Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Guitar Modes and Modal Scale Theory

Modal scales, sometimes called church modes, are the seven different ways the major scale can function in music. The major scale has seven notes and each one can be established as the root. Each root, or mode, has its own tonality and sound characteristics. Since all music is either based on or thought of in relation to the major scale, everything is in a mode. Understanding modes is critical to developing a knowledge of guitar theory. Modal scales have created an enormous amount of confusion, more than any other musical concept, and most of the available information about them is either incorrect or misleading.

Modal Scales Are Not Patterns
Modes aren't really separate scales and they certainly don't require learning separate patterns. Modes are based on the major scale and its patterns. In order to understand the theory behind modes, you must understand the major scale.

Major Scale Patterns
The notes of the major scale are scattered all over the fretboard. Trying to memorize the huge pattern as one unit is nearly impossible. The way to learn the whole scale pattern is to focus on small parts of it at a time. The most common way to do this is to break the large pattern up into 5 pieces. Once you memorize the individual pieces (a.k.a. positions or patterns) you can connect them and complete the whole fretboard. Even though each pattern is unique, they all are simply pieces of the entire unit. In other words, on their own the patterns don't become anything new. They are always major scale notes.

Chord Theory
The major scale can be played over any one of its notes or chords. For example, the G major scale can be played over a G major chord, Am, Bm, C, D, Em or F#mb5. When you play the G major scale over a G major chord the sound is the typical, happy major sound. This would require that you have a friend strum the G chord or perhaps you have a recording or looping device that can play back a rhythm track. You can play any part of the G major scale in any position or pattern. It doesn't even matter what note you start on. Just simply jump into the scale (anywhere you like) and play the notes (any order you like).

Now, play the G major scale over an Am chord. Again, this would require that you have a friend strum the Am chord or you use a recording or looping device that can play back a rhythm track. Suddenly, the sound changes. It's now dark and jazzy. You can play any part of the G major scale in any position or pattern. It doesn't even matter what note you start on. Just simply jump into the scale (anywhere you like) and play the notes (any order you like). 

Different Scale Modes
In the above example, why did the sound change? Because mixing notes and chords is exactly like mixing colors. Yellow and blue make green but red and blue make purple. Likewise, the G major scale over a G chord makes the so-called "Ionian Mode" sound while the G major scale over an Am chord makes the so-called "Dorian Mode" sound. So, it doesn't matter what kind of pattern or position you're actually playing the scale in nor does the note you start on mean anything. It all depends on what note or chord the scale is being mixed with.

Hear and Play Guitar Modes
In order to understand how colors change when mixed is something you have to see. Likewise, in order to understand what modes are you have to hear the sound of the scale change as you mix it with different chords. All the theoretical explanations in the world won't get the point across. You must play modes to hear them. Many music theory concepts have to be applied before you'll understand them and modal scales are no exception.

Greek Mode Names
Each scale note, or chord, has its own unique sound characteristics and identifying modal name. The seven Greek names, which have origins in the church, are Ionian Mode, Dorian Mode, Phrygian Mode, Lydian Mode, Mixolydian Mode, Aeolian Mode and Locrian Mode. The modal scale names are the same on the guitar as they are on every other instrument. This type of music theory is relative to all musicians.

How to Learn Modes
Modes spring from the understanding and application of other musical concepts. To learn modes, first learn the major scale and its patterns. Next, learn how the major scale is used to build chords. Finally, learn how these chords are used to make guitar chord progressions. With music, each concept supports the next. Don't try to get ahead of yourself by studying advanced theories that you're not prepared for.

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna (Google me!)
Scales, Chords, Progressions, Modes and More

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Theory Behind Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers

Understanding chord progressions is essential to learning guitar music theory and becoming a good player. Recognizing chord movement and playing by numbers can help you to:

• Chart, learn and remember songs better
• Apply scales correctly
• Play by ear
• Compose and improvise your own music
• Understand guitar theory and apply it to the fretboard

Major Scale Triads
If you're already familiar with major scale patterns and basic guitar theory, then you can begin to understand guitar chord progressions. The major scale has seven notes and each one can be played as a chord. To build guitar chords, each note is combined with notes three and five degrees ahead in the scale. For this reason, these intervals are called root, third and fifth (or 1 3 5). Combined, the three chord tones are called a "triad".

Root, Third and Fifth Intervals (1 3rd 5th)
When you apply this chord building concept to an entire major scale not all chords end up the same. For example, some chords have major thirds (two whole-steps or four frets above the root) while others have minor thirds (one and a half-steps or three frets above the root). This occurs because the distance between major scale tones varies (some notes are a whole-step apart while others are a half-step apart). Coincidentally, the fifth intervals are all the same with the only exception being the chord built on the very last scale tone.

Nashville Number System
This order of major and minor creates the following chord sequence: 1. major 2. minor 3. minor 4. major 5. major 6. minor 7. minor (flat 5). Sometimes referred to as the "Nashville Number System," this sequence is the foundation of music theory and is often represented by Roman numerals. Major chords are written in upper case and minor chords are written in lower case as follows: I ii iii IV V vi vii

Keys and Chord Patterns
Different keys have different chords built from different notes determined by different key signatures (sharps and flats). What makes the chord number system so useful, and a must for any serious guitar theory student, is that it remains the same regardless of key. For example, the first three chords in G major are G, Am and Bm, the first three chords in A major are A, Bm and C#m, the first three chords in C major are C, Dm and Em, but in all keys the first chord is major, the second is minor and so is the third. The number system can be visualized on the guitar as a chord pattern so that you don't have to be concerned with key signatures and notes. Move this pattern around the neck and you'll instantly be able to see all the chords for each key. Guitar players have a music theory advantage because of this ability to shift patterns on the fret board.

Learn New Songs
Playing chord progressions and playing by numbers go hand in hand and the concept is easier on the guitar than most other instruments. You just have to know the right way to map things out on the guitar neck. You'll be surprised to realize that many songs that appear to be quite different because of their position on the neck and chords used, are actually the same progression in terms of numbers and theory. No more cluttering your mind with endless amounts of chord information because you'll be able to recognize simplify things with numbers. Can you imagine how much quicker you'll be able to learn and remember new songs?

Learn and Understand Guitar Music Theory
Charting chord progressions has more benefits than just playing songs. Progressions play a role in understanding guitar music theory including applying pentatonic and major scale patterns correctly, identifying modes and modal scales, using intervals and adding chord extensions.

Play By Ear
How do some players know what's coming next the first time through a song? Easy, knowing where to look is half the battle! When you can see clearly all the chords of a key, it's easier to guess the change or even anticipate the movement before it happens. Since many songs are based on typical progressions, you'll become very familiar with common changes. You've probably heard musicians calling out numbers on the bandstand, right? Now you can know what they mean and experience the benefits of the system for yourself. Not to mention, you can sit around and talk theory with real musicians without feeling like an idiot.

Improvise Compose Your Own Music
Establishing keys, determining chord movement, applying scales and playing by ear are all necessary for jamming and song-writing. Don't leave spontaneity to chance, work out the technical details first and then you'll improvise and compose much better.

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna (Google me!)
Scales, Chords, Progressions, Modes and More

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Guitar Music Theory Lesson "No Woman No Cry" Bob Marley Pentatonic & Major Scale

Learn guitar theory on the fretboard with this free lesson. Covers topics including chords, chord progressions, C major pentatonic and C major scales. Featured is a solo instumental version of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" performed by guitar teacher Desi Serna.

Play along with the rhythm track at the link below. It is recommended to open this file in a new window. Bob Marley Guitar Play Along Jam Track

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