How To Apply Basic Theory To Soloing And Songwriting

For this lesson I will be showing you some examples of theory being applied to songwriting and soloing in order to help out with you understand of how to use theory. Knowledge and wisdom are different. I'm not wise and don't know much but I'll do what I can.

1
Right then. For this lesson I'll use two easily recognizable modes, Ionian and Aolian, for examples of theory. These modes are better known as natural major and natural minor (respectively).
Up and down the natural minor scale
E||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
G||------------------|-----------7---9--||--9---7---------------------------|
D||---------------7--|--9---10----------||--------10--9--7------------------|
A||---7---9--10------|------------------||------------------10--9---7-------|
E||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
 
Up and down the natural Major scale
E||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
G||------------------|------6----8---9--||--9---8---6-----------------------|
D||-----------6---7--|--9---------------||------------9--7---6--------------|
A||---7---9----------|------------------||----------------------9---7-------|
E||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
Now these scales may not mean much to you, but bear with me and I'll explain. Using the notes in these modes/scales allows you to get a certain sound when you you certain notes. For example, there are notes in the natural minor scale that when playing along with each other in a piece of music can most likely produce a sad or mournful overtone. And there are notes in the natural major scale that can most likely produce bright or happy overtones to what you are playing. By carefully selecting which notes in the scale you play you can make the most of the sound of a scale or even in some cases change the expected to your liking. A mode or scale isn't like a rule-book, but rather a book of suggestions of what you can do if you want to get a certain result. Like how jumping gets you higher up and crouching makes you lower in general. One song most people know is "don't stop Believing" by Journey. I'll show you how the entire song was based of the natural major scale in E.
E||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
G||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
D||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
A||--------------2---|--4--6--4---------||-6--7--0-------6--7---------------|
E||-0------2--4------|------------------||--------------------0-------------|
This is the main riff of the song. Now here's the natural major scale in that key below this text. Recognize the frets mentioned? This shows that the song was written using the natural minor scale to achieve it's happy-no-matter-what tone. Using this scale for the solo will achieve a solo with the perfect tone for the song. That's what Neil Schon does.
E||------------------|------------------||--------------9-11-12-------------|
B||------------------|------------------||------9-10-12---------------------|
G||------------------|-----------6-8-9--||-9-11-----------------------------|
D||------------------|-----6-7-9--------||----------------------------------|
A||-------0-2-4-6-7--|-7-9--------------||----------------------------------|
E||-0-2-4------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
Now if you want to write a song that sounds happy, it's probable a good idea to use at least some of the notes from this scale. The next example I'll show you is a metal-head anthem written by ozzy osbourne and the late guitar hero Randy Rhoads. This song is "Crazy Train".
Opening Riff                               Main Riff
E||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
B||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
G||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
D||------------------|--------9-9--11-11||----------------------------------|
A||-4-4------7-7--2-2|-4-4----7-7--9--9-||-----4---5--2---2-------2---------|
E||-2-2------5-5--0-0|-2-2--------------||-2-2---2--2---2---5-4-5---5-4-0---|

Verse riff
E||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
B||------------------|------5-------5---||------3------2--------------------|
G||------------------|------6-------4---||------2------2--------------------|
D||-9-------11-------|------7-------6---||------4------2--------------------|
A||-7-------9--------|-0000----0000-----||-0000---0000----------------------|
E||------------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
This isn't a crazy train lesson/tab so I'll stop here, but you'll understand why I've put that there in a minute. This song uses the aolien/natural minor scale in F#. Here's that scale below this text. If you want to live out the fantasy of many a long-haired teenager like myself and pretend for a brief few minutes that you are Randy Rhoads, then use this scale for the solo and there's very little to go wrong.
E||------------------|------------------||-------------------12-14----------|
B||------------------|------------------||----------12-14-15----------------|
G||------------------|--------------9-11||-11-13-14-------------------------|
D||-------------2-4--|-4-6-7-9-11-12----||----------------------------------|
A||-------2-4-5------|------------------||----------------------------------|
E||-2-4-5------------|------------------||----------------------------------|
This shows that if you want to get a song written that really oozes regret and pain then using the aolien/natural minor scale is probably a good idea. Notice also that they didn't just follow the scale as it was written, and bear this in mind when you are soling or songwriting in the future. That's all for now apart from this last little tip. Blending all the different techniques you know together can have truly brilliant results if done properly, and you will find some songs have a key change somewhere in them; don't be discouraged if you solos suddenly sound wrong, it just means that you key has to change as well. Take care guys, and have fun writing whatever twisted and warped melodies you feel like writing. I know I will. See ya!

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    pHiLLa
    very good lesson! I have no musical knowledge what so ever and i actually understood this! ! i just need to learn the finer details about scales/modes and all those stuff! but great lesson! =D
    Kaze12
    Ok, ive been going through your lesson man and i have to admit. Of all the places ive been this is the most detailed lesson yet. I actually understand what youre saying.Im starting to feel like a real guitar player. I just wanna show my appreciation for the lessons and please do keep it up..
    fafahrd
    hey experts. LeoKisomma, did what he said he would do, he got us started on relating the key of the piece to the notes of the scale, to applying them in a song. He did not say he wanted to lecture us about modes or even scales, he just gave examples, and he did use them correctly. A beginners piece, that makes you want to search for more info. Obviously this is an intro, and a lot more study of scales, chord and song structure and why a song key is named are in order. None the less, Good work LeoKisomma.
    LeoKisomma
    I wrote the lesson specifically so it uses the modes that match natural major and natural minor, which are two scales/modes that can be easily recognized. I agree that modes are quite tough for a beginner to pick up but that's because they find it hard to work out how it's applied. That's what I tried to do with this lesson. The ionian mode uses the same pattern of notes as the natural major scale and the aeolian mode uses the same pattern of notes as the natural minor scale. By referring to these as modes as well then it's easier for some to understand how moving the root can change the sound if the pattern remains the same. But that's my opinion. I do the best I can.
    rockingamer2
    Modes are hardly a beginner's concept. Yes, modes are constructed by moving the root note to a different degree of the scale, but what is overlooked the vast majority of the time is how to use those modes. If a song is in Am, the idea is to solo over the chords (which resolve to Am) in the A minor scale. That's it. You can add accidentals and stuff, but at the end of the day, you're soloing in A minor. Not C major. That is because the chords resolve to Am. Yes, they do have the same notes, but they are treated differently. The same thing goes for any of the enharmonic modes derived from C major. In order to use modes, one has to use a modal vamp or a drone note in order get that modal sound. This is by no means something beginners should be learning, because most of it goes over their heads and end up learning the wrong stuff. Also, when talking about major and minor scales, one shouldn't use the words Aeolian or Ionian because it contributes to further confusion about modes.
    LeoKisomma
    Ah, you see whenever I mentioned the modes krypticguitar87 got upset and kept telling me that they were actually scales the the modes started on. For example he kept telling me that when I used A Aeolian I was using the C major scale when they actually contain the same notes. The A Aeolian name makes it easier to understand what key it's in to me but he just wasn't satisfied so I decided to put the option of both names on there so fewer people could complain. I know about the diatonic modes and how moving the root changes the modes when playing in the major scale as well as variations like phrygian dominant and aeolian dominant, but in a lesson that has the "for beginners" tab on it, that really wouldn't be a good idea to bombard people with long words they haven't learned yet. That would just be showing off on part of the teacher. All I want to do here is teach people.
    rockingamer2
    The fact that you are using "scale/modes" suggests you don't really know much about modes.
    krypticguitar87
    I just want to say that I only called him a noob because of his post, I do not know him, it was literally because he said that he doesn't really know any theory. also I understand the idea that since the two encompass the same notes you would like to teach them at the same time but I've seen all too many people that decide that they are playing in A Aeolian when they are actually playng in C major, yes they have the same notes but they resolve to a different place. most of them decide they know these things because they learn essentially what you teach here (i mean they learn a bit more, since you only list iopnain and aeolian), and then they fill in the blanks themselves.....
    shadowmaster036
    Thanks for posting tabs and scales that a lot of people already know... You didn't even show HOW to apply these things musically...
    LeoKisomma
    By rearranging the elements hydrogen, oxygen and carbon you can get glucose, sucrose, ethanol, propanol and many other molecules. This theory can be attributed to music whereby various pieces of music can be created by rearranging theory and the notes you use. I also think you're missing something; it's not bad information that I'm passing one her at the moment, but a variation of what you're saying. One man's lawn is another man's field; and I agree that the major scale and Ionian have different applications, but since they contain the same notes I teach them in parallel. This makes it easier for people to understand what they're playing when they're starting out. If anything, I would say that it's harder to follow using two names for something with the same notes but that's just my opinion. I learned this theory of the modes from watching Joe Satriani's theory lessons, and he's got more experience than either of us. I just do my best. I really admire pHiLLa as he's a competent guitarist and always willing to learn. You've admitted that whether I write major scale or ionian in front of that series of notes, I won't have written a note wrong. I never once mentioned the different ways that they can be applied as I'll come to that later. I want to teach, and this theory has worked for me a lot in the past s it has with countless other artists. Whether you use it or not is up to you, but whether pHiLLa, who you just called a noob, uses it or not is up to him no matter what either of us says.
    krypticguitar87
    I have no interest in writing my own lessons especially when other people have done a rather good job. but I will say that I had a history teacher that didn't know that the uk is not still using a fuedal system, a photoshop teacher that knew less about the program than I did (and at the time I had never used the program before in my life), an english teacher who didn't know the difference between a colon and a semicolon. Oh and I just met my buddies guitar teacher, who barely knows any theory, and every single one of those people get paid to do those things so yeah even if you get paid, it doesn't mean you know what you are talking about. And I will not complain if your lesson makes sense and doesn't give out bad information. you ususally write pretty comprehensive articles, you just pass on bad information about modes. if a noob learns something, that doesn't make the information right. if I was teaching science to a group of kids who didn't know anything and I said that H2O has two helium atoms and one Osmium atom, some of them would say they learned something, but the information is still wrong. finally it isn't the same theory. one of them explains how to play modally the other tries to give out incorrect information about modes. look if you took out the word modes and the idea of ionian=major, this would be a fine lesson, but you constantly try to use modes as something they are not. the point was to stop him from lookning into modes, since there is more misinformation about modes on the internet posted by people who learned the first step in modes and filled in the rest on their own. he will do himself more of a favor by sticking to scales now and learning about modes later.
    LeoKisomma
    Finally, everyone's their own best teacher. This lesson worked for someone, and that's enough for me. I don't write lessons for UG points or the approval of the entire community; I write to help people not matter who or where they are. And you said yourself that the lesson you suggested would be overwhelming; no offense intended, but why would you deliberately look at the view of something you couldn't understand rather than the view of the same theory that makes sense?
    LeoKisomma
    Besides mr know-it-all, not that it's any of your business, but pHiLLa actually sent me a private message thanking me for the lesson and saying that it really helped him. This is how to apply basic theory and he understood it and now you're complaining? Write a lesson of your own. I will be writing lessons on the minor pentatonic scale and how to use it but if there's people like you around who complain when students actually learn something from their teachers, then it probably won't be on this website. I'll just send it to the website I'm paid to update. Just read that last sentence again Kryptic; I'm not arrogant, and I have no ego, but if I was truly a know nothing then would I be getting paid for my lessons?
    krypticguitar87
    pHiLLa wrote: very good lesson! I have no musical knowledge what so ever and i actually understood this! ! i just need to learn the finer details about scales/modes and all those stuff! but great lesson! =D
    if you want real musical knowlege you should start with major and minor scales, modes are confusing and should never be imparted on a beginner who doesn't already know scales, how to construct chords, and the relationship between chords and scales. you are not ready for modes yet. if you wan't to understand modes more, and quickly see that you are not ready for modes, go see: http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/columns/m... modal_approach_part_one_the_backstory.html and read all five articles he knows his stuff way better than this author anyway. but you will probably not make it past the first one with out becoming overwhelmed.
    LeoKisomma wrote: I've tried putting up loads of scales the people may need like the modes but I was trolled by other users and they were removed. I put this up so that guitar players could see how scale/modes are used in music as it's often quite hard to see. This lesson was also a request by a user so it's not as if I'm not listening to people. If want me to put up a lesson, then tell me what you want, because blind complaining will get you nowhere fast, and I don't want to argue.
    and they were not removed because of trolling they were removed because they were just wrong. if you don't want your lessons taken down you should start by not telling noobs that ionian is the exact same thing as major and also not telling them that aeolian is exactly the same as minor. they have the same notes but are applied very differently. also major does not neccesarily sound happy or sad or anything, there is a lot of things that factor into the feel of a song. songs in a major scale can sound happy sad dark bright etc. the rhythm and note choice along with the melody all make up the differnce in the sound.
    LeoKisomma
    I've tried putting up loads of scales the people may need like the modes but I was trolled by other users and they were removed. I put this up so that guitar players could see how scale/modes are used in music as it's often quite hard to see. This lesson was also a request by a user so it's not as if I'm not listening to people. If want me to put up a lesson, then tell me what you want, because blind complaining will get you nowhere fast, and I don't want to argue.