Tag Archives: mature guitar players

How to memorise scales, chords and other elements of music theory

Old guitar player sitting sofa
One thing that can be intimidating when learning music theory is the prospect of having to memorise so many different things. Scales, chord formulas and chord progressions can all get jumbled up in your mind and you might struggle to recall the information when you’re actually playing.

There are a couple of things you can do to make this easier. First of all realise that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just because you have all the music theory in front of you on the website or in my course does not mean you have to be able to use it all at once right from the start. It’s going to take time.

Next you have to use the power of focussing on one thing at a time while allowing your unconscious mind to learn from the context in which you encounter information. Information is less meaningful and harder to remember if it’s presented in isolation.

Lets go through an example. Say you want to learn the Major scale formula. For a couple of days or weeks this will be the one thing that will be in your mind when studying music theory. Set yourself a goal of being able to recite the Major scale formula and being able to play it on one string and across all six strings starting from the Low E.

Your mind will keep seeing the patterns repeating over and over even though you’re not putting much conscious effort into memorising them.

Now this doesn’t mean you stop reading or practising other aspects of music theory. You should actually continue your studies. However you do this without feeling pressure to memorise or deeply understand anything else. The only exception is when you see something that relates to your topic of focus. But even then you take it easy on yourself.

So for example imagine you are reading about how Major triads are constructed by taking three notes from the Major scale. You will read which three notes these are and how you can get all the triads in a Major key from just this one scale.

So you’ve just learned something new about the Major scale and triads, which is great. Make a mental note of it but don’t pressurise yourself to remember it. Just file it away as a nice-to-know idea.

What will happen is that over time you will read and re-read the same lessons and do the same or similar exercises again and again. Your mind will keep seeing the patterns repeating over and over even though you’re not putting much conscious effort into memorising them.

To this day this is still how I approach learning of any kind. I’ll read broadly about a topic until I have a rough understanding of how it all fits together.

After a couple of days or weeks you have the Major scale formula memorised and you can play it in a couple of places. Also you have some idea of context around why it’s important and how it can help you understand triad and chord construction. You may not remember the exact details but you have a rough idea about how it works.

Now you’re ready to focus on the next topic. Btw the lessons on this site and my music theory course are set out like roadmap so you always know what to focus on next.

The next step is understanding how you can choose three particular notes from the Major scale to build triads (often described as Major chords) and because you’ve already read over the topic a few times and understand the context you’ll be much better prepared to understand and remember the information.

To this day this is still how I approach learning of any kind. I’ll read broadly about a topic until I have a rough understanding of how it all fits together. Then I’ll focus on one thing to really understand thoroughly. In the mean time I keep studying the wider context in a ‘casual’ way with no intention of getting a deep understanding. Once I have mastered my topic of focus I move on to the next one.

If you’re interested in more tips to help you learn and memorise guitar music theory make sure to sign up to my newsletter. I’ll send you several free e-books about music theory as well.