Monday, January 12, 2009

How to Sight Read Standard Music Notation for Guitar

Do you have any materials on sight music reading?

No, my materials focus on guitar theory. This includes learning and applying scales, chords, progressions, modes and more, but not studying standard notation.

Learning how to read standard sheet music
Learning how to read standard sheet music is a great step in any guitar players musical development. There are many suitable methods out there that focus on learning the treble clef, reading notes, and counting rhythms.

A few of the oldest and most common courses include Mel Bay's Modern Guitar Method Grade 1 and Hal Leonard Guitar Method Book 1. I recommend getting the books that include CDs. This way you can hear each example and then play along to practice.

Beginner level guitar books like the ones above begin with teaching players how to read music from scratch. You may not be a beginner player, but you still need to start at the beginning in order to develop the sight-reading skill.

If you can just make it through a book or two, then you'll be able to identify basic notes, key signatures, whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eight notes. And you'll understand how to follow the form of a song (repeats, 1st and 2nd endings, coda, etc.).

In most cases, the guitar player doesn't need to be an expert reader (like a piano player). Very basic reading skills is still an asset and suits most performance situations.

Beginner Guitar Players
I recommend that guitar newcomers interested in popular music first focus on how to play rather than how to read. More on this topic here:

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

Friday, January 9, 2009

Major Pentatonic Scale Guitar Songs

Could you tell me examples of styles and songs that use the Major Pentatonic scale for guitar melody and lead?

Major Pentatonic Scale
The major pentatonic scale is often overlooked and misunderstood by guitar players. This is because most players learn the minor pentatonic scale first and assume it's the end-all and be-all of guitar scales. In a blues setting, guitarists can even play it over both minor and major chords which further adds to the confusion. By not understanding how the pentatonic can function in a major context, musicians miss out on half the sounds and styles that these scale patterns can produce.

E Minor/G Major Pentatonic Scale
In the open position, pentatonic scale pattern one produces what most guitar players call the E minor pentatonic scale. It's played over some type of E minor chord (or sometimes E major in a blues setting). Emphasizing the E notes in the pattern reinforces the minor tonality. But the very same notes and pattern can also be the G major pentatonic scale. All you have to do is play the scale over some type of G major chord. Emphasizing the G notes in the pattern reinforces the major tonality.

So the first note in pentatonic scale pattern one is always your minor root and the second note is always your major root. This holds true for all keys.

Major Pentatonic Scale Songs
The songs listed below are just some of many that use the major pentatonic scale. In all of them, the scale is played over major chords and the second note in pattern one is functioning as the root.

“Honky Tonk Woman” The Rolling Stones...................................Intro Gtr. Lick
“Wish You Were Here” Pink Floyd....................12-String & Lead Gtr. Intro, Bass
“Sweet Home Alabama” Lynyrd Skynyrd...............................Gtr. Intro & Solos
“Centerfold” The J. Geils Band................................................Gtr. Riff
“Cannonball” Duane Eddy....................................................Gtr. Riff
“Amazing Grace” Hymn..................................................Vocal Melody
“Amie” Pure Prairie League.....................................Gtr. Intro (A major)
“All Right Now” Free.....................................Gtr. Solo 2:28 (A major)
“Jessica” The Allman Brothers Band....................Bass Intro & Chorus (A major)
“Upside Down” Jack Johnson..................................Gtr. Riff 0:11 (E major)
“I Love Rock ‘N Roll” Joan Jett...............................Gtr. Solo (E major)
“Yellow Ledbetter” Pearl Jam....................................Gtr. Solo (E major)
“Blue Sky” The Allman Brothers Band.....................Gtr. Intro & Solo (E major)
“Gasoline Alley” Rod Stewart.......................Gtr./Vocal Melody 0:29 (E major)
“My Girl” The Temptations..........................Gtr. 1 Riff A & B(C & F major)
“Better Together” Jack Johnson..................................Gtr. Intro (F major)
“Let It Be” The Beatles ...................................Gtr. 1 Verse 2 (C major)
“Maggie May” Rod Stewart.......................................Gtr. Solo (D major)

Major Pentatonic Scale Theory
This is just one of the many benefits to learning guitar theory and how music works. The better you understand the features and functions of your musical tools, the better you'll develop as a guitar player. Try it!

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

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What is the "Key" of a song?

"Key" can refer to a several things. They include:

1. The key signature or parent major scale
2. The root
3. The first note or chord of a song.
4. The mode

In most cases when a guitar player says "key," he is referring to the chord or note that sounds like the tonal center of the song. This root may not always match the actual key which should be based on the parent major scale. For example, "Gloria" by Van Morrison revolves around, and resolves on E, but the chords are derived from the A major scale's V IV and I (this produces E mixolydian mode).

Sometimes guitar players will name a key simply by whatever note or chord is first. For example, "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd starts on D, but G is the strongest tonal center, and the chords are derived from the G major scale's V IV and I. The majority of the melodies, riffs and solos are based on G major pentatonic and G major scale. It's more correct to say the song is in G, but most players call it D.

As you can see, guitar players have different meanings for the word "key," and musicians can examine a song's structure from different perspectives. A good approach to learning guitar theory is to always start with the parent major scale, then identify which note is functioning as the root.

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

Changing Guitar Modes Over Chord Progressions

"If I'm running through a chord progression of Am, F, Dm, G chords (as in Mr Jones by Counting Crowes) and noodling around with the C Major scale am I technically only playing the Aeolian Mode when the chord underneath me is Am? What if the chord progression hangs for a long while on the F; does it become a Lydian mode (4th scale degree of C)? Or does it solely depend on what chord functions as the root?"

The modal concept follows the root chord in a progression, but sometimes the root chord can change. In the verse to "Mr. Jones" the A minor chord is definitely functioning as the root. This creates the A Aeolian mode (or natural minor scale) sound. But during the chorus, the chord progression shifts and revolves around the C major chord. This produces C Ionian (or major scale). You can definitely hear the difference as the song clearly becomes brighter when the chorus hits.

If the song included a section that held the F chord long enough, then yes this would produce a Lydian sound.

Click here for more information about guitar modes and guitar theory.

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Learn How to Apply Guitar Scales Chords

I've got a question that I'm not sure you've answered. I've been trying different progressions by numbers. Let's say I'm in the key of C and I want to do a vi ii IV I. The chords in the major scale are CDEFGA and I didn't include the major/minor tonalities because I'm using power chords.

You have several guitar theory related questions here. I'll try to break it down for you.

The major and minor chord tonalities still exist, even if you're only play roots and fifths. So, you must take them into consideration when you solo.

Now what I don't understand is if I want to play a C minor pentatonic riff over the progression in power chord forms, would that be wrong? For example, there is an A# in C minor pentatonic. The A#5 chord is not part of the chords in the key of C. If it is allowed to play the pentatonic over the chord progression in C, technically can't you "thicken" up the sound by throwing in a 5th there in each pentatonic note for the chords?

Playing C minor scale tones over a chord progression that stems from C major will definitely sound out of key. Instead, try the C major (a.k.a. A minor) pentatonic scale patterns.

I am also a bit confuse about the whole playing by number theory which would be great if you can clarify. I was playing a progression in E. Im starting out with the 6 chord and the whole progression feels like it's revolving around the 6, which is the C#. What I find very confusing is that in your chapter you mention the chords allowed in each key. But if the song feels like it's in a different key even by using the correct key chords, what does this mean? I know you talked about something similar to this in your video about using only the 5 and 6 chords, so the 1 chord is not there but the song would techically be in a different key.

Please explain this as I am very confused and I hope you understand what I'm refering to. In the key of E, the chords are (E, F#m, G#m, A, B, C#m). My progression revolves around C#m and sounds like its in the key of C#. How can this be true if in the key of C#, the chords are not the same as in E? I tried playing the pentatonic minor over it and it was hard to tell, but it sounded like C# fits in better than E.

A song can revolve around any scale degree. The example you outlined is C# Aeolian mode (a.k.a. natural minor or relative minor). The parent major scale is E, so you can play the E major scale over it. Since the root chord is C# minor, you can also play the C# minor pentatonic scale over it. In fact, you can combine both the E major scale and C# minor pentatonic scale. This follows the music theory rules outlined in Fretboard Theory Chapter 7: Roots, Keys, and Applying Scales.

Also, would the chord progressions in A be the same as in Am, just revolving around the minor chords? I think you've mentioned that but it's still a bit unclear whether or not the chords are the same in a minor key.

No, A major and A minor are two totally different keys. The A major scale does not have an A minor chord in it. A minor is found only in the keys of G, F and C. So a song that revolves around an A minor chord is in one of those keys depending on the other chords involved.

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

Monday, January 5, 2009

Blues Guitar Scales, Solos and Theory Lesson

In the songs Communication Breakdown, Whole Lotta Love and Good Times, Bad times I have found a little anomaly.  (This may happen in many Zeppelin Songs or throughout music I don't know).  All of these songs are in the key of A.  They have 3 #'s in the key signature, use AED chords...  they're in A.  The root in all of these songs is definitely E.  This would make the songs in Mixolydian Mode.  Even the key signature for Good Times Bad Times say Mixolydian mode.  All of the solos however in each of the songs use the  E minor scale (or G major).  Does that mean they change the modal sound to Dorian for the solos because there is no key change?  (G major scale over EAD, key of A)  Now don't get me wrong these songs and solos are awesome, but I am just trying to get some clarity on what is going on in the songs.  I remember you saying that if a song has a set modal feel already and you try to change it or force a differ net modal feel it will sound out of place.  Dorian and Aeolian are both bluesy sounds though and obviously sound good. It seems that they wanted a blues feel to the solo and put in a dorian mode solo over the mixolydian feel of the songs? (pretty sure that Mr. Page knew what he was doing but it has confused me a bit).  So my questions are what is going on here and if you have a different root than the major key can you just play either the major or minor scale of that root?

A: These songs follow the blues approach I discuss in Fretboard Theory Chapter 2 and then later again in Chapter 7. I also demonstrate this blues concept at the end of my DVD, Getting Started with the Pentatonic Scale.

Blues songs break away from traditional guitar theory by apply the minor pentatonic scale over a major based chord. Specifically, this occurs over a dominant seven chord (written as simply 7), or at least a chord functioning as a dominant seven. The only chord in a key that produces a dominant seventh is V (5). This is because the fifth scale degree is a major triad, and it has a flat 7th interval. As you stated correctly, Mixolydian Mode stems from this fifth degree.

Playing the minor pentatonic scale over a major based chord produces the follow intervals:

Root, b3, 4, 5, b7 (and possibly the b5 ala the "blues scale.")

So you nearly have all the intervals necessary to build a dominant seven chord, minus the major third. Playing a minor third over a major third produces some dissonance, but in a blues-based context this clash of notes creates an edgy sound that we've grown to like (it's rock 'n' roll, baby). Often times players will also add in the major third to minor pentatonic scale patterns.

So, blues-based rock songs can include Mixolydian Mode (a.k.a. the Dominant scale) and/or minor pentatonic. Oh, and you don't always have to break the rules. Blues-based players also use the major pentatonic scale over major chords as traditional guitar theory would teach.

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