What instrument should I learn theory on; Piano or Guitar?

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What instrument should I learn theory on?

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What instrument should I learn theory on; Piano or Guitar?

Post by Dhji » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:31 pm

Finally decided im going to learn some music theory but after some serious thought into it I have stumped myself on which instrument to learn it on. Ill say one thing - one of the reasons I got into computer music is because I was sick of the physicality; I just wanted to compose without having limitations of how many instruments/notes I can play at once with the 2 hands and 10 fingers I got.

I've played guitar for over 10 years and have composed extensively on it. I also play a little piano.

Thoughts - Guitar has a lot of different positions for the same chord which at one angle can be inspiring because you have different fundamental frequencies for the same chords but at another angle seems distracting/gimmicky toward just composing music OUTSIDE of sound production (bare with me). Where as with piano it's all laid out in front of you and corresponds to the frequency chart in a nice easy linear way (which for dyslexic people like me; is quite peachy).

Now I'm not saying Im never going to play one if I learn the other, because I believe the more instruments you play; the more different ways you can connect to writing music, but...


1. Since I've already composed extensively, it may benefit me to understand what the hell I've been doing all these years

2. Since in Ableton it shows the notes via piano roll, I would know which notes im playing on my guitar (which could be complicated since guitar is non linear unlike piano)


1. Once I've learned theory, I COULD just FIND the songs I've written on piano so that way im still connecting to piano using my ear (and knowledge of course)

2. This is one of the biggest ones since in my future im making WAY more computer music than instrumentals: can use MIDI (and please don't suggest midi guitars because I REALLY don't like them!!)

3. I don't have to learn all these extra ways of playing the same chord!!

So I guess the question is how fast do I want to get to writing music and which instrument will benefit me the most down the road. Im just not sure which one, it would be cool to learn piano and have a way to actually play the notes into ableton without having to do crazy adjustments to the velocity, but it would also be cool to keep the physicality separate from computer music (not religious about it, but the I value the consistency) which would teach me to get more in touch with writing in a human-played way in a way that doesn't involve playing an instrument (making small adjustments on the grid so it doesn't sound so robotic).

~ Your input is appreciated as always ~

Thank you

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Re: What instrument should I learn theory on; Piano or Guitar?

Post by stringtapper » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:43 pm

Ultimately every instrument is going to have its own idiosyncrasies, but you have to consider that the keyboard has been the standard teaching tool of western music for centuries now.

The reasons are mostly historical in nature but part of it is that its design makes harmony and voice leading easier to demonstrate both visually and with the hands. Four part harmony with classic part-writing and voice leading rules can be a bit of a bitch on guitar, whereas it's very straightforward (albeit still physically demanding) on the keyboard.

Also, musicians with good keyboard skills are rarer and rarer these days, while just about every jackamole who ever tried to impress a girl knows a few guitar chords (hell, even I do and I absolutely loathe the instrument both as a musical tool and as a cultural phenomenon). Having some keyboard skills puts you in a minority of musical ability.

Keyboard all the way. I'm still making up for the fact that my folks didn't make me stick with piano lessons as a kid. Boy I wish they had because it takes constant upkeep once you get older.
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Re: What instrument should I learn theory on; Piano or Guitar?

Post by Saxer » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:52 pm

you can play any chord voicing on a piano and an independent bass. a keyboard is the only instrument with this options. and you can 'see' what you do which is very helpful to to keep harmony in focus.

if you learn to play chords on a keyboard you learn it additive: you have to know the notes and build your chords with it. lots of guitar players learn their chords by fingering without knowing which note comes from which string.

so keyboard is much easier to analyze.

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Re: What instrument should I learn theory on; Piano or Guitar?

Post by Stromkraft » Wed Oct 21, 2015 11:41 pm

spaceface wrote:
I've played guitar for over 10 years and have composed extensively on it. I also play a little piano.
I think using the Push allows me to maintain thinking like a guitarist and I play it with my left surprisingly easy. Hours at the fretboard seem to serve me well there.

On the other hand I love (weighted) piano keys. Even if I can't really play piano keys I find the melodies and chords when composing differently than on the Push. I'd choose the keys unless guitars are a natural part of the sound you're going for.
spaceface wrote:…and please don't suggest midi guitars because I REALLY don't like them!!
Side-note, but I think you might have liked
The Zeta MIDI guitar:

I have no idea how many of the Zeta Mirror 6 (I think that's the full name) that were sold, but I played one in a session a long time ago (at Zeta). No latency to talk about as the tone was determined by which frets the fingers were at. I found the one I tried very playable with no or very few false triggers.
I owned a competing product at the time mounted on my Fender with only high E strings to shorten latency to a minimum as that product analyzed the frequency. It was dead slow compared to the Zeta.

I'm not sure why they were taken out of production, because it's the best MIDI guitar I've ever tried. Of course, I gave up guitar as my main instrument a long time ago. If this had been available to me I might have continued ( I was unaware for some reason, maybe Technics decks and mixers were all I cared about ). I haven't followed MIDI guitars since, but last time I asked they were all only analyzing the frequency for some reason.
Last edited by Stromkraft on Thu Oct 22, 2015 12:32 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: What instrument should I learn theory on; Piano or Guitar?

Post by BobSubgenius » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:03 am

I strongly suggest learning theory on piano and then apply it to the guitar. Just because, like you say, on piano you can see every note right in front of you, you can see intervals etc AND most important there is only one key for each note as opposed to the guitar where you can fret most notes in several positions.
I did a masters degree in jazz guitar and at the conservatory everybody had to do piano lessons and exams, also the guitarists. I remember it helped me a lot and let me see things on the fretboard in a different way. Piano is just very well structured.

From what you wrote it sounds a bit like you don't know where all the notes are on guitar. I'd really take some time to learn that, it saves you sooo much time later. When I look at the fretboard I can "see" the black and white keys like on piano.

About songwriting: you write different on both instruments for a lot of reasons (but that has been said before), learning only some piano will give you a lot of new ideas also. E.g. because you can easily move chords and bass notes separate from each other.

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Re: What instrument should I learn theory on; Piano or Guitar?

Post by Zygi » Thu Oct 22, 2015 12:08 pm

I'd say something totally different.

Learning to play the guitar after several years of playing the piano has forced me to actually THINK what I play and how I play, while on the piano it's mostly mechanical, unless you're Chopin or smbdy.

Playing the guitar and thinking in intervals is more creative for me. After learning to play the guitar, playing the piano will be easy... Unless you wanna be Chopin or smbdy.

Depends what you want to achieve.

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Re: What instrument should I learn theory on; Piano or Guitar?

Post by mmorgan » Thu Oct 22, 2015 1:29 pm

I've played guitar for about five decades but I would say piano (based on OT's 'learn theory' text).

But there is no reason why one couldn't learn piano while continuing guitar. No reason at all.
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