I want to stop screwing around and actually learn to play the guitar

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Like if a song is just D, G, and C, what key is it in? will any note that's part of these chords or part of the D, G, and C major scales sound "good" if played at any particular point while these three chords are being played by another guitar?

As explained above, this particular example is easy as these three chords all fit into the key of G major. To answer a little more broadly, the way to figure this stuff out is to first learn what notes are in all of the major scales. I can explain that in detail if anyone is interested but it's pretty easy to find lessons on how it works.

Then to figure out which chords correspond to that major scale, you need to harmonize the scale; i.e., stack the notes of the scale on top of each other in thirds. The result is the same for every major scale, and it looks like this: I ii iii IV V vi viidim. So I IV and V are major, ii iii and vi are minor, and vi is diminished. Now you know all of the triads (three-note chords) that can be built using *only* the notes of a given key. These are the chords that are used most often in simple pieces of music.

So for instance, the A major scale goes A B C# D E F# G#. Applying the formula to that scale we get A Bm C#m D E F#m G#dim. Those are all the triads we can make in the key of A major that don't require borrowing any outside notes, aka accidentals. So if a chord progression goes e.g. A F#m Bm E, we could analyze that as a I vi ii V in the key of A.

In terms of playing a solo or writing a melody to fit those chords, the simplest thing to do is just think "I'm in A major" and use those notes in whatever way sounds good. But again to look at it a little more broadly, with any type of chord and melody note, there are two possibilities: the melody is a chord tone, meaning it's one of the notes that's also being played in the chord, or it's a non-chord tone. Chord tones will always be safe to use, generally sound solid and "inside," and can be held out. Non-chord tones are necessary to provide a sense of movement or tension, but generally have to resolve to chord tones.

So for instance, if I'm improvising over the above chord progression, and the current chord is A, C# is a chord tone, so I could hold that note over the chord. D, though, is not a chord tone, despite being a part of the scale. So if I'm playing a D over the A chord, it's not going to sound wrong, but if I hold that D out over the whole chord, as opposed to e.g. moving down to C# or up to E (both of which are in the A chord), it's going to sound dissonant and maybe wrong.

So it's all well and good to just take a scale and play it kind of randomly when you're starting out with improvising. But if you listen to a guitar solo by somebody like David Gilmour, the notes are chosen carefully to go with the chords -- he's moving through non-chord tones, but he lands on the chord tones on certain strong beats, providing resolution and dramatic effect. The solo in "Mother" is a great example of this.

St3ve Go1db3rg, Thursday, 4 February 2010 18:38 (4 years ago) Permalink

no that is wrong, tabs show finger placement in respect to string and fret instead of musical notation.

yeah, i actually knew that. i meant more along the lines of the tabs you see on websites diagraming rock songs, which seem to me -- like the chords above the lyrics -- more about the basic sound of the song, not the intricate notes being played by the guitarist

Daniel, Esq., Thursday, 4 February 2010 18:39 (4 years ago) Permalink

The result is the same for every major scale, and it looks like this: I ii iii IV V vi viidim. So I IV and V are major, ii iii and vi are minor, and vi is diminished.

Whoops, I meant vii is diminished. And if it wasn't clear I'm using roman numerals to correspond to each note in the scale, and major/minor scales have 7 notes.

St3ve Go1db3rg, Thursday, 4 February 2010 18:39 (4 years ago) Permalink

Daniel: You're right, a lot of tabs are just the chords, but there are also some that do give you "the intricate notes being played by the guitarist."

kshighway (ksh), Thursday, 4 February 2010 18:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

yeah, i actually knew that. i meant more along the lines of the tabs you see on websites diagraming rock songs, which seem to me -- like the chords above the lyrics -- more about the basic sound of the song, not the intricate notes being played by the guitarist

Technically those aren't tabs, just chord charts, although they're sometimes colloquially referred to by the same name. Guitar tablature is when you have six lines with numbers on them corresponding to the frets. It's just more economical to write out the chord symbols above the lyrics if you can assume your reader knows how to execute the chords or you provide chord fingerings at the bottom or something.

St3ve Go1db3rg, Thursday, 4 February 2010 18:41 (4 years ago) Permalink

rt. i'm fascinated by what you say above, but i'm having trouble grasping this part of it:

Then to figure out which chords correspond to that major scale, you need to harmonize the scale; i.e., stack the notes of the scale on top of each other in thirds. The result is the same for every major scale, and it looks like this: I ii iii IV V vi viidim. So I IV and V are major, ii iii and vi are minor, and vi is diminished. Now you know all of the triads (three-note chords) that can be built using *only* the notes of a given key. These are the chords that are used most often in simple pieces of music.

So for instance, the A major scale goes A B C# D E F# G#. Applying the formula to that scale we get A Bm C#m D E F#m G#dim. Those are all the triads we can make in the key of A major that don't require borrowing any outside notes, aka accidentals. So if a chord progression goes e.g. A F#m Bm E, we could analyze that as a I vi ii V in the key of A.

i feel like it represents the key to unlocking the door i want to unlock, but i can't quite figure out how to use the key.

Daniel, Esq., Thursday, 4 February 2010 18:46 (4 years ago) Permalink

This is all new to me (I'm music theory illiterate), but I think he's saying:
A major = A B C# D E F# G#

first chord is
A = A C# D (i.e. every other note for three notes)

2nd is
Bm = B D F# (every other note for three notes)

etc...

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 4 February 2010 18:55 (4 years ago) Permalink

er A = A C# E i mean

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 4 February 2010 18:56 (4 years ago) Permalink

Do you know about triads and major/minor keys/scales? That is the piece of knowledge that will help explain that bit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_and_minor

xp: Philip is correct in what is being explained here. The next step is learning a notation convention, where Roman numerals are used to represent the 7 notes in a major scale; the uppercase ones represent a major triad and the lowercase ones represent a minor triad. The triad built off the 7th tone in the scale is special; that is a diminished triad because the interval between the first and second notes is a minor third and the interval between the second and third notes is a minor third. (Note that in major triads, the interval between the first and second notes is a major third and the interval between the second and third notes is a minor third. In minor triads, the interval between the first and second note is a minor third and between the second and third notes is a major third. The interval between the first and third notes for both major and minor triads is a perfect fifth; in diminished triads, that interval is a diminished fifth.)

PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! (HI DERE), Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:03 (4 years ago) Permalink

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_%28music%29

this should also help

PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! (HI DERE), Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:03 (4 years ago) Permalink

Yeah, it can be tough to explain this stuff in enough detail to be clear but without droning on forever. I left out the explanation of why certain chords are major and others are minor or diminished, but you don't really have to know that in order to understand which chords fit into a certain key.

But like Philip is saying, you build triads by starting on any note in a scale, going up two notes in the scale (we call this interval a third) and adding that note, then going up two more notes (another third) and adding that one as well. If you do this with each note in the major scale you end up with seven different triads. We can then look at the thirds in each triad and decide whether the triad is major, minor, augmented, or diminished by looking at which thirds are major (four half-steps apart) and which are minor (three half-steps apart).

But for every major scale it works out the same way. So to give another example the Eb major scale goes Eb F G Ab Bb C D, and so the chords go Eb Fm Gm Ab Bb Cm Ddim.

If we continue adding thirds we can build chords with four notes in them, which gives us 7th chords. That would look like this: IM7 iim7 iiim7 IVM7 V7 vim7 viim7b5. So I and IV are major 7th chords, ii iii and vi are minor 7th chords, V is a dominant seventh chord, and vii is a half-diminished or minor-7-flat-5 chord. Again, this is what happens when you use only the notes that existed in the original major scale. Additional chords can be generated by borrowing notes from other keys or by utilizing the minor scales.

St3ve Go1db3rg, Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:11 (4 years ago) Permalink

oh man, this is why i'm music theory illiterate!
(I think you can get by just thinking of music as variable patterns -- things will sound OK so long as you've got patterns that harmonize on occasion)

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:16 (4 years ago) Permalink

i know much of that already. this may be a very stupid question (i'm a bit distracted ATM), but why is the second note you mention Bm, instead of B (as B is roman ii in the key of A)?

Daniel, Esq., Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:17 (4 years ago) Permalink

used here:

first chord is
A = A C# D (i.e. every other note for three notes)

2nd is
Bm = B D F# (every other note for three notes)

Daniel, Esq., Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:18 (4 years ago) Permalink

i know much of that already.

sorry if that sounded prick-ish. it wasn't meant to.

Daniel, Esq., Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:19 (4 years ago) Permalink

B major? i think would be B D# F#, which isn't in the Amajor scale? The D# part i mean

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:19 (4 years ago) Permalink

It's standard notation when using notes to name chords. If the chord is major, you just use the note represented in uppercase (eg, A). In order to distinguish minor chords, you put an 'm' after them (eg, Bm). An alternate way of doing this is via upper and lowercase (eg, A, b), which is most often used with Roman numeral notation (eg, I, ii).

PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! (HI DERE), Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:27 (4 years ago) Permalink

theory will help you analyze what you or someone else is doing and definitely get yr mind wrapped around what music 'should' be. but i think training yr ear is mad important too. if yr a guitar player the piano is also a chording instrument and has the benefit of music theory making perfect sense on it. i think the guitar can seem strange sometimes in this sense. i would find a piano you can screw around on and try to play a song you know on it.

Anton Levain (jdchurchill), Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:36 (4 years ago) Permalink

As explained above, this particular example is easy as these three chords all fit into the key of G major. To answer a little more broadly, the way to figure this stuff out is to first learn what notes are in all of the major scales. I can explain that in detail if anyone is interested but it's pretty easy to find lessons on how it works.

Then to figure out which chords correspond to that major scale, you need to harmonize the scale; i.e., stack the notes of the scale on top of each other in thirds. The result is the same for every major scale, and it looks like this: I ii iii IV V vi viidim. So I IV and V are major, ii iii and vi are minor, and vi is diminished. Now you know all of the triads (three-note chords) that can be built using *only* the notes of a given key. These are the chords that are used most often in simple pieces of music.

So for instance, the A major scale goes A B C# D E F# G#. Applying the formula to that scale we get A Bm C#m D E F#m G#dim. Those are all the triads we can make in the key of A major that don't require borrowing any outside notes, aka accidentals. So if a chord progression goes e.g. A F#m Bm E, we could analyze that as a I vi ii V in the key of A.

In terms of playing a solo or writing a melody to fit those chords, the simplest thing to do is just think "I'm in A major" and use those notes in whatever way sounds good. But again to look at it a little more broadly, with any type of chord and melody note, there are two possibilities: the melody is a chord tone, meaning it's one of the notes that's also being played in the chord, or it's a non-chord tone. Chord tones will always be safe to use, generally sound solid and "inside," and can be held out. Non-chord tones are necessary to provide a sense of movement or tension, but generally have to resolve to chord tones.

So for instance, if I'm improvising over the above chord progression, and the current chord is A, C# is a chord tone, so I could hold that note over the chord. D, though, is not a chord tone, despite being a part of the scale. So if I'm playing a D over the A chord, it's not going to sound wrong, but if I hold that D out over the whole chord, as opposed to e.g. moving down to C# or up to E (both of which are in the A chord), it's going to sound dissonant and maybe wrong.

So it's all well and good to just take a scale and play it kind of randomly when you're starting out with improvising. But if you listen to a guitar solo by somebody like David Gilmour, the notes are chosen carefully to go with the chords -- he's moving through non-chord tones, but he lands on the chord tones on certain strong beats, providing resolution and dramatic effect. The solo in "Mother" is a great example of this.

― St3ve Go1db3rg, Thursday, February 4, 2010 12:38 PM (57 minutes ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

this was really helpful! i've got a pretty heady jazz piano book at home that i've struggled with on and off for years, and this actually made a ton more sense.

and Watt (gbx), Thursday, 4 February 2010 19:45 (4 years ago) Permalink

I've read enough to make sense of the above and feel like I know it in theory, but learning what notes are in what keys and and what their associated triads are, so i know them automatically instead of painstakingly working it out every time, seems like a hell of a task.

take me to your lemur (ledge), Thursday, 4 February 2010 21:24 (4 years ago) Permalink

This is why it helps to have a piano/keyboard. Learning this stuff on that instrument first makes translating the concept to others so much easier.

PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! (HI DERE), Thursday, 4 February 2010 21:25 (4 years ago) Permalink

I have to admit if I didn't take a beginner's music theory class in high school it would've been incredibly difficult for me to piece it all together - and that was after having played music for years and years for school, barely understanding what I was looking at sheet music but able to read and play it.

Nhex, Thursday, 4 February 2010 21:32 (4 years ago) Permalink

I have to admit if I didn't take a beginner's music theory class in high school it would've been incredibly difficult for me to piece it all together - and that was after having played music for years and years for school, barely understanding what I was looking at sheet music but able to read and play it.

see, i never learned, and i really think it held me back as a musician, in a big way. in HS i was a pretty good horn player (1st chair from 9th-12th grade yall) but suuuuucked at soloing in jazz band. and while i don't play much anymore, i still played some in college and i was always embarrassed to have played for basically ten years and still not know shit.

and Watt (gbx), Thursday, 4 February 2010 21:42 (4 years ago) Permalink

Heh. I still feel similarly... like for the amount of time I've been playing music and practicing guitar my general chops and musical knowledge should be way higher than it is. I bet everybody in this thread feels that way to some degree. But you know, the cost of private lessons...

Nhex, Thursday, 4 February 2010 21:47 (4 years ago) Permalink

learning what notes are in what keys and and what their associated triads are, so i know them automatically instead of painstakingly working it out every time, seems like a hell of a task.

It is a hell of a task, but don't let that stop you. Take your time and work on it gradually. The more you expose yourself to this stuff the more it starts to sink in and become second nature. In addition to the piano recommendation, I think it can sometimes be very helpful to write things out on staff paper, as old-fashioned as that might sound. Just like on the guitar, lots of musical constructions form visual patterns on the staff. Which makes sense of course, as the staff and musical notation is designed to be clear and easy to read. I used to make my students write out a major scale or two every week, and then when they were done with those I'd have that write out different triads. The more you do this stuff the more you start to see the patterns and connections between them and how simple it really is fundamentally.

St3ve Go1db3rg, Thursday, 4 February 2010 22:31 (4 years ago) Permalink

Approach it a little like learning a foreign language

PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! PIES! (HI DERE), Thursday, 4 February 2010 22:32 (4 years ago) Permalink

Makes sense. I still say there's a big difference between playing this

and playing, say, Rock of Ages or a song by The Clientele.

Daniel, Esq., Friday, 5 February 2010 00:30 (4 years ago) Permalink

"I want to know why certain things sound good together, how to play in a particular key, what notes you can and can't play at certain times and so on."

I'm not a great guitar player, or anything, but I can tell you that the bulk of what I do know about answering those questions comes from this:

- find the root key, and jam along
- gradually patterns, particularly movable chord shapes, will begin to emerge

This is really the majority of how I learned guitar: pick it up while listening to music, find an entry point to play along (a root note, the key, a chord), and just work from there. Not necessarily trying to learn the song itself -- just learning what shapes, patterns, and chords fit into the song. It's surely not the best or most efficient way to learn (that'll always be good lessons, right?), but you can't do it for long without starting to sort out what other guitar players are doing, what patterns/shapes on the fretboard you can use to move around the chords and notes you know, which little habits and tricks work for what kinds of songs, etc.

oɔsıqɐu (nabisco), Friday, 5 February 2010 01:08 (4 years ago) Permalink

(And -- to be clear -- I'm certainly not suggesting that as a great alternative or substitute to actually learning the basic music-theory stuff that's being advised here! But improvising-along is useful, I think, and if you don't have other people around, doing it a few times with a song you're liking ... well, it always teaches me stuff, anyway.)

oɔsıqɐu (nabisco), Friday, 5 February 2010 01:13 (4 years ago) Permalink

^pretty much how i picked up guitar, though i was (even more) terrible until i started playing with others

trembling blue knees (electricsound), Friday, 5 February 2010 01:17 (4 years ago) Permalink

i got fairly good fast when i started out. began like most people playing "smoke on the water" on top E, then learnt chords, a couple of songs, then the pentatonic scale. then i became obsessed with the smiths and got really good at learning johnny marr's guitar riffs by ear (this is that time at like 14 when all you do is play guitar). then discovered television and started doing the same. i think this is where my problems began because my favourite guitarist was tom verlaine obvs and though it was alot harder to learn his solos note for note, timbre for timbre, it was also alot easier to improvise solos in a similar manner

(my brothers followed a similar path except instead of the smiths and television, they were copying slayer and pantera. needless to say, they are much better guitarists)

so now i'm at this point where i'm really good at improvising, and really good at creating weird chords and phrases, but my technique is seriously lacking. i'd love to be able to finger pick or play interesting chord sequences and the relevant scales. i've considered lessons but a few people have warned me off, plus i can't afford them anyway. what would you guys recommend for a guitar player who's already competent but wishes to step his game up? is there one good book for example? is there any exercises i should be practicing daily? or should i go the music theory route and learn some shit on piano?

anita bonghit (rionat), Friday, 5 February 2010 12:18 (4 years ago) Permalink

then i became obsessed with the smiths and got really good at learning johnny marr's guitar riffs by ear (this is that time at like 14 when all you do is play guitar)

Oh man: DITTO, and ditto to the rest of it, too. Last year I actually signed up for these cheesy Line 6 guitar-lesson modules, because I felt like I hadn't learned anything new in too long (the fun part is that they all come with guitar-tone patches for whatever you're learning), but I've just wound up going back and forth between relearning simple stuff (fixing bad self-taught technique) and learning tricks of doubtful usefulness (like sweep arpeggios).

^^ hopefully I will soon use some rad sweep arpeggios in an indiepop song and have to eat my words about usefulness

oɔsıqɐu (nabisco), Saturday, 6 February 2010 00:11 (4 years ago) Permalink

please do!

trembling blue knees (electricsound), Saturday, 6 February 2010 00:13 (4 years ago) Permalink

Good thread and some good advice.

I'd say, if you really want to do it properly get lessons, or at least have a enough lessons to get the basics of the theory and develop some good habits. I never bothered with lessons and as a result have some bad habits that are fairly ingrained. Definitely play along with as much stuff as you can - you can learn so much that way. Try and work out stuff by ear rather than using tabs - loads of online tabs are absolute garbage anyway. The trick is just to get the key and/or mode and it's surprising how fast a lot of songs become easy. For soloing just learn the pentatonics in a couple of positions and you can do loads.

One of the best tips though is to play with a drummer.

Louie Louie is A D Emin D. Whatever key you do it in the 5th is minor to make it sound exactly right.

i think this is where my problems began because my favourite guitarist was tom verlaine obvs and though it was alot harder to learn his solos note for note, timbre for timbre, it was also alot easier to improvise solos in a similar manner

I have worked out quite a lot of the Television songs by ear and the Verlaine solos are real bastards because they don't follow 'normal' rock patterns and rote licks. The Richard Lloyd ones are a bit more linear but the are some fast bits that I just can't get right.

Dr.C, Sunday, 7 February 2010 16:41 (4 years ago) Permalink

It's all about the Sonics' take on Louie Louie.

Möbius dick (╓abies), Sunday, 7 February 2010 19:14 (4 years ago) Permalink

I prefer playing it in G, particularly on keyboards, because the F# on the D Major gives it a little extra lift and keeps the song motoring along. It's like climbing a peak, and the top is just a little bit higher than you thought, which is exciting.
Also in G it's the same progression as Hendrix's version of Wild Thing.

might seem normal (snoball), Sunday, 7 February 2010 19:22 (4 years ago) Permalink

1 month passes...

it has to be a d minor though otherwise it's wild thing, surely?
G major C major, D minor.
of course you can do what you like....
only thing wrong with black flag's louie louie was that major d !

howard carpendale (bob snoom), Thursday, 11 March 2010 22:56 (4 years ago) Permalink

It's entirely down to personal taste. In a band with a keyboard player, the D Maj sounds better to me somehow. Without keyboards, just guitars, I think it depends on how fast it's played. Faster than Motorhead's version, I'd opt for the D Maj, slower than Motorhead and I'd go for the D minor.

might seem normal but is actually (snoball), Thursday, 11 March 2010 23:09 (4 years ago) Permalink

Actually this thread reminds me that I haven't picked up a guitar for three days.

might seem normal but is actually (snoball), Thursday, 11 March 2010 23:13 (4 years ago) Permalink

For more than a couple minutes, neither have I. Working always keeps me from playing :\ Especially when the work I do dries out my hands and makes my fingers crack under the nails.

probably a sock!! (╓abies), Friday, 12 March 2010 18:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

3 years pass...

The time has come. I even dragged it out of storage. I have some books. Wish me luck.

Treeship, Monday, 10 March 2014 17:40 (1 month ago) Permalink


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