A question about learning theory and scales.
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Thread: A question about learning theory and scales.

  1. #1


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    A question about learning theory and scales.

    So, a little backstory, I've been playing guitar for probably 15 years, but 99% of it has just been playing along with tabs, minus 4 or 5 years where I had more interest in getting drunk than learning guitar.

    Recently I got the same guitar bug I got when I was a teenager. I've been busy relearning how to play guitar sober and realizing I need to learn all that theory stuff I didn't bother learning when I was more interested in just rocking out. I do have a college fine arts credit worth of music theory, so basically I know that a major scale is wwhwwwhw and that C major and A minor don't have any sharps or flats.

    So I've watched plenty of videos about you have to learn you scales and how to make your solos not sound like scales and all that jazz. But with all my playing along with guitar pro and trying to improvise solos that I'm too lazy learn it seems like when I'm trying to wing it that if it has say, a 16th note run up to bending an E up a step, it sounds a lot worse if I land on an Eb and try to bend it up to the right pitch than if I hit a Bb instead of B in the 16th note run. So I have realized that there's not so much a wrong note, but there is a wrong time to play a note.

    Plus say you're playing in A, A uses D and E, and A has F# and C# and E uses F#, G#, C# and G#, so I would think that depending on where in the solo you play them, they would sound good too. And if you and in the other chords besides the 145 progression you'll get some other sharps.

    So am I wrong or would the easier thing to do be memorize the fretboard and what notes are in the scales over sitting there and trying to memorize all these scale boxes that I have to figure out again if I want to play in a different key?

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  3. #2


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    Memorizing the fretboard will pay *HUGE* dividends if you get into learning theory. Having that stuff done cold will help you think faster with respect to scales and what you need to modify in order to play the right key/scale. That's personally where I'm at right now. I really need to learn all the fretboard notes in order to get over my current plateau. Anyways, there's tons of videos for sale and on Youtube but I think learning with a guitar teacher is best. It can be a challenge finding the right one but, when you do find one, it makes all the difference in the world.

    I just asked my instructor about landing on certain notes while soloing and he said, generally, landing on the root, 3rd or 5th of your given scale sounds best. If playing in A Major, then landing on A, C# or E should work best; if playing A Minor, landing on A, C, or E will work best.

  4. #3


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    Neither, really. Music theory as it applies to 'what notes in what key' is more of a function of composing or notating music so it can be played across different instrument.

    Not that those aren't useful tools/skills but it has minimal utility if you're just looking to spice up your leads and improvise with minimal 'wrong' notes.

    You're right early on, when you bring up the intervals. That's the key right there. If you know what key your song or that particular line is, all you really need to know regarding 'naming notes' is where the relative major/minor root of that key is, and once you're anchored, apply your intervals of choice.

    Yours correct, a song in A major and a song in F# major are going to have different NAMED notes in them but the intervals you play relative to the key/root will be the same. On piano that might be an issue (since changing keys directly effects the shapes you play, because of how the piano keys are arranged) but on guitar, all notes appear on the keyboard the same, therefore, your shapes just need to be moved.

    I know I am kind of a broken record on this but I think this is a prime opportunity to look into the CAGED system, and even if that isn't your core thought process when you improvise/solo, it gets you in the practice of finding your root notes everywhere along the fretboard relative to your starting point, as opposed to expecting to have to memorize all the notes and where they are by name.

    The mistake I made for 80% of my guitar learning life was thinking I needed to work around 12 notes, and different orders of notes for each, multiplied by however many scales and however many modes you think you need. That some Rainman level of memorization and it's just totally unnecessary.

    All that matters are the 8 intervals and even at that, one of those is the octave, and half of what's left are barely useable passing tones. If you can find your root, you can find your 3rd, 5th and 7th. That's your home, you color your lines based on how much you sprinkle the stuff in between, how WIDE you might jump (a root to a flat 5th has a very big impact and level of tension created, in lterally two notes), and the all the stuff besides note choice (phrasing, vibrato, etc).

    Hope there's some useable stuff in there.
    Argbadh - RHLC©

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  6. #4


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    Quote Originally Posted by Randy View Post
    Hope there's some useable stuff in there.
    There's little bits and pieces that do.

    [QUOTE=Randy;1611888]The mistake I made for 80% of my guitar learning life was thinking I needed to work around 12 notes, and different orders of notes for each, multiplied by however many scales and however many modes you think you need. That some Rainman level of memorization and it's just totally unnecessary. /QUOTE]

    My problem was I never learned about notes or keys or anything, so now I've been thinking about how to fill in the pieces and I think I'm over thinking it.

    And with reading about there's some stuff I do know, but I don't really know, like this:
    Quote Originally Posted by scole View Post
    I just asked my instructor about landing on certain notes while soloing and he said, generally, landing on the root, 3rd or 5th of your given scale sounds best. If playing in A Major, then landing on A, C# or E should work best; if playing A Minor, landing on A, C, or E will work best.
    I know that landing on certain notes sounded a lot better than others, I just don't know how to figure out what other notes will. I just figured out that this note sounds good in this part, play that again next time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BornToLooze View Post
    I know that landing on certain notes sounded a lot better than others, I just don't know how to figure out what other notes will. I just figured out that this note sounds good in this part, play that again next time.
    I think thinking about chord tones is the easiest way to do this.

    With the disclaimer that music is about tension and resolution and some times you WANT a tense, unresolved note, but that also eventually you have to resolve it... Generally, any time you play a note over a chord that's one of the notes making up that chord, it's going to sound resolved, sort of like hitting the period at the end of a sentence.

    Like, let's say you're playing in Am, and your chord progression is Am-G-F. If you're soloing and want to end a line on that F chord, then the notes of the F major triad, (F, the root, A, the major 3rd, and C, the 5th) are going to sound like a pretty strong resolution. So, if you're playing a lick in Am, and end on a F over that F chord, it's going to sound super final and in tune and like the phrase before it is a complete sentence. The perfect example here is the Stairway to Heaven solo, which not by coincidence uses these chords. Jimmy Page starts off with a pretty standard, Jimi-like blues lick in A minor, but when he ends the line he works his way down to the E, the 5th of A minor, but then slides up a half step to the F. Staying on the E would be a very standard "blues" resolution, whereas going to the F, the b6 of A minor, would sound a little out there in a blues progression... Except, because of an F major chord underneath it, it sounds super solid and in tune and final.

    Does that kinda make sense?
    "They can kill you, but the legalities of eating you are a bit dicier." - David Foster Wallace

  8. #6


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    I think so.

    I was reading about intervals, and that sounds like what I need to finally make everything click.

  9. #7


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    I don't know if I have some special sense of pitch, but I've learned to hear what intervals sound good and never really had to think about it analytically (makes it really easy to learn songs by ear). What certainly helps is that there are always familiar patterns that are the same for every key (they just move to different positions depending on the root). So you don't really need to learn all the scales again for different keys, because the patterns are always the same just with different positions on the neck.

    I think what Randy is saying is probably somewhat close to what I'm thinking of, he just has a better grasp of the theoretical side of it.
    "How can less be more? It's impossible. More is more."
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