Guitar Theory and Mental Mapping : Post 5

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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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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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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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Guitar Theory and Mental Mapping : Post 1

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Welcome

Welcome to my guitar blog.

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now.

In my years of playing and teaching, I’ve found that a working knowledge of the fretboard is a skill few guitarists attain. I see a few reasons for this lack of knowledge:

  • Some feel that an intimate knowledge of the fretboard is reserved for those going down the jazz or classical route.
  • There is an attitude in guitar circles that learning theory just isn’t very rock and roll and it’ll strip the soul and feel from your playing.
  • Others see how large an undertaking it is and they never get started.
  • Some just never have anyone to point them in the right direction.

What I’d like to do is point you in that direction, teach you some theory and help you to get a mental map of the fretboard in your head.

By a mental map, I mean being able to picture the fretboard in your head and imagine where your fingers are on that visual image. Through this blog, we’ll expand on this image and you’ll learn to superimpose scales, arpeggios, and target notes onto the fretboard and know when to use them.

As this blog grows, I’m hoping to provide videos, give you some exercises and get you to use my series of mobile and tablet apps which really help to get the fretboard into your head the quickest and easiest way.

Learning the guitar is a life journey – enjoy what you play today.

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Intervals – Theory

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It all starts with the major scale

The major scale is the starting point for the intervals we define in Western music.

The major scale is built from the following formula which describes the distance between the 7 notes in the major scale:

  • T T S T T T S

where:

  • T = a tone = 2 frets on the guitar
  • S = a semitone = 1 fret on the guitar

Using this formula, we can start on any root note and build a major scale.

Example 1

Let’s start on C as our root note, and apply the above formula:

  • we first go up 1 tone, and get to D,
  • going up another tone we get to E,
  • going up a semitone we have an F,
  • another 3 tones takes us to G, A and B
  • the final semi-tone brings us back round to C again.

Therefore, we now know that the C major scale is built of the notes:

  • C, D, E, F, G, A, B

Example 2

If we use Eb as the root note and apply the same formula:

  • we go up 1 tone to F,
  • going up another tone we get to G,
  • going up a semitone we have an Ab,
  • another 3 tones takes us to Bb, C and D
  • the final semi-tone brings us back round to Eb again.

Telling us that the Eb major scale is built of the notes:

  • Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D

Reference Names

When we have a root note, we can describe a scale in terms of the actual note names as we have done above.

However, as the scale can begin on any root note, we use reference names for the notes in a scale.

The reference names of the notes in the major scale are:

  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

We can use these relative names to talk about and get information about the major scale

Let’s look at some examples:

Example 1

If we are asked for the 4th of C major:

  • In the example above we established that notes in the C major scale are: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
  • We want the 4th so we get the 4th name of the scale
  • The 4th of C is F

Example 2

If we’re asked for the 4th of Eb major, we use the same logic:

  • The notes in the Eb major scale are: Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D
  • The 4th is Ab

More Examples

  • The 7th of C is B
  • The 2nd of Eb is F
  • The 6th of C is A.

What about the rest of the notes

In western music, there are 12 notes in an octave. So far, we have named 7 of them.

As the major scale is the starting point in western music, the reference names for the remaining intervals are based on the major scale names:

No. Symbol Name
1 Root Root
2 b2 Flat Second
3 b3 Flat Third
4 3 Third
5 4 Fourth
6 #4 / b5 Sharp Fourth / Flat Fifth
7 5 Fifth
8 #5 / b6 Sharp Fifth / Flat Sixth
9 6 Sixth
10 b7 Flat Seventh
11 7 Seventh
12 Octave Octave

Note that a couple of the notes have two names – one name based on the note above and one based on the name below.

The reason for this is beyond the scope of this article, but if you’d like to know more, please take a look at my book here.

Why do we need to know intervals

Scales, modes, chords and arpeggios are all defined by the intervals they contain.

If we know the intervals that each contain then we have the ability to built any scales, arpeggio, etc, starting from any note, anywhere on the fretboard.

This kind of knowledge is power over the fretboard and the music you make.

Of course, before you can build the desired scale, arpeggio, etc, you will need to know where the intervals lie in relation to your root note.

This is what this app is aimed at teaching you.

The App

This app is aimed at getting you to instantly find the relative intervals on the fretboard when starting on any root note on any string.

A random note is highlighted on the fretboard and you are asked to find an interval in relation to that note.

Intervals on the fretboard:

Now that you know the theory, let’s look at some diagrams which show the intervals.

The diagrams show the intervals when starting on 2 different root notes

So that it doesn’t look too complex, both examples are split into two diagrams:

  1. The major scale intervals
  2. The remaining intervals

Major scale intervals with roots on the bottom E string:

  • Root note and it’s octave are red
  • Intervals in the octave above the first root note are blue

Intervals_Major

The remaining intervals with roots on the bottom E string:

  • Root note and it’s octave are red
  • Intervals in the octave above the first root note are blue

Intervals_Others

Major scale intervals with the root on the G string:

  • Root note and it’s octave are red
  • Intervals in the octave above the root note are blue
  • Intervals in the octave below the root note are yellow

Intervals_Major2

The remaining intervals with the root on the G string:

  • Root note and it’s octave are red
  • Intervals in the octave above the root note are blue
  • Intervals in the octave below the root note are yellow

Intervals_Others2

You can see from the diagrammatic examples that the relative positioning of the intervals is different when starting on different root notes.

This may lead you to think that there is much to learn.

However, do not worry – as you work out the intervals starting on different roots, you will find that there are many patterns which do repeat.

For example, when starting on the bottom E and A strings, the shapes are the same.

I will not give diagrams for all the shapes here as I believe it would be more beneficial for you to work them out yourself.

Outro

You now have enough information to start using the second app in my series – Intervals.

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Notes – Theory

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Introduction

The purpose of this app is for you to learn the names of the notes on the guitar fretboard.

This article provides the guitar theory you need to know in order to
use – “FriendlySanj Notes” – my app for Android mobiles and tablets.

Read the full instructions for the app here.

Learning the Notes

If you don’t yet know any of the notes on the guitar fretboard, you’re gonna
need to start by learning at least one note on each string to use as a starting point.

Let’s start with the learning the open (unfretted) strings on a standard tuned
guitar.

String No. Fret No. Note Name String Name String Pitch
1 0 E Top Highest
2 0 B
3 0 G
4 0 D
5 0 A
6 0 E Bottom Lowest

Looking down at a guitar when you’ve got it strapped on you, the bottom string is the string which is closest to you – bottom indicating that the string is lowest in pitch, not physically at the bottom of the guitar.

The top string is the one furthest from you – the highest in pitch.

The bottom string is the 6th string, the top string is the 1st string.

Going from bottom to top, the open string notes are E, A, D, G, B, E.

Say this many times, think of an acronym, or just remember it.. Whichever way works best for you, get the names of the open strings firmly fixed in your head.

The table above summarises this information.

Note Names

There are 12 notes in western music. These are named as follows:

1 A
2 A# / Bb
3 B
4 C
5 C# / Db
6 D
7 D# / Eb
8 E
9 F
10 F# / Gb
11 G
12 G# / Ab

The symbol – ‘#’ – is called a sharp.

The symbol – ‘b’ – is called a flat.

Notice that:

  • Every note has a sharp except B and E
  • Every note has a flat except C and F

These 12 notes comprise what is called an octave.

Once you get up to G# / Ab, the next note is A again. However, this A is higher in pitch than the previous A – it is one octave (12 notes) above the previous A.

If you’re going downwards, when you get down to A, the note below is G# / Ab. This A is lower in pitch and is one octave (12 notes) below the previous A.

Each note is one semi-tone above/below the previous note.

Notes on the Guitar Fretboard

On a guitar fretboard, one fret corresponds to one semi-tone.

As there are only 12 notes, when you get up to the 12th fret on the fretboard, the notes are repeated again.

ie. The notes on frets 13 – 24 are the same as the notes from frets 0 – 12.

Working out the Notes

Armed with the above information, you now have enough information to work out
any note on the fretboard.

Let’s look at some examples to give you the idea.

The table below shows the names of the notes on the first 6 frets of a standard
tuned 6 string guitar:

Open String
Fret Fret Fret Fret Fret Fret
0
1 2 3 4 5 6
E
F F# / Gb G G# / Ab A A# / Bb
B
C C# D D# E F
G
G# / Ab A A# / Bb B C C# / Db
D
D# / Eb E F F# / Gb G G# / Ab
A
A# / Bb B C C# / Db D D# / Eb
E
F F# / Gb G G# / Ab A A# / Bb

Example 1: If asked what the note of the 2nd fret on the 2nd string is:

  1. Look at the first table above which tells us that the open string name of the 2nd string is B
  2. We want the 2nd fret = 2 semi-tones above B and we know that each semi-tone accounts for 1 fret
  3. Look at the note names above and go 2 notes up from B. There’s no sharp / flat between B and C so we see that the note we’re after is a C#

Easy – right?

Example 2: If asked what the note of the 5th fret on the bottom E string is:

  1. The first table above which tells us that the 6th string is the bottom E string
  2. We want the 5th fret = 5 semi-tones above E and we know that each semi-tone accounts for 1 fret
  3. Look at the note names above and go 5 notes up from B. There’s no sharp / flat between E and F so we see that the note we’re after is an A

Example 3: Thinking outside the diagram, if asked what the
note of the 10th fret on the G string, it’s gonna be quicker to start at the
12th fret (which you know is also a G) and work downwards to D

Which Note Name

When naming notes, it is acceptable to use either of the note names given above – eg. in example 1, C# could have been referred to as Db.

When to use each name goes beyond the scope of this article but if you’d like
to know more, please check out my book here.

Outro

You now have enough information to start using the first app in my series – Notes.

FriendlySanj – Find Out More

Download the App


Android app on Google Play