Friday, October 30, 2009

Learn How to Improvise, Play Guitar Solos & Create Your Own Style

One of the most common questions guitar players ask is, "How do you learn how to improvise, pick your own licks and phrases?" The answer is to learn songs. That's why I include so many song references in my guitar theory book and videos. Each guitar riff, solo and bass line you learn will teach you something new about picking and phrasing. After you develop some common guitar technique, and a good repertoire of licks, you can begin to rearrange phrases in your own order.

Is Copying Cheating?
Some guitarists feel that this approach is simply copying and not a legitimate way to create an original style. Nothing could be further from the truth. You'll never develop lead guitar technique or understand how to use and apply scales correctly without first learning some examples by other players.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Albert King
Why do people say you can hear Albert King in Stevie Ray Vaughan's playing? Because SRV learned how to phrase by first copying what he heard on King's records. That's how all great guitar players got started and developed their style.

Eric Clapton "Hideaway"
To help further demonstrate my point, listen to this very early recording of Eric Clapton playing the song "Hideaway" with John Mayall's Blues Breakers.

Freddie King "Hideaway"
Now listen to the original version of "Hideaway" played by Freddie King.

Did you notice that Eric Clapton copies many of Freddie King's phrases note-for-note? And Freddie King is just one of Clapton's many influences. Eric Clapton spent his early years listening to, learning and practicing licks and phrases by other guitar players. Is it any wonder that he has become so proficient? Do you honestly think that you can skip this step and progress to the same level? Think again!

Why Reinvent the Wheel?
If you want to develop good technique, draw from a good arsenal of licks and phrases, and become a good improvisor then you absolutely must learn songs and copy other players. There's no short cut to getting good. This process requires patience, hard work, dedication, and lots of practice. In time you'll start to rely less on copying and more on your own creativity. This will ultimately lead to you composing and improvising in your own unique style.

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna

Monday, October 19, 2009

Play guitar and sing at the same time

How can I learn to play guitar and sing at the same time?

Singing and playing guitar can be tricky for a beginner but it's not impossible. A sense of good timing, rhythm and ability to combine two actions at once will come with practice and dedication. My website, books and DVDs focus on music theory for guitar with very few references to technique. But there is a great article posted on WikiHow that outlines a good method for developing the ability to strum guitar and sing at the same time. I suggest you try working through their steps.

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guitar Chord Progressions and Secondary Dominant Major 2 Chord

"Why do some guitar chord progressions have a major second chord when it should be minor? What is a secondary dominant?"

If you know anything about guitar music theory you know that building chords from the major scale produces the following chord sequence:

1. I major
2. ii minor
3. iii minor
4. IV major
5. V major
6. vi minor
7. vii minor (flat five)

But songs with major two chords are fairly common on guitar. The songs listed below are just a few examples:

"That'll Be The Day"
Buddy Holly - Key of A but includes a B major 2 chord.
"Hey Good Looking" Hank Williams - Key of C but includes a D major 2 chord.
"Patience" Guns and Roses - Key of G (gtr. tuned down 1/2 step to Eb) but includes an A major 2 chord.
"Out of My Head" Fastball - Key of E but includes an F# major 2 chord.

A major 2 chord is actually a key change and stems from the music theory behind a functioning dominant seven chord. A dominant seven chord (which can be referred to as simply 7) is a major chord with a flat seven interval. This occurs naturally on the fifth scale degree in a major scale. The dominant seven 5 chord has a bit of tension that leads to and resolves on 1 (the 'tonic' in a major scale). For example, in the key of G a D7 chord leads to and resolves on G. D is said to be the 'dominant' of G major. In fact, D can lead to G whether or not the guitar chord actually has the seventh interval in it.

"Hey Good Looking" by Hank Williams is in the key of C and normally has a D minor chord, but the song uses a D major instead which creates a strong pull to G. When playing this song on guitar you're in the key of C but you're borrowing the dominant from the key of G in order to produce the dominant pull to and resolution on G. Get it? This is said to be a 'secondary dominant' chord and is a composition technique that can be used in any key. So the song examples I used can be explained like this:

"That'll Be The Day"
B major is the dominant of and leads to E.
"Hey Good Looking" D major is the dominant of and leads to G.
"Patience" A major is the dominant of and leads to D.
"Out of My Head" F# major is the dominant of and leads to B.

You can create secondary dominant movement for any chord in a key. Just remember that it's a type of key change so the scale you play over it with should follow. This is important when learning music theory for guitar.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Blues Chord Progression

"Is an E, A and B blues chord progression 1 4 5 in the key of E?"

These three chords are indeed 1 4 and 5 in the key of E, but when used in blues there is more guitar theory to understand.

The blues concept is based on dominant seven chords (which unlike major seven chords can simply be called "seven" or "7"). This means that blues vocal melodies, bass lines and guitar solos use intervals and scales that correspond to dominant 7th chords whether or not one of the instruments is physically playing them. So a progression with the chords E, A and B is treated as if the chords were E7, A7 and B7.

If you know anything about music theory, then you know that only the fifth major scale degree has a major third and flat seventh interval necessary to build a dominant seven chord. So 7th chords only occur once per key. A progression with three different dominant 7th chords is actually three different keys. E7 stems from the key of A (or A major scale). A7 stems from the key of D (or D major scale). B7 stems from the of E (or E major scale). E7, A7 and B7 is actually a 5 5 5 chord progression with each chord produce a key change. But musicians and guitar players refer to this type of blues chord progression as 1 4 5 anyway. 

There are a few different ways guitar players can play over this type of blues chord progression.

The first is to ignore the whole progression and simply follow the root chord (where everything begins and resolves). In this case it's E. Since the E chord is base on an E major triad you can play the E major pentatonic scale over it. But blues players also break the rules a bit and play the E minor pentatonic instead. The tension and dissonance that results contributes to the much loved and edgy blues sound. In fact, this minor-over-major approach has become the standard in this style of music and many blues players rely on it alone. But most blues music incorporates the major pentatonic too usually by mixing it together with minor pentatonic patterns.

Another option is to use full major scale patterns. Since the E chord is treated as if it were an E7, and since E7 stems from the A major scale, then A major scales patterns are the correct ones to play. Since the fifth note E is functioning as the root this produces the fifth mode, Mixolydian (a.k.a. "Dominant scale" because it goes together with dominant chords). Full major scale patterns can also be mixed with both major and minor pentatonic patterns. Throw in some chromatic passing tones and you have quite a palette of notes to choose from!

Another option when playing over dominant seventh blues chord progressions is to follow the key changes with the scales you play. So when the progression goes to A, play A major and minor pentatonic and A mixolydian mode (D major scale patterns). When the progression is on B7 play B major and minor pentatonic and B mixolydian mode (E major scale patterns). Switching scales like this can be tricky and many blues players prefer a simpler approach. But country and jazz players, who are usually more trained in music theory for guitar, love this challenging method of playing.