I'm always amazed when guitarists don't know the basic terminology in making music. Sure once in a while you get someone who plays some kick-a-s solos straight from the heart, but those guys are few and far between. The other thing is they tend to run out of ideas after one or two albums. The reasoning is simple they lack the ability to read and appreciate other forms of music. For example, J.S. Bach wrote some pieces of music that are downright bitching to play on guitar, and the way he subtly changes keys while keeping the same basic theme will blow your mind. But if you don't know what to listen for or what you're reading it just looks like a sh-t-load of notes. Music theory is fundamental to playing guitar in the same way basic grammar is fundamental to writing a speech.
At the same time, don't get so hung up on the theory that you limit your self-expression as an artist. Sometimes a "wrong" note will sound perfect given the kind of mood you want to elicit. But you have to know what the right notes are before you start using the wrong ones to surprise your audience.
Enough of my rant, and on to the music. Scales in western music are made up of twelve tones. The distance between each tone is called a half-step. On the guitar each fret is one half-step. When you get past twelve half-steps the note names repeat themselves, and your ear will actually pick up the similarity. Go ahead and try it.
Exercise: Pluck any open string on the guitar, and then play the note at the twelfth fret. Hear the similarity? These notes have the same name, and the distance between them is called an octave.
If you can't hear the similarity between the two notes, one or two things could be going on. (1) Your ear needs some time to learn what an octave sounds like (it will come in time). Or (2) your guitar is messed up. To test if the guitar is messed up lightly touch the string at the twelfth fret and pluck it. A note should ring out. (This is called a harmonic but don't worry about that now.) Now fret the string at the twelfth fret and pluck it. The two notes should sound the same. If they don't take it to your favorite guitar shop and ask them to adjust the intonation for you. If it's a decent guitar they should be able to fix it for a minimal cost. If they can't it's time to buy a new ax.
Now that we have that established let's play some scales. My Six Months of Speed Course focuses on six major scales. Which ones are not important at this stage. But first and foremost you need to know what a scale sounds like. The formula for a major scale is this:
Whole Step Whole Step Half Step Whole Step Whole Step Whole Step Half Step
You can also think of it this way:
Two Frets Two Frets One Fret Two Frets Two Frets Two Frets One Fret
Let's play that.
Exercise: Pick any string, which one doesn't matter. Then play the notes on the following frets, staying on the same string:
0 (open string) 245791112
You just played a major scale. Play it over and over again every time you pick up your guitar. Burn the sound into your memory.
You may recognize it from elementary school music class: Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do. (The "Do" is pronounced "Dough" like Homer Simpson when he's upset.) If all this fancy talk has selections from "Sound of Music" going through your head, slap yourself until it stops.
Now let's assign some names to our scales. Take the same pattern you just played, and play it on each string. In case you don't know, the names of the strings on the guitar from low to high are: EADGBE.
So if you play the following patter on the low E String:
You've just played an E major scale. (Somebody very smart named these things.) Play the same pattern on each of the other strings. You should notice that each scale sounds relatively the same. Each one sounds higher or lower, but the space between each note is what designates melodies in all of music not the absolute note value.
Just for shits and giggles, let's play one more scale. Start on the B-string, but this time move the scale up one half-step. In case you can't figure it out the pattern is this:
You just played a C Major Scale. Not only that, but you've played every scale we work with in "Six Months of Speed." We expand upon these scales, play them different ways, create variations that will blow your mind, but what you played right there forms the basis for everything else. So spend some time practicing these scales until they become second nature. You need to have that sound pattern burned into your head so well that you can recall it when you're sh-t-faced and drunk-dialing your ex. This is what kick-a-s guitarists are made of, so learn it.
Critical to the Armagh Approach is the intersection of theory, technique, and ear training. You just worked on basic theory and technique, so let's apply ear-training to the same exercise. Pick one of the scales that you can comfortably sing. I suggest either A or D depending on your range. If it goes too high for you feel free to sing falsetto. Now, let's assign a number to each scale degree 1-8. So as you play each scale, sing the following numbers, one for each note.
I find that using numbers is a lot more intuitive than the do-re-mi method that's common in singing. Eventually you should be able to sing a scale without playing it.
What you're trying to establish here is what the scale sounds like vs. How it looks on the fret board. The guitar is probably one of the more complex instruments out there, with many variations of playing the same note or groups of notes. I find too many guitarists get hung up on what the scale looks like, whether their fingers are in the proper position, and totally miss the sound. It took me years before I realized that what it sounded like was of primary importance (duh), which is why I've structured the Armagh Approach the way I did. IF you can hear the notes in your head, eventually they will find their way through your fingers onto the instrument.
I have many more lessons on my website for your enjoyment - Kevin-Armagh.com.