Tag Archives: Guitar Lessons

A blog entry devoted to teaching some aspect of guitar

“Do I really need all this Music Theory?!”

Written music on the treble clef staff
Written music on the treble clef staff

Oh no, not theory!  With thirds, and triads, and sharps and keys…….I just want to play!!!

Do I need theory to do what I want to do?

I’ve been teaching a long time.  Since I was 17.  I’m now 97 (ok, not quite but still) so that’s a long time.  And in all that time, theory lessons are easily the most complex and the most confusing to students.  Even though we are applying it through the guitar, it’s still dizzying.

So again,

Do I need theory to do what I want to do?

The short answer is no.   I’ve played with many musicians – guitarists, bassist, singers, drummers (typically not keyboard players) who don’t understand what a key is.

Singers – the singer needs a good ear obviously and needs to know if the song is in his or her range and we usually find out the hard way.  And they may sing “la la la….right here….can we do the song here?” as you move the chords up and down and find the right key.

Drummers – although many drummers sing, and many play multiple instruments, the don’t need musical theory but they will be more keyed into intros, outros, breaks, fills, and tempo.

Bassists – I didn’t think it was possible to not know theory but I have worked with bassists that just learned bass runs, bass patterns and chord outlines without being able to say “This song is in the key of [fill in the blank]”.  They just play the song.

Guitarists – most guitarists learn open string chords, then bar chords, and pick up on the main Rock scale – the minor pentatonic or blues scale, or just pieces of it from learning by ear and figuring out solos on record.  Throw in some flashy effects, some stage presence and bingo – you’re a rock star.

I had one student where his band wanted to learn Led Zepplin’s The Wanton Song from the Physical Graffiti album.  He had a lot of the licks down, but was stuck on the bridge.  Good ol’ Jimmy page threw in a Diminished 7th chord as a “connecting” chord and once we hit that chord, my student said “That’s it; this is too hard!” and promptly gave up on that song.

So let me qualify that short answer of “no”.  If you’re going to be doing very simple rock, folk, or blues (and blues can get hairy too), then no.  You don’t need theory.  Dress in black or white or all yellow, spend $3k on a stacked amps, effects and work on your moves in a mirror (which one should probably do anyway to get a sense of performance) and stick to the easy songs.  When it comes time to do a solo, you can figure out what the recording is doing and noodle with that.

I am not being sarcastic or mean.  Many gigging musicians do just that.  There’s nothing wrong with it.

So why would I want to learn theory?

There are many reason but I’ll list them here:

  • To more quickly figure out songs as you’ll be used to the stock chord progressions
  • To more quickly figure out the key to do your own improvisations
  • To more quickly figure out the recorded solo since you know what you would use
  • To play a wider range of songs – ballads, or Steely Dan or “easy listening” music for playing during dinner time or wine tasting
  • To more easily write your own songs
  • To more easily transpose songs if the singer needs it
  • To figure out 2 and 3 part harmony in the vocals

Not all music is straight forward.  If you are into heavy metal the likes of Dream Theater, or Day of Reckoning you will do better if you know your major/minor scales, keys and modes.

Me?  I’m going to brush up on my pentatonics with my 7 string and go pick out yellow clothes for my next gig.

Have a great time y’all!  Hit me up with any questions you have.  I’m not a lawyer so I don’t charge by the question :).

Shreddy

 

4 CHORD PROGRESSIONS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW – PT 4

4 CHORD PROGRESSIONS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW – PT 4

This is the last of a 4 part series on 4 basic chord progressions that will get you far in playing some of your favorite songs, and you’ll begin to recognize the I IV V, the ii V, the I Vi IV V, and this one, the Vi V IV.

 

The Vi VI IV – one very versatile chord progression

This chord progression use the Vi (6th) chord which is minor, down a whole step to the V (5th) chord which is major and then down another whole step to the IV chord, also major.  If you’re learning a song that does that, you have a Vi V IV!

This is really a natural minor progression.  Let’s take a look at aVi V IV in C:

IV  V   VI

C   D   E    F    G    A    B  C

A Minor to G Major to F Major.

Examples of songs using this chord progression:

Stairway to Heaven (the end, “as we wind on down the road…”)

Harden My Heart

Livin’ on a Prayer

Edge of 17

…and many more.

Minor Keys Revisited

The simplest Minor key type is the Natural Minor.  There are no differences between it (the Vi – A here) and the relative Major (the I – C in this case).  The notes and chords are the same.  But the chord progression centers on A minor which gives is a more complex “moody” sound.

Keep in mind this can easily hop to the I major (C).   Majors and Minors frequently go back and forth in a song.  It can start in A Minor but the chorus could be in C Major.

What is fun with this chord progression is that there are cool ways to improvise over it.  The Minor Pentatonic scale off the Vi (that is, A minor Pentatonic) is a natural for this and works very well.

Additionally, I use the Major scales, which in this case is C Major scales (or A Natural Minor scales, as they are the same thing).  The reason why this works so well is while the A Minor pentatonic fits well, it lacks the root note of the IV chord, in this case F.

A Minor Penatonic

A    C    D    E    G

This is the chord progression in the final rockin’ part of Stairway to Heaven where Jimmy Pages comes out blasting with a descending run down A Minor Pentatonic but he “sticks” the final note of his phrase on the note F – which happens to be when the F chord is playing.  His solo is largely based off the A minor pentatonic but was well aware that the F note could be used nicely to his advantage.

That’s the end of this series.  There is much more to explore with chord progressions and the various ways to improvise (or write melodies) for them.

Drop me a line with your questions or new topics you’d like to see explore.

Keep Shreddin’ through the holidays!

 

4 CHORD PROGRESSIONS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW – PT 3

Greetings, all!

As the Labor Day weekend approaches, you might have more time for practicing.  This is the 3rd installment in the 4 basic chord progressions you should know.  Knowledge of these chord progressions will help you build your library of known songs because so many songs use these progressions so they will accelerate learning.

PT 1 focused on the I, IV, V.  P2 focused on the ii, V.  Today we focus on the I, vi, IV, V.

This chord progression was used a lot by any songwriter in the 1950’s or early 1960’s that wanted to write a ballad.  Angel Baby was just a I vi IV V repeated over and over.

In fact, it’s used so much, wikipedia (an online encyclopedia of sorts that I support) has an entry on it here.

You may notice that the I vi IV V is just like the I IV V but with the vi chord thrown in.  This one chord makes a big difference.  Playing this chord progression will get your ear used to the sound of going from the I (major) to the vi (minor).  The I and the vi have a unique relationship to that of the rest of the key.

Taking a look at the key of C:

1      2      3       4      5      6      7

C      D      E      F      G      A      B

I                           IV   V      vi

CM                   FM  GM  Am

As stated above, this chord progression is used for a lot of ballads.  While not a pure I vi IV V chord progression, the sweet, gentle intro of Free Bird (well before the wild guitar duel) starts with G, D/F#, to Eminor.  That’s a I, V, vi in G.  (The D/F# simply means a D major with the F# in the bass)

Key of G:

 

1      2      3       4      5      6      7

G      A     B      C      D      E     F#

I                           IV   V      vi

As a side note, whenever I have a chord progression with a minor chord in it (ii V in the last post, I vi IV V in this post) that opens up my solo or song writing melodies to the use of the Major Scale.  I would still stick close to my G major Pentatonic (5 note scale) in this pattern, but I could throw in some other notes to from the 7 note Major scale.

Next lesson will focus on a new progression that is used largely in hard rock songs that really open up solo possibilities.

Happy 2014

Hey Fellow Shredders….

2014 is off to a fast start around here.  I’m in the process of finding a new place to live (always fun!) as my landlord wants to sell his house that I’m renting (but still wants guitar lessons from me 🙂  It’s all good).

The Turbo Fuegos just added a 2nd guitar player.  This is the third guy in 11 months.  The first guy lasted 2 weeks.  The second lasted 5 weeks.  Let’s hope Steve sticks around a while.  He has a different style than me which is great – I don’t need another “me” up on stage but someone with a contrasting style.

We are playing the Sports Page in Mountain View right by the Shoreline Ampitheater on January 18th.  Admission free – come check us out.

It’s been a while since I’ve given a real “lesson” blog – quite a while in fact.  My next blog will be on the difference between Blues and Country soloing.  It will be useful info.

So I’m not even halfway through January yet and I have to box, move, work in a new guitarist, and my day job has me handling two big clients.  I worked back-to-back 15 hour days last week.  Looking forward to sleeping in on Sunday!

See you next time….

Shreddy