Guitar Lesson: Diatonic Steroids Part I – Major/Minor Keys

Guitar Lesson
Let’s do this!!

Greetings and welcome to another online guitar lesson!

I added a new header photo to my site, the un-cropped version you can see here ->

This was actually a nod to a pod cast I listen to – Jocko Willink – and while I don’t “know” the guy, I follow his Twitter posts and podcast episodes religiously and enjoy them immensely.  I found out he plays guitar (how well, I don’t know) and he’s a big Sabbath fan so i thought I’d return the favor and devote a guitar lesson to Sabbath.

As with any online guitar lesson, it’s challenging to to convey everything in text so I’m trying a new format: mixing text with video I’ve posted on YouTube.  In a lesson like this with a whole song and solo, it only makes sense to use Video as text alone would be nearly impossible.

But me being me, I can’t just do it straightforwardly.  Yes, you have to learn something along the way.  All my guitar lessons are like that.  Which brings me to the title of this piece, which is a pun off of Anabolic Steroids.

Definitions:

“Anabolic Steroid” – Anabolic steroids, technically known as anabolic-androgenic steroids, are drugs that are structurally related to the cyclic steroid rings system and have similar effects to testosterone in the body.  In other words, they are a performance enhancement drug.  Don’t worry, there’s not a test.

“Diatonic” – involving only notes proper to the prevailing key without chromatic alteration.  Don’t worry, I’ll explain those terms.

“Diatonic Steroids” – Way cool things to explore with a guitar!

So the diatonic concept is about scales.  What do people think of when we mention scales?  An exercise.  Technique.  Finger dexterity exercises.  Yawn.  I/we want to learn cool licks!  I want to play like [fill in the blank] and you’re going to give me scales?  Can I get my money back on this lesson?

Well before you kick your scales book to the trash can, let’s take a look at the structure of basic music.  This won’t apply to Black Sabbath just yet.  But give me some time.  One thing builds on the other.

Here’s is a 10 minute video of me explaining Major and Minor scales:

Check this out:

So the gist of this is Sabbath likes Minor keys.  And the song we’re going to work on is in E minor.  Which is a lot like G Major but there are some differences.

Knowing the scales is a start.  But scales can be derived from scales.  (Don’t worry, it gets simpler).  Here is a discussion about the Pentatonics.

So that gives a somewhat “lay of the land” between the Major and Minor 7 note scales and the Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales.

But I still don’t see how i can play like Tony Iommi!!

Let’s apply it to a real Sabbath song.  How about War Pigs?  This is a 15 min video getting you through the song up until the 1st solo.

After this, it gets to the first solo.  Tony Iommi does some interesting things with a droning E string in the background, before he gets into some “basic” blues licks:

 

And finally towards the end, Tony Iommi gets more into the Natural Minor scales:

 

So to sum up the main points from this lesson:

G Major is a 7 note scale:

G A B C D E F#

G Major Pentatonic is a 5 note scale:

G A B D E

E Minor is a 7 note scale (just like G but starts and stops on E):

E F# G A B C D

E Minor Pentatonic is a 5 note scale, just like G Pentatonic, but starting and stopping on E:

E G A B D

War Pigs makes a lot of use of the D (bVII of E) to E (I chord in E minor).

The solo makes use of the major 3rd of E (G#) since the harmony of this part of the song was all E power chords

Much of the solo makes use of E Minor Pentatonic scales.

Towards the end they make a melody in E Minor – using more notes than the minor Pentatonic offers.

I hope you enjoyed the guitar lesson!  Drop me a note and let me know what you thought of it.

Keep Shreddin’!!

Spencer