Teach Yourself Guitar. Part Six - Practical Application

It's time to start advancing as a musician more than as a guitarist. This article will be covering a few things essential to your musicianship.

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Hello again. It's Monday, which means it's time for this, the sixth installment of Teach Yourself Guitar. After this there will only be two more pieces, so this series is nearly at its end. However, that in no way means that your guitar journey is anything but just beginning. All along I've been trying to give focus on areas people miss, avoid or generally are unaware of when they first start with their guitar. When this is over, it will be up to you to go out and continue learning as much as you possibly can. In this article, we'll be looking at practical application, which is, basically, using all the knowledge you've picked up so far and bringing it into your playing. This particular article will be looking at applying the theoretical side more than the practical, as the practical side comes next. We'll be seeing how you can use theory to examine the music you've learned so far. We'll also be considering sheet music, different scales and harmonisation. Right - on to the content then. I hope that, as a guitarist, every new learner reading this feels that they have learned something. I haven't been teaching: I've just been putting things into perspective. You have, after all, been teaching yourself. Here comes part six, just for you.

Teach Yourself Guitar by Tom Colohue

Part 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.
e|---------|---------|
B|---------|---------|
G|---------|---------|
D|---------|---------|
A|---------|---------|
D|-0-2-3---|-5-5-7---|
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:
D, E, F, G, A
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 Major Pentatonic
D, E, F#, A, B, D
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 Minor Pentatonic
D, F, G, A, C, 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 Natural Minor
D, E, F, G, A, Bb, 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:
The Key of E
E, F#, G#, A, B, 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.
Accidentals of C Major:
C Major
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
Accidentals
C#, D#, F#, G#, A#
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:
  • The blues scale
  • The harmonic minor scale
  • The melodic minor scale
  • The whole-half scale
  • The half-whole scale Look into the relationship between the notes of the scales, as well as how they link into each other and why they are used in such a way. Trapped? In the forums, many threads appear where the user has been familiar with and utilising the same style of musicianship for so long that they have become stuck in that particular way of thinking and playing. This is particularly predominant in those who focus the bulk of their attention on the minor Pentatonic scale. Ultimately, you want to develop your own style, preferences and area of focus. Nevertheless, if you find yourself trapped in a specific style, there are a few things you can do.
  • Play a different scale
  • Listen to a different genre of music for ideas
  • Play in a different way (go from single note riffs to chord progressions or from high end solos to low end solos)
  • Try different styles of composition
  • Try some different time signatures
  • Play with a few friends, or, if you already do, with a few different friends Variation is a key component of developing a unique style. There are some things that fit some players, and others that fit other players. You are an individual, so your guitar played will begin to show this, but it won't do so very early on in your playing. Learning songs will not enhance your own style, only your ability to sound like the guitarists who inspire you. You want to be composing your own material for that, which we will be looking into next time. That's it for part six. It was mostly loose ends and musical focus, but it will be worthwhile as we come into the final two articles. Expect a slight change in the next one, as instead of focusing on balance as a guitarist (as I believe I already have), I plan to take a more in-depth look at composing your own music and lyrics. If you want to get ahead of the game for that one, check out my Writing Tips 1, 2 and 3 articles. They may have been uploaded a while ago but hopefully I will be using them as reference for the next material. Thank you, as always, for reading. I enjoy writing, so if nothing else, you're giving me something to do. I'll be seeing you next time. Tom Colohue Ultimate-Guitar.com 2009
  • 41 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      Pannenkoeken
      colohue wrote: Pannenkoeken wrote: But by definition, they are equivalent. If you are playing in a major key then you are utilizing the Ionian mode, whether you make the conscious decision to be "playing modally" or not. There is debate about this, but my argument seems like it would be enough for the basic purposes of this article. But this takes me away from my point. The minor scale is not a major scale, as you said it is(or implied so). It is a minor scale that is equivalent to the Ionian mode. I can only disagree. There are a lot of articles on modes so I would suggest you check one out. The basis premise however, is that in order to be utilising modes, you have to be playing a modal scale within a modal progression. We're not doing that and I don't want to overload my readers, so it's simply the minor scale. I have actually had this disagreement with a teacher due to the fact that he was classically trained. He denied the existance of the natural minor scale, yet firmly believed in the existance of minor keys, which is pretty much exactly the same thing. I stopped taking the violin lessons shortly after because I realised classical training isn't for me.
      Please don't insult my intelligence, that was rude and uncalled for. All I'm saying is that, for (most)practical purposes, playing in the natural minor scale is the equivalent of playing using the aeolian mode. (Technically, there is no "minor scale," and there are just minor keys, as there is no one definitive minor scale.) By playing using a natural minor scale, one is, arguably, playing modally, because a mode is an alteration of a major scale(which the natural minor scale is, as I'm sure you know). Whether you decide to be playing modally or not has little to no relevence. Oddly enough, I, too, used to take classical music lessons, but mine were on the piano, not the violin.
      Colohue
      Pannenkoeken wrote: Please don't insult my intelligence, that was rude and uncalled for.
      If you believe that my attempts at a response to be rude and uncalled for then you shall have no more.
      IamAwesomeness
      haha...i started learning on muse as well...along with blink 182..odd combination but their both my favorite bands...and then most of the music i listen to is post-hardcore..so ima bit of a mixture eh?
      antareus
      Use your ears and tell me Knights of Cydonia is in Drop D. I have listened to the song a ton, and seen them live several times. The opening note is NOT a D; compare it to the low note in the Dead Star octave riff. Additionally, Matt plays a power chord for the notes in the da-da-dahhhh riff. Live, he doesn't fret it by pushing down all the strings on the lower three frets. This is pretty easy to determine from the pit area.
      Colohue
      Pannenkoeken wrote: But by definition, they are equivalent. If you are playing in a major key then you are utilizing the Ionian mode, whether you make the conscious decision to be "playing modally" or not. There is debate about this, but my argument seems like it would be enough for the basic purposes of this article. But this takes me away from my point. The minor scale is not a major scale, as you said it is(or implied so). It is a minor scale that is equivalent to the Ionian mode.
      I can only disagree. There are a lot of articles on modes so I would suggest you check one out. The basis premise however, is that in order to be utilising modes, you have to be playing a modal scale within a modal progression. We're not doing that and I don't want to overload my readers, so it's simply the minor scale. I have actually had this disagreement with a teacher due to the fact that he was classically trained. He denied the existance of the natural minor scale, yet firmly believed in the existance of minor keys, which is pretty much exactly the same thing. I stopped taking the violin lessons shortly after because I realised classical training isn't for me.
      Phe4rTheGod
      colohue wrote: It would have entirely ruined the point of looking for a major scale in the piece.
      Understood, but just for argument's sake, wouldn't it be just as efficient?
      Colohue
      Phe4rTheGod wrote: Understood, but just for argument's sake, wouldn't it be just as efficient?
      The point of these articles is to keep the reader focused on learning things one step at a time. It's designed so that you can stop at one point and take as long as you need to overcome it before moving on. Modes complicate things. I think it's best to learn the basics first.
      ZeGuitarist
      colohue wrote: I can only disagree. There are a lot of articles on modes so I would suggest you check one out. The basis premise however, is that in order to be utilising modes, you have to be playing a modal scale within a modal progression. We're not doing that and I don't want to overload my readers, so it's simply the minor scale.
      I agree with Pannenkoeken here: you ARE playing a modal scale within a modal progression, if you're playing a natural minor scale over a natural minor progression... as a minor scale is relative to a major scale, in the sense that it is equivalent to the Aeolian mode of that major scale. So, playing a minor scale within a minor progression, is the same as playing an Aeolian mode within an Aeolian progression of a major key... But this is not the place to be discussing modes, so let's take it elsewhere
      illyria
      i've been playig since september 2009 and still can't play a full song(made and recorded one though) still can't pull off perfect bends,vibratto and pull-offs(strangely hammer-ons go great) and my arm still locks when i try alternate picking. reading this: i realize i should just quit playing since i'll never become good/perfect/the best
      illyria
      perhaps i should just quit playing guitar forever. everyone here gets this shit but me
      illyria
      again with the bloody circle of fifths! no matter how many times i see it here on this site and read the explanations it's still weird. i'll never get it. i should just quit while i'm ahead. all this stuff about modes, intervalls and circle of fifths still confuses me. and i never get the articles around them. if people could please just put the tab of the major scales in their lessons/collums when they discuss the major scale. i could learn them. everyting i search on the major scale only tells about intervals and hard to get stuff. and the misc scales section isn't clear either since the same scale is posted 5 different versions. if someone could just please try to explain this shit easy so that i could understand maybe one on one?
      RevolverX
      LOL, is this argument a ****ing joke? Have we forgotten that names, labels, all of theory even, is to make communication easier and not harder? If this lesson misleads a new guitarist astray, let his or her ears sort it out first. All this syntactical bickering is frankly confusing if not discouraging to anyone that is actually trying to get something out of the lesson. Leave the poor guy alone, it's a decent article for christ's sake. Picking out intervals from songs, and potentially applying them to an appropriate scale is vital ear training. And you know what? Let's just stop typing and do some a' that shit for ourselves. Right now.
      rhoadsfan92
      Pannenkoeken wrote: It is a minor scale that is equivalent to the Ionian mode.
      aeolian?
      Pannenkoeken
      colohue wrote: You have major keys and minor keys. Minor keys are named minor. The major scale is not the Ionian mode. In order to be playing modally, you have to be playing modally. I've spent a lot of time in the Musician Talk area. These people have this argument left, right and centre, so it's gotten into my head.
      But by definition, they are equivalent. If you are playing in a major key then you are utilizing the Ionian mode, whether you make the conscious decision to be "playing modally" or not. There is debate about this, but my argument seems like it would be enough for the basic purposes of this article. But this takes me away from my point. The minor scale is not a major scale, as you said it is(or implied so). It is a minor scale that is equivalent to the Ionian mode.
      Colohue
      conorstuff wrote: Err.. just one thing. Knights of Cydonia is in standard tuning!
      I quite assure you otherwise.
      Tyler Durden
      colohue wrote: conorstuff wrote: Err.. just one thing. Knights of Cydonia is in standard tuning! I quite assure you otherwise.
      how come EVERY tab out there is in standard then?
      Colohue
      I couldn't say. However, when I learned it, and to my own ear, it's in D. If you disagree then by all means play it differently, as it is just an example.
      The_String_Man
      Tyler Durden wrote: colohue wrote: conorstuff wrote: Err.. just one thing. Knights of Cydonia is in standard tuning! I quite assure you otherwise. how come EVERY tab out there is in standard then?
      ???
      rebugger75
      i quite agree. i'm a beginner to both guitars and music theory, and this series breaks it down much better than wikipedia. good job Tom!
      Colohue
      Phe4rTheGod wrote: Couldn't you just call the D, E, F, G, A progression 'D Dorian'?
      It would have entirely ruined the point of looking for a major scale in the piece.
      Colohue
      You have major keys and minor keys. Minor keys are named minor. The major scale is not the Ionian mode. In order to be playing modally, you have to be playing modally. I've spent a lot of time in the Musician Talk area. These people have this argument left, right and centre, so it's gotten into my head.
      InsomniaRocks
      I've spent a lot of time in the Musician Talk area
      I'd be careful about using that as a qualification...
      Colohue
      InsomniaRocks wrote: I'd be careful about using that as a qualification...
      As would I if that was all I said. Thankfully, when in context, I'm sure you see what I'm actually trying to say.
      Pannenkoeken
      colohue wrote: I decided that Modes would overcomplicate things, especially considering I'm looking for major scale in non-modal play.
      Ok, but the natural minor scale IS a mode(aeolian)... it is not a major(ionian) scale. So how does that make any sense?
      Colohue
      I decided that Modes would overcomplicate things, especially considering I'm looking for major scale in non-modal play.
      Potski
      I'm really sorry but I can't take any guide seriously that tabs KoC in Drop-D /facepalm
      Pannenkoeken
      http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/tabs/m/mu... a_tab.htm http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/tabs/m/mu... hts_of_cydonia_ver2.gp3?t=390878 http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/tabs/m/mu... imate-guitar .com/tabs/m/muse/knights_of_cydonia_btab.htm The highest rated tabs beg to defer, but that isn't especially relevant to the lesson. I thought this lesson should have had more scale information (such as the modal names of the scales you talk about or intervals), but overall a decent lesson.
      Pannenkoeken
      colohue wrote: Phe4rTheGod wrote: Couldn't you just call the D, E, F, G, A progression 'D Dorian'? It would have entirely ruined the point of looking for a major scale in the piece.
      Sorry for the double post, but this really bugs me. The natural minor scale is just the Aeolian mode... so there's a bit of a flaw in your logic. Saying that it's in the D natural minor scale is exactly the same as saying that it is in D Aeolian, which is not a "major" (Ionian) scale.