#1
I'm a self taught player of six years, never had a lesson because I'm always struggling to make ends meet. I really struggle writing songs with anything other than the same old first position chords, C-G-F, A-E-D etc.

What I really want to learn how to do is know what barre chords to use and where, with what other chords. I just want to learn what sounds good together. Like my guitar heroes, Elliott Smith and John Darnielle, do. I'm sick of only knowing 6 chords. But I can't really find the exact part of music theory that caters to what I'm talking about. Can anyone help me?
#2
Learn the notes on the low E string and the A string.

These strings will be the roots of the barre chords. Root means the note a chord is bult on.

An E shape barre at the 5th fret will be an A chord because the 5th fret on the E is an A note.

Next I'd learn about scales/keys. If you harmonize the A Major scale you get A Bm C#m D E F#m and G#dim. Stuff like that.

I should say that you'll be playing the same chords you can play open as barre chords. Most songs use a couple of tried and true progressions.
#3
You're confused about music theory and playing guitar. The theory is pretty much completely independent of the instrument that it's played on. If a song calls for a D chord to be played, it's ok to use an open D, any kind of D barre chord, or any other way of playing the notes of a D chord. It's pretty much up to how you want to play it. If you're trying to copy how someone else played the song on a guitar exactly like they did it, that's one thing. But, you're free to treat a song any way you want. That's part of the fun of making it your own.

In fact, Arrangements, is considered a whole category of work you can do on a song. If you look at published pieces of music you'll often see the same song "arranged by" so-and-so. That is some individual's personal take on a particular song just given the general outline of the song (typically what you'd see in a Fake book). Person A's arrangement can be way different the Person B's arrangement.
#4
Thank you both for your answers. Duane, I'm amazed I've never noticed how useful it would be to know the root notes. However I still have the trouble of making (for example) an A barre chord on the 5th fret of the low E that goes with the open position E major chord. Like, I wouldn't know whether it's an A minor type shape of barre chord or an E Major shape barre chord that I'm supposed to make. That's the next step of trouble after knowing the root notes.

Edg, music theory has fucked my head entirely from not having a teacher. I learn all this shit about constructing triads and removing this finger and that finger to create the relative minor, and I just have no idea what relevance it has to the writing of songs or the creation of progressions and melodies.
#5
Quote by Jazz101


Edg, music theory has fucked my head entirely from not having a teacher. I learn all this shit about constructing triads and removing this finger and that finger to create the relative minor, and I just have no idea what relevance it has to the writing of songs or the creation of progressions and melodies.


If you're writing your own songs you can do whatever you want. That's the bottom line. If it's how you want it to sound, that's perfectly ok.

As far as the theory goes, you can look at in 2 different ways:

1) After the song is written. Theory can help explain why it sounds the way it does.
2) Before the song is written. Theory can help structure the song and assist in generating new ideas.

That's about all that theory does in regard to song writing, but there's one more thing: communication. If you want to write down that song that other people can read it and play it, you need to know some theory so that's it's written in an understandable way. Theory is kind of the common language between people that play music.
#6
One more thing:

If you're confusion is coming about because you don't understand why moving a G Barre chord at the 3rd fret up to the 5th fret to give an A barre chord, that's not really theory all that much. It's really just understanding how the notes on the guitar are arranged.

It might help to compare it to a piano. A piano is a linear instrument. If you want to play a middle C, there's only one place on the keyboard that you will find middle C. However, on the guitar there's multiple places you will find the same note.

You might think that makes it easier to play piano, but it doesn't. It actually makes it harder. For example if you want to play a C major and a D major scale on the piano, you have to learn 2 completely different fingering patterns. On the guitar, easy! Just slide that C major scale up 2 frets and you have a D major scale. That's the beauty of the guitar tuning. It becomes a lot more about recognizing patterns than memorizing lots of different fingerings.

You need the theory to understand what scales are and how chords are formed, but sliding a given pattern up and down the neck, is just knowing how the guitar is tuned.
#7
Quote by Jazz101
Edg, music theory has fucked my head entirely from not having a teacher. I learn all this shit about constructing triads and removing this finger and that finger to create the relative minor, and I just have no idea what relevance it has to the writing of songs or the creation of progressions and melodies.


If it's talking about "removing a finger" it's not about music theory.

As others have said, you really need to learn (at the very least) all the notes on the two lowest strings. You then learn how to do E- and A- shaped barre chords, both major and minor, with the root on both of those strings. You practice until it's easy.

As far as songwriting, the best I can tell you is that trying to write "by theory" tends not to lead to great results. I think the most useful way to use theory to help you to write songs is to use theory to learn concepts, internalize those concepts aurally, and then let them naturally come out in your songwriting.

The challenge is that, while theory can be learned quickly (you can learn the basics in a week or two) your ear can only be trained slowly. So people try to take the short road, and the results are underwhelming.

Instead, good songwriters tend to hear the idea in their head - there's a sound they want on their guitar, and they hunt around on the guitar until they find it. The better-developed your ear is, the more complex ideas you'll hear in your head, and the easier it'll be to find them on your guitar.

But if you can't hear an idea in practice - if you can't say "Oh, he's going to the IV chord there -" when you hear a song, then you won't be able to hear it in your head.

So I'd recommend two things. The first is developing your ear. The best tool I found for that was the functional ear trainer, a free download from miles.be. You should also transcribe music - start with simple stuff that you know by heart like nursery rhymes or christmas carols. (You'll probably find it frustrating if you sit down to try to play "the star wars theme" on your guitar and find it extremely difficult. That's okay. This is a skill you have to learn).

The second thing is a book: "Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles" by Dominic Pedler. This is a practical theory book. What it does is introduce concepts gradually, one at a time, using lots of examples (that you probably already know) from the Beatles catalog. So you start with a chapter in the V-I, which is probably the easiest concept to get in your head. And the next chapter introduced the IV chord, and how that relates to the V-I. And the next chapter adds the iv, and so on. The point is: it's trying to teach you these concepts.

But those concepts won't be very useful unless you also develop your ear.
#8
Quote by Jazz101
I'm a self taught player of six years, never had a lesson because I'm always struggling to make ends meet. I really struggle writing songs with anything other than the same old first position chords, C-G-F, A-E-D etc.

What I really want to learn how to do is know what barre chords to use and where, with what other chords. I just want to learn what sounds good together. Like my guitar heroes, Elliott Smith and John Darnielle, do. I'm sick of only knowing 6 chords. But I can't really find the exact part of music theory that caters to what I'm talking about. Can anyone help me?
There's three areas of knowledge here, essentially:

1. Fretboard knowledge. Not the note names necessarily, but patterns and shapes, which can be developed from what you already know in open (1st) position.

2. Music theory. The names for those sounds, and formulas and concepts for how the sounds work together.

3. Ear training. First of all, being able to hear what's right and wrong.
Secondly, being able to assess all the different kinds of "right" that there are (which depend on context).
Thirdly, being to find the "right kind of right" when you want it (which ties back to #1, of course ).

You don't actually need books for any of this - although they can help.

Take fretboard knowledge. You can look at that F chord and see that it's really the same shape as an E, just moved up 1 fret (and the open strings filled in).
You can look at a D chord and see that the top 3 strings are the same shape as that part of a C chord moved up 2 frets (and the open strings filled in).
You can look at an A chord and see how strings 4-3-2 are the open strings of G chord moved up 2 frets.
So - now you know some fundamental theory (here comes point#2): there's 1 fret between E and F; there's 2 frets between C-D and G-A. A further investigation of root notes will establish how B sits in the series and how they all relate to the octave:
A - B C - D - E F - G - A, etc
(The sharps and flats are the missing frets in between.)
Now you can (if you want to) work out any note on any fret, by counting up any string - just applying that formula (starting the cyclical formula from whichever note is the open string).

You can also look at an Am chord see how it differs from A major. That 2nd string is 1 fret lower. That is the "minor" difference. Same difference between Em and E major, or Dm and D major. One note, one fret lower. ("Minor" just means "smaller", and refers to the reduced distance between the chord root and that note.)
Listen to that difference too, of course. (Learn to recognise it when you hear it in songs.)

So these are all ways you can actually use your instrument, and your current knowledge (those chord names are already theoretical terms), to expand both your fretboard knowledge and your theory understanding. Without any input from elsewhere.
You want a Bm? You now know how to do that. Take an Am shape and move it up 2 frets, filling in the open strings (2 frets up).
You want a Cm? C is 1 fret above B, so a Cm chord is 1 fret above a Bm.
Alternatively, you could take a C chord and lower its "3rd" - if you know which note that is. If you don't, a little experimentation will lead you to x-3-1-0-1-? - but then you realise that the top E open string can't be lowered, so that makes an open position Cm awkward (x-3-1-0-1-3 is possible, but a nasty stretch).
But then you might take that first Cm chord you made just now (x-3-5-5-4-3), remember the "Am-A" relationship (2nd string difference), and realise you could make a C major, by raising that 2nd string: x-3-5-5-5-3 = C major.

What's happening now is you're exploring the "CAGED" system of fretboard mapping - by which all those 5 1st position major shapes can be transferred up the neck - in barre or movable versions. You can read about CAGED if you like, but equally you can discover it all for yourself (as most of us folk of a certain age did many years ago ).

As for that aspect of music theory which covers how chords work together - most musicians tend to discover all that by just learning to play songs. Songs are practical demonstrations of music theory concepts. (I mean, obviously that's not the main point of them! - but you can treat them like that if you want.) Who needs the concepts when you have the songs? Songwriters tend not to read books. (Paul McCartney would probably learn a lot of surprising things from reading Dominic Pedler's book - and much of it would still leave him baffled, and probably not caring. "Wow, is that what I did? Who'd have thought it!" )
What they do is copy other songwriters as much as they can, and fill the gaps by experimenting.
Naturally, learning that way is great for you ear too. The best ear training you can get is trying to learn songs entirely by ear - or failing that, working from tab or chord charts and really checking that they sound correct.

If you want a handy one page chart for which chords belong in a key (and therefore work well together) use this:

Treat it as a circle of chords (not keys, which is what it was designed for).
1. Chords next to each other go well together.
2. Take any of the major chords in the outer circle as a "tonic" (key chord). The other two major chords in that key are on either side. The three minor chords in the key are inside those three. So the six main chords in one key are in one 6-chord quarter segment of the circle. (You can ignore the vii chord, the "diminished", as practically nobody uses it. You get them in jazz, but that's different.... )

Remember you're not prohibited from using chords outside those six. The further you get away from those six, the more "out" the chord will sound - but sometimes that's an effect you want. The quarter-circle is the training wheels on your bike: get used to those, then stretch out as soon as you dare...
(One tip for how to use "outside" chords is to look for the minor version of one of your three majors, elsewhere in the circle, and play around with the chords neighbouring that minor chord. Lots of cool stuff there....)

A handy physical tool you can use, based on that circle (developed a little from it), is the chord wheel:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0634021427/
Last edited by jongtr at Oct 13, 2015,
#9
Jazz101, you need to realise four things:

1/ The chords you use are made of pitches found at various "distances" (aka intervals) from the chord root. That is, they are relative to the root. Change the root (i.e move the chord shape) and keep the shape the same, the same relationships are kept from the root to the other pitches ... this means you get the same flavour of sound, just higher or lower (e.g. E vs F vs G ..., or Em vs Fm, vs Gm ..)

2/ Often, an interval is repeated in another octave, using other strings, so a chord may have a root, and two other roots, one and two octaves higher (think of the E major chord), and two "fifths" an octave apart, and a "major third". So long as the chord has a root, at least one major third, and at least one fifth, you have a major triad. If it has minor third(s) instead of major thirds, it's a minor triad. (min 3rd = 3 semitones = 3 frets on same string. Similarly, maj 3rd = 4 semitones and 5th = 7 semitones. So if you play for example, open string, then 4th fret, then 7th fret, you've just apreggiated a major triad on one string. If you started at the 3rd fret, then you'd play 3rd, 7th, and 10th frets to keep same distances from the start note. Etc. Doesn't matter which string you do this on. The maj triad would be named by the pitch you chose for your start note.

3/ These various intervals each have a one to a few simple shapes on the neck. These can be mastered in literally 5 minutes a day, over a week or so. You'll soon recognise them visually in chord shapes.

4/ These interval shapes are entirely determined by how the guitar is tuned.

Take a look at http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/the_basics/drastically_reduce_learning_time_with_intervals_part_2.html and follow on lessons. They may clear things up for you.

If you like, send me a private message, and I will shortly let you have a link to some videos I'm creating to go with a software product I've been working on for the last few years in my spare time ... I guarantee these will sort out any confusion you have. It's a very different approach to the norm. The whole lot is a going public for beta-trials shortly, including web site and a few lessons. When it does, I'll send you the details.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Oct 19, 2015,
#10
I'll save you the clutter:

1) learn the C major scale
2) learn the harmonized major scale in triads
3) learn how chords are named in relation to the major scale intervals (i.e. learn what major and minor third means etc.)
4)learn how to name chord progressions using the roman numeral system - II, V, I.
5) analyse a few simple songs using that system.
6) experiment using the chords from the major scale to write riffs.
7) then do everything else suggested above in this thread.
Last edited by reverb66 at Oct 20, 2015,