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Sugarplum

Q&A Guitar

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I know a bit about music theory, because I play classical on piano, where you really need that. But on guitar I hardly can read notes. I don't think, that theory is as important as they tell you,. When I work out songs, I try new chords and melodies and don't think of rules, though it is useful to know some basics like major- , minor-, sus and other easy chords and pentatonic pattern.

that sounds eerily similar to my experience. i play classical piano and the guitar, and i really think the piano helped me a LOT. i totally agree-you need to know the basics, but other than that i think it blocks you from being more creative with your own music.

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Thanks everyone for the replies:) I actually took piano lessons for a while when I was younger too, although I'm no virtuoso. I do believe it helped me understand scales, etc, a lot better. It gave me a head start when it came to learning guitar, because I already understood what sharps and flats were, notes names, octaves, scales, etc. So I have those concepts under my belt.

I guess my biggest struggle right now is figuring out how harmony works. I can come up with single-note melodies, but it's so hard for me to confidently build upon that right now. I spend a lot of time just messing around, and trying to keep in mind the scales, and what note options are open to me to create chords and harmony, but I don't feel confident in my ability to improvise much on the spot yet, other than maybe a simple melody. I don't completely understand how chords work yet. So I also spend a lot of time trying to transcribe songs I like, in order to hopefully pick up on what notes sound good together, and different chord shapes, etc. It gets very frustrating sometimes, because I have to think so hard about what key, and scale position I am in. I know playing will always take concentration, but I also know that it should start to become more second-nature, the more I practice.

I guess I could use a lot of help with understanding chords, if anyone would be willing to give some tips. I have noticed that when I try to write on my own, I like to build up many layers of harmony. And I like arpeggios a lot. Almost a harp-like sound at times. I like it when chords have a lot of depth, and sound almost hypnotizing. For example, last night I was trying to transcribe bits and pieces of what Jimmy was playing at the beginning of this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=endbQYYBsbA

I wish I could come up with harmony like that. I tried to keep an eye on his hands the whole time, and have come to realize that technically what he's doing doesn't seem to be that 'hard', but it's brilliant. I want my music to have that sort of mystifying feel to it. I think once I learn more about chords, it will open up the fretboard a lot more to me. And I also need to work on creating rhythms. I just feel like I have a sense of what I want to play, but don't have the skills to play it yet. Maybe I'm just being lazy right now...maybe I just need to go practice some more:P

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I guess my biggest struggle right now is figuring out how harmony works. I can come up with single-note melodies, but it's so hard for me to confidently build upon that right now. I spend a lot of time just messing around, and trying to keep in mind the scales, and what note options are open to me to create chords and harmony, but I don't feel confident in my ability to improvise much on the spot yet, other than maybe a simple melody...

I have noticed that when I try to write on my own, I like to build up many layers of harmony. And I like arpeggios a lot. Almost a harp-like sound at times. I like it when chords have a lot of depth, and sound almost hypnotizing. For example, last night I was trying to transcribe bits and pieces of what Jimmy was playing at the beginning of this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=endbQYYBsbA

I know exactly what you mean, and when I try to come up with harmonised guitar parts I just do it by trial and error - maybe not efficient but that's the only way I know.

Do you play acoustic or electric? There is a trick you can do on electric which will produce an 'organ' sound. You turn the volume knob on the guitar to 0 and play a chord/note, then bring the volume up. The reason it sounds like an organ is you don't hear the tell-tale picking sounds of the guitar. So you start with the volume on 0, play a note, bring the volume up and back to 0, play another note etc. It can take some time getting used to it, and it's easiest on a Strat-type guitar, you can hook your pinky around the volume knob.

The YouTube you posted is "San Francisco/Woodstock". That's a favourite piece of mine. Jimmy improvises on it all the time so there's no use making a definitive tab, but this is the basics.

|--------------------0-2-3-0-------------------------------------------------------------

|-------------------3---------------------------------------------------------------------

|------------------0----------------------------------------9s7s9s7s9-5s4s5s4s5------

|--2-4-5-7-5-4--0-------------2-4-5-7-5-4-2--4-2------------------------------------

|-----------------3------------------------------3----3----7s5s7s5s7-3s2s3s2s3------

|------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It's an Em to C progression.

Good luck

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^^I play an Epiphone Les Paul Standard. And I play acoustic as well. That's funny, because my brother was playing his Strat last night, and he started experimenting with the volume knob like that.. with his pinky. I'm pretty sure it's the exact technique you're talking about. I will definitely have to see if I can work that out on my Les Paul somehow. Sometimes when I get so fed up with trying to write, I just experiment with different sound effects I can make with my guitar. So I'll have to experiment with that organ-like sound..

And I love that improv so much. Once I found out which song they were jamming to, I looked up the original on YouTube, by Joni Mitchell.

And hooray.. I was hoping I got it right when I thought it was in the key of E. Correct? Thanks for the little tab. It seems I found the right notes.. but I was playing it another way..

----------------------------------0------0------0----------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------0------0------0-----------------------------------------------------------------

---------------------------------9------11-----12-------------------------------------------------------------------

-------------7------------------10-----10-----10----------------------------------------------------------------------

7--9--10-------10--9---------10-----10-----10----------------------------------------------------------------------

-------------------------8--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sort of...

Those are just the basic notes and chords I figured out. I have yet to get the rhythm down. The pinky stretch to the 12 was kind of awkward though.. if that's even the right chord. I really, really need to work on my rhythm. I listened to the very beginning part a million times, and I still cannot get the part where he does the first set of strums after the melody line. I mean down the road I can improvise to this and add my own spin on things. But right now I really want to be able to play it the way Jimmy does, with the same rhythm.

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One of the most important things to learn about theory (and something that is almost never taught) is that what are refered to most of the time as "rules" (rules of harmony, rules of counterpoint, etc) are in fact "guidelines".

There's a big difference.

Now don't get me wrong, those "rules" are there for good reasons, but - and here's the thing - if you learn the "rule" but not the reason, you'll find youself in situations when you may think "I want to do this but it's against the rules." Learn both the "rule" and the reason & you'll understand when, where, & why (also how ;) ) it's ok to go against the "rules".

I'll say it again - they're not rules they're only guidelines. B)

(and I'm saying that as someone who spent five years at music colleges to get a degree in music theory ;) )

For some reason that reminded me of 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. Where they're like, "Stick to the code." And the one guy's like, "The code is more like guidelines, as compared to actual rules." Or something like that :lol: But I get what you mean. I agree:) I try to understand the reason, before I even try to understand the rule, because then I can decide whether or not I want to spend time learning it. Actually.. that's usually when I search out stuff about theory. For example.. when I felt like I didn't understand harmony, and couldn't seem to play anything besides single notes and memorized open chords, I was like, "Hm.. maybe I should look into some theory about creating chords", etc. That's how I tend to go about it. Just whenever I feel I need the help.

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"The best way, in my view, to create is to 'get in the zone' as sports people would say. Just play. Try new chord shapes, mess around with single note riffs, try different combinations of sounds. But don't try to force it - the best things just come to you, maybe you make a mistake which sounds good, or you are just doodling idly and you come up with something."...

"The final word goes to Joe Satriani, who said that he still struggles with the guitar as much as he did when he was 14 years old playing in his bedroom. I suppose you might realise at some point that you are playing a song you struggled with previously, and can use that as a measurement of improvement, but as you learn a skill, you move on to something more challenging, so you are never content. At least that's the idea."

I know exactly what you mean about 'getting into the zone'. I usually get that way when I draw or paint. And I've been noticing that I've been falling into that state of mind more and more often when I play guitar. If I feel like I'm getting distracted easily, or am becoming bored, I try to let go and find my way back into that zone.

And I see what Satriani means.. kind of like 'the artist will never be satisfied' sort of thing. I guess right now I'm just looking to prove to myself that my skill level can grow, that way I can become more confident in my ability to create music. I realize it will always be a challenge, and will continue to take great amounts of concentration.. but I would just like to one day be able to look back on what I have played in the past, if I feel like I have nothing to offer, and be like, "Wow, but look at what I have done before. If I can just find my way back to that creative state of mind..". I just want to have that sort of confidence, where I know that I have it in me. But why am I blabbing... :blahblah: I should just go practice some more.

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I know exactly what you mean about 'getting into the zone'. I usually get that way when I draw or paint. And I've been noticing that I've been falling into that state of mind more and more often when I play guitar. If I feel like I'm getting distracted easily, or am becoming bored, I try to let go and find my way back into that zone.

They have done studies on it and the mental state that meditating monks, sports people and people under hypnosis is essentially the same. It's a less conscious state of mind, where you connect with your subconscious and allow your inner creativity/ability to flow.

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They have done studies on it and the mental state that meditating monks, sports people and people under hypnosis is essentially the same. It's a less conscious state of mind, where you connect with your subconscious and allow your inner creativity/ability to flow.

thats cool...almost sounds like and acid trip, lol :) i think that you do need to be "in the zone" because you can't really write especially great or unique stuff if you're desperately trying. then i think it's too contrived, and that comes through in the music, which (usually) isn't good. but you do need structure in your music(otherwise it falls apart)...so inspiration first, and then use theory and whatnot to structure the whole song(i once wrote a whole song based on 4 notes on the keyboard-whatever inspires you)

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^^Who knows.. maybe that state of mind is similar to an acid trip. Except the other triggers are not drug-induced. Maybe the same portion of the brain is active in all cases. That'd be interesting to research a little..

And I agree.. sometimes the music can sound too contrived. It's almost painful to listen to some of the chords I come up with at times :mellow: That's when I stop and think, "Okay, I'm making this way too difficult..it's unnatural..".

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I am a huge advocate of learning theory. It can seem like a enormous undertaking and be very intimidating but if you keep at it you will eventually have one of those "DUH" moments and things will start to make sense. The most important thing to get your mind around is the circle of fifths, concentrating first on the sharp keys(you will find modern popular music almost never uses flat keys, there are exceptions of course). Start with C (no sharps or flats) and go up a fifth to G(one sharp), go up a fifth from G to D(2 sharps) etc, to find the number of sharps in a given key(the sharp you add will always be the seventh)To find the number of flats do the same thing but go up a fourth instead(C->F(1 flat)->Bb(2 flats) etc...the flat you add will always be the fourth). This helps alot when learning the modes, rather than learning alot of patterns or complicated altered scale formulas you can just think in terms of how many sharps(or flats) do I need to play and what note do I start on? For example that familiar E minor pentatonic relates to the key of G Major(E is the 6th of the G major scale). A simple way to find what key that minor pentatonic scale is really in just go up a minor third from the root of the scale(an interesting thing also is the flatted fifth in the minor pentatonic(blues) scale is the minor third of the home key..no wonder it sounds so dark!!).If you know where all the notes are(if you don't then it's about time you got started on that isn't it?) and what key you are really playing in(how many sharps/flats) it opens up the whole fretboard and will get you out of playing the same boring licks in the same boring places all the time, and it helps you understand why you are playing the notes you are playing.

You can work out all the modes of the major scale this way, and trust me it will do wonders for your lead playing. It does take some practice and some mental excercise but the rewards are worth it.

first step is LEARN WHERE ALL THE NOTES ARE! break the fretboard down into chunks (4 or 5 frets) and memorize it, then move on, or you could take one note, C for example and learn where it is all over the neck as a point of reference to figure out where the rest of the notes are, soon you'll know it without having to think about it and that my friends is the first step to freedom.

I can elaborate more on this if anyone cares.

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^ I am not a very good guitarist and I'm 46.I don't play or practice anymore.I wasn't gifted with an ear but I know if you practice,you get better.

I started learning in my mid 30's.I was taking lessons every week and one day my teacher came in with a broken hand and asked me if I would like to learn some music theory and I said yes.

We spent a couple of weeks at it and it definitely helped me.

Like I said,I don't have the "ear" and I need to see it written down.I also know that the "ear" part

was slowly coming to me the more I played!

I suggest that someone help you to explain it on paper.It's easier to see and it's easier than it sounds

I'm sure that PJ is a shredder with all that knowledge. Heed his sound advice.

Al Di Meola would tell you the same thing :D

Edited by Rorer714

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I am a huge advocate of learning theory. It can seem like a enormous undertaking and be very intimidating but if you keep at it you will eventually have one of those "DUH" moments and things will start to make sense. The most important thing to get your mind around is the circle of fifths, concentrating first on the sharp keys(you will find modern popular music almost never uses flat keys, there are exceptions of course). Start with C (no sharps or flats) and go up a fifth to G(one sharp), go up a fifth from G to D(2 sharps) etc, to find the number of sharps in a given key(the sharp you add will always be the seventh)To find the number of flats do the same thing but go up a fourth instead(C->F(1 flat)->Bb(2 flats) etc...the flat you add will always be the fourth). This helps alot when learning the modes, rather than learning alot of patterns or complicated altered scale formulas you can just think in terms of how many sharps(or flats) do I need to play and what note do I start on? For example that familiar E minor pentatonic relates to the key of G Major(E is the 6th of the G major scale). A simple way to find what key that minor pentatonic scale is really in just go up a minor third from the root of the scale(an interesting thing also is the flatted fifth in the minor pentatonic(blues) scale is the minor third of the home key..no wonder it sounds so dark!!).If you know where all the notes are(if you don't then it's about time you got started on that isn't it?) and what key you are really playing in(how many sharps/flats) it opens up the whole fretboard and will get you out of playing the same boring licks in the same boring places all the time, and it helps you understand why you are playing the notes you are playing.

You can work out all the modes of the major scale this way, and trust me it will do wonders for your lead playing. It does take some practice and some mental excercise but the rewards are worth it.

first step is LEARN WHERE ALL THE NOTES ARE! break the fretboard down into chunks (4 or 5 frets) and memorize it, then move on, or you could take one note, C for example and learn where it is all over the neck as a point of reference to figure out where the rest of the notes are, soon you'll know it without having to think about it and that my friends is the first step to freedom.

I can elaborate more on this if anyone cares.

Oh I would love to ask you questions about theory, whenever they pop up! If you wouldn't mind..

I vaguely know what you're talking about. I've done enough surfing around to have read about the Circle of 5ths, modes, etc. I'm pretty sure I know what a mode is.. Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian? But aside from the names.. each mode following the Ionian (original major scale), start on, and keep returning to a consecutive note of the major scale aside from the root note, correct? Each time you decide to use a consecutive note of the scale as your 'root' (not technically the real 'root' of the scale, though), you are playing a different mode? But aside from the technical terms.. I tried this out for myself on the guitar, starting and ending on different intervals of the major scale each time, so I could hear the difference between each mode.. and they do each have a distinct sound. So I think I'm beginning to understand what they are.. but I have yet to transition amongst them smoothly.

And the Circle of 5ths...I've heard of that, but have yet to really look into it. If you'd like to expand upon that more, that could really help me out.

And as far as memorizing the notes goes.. not too long ago, I realized the value of this as well. If you have that down, I can see how that would really open up the fretboard, and help you to understand many other points of theory. I've been trying to get this down, and have been trying to memorize everything up to the twelfth fret (since the notes just repeat once you get there, of course). I think I may be going about it the wrong way, though. I kind of just memorize the names of the notes in scales.. but then when I go to look for a random note on the fretboard, it usually takes me a while to find it. I think it'd be best to strictly memorize the notes and their locations individually, rather than using a scale pattern to work my way up to the location of a note each time. That way I could just pick it out right away, rather than it always being lost in a scale pattern. What do you think? And I've also been trying to locate where a given note is located all over the neck.. I try to pay attention to whether it is an octave higher, lower, or the same, as well.

Edited by Sugarplum

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^ I am not a very good guitarist and I'm 46.I don't play or practice anymore.I wasn't gifted with an ear but I know if you practice,you get better.

I started learning in my mid 30's.I was taking lessons every week and one day my teacher came in with a broken hand and asked me if I would like to learn some music theory and I said yes.

We spent a couple of weeks at it and it definitely helped me.

Like I said,I don't have the "ear" and I need to see it written down.I also know that the "ear" part

was slowly coming to me the more I played!

I suggest that someone help you to explain it on paper.It's easier to see and it's easier than it sounds

I'm sure that PJ is a shredder with all that knowledge. Heed his sound advice.

Al Di Meola would tell you the same thing :D

I've noticed at times that when I read about points of theory, I'll be like, "This makes complete sense. I understand it now." But then when I go to actually play, it becomes a complete jumbled mess in my brain. It's kind of like when you study for a math test, and they give you an example in the book, and you completely understand it.. with all of the steps lain out, certain points circled in red, words in bold print, arrows, etc. But then test day rolls around, and you're staring at the sheet of paper on your desk with a very similar problem on it.. but you have no idea what to do. You don't have the book anymore to lay out the steps for you, so your mind goes blank.

That's where I've been for a while. Sometimes thoughts of theory would constrict me so much, that I would just sit there with my guitar, staring at it, as I would at that math test. I can see myself slowly progressing past this stage, though. Things are starting to come more naturally to me. I'm starting to apply the information.. slowly, but still.. it's progress. I'm beginning see how it can aid in making music, rather than appearing to be a detached, complicated science.

But I agree. I've found at times that it helps to see theory written out. It can help to scribble something down to see what's going on when playing, or it can help to have a guitar with you while reading about theory, to see how the points being made apply to the making of music.

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Also.. another thing that has really helped me with the notion of making music, is to look at the guitar as an extension of my voice. I know, it sounds like common sense.. But for a while, everything I played sounded so mechanical, and it didn't have much natural flow or rhythm to it. I was just 'playing guitar', and wasn't envisioning it as having a voice or emotion. Since this dawned upon me, I have at times tried to emulate and sort of play 'copycat' along with my favorite singers as they are singing. It's a way in which I've trained myself to recognize and bring out that element of guitar that is almost human.

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Circle of fifths: C->G(1 sharp F#)->D(2 sharps F#, C#)->A(3 sharps F#,C#,G#)->E(4 sharps F# C# G# D#)->B (5 sharpsF# C# G# D# A#)->F#(6 sharps F# C# G# D# A# E#)->C#(7 sharps...everything is a sharp)....E# is actually F and B# is actually C but to remain diatonic(in key) they are labeled E# and B#.

The flat keys are a circle of fourths, where the fourth of the new key is a flat C->F(1 flat, Bb)...I'll leave it to you to work the rest of it out B)

Thinking of your guitar as an extension of your voice is an excellent approach, and to carry it a step further you can really spice up your phrasing by copying speech patterns on your guitar, this is an excellent compositional tool as well(Steve Vai uses this all the time, I think he got it from Zappa). You can drive others in your house crazy by mimicing everything they say on guitar, or try reading a book and "saying" the words with your guitar. This will help you to NOT play tired old blues licks, and the more you listen for it you'll find it everywhere...the opening phrase from the theme song to "entertainment tonight" is lifted directly from saying the words"entertainment tonight"..it comes down to counting syllables.The next step is using the modes to evoke the feeling or emotion you want to convey. Remember that improvisation is an opporunity to SAY something with your instrument!

Relative minors/Major pentatonics: I notice most guitar players are REALLY bad about actually knowing what key to play in, for example to most players the key of A means playing the A minor pentatonic scale in the fifth position, which often times sounds horrible.

for example we'll use thin lizzy's "cowboy song"..the chords for the verses/solo are:

A Em F# Em D/Dsus4/D....This song is obviously in A major, but why won't the A minor pent work? A dead giveaway is the F# chord, a more subtle clue is the D major chord at the end(if it was an F chord, followed by a D minor chord you could use the A minor pent..why? because the notes in the chords all are diatonic in C major/A minor). The solution is to play the F# minor pentatonic (relative minor of A major) just move the scale down to the 2nd fret. What this really is is the 6th mode of the scale. Another way to look at this is as a MAJOR PENTATONIC, in this case A major pent. This approach works with any scale or mode. This is an easy trick to find the right notes but the more important lesson is to pick apart the chords in a song to find what works and why( lol or more importantly what to stay away from). There are times when both scales will work and combining them is really, really cool..they have many notes in common and the different ones are great passing tones in the right situation..great for creating tension/release

edited to add..an important thing to remember about this is if you are moving a MAJOR scale pattern down a minor 3rd it becomes a MINOR, and if you are moving a Minor scale down a minor 3rd it becomes a major.

Hope this helps someone :D

Edited by PJ Slocum

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Thinking of your guitar as an extension of your voice is an excellent approach, and to carry it a step further you can really spice up your phrasing by copying speech patterns on your guitar, this is an excellent compositional tool as well(Steve Vai uses this all the time, I think he got it from Zappa). You can drive others in your house crazy by mimicing everything they say on guitar, or try reading a book and "saying" the words with your guitar. This will help you to NOT play tired old blues licks, and the more you listen for it you'll find it everywhere...the opening phrase from the theme song to "entertainment tonight" is lifted directly from saying the words"entertainment tonight"..it comes down to counting syllables.The next step is using the modes to evoke the feeling or emotion you want to convey. Remember that improvisation is an opporunity to SAY something with your instrument!

Wonderfully said :) I never thought of trying that while reading.. I think I'll do that sometime. And yeah, I bet that would drive everyone crazy, trying to mimic them all of the time :lol: Thanks for the advice:)

Edited by Sugarplum

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My pleasure Sugarplum!

My that sounds naughty! :hysterical:

*edit to add* Okay, missed a bunch of posts! Doh! :lol:

Edited by Evster2012

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