Thursday, October 30, 2008

Diminished Guitar Chord Theory and the Major Scale

I'm way past there now, but when I was back in chapter 6 of Fretboard Theory I was curious as to why you didn't mention diminished chords as the 7th instead of "minor-flat-5"? At least that's the way I learned in back in school.

The seventh degree of the major scale does not produce a complete diminished chord. Instead you get a root, b3rd, b5th, and b7th. You'd need a bb7th (double flat) interval in order to complete a diminished chord.

One way to think of a full diminished chord is as all minor third intervals. Start on a root, go up a minor third (three frets), then up a minor third again, then up a minor third again, etc.

The chord building lessons in my book, Fretboard Theory, focus solely on the major scale. This foundational guitar theory information should be learned before you venture into more advanced topics.

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna (Google me!)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tri Tone Substituting Guitar Theory

I have been studying Music seriously for about 3 1/2 years and the study of modes really escaped me! Your approach of tying the theory and chord progression aspects together made perfect sense to me, and the added blues section really clarified the the blues changes. The concept of each chord being a different key center was a epiphany.

I have a request. A concept that I have had trouble with (and others guitar players)I'm sure, is Tri-Tone Subs,. If you have any advice I would appreciate it.

I appreciate your comments about my DVD, Guitar Modes - The Modal Scales of Popular Music. I'm glad that the information is working well for you. It's amazing how the right guitar theory instruction can make such a big difference in how players view and understand music.

Tri Tone Substitutions
This topic is beyond the scope of my guitar theory materials, and ventures into a pretty heavy jazz concept. But, I'll try to give you one example anyway.

Play a 1 6 2 5 chord progression in the key of G (any key will work) using all dominant seven chords. Play two beats of each chord, or strum each chord twice. For chords 6 2 and 5, substitute a tri-tone dominant seventh chord on beat two, or the second strum. So the progression will look like this:

G7 G7, E7 Bb7, A7 Eb7, D7 Ab7

Reduce this to the chord roots only and you'll have a typical jazz bass line. Many times just the bass player does the flat fifth substituting.

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna (Google me!)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Do I Need to Memorize Guitar Major Scale Pattern Shapes?

I have worked thorough the guitar pentatonic scale patterns and have them down pretty well. I seem to find the guitar major scale patterns more difficult to remember. Do I need to learn them by shape or can I just build a scale as I go by knowing the scale degrees and steps? Also, do I need to have the major scales down "pat" before I can move on to other music theory topics?

The key to understanding how music works on the guitar fretboard is visualizing shapes and patterns and how they connect. Since everything in music stems from the major scale, knowing guitar major scale patterns is foundational to guitar theory.

I recommend you follow the instruction laid out in Fretboard Theory Chapter 5: The Major Scale. Memorize the 5 patterns on the guitar neck, and then practice connecting them forward and backward in order to complete the whole scale template. Once you can accomplish this in the original key I illustrate the patterns in, transpose the scale to new keys by shifting the template to new fretboard positions. Use the songs listed on page 73-74 to practice with. This way, you can hear the melodic characteristics of the major scale as you review the patterns (this will make practicing a lot more enjoyable).

After you can complete the scale template forward and backward in various keys, the next step is to learn lots of major scale songs. Melodies, riffs, lead guitar solos, and even bass lines will all demonstrate how to apply the patterns in musical context. And listeners will appreciate hearing something familiar too!

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna (Google me!)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Connecting Pentatonic Scale Patterns For Guitar

I want to move through all the notes in succession all the way through the neck for a particular key. When you move from pattern 1 all the way through to pattern 5 using the major or minor pentatonic scales, how do I ensure I move to the next note for the next pattern?

This is a common music theory question about learning pentatonic scales for guitar that basically asks whether or not there is a "correct" way to finish one pattern and then start the next. In addition, some guitarists wonder if they should connect the patterns in a continuous manner so that they don't skip or repeat any notes.

The answer to both questions is no. Players should just play up and down a pattern in one position and then move up the guitar neck to the next, restart, and play up and down the new pattern in the new position. At this stage you're just trying to train yourself to access the scale notes in any position, or "map out" the guitar fretboard.

After you have memorized and can play all five pentatonic scale patterns ascending and descending you need to transpose to new keys and practice connecting the patterns again.

The final step is to put the patterns to use by learning lots of pentatonic scale songs. Pentatonic melodies, riffs, lead guitar solos, and bass lines will be in various keys and move through the patterns in various ways including starting and stopping, reversing direction, skipping and repeating notes, and shifting positions. Through this song learning process you'll develop a practical understanding of the guitar theory behind applying the pentatonic scale, both major and minor, to different music styles.

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna (Google me!)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Playing Minor Pentatonic Scales Over Seventh Chords and Blues Progressions

On page 115 you allude to a concept that I hadn't considered before which is that in a major blues when the I-IV-V are all Dom7s, that we are really using three different keys.

In the case of a blues in C, C7 would be the V of G, F7 is the V of Bb, and G7 is the V of C.

You use this to allude to the fact that a blues solo can be complex by changing major scales to match the chord changes.

My question is why will a single Pentatonic scale in one key work. I have played it that way for years, but now that you have opened my eyes to the fact that the key is actually changing I am questioning what I know. I understand why it works over all of the chords in a single key, but why does it still work when the keys are changing?

This is a great question about applying guitar pentatonic and major scale patterns to songs in a blues music style. Playing the minor pentatonic scale over a chord with a major third interval in it, is actually breaking the rules. As a result, some of the scale and chord tones clash. This dissonance gives blues and blues-based rock music an edgy sound that most guitar players find pleasing to the ear (your grandparents, not so much).

Although this is more music theory information than most guitarists want or need to know, here's how the scale works over what appears to be a typical I IV V (1 4 5) blues chord progression in the key of G. Remember, as I explain in my book Fretboard Theory, each dominant seven chord is actually the V chord of another key.

G7 (V chord C) with G minor pentatonic scale
You get a root, flat third, fourth, fifth, and flat seventh. All the notes relate perfectly to the chord, and the parent C major scale, except for the Bb which is a minor third. This interval contributes to the sour but cool "blues" sound.

C7 (V chord F) with G minor pentatonic scale
You get a root, second, fourth, fifth and flat seventh. All the notes relate perfectly to the chord, and the parent F major scale.

D7 (V chord G) with G minor pentatonic scale
You get a root, flat third, fourth, augmented (or sharp) fifth and flat seventh. You already know that a flat third, or minor third, interval contributes to the bluesy sound. The sharp fifth interval creates an augmented chord which increases the tension and leads to and resolves back to the tonic, G7. D7 augmented, which can be heard at the beginning of "Stormy Monday" by The Allman Brothers Band, can be played like this:

Root D - string 5, fret 5, ring finger
Major 3rd - string 4, fret 4, middle finger
Sharp 5th - string 3, fret 3, index finger
Root D - string 2, fret 3, barre with index finger

Isn't it amazing that a concept that is so easy to play on the guitar fretboard ends up being based on rather complicated guitar theory? I guess some things are easier done than said. This certainly applies to using minor pentatonic scale patterns in blues guitar music.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Is Guitar Theory? Applying Music Theory to the Guitar Fretboard.

This guitar blog post will answer the following questions:

1. What is guitar theory?
2. Why do guitar players have to learn theory and what are the benefits?
3. What does guitar theory include and where should a player start?

Theory is the study of music - how it's written, notated, discussed, thought of and played. Guitar theory is the study of how music theory specifically applies to the guitar fretboard and usually focuses on how all the different components of songs, such as scales, chords and progressions, fit together. It's a topic best suited for intermediate and advanced guitar players who already know the basics of playing such as chords and easy songs and want to take their knowledge to the next level and navigate the fretboard like the pros. These things are required if you want to be able to improvise, compose, or just understand the music you play better.

The Benefits of Guitar Theory
Many players who don't understand the inter-workings of music are limited in their ability to apply what they know. For example, a student might learn a new scale pattern from a scale book or a new chord shape from a chord chart but have no idea where it fits into songs. Without knowledge of how something functions it's pretty much useless.

What Does Guitar Theory Do?
Guitar theory will explain what musical elements are and what they do. For example, a new chord shape might be seen as an extension of a common barre chord. Wherever this common barre chord is played the new shape can be substituted for a new sound. A scale pattern might fit together with a specific chord progression. Each time this progression is used the scale tones can add melody and harmony. In music, knowing how the pieces fit together makes all the difference.

Where to Start Learning Theory?
Music can be approached and studied from many different angels. Guitar players can study notation, technique, rhythms, scales, chord construction and so on. While all musical topics are interesting and have their benefits - mapping out scales, chords and progressions on the fretboard is what ultimately has to be done. If you're interested in developing this type of working knowledge of guitar music theory, then follow the outline below.

1. Guitar Scales

99% of guitar scale work in popular music is based on either pentatonic or major scale patterns. Focus on learning and memorizing these patterns. The pentatonic scale patterns are simpler and easier to apply, so they make a perfect place to start. Below is a fretboard diagram which illustrates the first and most commonly used pentatonic scale pattern. The notation example that follows shows you how to play the notes in order by pitch ascending and descending.

2. Guitar Chords

There are literally thousands of different types of chord shapes that can be played on the fretboard but most of them can be traced back to just 5 common open forms. These forms are C, A, G, E, and D. Together they make up what's called the guitar CAGED chord system, which includes arpeggio patterns, inversions, fingerings and voicings. In the fretboard diagrams below you can see how the open C form can be moved up, played as a barre chord, and then reduced to more practical forms. These chord shapes occur all the time in popular music.

3. Guitar Chord Progressions

Understanding guitar chord progressions and playing by numbers will help you chart and learn songs better. You'll also better understand the construction of the songs you play and remember more. Chord progressions are also foundational to many other music theory topics including applying scales and playing scale modes.

Progressions stem from major scale patterns. Learn how to build triads and chords using the major scale. When you do this, a major/minor number sequence emerges that is quite possibly the most important foundational concept in all of music. Have you ever heard someone refer to a song by numbers such as 1, 4, 5? The system is all based on major scale degrees.

Hopefully now you have an idea of what guitar theory is, why it's so beneficial to learn, what it includes and how to get started. With music theory each concept builds on the one before it. Learn things in the right order and everything will fit into place both mentally and physically on the fretboard. Be sure to take your time and allow yourself to fully absorb and apply each subject (this should include learning lots of actual song examples). As you go, light bulbs will turn on in your head and you'll surely achieve more success and experience more enjoyment as a musician.

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna (Google me!)