#1
Hi guys,

I've been playing for like 3 years now acoustic guitar and I've never really cared to jump into music theory until lately. I started learning through youtube and I've gotten the basics so far I believe.

This made me question something. Since a long time now I've built a habit of trying to improvise over songs I'm listening to whenever I'm on the computer and my guitar is on my lap, which really helped me technically, I can play notes over songs that sound like they belong to the scale but I don't even know what key they're at, it's becoming a second nature for my hands and ears but my brain knows nothing about it. How can I play the right notes over almost the whole fretboard when I gave up learning scale shapes and haven't tried to figure out the key or anything?
#2
You have learned certain shapes/licks by just playing songs and using your ears (basically by imitating your favorite musicians - this is how most blues, rock, jazz and folk musicians learned to play before those genres became more "academic", and many still do, though there's the internet and everybody has access to a lot of information so being self-taught is easier today). You don't need to know theory to improvise. This is also how you learned to speak - you imitated other people and learned the language that way.

Theory is there to support your ear. It is not there to tell you what you should do, it just tells you what's common and names the sounds that you hear in music. Many people have learned the sounds without learning the explanations. There are plenty of musicians that don't know much theory (that of course doesn't mean you shouldn't learn theory).

You know music by ear so you basically already know what works. If you want to learn theory, all you need to do is learn the explanations for those sounds.

What you could do is record some of your solos and figure out how the notes you play are related to the chords (learning about intervals will help). Also, learn about keys and chord functions.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Aug 9, 2016,
#3
You're actually at the perfect point to start learning theory because it will put names to the faces and help you break new ground.

Functional theory will help you avoid endlessly repeating yourself and will help you understand what options are available and how each will sound. Basic theory is really easy to grasp if you already have your ear somewhat developped.

Knowing your basic major and minor scales, how chords are constructed, harmonized major scale, and chord progression analysis ( II,V, I) along with the modes really opens the door to a lot of new sounds.

Theory becomes more and more important depending on the style you're looking to play. I guarantee you that you would be completely lost within about 5 seconds of trying to play over a modern jazz tune by Kurt Rosenwinkel or even a classic like Giant Steps - you need a lot of knowledge to even naviguate those waters in a barely functional way.
#5
aymenjp

It's not just fun ... it's addictive ... and eventually you'll realise you can play any note against any chord, and make it sound good. A solid understanding of strong and weak beats is needed for that, along with understanding tone tendencies, and use of chord tones.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 12, 2016,
#6
Quote by aymenjp
How can I play the right notes over almost the whole fretboard when I gave up learning scale shapes and haven't tried to figure out the key or anything?
Firstly, you're doing the right thing in working by ear primarily.

Secondly - "almost" the whole fretboard? Why not the whole fretboard? All you need to do is - er - learn the fretboard . Don't go back to scale shapes (you probably know enough of those): learn chord shapes, and learn the notes. Seriously, you have to know your whole instrument, and you have to know it thoroughly. You might as well start now. (You realise everything repeats after fret 12? So if you only know frets 0-12, then you do know the whole fretboard...)
You will find that if you can play the chords of a song anywhere on the fretboard, that forms a map you can follow when improvising - it all comes from the chords.

Thirdly - theory will help, but you need to treat it carefully, Use it to support what your ear is telling you, not to correct it - because your ear is always right. Remember basic theory starts simple, but even simple music can be complicated theoretically. If music sounds OK, it's not breaking any rules, but it does often follow a lot of obscure ones.
Last edited by jongtr at Aug 13, 2016,
#7
aymenjp

Sound advice by jongtr (no pun intended).

Very important that you realise theory is purely a description of what elements of music have been used very successfully before,/now(ish) by great composers and improivisers. Theory is NOT saying "thou shalt play this or burn in hell". The reason it's worth paying attention to is that these guys have/are making music that sounds good.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 13, 2016,
#8
Quote by jongtr
Firstly, you're doing the right thing in working by ear primarily.

Secondly - "almost" the whole fretboard? Why not the whole fretboard? All you need to do is - er - learn the fretboard . Don't go back to scale shapes (you probably know enough of those): learn chord shapes, and learn the notes. Seriously, you have to know your whole instrument, and you have to know it thoroughly. You might as well start now. (You realise everything repeats after fret 12? So if you only know frets 0-12, then you do know the whole fretboard...)
You will find that if you can play the chords of a song anywhere on the fretboard, that forms a map you can follow when improvising - it all comes from the chords.

Thirdly - theory will help, but you need to treat it carefully, Use it to support what your ear is telling you, not to correct it - because your ear is always right. Remember basic theory starts simple, but even simple music can be complicated theoretically. If music sounds OK, it's not breaking any rules, but it does often follow a lot of obscure ones.


I used "almost" but really it's actually the whole fretboard, I know quite a bit about chord but I'll try to expand my library thanks for the advice guys.

I wanted to know something cos it's really confusing me. Let's say some song is in the key of G, then the chords can be found out quite easily, but when it comes to the melody for example, there are plenty of scales that could be playing, that could have the same notes but different root notes, why does the name of the scale matter in this case? if they all have the same notes cos they're in the same key?
#9
Quote by aymenjp
I used "almost" but really it's actually the whole fretboard, I know quite a bit about chord but I'll try to expand my library thanks for the advice guys.

I wanted to know something cos it's really confusing me. Let's say some song is in the key of G, then the chords can be found out quite easily, but when it comes to the melody for example, there are plenty of scales that could be playing, that could have the same notes but different root notes, why does the name of the scale matter in this case? if they all have the same notes cos they're in the same key?

If the scales have the same notes and the song is in the key of G, you are always playing some kind of a G scale. I know you are talking about modes. Just forget about them for now.

If the song is in the key of G major, the scale with the notes G A B C D E and F# will always be called G major. Now, if G wasn't our "home chord" (tonic is the proper name for this), then it wouldn't be called G major any more. For example the same notes can also be called the E minor scale. But it is only called the E minor scale if the song is in the key of E minor (which means Em feels like the tonic/"home chord").

If you are playing over a G major progression, your "root note" is always G. You can't play the E minor scale over G major because it will not sound like E minor - it will sound like G major. And the same applies to E minor - you can't play the G major scale over E minor because it won't sound like G major.

The key is what gives the notes their functions. In the key of E minor, F# will sound like the major 2nd; and in the key of G major, F# will sound like the major 7th. This is why the same set of notes has many different names - they get different functions based on the key, and G major and E minor sound pretty different (and there are other "flavors" too that are not as common - these are the modes, but just forget about them for now).

But yeah, remember that it's harmony that determines how everything sounds. If you play over a chord progression in G major, you can't make it sound like E minor. And if you play over a chord progression in E minor, you can't make it sound like G major. You would need to change the chords if you wanted the notes in the G major scale to sound like E minor (or vice versa). (For example Em-Am-B7-Em is a good example of a simple progression in E minor and G-C-D7-G is a good example of a simple progression in G major. Try the same notes over both progressions and you'll notice a clear difference between them.)

It may make more sense if you compare E major and E minor to each other. You can notice a clear difference between them, they have way different "flavors" (you may have heard that "minor sounds sad, major sounds happy" which is of course a generalization, but I think it's an easy way of understanding the differences between major and minor keys). But compare some different major keys to each other, for example C major and F major, and you notice that they all sound basically the same - they all have the same "flavor".

This is why we need both G major and E minor, even though they are the same notes. They are relative keys because they share the same notes, but they are not the same thing - they sound quite different. (But as I said, it's all about harmony, not about scales. Harmony is what defines whether you are in E minor or G major.)
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Aug 15, 2016,
#10
@MaggaraMarine that makes sense thanks for explaining ! ^^
#11
Quote by aymenjp
I used "almost" but really it's actually the whole fretboard, I know quite a bit about chord but I'll try to expand my library thanks for the advice guys.

I wanted to know something cos it's really confusing me. Let's say some song is in the key of G, then the chords can be found out quite easily, but when it comes to the melody for example, there are plenty of scales that could be playing, that could have the same notes but different root notes, why does the name of the scale matter in this case? if they all have the same notes cos they're in the same key?
As MM explains, a lot of this not actually about what you can or can't play, but about what you call it. It's the terminology that confuses a lot of people, because some of it gets used in ambiguous ways. (Some terms have two or three quite valid meanings, but they get tossed around carelessly out of context, and applied in the wrong places.)

"Key of G" means G sounds like the keynote, the home note of the song. Also (if we assume G major), then a G major chord is the home chord, the "tonic".
In the simplest kind of music, the song will use notes and chords harmonised from the G major scale. G, C, D, Em, Am, Bm. (I doubt you'll ever see F#dim, but it's possible.) Probably the song will start on G; more likely it will end on G. That's how it sounds finished anyhow.

The sound of the scale is a little different depending on what chord you're playing over. This is where some people get distracted by modes. In theory, you can attach a different modal name to each chord, to describe the sound of the scale on each chord. But in practice that's usually a waste of time: the terms are meaningless, really, because everything is "in the key of G". IOW, the governing modal sound is "G ionian". The others don't really get a look in. No chord is going to last long enough to take away the sense of key from G. If it does - then a mode name might make sense. Eg, if you find your G major key song features a Bm chord that lasts for 8 bars, then the G major scale is going to assume a very "B phrygian" sound over it. Your ear might start to forget that the key was G, and starting hearing B as its new keynote. But how often do you see any non-tonic chord lasting that long in any song?
In truth, a Bm chord in key of G is "the iii chord in G major" - not "the i chord in B phrygian". I.e, we call it the way it sounds. Unless it sounds like its own tonal centre - its own "key" - then the Bm chord is not "phrygian" in any useful sense. And if the Bm really does sound like the key chord... then we're not in Kansas any more...

You certainly don't need to change your G major scale pattern when you get to the Bm chord. You don't need to find a "B phrygian" pattern (it doesn't exist anyway). What you DO need to be aware of is the Bm chord tones (arpeggio) within any G major pattern you're using. That might you mean you instinctively choose a pattern where you can see a Bm chord shape within it (ie based on 2nd fret or 7th fret); that's OK, but ideally you'll see those notes (B-D-F#) in all your G major patterns. Or indeed anywhere on the fretboard. That's because, when improvising, the chord tones are your "inside" notes; the other notes are passing notes, or tension notes.

An important complication is that many songs (perhaps most) use chords and notes from outside the main key scale. Eg, a song in key of G major will often have an F chord in it. Maybe sometimes Bb, Eb, Cm, E, or A, etc. They obviously don't fit the G major scale, and it does make note choice more difficult. Usually, it's enough to know the notes in the chord itself, and just use other G major scale notes as passing notes. I.e., you bend the key scale to fit. In blues, that's standard practice anyway! (We take a G minor pentatonic and bend it around to fit the G C and D major chords.) It's much the same process in taking a G major scale and bending it fit to any "rogue" chord that might appear.
It does get more subtle in jazz, but then if you're playing jazz you'll be studyng lots of jazz classics anyway, and getting to understand how all those chord changes work, what those odd chords are doing there in the first place....
The central point is - follow the chords. They are your guide, whatever type of music, and however complicated it is.
Last edited by jongtr at Aug 16, 2016,