Theory Blog

Blog Post 1 – Welcome
Blog Post 2 – Should I learn theory?
Blog Post 3 – Mental Mapping
Blog Post 4 – What the Pros say
Blog Post 5 – Other learning material out there
Blog Post 6 – Intermission
Blog Post 7 – The 12 Notes in Western Music
Blog Post 8 – Learn the notes on the fretboard
Blog Post 9 – The Piano – a visual instrument
Blog Post 10 – Learn the notes on the fretboard – a starting note
Blog Post 11 – Learn the notes on the fretboard – some examples

FriendlySanj Mobile Apps

Why I wrote these apps

Notes App

Notes – Theory
Notes – Instructions

Intervals App

Intervals – Theory
Intervals – Instructions

Guitar Theory and Mental Mapping : Post 6

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Android app on Google Play

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Ok, I’ve done a lot of talking about the background. Now it’s time to get down to some learning.

I’m hoping you’re inspired to start learning and I’ll try to keep you inspired by giving you examples of how you can use the things you learn today.

Hopefully, you’ll start building a mental fretboard map right away which you’ll keep adding to throughout your guitar playing life.

The clearer your map becomes, the more accurate your destination.

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Guitar Theory and Mental Mapping : Post 5

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Android app on Google Play

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Other learning material out there

Why am I writing this stuff when there’s already a wealth of material out there for you to learn from and why should you work through my stuff instead of someone else’s?

Force Feeding

There is a difference between learning to play guitar by rote and learning to play by truly understanding your instrument.

A lot of material out there tries to force feed you – it doesn’t really get you to understand the guitar.

It asks you to learn chords in specific positions and practice scale shapes, but doesn’t offer you an explanation as to why those notes make that chord and why the chord is called what it is and when and where it might fit in a chord sequence.

It might teach you a new scale but it doesn’t tell you when it’s appropriate to use that scale.

It hints that playing the notes of a scale against a certain chord progression will sound good but when you actually try it, you find that actually not all the notes really sound so good.

A Foundation

What I’d like to give you is a foundation from which you can really understand your instrument.

If you follow these lessons through, you will:

  • Understand music theory and how to map that theory to the fretboard.
  • Be able to derive chords and scales in any position on the fretboard.
  • Understand which notes to target when playing through chord changes.
  • Build a mental map of the fretboard in your mind which links all the different keys.
  • Build a solid foundation from which you can continue to learn and explore for many years to come.

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Guitar Theory and Mental Mapping : Post 4

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Android app on Google Play

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What the pros say

To add some support to the idea of building a mental map of the fretboard in your mind, here are a couple of excerpts from interviews I came across recently:

Joe Satriani – As interviewed by Pete Langman for Guitar magazine

Decades ago before I knew how to play A flat harmonic minor harmonised in fourths, a lot of my practicing had to do with getting familiar with music and guitars.

But then at some point you learn it and you go “Well now what do I do?”

I know all the scales, I know the harmonies, when I look at the guitar it’s like a map that I’m so familiar with I could close my eyes,
so then you realise well wow, now the REAL work begins – just how do you play good, how do you throw out all the didactic and methodical stuff and just make it sound like music.

Greg Howe – As interviewed by Martin Goulding for Guitar Techniques magazine

… the fretboard lights up per key, the trick when I first learnt to do that was to get comfortable with the fact that every key exists anywhere on the fretboard,
and knowing how to play through chord changes without having to disrupt your ideas.

It’s just a matter of knowing all the different shapes.

One thing that has helped me a lot is that I probably see arpeggios first more than anything, so that’s what I’m looking for as I play through the changes.

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Guitar Theory and Mental Mapping : Post 3

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Practicing in your head

When I started playing guitar, one of the first things I learnt was the solo to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden.

Being young and new to my instrument, thoughts of the guitar consumed me.

Even when I didn’t have a guitar in my hand, I’d run through this solo in my head, picturing the fretboard, imagining each finger hitting each fret, hearing each note.

Pretty soon, I noticed that this form of mental practice was actually really useful:

  • I learnt the notes quickly
  • It made me think about my fingering and whether there were better options than what I was using
  • It made me sing the solo in my head and really highlight if I knew what I was trying to play

Just thinking about doing something enforces your ability to do it (I’m sure there’s a useful life lesson in there somewhere).

A mental map

I believe that a mental image is one of the keys to becoming a fantastic musician.

Two examples:

  1. If you wish to play fast but your guitar playing relies on you seeing your fingers then eventually a barrier will occur when your fingers move faster than your eye can see.
  2. I am predominantly an acoustic player and love trying to play multiple lines (bass, melody, middle line) together – I could never achieve this by looking at my fingers but must see and hear the fingering and musical lines in my mind.

Being able to play without looking at the fretboard is also the coolest way to play guitar (sorry Brian May)

Learning Shapes and building a mental map

When it comes to learning scale and arpeggio shapes and target notes, mental practice is invaluable.

Without the distraction of the guitar in your hands, you can really focus on the shapes and avoid getting caught in the trap of endlessly training your fingers to go up and down scales.

When you’ve learnt the shapes in your mind, by the time you get to practice with your instrument, you can really work on the challenge of getting music out of those shapes.

As you learn more shapes, they begin to interconnect and intertwine and you build a mental map of the fretboard in your mind.

With this in mind, I was inspired to put together a series of apps which enable you to learn theory whilst away from your instrument.

Find out more about these apps here

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Guitar Theory and Mental Mapping : Post 2

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Android app on Google Play

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Do you need to learn theory?

When I think of theory, what pops to mind are scales, modes, arpeggios, chord progressions, inversions, and substitutions.

Music is about feeling and expression, but none of these topics seem particularly related to expressing my innermost feelings.

There are tales recounted of formidable musicians who have not a clue about theory but are able to produce the most amazing music and never sound lost for ideas.

I always hoped I would grow into one of these “no study, just play” guitarists.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. I eventually sat down to learn … and when I did, I found I quite enjoyed it.

Won’t learning theory hinder my expression?

Yes, learning theory does hinder your expression – after all, learning theory is about following some pre-set rules to gain some knowledge.

This hindrance, however, is only short term – if you follow through and really understand and ingrain the lesson, then it becomes a part of your playing and will pass over into the expressive part of your brain and playing.

Here’s the learning cycle as I see it:

  • Applying theory will impose rules on you but it will open new sounds to you.
  • Through practice, these new sounds will become an integral part of your playing – your inner musical voice will be embellished by new ideas.
  • The new ideas will be practiced so much that they will flow from your fingers without thought.
  • You now have your old ideas at hand but in addition, new ideas have been assimilated and you can reproduce both your old and new ideas at will.

Won’t learning scales and arpeggios make me sound mechanical?

There can definitely be a danger of this happening if you do not apply the lessons in your own musical way.

We’re all aware of guitarists who have practiced scales and arpeggios to death and can play them unbelievably well and fast, but their playing sounds nothing more than mechanical.

I would not say that this is wrong. It could just be a phase the player is going through – part of the learning process. It could be that the player is playing fast because it feels good to do it – we’re all allowed to indulge ourselves sometimes.

The danger comes when we get stuck in a rut of going up and down scales and our playing becomes more technical than musical.

The only way to get out of a rut is stop doing what we’re doing and learn new ideas.

This may be where many people come unstuck.

Learning new ideas means breaking habits and getting out of our comfort zone. It means taking a step backwards and inevitably not sounding as “good” as we previously did.

Learning new ideas takes time, dedication, commitment and effort!!

Not everyone can rise to that challenge.

If I follow the rules, won’t I just sound like everybody else?

We all hear different music in our heads – we all gravitate towards different types and styles of music.

When learning theory, I believe the idea is to understand it, but also to interpret it. You ultimately take what you like and leave what you don’t like.

As you assimilate more and more ideas, the ideas will merge into each other until what you are playing will no longer be a single set of rules set by someone else, but will be your own rules created from an amalgamation of the many ideas you have learnt and interpreted. There will also be additional rules you yourself have discovered and set along the way.

This is how your style will be born.

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