#1
I have a few questions for all you theory experts out there. I'm going to provide a little background on my playing. I will have been playing for a year in October. When I first started out, I was only worried about playing chords fast, alternate picking fast, and and learning songs. Recently, I have decided to dig deeper into theory and lead playing. My main goals are to improvise on demand, and to be able to solo. I told my guitar teacher this before I had to stop for the summer. My lessons resume on the 11th. He had me learn the the major and minor pentatonic scales, and gave me a circle diagram of the notes. I have been playing those up and down every day, and have figured out that I am wasting my time. It took me a long time to realize that hearing is a huge part of lead. Being able to hear something in your head, and spit it out on guitar is huge! Even though I can't do it, I have a basic understanding of how it works. I have been told that it is like learning a language, you learn the alphabet, learn a few sentences, and start writing paragraphs. All of this being said, I still have so much confusion and questions when it comes to moving forward. To learn a song by ear, does that come with time, or does it come with theory knowledge? Do I keep learning other people's solos until I can hear mine? What is an organized route that I could bring to my teacher? If improvising is at the top of the staircase, what are the steps that I need to take? I want to learn enough theory to understand the why, but I still believe feel is a huge part of playing. It's just hard to feel when you can't hear. It just mystifies me that people can hear a song on the radio and start playing it. What does it take to get through all of this?
#2
That is a lot to tackle in a single post!

Regarding both playing something you hear, or playing something that's in your head, try singing it out loud. Sing it slowly, and match it to notes on the guitar. I actually do exactly this when I'm trying to learn a fast passage in a song by ear. I sing the notes, one at a time, and play them on the guitar/bass.

You're not wasting your time learning scales and such. I think it's a great foundation. But the really big step comes when you are able to apply the scales, and/or notes from the scales, to your solos. This has to do with learning what scales/modes/notes sound good over particular chords, and particular chord progressions.

You don't necessarily NEED theory knowledge to learn songs by ear. But it's a bit like being able to read a language without knowing what the words actually mean (that's not a perfect analogy, but it's what I could come up with on short notice). It's quite valuable to not just be able to play something by ear, but to know WHY those particular notes work in that context, because you can then apply that to your own writing/soloing.

As an example from my own writing, I absolutely suck at writing lyrics. When I read over lyrics I've written, I inevitably think "well, there are a bunch of words, and I know the meaning, but there's no beauty there". And of course, it's because I've never studied how to write lyrics, and I've never really practiced writing lyrics. I can bang out riffs and chord progressions and such pretty naturally, but lyrics are something I would have to seriously work at (if I had the desire to write them, which luckily I usually don't).
#3
Thanks for the reply! I have heard the singing idea but I'm an awful singer. Sometimes I can hear notes in my head and they come out of my mouth distorted. I know this is a lot to tackle in one post but I have a lot to tackle in one life.
#4
the reason I am not a good guitar player is because I never learned how to read music. I think guys who rip know how to read more than just tabs/chords and at some point, usually at an early age like pre teen or young adult , have lessons or a mentor who teaches them how to read music like tempo/keys/scales/tunings etc
#5
Immersion, and exposure to pitch collections, to where you can go to them naturally. There's really no other answer.

What is this "circle diagram" that you refer to?

What has made you feel like you are wasting your time about what your teacher gave you?

At any rate, I know you are looking forward to resuming your lessons! Only a few short days! I wish you the best.

Best,

Sean
#6
The circle diagram I am referring to is just a visual map of the notes that shows how they repeat. The scales themselves aren't a waste of time but running about down endlessly made me feel like I was wasting time... What is this pitch thing you are talking about?
#7
The whole hearing part can be accomplished through a solid understanding of scales and functional harmony and listening to your favorite songs or pieces. Improvising anything that means something to you is going to most likely take some time for you. You have to learn the language of music first (the fundamentals). Scales, harmony, and how they all function. Intervals , solid understanding of time etc.
Last edited by Unreal T at Aug 4, 2014,
#8
I'm not sure if you are serious or not Hannan, but in case you are serious, that is not true at all.

There are many many very successful guitarists that did not know how to read music.

Theory knowledge won't really help you learn by ear. A good ear comes from dedicated ear training. Many guitarists developed their ear by listening to music and trying to copy it. Guys like Hendrix, Clapton, Jimmy Page etc did not read music and did not have tab or the internet to help them out. I'm pretty sure those guys were all self taught too, in that they had little to no formal teaching.

The point of bringing them up is not to encourage the abandonment of music theory but to illustrate that developing an ear and an ability to express yourself with freedom and expression on the guitar is not reliant on music theory. It takes dedicated deliberate practice.

Singing is a good way to go, but if you can't sing on pitch then it is hard to match your guitar to your voice.

Something you might want to try is to sit down for the next three months and use no tab or sheet music at all. Challenge yourself to learn a song or a couple of songs and spend a decent amount of time every day trying to mimic on the guitar what you are hearing in the song. It's probably best not to be too ambitious at first but more important than that is to learn a song you love and don't currently know how to play - a song that you won't mind listening to over and over and over and over again for the next 12 weeks.

You might find that you learn the song sooner than 12 weeks. In that case move on to another song and another. You might find that the song takes more than 12 weeks. That's fine too. Either way if you practice this way everyday for 12 weeks you will make progress and your ear will improve.

After the 12 weeks you might go back to learning by tab, or you might be so impressed with your own progress that you want to stick it out for a few more weeks, and then a few more, and then a few more until you just play everything by ear. -Well that's the dream anyway.

Improvising also takes practice. Incorporate improvisation into your practice schedule. There are a few things you can do. One is to take a simple nursery rhyme and play it over and over and over and over for about 9hours straight. Then get some sleep and wake up in the morning and do it all over again. Then on the third day, do it all over again. Okay so I'm exaggerating a little bit. But the idea is to get that melody and get so used to it that you can start to bend it and warp it and add little bits and change a few notes here and there so that it sounds completely different - yet is somehow still the same melody.

Another way you can practice improvisation is to play along to backing tracks and to songs you hear. A fun 12 bar blues to jam to is the Beatles song 'For You Blue'. There is so much room in that song it's almost as if the Beatles wanted to make a backing track for guitarists to jam along with them, and to complete the illusion they have reasonably open interlude where they add a lot of ad libs that would suit a bad ass guitar solo.

Another part of learning to improvise is learning more and more music. By learning a ton of music by other artists you are improving your finger strength and independence. Finger workouts and scale knowledge have their place but learning these things in a musical setting is a much more connected way to go about it.

There are times where you want to isolate a specific mechanic and a specific exercise might make sense. But for the most part the best way to get good at playing music is to play music. This is especially true of scales. If you want to learn the Am scale for example. Learn five or six songs in Am that have lead parts in Am. Spend far less time learning the Am scale by playing up and down the scale in different positions and more time getting those songs and the Am based solos under your fingers.

Learning the scale pattern by playing up and down and up and down teaches you to play the scale pattern up and down and up and down. Learning music that you like that uses those same notes teaches you where you can find those notes but also how those notes form hierarchical relationships with each other that can be exploited to make music.

It definitely is a lot to tackle. I'm still working on a lot of this stuff and will be for the rest of my life. it's kind of the point isn't it?

Best of Luck

EDIT - Oh and in regards to music theory - it helps. It won't get you a great ear. It won't even develop your ear unless you are actively listening for the things you are studying. It CAN help you pick things up by ear faster though.

If you know (from your study of music theory) the common relationships that occur regularly then you can go to those first and are more likely to find the note or chord you're looking for quicker. Because you'll start with the most common relationships and so you'll tend to find the right chord or note quicker. Not always - but regularly.

What music theory is good for is learning, discussing, and thinking about things you observe about the way music works and what sounds good to you. You can also learn about and discuss other people's ideas and have meaningful discussions about other people's ideas regarding the music you love. -Another way to do this is through the music itself.

Peace
Si
#9
Quote by Fret Frier
The circle diagram I am referring to is just a visual map of the notes that shows how they repeat. The scales themselves aren't a waste of time but running about down endlessly made me feel like I was wasting time... What is this pitch thing you are talking about?


Do you have a picture of this circle diagram?

A pitch collection, is basically a group of pitches. A collection. An A pentatonic minor scale, is a different set of pitches than, say a C minor scale. If you play a lot in A pentatonic minor, after trying different licks, and improvs, your ear begins to understand and anticipate where you need to go and what that pitch will be, before you even play it, by virtue that you've played it so many times, in so many ways.

It's basically familiarty via immersion. The more you play the faster association you'll have between pitches. Later when you implement other scales, like major scales and such, yes, of course, you'll further refine that pitch collection awareness.

Why are you running up and down endlessly? That seems terribly abstract.

What's the game plan for you, moving forward from here? I know your teacher is due to get you started on lessons again...

Best,

Sean
Last edited by Sean0913 at Aug 5, 2014,
#10
Quote by Fret Frier
To learn a song by ear, does that come with time, or does it come with theory knowledge?


It comes with time and dedicated practice. Theory helps you learn it faster, but the theory on its own does you al most know good.


Do I keep learning other people's solos until I can hear mine? What is an organized route that I could bring to my teacher?


Don't start with solos. Start with melodies. Start with simple melodies that you know by heart - nursery rhymes, christmas carols, movie themes, etc.

Use the functional ear trainer, a free download from miles.be.

If you want more, get "Ear Training for the Contemporary Musician" by Wyatt et al, and work through that.

The thing is, with ear training, if you weren't one of those people who developed a good ear naturally (which is mostly people who started playing music at a young age) then you have to put in the hours. Ear training is learned best in small batches, multiple times a week.

It will be hard at first. It's frustrating to, say, not be able to quickly play the Star Wars theme, which you've heard a thousand times. Just keep at it! The first time you do some of the exercises in the functional ear trainer it will feel like you're being asked questions in greek.

Do it for ten minutes, then do something else. Every day, or as close to every day as you can.
#11
Thats a good idea hotspur, I have actually learned the Star Wars Imperial March theme along with the Mario bro, and play them with ease. Sean I would show you a picture, but I'm not sure how. It's not that big of a deal, the point was that I have begun learning the notes on the neck. I have been running up and down that scale because I don't know what else to do. The hardest part of my playing has been the break In summer. Having no direction in your practice is awful. I had tried to pull from all these different websites and youtube, but I struggled to find information that was beneficial to me. I had either already learned it, or it was above my level. Maybe my head will start to clear once I get instruction. I just want to be able to clearly explain to my teacher where I am, and where I want or be.
#12
im sorry I guess its subjective and should been worded right, but to me learning notes on the neck and learning scales is reading music ...all the afore mentioned musicians like jimi etc were playing structured music ie 12-8 bar blues patterns and so forth ..they were not just improvising a jam out of key in any scale at any time. im sure if you told one of those guys to play an "e" or an a"" they would know all the scales, places on the neck and chord structures and I am certain they are playing in "time" and "tempo" with all other musicians .


just my opinion is all and I think its just celebrity boasting like oh I am a natural , I never even practice , just come to me by ear..

if you can play by ear, then get a fret-less neck and quit learning scales ..just go play by ear as you shouldnt have to learn the neck or niotes, you could just get there by sound alone ..silly really to even argue this because I think they are lying ..no one makes millions and millions of dollars at a trade and then says they dont know anything about it , they are just lucky and it comes out ..maybe they are all virtuoso or something like a prodigy , but I am telling you that its better to learn music than not like scales. keys, time/temp etc

thats like telling me the edge doesnt know how to use dotted 8th notes on his delay ..gtfo
#13
Quote by Fret Frier
I have a few questions for all you theory experts out there. I'm going to provide a little background on my playing. I will have been playing for a year in October. When I first started out, I was only worried about playing chords fast, alternate picking fast, and and learning songs. Recently, I have decided to dig deeper into theory and lead playing. My main goals are to improvise on demand, and to be able to solo. I told my guitar teacher this before I had to stop for the summer. My lessons resume on the 11th. He had me learn the the major and minor pentatonic scales, and gave me a circle diagram of the notes. I have been playing those up and down every day, and have figured out that I am wasting my time. It took me a long time to realize that hearing is a huge part of lead. Being able to hear something in your head, and spit it out on guitar is huge! Even though I can't do it, I have a basic understanding of how it works. I have been told that it is like learning a language, you learn the alphabet, learn a few sentences, and start writing paragraphs. All of this being said, I still have so much confusion and questions when it comes to moving forward. To learn a song by ear, does that come with time, or does it come with theory knowledge? Do I keep learning other people's solos until I can hear mine? What is an organized route that I could bring to my teacher? If improvising is at the top of the staircase, what are the steps that I need to take? I want to learn enough theory to understand the why, but I still believe feel is a huge part of playing. It's just hard to feel when you can't hear. It just mystifies me that people can hear a song on the radio and start playing it. What does it take to get through all of this?


As you learn more you will begin to recognize more in songs you hear on the radio etc. A lot of stuff just repeats and there are a lot of musical cliches.

for instance there are licks in the key of E where the open E and B strings are allowed to ring out and u can pick it up right away

on a song like a blues song u pretty much know it will be the 1-4-5 chords in whatever key it is in, so if u can figure out the key then u can start playing along pretty easily.

as far as hard rock type songs a LOT of them are either in the key of A or E or f#m so after a while u can start to hear that easier.

As you learn more about bands etc you learn that they use some patterns over and over. For instance Ac/DC uses the chords A-D-G in probably over 1/2 of their songs lol. So sometimes u can actually listen and play back the song and most of the solo pretty quickly

of course there are limits to what u will be able to just figure out by ear...a lot of times u will have to sit and figure it out by noodling lol. Also when u say people just start to play along with the radio, sometimes they just figure out what key it is and they start playing a lead in that key...thats actually really easy and isnt the same as actually figuring out the exact parts of the song just by hearing them.

-----------------

as far as actual theory...that is a huge subject and it can be broken down into different sections.

for example you could have, say, "fretboard knowledge" where we are talking about learning the various chord types and various different scale shapes and other patterns

Then we might have something we call "chord construction" where we learn the formulas for the various chords and also how to construct all the chords from a major scale etc. Then later u get into modes and how they differ from regular major/minor scales.

As far as the "pros" go, there are different levels of theory knowledge.Some are really heavy theory guys and some simply arent.

Guys like Vai and Satriani both went to music school so obviously they are on the heavy theory end of things.

Other guys like VanHalen or George Lynch might be more self taught (even though Eddie had piano lessons as a kid.) Halen and Lynch often play symmetrical patterns that dont fall neatly into this scale or that. Sometimes they just use fingerings that fall easily under the fingers so that they can play fast and they dont worry too much about if it fits this scale or not.

I doubt very many rock guitarists know how to actually read music because they really dont have a need to unless they are going to be a serious session player etc.

Some players know concepts but might not know the exact names etc. In an interview with Ritchie Kotzen and Nuno Bettencourt, Richie said "I dont know how anyone can NOT understand the modal system" and Nuno said "whats that?" lol. Eventually it turns out that Nuno knows various shapes of the scales etc but he isnt using the term "modal"

On the Eric Johnson video he was describing a Dorian shape but he didnt know the name of it. He obviously knows how to play but he might not be a super theory guy.A lot of guys might play "13th" chords but cant tell u why they are called that

A lot of guys get going with barre chords and major/minor chords and pentatonic scales and they start making music and thats it. For instance u could listen to a bands whole catalogue and not hear, say, 1 diminished chord...whereas a band like SymphonyX would feature a lot of complicated chord structures. So it varies from instance to instance

me personally I started learning music theory right away. I think the more u know the more u can do...the more options u have

one way to begin learning is to note when u hear something u like and set about to figure out what it is and why it sounds cool
Last edited by JohnProphet at Aug 6, 2014,
#14
Quote by JohnProphet
As you learn more you will begin to recognize more in songs you hear on the radio etc. A lot of stuff just repeats and there are a lot of musical cliches.

for instance there are licks in the key of E where the open E and B strings are allowed to ring out and u can pick it up right away

on a song like a blues song u pretty much know it will be the 1-4-5 chords in whatever key it is in, so if u can figure out the key then u can start playing along pretty easily.

as far as hard rock type songs a LOT of them are either in the key of A or E or f#m so after a while u can start to hear that easier.

As you learn more about bands etc you learn that they use some patterns over and over. For instance Ac/DC uses the chords A-D-G in probably over 1/2 of their songs lol. So sometimes u can actually listen and play back the song and most of the solo pretty quickly

of course there are limits to what u will be able to just figure out by ear...a lot of times u will have to sit and figure it out by noodling lol. Also when u say people just start to play along with the radio, sometimes they just figure out what key it is and they start playing a lead in that key...thats actually really easy and isnt the same as actually figuring out the exact parts of the song just by hearing them.

-----------------

as far as actual theory...that is a huge subject and it can be broken down into different sections.

for example you could have, say, "fretboard knowledge" where we are talking about learning the various chord types and various different scale shapes and other patterns

Then we might have something we call "chord construction" where we learn the formulas for the various chords and also how to construct all the chords from a major scale etc. Then later u get into modes and how they differ from regular major/minor scales.

As far as the "pros" go, there are different levels of theory knowledge.Some are really heavy theory guys and some simply arent.

Guys like Vai and Satriani both went to music school so obviously they are on the heavy theory end of things.

Other guys like VanHalen or George Lynch might be more self taught (even though Eddie had piano lessons as a kid.) Halen and Lynch often play symmetrical patterns that dont fall neatly into this scale or that. Sometimes they just use fingerings that fall easily under the fingers so that they can play fast and they dont worry too much about if it fits this scale or not.

I doubt very many rock guitarists know how to actually read music because they really dont have a need to unless they are going to be a serious session player etc.

Some players know concepts but might not know the exact names etc. In an interview with Ritchie Kotzen and Nuno Bettencourt, Richie said "I dont know how anyone can NOT understand the modal system" and Nuno said "whats that?" lol. Eventually it turns out that Nuno knows various shapes of the scales etc but he isnt using the term "modal"

On the Eric Johnson video he was describing a Dorian shape but he didnt know the name of it. He obviously knows how to play but he might not be a super theory guy.A lot of guys might play "13th" chords but cant tell u why they are called that

A lot of guys get going with barre chords and major/minor chords and pentatonic scales and they start making music and thats it. For instance u could listen to a bands whole catalogue and not hear, say, 1 diminished chord...whereas a band like SymphonyX would feature a lot of complicated chord structures. So it varies from instance to instance

me personally I started learning music theory right away. I think the more u know the more u can do...the more options u have

one way to begin learning is to note when u hear something u like and set about to figure out what it is and why it sounds cool


pretty much said, give or take this or that, what i was trying to spit out very eloquently - very good post !

just from life and knowing really good guitar players, one thing was a common factor; all acted like they never practiced etc etc but the one dude has hashbrown fingertips from playing so much - and after getting to know his family/dad, found out he had lessons as a kid, was tought stuff by dad and friends who also played in working bands. start seeing all kinds of guitar magazines and tabs in his room, metronome etc etc got into theory such as shuffle beats, texas shuffles, slow blues 8 bars, 12 bar blues progressions , swings, picking attacks, turnarounds and all kinds of other things like appregios, sweep picking , finger tapping , double stops , changes in keys , 1/3s , minors , majors , octaves - found out he studied film and went to concerts a lot to watch the guitarists play it and copy where they had there fingers on the neck and the tricks they did. so his eyes were just as important as his ears.

so when he "listened" to a song, any song, and could play it all the way through in 10 minutes , I knew why.

love this Buddy Guy instructional guitar lesson and theory - go inside the brain of Buddy Guy, listen to what he says at the 13:25-15:00 minute mark about being self taught and playing with a live drummer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTzz1i-xDyM


Here is a great lesson and some awesome inside info into how stev got his start, how he works on stuff etc etc in contrast to a guy like Buddy, he starts talking at 6:30 minute mark, very insightful, invaluable information for any guitarist at any level . Steve Via is one very cool dude, sagacious advice. At the 16:00 mark Via goes into developing your ear, and how important it is, absolutely love it:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7pJ6jeXTT4


so in summary , I totally agree you should learn by listening to music and copying it. I think if you get the chance to learn how to read music do it! or learn as many tricks and styles and theories available , learn time and tempo so you can play with other instruments in a band!
Last edited by Hannan at Aug 6, 2014,