Baby Steps To Learning Lead Guitar. Lesson 1: Basic Music Theory

The basics of music theory made even easier!

3
I wrote this out to help those of you who are in the same situation I was in a couple of years ago. There are probably more self-taught guitarist than there are for any other instrument and if you are like me the technicalities of playing can come slowly even if you have a natural aptitude for music. I'm going to go through the step by step process of how I learned to play lead guitar, and try to avoid complicated aspects of music theory and simplify it into a way that is easier to grasp. I started playing and went through phases just like most guitarist have. Most people hear other people playing guitar and decide that they want to learn to play as well, and as you start you learn your chords, simple picking, and tabs to songs that you like. If you make it past this phase, you make it further than most people who pick up a guitar, and then you start to get to where it's actually a hobby of yours. After that, strumming rhythms become more comfortable and picking improves drastically. You begin to throw in hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides into your playing naturally. That's the point I was stuck at for a while, and I was enjoyable to listen to and I knew a lot of songs but I wanted to progress to become a better musician. If you're feeling the same way, then these lessons might help a lot. Whether you want to learn lead, or your satisfied as a rhythm guitarist all of this is good to know if you want to get better. If you want to learn lead it is extremely important that you start to learn some theory and technique. Musical Keys: I'll start with musical keys. It is a good idea to have a cheap keyboard because keyboard's make it very easy to see things because the keys repeat in a pattern going from the lowest to highest note. The keys that are located identically in the pattern of keys are the same note just at different octaves. Between these octaves are a total of 12 white and black keys. Each musical key contains 7 of these notes in different variations based on the key you select. We will use the Key of C Major for the examples. Pitches in the key of C: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C Each major key also has a corresponding minor key with the same notes. Pitches in the key of Amin: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A Chords: Each key also contains 3 principal chords and other secondary chords. TO SIMPLIFY IT, just remember that the principal chords in a key are the root note (C Chord), 4th note (F Chord), and the 5th note (G Chord). The secondary chords are the root minor note (A minor Chord), 4th minor note (D minor chord), and the 5th minor note (E minor chord). You can play any song in any key if you adjust all notes accordingly Guitar Example: (The Troggs Wild Thing) (***Strum each chord out once.) Key of A Major : A, A, D, D, E, E, D,D Key of G Major: G, G, C,C, D, D, C, C Scales: The basics of lead are just learning your pentatonic scales. TO KEEP THINGS SIMPLE the basic major scale is the key pitches listed above for C major (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C) and the minor scale is the notes listed above for A minor (A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A). Now don't feel overwhelmed like you have a lot of scales to learn the finger pattern repeats itself on the neck and is the same for every key it just changes its root note location on the neck. For Example
A minor Scale
e|---------------------------------------------5--8-----------------------------|
B|-------------------------------------5--8-------------------------------------|
G|-----------------------------5--7---------------------------------------------|
D|----------------------5--7----------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------5--7------------------------------------------------------------|
E|----5--8----------------------------------------------------------------------|
 
C Major Scale
e|---------------------------------------------35-----------------------------|
B|-------------------------------------3--5-------------------------------------|
G|-----------------------------2--5---------------------------------------------|
D|----------------------2--5----------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------3--5------------------------------------------------------------|
E|----3--5----------------------------------------------------------------------|
 
Also notice
 
B minor Scale
e|---------------------------------------------7--10-----------------------------|
B|-------------------------------------7--10-------------------------------------|
G|-----------------------------7--9---------------------------------------------|
D|----------------------7--9----------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------7--9------------------------------------------------------------|
E|----7--10----------------------------------------------------------------------|
which is the same as the a minor scale pattern just moved up to frets. You will assign each finger a fret in order to play this scale (1-index, 2-middle, 3-ring, 4-pinky). So the minor pattern would be simplified to 1-4 1-4 1-3 1-3 1-3 1-4 and the Major scale is played 2-4 2-4 1-4 1-4 2-4 2-4 Start out with those memorize them going up and going back down. Once you accomplish this your ready to move on!

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    mtowenby
    Well pooh! He only posted the one article! I was curious to see where he was going with this!
    mtowenby
    I liked the article overall and think it could be very helpful to noobs, depending on their style of learning. It's a bit theory heavy, but I think does a nice job of splitting the difference between "learning the intstrument" and "learning theory." The chord progression could've been left out for a seperate lesson and probably clarifed the sequence for a minor key (since that was mentioned). The only real improvement I see is the example of the C Major Pentatonic could cause confusion (as asked earlier). If trying to point out the scales contain the exact same notes, I think I'd use the C Major Pent. starting on the 8th fret; exact same pattern as the Am Pent. and starts on "C." This would also be a good lead for the CAGED sequence to reference back to. Good Work!
    agnelosmith@gma
    A minor scale plz explain the meaning of 5...8. 5...7.i do not know how to follow rhw instruction.plz explain.my email is agnelosmith@gmail.com
    cccp2006
    karlos311 wrote: Quick question for a noob: i notice on the C major scale tab the first note isnt a C note? does the scale not have to start with the 'root' note? if not, what makes that C major scale different to a G major scale? ..confused.
    You can play the C major scale starting on any note of of the scale as long as you still play the scale notes. You can start the C major scale on the 3rd fret E string and play the notes G,A,B,C,D,E,F Or you can start the scale on the 3rd fret E string and play notes G,A,B,C,D,E,F# And you would be playing the G major scale.
    JohnUTFB32
    I think its best to broadly generalize at first and then get down to specifics as you get better otherwise it can get overwhelming
    JohnUTFB32
    Yeah, you are completely correct on the difference between the c major and c major pentatonic. Its like a pentatonic scale added more notes than just the 5 CDEGA to sound more full as you progress the scale. Im just trying to keep it as simple as possible and a pentatonic C major is basically just a simplified C major scale, but it gets you started isntead of confusing people with scale difference. Thnaks for the post. Its a good pre cursor for those who are learning and decide to read this the whole way through
    Lhmcg
    Not sure how to edit my previous comment but I thought it important to add this as well. If people are just starting out with theory concepts I think it is also important for them to know what a Pentatonic scale is... It is not the"major scale"in it's entirety it is a part of the whole... Penta meaning 5, it is a five note scale that can be formed by removing the 4th and 7th note of any scale. C major scale CDEFGAB C major pentatonic CDEGA So each of these pentatonic patterns are actually more than 2 octaves of the scale. LH.
    Silord1
    the problem with this 'you need to say this' comment is - it destroys the original intention of being simple. it is easier to get started with the simple way as above and then go back and fill in the gaps for simplicity of learning.
    krypticguitar87
    JohnUTFB32 wrote: Yeah, you are completely correct on the difference between the c major and c major pentatonic. Its like a pentatonic scale added more notes than just the 5 CDEGA to sound more full as you progress the scale. Im just trying to keep it as simple as possible and a pentatonic C major is basically just a simplified C major scale, but it gets you started isntead of confusing people with scale difference. Thnaks for the post. Its a good pre cursor for those who are learning and decide to read this the whole way through
    this is a great idea, except that it can be confusing..... I know that if you told this to me when I first began I would start to wonder "where is the 'F' and the 'B', how can they be part of the scale but I'm not playing them?" I think that you could have mentioned just the pentatonic scale, and then when you bring up the major scale explain that your only adding two notes to the pentatonics..... that's how I was taught, and trust me it made it much much easier. Also, the chord section is kind of confusing, I think you probably would have been better off leaving that part out entirely, maybe make a lesson on chords by itself, other wise I think your off to a pretty good start, when it comes to lead, pentatonics are pretty important.
    Jay Stone
    "Place your fingers here to play a D chord, place your fingers there to play an E chord". We should learn where to place the fingers first, theory follows. It is far easier to learn/teach theory with finger placement under your belt. Theory should not be taught until you know the fretboard. This lack of knowledge instantly introduces confusion. Learn the fretboard first. eg. Everybody who knows their fretboard and reads this column will understands what is being described. The TAB above will slot in perfectly with your knowledge of the fretboard. Guitarmodes teaches a formula to play across the entire fretboard in the same lesson as when you would learn how to play basic chords. Every lesson after that will make sense. Regards, Ross. Guitarmodes
    karlos311
    Quick question for a noob: i notice on the C major scale tab the first note isnt a C note? does the scale not have to start with the 'root' note? if not, what makes that C major scale different to a G major scale? ..confused.
    Lhmcg
    Great start to helping people understand theory! I don't like it when people are overly critical of things posted on the internet to be helpful to others so I don't want to sound that way but I have one question for you. Why would you show that pattern as being a major pentatonic pattern? Would it not make more sence to show the pattern that starts on the root, because technically those could both be called major pentatonic patterns depending on the key correct? I would think the following should be the pattern associated with Major Pentatonic 24 24 13 14 14 24 If you had some other reason for doing it that way then I apologize and am all ears Cheers LH.