I started out playing to tabs chugging Megadeth riffs and solos but I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. As I got more familiar with the fretboard, I started to know the notes I was playing. That wasn’t enough. By just knowing the notes but not the relationship between them, I was still rather clueless. Then I got into harmony. I started to see how the notes I knew formed chords hence a better knowledge of using chord tones. At that time I was already familiar with the concept of key center and major scale as well. I could transcribe most pop songs and improvise over simple chord changes too.
Jazz theory period
And then I saw some jazz videos on TV. All the walking bass, solos, chords, I didn’t know what happened but it sounded awesome! I tried faking out some stuff with my existing knowledge but it didn’t sound like how I wanted them to be! I started buying jazz instructional books. The first one was ‘Jazzin’ the Blues’ by John Ganapes and David Roos when I was in college. Not exactly jazz but it was by studying this book I learned tritone substitution, altered chords among other stuff. While in university, I continued with ‘Mastering Chord Melody’ and ‘Mastering Improvisation’ by Jody Fisher. I thought I was good enough at that time to digest these 2 books. Opened the books and didn’t understand a thing. #5b9, Locrian #2 etc., what? I went back and bought the ‘Intermediate’ book. From there I worked my way up understanding and making sense of more and more stuff. Music theory wise, I’d say this was the period in which I learned most of my theory as well as its implementations.
I’m still learning and discovering. I’m more of a harmony person so I’m always looking for different chord progressions and making sense of them. I’m now playing some classical guitar to get a taste of how classical music uses theory. There are many interesting discoveries which I’m already using in my compositions. Improvisation wise, I’m incorporating more melodic minor modes as I had been a major scale guy most of the time and I’m getting sick of it! Learning theory is not unlike learning technique, it takes dedication and lots of practice to be comfortable with all that knowledge. If we’ve already got good technique, knowing more theory will only strengthen our technique and make us better players, possibly better humans too!