Archive for the ‘scales’ Category

Hi! This is my first post on guitargear.org. I’d like to thank mr goofydawg for allowing me the chance to contribute here. I want to delve into theory and there’s no better place to start than the beginning. In this first post, I’m going to start with some basic terminology and the fundamentals. First, let’s talk about tonality and the octave.

We begin with a single note. A note is generated by some vibrating mass at a steady frequency. The vibrations cause air to move and the frequency of the vibration determines the pitch that is perceived by our ears. Consider a length of string pulled taught. When it vibrates, it produces a note. When we shorten the length of the string by exactly half, the string will vibrate at a pitch one octave higher than it did at the original length. The tonality of our musical language is defined by the number of notes that occur between these two notes – the fundamental, and its octave. In Western (European and American) music – the system likely to be the most familiar to readers of this blog – we divide the octave into 12 notes. Check out your guitar. The 12th fret is the octave, dig it?

You may have heard of one or more microtonal systems. The term microtonal is obviously relative to our 12-tone system and indicates that there are more notes in an octave than we have. These and macrotonal systems (ones having fewer than 12 notes) are used in Eastern (Asiatic) music. Our discussions here will all relate to our Western tonality.

Now that we’ve discussed notes, let’s move on to chords. A chord is the effect of multiple distinct notes. This is one thing that caused me some confusion in my early theory days. When I say distinct notes, I mean notes that have the same name, without regard to the octave. In a open G chord like the one shown here, the notes, lowest to highest, are G B D G* B* G**. The G and B notes with the single stars are up 1 octave from their previous occurrences within the chord. The double-starred G is up 2 octaves. So, we are strumming 6 notes, but still this is considered a 3-note chord – G, B and D. 3-note chords are called triads and, with them, we define our chordal tonalites like major, minor and others. As an aside, 2-note chords are called doublestops.

Our final topic for today will be scales. Scales are sequences of notes. For all intents and purposes scale, mode and key are interchangeable terms. In Western music, scales typically consist of 7 distinct notes. The notes in the scale are given a number and a name. The names aren’t terribly important to non-theorists so I won’t bore you with them here, but check this link if you’re curious. These numbers are also used to identify chords within the key. A chord that has the tonic as its root note will be called the “1” chord, etc. You may likely have heard of “the old I – IV – V” chord progression – think Louie, Louie or Wild Thing – and now you know the origin of the name.

In music there are certainly absolutes. Middle C vibrates at exactly 261.626 hertz, but for the purposes of studying theory, it’s helpful to think of these concepts in relative terms. This goes back to referring to chords or notes by number rather than name. You’ll start to understand the relationships between these concepts much more quickly and you’ll be able to apply the concepts to a wider array of musical situations.

OK everyone – that’s all I’ve got for tonight. I’m hope you’re still with me and that this was helpful and informative. In the next post, I’m going to dig into chord theory, the beautiful simplicity of the triad and the ambiguity of the doublestop! Cheers!

Read Full Post »


Note: This isn’t going to be an instructional piece… just a sharing piece… mostly…

I’ve been playing guitar for over 35 years, but it hasn’t been until the last couple of years – actually the last few months – that I’ve really started focusing on scales and modal theory. Chord theory I had down cold, but I really didn’t focus on the scales part of the equation. I figured that if I could get some lead patterns and tricks down, I’d be in pretty good shape; and for awhile, that worked just fine.

But then I realized that in many of my recordings, I was using the same patterns and tricks, albeit in different keys and in different combinations, but the same stuff nonetheless. This prompted me to rethink how I approached playing solos, so I started out by learning major and minor scale patterns. I got a couple of books to help me along, and I proceeded to practice them.

But in the back of my mind was this idea of modes. I’d heard them bandied about for years, and pretty much ignored them partially out of the thought that as a rhythm player, they weren’t too important; though that really masked an innate fear that modes were WAY beyond my ability to grasp. But during this past weekend’s study/practice session, I realized that modes are not difficult at all! The names of the modes just scared the livin’ crap out of me! 🙂

Think about it: The mode names are all in Greek: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. From my previous life as a bio-sciences major, terminology in Greek or Latin would evoke feelings of anxiety similar to, “Oh shit! More frickin’ terms to memorize just to regurgitate later on.” 🙂 Such was the case when faced with modes.

I now feel a little foolish about my anxiety with modes. Once you understand what they represent, they’re totally easy to play!

Here’s my explanation in a nutshell, just in case you too have the same anxiety about modes as I did:

  1. Modes are simply starting points within the scale of a particular key.
  2. For instance, if you’re playing in the key of C and want to play in the Mixolydian mode, you’d start and end on the 5th degree of the C scale which is G.
  3. Now don’t get confused here: You don’t play a G scale. You merely start at G, and play the notes of the C scale, so: G A B C D E F G

So what’s the big deal? Lots of players don’t give a whit about this stuff. For me as a teacher, this stuff is pretty important. But from a player’s standpoint, it gives you a much deeper understanding of the fretboard, and also, playing in a mode gives you a different tonal center to play from, which actually has an effect on how a solo sounds and feels.

I found that a great example of this is to play the Lydian mode. The Lydian mode starts on the 4th degree of a scale. Going back to the C scale, this means that the Lydian will be F. If you’re familiar with chord theory, a chord with an added 4th is notated as Csus4. The sound of this particular chord connotes a feeling that the chord must be resolved – it’s not something you’d finish with; you’d typically use a “sus4” chord before either the major root chord or minor root chord. In our case of a C chord, we’d do something like: Csus4 – C. In playing in the Lydian mode, you’ll evoke a sense that you have to resolve your scale somehow. After all, starting and ending on the 4th creates a feeling that your phrase is unfinished. The point of all this is that where you start will have a huge effect on the general coloring of what you’re playing.

Note that this discussion only brushes the surface of modal theory. For a much deeper discussion, check out Guitar Noise or this excellent article that I found on Modes of the Major Scale.

Read Full Post »