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Teaching Skills Teaching Skills > How to Teach > Basics of Teaching Guitar Music Theory > Use it or lose it
Summary: Remembering Music Theory - Your student will not retain information unless you get them to put it to use

Use it or lose it

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I spent a lot of time in chemistry lessons at school, but my ability to actually do anything with that subject is next to zero! Come to think of it, the same is true of most of the things I studied at school! You can learn all you like about a subject, but if you don't put the theory into practice, you are unlikely to retain any real understanding of it.

This is just as true of guitar playing as it is of any other subject so:

My Golden Rule Number 5 says:

Help your student find a use for every bit of music theory you teach them

Teach the chromatic scale. Then get your student to use that knowledge to find notes anywhere on the fretboard. Teach the major scale. Then get your student to use it to find a couple of simple melodies (folk tunes, nursery rhymes, TV themes etc..). Maybe get them to improvise a bit with it.

Here's a nice sequence to use C Major scale over:

4/4 ||: C | CMaj7 | CMaj6 | C | F | F6 | G6 | G7 :||

Teach chord formulas then get the student to make up their own chord-based riffs from that knowledge.

Example: Try getting them to make up blues/rock'n'roll riffs based on this idea:

Im I I7 (eg. Am A A7) This idea is common in a lot of blues based music:


Personally I try to never do more than half a lesson of theory. Then I can spend the other half getting the student to put that theory straight to use. Not only does this approach mean that the student retains the understanding of the theory, but it teaches them to value theory and makes them more receptive of future theory lessons.

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Related Pages
 From the Bottom Up
 The Importance of the Major Scale
 Don't believe a word your student says
 Correct Sequence
 Don't Waste Time Explaining
 The Importance of Repeated Use
 Defining Musical Terms
 Motivate before Mystifying
 Examine, Revise, Consolidate
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