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Category ArchiveGuitar Theory

Dr. Dave Walker (guitarist)

Finding the Chords in a Key

Dr. Dave Walker (guitarist)

Dr. Dave Walker (guitarist)

“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.

Let’s start with the C major scale. This is simply all of the notes (i.e. the letter names from A to G) put in order, starting and ending on C. So the C major scale is: C D E F G A B C. I have placed these on the staff in example 1, with tab underneath for those who don’t read music.

Chords in C (Ex. 1)

Chords in C (Ex. 1)

To create chords in any key, we take each individual note in the key and build a chord on top of it. We call the note that we are building on top of the “root” of the chord, and its note name is the name of the chord. We then take the 3rd note above the root, and the 5th note above the root, and these form the notes in our chords. So if we take C as a root, the 3rd note up from it is E, and the 5th note up is G. Our C chord then contains C, E, and G. Likewise, if we start on D, we get F as the 3rd note up, and A as the 5th. So Dm contains D, F, and A. Example 2 shows all 7 chords in the key of C.

Chords in C (Ex. 2)

Chords in C (Ex. 2)

How do we know that C is a major chord but Dm is a minor chord? There are three ways. First, you might be able to just hear the difference between the sound of a major and minor chord. Second, you can learn the theory of intervals which will tell you the internal construction of these chords. But the third is the simplest: you can memorize the order that chords appear in a key. The sequence is the same for every major key.

Let’s number the notes in the scale from 1 to 7 (since 8 brings us back to C again). The chords we build on notes 1, 4, and 5 are always major chords. The chords on 2, 3, and 6 are always minor, while the one on note 7 is always a diminished chord. So the sequence for any major key is this: 1 – Major, 2 – minor, 3 – minor, 4 – Major, 5 – Major, 6 – minor, and 7 – diminished. (MmmMMmd for short.)

Notice that all of these chords have just 3 different notes. On the guitar, we can distribute these over the strings at different locations to give us different “voicings” of the chord, but it will always have the same name. For example, whether you play a C chord in the “cowboy” shape closest to the nut or as a bar chord at the 8th fret, you are still just using the notes C, E, and G.

So to get back to the original question, there is a Dm chord in the key of C because that is the chord that we can build on the note D. The same logic applies to the Em and Am chords, as well as that B diminished chord.

Written by: Dr. Dave Walker

Blues Guitar Scales: How Blues Scales Work in Lead Guitar

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.

The minor pentatonic scale is created using the root (or 1), flatted 3rd, 4th, 5th, and flatted 7th of a major scale. Notice that there is no 2nd or 6th scale tone used. There’s an interesting reason for that but it requires a substantial amount of music theory to explain it and this isn’t really the place for that.

To create the minor blues scale we take the minor pentatonic scale and add a flatted 5th (or sharp 4) to it. In the key of A, this creates a scale with the notes A, C, D, Eb, E, and G in it. Some people don’t differentiate between the minor and the major blues scales. If someone calls a scale a blues scale, assume they mean the minor version.

A major pentatonic scale is created with the 1st (root,) 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th tone of a major scale. In C that would be C, D, E, G, and A. To make it a major blues scale you add a flatted 3rd which gives you C, D, Eb, E, G, and A in the key of C.

Notice that the rule governing relative major and minor keys/scales is also in effect here. If you look at the keys of A minor and C major, which are relative, meaning they contain the same notes, you’ll see the same group of notes.

The A minor blues scale is A, C, D, Eb, E, and G. The C major blues scale is C, D, Eb, E, G, and A. Same notes, different starting point. This sort of thing happens all the time in music. This is of particular interest if you’re playing blues lead guitar because you can see that your blues guitar scales really do double duty. Once you learn one pattern, it’s really useful for 2 keys, one major and one minor.

So how to we apply this scale to a standard 12 bar blues chord progression? What’s cool is that the simplest approach is really simple. Whatever the first chord of the chord progression is, let’s say it’s A7, use that minor blues scale to solo over the song. There’s no need to change scales at any time.

Keep in mind that this is only one possible approach, and in many cases it’s not the best approach. There are several ways to play over a 12 bar progression, or any other kind of chord progression. Many of these approaches use some combination of major and minor blues scales.

It is easy to find the 5 “boxes” or patterns of the blues scale on the internet. A simple search should turn up hundreds of choices. Once you learn the blues scales and have them under your fingers. You’ll want to start jamming with them and learning how to make the sounds you want to hear.

For more blues guitar lessons and help with your blues guitar scales, check out Playing Through The Blues, my blues lead guitar course.

Post by: Griff Hamlin
www.PlayingThroughTheBlues.com

Practicing Guitar Scales & Guitar Chords: The Inherent Value

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.

Keep in mind that many guitarists are satisfied with their ability to play just a few songs here and there. There are many guitarists who enjoy performing in clubs for larger audiences. Others strive to become accomplished nationally and internationally. The practice habits for all are different, because the goals are different.

For the purpose of this article, I believe it’s safe to say that those who enjoy playing a few songs here and there, will, most likely, bypass the rigorous schedule of scale and chord practice.

For the intermediates, advanced, or professional players, scale and chord practice is absolutely essential. In fact, daily practice sessions are in line with these levels of musicianship. Why? The development of strength, endurance, recognition of melodic and harmonic structure, and, of course, more facility on the guitar.

The leap from good to great on the guitar is actually a short distance. Shorter than one might think. It’s really all about the level of desire and commitment one has, that will determine the actual distance. However, willingness without action equals fantasy. Good intent means nothing if one is not prepared to act.

None of us believe that, as guitarists, our fingers somehow magically end up on the correct note, the correct string, at the right time, merely by accident. In fact, a great melodic solo and chord work is generally reflective of many years of pure practice. It’s almost a guarantee that behind every great guitarist, there are thousands and thousands of hours of scale and chord practice. It’s important to remind ourselves of all the benefits as a result of this hard work.

For starters, practicing scales develops finger strength, wrist control, picking techniques, pivot techniques, thumb placement, fret logic, and a multitude of other essential elements needed in order to execute in a professional manner. By practicing scales as scales (not musical statements per se), we learn very good habits and general rules of performance. We also learn that rules are made to be broken. When we, as experienced guitarists, break a rule, we at least know that we are, in fact, breaking a rule. Further, we all know that it’s permissible to break certain rules due to the impositions of certain styles of music, among other things.

For the experienced guitarist, I truly believe it’s important to remember how we arrived at our proficiency level. This is important because, in reality, we should never stop learning and progressing.

As a progressive guitarist, I enjoy those over-the-top solos that generally send chills up the spine of the listener. However, I also enjoy the hours of personal practice that allows me to execute those solos. Performance is one thing and skill development is another. It’s beneficial to enjoy both.

Imagine setting aside approximately eight straight hours of practice time and devoting a good share of that time to practicing one or two scales only. The thought of this routine might surprise some of the more experienced players. Once again, why practice scales when we can solo into infinity? The answer is forth coming.

I can almost guarantee that after a few hours of practicing a scale, the strict succession of the scale tones will disappear and will be replaced with new musical statements. Further, fresh new techniques will also emerge. For example, one might discover a new way to pick a string, cross a string, mute a string, embellish the scale tones, as well as many, many other discoveries. How’s that for progression?

A hardcore practice session can easily turn into a fantastic creative session. This is great news for the original guitarist and songwriter. Need a new guitar lick or song? Practice, practice, practice.

Everything discussed thus far, pertaining to guitar scales, also applies to practicing guitar chords. In music, time waits for no man. Chord construction and execution takes practice. Especially, when dealing with extended chords and altered chords (let’s not forget inversions). Not all of us will have the opportunity to encounter a major 11 Augmented 13th chord. However, what happens if we do? Answer; play it at the speed of right.

Whatever your level of musicianship, be sure to practice for the sake of practice. Great things will result from your hard work.

Post by: Michael E. Fletcher
©2008 Michael E. Fletcher. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
www.UltraGuitarMethod.com

Guitar Modes: The Modal Scales of Popular Music

Guitar Modes and Modal Scales
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.

Patterns and Modes
Modes don’t require learning additional patterns. Modes stem from the same patterns as the major scale. Understanding how to play and apply major scale patterns is the key to grasping the modal concept.

Patterns of the Major Scale
The notes of the major scale cover the entire guitar neck. Instead of tackling the whole thing all at once, the fretboard is always learned in steps by focusing on one position, or pattern, at a time. This is usually accomplished through 5 patterns. Once the individual pieces are memorized they can be connected to complete the whole scale template. Each pattern may make a unique shape, but they all are simply broken pieces of the whole form. So, the individual patterns don’t become new scales on their own. They are all simply different arrangements of the same scale tones.

Playing Over Chords With Modes
The major scale can be played along with any one of its notes or chords. For example, the G major scale includes the chords G major, A minor, B minor, C major, D major, E minor, F# minor b5. The whole scale can be played over any one of these chords. When the G major scale is played over a G major chord a typical, happy, major sound results. To hear this correctly, guitar players need to have a friend strum the G chord or perhaps record or loop a rhythm track to play over. Any part of the G major scale, in any position or pattern, can be played. It doesn’t even matter what note is used to start. Guitarists can jump into the scale anywhere they like and use the notes in any order. The root G may be emphasized in order to tie the scale to the chord better, but the modal concept still works without doing so.

When the G major scale is played over the second chord, A minor, the sound of the scale changes. Again, guitar players need to have a friend strum the chord or perhaps record or loop a rhythm track to play over. Now the same scale tones sound minor, dark and jazzy. Any part of the G major scale, in any position or pattern, can be played. It doesn’t even matter what note is used to start. Guitarists can jump into the scale anywhere they like and use the notes in any order. The root A may be emphasized in order to tie the scale to the chord better, but the modal concept still works without doing so.

Seven Scale Modes
In the above example, the sound changed when playing over G and A minor because mixing notes and chords no different from mixing colors. Yellow and blue make green. Red and blue make purple. And so it is that the G major scale played over a G chord makes “Ionian Mode” (or the Ionian scale) while the G major scale played over an A minor chord makes “Dorian Mode” (or the Dorian scale). Each major scale degree, or chord, has a unique tonality and sound. Patterns, positions and starting points don’t effect the modal sound. Rather, the note or chord the scale is being played over establishes the mode.

Hearing and Playing Music Modes
Mixing colors has to be seen in order to be understood. Likewise, music modes have to be played and heard. In fact, many music theory concepts have to be applied and experienced this way. Theoretical explanations alone can’t demonstrate how modes work. Guitar players need to apply the concept to the fretboard.

Seven Greek Mode Names
Each major scale note, or chord, has its own unique sound characteristics and corresponding Greek mode name. The seven Greek names have origins in the church and include Ionian Mode, Dorian Mode, Phrygian Mode, Lydian Mode, Mixolydian Mode, Aeolian Mode and Locrian Mode. All musicians use the same Greek mode names because this music theory concept is relative to all instruments.

How to Learn Scale Modes
With music theory, each concept builds on the next. Guitarists should never get ahead of themselves by studying topics that they’re not ready for. The modal concept is related directly to major scale patterns and guitar chord progressions. To learn modes, guitar players must first master the major scale and its patterns. Next, guitarists should learn how the major scale is used to build chords. Finally, all good players should learn about chord progressions and playing by numbers. Then, guitar modes will be easy to understand and apply.

Play Until Your Fingers Bleed!

Post by: Mr. Desi Serna
Author of Fretboard Theory
www.Guitar-Music-Theory.com
Scales, Chords, Progressions, Modes

Guitar: Understanding Scales

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.

Now, within lead guitar there are two main types of learning – the physical techniques (such as hammer ons, bends, vibratos etc.) and the theory. The first step with the theory side of lead guitar should be to get a basic understanding of scales.

Think of scales as pots of “flavours” – each scale has its own unique flavour because of the different notes it uses. Different notes act as different tensions over a particular chord, and eventually guitarists learn which tensions compliment particular chords. Of course, it’s a matter of personal taste what goes with what. That’s where your creativity takes over.

Technically, a scale is merely a sequence of notes – that’s it! However, it is the intervals between each note in the sequence that defines its structure and flavour. For example, we have the natural major scale (also the 1st mode called Ionian). The numerical notes of the major scale are:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Simple, eh? That’s because the major scale is the basis from which we build all other scales. Even minor scales are referenced against the natural major scale. For example, the natural minor scale (also the 6th mode called Aeolian) is:

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 – the “b” means “flat”, so what it’s really saying is “the 3rd, 6th and 7th tones of the natural major scale have been flattened”. This is what creates what has been named the natural minor scale (or Aeolian).

All scales work in a similar way, being noted against that original major scale position.

Therefore, in light of all this, it would make sense to learn the natural major scale first! Once you’ve done that, you have your foundation scale upon which to build all other scales/flavours.

Now, when learning a scale, the notes will be spaced out over the 6 strings. These are known as intervals. Looking at the major scale once again…

1 W 2 W 3 H 4 W 5 W 6 W 7 H… then the sequence starts again at 1.

The W stands for “whole step” – this is the equivalent of a two fret space on your guitar. So, if you were on the 3rd fret on the low E string (the note G), moving up a whole step would put you at the 5th fret (the note A).

The H stands for “half step” – this is the equivalent of a single fret space on your guitar. So, if you were back on the 3rd fret on the low E string, moving up a half step would put you at the 4th fret (the note Ab).

Obviously though, to be practical, we want to play the scale across 6 strings, not just 1. This is where you need to know about string relationships and how a note at one fret on the low E string is the same as another fret on another string. That’s what allows you to condense the scale into a “box” about 4 or 5 frets wide, across the 6 strings of your guitar.

Essentially though, it’s these whole steps and half steps that determine the structure of notes/tones in a scale and therefore determine the overall flavour of the scale!

At this stage, it’s not that important to know the actual notes you’re playing (e.g. the notes of the “B major scale” would be: B C# Eb E F# Ab Bb), but rather just understand the sequence of intervals in the scale. This will allow you to visualise the scale more generically, in any given key.

The A major scale, B major scale, C major scale, C# major scale etc. all have their own notes, but the intervals they all use are the same… the major scale’s sequence of intervals!

There are many resources on the web to help take you to the next stage of learning scales. Once you know how intervals work within scales, you can also learn how chords and arpeggios are essentially created from the same bag.

However you progress, don’t become complacent and learn things parrot fashion – don’t just learn scales… understand them!

Post by: Mike Beatham
Mike Beatham runs a free, easy to follow guitar lessons site with backing tracks and audio exercises for you to develop your own unique playing style. Visit FretJam.com/ to learn guitar at your own pace.

Guitar Capos & Transposing

The tuning and design of the guitar is such that some keys and their related chords are much easier to get around than others. I call these the “guitar-friendly” keys. They use more open chords than barre, and so are much easier to get flowing musically than trying to track of and perform a series of barre chords.

The key with the least number of barre chords is C, with F being the only non-open chord, so I guess it’s the easiest for a beginner; E, A, D and G are the next in rank of easiness as they also consist mostly of open chords; B and F are getting trickier to keep track of and play with ease, and the sharp/flat keys — forget it! Even after 42 years of playing, I don’t bother even trying. The way I see it, the guitar was designed to ring loud and clear, and it’s next to impossible to get that ringing without open strings doing the work. Barre chords, by their very nature, will always ring less.

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 put a chart together here which shows as a graph the 12 keys and their seven notes/chords. It will allow you, if you’re wondering about the subject, to see how it all works. The 12 keys read horizontally, and their scale/related-chords reads below them, vertically. You will see at a glance which are the least complicated keys… they’re the ones without all the fly specks around them. The fact is of course, they’re all identical – it’s only the guitar’s design and tuning that makes them seem different – but try telling your brain and hand that.

There has always seemed to be a bit of a stigma about capos, like you’re cheating if you use them. If being able to ‘see’ a song quickly in terms of I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi and vii and giving the guitar a chance to ring out with nice open strings a vibratin’ and have all the years of playing in nice friendly keys another chance at it — if that’s called cheating, then let it be so. I’ve always felt that the music reaching the ears was the main thing, and I’ve always found that MUCH more comfortable in the friendly keys.

Capos only move the pitch up, never down (unless you’re moving down form a higher already capoed position) and when reading the chart, you can only pick keys lower than the original. They’re on the left of the original key.

Remember that all that changes is the letter. The major or minor or 7th or sus4 — the chord flavors — remain the same. The left hand column indicates the Roman numeral value of the note/chord and by its use of caps and lowercase, indicates the major/minor quality. Remember though, these can change. The composer can pick chords other than those to write a tune.

Capos can misbehave and be a bit of a pain in the neck sometimes. It’s usually best to keep the capo as close to the nut as possible, just for the sake of the tuning. The higher up the neck you go, the more likely it is to pull the tuning out a bit. If you clamp the capo too close to the fret wire, you’ll probably sharp everything a bit; too far back and you might lose good string contact with the fret wire and it will sound choked. Experiment, and find the happy medium. Make sure you put it on straight – parallel to the fret wire, or you’ll pull some strings out of tune and not others, and that’s as sour a sound as you can get.

There are many designs of capos and all have pros and cons. None are foolproof. I’ve tried them all and I think to this day I prefer the little Dunlop variety that have a little nylon belt and rack and pinion type clamping device. They’re adjustable, and can be very reliable. They all tend to pull the strings sideways slightly as you apply the final clamping action, whatever it is, so you’ve got to be ready and compensate by holding it firmly. It’s when you’re playing with others that you have to be careful about these slight discrepancies as you can quickly be out of tune with the band if you’re not careful.


Kirk Lorange is one of Australia’s best know slide guitarists. He is also the author of PlaneTalk guitar method. Check out his sites: www.KirkLorange.com and www.ThatllTeachYou.com

The Chromatic Scale

Hello, music lovers. Callouses nice and hard? Been practicing? No one has to remind you that practice is everything. Practice is what you do so you can forget the facts and figures.

I recently received a letter with the question — How do I mix scales? (Thanks Andreas)

This, with a few additions, is the answer I sent him:

How do you mix scales?

By forgetting about scales completely.

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.

But seriously, do yourself a favor, stop thinking about scales and concentrate on melody and viewing notes simply as Ones, or flat Threes, or sharp Fives or whatever. You can name all twelve notes like that.

i.e., in ascending order (major scale notes are in bold):

  • One (or Tonic, or Root note)
  • Flat Nine
  • Two / Nine
  • Minor Three
  • Major Three
  • Four / Eleven (often referred to as Sus Four)
  • Flat Five
  • Five
  • Sharp Five (the augmented note)
  • Six / Thirteen
  • Dominant Seven (or plain old “seventh”, or minor seventh)
  • Seven (usually referred to as “major seventh”)
  • and One again.

All scales and modes that ever were fit into the chromatic scale.

I have often likened improvised lines to little trips away from home, with “home” being the 1-3-5 of the “chord of the moment”. These are usually, and I stress ‘usually’, your starting notes and finishing notes. The other notes used to link home notes can be any of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale. Naturally, the 2, 4, 6, and 7 (which are the other scale notes) will be favorites, but any of the others (non-scale notes) can be seen as linking notes – notes not to linger on, but notes to fill the gaps. Basically, any fret will do. However, timing becomes paramount. “Phrasing” might be a better word. You must mold your line so that you wind up passing through the home notes at the right time, and most importantly, resolving them on time. By that, I mean get home on time. How do you do that?

Another way of looking at it: you create a simple melodic line, one that fits the changes, and then you fill in a few gaps (in space and time) with notes from the chromatic scale. Before long, you know what every one of those twelve notes sounds like in context. You’ll know where each one leads, and which tensions are set up and resolved with which notes.

A good example is the blues. Again, I never think “blues scale”, but I know that (in a major key) the 3 hovers between the minor and major versions. It never settles, so I avoid it as a resolve note. I know that the seven is the dominant 7th, the flat 7. So I make sure it winds up in my lines, not the major seven. The flat 7 really is a blue note, and can be used as another home note. All intervals can be linked with semitones. Strictly major music never uses the flat three and only uses the flat 7 for the V chord.

Major key music which isn’t the blues never uses the flat 3 and uses the major seven, except for the V chord, which uses the flat seventh. (Why? Because it’s one of the scale notes.)

Minor music is minor music. I was asked that question in another letter.

What is a minor key?

I’ll answer that next time.


Kirk Lorange is one of Australia’s best know slide guitarists. He is also the author of PlaneTalk guitar method. Check out his sites: www.KirkLorange.com and www.ThatllTeachYou.com

The Art of Soloing

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.

I spent many, many guitar playing years to figure it out, but it paid off. I turned it into a profession, and now I earn a good portion of my living doing just that. I do it on album tracks, jingles, soundtracks, and it’s often my role in a band line up. I specialize in slide guitar, but it’s all the same thing.

Here are some tips:

  1. Know the key you’re in completely, totally, absolutely. In the end, they all become the same thing, but the rules of music and the layout of the fret board conspire to make it seem otherwise. Know the mother scale, and the *chord scale* that goes with each key. I’ve written many articles about keys, but here goes again in a nutshell: The major scale consists of seven notes. These seven notes give rise to seven chords of three notes each, using a simple formula. This family of seven notes and chords is called The Key. (There are twelve keys, one for each note of the chromatic scale which acts as a starting note.)
  2. Know the *chord of the moment* inside and out. It’s setting the rules for those moments that the chord is being played. When I say *know it*, I mean:A) know where it is on the fretboard in all positions at once. It took me years to realize that chords are smeared out the whole length of the fretboard, they’re not little diagrams with dots where your fingers should go. A simple chord consists of three notes — the old (1) (3) (5) — and they can be played any old way you can figure out, and since the fretboard is essentially a maze of repeat notes, it follows that the whole fretboard becomes a chord… if you’ve tuned your brain that way, that is.B) Know it’s context. Know which chord in the key’s chord-scale it is. Let’s say we’re in the key of G, and one of the chords in your solo is a D, then know that you’re on the *Five Chord*, for that is what D is to G, the fifth chord in the sequence. Why should you be aware? Because a D chord in the key of G does not come from the D scale, it comes from the G scale. It comes from starting the G scale from D and ending at the next D. This yields a scale almost the same as the major, but the 7th note is one fret lower. This new scale is called a mode, but the easiest way to remember is simply to know that the *Five Chord* is a flat seven chord. If you can see where the seven fits into the fretscape, you can use it. If it’s NOT one of the seven chords of the scale (anything is allowed), then really know it.
  3. Always think melody, never think scales. Scales are for getting your fingers familiar with the fretboard, the feel of the strings, the stretch of the intervals, but they should never be used AS solos. To be in any way effective, a solo has to tell some kind of sonic story, to do that you must first set the scene, develop the plot, introduce tension and suspense, and finally resolve the whole thing with a satisfying ending. Every song is different and there are no set rules.
  4. Don’t ruin it with technique. There nothing worse than being jolted from the magic by a poorly executed piece of show-offery. Speed has NOTHING to do with solos. Naturally, if the tune itself is uptempo, then your solo can be too (but not necessarily), but your technique must be flawless if you’re going to play fast. Again, music has the ability to suspend time if properly rendered. That’s one of its best features and that’s why we love to listen to it. Playing beyond your ability just ruins the music and brings the listener crashing back into reality.
  5. Solos are not a bunch of riffs strung together. You may fool your audience with that, but you’ll never fool yourself. Always seek to make your next solo totally different from the last, and always seek to follow the tune you hear in your head.
  6. If you like metaphors, here’s one: solos are a collection of musical phrases. Musical phrases can be seen as excursions away from and back to *home*. Home is the (1) (3) (5) of the chord of the moment. There is only one chord of the moment at any one given moment.

When it all boils down, there are only 12 notes. Inventing melodies spontaneously from the three and a half octaves or so at a guitarist’s disposal is more a matter of elimination: which notes CAN’T I play? It takes a while, but eventually you will know the hierarchy of the moment. In other words, which notes are boss, which are subsidiary, which are connecting notes. Your melodic ventures will then have a framework to explore.

The TRICK to keeping track of it, of course, is described in my book PlaneTalk. You can find out all about it here: www.thatllteachyou.com. Over 5000 guitarists all over the World have now been let in on the secret to *seeing* the music on the fretboard.

All the best.


Kirk Lorange is one of Australia’s best know slide guitarists. He is also the author of PlaneTalk guitar method. Check out his sites: www.KirkLorange.com and www.ThatllTeachYou.com

Music is Mathematics

Math looks tough

Math looks tough

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.

There are two basic numbering systems in music. One has to do with the scale, the other with the key.

Let’s look at the numbers relating to the scale first.

There are seven notes in the scale. Simple enough. The order of intervals, or spaces, between these 7 notes is what makes it unique. The formula, as we should all know by now is Tone, Tone, semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, semitone.

So our first little bit of math is to understand that from the TWELVE notes of the chromatic scale — all the notes — the scale uses SEVEN, spaced out as described. If there were six notes in the scale, you could imagine them evenly spaced a tone away from each other. But there are seven, so there have to be a couple of semitones thrown in.

(These seven notes by the way, weren’t simply chosen by someone long ago to be the ones we’d all use. They also come from mathematics, from fractions. For example, a vibrating string tuned to A440, when halved will produce another A note, but vibrating at 880 cycles / second, an octave up. That same string doubled in length will vibrate at 220 cycle / second, yet another A an octave down. That same string cut in 3 will produce E notes, and if you cut it into quarters and make 3/4 of it ring, you’ll be listening to a D note. Try it out on your guitar, you’ll hear for yourself. By the way, the halfway mark of guitar strings is the twelfth fret, the one third mark is the seventh fret, the one quarter mark is at the fifth fret.)

Back to the seven scale notes. Chords are made by combining alternate notes from the scale. The simplest chord of all is the triad. It uses three alternate scale notes. The old one-three-five.

You can add other scale notes to those to make an extended chord. The next alternate note is the seven. So a One-Three-Five-Seven combination is called a major seventh.

Mathematics Quote from Oswald Veblen (1924)

Mathematics Quote from Oswald Veblen (1924)

You can add a ‘Two’ note to the chord, but it has be added on the treble side of the grouping, so you’re actually using the ‘Two’ from the next octave up. Since the root (One) note of that octave can be seen as the eighth note of the scale, a ‘Two’ note is the next one up, the ‘Nine’.

You can use the ‘Four’ note if you want, but since it’s only one semitone away from the ‘Three’, it actually replaces the ‘Three’. This chord is called ‘Sus Four’. It begs to be brought back to the Three.

If you add not the Seven note that is in the scale but the next note down, the ‘minor Seven’ it’s sometimes called, you wind up with a Seventh chord, as distinct from the major seventh. They’re also referred to as ‘dominant’.

‘Elevens’ are ‘Fours’, ‘Thirteens’ are ‘Sixes’. (Simply subtract seven from those big numbers to find out which note is being called for). And so on and so. It’s pretty straight forward really: the numbers refer to the the seven notes by their order. Just remember that the One-Three-Five are taken for granted as being present.

The next set of numbers refers to the chords within the key. Each of the seven scale notes qualifies as a starting note to build a chord using the alternate note rule. These chords are often written as Roman numerals.

I — II — III — IV — V — VI — VII

Sometimes, you’ll see them written like this:

I — ii — iii — IV — V — vi — vii

This is a good way of doing it because it shows the major / minor quality of the chords. As I’ve been trying to impress upon you, it’s really important to instantly know what all those chords are for any key. Remember The Music Building I wrote about recently.

Let’s say you see a chord written as V7. What does that mean? It means it’s the Five chord from whatever key you’re in, and it’s the Dominant Seventh version. So if you’re in C, you’re looking at a G7. Or a vi7? That would be Am7.

Record producers often write tunes out simply using the numbers. If they’re unsure of the singer’s range, they will choose a suitable the key in the studio. Only then will the numbers become actual chords, mentally converted by the players. Nashville is famous for this kind of notation.

Of course, time signatures and tempo are also related to mathematics. In fact the method we use to crank up a song is for someone to yell out ONE – TWO, A ONE – TWO – THREE – FOUR. The whole of music is one seething mass of numbers when it comes down to it. Lucky for us it sounds and feels so good to make listen back to, otherwise who would bother trying to figure it out?

I hope this article hasn’t put anyone off. The fact is, all these numbers simply become music when you do put a bit of effort into practising it. The layers of music become distinct and workable. Then the fun begins…


Kirk Lorange is one of Australia’s best know slide guitarists. He is also the author of PlaneTalk guitar method. Check out his sites: www.KirkLorange.com and www.ThatllTeachYou.com

Think Small With Chord Changes

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.

Which bits and pieces? The best way to approach it is to ask yourself “what is the essence of the chord?”

If it’s a simple major chord, include the major 3rd to establish its major quality. The major 3rd and the 5th, or the major 3rd and the root will do that for you. Go looking for all the places you can find these two-string chunks.

If it’s a minor chord, same thing. The minor 3rd is the note that says “minor”. Add to it the 5th or the root. If you’ve located the majors, you’ve also located the minors. Simply flat the major 3rd for a minor 3rd. The root and the 5th played together will fit against either minor or major.

If it’s a 7th chord, include it in your double stop (another way of saying two notes played together). The major 3rd and the flatted 7th together will state the quality of any 7th chord. The flatted 7th and the 5th to a lesser extent, but it still works.

Sus 4 chords obviously require the 4th, which replaces the 3rd. The root and the 5th are your only choices to add to it.

After a while you will find you can string melodies together using these bits and pieces, weaving through the chord changes. Remember that “the chord of the moment”, as I call it, dictates the rules. Never forget what key you’re in and what the chord of the moment is.

Next, go looking for double stops that use notes two strings apart. Again, look at any old chord and select notes from it which are two strings apart, a “sixth” away from each other. By that I mean they are separated from each other by an interval of six scale notes. Build melody lines out them in the same way, by keeping track of each chord of the moment.

Practice by playing along with your favorite records, or better yet, with someone else. If necessary, write the chord changes down so you’re always aware of the chord of the moment, which is the most important thing.

Keep practicing — it can be worth it. I read The Eagles did a New Year’s Eve gig to bring in the Millennium, for $10,000,000!!


Kirk Lorange is one of Australia’s best know slide guitarists. He is also the author of PlaneTalk guitar method. Check out his sites: www.KirkLorange.com and www.ThatllTeachYou.com