Tag Archives: music theory

“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 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.

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

Blues vs Country Improvisation

Hey all,

As promised, this blog will be about the different approach I take to Country playing vs Blues.  At first it might seem like they have nothing in common but they oftentimes make use of the same Chord Progression.

Let’s look at the key of E:

1     2      3      4     5      6     7

E    F#    G#    A    B    C#    D#

So a I IV V progression would be:

I            IV        V

EMaj   AMaj  BMaj

Blues Approach

The most straight forward Blues approach is to use the E Blues Scale:

1   b3   4   5  b7

E   G   A   B   D

The blues scale makes use of the flatted third against an E Major chord.  While that sounds like it might clash, the rhythm on blues often times leave the full chord out:

——————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————–

2–2–4–4—2–2–4–4——————————————————————————

0—0–0–0–0–0–0–0——————————————————————-

So the chords is E (6th string open) and B (5ths string 2nd fret) and then E and C# (5th string 4th fret).  C# is the 6th of the chord and the rhythm alternates between the two.

This gives the soloist some room to stretch out.  So the E Blues minor feel doesn’t clash with the chords.

Advanced Blues Soloing treats all the chords above as Dominant 7 chords:

E7  A7  B7

E7 is :

E  G#  B  D

So all the notes are there in the Blues scale  for the chord except the G#  – the E Blues scale has a G.  A very common lick is to coming the two – G -> G# -> resolve to E.  This can be done on any of the 3 chords above, but you have to pay attention to which chord is being played.

Playing the dominant chord shapes on the guitar for each chord as it is being played is a nice exercise to get used to where the notes are.  From there you can start to stretch out:

E7: E G# B D

A7: A C# E G

B7 B D# F# A

The B7 is most unlike the notes in the blues scale – when you start to outline them you’ll probably recognize the difference since you can’t get that sound in the blues scale.

Country Approach

So with Blues they accent the “minor” or “dominant” feel of the chords.  Instead of that, Country accents the “major” sound of these chords.  Again, most of that “boogie woogie” rhythm doesn’t include the 3rd of the chord (E and B, E and C# alternating) so the third is up for grabs.

Country really likes the sounds of major pentatonics against a major chord:

1  2    3  5   6

E: E F# G# B C#

Country really likes the G# or the major third of the chord, as well as the 6th – the C# – which is being played in that boogie woogie rhythm.

With this approach, similar to the Dominant 7 approach above, your notes will change with each chord.

1  2    3  5   6

E: E F# G# B C#

A: A B  C#  D  E

B: B C# D#  F# G#

This can get tricky if the chords are changing a lot, but your playing country is going to require that you know these 3 scales and how they overlap.  At first you’ll hop from scale to scale (nothing wrong with that) but eventually you’ll want to smooth out your transitions the way the pros do and make a melody that fits in the scales as the chords change.

Send any questions or comments my way.  You can also follow me on twitter fastfingers76

Happy Playing