#1
So I'm a guitar teacher, and I'm always searching for new lessons to teach to my students, and I never stop trying to understand playing better. I'm beginning to start sharing some of the lessons I teach, and the one I want to talk about today is how to deal with playing wrong notes when soloing.
You can read my full explanation
here
(which includes a video where Victor Wooten explains the concept).

But I will summarize: I have understood this for a while but Victor Wooten's great book, The Music Lesson really helped me connect the dots.
As guitar players, when we are soloing very often we are just playing scales, patterns, and familiar licks. And there's nothing wrong with that, but I find that not enough of us are using our ears as we should, and letting that guide us instead. It's a common practice to play scales to avoid using notes that don't fit. But if you never branch out into other notes, you're ignoring all of the notes that really add character to your playing.

Think of it this way: There are 12 notes and music, and 7 in a key. So at any given time, there are five notes that won't fit. But all of the notes that are not in the key can be used, you just need to reframe how you approach them. If anyone is familiar with the concept of secondary dominants, you can incorporate chromatic notes to pass too other chords.

Here is how to use this: when you're soloing, try using your ear and not patterns. As the chords change, the notes that will fit harmonically will change as well. And if you land on a note that is out of key; instantly slide up or down. You could also bend, or hammer on or pull off in a half step in either direction. Try it! I guarantee you that you're soloing will change, you will be less afraid to make mistakes, and use your ear more. And being musical is really what we should aim for, and this is a way to break out of just using scales and patterns and really listen. Let me know what you think! I have tried this with students and it ends up being a paradigm shift for many.

Let me know you think, and I would love to hear if you've any ideas on how to apply the concept, that I could use with my students in future.
#2
theclimbupshow Charlie Parker used to say "you're only a semitone away at most from where you need to be"  (paraphrased).

I get students to shut their eyes, I'll play a chord, and I get them to play a random pitch, and then adjust up or down a semitone if their ears tell them that.  But I also explain about tone tendencies, and resolutions.  I'll get them experimenting, even as a beginner, against say a major triad, and have them visualise that in their head, and to be aware of the effect of playing a pitch either side of a tone in the chord.  That gets then 9 of the 12 pitches in an octave to experiment with.  It also breaks the mind set of "right and wrong" and not falling in the trap that theory doesn't allow something (which misconstrues what theory is all about, i.e. observations, and not rules).

I wrote this lesson some time ago now... https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/for_beginners/wrong_note_there_are_no_wrong_notes.html
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Mar 14, 2017,
#3
Back when I started the guitar nobody had access to resources like now, and we didn't really know anything about methods; all I knew was that I loved the way the sound of lead solos interacted with the songs (what would be the melodic and harmonic relationships through progressions...). I didn't even know one was "supposed" to start with cowboy chords, then barre chords, etc... I taught myself lead guitar first from day one by listening to Jimi H, Jimmy P, Eric C, and Jeff B and others of the time. As a result of that, I later found that understanding chords was very easy.

My assumption back then was that all guitarists played by ear all the time, so that was the basis for my approach to teaching myself. That was over four decades ago and I still play everything exclusively by ear all the time; I cannot imagine playing any other way.  My current bands are jazz and all the standards and new ones I compose are all performed by ear...how else to make new melodies, new harmonies, and new chords to meet the situation during performance on stage in the moment?

The modern methods and approaches seem to accept playing by ear as a part of the overall process, with a greater emphasis on other things. Personally, I view the distresses and issues of modern guitar students all stemming from not have learned to hear music as music.

The essential purpose of music is to be heard, to be listened to. This is the primary clue as to how it must be produced - it needs to come from first being heard within the musician's mind in advance of being played.

Playing on the guitar is not the same as playing the guitar. If one is not hearing what they are about to play and not hearing what they do play, how can there be any quality control over the music? One can't control or adjust or correct what one can't hear.

How do you:
- know if a pitch or timing is wrong (or correct) if you don't hear it?
- evaluate what to play if you can't hear what the different choices sound like before playing them?
- select solo notes and phrases if you can't hear them or the chord types others are playing around you?
- maintain and control quality playing fast if you can't hear fast?

Knowing, evaluating, selecting, and maintaining are all active processes that require hearing the music both inside and outside one's head. My recommendation for the very best and most important lesson for all students is to play "Follow the Leader", like this...

Arrange so that the student if facing away and can't see you.
You start by playing a single note and the student finds it and plays it.
You play a nearby note and the student plays it. If they miss it, repeat.
This go on for a while...
- vary the distance
- vary the direction
- include adjacent strings
Once this is working, move to two note phrases to incorporate some timing variation
- vary distance
- vary direction
- vary timing
- include adjacent strings
Then three note phrases
Then little riffs, licks
Increasing scale segments (diatonic, but also including symmetric and synthetic scales)
With time this exercise becomes an increasingly complex call and response

Same "Follow the Leader" should be done with chords, starting simple, then chord changes, keeping attention to inversions and voicing, then more complex chord types, then progression segments...


Anyway, you see my bias toward hearing everything...
Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.
#4
The best way is to play jazz. All the notes in jazz are supposed to be wrong so if you play a wrong note you're actually playing a right note.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#5
PlusPaul I love that exercise idea, I've never done it and will try it with students this weekend! And I agree with what you're saying, For me my ear guides me much more than anything else. I love tabs, and they are great, but I see how it can stifle a player. All the tools are wonderful, but in my opinion are you really need is your ear, patience, and curiosity. Everything else is great, but like getting too obsessed with tone and gear, it can get in the way of what's really happening when you're playing music.
#6
I used to try and recognise intervals by ear from pitch to pitch, and that worked for me to a degree.  Then I swapped to recognising intervals relative to a tonal centre, plus doing a lot of singing simple made up melodies, initially using 1,2 and 3 in various orders, and adding in the 5 from below to start things off.  I made far more progress using that for me to pick out melodies by ear.

PlusPaul ... I agree 100% that the (inner) ear needs be involved as much as possible ... but mixed with growing knowledge in theory the whole process speeds up, and demystifies a lot of stuff for new players.  Personally, I wouldn't suggest playing random intervals for copying, without a supporting framework, for a beginner or even intermediate player.  Music is rarely atonal, so it seems to be better to learn to work within a key, and probably based on major initially.

However, the OP isn't interested in being in key, but if he doesn't recognise how to resolve chromatic notes, and the rhythmic aspects of that, then he's missing a trick.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Mar 15, 2017,
#7
When I started playing guitar 40+ years ago I already knew how to play piano and in school I had played trumpet through grammar and high school so I knew how to read music and I understood basic theory.  With piano and trumpet I just read the music that was on the page and that was it. Because of this I thought I didn't need a guitar teacher so I didn't take any guitar lessons (a mistake). Instead I bought two books; Mel Bay's Orchestrated Chords and a book of scales that was not too helpful because I didn't mentally tie the scales to the chords. While not taking lessons was a mistake it did force me to develop my ears and how I hear music. There was no internet, no tab, no loop boxes, no YouTube to show you the way to play a song using the correct chords or inversions. There was nothing but my record player (yes, vinyl) and my ears to help me figure out the songs. I played a song and searched for the chords then picked up the needle on the record and did it again and again till I got it right. Just the years, repetition and searching developed my best overall skill, that of having the ability to play by ear fairly well. I am not as versed in the technical aspects of playing as I should be so when I play gigs I don't think in terms of notes in the scale when I solo. I just play starting somewhere within the key of the song and go for it. 98% of the time it works out. I can't explain why except I hear the note changes and chords I need in my head and just do it. It has been a tremendous help in being able to have a large repertoire of songs available to play on gigs because as long as I remember what key the song is in I can just play it even if it's been a long time since I last played it.  

I wish I had learned to play guitar and developed both the technical skill along with my ability to hear and recognize the changes. I think both are very important and while I am a bit deficient on one side, through years of playing and listening I am very proficient on the other side. I guess this balance just works for me.
Great discussion..   
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
Last edited by Rickholly74 at Mar 15, 2017,
#8
Would it be a good exercise then to get some backing tracks and literally just try random notes, bends, hammer ons/pull off etc and see what works?
#9
Quote by jerrykramskoy
Personally, I wouldn't suggest playing random intervals for copying, without a supporting framework, for a beginner or even intermediate player.  Music is rarely atonal, so it seems to be better to learn to work within a key, and probably based on major initially.

Maybe we're not thinking the same regarding the meaning of random, framework, atonality, and key.

All intervals are random before a context. One of the things to be learned is just that, and that the same interval has different meanings within different contexts. Playing two pitches a second interval apart might suggest the first two notes of a major scale, but they could be other things as well. Always hearing those as in the same framework would be limiting - it would spoil the exercise long term to make it based on a key that imposes a particular context.

Music is never atonal; "atonal" is just a fancy word for saying, "In spite of being played on musical instruments, it's not music"... if what you hear is truly atonal that means there is no supporting musical context and it's just no longer music, taking us back to the idea that all intervals are random before a context. There are things that have a more angular sound in isolation, but within a musical context they fit musically. For example, the first 8 bars of the head of "Just Friends" is strictly whole tone, but sounds smooth and fits perfectly. The song starts on a major chord (ma7), but attempting to hear all those subsequent notes with reference to that major chord makes no sense; those notes are connected to subsequent harmonies of other chords in a nice way despite their whole tone structure... for that matter, that first major chord's root is not even the tonic for the key of the song... the tonic key chord is sequestered from the progression until the very last chord at end of the second ending of the verse.

Maybe the confusion is that the very heart of this exercise is to find and play what was heard, but not name it; naming means attaching it to some context. That would make sense if one is meaning to identify something within a framework, context, or key, where one seeks the "answer within that framework".The purpose of the exercise is to develop multiple supporting frameworks within the student. The idea is to learn to hear multiple contexts, not names or multiple names.
Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.
#10
PlusPaul I have to agree with your definition of atonal :-)   Not sure I understand what you mean by hearing in multiple contexts.  Obviously, if a melody moves by say a b3 from one pitch to the next, then yes, we can hear that move as a b3, but if the music is has a tonal centre then each of those two pitches can be heard as making intervals with the tonal centre, as well as making other intervals against the chord of the moment.  Is that what you mean?  Out of these, which of these do you think is the most important to get to learn by ear first?

BTW: when I'm referring to theory, I'm meaning its practical application, not the whole "naming thing" ... e.g. recognising 2 m7s a tone apart are a strong indication of major key and where the tonal centre is.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Mar 15, 2017,
#11
Quote by jerrykramskoy
Is that what you mean?  Out of these, which of these do you think is the most important to get to learn by ear first?

Yes... and I'm seeing what you mean by asking which is most important. And thanks for that because it is making me have to think about that... I'm tempted to say that chord harmonies are a little more important than key center harmonies (that the relationships among chords are often stronger as well as often counter to the key center), and that melodic lines also often "slip" out of a present chord harmony to reflect the last chord or anticipate a next one... but my feeling is that this is not quite right or very incomplete. It doesn't really match up with how it feels when I'm playing.

I will have to sit with the guitar and play a bit to see if I can really untangle the relative importance of the various interval relations among the key tonic, chord  tones, and melody notes... part of my hesitation is that perception of intervals and harmonies is kind of abstract, but in theory the elements are separated... I'm not so sure these elements are separated in the abstraction...? I'll have to get back and see if what I think makes any sense.

edit - I have a rehearsal with one of my jazz bands this evening; if my playing is messed up by introspective distractions about which intervals and harmonies are most important, I will hold you to blame.  
Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.
Last edited by PlusPaul at Mar 15, 2017,
#12
PlusPaul Oh oh ... I'm sure all will be fine.  At least I hope so.  

Yes, it does get very interesting this sort of stuff.  I have been doing a lot of reading about music psychology over the last few years and that really is a huge eye opener ... how the brain, the mind, reacts and predicts pitches, and how the brain and sensorimotor system locks up with meter in rhythm, and again predicts where beats should occur ... and hence with both of these there are fun and games to be had countering the expectations.  This is why I'm more focused these days on these topics, and why it's very likely that how fighting too hard against these expectations leads to musical disappointment.  One thing mentioned quite a few times by different researchers is how randomness (be that in note choice for melody, or rhythm approach, destroys memorability, literally ... and hence quite probably means the music doesn't connect with the listeners.  Unless we are totally selfish musicians, this seems something to avoid!

Hope you have a good rehearsal.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Mar 15, 2017,
#13
 Let me know you think, and I would love to hear if you've any ideas on how to apply the concept, that I could use with my students in future. 


I have only two ideas which I can recommend to you

 

John O’Gallagher - Twelve Tone Improvisation
https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1729940


George Garzone - "The Triadic Chromatic Approach"
https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1729984
Last edited by opiekundps2015 at Mar 19, 2017,
#14
Quote by PlusPaul
Music is never atonal; "atonal" is just a fancy word for saying, "In spite of being played on musical instruments, it's not music"

So you're saying people such as Schoenberg weren't making music?
#15
Quote by The4thHorsemen
So you're saying people such as Schoenberg weren't making music?

The top of the results list from searching youtube for "Schoenberg 12 tone" is Piano Concerto, Op. 42.

Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.
#16
I'm not sure what conclusion I am supposed to draw about the piece from the lack of explanation
#17
Did you listen to it?

- if one of the musicians made a mistake, pitch or rhythm, did you know it?

- if all of the musicians made a mistake once in each bar, would you have known it?

- how far into the twenty minute piece were you before needing to hunt for some aspirin?

- if the piano part were performed by some jumpy kitty cats, how many would that take?
Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.
#18
You're projecting your experience of the music onto others. Please explain with less pathos.
#19
PlusPaul
Do the answers to those questions determine whether something is 'music' or not?

Haven't listened to that particular piece, (at work right now) but I've listened to others before. Not the kind of thing I can take in large doses, but I do enjoy that kind of thing on occasion. You start to pick up on patterns, 'themes', direction, rhythms, and dynamics that aren't random. So yes, I can tell that it's not a cat dancing on a piano. In fact I think that cat on the piano would hit more consonant notes out of random chance. For something to stray so heavily from tonality you have to purposely avoid it.

Edit: just listened to the first few minutes of that one. Wtf, the one you picked is really pleasant and enjoyable. Not nearly as chaotic as a lot of atonal music. Could also be because I fell asleep listening to Shoenberg after making that post last night. Thanks for showing it to me
Last edited by The4thHorsemen at Mar 20, 2017,
#20
I agree with The4thHorsemen, the Schoenberg piece has a strange beauty to it. Atonal music's existence is debatable (it's debated whether music can have no tonal center/key) but it's definitely music. Music can be described as "auditory art" (that's the best definition I can come up with) and nobody's truly decided what isn't art (hence the Dada movement). Anyway some people (such as John Coltrane) don't believe in "bad notes" and make great music. "Giant Steps" switches keys so rapidly that you argue that it's atonal and/or doesn't have a single key overall (seriously what key is that piece in anyway?). I'm just rambling at this point but you get the idea.
"I don't know what you're trying to suggest. There's no shame in taking what you need to hold your position!"

Super Buu (DBZ) on assimilation (it could also apply to blues guitar and guitar soloing in general).
#21
Pathos is a quality that evokes pity or sadness; which is appropriate for discussing atonal "music". The last century saw the rise and popularization of the cult of the phony art. Its object victims included painting, sculpture, and music; its underlying motive was simply competitive, "Let's destroy real art by legitimizing phony art!" It is a great pity that this junk as it was introduced was not called out as phony, and a sadness that any of it remains to be endured.

But here is a lighter approach for those wanting to understand...

It's too random; the basis of atonal is equalizing pitch class density using stacks of poly chords that strangle any musical context into cacophony and flutters of notes that have no harmonic or melodic musical meaning, the only stipulation being that the 12 tones be statistically represented.

Some will say it is "modern" or "esoteric" or "pure art". As a departure from tonality, atonal does succeed as a modern, esoteric, pure art form by simulating the product of a tone deaf composer. If atonal had been called "tone deaf music" there might have been much less confusion about it.

Ultimately I don't care; there is plenty of music in the stacks. 
Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.
#22
Just because some music does not have a tonal center like God Tonality of the Westerners doesn't mean that it's "phony art" or "music" (in quotes); tbh, this sounds like a proselytic diatribe rather than a reasoned, educated explanation.
#24
I think it's really about finding the right tool for the job.

Bernard Herrmann made some quite fitting atonal music for Alfred Hitchcock films and the Twilight Zone; been listening to quite a bit of that lately because I'm trying to learn how to make really creepy music of my own. It's actually pretty hard for me because I had to throw a lot of more traditional ideas away since it's too orderly and harmonic; disjointed rhythms and awkward intervals with long pauses seem to work as long as there's not too many things going on at the same time. If there's a purpose for using a certain composition method that works why not use it? Individual moods seem to have certain consistent patterns to achieving them rather than just trying to get it all with one rigid idea of how music is "supposed to be".

Here's part of a song I made a month ago or so; I'm not sure it's necessarily atonal, but I used twelve tone serialism(?) to compose the guitar part and just used the bass to compliment it however I wanted to with something really low- got the mood I was aiming for. Hopefully you guys use guitarpro.

I don't want to derail the thread, but if any of you have any advice on what I could do different to improve this or create more creepy music I'm all ears (or eyes because this is a message board). Actually, I've been thinking of making a thread related to this for about two years now but I'm still not sure what I'm looking for and I don't know how to explain/ask about it. Feel free to PM me if that's more appropriate.
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Quote by Jesus
Gaza Strip- home. At least it was before I fucked ereythang up...
#25
Quote by JimDawson
I think it's really about finding the right tool for the job.

Bernard Herrmann made some quite fitting atonal music for Alfred Hitchcock films and the Twilight Zone; been listening to quite a bit of that lately because I'm trying to learn how to make really creepy music of my own. It's actually pretty hard for me because I had to throw a lot of more traditional ideas away since it's too orderly and harmonic; disjointed rhythms and awkward intervals with long pauses seem to work as long as there's not too many things going on at the same time. If there's a purpose for using a certain composition method that works why not use it? Individual moods seem to have certain consistent patterns to achieving them rather than just trying to get it all with one rigid idea of how music is "supposed to be".

Here's part of a song I made a month ago or so; I'm not sure it's necessarily atonal, but I used twelve tone serialism(?) to compose the guitar part and just used the bass to compliment it however I wanted to with something really low- got the mood I was aiming for. Hopefully you guys use guitarpro.

I don't want to derail the thread, but if any of you have any advice on what I could do different to improve this or create more creepy music I'm all ears (or eyes because this is a message board). Actually, I've been thinking of making a thread related to this for about two years now but I'm still not sure what I'm looking for and I don't know how to explain/ask about it. Feel free to PM me if that's more appropriate.

Interesting that you bring this up... I originally included a paragraph in which I pointed to the "effects" nature of atonal, like the background score used in the Road Runner cartoons and others. There, it's not meant to be music, but more "sound effects" to accompany the action... I left that part out. But yes, atonal and styles "like it" are used in movies and shows in the same way, as "sound" to accompany the action - it's actually part of the set for the scene.
Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.
#26
Quote by PlusPaul
Interesting that you bring this up... I originally included a paragraph in which I pointed to the "effects" nature of atonal, like the background score used in the Road Runner cartoons and others. There, it's not meant to be music, but more "sound effects" to accompany the action... I left that part out. But yes, atonal and styles "like it" are used in movies and shows in the same way, as "sound" to accompany the action - it's actually part of the set for the scene.

Yeah, I think it's pretty neat how that works. I've heard it said that Mr. Herrmann's soundtracks are like another character in the scene; seems like a strange thing to say, but the scenes really wouldn't have the same impact without it and I think that's basically the point.

The reason I got into composing was to tell stories by creating moods and putting them together in a way that made sense for what I was trying to convey. With this approach, I have found that soundtracks for movies and video games are often exactly what I'm looking for in terms of study and tend to be quite underrated. Story writing is my best artistic skill, so I try to bring what I know about that to composing music.

That brings me to some questions: What specifically decides whether or not something is music? Where is the line between something being a bunch of sounds or music? Is it simply up to the listener to decide whether or not something is music, or can we use definitions to figure it out for certain?

Personally, I think it's all about intentionally creating whatever mood or style the composer is going for and everything else isn't necessarily relevant. Calling certain things non-musical just comes across as elitist to me- like rap isn't my bag but I still think of it as music.
Quote by Jesus
Gaza Strip- home. At least it was before I fucked ereythang up...
#27
Quote by JimDawson
Yeah, I think it's pretty neat how that works. I've heard it said that Mr. Herrmann's soundtracks are like another character in the scene; seems like a strange thing to say, but the scenes really wouldn't have the same impact without it and I think that's basically the point.

Same thing was noticed about "The X Files"... there were three main characters, the third being the sound track.
Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.