After 10 years I decided to expand my web presence a bit and change hosts. If you tried to reach us the week of March 18, 2019 – you might have gotten some errors, not found, etc. I’m sorry about that but there’s always some dust when you move into a new home but I believe we have it all figured out for the most part.
If you find any errors or glitches, please contact me and we’ll jump on them right away.
In the meantime I’ve been working on content for my other site – the Ten Hour Guitarist. I’m hoping to launch it in the fall. As we do each new video, we get faster at putting it together. I’ve been working with developers all over the planet to get the functionality going correctly and I have a long list of Ideas.
But that doesn’t mean my free content goes away. I’ve recently purchased some new (yes new) Music Theory books aimed at guitarists. One is by the virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai called Vaideology.
I will be giving a review of this book in the next blog entry. I will be putting a Video up on it as well.
Enjoy the weather as Spring approaches and I’ll see you back here soon.
Imagine we have guests from out of town – we have a bit of a party so they spend the night and the next morning I realize we have nothing for breakfast. I ask you – who’s phone is dead and on the charger – to go to the store for me. I need:
I ask you to repeat it back to me. You miss a few. I correct you – I ask again to repeat it – you miss one item. Third time you get it all correct.
Simple, yes? Easy even? That’s how easy it is to memorize your sharp keys!
“What? But that’s music theory! It’s hard! It’s even boring! I can’t do it!”
But you can. Get it out of your head that music theory is only for virtuosos and orchestra conductors. It’s easy. It can be applied in very complicated ways but the basics only require simple memorization.
The key of C is natural – no sharps no flats. It’s all the white keys on a piano.
Next, the key of G has one sharp, F#. F# is a half step below G, the name of the key. That is the pattern for all sharp keys.
Key of D has F# (because we build on the sharps that came before) and C# (a half step below D.
Key of A has F#, C# and G# (half step below A).
Key of E has F#, C#, G#, D#
Key of B has F#, C#, G#, D#, A#
Key of F# has F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E# (note: E# is a half step below F#)
Key of C# has F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B# or more simply, all sharps. Key of C is all natural, so the key of C# where the root gets bumped up a half step means all the notes get bumped up a half step.
So you memorize F, C, G, D, A, E, B – this is the order in which the sharps occur. F# is below G. C# is below D. G# is below A, etc.
In practical application, if you’re playing Jazz or Classical, you will need to know all your keys (I’ll talk about flat keys in the next post). But if you’re in a rock band or folk or country you will most likely need the keys of :
Most songs written by guitar players are in those keys. This is where most guitar players are comfortable. So prepare for the “worst” – memorize F-C-G-D-A-E-B but you’ll most likely use 5 of them. Note that if you build a chord on any of those 5, we have an open string chord for that.
2018 was a year of challenges for me, my music, and my career. But as always, with new challenges comes new opportunities. It’s something that takes a little getting used to in your thinking. You lose your job, and while you’re worried about how to make rent. But I was once worked for a VP at McAfee who made this (what I considered at the time) bold statement:
“If I lose this job, I’ll find a better job somewhere else(!)”
That’s nuts, right? We cling to the known, the safe, the secure. And then….the band doesn’t work out. Or you do lose your job. Or your relationship goes south. Or you have difficulties with a family member.
I spent much of 2017 without a gig mainly because I wanted to focus on other music other than get stuck with “Classic Rock” again. In mid 2018 I joined a band that is close by but I felt their material was difficult (vocally/Harmonically) and I thought their material selection wasn’t danceable enough. But they won me over and we were a 6 piece that played one backyard party and then just like that we lost half the band.
And Now, For Your Listening Enjoyment..
Through the fall we auditioned and auditioned and auditioned. And then we stumbled across Maddy Hudson.
Maddy was a contestant on American Idol about four years ago and made it to the top 50.
Maddy is an incredible talent and we have been working with her and trying to fill out a reasonable amount of songs to get a demo recording and then filming a video.
She has been a delight to work with and the band is gaining some momentum. Hopefully will have more news on this (yet unnamed) band in 2019!
Currently I’m woodshedding the Earth Wind and Fire version of “Got to get you into my life” which is a very cool song to work on. (Although I have to admit getting all the guitar parts for “Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan was my most difficult piece of music to conquer).
I have one more post to make in 2018 before we close out the year, so stay tuned!
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.
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 :).
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.
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.
This is part 2 of this series. In the first part, we discussed the I IV V progression. Today we discuss it’s cousin – the ii V.
The ii V progression is used a lot in jazz. Because of that, you often see it using the “7th” chord variations. I’ll explain that.
In the key of C, we have:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C D E F G A B
So our I, IV, V (from last lesson) would be:
C major F major G major
These are the three major triads in a major key. The chord built off the one (C) is major, the chord build off the 4th note (F) is major and the chord build off the 5th note (G) is major.
The 2 chord (ii) is D. It is minor. In fact, the 2 (ii), 3 (iii), and 6 (vi) are all minor. D minor, E minor, and A minor. The 7th chord (vii) is diminished (that’s a separate lesson!).
Above I called the ii V chord a “cousin” of the I, IV, V. To see why we need to know what notes are in the chords themselves.
Chords are build in 3rds. That means you start on a note (1), skip a note (the 2nd) and go to the following note (3rd).
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C D E F G A B
So I highlighted C (1), E (3), and then the next third up G (5). If you play any C major chord – open string or bar, you’ll find these three, and only these three, notes in that chord.
This 1-3-5 formula applies to all notes in the key. So the IV chord is F-A-C:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 or 1
C D E F G A B C
This is where some students get confused. “But C is one (1, or I) in the key of C! How can F be one??”
If you think of a family, your Mom or Dad could be C. D, E, F and so one would be children. So C is the parent to those notes.
But that also means the child notes have a relationship to the other notes. They are siblings. When F has a relationship to A, we count F as 1 and A as the 3rd up from F. C then is a third up from A.
If this is confusing, think of it this way :
When we build a chord off a note – any note – that first note is ONE.
Once you get comfortable with that notion, if we get back to our ii V progression, D minor to G, let’s take a look at the notes in D minor, again looking as D as 1 since we are building a chord off it:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C D E F G A B
The notes D, F, A are the notes that make up a D minor chord.
The notes F, A, and C made up F Major. So D minor can be substituted for F major in many places. They both have the notes F and A in them.
Not only is the ii V used in jazz a lot, it’s also the basis for the song Evil Ways by Santana.
So above it is stated the 1-3-5 is the formula for a chord. If we continued that pattern, the next note in the series would be 7. 1-3-5-7. Are those really used? The answer is an astounding yes! In hard rock not so much, but all over the place in jazz, folk, ballads, etc.
So if we made D minor a D minor 7 in our ii V progression, we would have:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 or 1
C D E F G A B C
D-F-A-C. What did F Major have? F-A-C. So now with D minor 7 we have all the notes of an F major but with a more “jazzy” feel, which is used also in latin and samba music.
ii V often progress to a I chord. D minor 7 to F major to C Major. I’ve had many assignments based off of this chord progression.
So we have I, IV, V for a more rock or blues feel. ii, V for a jazz, ballad or folk feel.
Next lesson will point out yet another well used variation on these chords.
As I teach guitar students many various songs, I try to point out what chord progression the song is built from.
What is a chord “progression”? Just a fancy sounding term that means a series of chords that make up a song. But some are used over and over again. Spotting them early can help you figure out a song by ear.
Songs Come From Chord Progressions
I’m re-reading the book Life by Keith Richards and their pianist used to call the Rolling Stones “My little 3 chord wonders”. Even though he meant it affectionately, many songs are just 3 chords. Let’s look at the most used 3 chord progression:
I IV V
The I-IV-V (or the “one, four five” is how we say it) is a major chord (Or at least a root-fifth of the chord) played on the 1st note of a major key, the 4th note, and the 5th note of a major key.
The key of C is all natural notes (i.e. no sharps or flats):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C D E F G A B
With the 1 (I) being C, the 4 (IV) being F and the 5 (V) being G, that is a I, IV, V in C. The order of the chords being played will depend on the song, so don’t get hung up on that. You can write a song that goes G, to F, to C (V – IV – I in order) but we still call it a I-IV-V progression.
So the most popular keys for guitar are actually, G, E and A as they can use open string chords, which are what most students start with.
1 2 3 45 6 7
G A B C D E F# I, IV, V is G, C, D
E F# G# A B C# D# I, IV, V in E is E, A, B
A B C# D E F# G3 I, IV, V in A is A, D, E
This is extremely helpful in transposing songs. Transposing is taking a song and changing it’s key. This sounds hard, but you, the reader, can see all you need are the notes in a key, find the first, fourth, and fifth out of it, if you know how to play those chords, you’re good to go.
Say for example you are in a band and the song is a I, IV, V in E – so E, A and B. Your singer is really straining to hit the high notes and says something like “Hey guys, these high notes are killing me – can you bring it down a bit?”
Sure! It’s a I, IV, V progression. Looking at E as I (or 1), we need to bring E “down” by not starting on E any more. The note before E is D# or Eb but guitar players don’t like those keys, so let’s do D. D is a whole step, or 2 frets lower than E.
So we had a I, IV, V in E. We now need a I, IV, V in D. Looking up your Key of D we have:
1 2 3 45 6 7
D E F# GA B C#
Our song would now be D, G, and A major chords, the 1, 4, and 5 of D.
The effect of this is that all the chords have gone down a whole step in pitch. E went down to D. The IV of E, which is A, then down to G. And the V of E, which is B, went down a whole step to A.
This is easier to see in Bar Chords than open string chords. If you’re playing E (root E on 5th string 7th fret) you’ll now play D (root D on 5th string 5th fret).
A on the 6th string 5th fret goes to G on the 6th string 3rd fret.
B on the 6th string 7th fret goes to A on the 6th string 5th fret.
A Note on Roman Numerals
Chord progressions are always written as Roman Numerals. We talk about chords in terms of numbers so that the I chord can be anything in the musical system.
When you start playing with woodwind players (flute, sax) or trumpet players, be prepared to have “flat” keys thrown at you. Many of my students join a Jazz Combo class in high school or college. Forget the key of D, you’ll be in F, Bb or Eb (favorite keys for horns). Just remember the secret is know where I(1) is. Key of….Bb? Ok! Bb is I. Look up (or better yet memorize) your major keys so you know the progression will be Bb, Eb, and F major.
So that concludes this first installment of chord progressions you should know. One could write an entire book on the I-IV-V since it is used heavily in folk (Happy Birthday song), rock (Johnny B Goode), country rock (Already Gone) and blues (almost all of them).
Get to know the I IV V in these keys: E, G, A, and D. Open chords can be used in all these keys.
Next, get to know the I IV V using bar chords. You’ll see a pattern on the neck this way (much easier than open string chords) and can see the chords in a way that changing keys makes more sense, like change from E to D above. Ah, I move each chord down a whole step.
You might catch some grief from the pianist who has to change their whole layout on the keyboard to go from a Key with 4 sharps (E) to a key of 2 sharps (D) because “Hey man, all you have to do is move your hand up and down the neck to change keys”. A saxophonist once said that to me.
Well, he’s right on one level. But the guitar holds other challenges the sax guy doesn’t have. We’ll just leave it at that.
Stay tuned for the 2nd installment of this series. Have a safe and happy 4th of July, 2017!!
Hey Everybody ! This is TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW (PART II), points 6 through 10.
If you didn’t read the previous post – TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW (PART I) – definitely go back there and begin with that. The goal of that blog entry and this one is to establish a base line of understanding the guitar well enough to do just about anything you want to be able to do on the instrument. In fact, just in the first 5 of the top 10, you’ll know more than most people out there that have a guitar propped up in the corner of their bedroom.
With these last 5 items about guitar playing, you will definitely be well positioned to go into any direction (Metal, Rock, Top 40, Jazz, Blues) that you wish.
6. Know your “Bar” Chords off the 6th String
This is the Major form ->
Bar (also known as “barre”) are chords that do not rely upon the open strings for any of their notes. Because these are movable forms, you need to know which note is your root note.
The root note names the chord. G Major – the root note is G. G minor – the root note is still G. G 13 b5 +11?? Guess what….the root note is STILL G.
Since these are “6th string” based forms, your root is covered by the first finger on the 6th string. As you move the guitar form up and down the neck, the root note changes and so does the name of your chord. If this form shown here was on the 3rd fret, the 3rd fret on the 6th string is G. So this is G Major (or we sometimes say just “G”).
This is the minor form ->
Note the only difference between Major and Minor is the 2nd finger being present or not. To go from A Major (5th fret) to A Minor you just remove the 2nd finger. Viola. No other changes are needed.
7. Know your “Bar” Chords off of the 5th String
The 6th string forms are GREAT – until you need a D Major. Then you’re going to find yourself squeeze up at the 10th fret. While it can be done, there is an easier more practical way.
You’ll see to the right a pretty standard way to play the Major chord with the Root being on the 5th string (Say for D Maj you would have your first finger on the 5th fret).
Note fingers 2,3 and 4 crammed in here. I never play it this way.
You should play this form with the 3rd finger barring along the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd string and touching the 1st only to make it stop ringing (mute). Again, a lot of guitar playing is silencing what you don’t want and sounding what you do. On this form you don’t play the 6th string either.
HINT: inch your 1st finger up (towards your 6th string) until it touches it. 6th string dead. 1st string dead. You’re ready to hammer it out.
Now for the minor form. There are two common variations of this. One is to bar the first finger (as pictured) and let the first string sound. That is perfectly reasonable but I rarely play it like that. Instead I again mute the 1st string and inch my first finger towards the 6th string and mute them both.
I make exceptions from time to time but lets stick to the basics. There are many more ways to play chords on the guitar, but these bar forms are most commonly associated with Rock/Metal/pop/Blues.
8. Know your Power Chords
Okay – this may be a bit of a “trick” item but it’s good to know these terms.
Power Chords are the same forms as the chord diagrams above with one big difference: only the bottom 2 strings are played – the rest are muted. So if you know your G Major on 3rd fret, only play the 6th string 3rd fret and 5th string 5th fret. 1st and 3rd finger. That’s a G POWER CHORD.
Same thing on 5th string. D is on 5th fret with 3rd finger barring 7th. Change to 5th string 5 fret only and 4th string 7th fret only. That’s a D POWER CHORD. They are easier than their full blown parents and necessary if you’re going to do metal or hard rock.
So with the rest of the chord “gone” – is it major or minor? Assume major in most cases. The truth is it can be anything you want because it’s not there. Look for more detail on that in a future lesson.
9. Know your Major Pentatonic Scale
This is a very easy scale. Pent means 5 so it’s only a 5 note scale. There are many ways to play it but this sliding version is one I use a lot. This happens to be in the key of G (So this is G Pentatonic). I use 1st finger on the 1st note, which is the root G, then my third finger on the 5th fret and slide it to 7th. Next string is 5th fret and 7th. 4th String is 5th fret, 7th fret (with 3rd finger) and slide to 9th. And so on.
You might think this is too country or you might think it’s not enough country. Either way you’re both right. But if you enjoy the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd then you’ve heard this scale.
There are other ways to play this scale but this is the best one to start with.
10.Know your Minor Pentatonic Scale
This is your ROCK scale. Your Blues scale (Ok, technically it’s not the blues scale unless you add one note – that is again an aside for another lesson), and your Metal scale, although metal guys often dip into their Phrygian modes when they feel like it. Many guitarists have made their mark on the musical world with this scale.
The first note is the root. So if you play this on the 5th fret you are playing the A (6th string 5th fret) minor pentatonic scale.
And another HINT: if you play this scale on the 12 fret (E minor pentatonic) you’re playing the SAME notes as the G sliding pentatonic above. Lyndyr Skynard meets Jimmy Page.
Where to go from here
The skies the limit. At this point you can find notes, chords (open string and bar), power chords and you know your pentatonic scales. If you’re already at this point and want to to figure out what are the next steps, my next entry will discuss that.
If You don’t know the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know, you might get a bit frustrated.
Whoa! Before your guitar looks like this, GET HELP!! The Top 10 things every guitar player should know is in this (and the next) blog entry!! Knowing these 10 things will enable you to grow as a musician and a guitar player at a much faster rate.
It is impossible to just grab the guitar and play like [fill in the gap] but with a little bit of time and effort and the right direction, you can get very good very fast. Following the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know will accelerate your path to get there. Let’s get started.
Know your open String notes and how to tune
I don’t touch on this for a long time with my students because tuning can be daunting for a student. It was for me. It took a long while before I could tune. Then I could only tune to other guitars, not keyboards. Yes, I was that bad. But I learned.
You might think this is unnecessary given the ease of access of tuners today. By all means use one, I do. But knowing the strings E, A, D, G, B, E and self tuning are critical things to know. You need to develop your EAR, which takes time and practice. The chart below shows how to tune the guitar to it’s other strings.
2. Know the “typical” open string chords
Not only are these the “beginner” chords, you simply cannot play many songs without them. Open string chords are not just chords for people learning. They have their own “ringing” quality. They are different. In fact, it’s why some people use capos to, in effect, move the end of the guitar up the neck so they keep playing these chords in the same way but higher pitched to suit their voice or the song.
Chords you should know are:
There are more but that will get you very far. I’m talking 8 chords to happiness here!
If you’ve played a bit, you’ll see some chords missing that you might think should be in that list, like F Major. I cover that in Part II of this series.
NOTE: chords that are Major chords are often referenced by their letter name alone. D Major can be called just “D”. Minors must always be noted as minor.
One last thing on this topic. The student really needs to commit these chord forms to memory. The first chord I teach is D major to any beginning student. I once taught this young man (a very nice guy) who just wouldn’t learn it. And when we got to learning songs his refusal to memorize the chords slowed his progress because I would say “ok, this song starts on D major” and he’s always ask “What was D again?”
Don’t be *that* guy!
3. Know the Musical Alphabet
We’re not talking a lot here, only 7 notes. But you need to know how those notes are spaced.
The distance of 2 frets on the guitar – say 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 5th fret – is a whole step, sometimes called a full step or full tone. It’s just 2 frets. 1 to 3, 2 to 4, 3 to 5, etc.
The distance of 1 fret on the guitar – like 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 4th fret is a half step. Or a semi step or semi tone.
So are musical alphabet is the following:
A B C D E F G [then back to A]
7 notes! Now here’s how you find them:
A -> B is a whole step. 6th string 5th fret to 6th String 7th fret
B -> C is a half step. 6th string 7th fret to 6th String 8th fret
C -> D is a whole step. 6th string 8th fret to 6th String 10th fret
D -> E is a whole step. 6th string 10th fret to 6th String 12th fret. Your guitar may stop at the 12th fret. So we’ll pick up E now at the 6th string open.
E -> F is a half step. 6th string open (no fingers on it – let it just ring) is E. F will be on 6th string 1st fret.
Open strings confuse people, but think of it this way. The nut is that white thing at the end of your fretboard:
You know where the first fret is. Looking at the picture here it is to the left of the nut. Think of hitting an open string as if your finger was to the right of the nut. If you’re going to go up one fret for a half step, you’ll now be on fret number 1, which is where F is.
F -> G is a whole step. 6th string 1st fret to 6th String 3rd fret
G -> A is a whole step. 6th string 3rd fret to 6th String 5th fret
You will have then completed the circle A to A.
4. Know what Sharps and Flats are
If you asked in #3 above “what about the notes in between the frets we played – like 6th string frets 2 and 4 and 6?” This is the answer to that.
Simple but not “easy”. A sharp (#) raises a note a half step. So in our mapping of the natural (not sharped or flatted) notes in #3 above, we have:
6th String FRET
12 (OR OPEN) E
But now let’s include sharps:
6th String FRET
12 (OR OPEN) E
Now for the “weird” part. if you understand that sharps (#) raise a note a half step or one fret, what about the notes that are already a half step apart? B to C and E to F are only half steps. So that must mean there is no such thing as a B# or an E#?
No, there ARE B# and E# notes. How do you play them? Right where C and F are (8th fret and 1st fret respectively).
So yes, B# IS C natural. E# IS F natural. One note with 2 names is called enharmonic. Not extremely important to know that word but extremely important to know what it means.
A Flat (b) lowers a note one half step. So Fret 2 on the guitar (which was F# above) is now Gb. We lower G on the 3rd fret one half step to be Gb on Fret 2:
6th String FRET
And there’s your musical alphabet.
5. Know the notes on the 5th and 6th Strings
Now a purist is going to say you should know all the notes. Why are the 5th and 6th string more important? Easy – it’s chords.
The open string chords mentioned above all look different. E Major looks nothing like A Major which looks nothing like C Major which looks nothing like D Major.
That all changes with bar (sometimes called “barre”) chords. Remember the picture of the nut above? Well your fingers become a new, movable nut.
All bar chords come in “6th String” and “5th String” versions. You can play the full version of the chord, or just the “bottom” part of it for “Power chords” which metal is extremely fond of.
From knowing that the 6th string open is E and the 5th string open is A, you can figure out where the notes are. I recommend learning the natural notes first. If you know A, B, C, D, E, F and G on both strings quickly by sight you are well on your way to learning a plethora (or TON) of songs!
Knowing these chord forms is the 6th thing that every guitar player should know, but that’s in Part II of this blog.
You are half way there to knowing the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player should know!
In home guitar lessons in the Tri-Valley area of California. This includes Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon, and Livermore. Other arrangements negotiable.