such as the CAGED system and major and minor triads.

Then the book takes the learner through chords that wouldn’t look out of place in a jazz theory book, covering diminished, 9th and altered chords.

Although this is a book that goes deep on music theory, it moves in a way that is progressive and allows guitar players to understand the content gradually.

Guitar theory books such as these are often guilty of just filling their pages with 1000s of chordal shapes that you’ll never use, however, this book manages to piece them all together in a way that is productive and useful.

If you’re an acoustic guitar player or electric guitar player, this theory book has some solid methods that are guaranteed to take your playing to the next level.

Pros

  • After purchasing this book, you’ll never have to buy another chord book again.
  • Not only does this book give you the diagrams, but it also talks about constructing chords as well as other music theory concepts.
  • Allows you to easily unlock the guitar fretboard and learn more about your instrument.
  • Has chord progressions and functions which can help with writing music.

Cons

  • A guitar book like this can often be overwhelming for beginners.
  • Doesn’t discuss exactly what chords work together and why.

Best Book For Learning Scales

Guitar Scales In Context - A Practical Encyclopaedia And Playing Guide To Musically Learn Scales On Guitar


At some point in your guitar playing life, you will need to learn scales. Whether you want to play melodic lines or killer solos, learning scales is an essential part of exploring this side of your playing.
However, learning scales can often be overwhelming. Many guitarists don’t know where to start, and because there are so many scales, it can lead to confusion and frustration in the practice room.
One book that is guaranteed to help you with your scale woes is ‘Scales In Context’ by Joseph Alexander.

This book by Joseph Alexander is a practical guide for guitarists who are looking to enhance their scale knowledge. The book itself covers a wide range of different scales, that are extremely useful for guitarists who are interested in learning music that requires you to solo frequently.

Not only does this guitar theory book show you a wide variety of scale shapes, but it also gives you more insight and direction with your playing. Guitar books like this often have a bad reputation for just planting 100s of scales in a book without much direction or tuition. However, this book shows you to apply the scales and learn music theory at the same time.

As well as this, the book comes with over 50 licks and backing tracks (with audio files) ensuring that your scales can turn into music quickly.

Our only criticism of this book is that a lot of the scale diagrams are presented in a box pattern. Some beginners may find this difficult to read. A simple fix for this would of been to have a small section explaining how to read this.

However, despite this. Our final thoughts on this product are that it is extremely good value for money and is a great guitar handbook for learning scale shapes and soloing techniques.

Pros

  • Displays a wealth of scales that cover modern music theory and other contemporary styles.
  • Fundamental Changes have a whole range of books and are known for producing a quality product.
  • Over 50 backing tracks and audio files are available for download.
  • Comes with neck diagrams as well as how to use the scales in a musical context.

Cons

  • Some beginner guitarists may find the diagrams difficult to learn.
  • The audio backing could be of better quality.

Best Theory Book For Learning Note Names

Guitar Fretboard: Memorize The Fretboard In Less Than 24 Hours


One element that will dramatically improve your guitar playing is learning the note names on the fretboard. Doing this unlocks a whole load of potential for you as a guitarist and makes chords, scales and arpeggios much easier on the instrument.
If you want to learn the fretboard quickly, then ‘Memorize the Fretboard In Less Than 24 Hours’ by Guitar Head is a great read.

One of the best music theory books for developing your fretboard theory is ‘Memorize The Fretboard In Less Than 24 Hours’ by Guitar Head.

This book is best suited to beginner guitar players who are want to move past learning standard chords and scale notes and begin to have a comprehensive understanding of the instrument.

This guitar theory book primarily focuses on learning music notes on the guitar. Within this book, Guitar Head breaks these concepts down into small bite-size chunks. From just learning individual strings and then to the rest of the anatomy of the guitar.

This guitar method is great as it is simple to understand and allows the student to make progress quickly and effectively.

If you’re looking for a music theory book that is simple and easy to use and teaches you the notes on the guitar without much hassle, then this product is definitely worth a look.

Pros

  • Simple conventional teaching methods that benefit the user.
  • Free bonus ebook is available with this product.
  • Great for beginners looking to enhance their fretboard knowledge.

Cons

  • Not suitable for accomplished guitarists.

Buying Guide 

Just like a lot of products on the market, there are often hundreds to choose from. As a buyer, it can be difficult to identify the great from the awful.

There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours on Amazon or Google trying to find a book that is going to work for you, and as an intermediate guitarist, you need something that is going to benefit your guitar journey.

If you follow this guide, we guarantee that you’ll be able to find the best guitar theory books on the market.

Different Types of Guitar Theory Books

When discussing the different types of music theory books for guitar, they fall into two categories. These are:

  • General Theory Books.
  • Specific Guitar Theory Books.

General Theory Books

These types of books work as a guitar handbook. This type of guitar method book will likely stay with you for most of your musical life as it will cover a great deal of information.

This can include, but isn’t limited to:

  • How to read music notation and sheet music.
  • Ear training.
  • Intervals, chord construction, scales and chord progressions.

Specific Guitar Theory Books

As well as general music theory books, we can also get specific guitar music theory books. These focus specifically on techniques such as learning chords, scales, developing fret board knowledge and other techniques such as guitar licks and solos.

Book Formats

Most books these days come in a variety of formats, the main formats are as follows:

  • Physical copies such as paperback or hardback.
  • Kindle/PDF.

Paperback or Hardback Books

Publishers such as Hal Leonard and Jamey Aebersold have been producing these types of books for years. Physical books are great if you like practising at home and want access to your music theory book in the comfort of your own home. However, if you’re on the move, bringing a book with you sometimes isn’t the most practical thing.

Kindle/PDF

A kindle/PDF is a great option if you use a mobile device or tablet as it allows you to access your book from anywhere. However, some people can find the font to be small and prefer a physical book.

Extra Resources

With the online world, a key advantage of books these days is that they come with downloadable audio examples and music tracks. Any book that has this feature is well worth a look in our opinion.

Know Your Level

If you want to learn music theory, you must know what level you’re at. If you’re a beginner, there’s no point looking at jazz harmony as it may be well above your range and you’ll just get frustrated.

The same goes for if you’re a music professor, a book like ‘Guitar Theory For Dummies’ isn’t going to suit you that much.

When searching for the best guitar books, aim to look for ones that suit your ability level.

FAQ 

Is Guitar Theory For Dummies A Good Book?

Yes, however, some beginners may find it difficult. This book is a great choice for intermediate guitarists who are looking to bolster their music theory knowledge.

Is Guitar Theory Necessary?

Although music theory is often feared by many guitarists. Understanding it will help you to play guitar with more conviction and prowess.

So whether you’re looking to write songs, improvise or perform, learning more about it will enhance your musicianship skills. No one’s playing ever gotten worse at guitar by studying theory.