Guitar literacy for the piano/woodwinds player

I would like to be able to understand more of what I read in the guitar-related threads here on the Dope, and in guitar-based analysis of rock music. I can read music, but I’m primarily self-taught and don’t know much music theory. So at this point I’m in over my head pretty quickly when it comes to chord names and roman numerals.

I’m wondering what would be a good approach to learn some more about chord-based music. So far I’ve been reading a little music theory on the web, and playing chords on the piano. As an alternative, I could try to learn more about chords and chord progressions by playing around with an acoustic guitar (a relative has offered to loan me one). Does anyone have suggestions about whether piano or guitar would be better for learning purposes? I plan to work on this in my spare time, and I’m prepared for it to take a while.

If you are looking at the structure of music theory and chord construction, piano is the “atomic structure” for that.

If you are trying to learn more about guitar-based rock and understand how different chord voicings affect the sound of the song - e.g., why use barre chords and what’s a power-chord vs. a standard barre chord? - or how different physical techniques are used to create sounds - stuff like hammer-ons or pinch harmonics with your picking hand to sound like ZZ Top - then I would recommend a beginner guitar video or surfing youtube for various posted attempts at Guitar 101 type videos. Guitar is about theory, sure, but it is a layered, tactile instrument, which can contain nylon-stringed classical and heavy-gauged, Dropped-D-tuned metal assaults under the same tent, so if you are looking to speak that language, you should start with the basics. There is a 30-plus-year-old series called Hot Licks taught by Arlen Roth. I watch his short Lesson of the Day clips at the website. He is very good. You might search out his starter rock guitar video…

Hope this helps,


I’d recommend primarily piano with a side of guitar. As a player and teacher of both, I strongly recommend to my students to learn at least the concepts of chords and scales on the piano, particularly focusing on the I-IV-V chord changes and then later on the diatonic chords in a key and the ii-V-I (ultimately getting to the vii*-IV-iii-vi-ii-V(7)-I).

I encourage all students to learn at least that much piano, along with basic voice leading (smooth motion between chords)

that sounds pretty overwhelming, I know. But those elements along with a primer on the rudiments of music theory will provide all the knowledge you ever needto handle 95% of all popular music.

Guitar is fundamentally different, but I always teach, at a minimum, the I-IV-V in all major guitar keys in open position as well as the basic concepts of movable chords, starting wth barre chords and moving on to simple movable diatonic voicings for major, minor, dominant and minor 7. Scale wise, you want to focus on open pentatonic and blues scale voicings at first and then move to closed voicings of the same plus diatonic scales and modes.

Sorry for all the theory speak, but if you learn the above, you’ll be prety ready for most anything you encounter in popular music.

WordMan- Yes, that helps. Given the way that you framed your answer, I can see that I’m looking for a mixture of both categories. I’ve come across a few youtube guitar videos embedded in other sites I was reading, but I’ve never tried to search out others on youtube, and I wouldn’t have thought to look at Thank you for the suggestions.

picker - Yes it does sound overwhelming, but it sounds like you are describing what I would hope to understand. At least half of your post is over my head, but I understand the concept of I-IV-V, and I have enough background to start working out the chords on the piano as you suggest. Thank you for the overview.