“How can there be a Dm chord in the key of C?” This is one of the most common questions I get asked as a theory teacher. In some cases the person has not considered that there must be different chords in any given key or else we would have to stay on one chord for a long, boring time. More often though the student knows that “the chords of the key of C” are C, F, and G (or G7). This last idea is partly true – those are the MAJOR chords in the key of C. However, every major key contains 3 major chords, 3 minor chords, and one diminished chord. And not only does every major key have that same number of chords of the same type – they are all in the same order.
The blues guitar scales are really based off of the pentatonic scales with one extra note added. We call that extra note the “blue note” because it gives the pentatonic scale its obvious “bluesyness.” The only real difference between the scales on the guitar and the same scales on any other instrument is the fact that there is more than one way to play them on a guitar. This is due mostly to the fact that the guitar is a stringed instrument and there are at least 3-5 ways to play any unique note.
When thinking in terms of practicing guitar scales and guitar chords, many guitarists tend to overlook the overwhelming value of such practice. After all, some might argue, practicing a guitar scale just for the sake of practicing a guitar scale, doesn’t seem like a very exciting prospect. The same argument, for some, is also applied to learning and playing guitar chords. In other words, why learn a major 9 chord, when a major triad is easier to learn and play? We’ll examine the answer in a moment.
Modal scales, or modes, are the different ways the major scale can function and sound. Any one of the major scale’s seven notes can function as the root. Each root, or mode, has a unique tonality and sound. All music is either based on or thought of in relation to the major scale and its modes. Using and understanding modes is critical to developing a knowledge of guitar music theory and understanding popular songs. Modal scales have caused an enormous amount of confusion and frustration, perhaps more than any other musical concept. Unfortunately, most modal instruction is either incorrect or misleading.Modal scales, or modes, are the different ways the major scale can function and sound. Any one of the major scale’s seven notes can function as the root. Each root, or mode, has a unique tonality and sound. All music is either based on or thought of in relation to the major scale and its modes. Using and understanding modes is critical to developing a knowledge of guitar music theory and understanding popular songs. Modal scales have caused an enormous amount of confusion and frustration, perhaps more than any other musical concept. Unfortunately, most modal instruction is either incorrect or misleading.
Most guitarists, when in their formative years of learning and playing, tend to focus on learning chords. Lead guitar is often something that comes later on, as you need to understand how harmonies work over the existing backing chords.
That’s where capos come in. Whoever invented the guitar must have already thought of the capo, which compensates for the unfriendly keys. A simple idea, it effectively moves the nut up the neck by clamping down all all strings at once. The result is to raise the overall pitch while keeping the relative tuning of all the strings intact. This allows the player to choose another key to play in, a more friendly key. I should really say ‘pretend key’ because the key doesn’t change at all. Only the fingering changes, as if it were a new (friendly) key.
I have hated the idea of scales all my playing life. I never use them (consciously), and never think them. I think melody. I don’t know, or care to know, the names of the various scales and modes. I know the major scale and see all others as being distortions of it. I am also aware that there is the chromatic scale (all twelve notes) to use at all times. You can link any interval with semitones if you so choose, any scale note to any other scale note, from any scale you care to name. It becomes a question of timing, to get to the note you want in the time left to do so, if you follow. All twelve notes are there for the asking.
One of the most difficult aspects of playing an instrument, but the most rewarding when you’ve figured out how, is the art of playing solos. The ability to manipulate four octaves or so of notes into a coherent melody, on the fly, following (sometimes bending) the musical rules and pulling it off, is one of the best feelings going.
Awful as it sounds, it’s the truth. But don’t let it scare you off. The highest number I’ve ever heard in the context of music is 13, so you don’t have to be a genius to figure it out.
Just because the guitar has six strings doesn’t mean you have to constantly go looking for six-note chords, especially if you are playing in a combo of some sort. Remember, barre chords use repeat notes to make up the full six strings. Sometimes its better to use bits and pieces of a chord than the full version. It’s easier to insert as a part, and more compact-sounding in a band situation.