Teach Yourself Guitar by Tom ColohuePart Six: Practical Application Theoretical Examination Hopefully, by this point, you're comfortable with the aforementioned major scale. If not, refresh your memory using this article here. What we're going to be doing is looking at the notes of a song and trying to work out which major scale it falls into. Now, a lot of music is not all about the major scale, but the major scale is the basic building block. If we can find the major scale in a piece, we can then use that information to discover more about the piece itself. This includes finding variant scales, such as the minor scale or the pentatonic scale. Let's start with an example shall we? The following piece of tab is an extract from the first song I learnt, which is Knights Of Cydonia by Muse. As stated previously, you learn best when your focus is on learning songs from a band you love. For me, this band was Muse. It is written in Drop-D, which is important because we'll be examining the specific notes.
This is the first riff from the song, which is played at the beginning and is repeated again later. If we look at the notes rather than the fret numbers, we are given the following:
e|---------|---------| B|---------|---------| G|---------|---------| D|---------|---------| A|---------|---------| D|-0-2-3---|-5-5-7---|
Ultimately, we're going to be examining the rest of the notes in relation to the first. However, if we look for the D major scale, we will not be able to find it in this progression as the D major scale contains an F# rather than an F. This could be a note played out of key, but let's look at it another way. What we're looking for is the most popular scale that contains those notes, beginning with D, so that we can complete it. Let's try the pentatonic scales next.
D, E, F, G, A
You can see here that the D major pentatonic scale contains an F# and no G. This means that it is not what we're looking for. Let's cross into the territory of minor scales now then. We'll begin with the minor pentatonic and test that.
D Major Pentatonic D, E, F#, A, B, D
Now we're getting somewhere. The F# is no longer there to hinder us, having been replaced by the F that we're looking for. However, we're now missing both the E and the B, which is most definitely a problem. So let's try the natural minor.
D Minor Pentatonic D, F, G, A, C, D
There we go. We have our notes all contained within the scale. If you're not too familiar with the minor scale, consider it simply the major scale started on the sixth note. So D minor would also be F major, but with D as it's tonal centre rather than F. Knowing the theory behind a piece allows you to predict how it might continue and also to improvise using it. Sometimes it can be hard finding the correct scale, especially if the root note is not actually played first, but you just have to keep at it. You're learning theoretical conventions as you do, after all. To play in key is simply to play within the boundaries of a chosen Major scale. For example:
D Natural Minor D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C, D
So to play in key is simply to play using only those notes. This includes both single notes and chord progressions. Being in key is mostly used as a tool to ensure that, while not playing the same thing as other people you may be playing with, you're running under the same train of thought. Sheet Music Other than tab, there is another method of reading music that is known as sheet music. Sheet music relies on standard notation to display to the reader what to play and how to play it. It is an older method, usable for most musical instruments, that relies on theoretical knowledge in order to be understandable. The ability to read sheet music can come in useful if you wish to use it. However, if you would still rather be a guitarist than a musician, it is not completely necessary. If you wish to learn sheet music, check out this article, which will hopefully get you started and on the way. However, be aware that, while this is a good start, it does not cover all the different aspects. I shall be adding a little more information as we go along. The Circle Of Fifths The Circle of Fifths is a diagram that is greatly beneficial when reading sheet music because it informs the reader of the key of the song using its specific key signature. The key signature, which is either none, or a collection of, sharps or flats, is positioned at the very beginning of the piece, just before the time signature. While the time signature informs the reader of the rhythm of the music, the key signature tells you what key, or major scale, it was written in. This is extremely useful in standard notation, as notes out of key need to be carefully specified. The amount of sharps or flats is relative to the amount of sharps or flats in the chosen key. For example, C major, possessing no sharps of flats, has a key signature as such. G major, possessing an F#, has one sharp as its key signature, placed on the line that represents the G note. For more information on the Circle of Fifths, including the diagram itself and a breakdown of all information contained within, check out this Crusade article. Hopefully by now you're understanding the usefulness of those articles. Accidentals Accidentals are notes played out of key. Let's use an example to show you what I mean.
The Key of E E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#
Hence, where diatonic scales have seven notes, the five that are not contained within are known as accidentals when played. Out of key notes are generally discouraged, especially at first. However, as you become more competant with your theory, you will become more comfortable using them to add tension or to create mild dissonance. It is best to be aware of exactly what notes you are playing and not to overuse them, as too many out of key notes will, in time, alter the resolution of the song itself. The idea is considered that you should know the rules before you can break them. So, at first, focus your learning on staying in key rather than straying from it. Over time, with improvisation and a little daring, you will learn what works and what does not, so give it a try. If you'd like some more information on accidentals, check out this forum thread, written for my own better understanding of them. Scale Experimentation Not all improvisation and experimentation needs to fit neatly into the major scale, as not all music does so. Discovering and utilising different scales is an important part of being a musician for several reasons. More than just widening your options, it also gives you a better understanding of how certain notes work in relation to each other in intervals outside of the major scale. After all, the best way to learn something is to see it, or hear it, in action. A lot of musicians fall into certain preferred scales. Guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, for example, who mainly focused his playing in the pentatonic scale. The same can be said for bands like Metallica, who stick not only to a scale but to a particular focal note also. They are well known for playing mostly in E minor. Whilst you may end up quite comfortable playing in a very specific pattern, never forget that there are many more options available to you. A guitar is a very wide-ranging instrument that you can use however you see fit. Explore to find what works, but also to find what you enjoy. Here are five scales you may wish to look into in more detail to further understand some popular music conventions:
Accidentals of C Major: C Major C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C Accidentals C#, D#, F#, G#, A#