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Let's begin with tuning your guitar. It is imperative that you keep your guitar in tune for two reasons:
1. So you sound good!
2. Training your ear
There are six strings on the guitar and we count down from the thickest string to the thinnest string. The thickest string is closest to you and has the deepest sound, while the thinnest string is closest to your legs and has the highest sound. Your strings are named after letters in the alphabet, and they are as follows:
6 - E
5 - A
4 - D
3 - G
2 - B
1 - E
The best way to tune your guitar is with a tuner. I highly recommend that you buy a tuner if you do not already have one. Using a tuner is very simple and most tuners work exactly the same way. While your tuner should automatically detect which string you are tuning, remember to make sure that the tuner displays your desired tuning note. If it doesn't, then the string is either too high or too low in pitch.
For example: If you are tuning the 6th string you should see an "E" on the tuner. If you see another note, then you are either too high or too low for the tuner to know you are on the 6th string.
When you adjust the tuning peg, the string tension will increase or decrease, depending on the direction you choose to turn it. While the string is ringing, turn the tuning peg until the display is in the center of the tuner. On most tuners, when you reach the correct pitch, the tuning light will change color.
Always remember to tune "up" to a pitch and not down to a pitch. This helps in keeping your guitar in tune.
Let's talk about the pick. Some people resist using a pick, but I recommend that you use one. Picks are made out of different materials and come in many thicknesses. Please don't get a metal pick or anything crazy. Start with a normal celluloid or tortex medium thickness pick. As you progress, you might find that you want something a little different, but that will come naturally.
The pick should be held between the thumb and index finger so that the point of the pick is parallel with the strings. There should be no tension in your picking hand, wrist or arm. It is very important to relax. When you pick, the motion should come from the wrist and hand. Not the shoulder or elbow! You will get exhausted if you do this. Also, make sure that you are sitting up straight when you are playing. Hunching over is bad for your neck and back and can lead to injuries over time.
Now it is time to get you playing. Playing guitar is all about repetition and muscle memory. The best way to start is to work on finger exercises that will build up strength and dexterity in your finger muscles, as well as, build your hand-eye coordination. These are just exercises, like running a lap in gym class, and have no harmonic value.
We have four fingers at our disposal:
1 - Index
2 - Middle
3 - Ring
4 - Pinkie
To begin, take your first finger and put it behind the first fret on the sixth string. Pick that note with a downstroke. The best sound will be achieved when the finger is directly behind the fret and pushed down with moderate force. Do not squeeze the life out of it! Next, place your second finger behind the second fret of the same string and pick with an upstroke. Then, pick the third fret with the third finger using a downstroke. Lastly, pick the fourth fret with the fourth finger using an upstroke. Continue this exercise on each of the remaining five strings. When finished, your fourth finger should be on the fourth fret of the first string.
Now that we have taken this pattern forwards, we need to take it backwards. Slide your fourth finger up one fret to the fifth fret on the first string and play it with a downstroke. Then, with an upstroke play the third finger on the fourth fret of the same string. Next, play the third fret with your second finger with a downstroke. Lastly, pick the second fret on the first string with your first finger using an upstroke.
Continue this across the remaining five strings. You should end up on the second fret of the sixth string with your first finger. Once you are there, slide your first finger up one fret to the third fret and follow the forward pattern of this series over to the first string. Then, slide up one fret with your fourth finger on the first string and continue the backwards pattern of this series back to the sixth string. You get the idea. Follow this pattern all the way up to the twelveth fret. When done correctly, the last note played will be with your fourth finger on the first string on the twelveth fret.
This exercise should be done slow and steady, preferably to a metronome to ensure that you don't speed up. You want to make sure the notes ring out, sound clean, and are not rushed or chopped off. Accuracy, not speed, is the goal here. Once you can play this exercise accurately and cleanly at a slow tempo, gradually increase your tempo. Also, feel free to experiment and make up your own finger exercises. Try skipping strings and frets.
Up until this point, we have been playing individual notes one at a time. When you play more than one note at a time, this is called a chord. Chords are the building blocks of songs. It is important to introduce you to commonly played chords early in your studies. The sooner you learn basic chords, the sooner you can play the songs you want. This keeps you motivated and interested in the learning process. I am going to show you the most common and most easily played chords in popular music. You will be surprised how many of the songs you love contain these chords.
Chords are portrayed in vertical diagram form (shown below). The chord diagram represents the top part of the guitar neck. The vertical lines are the strings, and the horizontal lines are the frets. The dots show you where your fingers go, and the number in the dot tells you which finger to use there. To review, the pointer finger is 1, middle finger is 2, ring finger is 3, and pinkie is 4. If there is an O above a string, this is an open string, so strum it along with the others. If there is a X above a string, that string is not to be played at all. The red dots are the roots, or the notes that share the name of the chord. For example: In a C chord, the roots (red dots) would be the "C" notes in that chord.
When making these chords, first place your fingers in the correct place and then pick one note at a time to ensure that each note can be heard clearly, then give it one strum across the strings to hear the whole chord. If a note is not coming out clear, it is one of three things:
1. Either you are not pressing down hard enough.
2. You are not pressing your finger down directly behind the fret.
3. The string is hitting another finger which is preventing its vibration.
The proper way to play chords is to arch your fingers "up" and come straight down on the strings. Some chords are harder than others, so don't be discouraged if some seem impossible at first. They will not stay that way.
Also, it is important to note that you shouldn't work on a specific chord for more than a few minutes. Move on to the next one and come back to it tomorrow. Muscle memory is built through repetition. Below are chord diagrams for all the basic major and minor chords on your guitar. Without getting into theory just yet, the best way to look at the difference between major and minor chords is that major chords sound "happy" and minor chords sound "sad." These chords are your bread and butter. All competent guitar players have these memorized and have them available at an instant. This is your goal. Learn them. Love them. Make them a piece of you.
Now that we have a vocabulary of chords at our disposal we need to talk about how to use them. Let's start with a couple of basic strumming patterns to get used to playing rhythm guitar. I want you to try these with all of the chords we have learned so far.
1. Down on the root, down up on the chord. This should sound like a waltz, and be counted one, two, three.
2. Down, down, down up, down up all on the chord. This should be counted one, two, three and four and.
First, practice all downstrokes on the chord, then practice all upstrokes. Now alternate (down, up, down, up). Try to make your strokes even in length and speed. The goal is to try to make the upstrokes and downstrokes sound as similar and as fluid as possible. Remember not to strum the strings that have an X on them in the diagram.
Songs, as you know, are normally made up of more than one chord. There are songs that consist of only one chord, but very few of them are interesting. What I have below are your basic transitions. These are chords that normally go together. They are in the same "family." They make sense in the same context. Practice each of the transitions with each of the strumming patterns you have already learned. The idea is to play the first chord four times and then switch to the second chord for four times and so on and so forth. The trick is to not lose any time in between chords when you switch. So take it slow. Use a metronome if you can. We are going for accuracy, not speed. I can not express the importance of this enough. If you master these transitions you will be ready to play many of your favorite songs!
E - Emi
E - A
Emi - Ami
A - Ami
A - D
Ami - Dmi
D - Dmi
D - G
Dmi - Gmi
G - Gmi
G - C
Gmi - Cmi
C - Cmi
C - F
Cmi - Fmi
F - Fmi
Ami - C
Emi - G
Dmi - F
B - E
B - Bmi
Bmi – Emi
Bmi – D
D – Emi
C - Emi
Simply put, an interval is the distance between any two notes. We have 12 notes in western music and the distance between any two of these notes has a specific sound and a corresponding name. The notes are named after the letters in the alphabet A through G. When you reach the 12th note, the next note higher is the first note again.
Now obviously, G is only the seventh note in our alphabet. So what about the other five notes? Well, in between some of the notes are other notes called accidentals. These are known as sharps and flats. Sharps go up in harmonic value while flats go down. For example: The note between A and B is either A Sharp or B flat. Don't worry about why... just understand that they are the same note and that sharps go up and flats go down. Sharps are notated by “#” and flats are notated by “b”. There are only two places in our 12 notes where there are no accidentals and that is between B and C and E and F. Therefore, the 12 notes we have at our disposal are:
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab
And the intervals are as follows:
Tonic or octave - two of the same notes. ie: C and C - written as 1
Minor second - one fret or note above the tonic. ie: C and C# - written as b2
Major second - two frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and D - written as 2
Minor third - three frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and Eb - written as b3
Major third - four frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and E - written as 3
Perfect fourth - five frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and F - written as 4
Augmented fourth or diminished fifth - six frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and F# / Gb - written as #4 or b5
Perfect fifth - seven frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and G - written as 5
Minor sixth - eight frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and Ab - written as b6
Major sixth - nine frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and A - written as 6
Minor seventh - ten frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and Bb - written as b7
Major seventh - eleven frets or notes above the tonic. ie: C and B - written as 7
You must also realize that you can start on any tonic and make the same intervals. For example: the distance between C and G is a perfect fifth... and so is the distance between A and E... or D and A. Get used to finding each of these intervals on your fretboard and pay attention to the sound of each of them! We will use these intervals to make all of our sounds in the future and we will call them by their specific names. SO MEMORIZE THEM NOW!
So many players make a living with power chords. Genres like metal and punk have made them an integral part of guitar playing over the years. Powerchords are comprised of only two notes: the root and the perfect fifth. They are neither major nor minor. Because of this structure, the sound they produce is simple, clean, and powerful. Hence the name. Throw on some nice distortion and they're just red hot.
Powerchords are best learned as movable shapes. This means that your fingers keep the same shape and move up and down the fretboard to make the different chords. Below I have made diagrams of three basic powerchord shapes with roots on the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings. The root is the name of the chord. For example, if you are playing a G powerchord the root is G.
The next thing we need to do is to map out the roots on the fretboard so you can find powerchords all over the neck. Take note of your fretboard markers (the dots). These are very useful when navigating the fretboard. Memorize their location and corresponding roots on each string. Notice that there is no note between B and C as well as E and F. All of the other blank spaces are called accidentals, or sharps and flats, as we learned before.
If you are trying to sound a B powerchord with the root on the sixth string, for example, you would play B on the seventh fret with the first finger as well as an F# with your third finger on the fifth string on the ninth fret. I want you to be able to find and play all of the chords (A - G#) with roots on the sixth, fifth, and fourth string.
Now let's incorporate these into our playing. Refer back to all of the basic transitions we used in lesson four and play these with powerchords. Obviously, since powerchords are neither major nor minor, disregard all the tonality differences and focus on the root movement. I want you to try each of these transitions in three different spots on the neck. Specifically, I want you to start on a different root each time and find your closest, most economical move.
The great thing about the guitar is that it is not linear like a piano. From the simplest chord to the most complicated scale, everything exists in five shapes. That's it. When you break the neck down into simple shapes it's easy to learn even the most advanced concepts. And what are these shapes made of? Octaves.
As we have already learned, an octave is the same note played in a different harmonic register. For example, a high C and a low C played in unison. The arrangement of the octaves on our guitar neck creates these shapes. This is commonly known as the "CAGED" system, and when it comes to learning your neck, you can't beat it.
The idea behind this system is that there are five octave shapes, and each one relates to a common open chord shape. Below are diagrams of each of the five octave shapes. Each of these shapes are movable. For example, if you are playing two C's in pattern one and you slide that whole shape up two frets, you are now playing two D's in pattern one.
Pattern 1 is based off of the C major chord.
Pattern 2 is based off of the A major chord.
Pattern 3 is based off of the G major chord.
Pattern 4 is based off of the E major chord.
Pattern 5 is based off of the D major chord.
After you get a good feel for these, we need to learn how to connect them. These patterns increase sequentially as we go up the neck. If we start with C pattern 1, we have our first finger on the first fret of the second string and our third finger on the third fret of the fifth string. What we want to do is play every C on the guitar. So, as we go up the neck we switch to the next octave shape. In order to connect to the pattern 2 shape, we put our first finger where our third finger was on the third fret of the fifth string and then reach our next octave with our third finger on the fifth fret on the third string. The stretch to pattern 3 is tricky. Don't worry about playing both the first and sixth strings at the same time. You can bounce back and forth with your fourth finger. Just make sure you know where they are.
When you go to pattern 4, realize that you can play both the first and sixth strings with your first finger if you lay it across all of the strings. This is called barreing. It may be hard at first but this is a necessary skill to master in order to become a good guitar player. After pattern 5 the cycle just starts over at pattern 1 again.
Don't let open strings fool you. Really try to visualize the octave shapes in open form. Choose random keys and try to connect all of your roots up and down the fretboard. Choose keys like F# or Bb to make sure you really understand the concept. You will know you have fully absorbed this concept when you can play any note anywhere on the guitar neck by connecting these patterns. This is the foundation upon which all of our future lessons will be built. Get it down. It is absolutly essential.
I'm sure you have heard people say things like, "that's in the key of C major." The easiest and best way to explain what that means is to think of your key as "home." If you are in the key of C major, then the C major chord is home base. It is the complete resolution of all musical tension. The flavor or feeling of a song is created by the function of its chords, and all of the chords function in relation to "home." Some chords go away from home. Some chords go towards home. Some moves are close and some moves are far. But, they all serve to create or resolve musical tension, which is ultimately resolved by the arrival at our root, or "home." In musical terms, the key (or key center) is called the root or the one (I) chord. Therefore, in the key of C major, the note C is the root and the C major chord is the one (I) chord.
Below, I have listed the two most common keys in popular music. Remember the key center is called the one chord. Therefore, the keys listed below are the keys of C major and G major, respectively. You will notice that there are seven chords in any key, which are notated by roman numerals. You will also notice that, regardless of the key, when the one chord is major so are the four and five chords. The two, three, and six chords are always minor, and the seventh chord is diminished. Don't worry about diminished just yet. We will get there in a bit.
Take a look at the key of C major. If C major is the one chord, then what is the six chord? If you answered A minor you get it. What is the two chord in the key of G major? That's right! A minor.
I major II minor III minor IV major V major VI minor VII dim
C D E F G A B
G A B C D E F#
At the bottom of this lesson you will see a few progressions. A progression tells you what chords are in a song - but not the key. You need to start viewing chords as performing functions relative to the key center, root, or one chord. With this knowledge you understand how any song can be played in any key. Chords exist in a context, not alone. It is the chord function that is important.
I have listed the most common progressions in popular music. You will recognize them. I want you to try them with the different strumming patterns we have already explored, and I want you to try them in both the key of C and G. . For example, play a I IV V in the key of C major. The chords are C major, F major, and G major respectively. The C major chord functions as "home." The F major chord will function as going "away." And the G major chord will function as if it wants to "go towards home." Now try the same I IV V progression in the key of G major. The chords will now be G major, C major, and D major, respectivley. Now the G major chord will function as "home." The C major chord will function as going "away." And the D major chord will function as if it wants to "go towards home." You will find that the functions of the chords are the same for each key, but the overall flavor or feeling is different. The key is different. The progression is the same.
Lastly, I want you to experiment with using different rhythms and progressions you make up yourself. Have fun. See what sounds good and what doesn't. Start developing an "active ear." Think about the function of the chords you are playing. Don't be passive. Are they creating or resolving tension? Are they going towards or away from home? Everything serves a purpose!
I IV V
I VImi IImi V
IImi V I
Barre chords are movable chord shapes that utilize a technique where you lay (barre) your fingers across the neck.
Try barring your first finger across all 6 strings at the fifth fret. See if you can hear all of the notes as you play each of the strings. It can be tricky at first. You probably hear the most buzzing around the third string. Over time you will build the strength in your hand to barre with ease. Our first barre chords will be built on pattern 4 and pattern 2 octave shapes. These are the most commonly used. If you remember, pattern 2 is based off of the A shape and pattern 4 is based off of the E shape. The diagrams below show the major and minor versions of each.
Notice that the first set of notes in each of these chords makes a powerchord. To play these movable shapes, you find the desired root on the fretboard and then make the rest of the shape the same as you would with a powerchord. Make sure you play each chord one note at a time and listen for all of the chord tones. With the pattern 2 major chord, you have the option of barring with either the fourth of third finger. Try both and decide which one is better for you. Take your time and work out any kinks. Be patient.
After you have these barre chords under your fingers, try playing the I IV V and I VI II V progressions that we learned earlier using only barre chords.Try using at least two different starting points for each progression. For example, start with a pattern 2 shape for the first run-through of the progression and then start with a pattern 4 shape the next time. Play both progressions in all five keys as well as experiment on your own. Make stuff up. Enjoy all of the sounds you can make.
Your rhythm guitar playing has gaps - gaping holes. These movable shapes will fill them. Currently, the only movable shapes we have are our patterns 2 and 4 barre chords. You need the other three patterns for both major and minor chords to completely know your fretboard. Below, I have provided the diagrams for major and minor chords in all five patterns. Some of these patterns are strange to the fingers, and might not be used very often. Others are very easy and are overused if you ask me. You need to know them all and be able to grab them without hesitation.
There are many different reasons to use specific chord shapes instead of others. Sometimes we want to use a specific chord shape to get a specific sound from our chords. Other times we may want to be economical in our movement around the neck. This is especially true when playing long, live sets. This lesson is designed to get you accustomed to finding your "closest move" or most “economical transition” by utilizing all of the five chord shapes available.
Below I have supplied the table of our five most common keys. Like before, we are going to play our two most common progressions (I IV V & I VI II V) in each of the five keys. This time, however, we will be using our "closest moves." This means we will not be going up or down the neck more than one fret to reach our desired chord.
Let's start in the key of C with the I IV V progression. Choose any strumming pattern you like. In open position, the patterns of choice are C major pattern 1, F major pattern 4, and G major pattern 3. After playing our progression in that area of the neck, we are now going to increase each of the pattern numbers by one and subsequently climb the fretboard. Therefore, C pattern one will become C pattern 2, F pattern 4 will become F pattern 5, and G pattern 3 will become G pattern 4. This will take us to the next position of this progression on the fretboard. After a minute, continue up the neck. C will progress to pattern 3, F to pattern 1, and G to pattern 5. Take this all the way up the neck until you have played the progression in all five possible sections of the fretboard. Try this method in all of the five keys listed and in the I VI II V progression.
There is one more thing we need to introduce: minor progressions. A minor progression is a progression where a minor chord acts as the I chord, or home, just like the minor root does when improvising in the minor pentatonic scale. The most common minor progression is a minor I IV V. The root movements will be the same as a major I IV V, but the chord shapes will be different. I am not going to get into too much theory right now, so just know that minor chords can be key centers as well. I have added a few minor I IV V progressions below.
Really get into this stuff.
So we have 12 notes from which to choose. We already know we can make chords from scales, but what are these scales? Scales are notes arranged in a certain order to make specific sounds. There are many kinds of scales but we will start with the major scale because it is the most common. We create the intervals of a scale by applying a formula of whole steps and half steps from any tonic. Whole steps are two frets and half steps are one fret. The formula for the major scale is:
Whole – Whole – Half – Whole – Whole - Whole - Half
Which creates these intervals:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
So if we apply our major scale formula from the tonic C, our C major scale would be:
C D E F G A B C
But what about accidentals? We already know that some scales have sharps and flats, so where do they come in? To answer this, let's try to make a G major scale.
If we start on G, we see that the distance from G to A is a whole step, from A to B is a whole step, B to C is a half step (because there is no note in-between B and C), C to D is a whole step and D to E is a whole step. So far so good. But look at what happens next. We are on E, and need a whole step, but the distance between E and F is only a half step (because there is no note between E and F). Therefore, we have to change the F to an F# to get the whole step we need in the major scale formula. Lastly, we need a half step to complete the formula and we have that between F# and G (our tonic). Which gives us:
G A B C D E F# G
Apply this formula to any tonic and you will make a major scale. Try this on your fretboard. Start on any fret on any string. Go up the string following the formula and you will make the major scale in the key of your starting note. Below are the rest of the five most common keys I gave you before. Understand how the formula altered the notes to create each scale, and play them up and down each respective string. Notice the pattern and feel of the scale degrees.
D E F# G A B C# D
A B C# D E F# G# A
E F# G# A B C# D# E
The first scales we will be learning to play are five note scales, known as pentatonic scales. The reason we start with five note scales and not the full seven note major scale is because not only are they easier to learn and play, but they are extremely prevalent in popular music. Pentatonic scales can be both major and minor in tonality.
The major pentatonic scale contains the following intervals:
1 2 3 5 6
The minor pentatonic scale contains the following intervals:
1 b3 4 5 b7
Below are the five patterns of the major and minor pentatonic shapes. The major pentatonics are listed first, and the shapes are in order, starting with pattern one.
Begin with the key of C major. The way to practice is to start at the first playable pattern on the neck in that key and work up and down the neck. In the key of C, for example, pattern 1 is the first playable pattern - so look at the diagrams, find pattern 1, and start with the third fret on the fifth string with your third finger. Play across the neck and back and make sure you are alternate picking. Always start and end on the lowest root. After you feel that you have that shape under your fingers, jump up to pattern 2. Connect your roots first, find the appropriate scale shape below, and go through it. Continue this for each of the five patterns in the key of C. Make sure to work your way back down the neck once you have gone all of the way up.
Next, let's take a look at the key of A minor. Find the lowest playable octave shape in A minor, which is pattern 2. When you find pattern 2 in the diagrams below, you will notice that it is the same scale shape we just played (pattern 1 in C major) but with different roots. This is known as relative major and minor. We will talk about this more in the future, but for right now just realize that pentatonic scales are both major and minor in tonality... It just depends what note (root) you start and end on. Play across the neck and back using alternate picking in each of the five patterns the same way you did in the key of C major. Go all of the way up and down the neck.
Now, I am sure some of you are asking what is the difference between C major and A minor if the shapes are the same? To answer this question we have to play these scales in context. Scales only perform a specific function when played over chords. Without the context of chords the roots are not the roots so to speak. The notes have no real function. So below I have recorded some jam tracks in different keys. In these tracks, I am simply playing the designated chord over and over again (called a vamp). Play the C major jam track and start with the pattern 1 C major pentatonic scale. When playing up and down the scale over the track, you will hear how the roots really sound like the roots. They sound like home. Play around in this shape and try to make some cool phrases. Take it slow. Try to think like a voice. Listen to the function of the different notes in this scale. Right away you will get a feel for the shape and how to move around in it.
Now, let's switch gears to A minor. Click the A minor jam track and play pattern 2. The scale is the same as C major pentatonic, but your roots have changed. When playing this scale over the A minor chord you will immediately notice that the sound is distinctively different. Focus on your new roots. They now sound like home - but in a different way. The feel of the shape has changed. As you play around in this shape you will find that the same phrases that you used over a C major chord don't really translate to an A minor context. It is all about context. I want you to try all five patterns in a variety of keys so you are comfortable playing them all over the neck. Also, don't forget to try in different keys!
1. C major vamp
2. A minor vamp
3. G major vamp
4. E minor vamp
For most aspiring guitarists, improvising is the largest source of frustration and intimidation. And, if you think about it, this makes sense. Everything else you can copy! So at Guitargate, improvising is our main focus. Improvising, more than anything else, is your true voice.
Many players just run up and down scales and call it improvising. It isn't. It's mindless and uninteresting. The largest problem with learning to improvise is that players don't focus on context. You need to spell out the chord you are playing over. That's why you picked it, right?
The goal of an improviser is to say something; to elicit an emotion; to describe a feeling. You need to create and resolve tension. There must be movement. You must have changing levels of volume and intensity. You must be simple sometimes and complex other times. You must always have room for silence - to let it breathe. And everything must relate to the context - to the chord you are playing over.
Let's start in the key of A minor, pattern 4. Pattern 4 is your bread and butter for minor pentatonic phrasing. It is very intuitive to the fingers. The most important thing to do when improvising is to make sure you play "about" the root. Play "at" the root. Everything you do will be with the root in mind. Every note you play will be performing a function relative to the root. A good way to begin thinking like this is to start and end all of your phrases on a root. Tease around the root and come back to it. Play from a lower root to a higher root. Start on a higher root and work back to a lower root. Don't bend the root. For right now, do not break this rule. Keep the root sacred. It is home base. Don't mess with your harmonic center.
Once you have a good feel for pattern 4 minor, expand this concept to the rest of the five shapes. Each one will have its own special feel and range. Explore one shape at a time and really dig into each one. After you have a good feel for each of the shapes, begin to combine them. Start viewing them as extensions of each other. Begin by combining pattern 4 with pattern 3. Go back and forth between the two. Find the common notes. Continue this process with each of the remaining shapes. Eventually you will see the whole neck as one large shape. Constantly think in terms of the root. Find the same phrases in different shapes. They are everywhere. Don't get caught up in one or two patterns. Don't get caught up in neck position or fingering too much. Focus on the root. Think about the root constantly. Connect patterns in order to access the root in another place. Nothing is arbitrary. I cannot stress this enough.
After exploring A minor, jump into C major. As we know, it is the relative major key and has the same notes and scale shapes but with different roots. Accentuating these new roots is the key to sounding "major." Play the C major jam track and start exploring C major in pattern 3. Really think about your new roots. When you play "about" or "at" your new roots you will find that the same licks and phrases you used in A minor don't really translate. All of the notes are the same, but you have to play differently. You have to play "major." Expand your exploration to the other four shapes of C major pentatonic the same as you did before with A minor pentatonic. Really try to sound out the chord you are playing over. Please make the root your best friend. Love it. Need it. Don't make it jealous.
One thing I also recommend is sequencing. Sequencing entails playing across the scale shape in designated sets of notes. Common sequences are sets of three and sets of four. For example, sequencing in sets of three means you would play the first three notes in the scale, then play the second, third, and fourth notes of the scale, then play the third, fourth and fifth notes and so on (123, 234, 345, 451, 512, 123). Try sequencing all of your patterns in a bunch of different keys. Also try sets of two, six, or whatever. This is a very cool technique which allows you to fill up space in areas where you want more notes without sounding confused and random.
It is also important to note that everything we talk about is applicable in any key, but you will find that some keys utilize open strings in ways which create cool and unique phrasing opportunities.
And lastly, USE YOUR EAR! It won't lie. I want you to take it slow and listen to where you want the notes to go. What do you want them to do? Do you hear them going away from home? Towards home? Higher? Lower? Create general confusion for a while? Listen to your inner ear and try to get it out. Spend time playing over these jam tracks below and start developing your personal style. Speed will come. Be accurate. Be just as mental as physical.
1. C major Improv
2. A minor Improv
3. C major to A minor
4. D major to B minor
Arpeggios are chords played one note at at time. Essentially they are the skeleton of your chord, and are very useful in creating melodic lines and providing a clear path over which to improvise. Below I have supplied the five patterns for major and minor arpeggios. Learn these the same as you have your chord shapes and pentatonic scale shapes. Play up and down the neck in both major and minor keys slowly and accurately to memorize the shapes and how they connect.
After you have these under your fingers, let's play through our progressions with arpeggios. We are going to use the concept of "closest moves" the same way we did last lesson with our major and minor chord shapes. Start in the key of C major and let's play a I IV V. Start with pattern 1 C, pattern 4 F, and pattern 3 G. Play a jam track below, and arpeggiate back and forth over each chord change. Work your way up the neck one position at a time the same way we did last lesson in order to cover the entirety of the neck and all our pattern chages. Once you have done this, try it in the other four keys we have been using and also try the other progressions (I VI II V & minor I IV V). Reminder: alternate pick these.
Now, because you will be playing only chord tones, your playing will sound consonant and linear. This is the idea behind arpeggio playing. Nail the chord tones. Spell out your changes exactly. Many players use arpeggios as a kind of road map to navigate the fretboard. Get these down and you will feel comfortable on any part of the neck.
In our first improvising lesson, we discussed soloing over one chord vamps. But very few songs are only one chord. Playing over progressions is a skill you must master to be a good player. Too many players just pick one pentatonic shape for an entire song and plunk around in it without regard to chord changes. Now to be fair, some cool sounds and phrases can be made in this manner, but a real improviser has an arsenal of tools at their disposal. We will not be one trick ponies.
Lets take a I IV V in A minor in fifth position. Our chords will be A minor, D minor, and E minor respectively. Basically, the concept is to switch to the pentatonic scale that corresponds to the chord that is being played. So, over the A minor chord we will be playing A minor pentatonic pattern 4. Remember to play "about" or "at" your roots. When the chord changes to the IV chord (D minor) you need to switch to D minor pentatonic. We can reach a D minor pentatonic shape in this position without moving up or down the neck by utilizing our "closest moves" concept to go to D minor pattern 2. You could jump to any D minor pattern, but for right now focus on being economical. It will help you learn the neck.
When playing over the IV chord realize that YOUR ROOTS HAVE CHANGED. You are in a new pattern. Play accordingly. Play "about" or "at" your new roots (D pattern 2). Do the same thing when you go to the V chord (E minor). Your "closest move" is E minor pattern 1. Really think about your new roots. Accentuate them. Don't be vague when switching chords. Nail your new roots. Really sell the change! This concept is applicable to any progression in any key.
It is also important to note that the difference between each of these scales is only one note. In addition to the roots changing, be sure to accentuate the differences in the scales themselves. For example: when you switch to D minor pentatonic from A minor pentatonic, the note that changes is E (the fifth of A) changes to F (the minor third of D). Because the F is a chord tone of the D minor chord, when you accentuate this note you are spelling out the chord and making the change more obvious than if you didn't.
Now, apply the same techinque to a major I IV V and a I VI II V progression.
Just like all of our other lessons I want you to try this in every position on the neck. Go up and down the entirety of the neck improvising in different patterns nailing the root movements. Play along with each of the jam tracks below. Really try to feel comfortable playing in different keys, over different progressions, and on any part of the neck. Many people call this style of improvising "box" soloing. This is a great way to start seeing how tonality changes as you move around the neck and through different progressions. Love the box. Be the box. But always be thinking of your roots.
1. C major I IV V
2. A minor I IV V
3. C major I VI II V
4. G major I VI II V
OK! It's the end of the beginner level. As you have no doubt figured out, this is a very intensive program. It is important that you have absorbed all of the content in this section before you advance. All of the information presented in this section will be assumed as we progress. And it will get nasty. So be confident in the following:
Memorization of all supplied open chords
Able to find and play powerchords with roots on sixth, fifth, and fourth string
FIRM grasp on octave shapes (CAGED system)
Able to identify and play major and minor barre chords
Able to identify and play I IV V and I VI II V progressions with open and barre chords
Able to identify and play major and minor chord shapes in all five patterns in any key
Able to identify and play major and minor pentatonic scales in all five patterns in any key
Able to identify and play major and minor arpeggios in all five patterns in any key
Able to play I IV V, minor I IV V, and I VI II V progressions using "closest moves" technique
Able to improvise over one chord vamps and over progressions using "closest moves" technique
To move on to Level 2, post a video showing me and your peers that you have a firm grasp of all of the above. I want to see you use the whole neck showing a working knowledge of all five chord, arpeggio, and pentatonic shapes. Pick any key you like. Go for it!
I know that this is a lot of information, but keep your head up and try hard. The surest way to improve is to keep the guitar in your hands. Make it a part of you. Leaning an instrument is a discipline. I cannot make it easier for you. Go out there and be somebody!
1. C major I IV V
2. E minor I IV V
3. D major I VI II V
By this time, you should be very comfortable with the major pentatonic scale and should view the major scale as an extension of the pentatonic scale. The major scale incorporates the 4th and 7th degrees, which are the half-steps which were removed to get the pentatonic scale. If you remember, the formula for a major scale is:
Whole - Whole - Half - Whole - Whole - Whole - Half
Or these intervals:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Below are the five patterns of the major scale. Memorize them and play them the same way you did the pentatonics. Connect all of them up and down the neck in a variety of different keys.
Start by playing the lowest playable octave shape, then the chord, then the corresponding arpeggio, the pentatonic scale, and then the full major scale.
Finally, practice playing in each pattern over a one chord vamp and try to get the feel of each pattern with the addition of the half steps. Connect the patterns and get comfortable seeing the whole neck as a major scale.
1. C major vamp
2. G major vamp
3. D major vamp
Now it is time for the natural minor scale. You are familiar with the minor pentatonic scale, so again, you want to view this scale as an extension of the pentatonic. We are adding the half steps at our 2nd and b6 scale degrees. The minor scale formula is:
Whole - Half - Whole - Whole - Half - Whole - Whole
Or these intervals:
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Below are the five patterns of the natural minor scale. Memorize them and play them the same way you did the pentatonics. Connect all five patterns up and down the neck in a variety of different keys. Try to visualize the underlying chords in the patterns. Start by playing the minor chord of each pattern, then the corresponding arpeggio, the pentatonic scale, and then the full minor scale. Good luck!
1. A minor vamp
2. D minor vamp
3. E minor vamp
Alright! Now it's time to start improvising with more than just pentatonics!
Let's look at a I IV V in key of A major. Up until this point you have been playing either A major pentatonic over the whole progression, the individual major pentatonic scales over the A, D, and E chords, or hopefully, a combination of both. As you have no doubt figured out, the difference between each of these scale patterns is only one scale degree. All of the other notes are in the tonic key (A major).
What you are actually doing when you switch to different pentatonic scales in a diatonic progression is emphasizing the chord tones of the underlying chord. While not playing the arpeggio of the chord, you are in effect outlining the chord changes with additional notes from the tonic major scale. These are perfectly useful shapes to play, but they are missing something huge... HALF-STEPS!
The main difference between playing pentatonics and full scales is the presence of half steps. Pentatonics are easy to finger and easy on the ear but half steps give your music color and character. They allow you to embellish and ornament. You can't play all meat and potatoes all day. Lot's of people do it, but they shouldn't.
First, I want you to play the full A major scale over the progression. Start with any pattern you like. Just use your ear. Mess around with the half steps. Do this up and down the neck in all 5 patterns. Get used to playing and hearing 7 note scales.
Next, start playing the arpeggio of the underlying chord for a second or so before continuing on to the full A major scale. The jam track below will stay on each chord for a while so you have ample time to spell out your changes.
Literally, go up and down the arpeggio in the pattern you are in, and then play the full scale. Pay attention to which notes in the major scale are chord tones of the underling chord. Pay attention to the half steps around the chord tones and what sounds they make. Get a feel for embellishment.
After that, begin with the arpeggio of the underlying chord and then play the pentatonic scale of the same underlying chord. Find your go-to licks in the patterns and go back and forth between hanging on chord tones and doing runs across the pentatonic scale.
Finally, add in the half steps to make it the full A major scale. Go back and forth between arpeggios, pentatonic licks, and full scale runs. Hang on the half steps around your chord tones. Really listen to what the different scale degrees do to the sound of the chord. Does it add tension? Does it serve to resolve tension? Does it imply a change is coming? Does it blur the music?
It is the answer to these types of questions that will develop your personal style. Get into it. Do this in many, if not all, of the keys and in all five patterns. Play in this fashion up and down just one string even! Break it down and aspire to HEAR the difference between the scale degrees and chord tones.
As you have certainly surmised, the arpeggios, pentatonics, and chord tones of all of our chords exist within the A major scale. You can think and play A major over the whole progression and sound fine, but not as fine as you could sound if you spelled out your changes.
SELL YOUR CHANGES.
I want you to be aware of the sounds you are making. I want you to be aware of the effects of your note choices and of the options you have. Apply the same formula explained above to this (and all) new progressions. How about our faithful I VI II V?
Start with arpeggios.
Add in pentatonics.
Add in the half steps that make it the full tonic scale.
Go back and forth and experiment.
Think - Should I play a pentatonic over the first part and then add a half step when going to the next chord? Should I connect my triads of each chord and work up and down the neck for a minute? Should I make noise for a moment? Be inquisitive. Think with your ear!
Do this in all five patterns and in many different keys. Play over these jam tracks like it's your job!
1. A major I IV V
2. C major I IV V
3. G major I VI II V
4. D major I IV II V
Up until now we have been making triads, or three note chords. But of course, we can play more than three notes at a time. As we add additional notes to chords, we name the additional notes in the chords by their scale degree. Therefore, 7th chords mean that we are adding the seventh scale degree to the triad.
For example: the C major triad is comprised of the notes: C (tonic), E (major third), and G (perfect fifth). When we add a B (major seventh) onto our triad we get what is called a major seventh chord.
There are four kind of diatonic 7th chords. They are as follows:
Major 7 - 1 3 5 7
Minor 7 - 1 b3 5 b7
Dominant 7 - 1 3 5 b7
Minor 7 b5 - 1 b3 b5 b7
Just like we learned in the beginner level, chord qualities exist at certain degrees in a scale. As you remember, all of our I IV and V chords are major, our II III and VI chords are minor, and our VII is diminished. When we add the corresponding 7th degree to each of these chords we end up with these qualities:
I major 7
II minor 7
III minor 7
IV major 7
V Dom 7
VI minor 7
I want to point out that since 7th chords are made up of four notes (roots, thirds, fifths, sevenths), these are actually two triads combined and played as one. For example: the C major 7 chord (C, E, G, and B) is comprised of both a C major chord (C, E, and G) and an E minor chord (E, G, and B). Therefore, there are two ways to look at this chord: A C major chord with a B on top, or an E minor chord with a C in the bass. While this may seem confusing, I assure you that as we progress this will prove to be a huge key in unlocking your understanding of theory.
Below are the diagrams for Major 7th, Minor 7th, Dominant 7th, and Minor 7(b5) chords in all five patterns.
7th chords are more "jazzy" than regular triads and are used to add color in your arrangements. After you have memorized the five shapes for each of the four chord types, connect them up and down the neck as you have done before. As you go up and down the neck, interchange your 7th chords and regular chord types.
For example: Start with C major and C major 7th. Begin in open position with pattern 1 C major and then play C major 7. Then go up to pattern 2 and play C major and C major 7. Continue up and down the neck in this fashion. Try many different keys and all four chord types. Get used to seeing them as an extension of your regular chords.
Try our I IV V and I VI II V progressions utilizing 7th chords. Obviously you can choose to substitute 7th chords as often or as sparingly as you like based on your taste. Mess around with them. They are a very useful and common chord type. Don't be afraid to be jazzy!
The diminished chord is used much more sparingly than major or minor chords. Take just one listen to this chord and you will understand why. It is complete tension and dissonance.
It is mostly used to imply a dominant chord sound (as we just learned that the dominant 7th chord has a major triad on the bottom and a diminished triad on the top). Just know that this very dissonant sound is used to make the resolution to consonant sounds stronger.
The notes in the diminished chord are:
1 b3 b5
Below are the five patterns of the diminished chord and the diminished arpeggio. Memorize these the same way you did major and minor chord shapes. Start with octave shapes, then the chord, and connect up and down the neck in a variety of keys. Experiment with this sound and try to find a way to incorporate it into your playing. I will go into more detail about uses of the diminished chord in later lessons, but for now, just absorb this very dissonant - but diatonic - sound.
Triads triads triads... Triads truly are the key to unlocking your neck.
Most aspiring guitarists feel like they are playing either rhythm or lead. In other words, playing either chords or scales. Guitarists often feel frustrated that there is no link or bridge between rhythm guitar and lead guitar, as if they are separate entities.
Triads are the bridge.
Great players are always incorporating elements of both rhythm and lead into their playing. Knowing your triads up, down, and across your neck will seriously change the way you approach the guitar. Your understanding of music theory will finally be translatable to the neck.
If you submerge yourself in triads I promise you that it will no longer feel like you are studying rhythm, lead, and theory as separate entities. If absorbed, the understanding of triads is the link between each of those different aspects of playing. I cannot express the importance of this enough!
We know that triads are three note clusters that make our basic chords. To review, they are as follows:
Major - 1 3 5
Minor - 1 b3 5
Diminished - 1 b3 b5
(Yes, there are also augmented triads, but don't worry bout them at this juncture.)
Up until this point, the root has always been the lowest note played in our chords. But that is not always the case. When the root is not the lowest played note in a chord it is known as an inversion. We classify the inversions based on which chord tone is in the bass (the lowest played note). Therefore, a triad can be in either root position, first inversion (third in the bass), or second inversion (fifth in the bass). For seventh chords and chords with extensions we can continue in this fashion (third inversion = 7th in the bass, etc...)
Because triads are made up of three notes, and there can only be one note played on any one string, we group our triad shapes by string sets. For this course, we will focus on adjoining string sets:
Each triad has three places on any string set, as the triad is made up of three notes, and we are playing only three strings. Therefore, on each string set you will find a root position, first inversion, and second inversion triad. Each of these triads will be a part of two of the corresponding chord shapes. This is why we call them the glue, or the bridge.
Below I have arranged major, minor, and diminished triad shapes according to string sets and inversions. Learn them like it's the most important thing you could ever learn on the guitar... because they are! It is crucial to visualize these triads as smaller parts of the movable chord shapes and arpeggios you already know.
So far in the course we have been playing scales as single notes. But now that we have discovered triads, we can harmonize these notes by building the corresponding triad from the specific scale degrees. The basic idea is to play a scale in chord form. Let's look at the C major scale. The notes in the C major scale are:
C D E F G A B
The corresponding triads built off of this scale are:
C major, D minor, E minor, F Major, G major, A minor, and B Diminished.
Start on the 123 string set. First, let's start with root position. The root position C major triad on the 123 strings starts on the fifth fret of the third string. Follow your root position triad shapes up the neck.
Example: Move up two frets to D Minor, two more to E minor, one fret to F major, etc... until you reach the C major octave on the 17th fret, and then turn around and go back down the neck.
Once you have completed the harmonized scale in root position, now try it in first inversion (third in the bass). The lowest first inversion C major triad on the 123 string set is with your first finger barred on the eighth fret and your second finger on the ninth fret of the third string on the note E (the third). Continue up and down the fretboard in this fashion the same as you did before. When you have completed this, then try it in second inversion (fifth in the bass). The lowest second inversion C major triad on the 123 string set is in open position with your first finger on the first fret of the second string. The open G string is the lowest note in the chord (the fifth). Again, take this up and down the fretboard as you have before.
Do this same exercise on the 234, 345, and 456 string sets using all three inversions as well as various different keys.
It is important to realize that, when you combine the triads accross all of the string sets, you get full chord shapes and arpeggios. Each triad is just a section of a previously learned chord and arpeggio shape. Breaking down what we already have learned into smaller three note pieces makes it easier to learn the fretboard and utilize all of the neck when playing rhythm and lead. This is why memorizing these triads is so important. I cannot express how much practice should be spent on this lesson. I beg you to acknowledge the power of the triad!
Your favorite. My favorite. Everyone's favorite. More arpeggios!
Below are the five patterns of our diatonic 7th chord arpeggios. Just to recap, they are:
Major 7 - 1 3 5 7
Minor 7 - 1 b3 5 b7
Dominant 7 - 1 3 5 b7
Minor 7 b5 - 1 b3 b5 b7
Like we have done countless times before, begin with your lowest playable octave shape, then your chord, then your 7th chord, and then your 7th chord arpeggio. Connect all five patterns up and down the neck in a variety of different keys. Enjoy!
Now that we are familiar with playing the harmonized major scale with triads, we can take it a step further and apply the same concept with 7th chords.
Pick one pattern at a time and work up and down the neck. For example, let's choose the key of F major and pattern 4.
The first chord will obviously be F major 7, and will be played with our first finger on the first fret of the sixth string. Next, we move up to the third fret and make our G minor 7 chord. Continue to A minor 7 on the fifth fret, Bb major 7 on the sixth fret, and so on until you arrive at the octave on the thirteenth fret, where you then head back down in the same fashion.
Repeat this process all of the other four patterns.
Another great way to achieve this sound is to play the top three notes of the seventh chord (the 3rd 5th and 7th) as a triad and have the roots played by someone else or a jam track. Lots of players go back and forth between playing roots and not playing the roots. This is a cool device to make sounds that are a tad cleaner because three notes are less muddled than four.
Just to be clear about how this works, lets examine the key of F major. In F major, the I chord is F major 7, which contains the notes F A C E. If you remember from the theory lesson on 7th chords, we can look at this as either an F major chord with an E on top, or an A minor chord with an F in the bass. We want to focus on the latter. So for our F major 7 chord, we would just play the upper register: the A minor triad. When we move up to the II chord (G Minor 7), we would play a Bb major triad. For the III chord (A minor 7) we would play a C major triad. You get the idea.
Try this as well in many different keys and string sets. Good Luck!
Right now we have triads and seventh chords. But surely we can make chords with more than four notes, right? Of course we can! When additional notes are added onto our basic chord forms, the additional notes are called extensions. Extensions are named after the scale degree which is added.
To review, triads contain the root, 3rd and 5th scale degrees. Seventh chords are the addition of a 7th degree to a triad. That leaves the 2nd, 4th, and 6th degrees as our possible extensions.
The confusing part for most people is why we see chords like C13 or G11 when we only have 7 notes in a scale. Where does 13 or 11 come from? The answer is simple: if there is already a 7th in the chord, the scale numbers continue to increase for continuity. Therefore, the 2nd 4th and 6th become the 9th, 11th, and 13th scale degrees. If there is not a 7th in the chord, however, we simply call the extensions 2nds, 4ths, and 6ths. Basically, if you see a number higher than 7th, the 7th is implied. It is also important to note that if you see a C13, for example, not only is the 7th implied, but also the 9th and the 11th. Unless specifically stated with an "add," all scale degrees below the one given are fair game.
For example: if you want a C7 chord with an A note as well, you would write C7 add 13. In contrast, if you write C13 you in fact are implying a C7 chord with a 9, 11, and 13 in the harmony. Understand that this style of chord playing is heavily geared towards the keyboard. As guitar players, having only six strings, we obviously only have the ability to play 6 notes at a time. It is therefore commonplace for guitar players to play C7 add 13 when they see C13. It is also common to omit the 5th when making complex chords because omitting the 5th has no effect on our chords tonality and it frees up fingers to grab more notes that will impact our chords tonality. As long as you get the root, 3rd, 7th, and the stated extension, you are in business!
If major or minor isn't stated, it is implied that the extension is over a dominant 7th chord.
C13 = C7 + 9 + 11 + 13 (C E G Bb D F A
If you see minor it is implied that the extension is over a minor 7 chord.
C minor 13 = Cmi7 + 9 + 11 + 13 (C Eb G Bb D F A)
If you see major it is implied that the extension is over a major 7 chord.
C major 13 = Cma7 + 9 +11 + 13 (C E G B D F A)
There are many different chords that can be made and it would be futile to explain every possible option, but for now, just be sure you understand the concept of extensions, how to notate them, what to call them, and how to build them on the neck.
Everything is starting to get pretty heavy now. We need to break our scale patterns up into smaller pieces to fully grasp what we have learned. Below are the five patterns we have been using throughout this course showing all of the chord tones in the major and minor scales. It is important that you become increasingly conscious of the scale degrees you are playing, how they sound over the chords you are playing, and the affect they have on the overall tonality of the music.
Get out of the box for a little. Stop and play with each individual scale dregree for a while. What is its function in relation to the chord? Use your head and your ear and slow down for a bit. Try to think and hear your way around the neck.
Refer back to these Jamtracks:
1. A major vamp
2. G major vamp
3. E minor vamp
4. D minor vamp
Let's delve into some more very common chords for guitar players. This lesson is expanding on the previous lesson on chord extensions. These chords are so common that it is important to understand how to make them, to memorize common shapes for them on the neck, and understand the environment in which they normally occur.
First, let's do 6th chords. You can add a 6th degree to any triad, but normally we encounter major 6th or minor 6th chords. Major 6th means a major triad with the addition of a 6th degree. Minor 6th means a minor triad with the addition of a 6th degree. In either case the 5th is optional.
It is important to add that, if you wanted to have a b6 instead of a regular 6, you just need to notate it and play accordingly, ie: Cmi6 or Cmib6. 6th chords are very playful chords. They don't necessarily imply specific tonal movement - the way a dominant chord does - as much as they are used to get a certain sound. Mostly, the 6th degree is very commonly used in creating melodies, so adding a 6th to a chord fattens up the melody structure a bit and forces the improviser to "sound" a certain way. Below are the common shapes for both major and minor 6 chords.
9th chords mean the addition of the 9th degree (2nd degree) above a triad. To notate this, write "add 9" after triad, e.g., Cadd9 or Cmiadd9. The other common option is for 7th chords to have a 9 on top. For example, a dominant 7 plus the 9 we write C9. For a major 7 plus the nine we write CM9. For minor 7 plus a nine we write CMi9. These chords perform the exact same function as the 7th chords they are built on. They just add a level of embellishment. Most common scenario: FUNK. If you love funk, you love the dominant 9 chord. James Brown made a living on this sound. It is the sound of funk. Below are the most common fingering for these chord types in all five patterns.
Sus chords simply mean the 3rd is suspended, or not played. Instead, we play either a 4th or a 2nd. These chords are very floaty and loose, being that they are neither major nor minor. They are extremely common in all kinds of music. Most of the time, they are found squeezed in between there relative major and minor chords and are used as embellishment. Below are common fingerings for sus2 and sus4 chord shapes in all five patterns.
Slash cords are typically written for keyboardists to write complicated chord voicings easily. But, there are some very common slash chord shapes guitar players use, and it is important to have these under your belt.
A slash chord is written as a fraction, with the chord as the numerator and the bass note as the demoninator.
For example: C/G. This means that you are playing a C major chord (C E G) with the note G in the bass.
Obviously, this is an inversion. Inversions are the most common slash chords for guitarists because they contain the exact notes of a triad, but with a note other than the root in the bass, therefore, implying a specific root movement. This root movement, if contributing the the main motif of a tune, makes this style of notation necessary.
The other main function of slash chords is to create additional diatonic tonalities. There are two main examples:
V / I or Five over One. This means that the V chord in a given key is played with the key's tonic in the bass.
For example: in the key of C the V chord is G major and the I chord is C major. Therefore, a V/I in the the key of C is a G major chord with a C in the bass - G/C.
Like we said before, this implies something besides a G major triad because while we have the notes of a G major chord, we have a C in the bass, which makes this a C something sound. The sound is an incomplete Cma9. Since Major 9 chords are major 7th chords with a 9 on top, they function as major 7th chords. Therefore, V / I slash chords are commonly used as I or IV chords in progressions. Below are common shapes for V / I chords.
IV / V or Four over Five. This means that the IV chord is played with the root of the V chord in the bass.
For example: In the key of C the IV chord is F Major and the V chord is G major. Therefore, a IV/V in the key of C major is an F major chord with a G in the bass - F/G.
This chord functions as a dominant V chord due to the fact that the V is in the bass. This sound is actually dominant 11 or Dominant 9 sus. Note: Since this chord type does not contain a third, it can be used as a major or minor chord. The minor sound you hear is minor 9 sus. All you need to know is that the chord is dominant 9 if it resolves to a major triad and it is minor 9 if it resolves to a minor triad. Below are common chord shapes for IV / V chords.
While all of this may seem a tad overwhelming, I assure you that slash chords and inversions make life much easier. For example, here is a very common progression in the key of C where the use of slash chords allowed the bass line movement to be very obvious. I have written the played chord followed by the chords function in parenthesis.
C(I) G/B (V) Ami (Vimi) F (IV) C/E (I) Dmi (II) C(I)
The jam tracks below follow the same chord functions:
1. C major
2. A major
3. Eb major
Alright! Here we go! So much stuff to work with now. At this point, it is important to point out that you can use as much or as little of the things we have leaned so far. This is a matter of taste.
You don't have to incorporate arpeggios and triads in every solo. You don't have to play the entire major or minor scale during a lead. You can jump in a pentatonic for a second and then back to an arpeggio. You can hang on one note for the whole thing. You can play so much so fast and just make a blistering blur of sound.
The point here is to listen your way through progressions and try to hear your way around the neck. Think: fast here.. slow here...bend here... just chord tones here...
Always be mindful of the context of your playing and the function of the notes in that context. Until now, we have predominately been trying to hang on chord tones. Begin to explore suspended sounds. Check out some dissonance. Take it slow. If you have gone through all of the exercises that have preceded this lesson, and you have totally absorbed them, then you need to begin to expore your own personal style.
Make a list of players that really resonate with you. Solos you adore. Learn them, but don't get caught up in the micro. Focus on the macro. I'm serious. When you learn a Hendrix solo for example, I want you to think: A pattern 3 and he's fluttering over the arpeggio and creating suspension with some 2nds, 6ths, and 4ths.
I don't want you to miss the big picture and think: He played an A followed by a G followed by a B etc... Or even worse: 17th fret, 15th fret, 12th fret etc...
While this is obviously important and impossible to ignore, the Macro approach is what will lead you to your own personal style. People like Hendrix, SRV, Eddie, etc. didn't know theory the way you will, but they knew the naturally existing shapes on the guitar and the sounds they make. They just didn't know all the names. This is why you must LISTEN your way around a tune. HEAR your way up and down the neck. Don't get caught up in minute details of other's playing. Grasp the concept you like in others, and add it to your bag. Your bag is never empty, and you need the help of others to get it going, but you must add as much of yourself as other players. THINK MACRO.
For the jam tracks below:
The first one contains standard triads. You are very familiar with playing over this sound. All of your chord tones are in the pentatonic scales, and the addition of half steps adds a little embellishment to those chord tones when you hang on them a little.
The next two contain 7th chords. The first one is a major tonality and the second one is a minor tonality. Realize that now you have four chord tones to nail when running through the changes. You need to use the full 7 notes scales to achieve all of the chord tones. The half steps still add embellishment to your chord tones as before, but are a little more colorful with the addition of the 7ths.
The last one contains chords with extensions. I want you to spend a lot of time on this track because you need to hear how there are extra points of emphasis in the scale because of the addition of more chord tones in the harmony. Over the 13 chord hang on the 13 (or 6). How does that sound? It sounds wild but strangely good because it is a consonant sound due to the presence of that chord tone in the harmony. Push your way around the neck accentuating notes other than the root. Use your ear and explore the possibilities of extended harmony.
1. G major I IV V
2. F Ima7 IVma7 V7
3. Bb Ima7 VImi7 IImi7 V7
4. Ab I IV V with extensions
Be sure to have all of the following down and readily accessible before continuing on to the advanced level:
Able to identify and play diminished chord and arpeggio shapes in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play full major scale shapes in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play full minor scale shapes in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play major 7 chord shapes in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play minor 7 chord shapes in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play dominant 7 chord shapes in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play minor 7 b5 chord shapes in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play major 7 arpeggios in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play minor 7 arpeggios in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play dominant 7 arpeggios in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play minor 7 b5 arpeggios in all five patterns in any key.
Able to identify and play the harmonized major scale on the 321, 432, 543 and 654 string sets in any key.
Have fallen in love with triads.
Able to identify and play common 6th, 9th, and sus chords in any key.
Able to identify and play common V/I and IV/V slash chords in any key.
Able to improvise over all of the neck utilizing chords, scales, arpeggios, and triads in any key, any time, anywhere, WHILE BEING COGNIZANT OF CHORD TONES AND QUALITIES IN THE HARMONY.
Beginning to actively listen your way around the neck and through progressions.
This is a lot of information. You can and will work on this stuff the rest of your life. Take it slow and ABSORB. LISTEN.
I'll see you in the advanced level.
1. A Ima7 IVma7 V7
2. Bb Ima7 VImi7 IImi7 V7
3. C slash chords
4. Ab I IV V with extentions
Modes are the last missing piece in our diatonic pie. Modes are a mystery for many players, viewed as obscure jazzy scales that have no practical application in popular music. But this is just not true. Modes are very easy to understand and apply.
Put simply, not only can we build chords off of any note in a scale but we can build new scales as well. For example, the key of C major has no sharps or flats:
C D E F G A B C
What if we used those same notes, but started on the note D?
D E F G A B C D
Or on F?
F G A B C D E F
When we do this, we are playing a mode of the major scale. If a scale starts with a D, then you have a D something scale. If you have a scale that starts with an F, then you have an F something scale. Each mode of the major scale has a specific name, with specifc intervals, and therefore a specific, distinctive sound.
The sound is different because you are starting the scale on different intervals. Some of these sound very consonant, while others sound very dissonant. Some have a major sound while others have a minor sound - just like the chords we build on these same intervals.
The names of the seven modes of the major scale and their intervals are as follows:
I - Ionian (Major scale) - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
II - Dorian - 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
III - Phrygian - 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
IV - Lydian - 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
V - Mixolydian - 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
VI - Aeolian (Minor scale) - 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
VII - Locrian - 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7
If you noticed, the natural minor scale is the mode built off the sixth degree of the major scale. While it is easy to always relate modes to the major scale they are derived from, this is a common stumbling block for people trying to take this scale off of the page and make actual music. Because of this, we are going to learn the modes as individual scales and not just how they relate to their ionian derivative. We will go through the individual details and applications of each of these modes in the following lessons. This is important because, if you always relate back to the major scale, then you are always needing an extra step in your thought process, which will only slow you down.
One last but very important thought: The only way to distinguish the difference between different modes in the major scale is within context! If you play a C major chord and play an F lydian scale over top of it, it is still going to sound like C major because you are in a C major context! But, if you play an F lydian scale over an F major chord you will hear the lydian sound. You will be playing in an F context. Even though all the notes are the same, the tonality doesn't change on top unless the context on the bottom changes.
1. F major vamp
2. D major vamp
3. A minor vamp
4. E minor vamp
The dorian scale is the second mode of the major scale. This scale has a minor tonality and is extremely common in many genres. The intervals of the dorian scale are as follows:
1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
As you can see, the difference between the dorian scale and the natural minor scale (aeolian) that we learned in the intermediate level, is the presence of a natural 6 as opposed to a b6. This gives the dorian scale a brighter, cleaner sound than the natural minor scale, while still containing that minor tonality associated with the b3.
The dorian scale is widely used in popular music. Carlos Santana has nailed the dorian sound. Its application is endless in blues, rock, jazz, pop, etc. Anytime you want a minor sound, but with that crisp natural 6, dorian is your scale.
When we build 7th chords off of the dorian scale we get the following chord types:
I mi7 IImi7 bIII ma7 IV dom7 Vmi7 VI mi7(b5) VII ma7
Common dorian progressions include:
I mi - IV7
I mi7 - II mi7
I mi - bVII ma
Of course, you can play the dorian scale over any minor chord if you wish to get that dorian sound, just remember that the 6 is the key to the dorian sound. So sell it! Below are the five patterns of the dorian scale as well as some jam tracks for the progressions I listed above. Play around with them. I want you to start slow.
Begin by just playing the minor pentatonic scale. Once you have gotten bored with those five notes, add in just the 6. Hang on it. Listen to how it works over the different chords. Then, after you have experimented with just adding the 6 to the minor pentatonic, use the whole dorian scale. Play over these progressions in all five patterns.
One more thing: Don't hesitate to experiment with other progressions! Make some stuff up!
1. E dorian - E minor vamp
2. C dorian - I mi - IV7
3. A dorian - I mi7 - II mi7
4. G dorian - I mi - bVII ma
The mixolydian mode is the 5th mode of the major scale. This is also known as the dominant scale because it contains the b7 and is built off of the dominant chord (V7). The intervals of the mixolydian scale are as follows:
1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
This scale is extremely useful in just about any musical environment. It is especially prominent in blues though, because blues progressions typically contain only dominant chords. We will get into the blues in depth later on, but it is important to state right now that this mode is money over V7 chords.
The available 7th chords in the mixolydian mode are:
I7 IImi7 III Mi7(b5) IV ma7 Vmi7 VI mi7 bVII ma7
Common mixolydian progressions include:
Ima - bVII ma
Ima - bVII ma - IV ma
I7 - Vmi7
Below hare the five patterns of the mixolydian scale. Practice them up and down the neck in a variety of keys. I have also included backing tracks to the above progressions. Start with just the major pentatonic scale. Add in just the b7. Then play the whole mixolydian scale. Again, always listen to the new scale degree over the chords. Sell the change. really try to sound mixolydian.
1. F mixolydian - F major vamp
2. G mixolydian - Ima - bVIIma
3. Bb mixolydian - Ima bVII ma - IVma
4. C mixolydian - I7 - Vmi
Lydian is the fourth mode of the major scale. The lydian scale is essentially identical to the major scale, except the 4th is sharp. The scale degrees are as follows:
1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
This scale is not as common as the other major sounding scales, but is very useful in creating lofty, whispy melodies. Often found in jazzy contexts, this scale is implied whenever you see major chords with a #11 extension.
While you can certainly play this scale over a regular major chord, you will find that hanging on the #4 (11) will clash with the 5th of the chord and create dissonance. Therefore, unless dissonance around the fifth is what you are going for, this scale degree is normally used as embellishment in passing to "tease" the fifth and kind of "loft" around the third.
Note: When the lydian scale is used over a IV chord (as it should be, given it is the fourth mode), the #4 is actually the 7th or leading tone of the tonic. Ie: In the key of E major, A lydian contains a D#. Therefore, the most obvious time to sound lydian (hang on the #4) in diatonic harmony is when you have a IV chord going to I chord.
When we build 7th chords off of the lydian scale we are left with the following:
I ma7 II7 III mi7 #IV mi7(b5) Vma7 VI mi7 VII mi7
Common dorian progressions include:
IVma - Ima
Ima7 - II7
Below are the five patterns of the lydian scale. Below are jam tracks for the above progressions, along with a one chord vamp. Again, I want you to use the technique of starting with the major pentatonic scale, then adding in the #4, and then the whole lydian scale. Play close attention to the leading tone (#4) when resolving down a fourth. This is a funky sound but it is very fun and whimsical.
1. D lydian - D vamp
2. F lydian - IVma - I ma
3. C lydian - Ima7 - II7
Phrygian is the third mode of the major scale. Because it is built off of a minor chord, it is minor in tonality. The intervals of the phrygian scale are as follows:
1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
What makes phrygian unique is the b2. Otherwise, it is the same as the natural minor scale. The b2 is obviously very dark and scary sounding because of its half-step distance from the tonic. This scale is mainly used in spanish progressions and metal songs where you have half-step chord movement, and where the tempo is high.
When we build 7th chords off of the phrygian scale we are left with the following:
I mi7 bII ma7 bIII7 IV mi7 V mi7(b5) bVI ma7 bVII mi7
While there aren't really many phrygian progressions, these two are the obvious applications:
I mi - bII ma
I ma - bII ma (obviously not diatonic, but worth mentioning because of it's cool, distinctly Spanish / Flamenco sound)
Below are the five patterns of the phrygian scale as well as jam tracks of these progressions and a minor vamp. Again, start with the minor pentatonic, add in the b2 and then the full phrygian scale. Often, this scale is played super fast and dirty. This is a scary one so get real heavy with the distortion and try to sound evil!
1. A phrygian - A minor vamp
2. B phrygian - Ima - bIIma
3. E phrygian - Imi - bIIma
The locrian mode is the seventh mode of the major scale. The intervals of the locrian scale are as follows:
1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7
It is a minor scale, but with a b5 and a b2. The scale is built off of the diminished chord and is therefore the most, well, diminished sounding! It is as minor and sad as you get in diatonic music. This scale is extremely rare to hear as a tonic. It really only exists in slayer-esque speed metal scenarios where you aren't hanging on anything long enough to become unstable, which the scale (and the diminished chord itself) naturally happens to be.
Play a diminished chord or a mi7(b5) chord. Can you really make this sound like home? No, you really can't because it sounds unresolved and unstable. The challenge, therefore, is to sell this instability and harness the scariness of it.
When we build 7th chords off of the locrian scale we are left with the following:
I mi7(b5) bIIma7 bIII mi7 IV mi7 bVma7 bVI 7 bVII mi7
Again, there aren't really any common locrian progressions, but anytime you are trying to sell a diminished chord as home, go locrian.
I dim - bVI ma
Imi7(b5) - bII ma7
Below are the five patterns of the locrian scale and jam tracks of the above progressions including a mi7b5 vamp. Start with a pentatonic, then add the b5, then the rest of the locrian scale. Really jack up the distortion and let your picking hand fly.
1. D locrian - Dmi7(b5) vamp
2. C locrian - Idim - bVIma
3. A# locrian - Imi7(b5) - bIIma7
Alright! Just as we have harmonized the major scale in triads and 7th chords, we can also harmonize the modes! This is an important thing to practice because it really requires you to know your fretboard. If you get comfortable in knowing what triads and four note 7th chord shapes are around each other, you can truly master the neck.
Below, for you convienence, I have re-posted the major, minor, and diminished triads again for you as well as the four note seventh chord shapes for major 7, minor 7, dominant 7 and minor 7(b5).
We will be practicing harmonizing modes in three different approaches. There is a lot to cover in this lesson so take it slow and make sure not to skip any parts. Once you have the three different aspects down individually, you can then start to mix and match to get the sounds you desire when utilizing this technique. For all of the examples below we will be referring to the key of C major (Ionian) but please practice the following in a variety of different keys.
First, let's do triads built on the root of the chord.
This, obviously, is what we have already done before in our previous harmonization lesson. This time, play the harmonized scale of each mode up and down the neck instead of just the major (Ionian) mode. For example:
C Major (Ionian) - Cma, Dmi, Emi, Fma, Gma, Ami, Bdim
D Dorian - Dmi, Emi, Fma, Gma, Ami, Bdim, Cma
E Phrygian - Emi, Fma, Gma, Ami, Bdim, Cma, Dmi
F Lydian - Fma, Gma, Ami, Bdim, Cma, Dmi, Emi
G Mixolydian - Gma, Ami, Bdim, Cma, Dmi, Emi, Fma
A Minor (Aeolian) - Ami, Bdim, Cma, Dmi, Emi, Fma, Gma
B Locrian - Bdim, Cma, Dmi, Emi, Fma, Gma, Ami
Begin by practicing these in three string sets as we did before. Start with the 123 strings, then to the 234 strings, 345 strings, and 456 strings. Make sure to play up and down the neck! Next, play across the neck in position using the closest moves technique. For example:
In C major (Ionian) start in open position and play a c major triad on the 654 strings, then a D minor triad on the 654 strings, then an E minor triad on the 543 strings, then an F major triad on the 543 strings then a G major triad on the 432 strings, then an A minor triad on the 432 strings, then a B diminished triad on the 432 strings and finally back to a C major triad on the 321 strings.
Obviously, there are many different choices one can make in selecting triads when we move horizontally, as they overlap as we go across the neck (arpeggios), so realize that there is a freedom in going horizontal and the choices players make when utilizing this technique are based on the sound they want to make. Just be sure to practice this technique in at least five different sections of the neck to ensure you are not leaving any holes.
Second, let's do four note 7th chords built on the root.
This again, should be pretty obvious. Play these 7th chords one shape at a time up and down the modes. Then, just as above, try playing these harmonized 7th chord scales horizontally across the fretboard using the basic moves technique. Use the 7th chord shapes that you already know in each of the five patterns. Just be sure to stay in one area of the neck and try to find your closest moves. Again, be sure to try these in five different places on the neck to ensure total absorption. The 7th chords for the modes in C Major (Ionian) are as follows:
C Major (Ionian) - Cma7, Dmi7, Emi7, Fma7, G7, Ami7, Bmi7(b5)
D Dorian - Dmi7, Emi7, Fma7, G7, Ami7, Bmi7(b5), C ma7
E Phrygian - Emi7, Fma7, G7, Ami7, Bmi7(b5), C ma7, Dmi7
F Lydian - Fma7, G7, Ami7, Bmi7(b5), C ma7, Dmi7, Emi7
G Mixolydian - G7, Ami7, Bmi7(b5), C ma7, Dmi7, Emi7, Fma7
A Minor (Aeolian) - Ami7, Bmi7(b5), C ma7, Dmi7, Emi7, Fma7, G7
B Locrian - Bmi7(b5), C ma7, Dmi7, Emi7, Fma7, G7, Ami7
And lastly, let's play triads starting on the 3rd of the 7th chord.
What? Yes, that's right. I want you to practice playing the upper register of the seventh chords. Of course, this only works with another instrument playing the bass note (root) of the chord. As we learned before, 7th chords are made up of stacked triads. For example:
The C ma7 chord is a C triad with a B (the 7th note in the C major scale) on top. The four note chord is comprised of C, E, G, and B.
Therefore, this chord can also be viewed as an E minor triad with a C in the bass. So what we are going to do is just play the upper triad of the 7th chord and let another instrument play the bass notes.
Also, for your convenience I have written out the triads for the same modes. Again, be sure to play these as we did above! Do all of your string sets up and down the neck as well as horizontally!
C Major (Ionian) - Emi, Fma, Gma, Ami, Bdim, Cma, Dmi
D Dorian - Fma, Gma, Ami, Bdim, Cma, Dmi, Emi
E Phrygian - Gma, Ami, Bdim, Cma, Dmi, Emi, Fma
F Lydian - Ami, Bdim, Cma, Dmi, Emi, Fma, Gma
G Mixolydian - Bdim, Cma, Dmi, Emi, Fma, Gma, Ami
A Minor (Aeolian) - Cma, Dmi, Emi, Fma, Gma, Ami, Bdim
B Locrian - Dmi, Emi, Fma, Gma, Ami, Bdim, Cma
I know this is a lot. Seriously: if you can get this lesson down you have basically mastered diatonic harmony. This is for real.
Three note per string scales are a great technique for playing fast legato lines, as well as simply extending our shapes. Legato means that the notes are tied together and have a long duration. Basically, the idea is to have no silence in between the notes. This is the opposite of staccato playing where you play sharp, quick notes with a short duration.
Memorizing these shapes will further increase your fretboard understanding by forcing you to look at a larger portion of the neck as a single entity. Eventually, the goal is to see the whole neck as A minor, or Eb major, or any other key, and not just see five shapes of each entity.
Three note per string scales have seven patterns as opposed to five. This is because we want to play three notes on each string, and go across the neck in an organized way, which means that we must build a pattern based on each note in the scale, as opposed to building patterns based on just the five octave shapes.
This can be a little confusing because obviously these shapes overlap... all of them. But nonetheless, it is important to visualize large clusters on the fretboard instead of small clusters. This technique is standard operating procedure in shred scenarios. You want to go fast and you want to perfectly nail the harmony? Great. Grab some three note per string scales and tear it up and down and across the neck to your hearts content. Of course, you don't have to be into shredding to utilize three note per string scales, it is just very fitting.
Below I have supplied the seven patterns of the major scale (Ionian) and all of its modes. I recommend that you start one of the jam tracks at the bottom of the page and let it run for a long time. First, practice each of the patterns individually to get a feel for it. Be conscious of your roots! Then, try running up and down and across the neck using all of the 3 note per string patterns. Mix and match them. Try to really get a handle on these shapes.
Next, try some modes! Obviously, all of these patterns will be the same just with different roots. Hit a corresponding jam track and go up and down and across as you did before. This is modal shredding, so to speak. We will get into more complex scales and applications in the master section but for now, I want you to really get these under your fingers before you move on. This is the last piece of diatonic information you will learn! It is the final key to unlocking your neck! There is nothing more!
Refer back to these jamtracks:
1. G major vamp
2. A major vamp
3. C major vamp
4. E major I IV V
We have arrived at the final completely diatonic lesson! We have come a very long way and we have learned everything we need to play diatonic music to its fullest potential. Now more than ever is the point where style and technique come into play. Developing your own unique style is the ultimate goal of any great player. While we all have the same tools available, the application of these is entirely up to the player. Great players know that each song is its own world. Great players understand that once you reach a certain level of musical understanding and chops it simply comes down to taste. Solos are similar to a public speech. You have to keep the attention of the audience. You have to have climaxes and lulls. You have to leave room for punctuation as well as keeping them hanging on every word. You have to listen. You have to make a statement. You have to make a point.
Being able to do this requires experience. Period. You have to live this part. It can't be taught. But, it can be made easier with a formula; an outline of options, if you will. Of course, you can do whatever you want and make sounds and get lucky - which is fun - but the serious player will also take the advice they are given and realize that the more options you know about, the more approaches you have experimented with, and the more you take from others gives you more keys to your own doors. Your mind needs to import in order to export. The lesson below is basically an exercise / overview of what we have available to us at this point in our curriculum. Taste will determine how much or little you choose to apply in your own playing, but go through this. Really make a point to want to own the fretboard. Strive to be a master!
For the sake of futility, let's stick to a I IV V progression and a I VI II V progression in the key of C. As always, apply this technique to different keys and progressions.
The I IV V in the key of C contains the chords C, F and G. Below is a jam track which we are going to play over many times. Stick on each part until you can do it easily.
Play through the progression using just your five chord patterns. Use your closest moves technique as you did in the beginner level. Go up and down the neck. This should be an easy refresher for you.
The next time through, switch to playing the corresponding arpeggios. I want you to continue to stick with your closest moves and go up and down the neck.
Now, break up the arpeggios into triads and work across the neck. Take your time with this one and be sure to visualize the entire chords structure in each position, even though you are only playing three strings at a time. For example: In pattern 1 C major you would play the C major triad on the 321 strings, and then the 432 strings, followed by the 543 and 654 strings. Then jump to the F chord and then to G using the same technique. Visualize the arpeggio as you work across the neck.
Time for pentatonics. This should also be a simple refresher for you. Play the C major pentatonic, then the F followed by the G. Move up the neck and repeat.
Now it is time for the modes. Start with C major (Ionian) over the C. Then play F Lydian over the F and then G Mixolydian over the G. Obviously, each of these scales contain the same notes as just playing C major, but the idea is to start and end the scale on your emphasized root, which is the root of the chord you are playing over. You want to punctuate your current root as well as your tonal center.
I realize this is quite a lot. But there is even more so make sure you have absorbed this in your head and your hands! To reiterate: Start with the chord, then to the arpeggio, then to triads, then to pentatonics, then to full scales based on the root of the underlying chord.
Now let's jump in a little deeper. We will use the I IV V progression played with 7th chords this time.
Play the 7th chords using our five shapes we learned. Apply the closest moves technique again as you move up and down the neck.
Now the arpeggios. Use the five patterns for each of these chord types utilizing closest moves.
Now it will get interesting. Triads. 7th chords are compound chords, right? Play through the progression once playing the lower triad based on the root of the chord, and the second time play the higher triad based on the 3rd of the chord. Example: For the C chord play the C major triad first, and then the E minor triad. For the F chord play the F major triad first, and then the A minor triad. For G major play the G major triad first, and then the B minor triad. Be sure to play each of these across all string sets up and down the neck!
Pentatonics - this will essentially be the same as the triad approach. As far as options go, if you want to sound like the triad built from the root of the chord, play the pentatonic built from the root of the chord. But, if you want to play pentatonics and sound more like the 7th chord, as opposed to the basic triad, you want to accentuate the upper triad, so therefore you play the pentatonic built from the 3rd of the chord you are playing over. Go through the progression once using each approach.
Modes. This is very important so don't skip. If the above exercises using the triads and pentatonics confused you, don't muscle through. Go back and make sure you understand before continuing. In this section we will practice playing a scale based on each of the notes in a chord. This allows us to sound more "modal", or to accentuate notes other than the root in order to create a different but altogether diatonic sound.
The first time through, play the diatonic scales based on the root of the chord as we did in the above example. ie: C Major(Ionian), F Lydian, and G Mixolydian.
The second time through, play notes based on the 3rd of the chord. ie: E Phrygian, A Minor (Aeonlian), and B Locrian.
The third time through, play scales based on the 5th of the chord. ie: G mixolydian, C Ionian, and D Dorian.
And lastly, play scales based on the 7th of the chord. ie: B dorian, E Phrygian, and F Lydian.
Be sure to play these in all five patterns up and down the neck. Really take your time with this one.
Also, don't forget about three note per string scales. If you are brave enough, take them on in this same fashion.
I know that this seems way outlandish and excessive, but you will find that if you explore all of your options as a matter of discipline you will open up many new doors to your playing. The point here is to realize that while the basic harmonic structure may be a simple I IV V, the astute player can choose to play in a manner which implies the harmonic center is elsewhere than the actual root of the chord.
If you play "about" or "at" the 3rd you inevitably imply that the 3rd is the tonal center. If you consciously chose to play in a way that emphasizes the 7th in a chord / progression, then you have made the listener hear the 7 as "home." While this is not a conventional sound, so to speak, it is diatonic and you can sell it all day long! GET DEEP!
1. C major I IV V
2. C major I VI II V
3. C major Ima7 - IVma7 - V7
4. C major Ima7 - Vimi7 - IImi7 - V7
Blues music is a true American creation. It is non-diatonic in its harmonic structure, but it sounds so good to us because we have heard it all of our lives and there are musicians who really do a fantastic job with it. These players had a great ear for what they wanted and a great sense of rhythm and phrasing. Blues has always been more about feeling than anything else. Therefore, it is not surprising that the dominant 7th chord is the predominant chord in blues music.
As we have already learned, the dominant 7th chord is the strongest chord in music. It creates the most obvious pull towards resolution. This chord contains both a major triad and a diminished triad so it can therefore be viewed as containing both major and minor sounds. But in diatonic harmony, the dominant 7th chord only exists in one place: the V chord.
Of course, these early players knew nothing about formal music theory. They simply knew what they heard. And what they wanted to hear was a progression made up entirely of dominant 7th chords. Period. That's how it started. Instead of having three major chords in a I IV V, or their corresponding diatonic 7th chords, they loved the sound of the dominant 7th so much that they made all three dominant. ie: I7 IV7 V7.
The chord's quality is such that it can express a sad connotation as well as a happy one. And when you look at the blues progression as a whole, you find that it lends itself to both major and minor sounds. Because we have left diatonic harmony, there are multiple approaches to playing over the progression. Let's break them down.
The first approach is to view the progression in one key and find pentatonic scales that work over all three chords.
The second approach is to view each chord as being in it's own key. This means that each chord will imply a specific scale to be played.
The third approach is to think linearly and go by sound. Follow your ear so to speak. Like a voice.
Let's try the first approach. What scale will work over all three chords? A blues in C, for example, will contain C7, F7, and G7. If we look at this progression from a key centered approach, we will find that there is a problem with our 3rds and 7ths between specifc chords. When we see C7, we know we have a major 3rd (E) and a minor 7(Bb). When we switch to our IV chord, F7, notice that the b7 in F7 is Eb. Not E. Obviously, if our key center is C, then E is a major third and Eb is a minor third. How can we have a scale that is playable over major and minor chord sounds? WELCOME TO NON-DIATONIC HARMONY.
If we lay out the chord tones for our C7, F7, and G7 chords we are left with the folowing notes:
C D Eb E F G A Bb B or 1 2 b3 3 4 5 6 b7 7 (scale degrees as they relate to the tonic C)
What on earth do we do with that?
Here's the deal: there is no one scale. There can't be. And that's good! But, there is a super basic approach that invovles pentatonic scales that many players have gone to the heights of fame utilizing. Think B.B. King, Albert King, SRV, etc. Usually it works like this: Either play the minor pentatonic scale of your key center (C minor penta in this case) over the whole progression (a la Albert King), use the major pentatonic scale of your key center (C major Penta) over the whole progression (a la B.B. King), or mix and match (a la SRV).
I know this is an over-simplification, but if you mix and match, it is of little debate that when playing in a key centered approach, the V chord sounds best with major pentatonic,and the I and IV chords sounds best with a minor pentatonic approach (to take advantage of the b3 we talked about earlier). Try the slow blues jam tracks below and give it a whirl. There are different blues scales that we will learn, but for right now stick with the basic pentatonics.
Now for the second approach - viewing each dominant chord as a V chord in it's own key. This will obviously sound much more modal than the previous approach. Think Robben Ford or Larry Carlton. This approach is essentially the gateway to jazz: the idea that each chord can, if desired, be its own world, or, its own moment in time. Usually - and I use that lightly - tempo dictates how far "out" a player will go.
The obvious choice with this approach is to think I Mixolydian, IV Mixolydian, and V Mixolydian. You can choose to play our applicable modal triad approaches, pentatonic approaches, arpeggio approaches, and three note per string approaches as we discussed in our diatonic harmony lessons. You literally assume each chord reflects a new key center, and you spell it out like you mean it. You sell it. Almost try to make people forget about I7 when you go to IV7. V7 will always imply a root movement to I, and all the more reason to make that tension require resolution. There really isn't much more to say about this approach that we haven't already said in our diatonic chapters. Just view each chord in the progression as it's own key and think diatonically.
The last option is to link linerally. To think like a voice. To think rather irrespective to music theory, if you will. This is obviously a combination of the above two approaches. If a note is heard in one's head... play it. If it sounds good... maybe you figure it out theory wise, maybe you don't. This is how the blues singers did it. You want to go up? Go up. Go down? Go down. Just listen.
What will happen is you will find that the most emotional players never stick to a specifc tonal approach. The theory is almost realized in hindsight. The same song will, almost always, be played differently every night. And that's the point. SRV is a perfect example. He mixes and matches pentatonics, modes, arpeggios, and just straight up singing, soaring bends, slurs, and slides. When you have practiced it from both a key center approach and a chord scale approach, and are comfortable with both, then the ultimate goal is to be able to combine the two approaches; to develop your taste; to develop your style; to appreciate that there is no single, or right way to do it. Respect others interpretation of the progression. Make them respect yours.
One more thing: There is also a minor blues. The minor blues contains a minor I and IV chord but with a V7. The I and IV chords can be played as mi7 chords as well as triads. We will get into this in detail later, but the same principles apply when soloing over this progression. Think "the thrill is gone."
1. Slow Blues in C - I7 - IV7 - V7
2. Slow Blues in G - I7 - IV7 - V7
3. Bb Minor Blues - Imi7 - IVmi7 - V7
Next, let's examine basic blues form. While there are many different blues forms, there are three basic ones: The 12 bar quick change, the 12 bar slow change, and the minor blues, which is normally a slow change. The quick and slow change forms contain the same chords, the only difference is in a slow change, the first four bars are all the I chord, where in a quick change, the second bar is a IV chord. The minor blues is typically a Imi IVmi V7, but there are quite a few variations.
Now to chord options. Surely it's quite obvious that when we listen to blues records we hear more substantive chord sounds than just dominant chords. To get more color into the song, rhythm players like to add extensions to the chords. Below are common chord voicings for comping over a blues. Again, their use is entirely open for interpretation.
Dominant 9 chords - A dominant chord with a major 9 on top. Very common in funk as well as blues.
Dominant 7 sharp 9 - A dominant chord with a sharp 9 on top. Known as the "hendrix" chord, this chord contains a major and minor third, therefore embodying the very purpose of the blues tonality.
Dominant 13 - Dominant chord with a 13 (6) on top. Very bright and jazzy souding. Lends itself to some clean major or dorian playing.
Minor 7(b5) - Played from the 3rd of the root, this chord implies a Dominant 9 chord.
Below are common voicings for these blues chords.
The blues scale, or minor blues scale, is meant to be played over all three chords in the blues progression. The scale is a minor pentatonic scale with the addition of the b5 scale degree giving us:
1 b3 4 b5 5 b7
While the b5 is not in any the dominant chords, you will immediately hear how its presence combined with the minor 3rd creates the "classic" blues sound. As we have already touched on, the blues is more about sound and phrasing as opposed to perfect scale choice and technique - which is how this scale was derived - not from a theory perspective, but from a sound perspective.
Below are the five patterns of the blues scale and a few jam tracks. Practice these the same way we have learned all of our scales so far. Learn all five patterns, try them in different keys, practice them over the jam tracks, and make sure you can run up and down the entire neck in these shapes before advancing. This shouldn't be too difficult as we are simply adding a note to a scale we already know intimately well.
Pay attention to the sound of the scale and when it's appropriate to play on the b5 and b3. You will find that the b3 is pretty good to hang on most everywhere, while the b5 is best used sparingly - mostly in passing. We will dive into this more in the blues phrasing section.
1. Slow Blues in C
2. Slow Blues in A
3. Slow Blues in G
4. Slow Blues in E
Let's expand on the Blues. Over the years of players combining both a key centered approach and a chord scale approach, common structures emerged which we can classify to make your exploration of the blues easier to break down and apply.
We know these simply as variations, or as some people call them, hexatonics. Hexatonic means six note scales, and of course, there are many variations one can make and create names for by altering the 6th, 7th, 4th, etc - but there is one that is extremely prevalent in popular music.
This scale is called the country blues scale. The country blues scale is the relative major to the minor blues scale. This means, that like regular pentatonics, that the scale shapes are the same but the roots are different. For example, F# minor blues is the same as A major (country) blues.
The scale degrees are as follows:
1 2 b3 3 5 6
As you can see, the"blue" note in this scale is the b3. The addition of the b3 in a major scale creates a brighter, more country sounding blues scale, but is still very bluesy.
This scale works fine over a regular blues form, as well as over major triads. It is important to view this scale as the major pentatonic with the addition of the b3. The b3 just gives that bluesy flavor, but the main sound of the scale is still the major pentatonic.
Below are the five patterns of the country blues scale. Learn them as you have each of the other scales and play around with them over the jam tracks. Experiment with moving them around over different major chords. How does it sound over the I? IV? V? V7? Have fun and enjoy this very bright and playful sound.
1. A major I IV V
2. A blues
3. E major I IV V
4. E blues
Alright! Blues improvising can be as simple or as complex as you want. There are players that have had enormously successful careers playing only pentatonic scales in one pattern. There are also amazing players that burn up and down the neck playing everything under the sun who are equally successful. The point is that it is all up to you. What does it mean to you? What sounds do you love over the IV chord? What shapes do you like to feel on the fretboard? The development of your personal style is the ultimate goal. Non-diatonic music is an open playing field.
At this point, you should be increasingly conscious of scale degrees in your playing. You obviously are aware of the roots, the 3rds, and the 7ths, as these create our core structure, but what about the 2nds, 4ths, 5ths, and 6ths? The differences in these degrees are what gives us our modes and variations. Now is the time to jump in an wrap your head around all of the choices you have at your fingertips.
Click on the A7 vamp track.
First, let's start with a minor pentatonic scale. This one is easy. The out of place note is the b3, but it works because of the "blues" sound it creates. This is not news to us.
Second, let's add the b5 and we will get the blues scale. The b5 sounds perfect in passing but not when you hang on it. It really adds to that "blues sound."
Next, we will replace the b7 with the 6 to achieve a blues scale variation. This scale adds a more "major" flavor. It is important to realize that while the 6 may sound a bit strange at first, it is very useful in connecting chords. In particular, the 6th degree of the I chord is the major 3rd of the IV chord as well as the major 2nd of the V chord. All of this leads to very clean, crisp, "major" sounds in your soloing.
Now lets bring the major 2nd in the picture. This is another minor pentatonic variation. We can leave in the 6 and the b7 at this point. The major 2nd is a HUGE note. Not only is it a whole step above the root of the I chord, giving it a the ability to be bent to either a minor 3rd or a major 3rd, it is also a wonderful note to hang on and to voice lead with. The major 2nd is the 5th of your V chord as well as 6th of your IV chord. This makes it playable virtually anywhere.
Ok. Let's analyze what we have so far:
The scale degrees we have tried are 1 2 b3 4 b5 5 6 b7. Does this remind you of any scale we already know? DORIAN! Yes, this is a dorian scale with the addition of a b5. Dorian with the b5 is money in the bank. Think of it as dorian, but play the b5 in passing and it will sound perfectly bluesy.
Let's now entertain some major scales:
Major pentatonic - needs no introduction. Perfectly applicable, although with the absence of a 7th it can be a tad too safe / vanilla if played in abundance.
Mixolydian - 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7. This is the parent scale to the dominant 7 chord. We have already gone over this in detail, so this should need no explanation. This is the dominant sound.
Lydian - 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7. Why lydian? Two reasons: The #4 and the 7. The #4 is the same note as a b5, so we are achieving that bluesy passing note in this scale. The 7 is a a crowd killer if used in 1 particular place: Over the V chord. Simply, the major 3rd in the V chord is the major 7 of the I chord. This strong half step resolution up to the tonic really seals the deal. While no dominant chords contain an actual major 7th degree, when used to resolve from a V to a I it is money.
ADDING IT ALL UP - While we can, of course, play whatever we want, we have found that:
All of these notes can work: 1 2 b3 3 4 #4/b5 5 6 b7 7. How you choose to use them is up to your personal taste. But below we have some basic givens:
The 1 is also the 5th of the IV chord as well as the 4th of the V chord.
The 2 is also the 6th of the IV chord as well as the 5th of the V chord.
The b3 is also the b7 of the IV chord as well as the b6 of the V chord (which makes for some dissonance).
The 3 is also the major 7th of the IV chord (which is why b3 is most commonly played over the IV chord) as well as the 6th of the V chord.
The 4 is also the root of the IV chord as well as the b7 of the V chord.
The #4 / b5 is also the b9 of the IV chord as well as the major 7th of the V chord. (major dissonance - use in passing)
The 5 is also the 2nd of the IV chord as well as the root of the V chord.
The 6 is also the 3rd of the IV chord as well as the 2nd for the V chord.
The b7 is also the 4th of the IV chord (causing a suspension along with dissonance depending on the voicing) as well as the b3 of the V chord.
The 7 is also the b5 of the IV chord ( also to be used in passing) as well as the 3rd of the V chord (to be used when resolving V-I).
Practice playing along with the jam tracks below and really work hard to understand and hear the subtle differences each scale degree colors the chords you are playing over. Be dilligent in your efforts to begin to free yourself from patterns and to begin to think in terms of scale degrees.
1. A7 vamp
2. Blues in A
3. E7 vamp
4. Blues in E
Make sure you have these down and can demonstrate before moving on.
1. A true understanding of modal theory and how the scales and chords are related and implied.
2. Be able to play All 5 patterns of the Dorian scale as well as harmonize in triads and 7ths chord shapes up, down, and across the neck in any key.
3. Be able to play All 5 patterns of the Mixolydian scale as well as harmonize in triads and 7ths chord shapes up, down, and across the neck in any key.
4. Be able to play All 5 patterns of the Lydian scale as well as harmonize in triads and 7ths chord shapes up, down, and across the neck in any key.
5. Be able to play All 5 patterns of the Phrygian scale as well as harmonize in triads and 7ths chord shapes up, down, and across the neck in any key.
6. Be able to play All 5 patterns of the Locrian scale as well as harmonize in triads and 7ths chord shapes up, down, and across the neck in any key.
7. Be able to construct and play 3 note per string scales in each of the 7 modes.
8. Feel comfortable improvising over modal progressions using a combination of triads, arpeggios, pentatonics and full modal scales. Be sure to have played over all of the jam tracks at the bottom of each of the modal lessons.
9. Have a solid understanding of blues harmony and tonality, as well as common forms.
10. Be able to construct and play all common patterns of dominant 7 chords, dominant 9 chords, dominant 7#9 chords, dominant 13 chords, and minor 7 (b5) chords as they relate to blues.
11. Be able to construct and play all five patterns of the Blues scale.
12. Be able to construct and play all five patterns of the Country Blues scale variation.
13. And finally, Be able to comfortably improvise over blues progressions using a combination of arpeggios, triads, pentatonics, variations, and modes. Be cognizant of the scale degrees and how they relate to not just the I chord, but as well as the IV and V chords.
Good luck and I'll see you in level 4
Welcome to the master level! In this first lesson we will be discussing modal interchange. Modal interchange is exactly what it sounds like: interchanging chords from parallel modes. A parallel mode can be any of our 7 modes, but with the same root or tonic. For example: C Ionian and C Aeolian are parallel. So are F Dorian and F Lydian. Easy.
Modal interchange is a great way to add more color and texture to our progressions, while still maintaining a key-centered approach. By now, I am positive you all are experiencing that diatonic music gets very boring after a while. This is true with most everything in life. Over time, we eventually want to hear more complex sounds.
Modal interchange gives us a great number of options to make our progressions more interesting. This practice is rampant in most every genre. The most commonly borrowed chords are from the relative minor scale, but chords can be borrowed from any of the modes. Look at the chart below:
Ionian Ima7 IImi7 IIImi7 IVma7 V7 VImi7 VIImi7b5
Dorian Imi7 IImi7 bIIIma7 IV7 Vmi7 VImi7b5 bVIIma7
Phrygian Imi7 bIIma7 bIII7 Ivmi7 Vmi7b5 bVIma7 bVIImi7
Lydian Ima7 II7 IIImi7 #IVmi7b5 Vma7 VImi7 VIImi7
Mixo I7 IIm7 IIImi7b5 IVma7 Vmi7 VImi7 bVIIma7
Aeolian Imi7 IImi7b5 bIIIma7 IVmi7 Vmi7 bVIma7 bVII7
Locrian Imi7b5 bIIma7 bIIImi7 IVmi7 bVma7 bVI7 bVIImi7
In the key of C Major or Ionian we have:
Cma7, Dmi7, Emi7, Fma7, G7, Ami7 Bmi7b5.
These are our diatonic chords. Now let's look at our parallel Minor or Aeolian chords:
Cmi7, Dmi7b5, Ebma7, Fmi7, Gmi7, Abma7, Bb7.
If you notice, we notate each of the chords as it relates to the tonic. It is important to note that some of these chords will not sound very good. Some will sound great. The idea here is to open you up to a broader array of options and get out of the diatonic rut. Get un-stuck. Get used to the sound of borrowing chords and experiment on your own. Make up some progressions. Enjoy!
The harmonic minor scale is an ultra useful and ultra common scale. Essentially, the harmonic minor scale is based off of the natural minor scale (aeolian) but the 7th degree is raised to a major 7. When we build 7th chords from this scale, we achieve a V7 chord. The raised 7 makes the 3rd in the V chord a major 3rd instead of a minor 3rd. This is the main reason for using this scale. We can now have minor progressions with a V7 chord to create a stronger pull back to our tonic.
It is worth noting that this scale includes an augmented 2nd interval (3 frets) between the b6 and 7 degrees. This interval is not so good for making melodies, but is very strong and stands out when improvising. It is very middle-eastern sounding:
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7
For all practical reasons, the harmonic minor scale should be used when improvising in a minor progression when you are going from V7 to Imi. The presence of the leading tone (7) creates an obvious pull towards tonic resolution.
For example: in the progression Ami Dmi E7, you would play Ami (aeolian) over the Ami and Dmi chords, and A harmonic minor over the E7 chord. Since the difference in scales is only the 7th degree, this is easily accomplished by just nailing the leading tone (7) over the V7 chord.
The harmonic minor scale is also useful in creating other interesting chord changes. Below is the harmonized harmonic minor scale in triads as well as 7th chords:
Imi IIdim bIIIaug IVmi Vma bVIma VIIdim
Iminmaj7 IImi7b5 bIIIma7#5 IVmi7 V7 bVIma7 VIIdim7
You will immediately notice that some of these chords sound very strange. The minmaj7 is particularly strange, containing both a b3 and a 7. This is commonly known as the james bond chord. Hit it... you'll see. The bVImaj and VIIdim are particularly useful in spicing up minor progressions.
One more thing: While obviously we can create modes from any scale, there are no specific names for modes of the harmonic minor scale, for most of them are useless, save one: the mode build on the 5th degree, commonly referred to as phrygian dominant(phrygian scale with a major 3rd).
I only bring this up because, since we typically use the harmonic minor scale over the V7 chord in a minor progression, the root of the V7 chord is the 5th degree of the scale, so it is useful to think of our scale from that tonal center. Example: play A harmonic minor starting and ending on E over an E major or E7 chord. Think Yngwie Malmsteen.
Below I have provided all five patterns of the harmonic minor scale and some jam tracks for you to play along with. Learn this scale just as you have all the others before. You are going to love this scale.
1. A harmonic minor - Imi - IVmi V7
2. B harmonic minor - Imi - IVmi V7
3. E harmonic minor - Imi - IVmi V7
4. C mima7 vamp
The melodic minor scale is the same as the harmonic minor scale, except with a major 6th degree:
1 2 b3 4 5 6 7
The major 6th resolves the dissonance commonly associated with the augmented 2nd between the 6th and 7th degrees found in harmonic minor. This is rough for melodies, so the result when raising the 6th degree is a scale that sounds minor for the first four notes, and a major scale for the remaining three notes, creating a very bright and clean sound that is great for melodies. Thus, melodic minor.
Because of this, melodic minor and its modes are very common in jazz, classical, and fusion environments. It is important to note that traditionally, the melodic minor scale is only used when ascending, and changes back to natural minor when descending. This is because many people considered the 1/2 step down was too harsh from the root to the 7th. In modern jazz applications though, we ignore this and simply identify each scale as its own entity.
Essentially, this scale can be played from the root of a minor triad if you want that "flavor," or from a MI/MA 7th chord, which is the I chord in a melodic minor progression. Below are the diatonic triads and 7th chords of the melodic minor scale:
Imi IImi bIIIaug VIma Vma VIdim, VIIdim
Iminmaj7 IImi7 bIIImaj7#5 IV7 V7 VImi7b5 VIImi7b5
Note: The minmaj7 chord is the I chord in harmonic minor as well as melodic minor, so you have to look at the other chords in the progression to assist you in your scale choice.
You will see that the resulting chords provide many options. We have two minor triads, two major triads, and two diminished triads, and they all are back-to-back. This really gives us some interesting choices. One of my favorites is to focus on the IV7 and V7 and immediately think blues with a minor tonic.
Below are some jam tracks for you to play over, as well as, all five patterns of the melodic minor scale. Learn the scales. Make up progressions. Improvise over them. Get a feel for the "sound" of melodic minor. You know the drill.
1. Ab melodic minor - Imi - IV7 - V7
2. Gb melodic minor - Imi - IV7 - V7
3. D melodic minor - Imima7 vamp
The dominant chord is the most powerful chord in music. Its perfect blend of a major triand with a diminished triad gives us a tri-tone interval between the 3rd and b7th, which is just the right combination of major and minor tonalities. Because of its signature sound, it is very veratile and can be used in a variety of ways to give your progressions more color. Dominant chords can either be static, functioning, or non-functioning.
Static dominant chords are dominant chords that are heard as the I chord. For example, in an E blues, the I chord is E7. This is considered static because is is heard as the "home base" or the tonal center of the progression.
Functioning dominant chords do exactly that: resolve the tri-tone interval between the 3rd and b7th. Any dominant chord that resolves down a 5th or up a 4th to a major, minor, or other dominant chord is functioning. For example: E7 to A. It is important to note that while we generally view a functioning dominant chord as a V7 chord, e.g., V7 - I, we can have functioning dominant chords that resolve to chords other than the I. These are called secondary dominants.
Secondary dominants temporarily change the key to imply resolution to other chords. As long as the dominant chord resolves up a 4th or down a 5th it is functioning. For example: take the progression of C D7 G7 C. Normally, we have a IImi chord in a major progression, but we have changed it to a II7 chord to make the pull to G7 stronger. Since D is a 5th above G, the Dominant chord is functioning. When writing this, we write V7/V or "five of five." We can have secondary dominants resolve to any scale degree, not just the V7.
If, for example, we had the progression: C A7 Dmi G7, we would write I, V7/IImi, IImi, V7. This is because the A7 is really a secondary dominant, or V7, of two or IImi.
Non-functioning dominants are exactly that: non-functioning. Essentially, if you have a dominant chord in a progression that does not resolve, it is just there to achieve that dominant "sound" and not for its resolution. For example: in the progression C E7 F7 G7 only the G7 is funtioning. The E7 and F7have been changed to get that "sound." And, I might add, It's a very cool sound.
So go ahead and mess around with dominant chords. Make progressions using all three kinds. Have some fun with it. You should find that you can make dominant chords work virtually anywhere if you surround them in the right way.
The lydian dominant scale is a lydian scale with a b7:
1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7
It is also the 4th mode of the melodic minor scale. While we haven't talked about modes of non-diatonic scales, this one is important because of its usability over dominant chords, which as we have just learned in our prior lesson, are the king of all chords.
Essentially, you can play the lydian dominant scale from the root of any dominant chord, especially if it contains a #11. Because of the half-step in between the #4 and 5 along with the b7,this scale sounds a bit jazzier or bluesier than the lydian scale or mixolydian scale. We will go much more into detail about additional uses of this scale in the improvising lessons to follow.
Below are all five patterns of the Lydian dominant scale. Learn them the same way you have always done. Get familiar with this cool scale.
1. C lydian dominant - IV7 - V7
2. Eb lydian dominant - IV7 - V7
3. C lydian dominant - C9 vamp
The altered scale is called altered because it contains all the possible alterations to a dominant 7th chord. It is also known as the 7th mode of melodic minor. Like lydian dominant, this scale is so common in jazz that it must be given its due. Because the scale has four altered notes, the scale cannot be properly spelled. There is always going to be a note duplicated and one omitted. But here they are:
1 b2 b3 3 b5 b6 b7
In the key if C:
C Db Eb E Gb Ab Bb
The reason this scale is used so much is because the scale contains the tri-tone structure between the 3 and the b7 which is the core of the dominant sound, but also contains all of the common alterations applied in jazz to the dominant chord. Therefore, this is the scale of choice if you come across a dominant chord with b9, #9, b5, or #5 alterations.
With that being said, this scale is very dissonant. Its use mirrors its parent chords use, which is to create maximum tension around the dominant tri-tone structure, in order to have a more exaggerated resolution of that tension with the arrival of the next chord.
It is also important to note that even though it is not listed in the scale degrees, the 5th is commonly played with the altered scale. This is because the 5th is part of a dominant chord, as well as being great for melodies.
Below are the five patterns of the altered scale along with some progressions for you to improvise over. You know what to do.
1. B altered - Ima7 - V7ALT
2. A altered - Ima7 - V7ALT
3. Db altered - Ima7 - V7 ALT
Chord scale vs key center.
Now it gets interesting. How do we improvise in a non-diatonic progression? How can we play major and minor sounds in the same progression? How can that possibly sound good? I'm going to break this down in a very simple way. There are basically two approaches - key center and chord scale - and a combination of both is what we aim for.
A key centered approach is exactly that - all of your scale choices relate to the tonic. For example, I could have a progressions in the key of C with six different changes in it. Over each change, the scale will still be a C something because the thought process is that we are constantly going to say something about C.
That's the idea behind a key centered approach - the tonic is the chosen point of emphasis, and the playing represents that by choosing a tonic-centered scale for each chord, which allows the tonic to be the continuous theme of the tune.
A chord scale approach, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. In a chord scale approach, each chord is its own moment in time. Each chord was chosen to perform a specific function, so for each chord we will choose a scale - based on the root of that chord - which helps the chord achieve its fullest functioning potential. This train of thought can result in lines with far less continuity, but certainly with far more color.
Let's begin with modal interchange. As you remember, modal interchange is the borrowing of a chord from a parallel mode. Hopefully, you have figured out that when we are improvising over a borrowed chord, the borrowed chord doesn't change the key center of the tune, only the tonality. Therefore, as an improvisor, it would behoove us to accentuate that tonal alteration by playing that scale that the chord was borrowed from, in order to not change the key centered theme. This is classic key centered approach. It sounds great.
Now let's talk about secondary doninants. The key to improvising over secondary dominants is knowing how the chord resolves. We break it down into two senarios:
Functioning dom7 resolving to a major chord
Lydian dominant - especially when you see a #11
Functioning dom7 resolving to a minor chord
It is very important to note that you should always keep chord tones in mind when mixing the key-centered and the chord scale approach. We have discussed this many times, but to reiterate, you chose your specific chord tones on purpose. Don't make choices that conflict with the chord tones you have already chosen. Strive to have your context and your color in perfect harmony.
But what if you don't know what the harmony is supposed to be? What if you didn't write the progression? What if you see a chord and have no idea what to play? How do we figure it out? The easiest way to figure this out is to look at the chords that came before. As a general rule of thumb, notes that are already ringing tend to want to stay ringing. So if you are unsure whether or not to play a B or Bb over a certain chord, look to the previous chord. Is either one in that chord? Or the chord before that? Most of the time it will be.
But surely that can't be the only answer to solving these chord functions from a chord tone standpoint. There is a very simple way to approach chord tone changes over a progression:
The answer is what's called the leading tone.
The leading tone is the note that is a half-step below the note to which you are resolving. Take for example, G7-C7. The B note (the 3 in the G7) is a half-step below C, which is the root of the chord we are resolving to. But, we can resolve to notes other than roots. We can resolve to anything we want. To be clear, the note creating the tension which requires resolution is the leading tone. It is always a half-step behind. This is the key to actually saying something over changes.
This is big big news. In simple simple terms: you can always play behind a harmony and make it resolve. Playing above a harmony creates general dissonance without specific resolution requirements.
It could take years of classical studies to understand the theory behind this truth, but forget that. That's the deal. You play behind and you can push the harmony around. The note higher in pitch always wins.
If you play a C major chord, and someone else plays a C minor chord, you will hear a C major sound with some dissonance. The C minor is just color because the Eb in C minor is behind, or lower, than the E in C major.
As always, this becomes clearer the slower the tune. A real fast tune affords the soloist more liberties, but slow it way down and you will find this underlying truth to be exactly that.
Mess around with these tracks and really find your personal balance between chord scale thinking and key center thinking. Never forget about your chord tones and leading tones.
1. "C" - Ima - IVmi - bVIIma - V7
2. "E" - Ima - IVmi - bVIIma - V7
3. "Ab" - I7 - III7 - IV7 - #VIdim7 - Ima - bVI7 - IImi - V7alt
4. "C" - I7 - III7 - IV7 - #VIdim7 - Ima - bVI7 - IImi - V7alt
The chromatic scale is simply every available note. Don't worry about learning all five patterns of the chromatic scale. That's not necessary. The point of this "scale" is to achieve the sound of chromaticism.
This sound is ultra useful in many scenarios. Chromaticism is often used to sound "outside" without actually playing a specifc outside sounding scale.
An easy way to illustrate this is by grabbing a scale pattern you already know - A major for example - and playing all around that shape either a half step above or a half-step below and listen to the sound you hear. It's extremely cool.
Mess around with the notes "around" your chosen scale and see how they color your playing. I personally love the chromatic sound and use it all the time. Get comfortable with the idea that your scale patterns are "loose" and there can be quite a lot of play in them.
Refer back to these jamtracks:
1. A Major - I - IV - V
2. F Major - Ima7 - IVma7 - V7
3. Slow Blues in G
The whole tone scale is an extremely altered dominant scale. It is comprised entirely of whole steps. Because of this, the scale degrees are virtually impossible to name. Furthermore, because the scale is symmetrical, any of the scale degrees could be the tonic.
C whole tone scale = D whole tone = E whole tone =F# whole tone = G# whole tone = A# whole tone
This means that there are really only two whole tone scales. The C# whole tone scale, for example, will contain all of the other notes that were not found in the C whole tone scale.
This scale is best played over altered dominant chords and augmented chords. This is an extremely dissonant scale so don't be suprised to find that it's hard to use!
1. Ab whole tone - Ima7 - V7ALT
2. B whole tone - Ima7 - V7ALT
3. Db whoe tone - Ima7 - V7ALT
The diminished 7th chord is an extremely useful and cool sounding chord. Some people call it the full diminished chord. It has a unique quality because it is comprised entirely of minor 3rds. This gives us the following chord tones:
1 b3 b5 bb7
Don't let the double flat 7 scare you. While it is essentially a major 6th, we say bb7 to keep with the 1 3 5 7 structure that we use to create 7th chords.
Because of this symmetrical structure, any note in the chord could be the root. For example: C dim7 = Eb dim7 = Gb dim7 = Adim7
It is also important to note, that if any of the chord tones were to go down a half-step, that note would become the root of a dominant 7th chord. For example: C dim7 -> B7
And of course, the inverse is also true. This means from any dominant 7th chord, if you raise the root one half-step, it becomes the root of a diminished 7th chord.
Because of this, the diminished 7th chord is extremely useful in creating drastic tension around dominant sounds. It really sounds great following a IV chord. Check out this progression:
I ma III7 IV ma #IV dim7
In the key of A:
A C#7 D D# dim7
As you can hear, the dim7 chord really performs a similar function to a dominant chord, and really requires resolution. With a chord this strong, what scale could we play over it? The answer is the dominant diminished scale.
The dominant diminished scale is a very wild scale that is very dissonant. It's scale degrees are as follows:
1 b2 b3 3 b5 5 6 b7
This scale is perfect over the diminished 7th chord, as well as, over any altered dominant chord. The scale is actually quite similar to the altered scale, containing many of the possible alterations to a dominant chord, but has a little different sound because of the major 6th and lack of a 4th degree. Below are the five patterns of the dominant diminished scale.
Practice this scale the same as you have every other scale we have learned, and practice playing it over the jam tracks below. Experiment with the diminished 7th chord and try to incorporate it into some of your own progressions. The diminished sound is such a colorful sound and I implore you to try to harness it to really add some great tension to your playing.
1. "A" - Ima - III7 - IVma - #IVdim7 - Ima - bVI7 - IImi - V7alt
2. "F" - Ima - III7 - IVma - #IVdim7 - Ima - bVI7 - IImi - V7alt
3. "C" - Ima - III7 - IVma - #IVdim7 - Ima - bVI7 - IImi - V7alt
If you are viewing a progression for the first time, especially if you have never heard the tune before, it can seem very difficult to figure out what to play over it. Non-diatonic harmony can appear very complex, but if you have a formula for analyzing and dissecting progressions, it's a piece of cake. Here's how it works:
Step 1: Look for dominant chords to determine key centers.
When you subdivide your progression by dominant chords, you need to determine if they are functioning, non-functioning, or static. Dominant chords are the most powerful chords in music because they "push" the harmony. Therefore, you should immediately see the skeleton of the harmony and the implied tonal centers once you figure out the function of each dominant chord.
Step 2: If the dominant chord is functioning, determine if it is a primary or secondary dominant.
To review, primary dominants resolve to the tonic and secondary dominants resolve to something other than the tonic. Example:
C D7 G7 C
In this example, both the D7 and G7 are functioning, but the D7 is the secondary dominant and the G7 is the primary. Therefore, this progression is:
I V7/V V7 I
Once you determine the primary dominant chord(s), you should have a much clearer idea of the tonal centers - but that won't always get you the whole way - it will usually just give you the "skeleton".
Step 3: Look for modal interchange.
Once you have subdivided your progression by dominant chords, take a look at the other chords in the progression. For each of the non-diatonic chords, determine if they are borrowed from parallel mode.
If you do determine that the chord(s) in question are borrowed from a parallel mode, then you know that you can play that parallel mode over those chords. This should get you most of the way, but what if there are some chords which just do not fit a key-centered approach?
Step 4 : Chord scale approach.
For every chord that doesn't fit the key-centered approaches outlined above, apply a chord-scale approach. Look at the chords around the chord in question to determine the already existent scale degrees and make a decision. The decision is up to you.
For example, if you encounter an altered chord that has no discernable key-centered function, and you feel its role is to color the progression in the spot, you can choose to color it with the altered scale, but you could also choose the dominant diminished scale. The point is that once you get to chord scale thinking, there are a great deal of options at your disposal. It comes down to what you want the function and color of that chord to be in that specific context.
The last thing to talk about in this lesson is tri-tone substitution. The tri-tone, if you remember, is the #4/b5. Tri-tone substitution is yet another way to imply a dominant chord's need for resolution, but not as a V7 chord. Simply put, dominant chords a tri-tone apart perform the same function. This is because the 3 and b7 of a dominant chord are the exact same notes as the 3 and b7 of a dominant chord a tri-tone apart.
The notes of a G7 chord are:
G B D F
The notes of a C#7 are:
C# F G# B
Notice that the 3 and b7 of G7 - B and F - are the same notes as the 3 and b7 of C#7 - F and B. This means that we could actually play C#7 instead of G7 in a progression and achieve the same chord function. Check out the two progressions below:
Dmi7 G7 C Dmi7 C#7 C
While the second progression could be written as IImi7 bII7 I, it's function is really that of a IImi7 V7 I.
Practice messing arond with the tri-tone substitution and get comfortable identifying it in progressions. And of course, if you encounter tri-tone sunstitution in a progression, you can imrovise over it as if it was the V7 chord it is functioning as.
We are almost finished! This is the last improvising lesson. At this juncture, we have already learned everything we need to know about improvising in a any context. So for this last lesson, let's discuss your frame of mind as an improviser.
Don't aspire to play like a certain player. Don't get caught up in the details of any individual's playing. Always try to come from a conceptual place. After you have done all the hard work of learning all the different tools and options we have as musicians, you need to step back and look at the overall feeling or emotion that players are communicating, and ultimately what you want to communicate.
Realize that context is key, and context is entirely style specific. If you want to be a metal player, great. If you want to be a jazz player, great. If you want to play bluegrass, great. There is no shortage of incredible musicianship in an genre, and that's the point.
The whole idea behind this curriculum was to empower the great player within each of us, as give him/her a voice. Always strive to get out what you hear in your head. Always respect what others are saying.
It is important to note that your personal style will change and adapt over the years, and that's good. Embrace it. Always try to grow and challenge yourself. It is also important to understand that the tools don't change. That is why this course is non-genre specific. Put the emphasis on the individual. And lastly,
GO FOR IT.
Never be afraid to take chances. Make huge outrageous bends. Play anywhere and everywhere you can. Being a musician is a lifelong discipline. Work hard, be confident in your abilities, and get out there and be sombody.
To complete this course, post a video showing your ability to:
Play all five patterns of the harmonic minor scale
Play all five patterns of the melodic minor scale
Play all five patterns of the lydian dominant scale
Play all five patterns of the altered scale
Play all five patterns of the whole tone scale
Play all five patterns of the dominant dimninished scale
Play all five patterns of the diminished 7th chord
Apply the concept of chromaticism
Understand modal interchange
Analyze and improvise over complicated non-diatonic progessions
I encourage you you take what you have learned and help others learn as well. You have to give to receive. Good luck and I'll see you around the way.
Refer back to these jamtracks:
1. "A" harmonic minor
2. "Eb" lydian dominant
3. "Gb" melodic minor
4. "B" altered
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