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GO Music Theory Sheets:



Major Scales




Natural Minor Scales




Minor Scales Comparison




Chords Formulae






2/11/2013

Guitar Scales Method - the way I learnt scales!

How I started

The fretboard of a guitar is a total mayhem of notes. It really is intimidating. 

I usually don't talk about myself and my experiences, but this time I'm making room for an exception. I confess I only found the guts to try to understand the fretboard after more than a year of playing memorized solos of great rock classics. And I didn't even know where to begin... It seemed like scales were a must to any serious solo guitar player. But what about the notes on the fretboard? Were they important too?

Of course I could compose solos and arrange chord progressions by ear. We all do that, right? But it was always a process of trial and error - blindly looking for notes that wouldn't sound out of tune throughout the solo, and memorizing the finger positions. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. At the same time, I was craving for something original, out of the ordinary, some ways to  "broke the rules" in a bold but tasteful way.... I didn't know the rules yet, though, so that was basically a waste of time.

I read about pentatonic scales all over the internet, as a way to know what notes to play with what chords. That seemed like exactly what I was looking for! I started practicing pentatonic scales, then. I was starting to find some logic on the way the fretboard is organized... but I had a lot of pieces missing. As far as I knew, a guitar player had to change the scale everytime the chord changed. I was astonished imagining how can Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton be so proficient at the guitar that they effortlessly changed the scale every two beats, or so. What a mess!

"There HAS to be another way", I thought. So I tried to understand how does all this thing work. I was trying at all costs to avoid learning deep music theory, as I felt that it was a total waste of effort and brain cells (lol). Eventually I had to give up... One needs to know at least some very basics to at least understand the musical jargon.

After trying to connect loose dots for quite some time, I found a program called Guitar Scales Method. The site of the software was a bit on the simple side, but it seemed honest. Even though it preached it would teach anyone to effortlessly solo on any key & any position on the fretboard, it also warned the users that it wouldn't take just 24 hours, or 2 weeks, or whatever many "miracle products" promise. That really caught my eye - I hardly believed this subject was straightforward enough to be mastered on a couple of hours. So I gave the program a shot.

Guitar Scales Method

The program is a mixture of e-book and drills pack. It teaches you the theory you need to know to understand the concepts, but not on a boring way. In fact, the lessons are very straightforward and concise - no useless info included. And it really has a work philosophy that makes sense... Basically, Marco Bramardi explains that there's a difference between complex and difficult: complex is made of several simple tasks interlinked, and difficult implies how hard the simple tasks are (something along these lines). Marco then claims learning the fretboard is complex, but not difficult, since all you have to do is learn the simple tasks one by one on a logic and organized way. 

The lessons page

The program does live up to its expectations. It breaks down the puzzle into scale patterns, scale modes, relationship between a scale and a chord, etc, etc... Then, it approaches each step with theory lessons and exercise drills for you to become confident with each concept. Finally, it brings several exercises together in one exercise, where you have to practice everything at the same time.

I became amazed as I progressed through the lessons. It really is possible to make sense out of the fretboard! Eventually, I understood what were pentatonic scales after all, and how to use them.

The drills page & chart

Learning to understand the fretboard needs a fair bit of commitment. But it really is not difficult, especially when taught the way the Guitar Scales Method teaches. And even though it is perfectly suited for beginners, it's also capable of teaching advanced guitar players a thing or two. I think many people don't really know the relationship between major and pentatonic scales, and when/why to use one or the other. Besides that, the program teaches you the principles of the blues scale, and the difference between modality and tonality (which really is some advanced stuff).

It's all there! It starts from notes, then explains what scales are and how they are built, then the different scales, the concept of modes, chord types and construction and chord inversions. As soon as you've read this, you're completely ready to start practicing the drills. All those theory lessons put together wouldn't stack  up to more than 10 A4 pages. Not because it's shallow, believe me. All you need to know is there.

While you practice, you can keep reading further theory lessons, learning the concept of parent scales, tonal center, scale degrees, extended chords, the famous pentatonic scales, the difference between modality and tonality, the blues scale, chromatic improvisation...

If you master all those concepts, you will be a very, very good guitar player. That's for sure. I believe the Guitar Scales Method is the teaching method that makes this "journey" as bearable and as simple as it gets.
Marco Bramardi even challenges everybody to show him a more effective way to learn this. I believe no one would be able to; I haven't found any, and I searched a lot.

The bottomline is I really recommend you Guitar Scales Method. It's the best guitar theory software I have found. Period. 
2/06/2013

Fender Mustang III - the budget boutique

FENDER IN CONTEXT

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation isn't just a brand anymore: it's a tone.

Unlike any of its major competitors, Fender is a market giant in two different product lines: electric guitars and guitar amplifiers. And it has been since before many of us were born.

Not every guitar player chooses Fender products, of course, but it's undeniable that the establishment of the electric guitar as a prominent instrument is strongly connected to Fender's history. The iconic Stratocaster is ubiquitous amongst the hands of the most successful guitar players throughout the decades. Fender's amplifiers were no different.

Fender tube amplifiers became and, to many people, remain the tone pinnacle. Whether we're talking about a Bassman, a Twin Reverb or something else, Fender always made magic with tubes... And that has been their niche for decades.

Until a few years ago, Fender didn't invest on the solid state amps market. Maybe because solid states are stereotypically perceived as mediocre, maybe because they never managed to design a solid state that lived up to their own quality standards while retaining a worthwhile price tag. Technology has evolved very much in the last decade, though. And in spite of already manufacturing some 'okay' entry-level solid states, Fender eventually decided to really make a stand on the transistors field. First, they made a partnership with IK Multimedia (an established company on the art of modeling and amp simulators), and both companies created Amplitube Fender. After this shy but successful stepping into the water, Fender raised the bets: the Mustang amp series was born.

THE MUSTANG SERIES

During the pre-launch, the Mustang I and II were seen with a mixture of anticipation and scepticism. The prices were about 100 and 170 dollars, respectively, and the amps offered USB connectivity, 24 preset slots and simulation of -- amp models - plus effects. That's quite a lot of features for an entry level practice amp, so major flaws were generally expected to justify such a low price. Besides that, Fender had never manufactured a solid state that really stuck on the market. Not the way their tube counterparts did, anyway.

As one would expect, the Mustang amps focus on modeling Fender tube amps. That alone is a very bold task. I don't know if it was due to their prior experience with IK Multimedia experts, but they amazed the guitar community with the accuracy of Mustang's simulations. They actually seemed to shake the premise that defends tubes are and will always be superior to solid states. And all in a groundbreaking price tag. In fact, the Fender Mustang amp series has been such a success that Fender decided to add the Mustang III, the IV, the V, the Floor and the Mini to the catalog.

So I decided to check what this Mustang thing is all about.

FENDER MUSTANG III - A REVIEW

The Fender Mustang III boasts 100 watts of power, 100 preset slots, 12 amp models and 37 effects. It also has an effects loop (send and return) and two jacks for footswitches. A 2-button footswitch is included with the amp. It has a headphone output, which doubles as a 1/8'' speaker-emulated output. For the tech experts, the speaker is a Celestion G12-T 100.



There is a USB input/output for firmware updates, exchange of presets between the PC and your amplifier, sending the output of the amp to the computer for recording, configuring the amp settings through the computer (via Fender Fuse, the software that comes with the amp)...

The Fender Mustang III has 60 more watts than the Mustang II, 76 more preset slots, a LED with menus and all the features of the amp are unlockable through the amplifier alone (unlike the I and II, which need to be connected to a computer to edit some parameters on the amp).

You also have the option to buy the EXP-1 expression pedal, which allows you to control any effect of the amp with the pedal: volume, wah... you name it. Mustang I and II aren't compatible with the EXP-1.

The effects are 37 total, distributed in three categories: modulation, delay and reverb. For each category you can only choose one effect at a time, but still, it gives you plenty of possibilities.

It comes with a CD of Ableton Live 8 Fender Edition, which you can use as a DAW (digital audio workstation). If you don't know what that is, it's basically a studio program where you can record, edit and tweak songs, recording each instrument on a different track. You also have Fender Fuse, the software used to edit the amp's configurations through your computer.



Right now, with firmware v.1.10, here are some of the things you can do through the LCD:
- edit the preset's name
- change the behavior of the footswitch (it can go up or down the presets, quick access some presets, or toggle a pair of effects of your choice)
- configure the quick access presets that each button on your footswitch toggles
- configure the EXP-1 Expression Pedal (if you have one)
- configure the LCD contrast
- choose the amp sag, the bias and the cab model on each preset
- set the TAP interval for delay-category effects
- change the signal path of your sound...

Now that we have the specs out of the way, let's really review it...

The sound(s)

There are some reports of a fizz sound on some Mustang III amplifiers, especially while playing clean single notes. It seems to be a hardware issue, particularly the power amp section; firmware correction was not feasible. However, personally I did not witness any fizz or wierd sound of any kind. Besides, Fender launched now the Mustang III v2, which is expected to fix completely that issue, as well as a bonus pack of 5 more amp models, 5 more effects and XLR outputs!

The Mustang III is basically a computer with a built-in speaker. The power and versatility of the amp's configurations is amazing. You can play any style from rock, to blues, to country, to jazz... The amp will never let you down. Maybe the weakest genre is heavy rock, heavy metal and beyond - I don't play those genres but I've been told by who does that the amp isn't very strong on those fields.

It sounds very, very good. It really nails the Fender tones... and it feels very responsive to the way you play. The configurations are quite easy to understand, although I had to read the manual to fully understand how the menu flow works. But once you read the manual (the important stuff is just about 2 pages full of illustrative images), you're good to go.

It's very customizable. Everyone might have his or her own tone preferences - the Mustang III lets you achieve those details you're looking for. Depending on how picky you are, you might need to tweak for a while until you get it right. But I think it really pays off once you nail the way you want to sound. Personally, I've made a preset with the Bassman model from scratch, and I like it so much that I'm using it everytime I practice - I never get tired of that tone!

One trick I use when naming the presets on the amp is put the name of the amp model first, then the kind of tone, then add the first letter of the pickups I liked the most when playing with that preset. For example, one of my presets is named Bassman Clean BM (bridge + middle), another one is Reverb Clean N (neck)... as you can see, the amp really allows you to do some neat stuff.

I disagree when people say you need a tube amplifier to sound distinctive, to achieve a sound that is yours and yours alone. The Fender Mustang III, for example, has so many different tone possibilities that you have all the tools to achieve your own personal tone.


The volume

The volume is adequate for a bedroom between 2 and 3; one has to be careful, though, as the volume rises quite abruptly somewhere between those numbers with a very slight rotation.

It's more than enough for rehearsals, jamming and even gigs. I've never brought it up to ten, it even frightens me just to imagine the blast this thing would shoot out lol! On most bars you'd be scaring the heck out of the customers at ten, so I guess it's only usable on gigs outdoors.

Another concern you might have is the tone quality throughout the volume spectrum. The amp sounds always the same, only at different volumes. Your tone remains untouched, even at very low volumes. So don't be afraid to need to push it for optimum tone.

When you plug in your headphones, the speaker goes silent and the volume is adjusted to headphone level. You can adjust the volume through headphones just like through the speakers. Remember to check the volume when you unplug the headphones, though: a 5 on headphones might be ideal but inside a house it's almost heard on the entire building! :D

CONCLUSION

If you're looking for an affordable amplifier that will be your Swiss knife for any kind of tone needs you might come up with, the Fender Mustang is your best bet. It's quite difficult to outgrow this amplifier, in my opinion - so it's a good investment for the future too. If you're looking for a Fender tone, the Fender Mustang REALLY is your best friend. If you need an amp for practicing at night, for rehearsals and gigs, the Fender Mustang III is the perfect candidate.

If you already have a ton of pedals that you use with tube amps, maybe the Fender Mustang won't be essential for you - but still, people who experimented putting pedals before the Mustangs usually say it sounds surprisingly well for a solid state amplifier. Lastly, if you're looking for a metal / grunge / punk specific amp, the Fender Mustang will give you that, but maybe it's overkill and there might be better sounding amps at the same price for those niches.

The Fender Mustang III became an all-purpose powerhouse that defied the tube amp lovers with its outstanding tone & feel. It established a new standard for future solid state amplifiers from other manufacturers, especially when it comes to quality-price ratio. Maybe a new era of the guitar begins here...
2/05/2013

Chordpulse - the swiss knife for your jamming sessions

Jamming - the guitar's delight

One of the great joys of playing the guitar is improvising. I've said this a lot on other posts here, but the way the guitar fretboard "works" is especially intuitive for improvising, for example, over a chord progression. Scales and chords keep their shapes no matter which key we are talking about.

Guitar players, especially on electric guitars, tend to be more "rogue" musicians. Many enjoy playing and creating to their heart's contempt, instead of composing and playing "by the book". Sure, a guitar player can play covers and reproduce whole songs just like their original versions; but where they excel is on adding their own phrases, licks, harmonics, arpeggios, bends, slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs... And many times it's also where they feel at home. Think about the blues guitar. It's almost always about playing and creating on the spot, expressing very strong "bluesy" feelings...

Sometimes, all a guitar player wants is to feel under the spotlights, playing over an orchestration / accompaniement and letting the notes flow on the guitar. It doesn't even have to be a song, sometimes; vocals and lyrics aren't necessary. All that is needed is a beat, background chords and... guitar mojo.

Having fellow musicians around to gig with isn't always easy or even possible. So, one can use, say, a loop pedal and play the backing track first, then keep improvising over it. It is one way of doing it; but keyboards, drums and bass won't be on the backing track that way. Also, there is indeed an easier way of quickly setting up backing tracks for a lil' jamming. Software.

There are computer programs that allow to mount several tracks to your liking and play them back while you improvise over it. There are even programs specifically designed for this - these are the most convenient ones, as they cut the unnecessary bells & whistles to a bare minimum.

Chordpulse - your best jamming friend

I came across this software called Chordpulse. It's a programmable backing-track player with so much flexibility and yet so easy and simple to get used to. Here's a screenshot.


Where you see the "C" and "D" boxes is the chord sequence: you can choose the chords on these boxes, the chord type (major, minor, etc) and add new chord boxes. When you double click on one of the boxes, a pop-up menu appears:


On the lower line you define the chord "root note"; on the higher line you define the chord type. The up and down arrows are to edit the chord voicings, but you basically never have to worry about that: the program does all the work to ensure soft transitions between every two consecutive chords, automatically deciding the best voicings without even letting you know it. You can always override this with those arrows, though.
The little bass clef after the B button is to personalize the bass note, in case you want to customize the bass played during that chord.


Over the chord boxes, you have a style selector (this lets you select a pre-programmed kind of accompaniment, according to musical genre), a tempo selector and a key modifier (this basically shifts all the chords up or down a number of semitones you choose).


There are 110 styles to choose from. It's quite difficult to become bored with the sound of the accompaniment.

On the lower panel, you have a mixer (independent volume regulation of drums, bass, chords and master), a play button, a tempo bar and a key shift selector (which do the same as their upper counterparts we've talked about already).

It's insanely easy to set up. And insanely easy to get a very pleasant and "jammable" sound out of it. It's very lightweight in CPU, RAM and disk space (the installation foldier only has 9 Mb). The sound quality is quite good; it's not real instrument samples, and still sounds MIDI'ish, but it certainly doesn't ruin your inspiration as you jam along it, especially considering how light it is.

Some additional treats are the possibility to set breakpoints on the chords for drums (or each of its components) starting or stopping play-back, the bass kind of rhythm and the chords' notes being played. You can also save and load sessions and even export the session to MIDI format. Finally, the program has a database of chord progressions that you can add to your session, to help you get started.

Overall, Chordpulse is a program I strongly recommend if you're the kind of guitar player that often feels like improvising just for the sake of it, but get intimidated by the trouble and the complexity of setting up or searching for backing tracks. That is where Chordpulse excels.
The program isn't dead (the last update was July 9, 2012), even though the update frequency is slowing down. It's undertandable, though; it's already on a very stable version.

So, give it a try. :) The trial version is usable for 14 days. The full version goes for 25 bucks (20 euros). If you want my opinion, I consider Chordpulse a fair, useful and safe purchase. And if you really don't want to pay for it, you can choose Chordpulse Lite, which is a free version with 24 music styles and 4 chord types. That REALLY is worth your money! :D

Happy string pulling! ;)

Guitar Theory Lesson 3 - The Concept of Key, Scale Harmonization and Finding the Key of a Song

"What would you do if I sang out of tune, 
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
And I'll try not to sing out of key."

                                      The Beatles - With a little help from my friends



THE CONCEPT OF KEY


On Western music, there is a huge variety of scales and chords. They all have their rules, their "formulae" to be musically correct. But there seems to be a mysterious mental streamline that makes us feel some chords don't combine quite well... as if they're not correctly interpreted.

When this happens, you might rush to verify each chord is not breaking the rules of harmony we've been learning. Even when you find out everything is fine, the chord transition still feels awkward... because they are out of key.

Singing or playing out of key might feel like an idiomatic expression. Maybe it is to some extent, but it is also more technical than you might think. There is a concept called key of a song.

Every chord played individually must respect some kind of order - we've learnt that already. But if they are to be laid in sequence, the whole sequence must have a constant streamline. They must have something in common. That something is a scale, that is instinctively perceived by the listener throughout the chords being played.

Remember when I said musicians use scales like paintors use color palettes? It is true. In a certain way, a paintor would better stick to one palette as he works throughout one of his paintings; using other palettes from other brands and other materials could become evident at the end, with texture differences and such. All the colors he uses on each painting are very likely to belong to the same color palette, so he doesn't have to worry about mending the differences and "dissonances". The musician works the same way. All the chords and notes he plays belong to one scale. If he plays outside the scale, he must know what he's doing and be prepared to mend and blend the dissonance.

And now you say "But scales are made of notes, not chords!". True, but what are chords made of? Notes as well! And where do chords take their notes from? From scales! It's all linked!

What this means is all the notes from all the chords must fit on at least one scale.


Let's take a look at the chords of With a little help from my friends:



E                                  F#m

What would you do if I sang out of tune,
                  B                                    E
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
E                                      F#m
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
            B                             E
And I'll try not to sing out of key.




The sequence of chords here is E major - F# minor - B major - E major, and then repeats itself.
So, let's write down the major scales corresponding to these chords:

E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#           - E major scale
F# - G# - A# - B - C# - D# - F         - F# major scale
B - C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A#         - B major scale

The major chords are formed with the first, third and fifth degrees of the corresponding major scale, remember?
1 - 3 - 5

The minor chords, on the other hand, move the third degree half a step down...
1 - 3b - 5


So, E major has E, G# and B.
F# has F#, A and C#.
B has B, D# and F#.


E - G# - B          - E major chord
F# - A - C#        - F# minor chord
B - D# - F#        - B major chord

Considering all the chords, the only notes that are used are:
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#

Have you noticed this is exactly the E major scale? The palette used to build this part of the song was the E major scale! As you can see, the chord sequence throughout the whole verse never uses any note outside the E major scale; that's what helps make the sequence sound pleasant and "stable" to the listener.


The chorus and the bridge of this song use a common rock harmony technique that actually breaks this rule; it would be very confusing to explain right now, so we'll just skip it and come back to it later. But don't worry, you will understand it in a bit.



SCALE HARMONIZATION

What we did just now was some kind of "reverse engineering": grabbing the final sequence of chords and trying to find out how it was built (and with what scale). When a song is written, however, the process goes from scales to chords. But how do composers make sure every chord sticks to the scale's notes?

This process is called scale harmonization. In other words, making harmony (several notes played at the same time) with notes from a scale. Chords within a scale are built with the same principle we've reviewed already: grabbing the first, third and fifth degree and putting them together. However, instead of grabbing the major scale of the chord, we keep working inside the song's scale only. It sounds confusing, I know, but I'll give you an example and you will understand it.

Let's see the E major scale again:
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#

Now imagine you want to play an F# chord staying in the scale of E major. You don't know which type of F# chord fits on the scale of E major. Is it F# major? F# minor? F# diminished? F# augmented?

1 - 3 - 5       - major chord formula
1 - 3b - 5     - minor chord formula
1 - 3b - 5b   - diminished chord formula
1 - 3 - 5#     - augmented chord formula

Whatever the chord type is, there is a pattern: it always involves the first, third and fifth degree of a scale, and then adjusting some degree(s) up or down half a step. So what we have to do to build chords inside one and only one scale is forget about the chord types and simply count one - three - five inside that scale. We don't care about the type of chord - we just need it to use the notes inside the scale!

So, we wanted an F# chord inside the E major scale...
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#           - E major scale

Let's count one three five starting from the F# inside the E major scale. One...
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#

...three...
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#

...five...
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#


We have an F# chord built with the 1 - 3 - 5 rule AND making sure we only use notes from the E major "palette"!
F# - A - C#        -    F# chord in the scale of E major


What kind of F# chord is this? Let's look at the F# major scale and find out...
F# - G# - A# - B - C# - D# - F    -      F# major scale
F#    -      A     -     C#                   -     F# chord in the scale of E major

It took the first, third and fifth degree of the F# major scale and lowered that third degree (A#) half a step... That's the way you build an F minor chord!
1 - 3b - 5                  -         formula of a minor chord


Now imagine you wanted a B chord staying within the scale of E major. Let's count one three five starting from the B note on the E major scale...

One...
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#

...three...
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#


...five...

E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#


We have a B chord with the notes B - D# - F#... what type of chord is this? Let's compare it with the B major scale...

B - C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A#         - B major scale
B    -      D#    -    F#                          - B chord inside the E major scale

It's the B major chord, because it took the first, third and fifth degrees of the B major scale!



This is scale harmonization. It takes a lot of work to do from scratch like we did; this was just to show you the principles of the process. There are shortcuts, because the type of chord only depends on the degree of the note that gives its name to the chord you're trying to build inside the scale. Wow, confusing again.

I     II     III    IV   V   VI    VII
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#

We built an F# chord inside the E major scale. F# is the second degree of this scale, and the chord was a minor chord. The truth is, with any major scale you're working on, harmonizing the second degree of the scale (i.e. building a chord from it) always results on a minor chord. You can try it with other major scales and check it out for yourself if you want ;).

Then we built a B chord within E major scale (i.e. we built a chord from the fifth degree of the scale). We ended up with a major chord. This happens with any other scale as well - harmonizing the fifth degree gives us a major chord.

The pattern for chord types when harmonizing a major scale is always the same. And it looks like this:

I                    II                III             IV               V               VI                VII
major           minor          minor         major          major         minor            diminished


This is a really good shortcut whenever you're working with scales, whether you're harmonizing one or trying to find out the "parent" scale of a sequence of chords.

When you're harmonizing a scale, all you have to do is pick a note from the scale and play the appropriate chord type of that note, according to the note degree on the scale.

When you're trying to find the key of a song (i.e. the scale it was based upon), you do some reverse engineering - you try to think of a scale that has the notes of all the chord's names and the appropriate chord types. This one's a bit more tricky. But with a bit of practice and some additional shortcuts, it becomes relatively easy.


FINDING THE KEY OF A SONG

The only major chords of the major scale are degrees I, IV and V. So, whenever you have an isolated major type, you can fit it on three different scales. Any major chord is the degree I of one scale, the degree IV of another scale and the degree V of yet another scale.

For example, consider the B major chord. As we have seen, B major was the fifth degree of E major scale...

I    II    III   IV   V   VI   VII
E  F#   G#  A    B    C#   D#     -    E major scale

But there must be another scale where B major chord is the forth degree...
I    II    III   IV   V   VI   VII
?    ?    ?     B    ?     ?      ?

If you have a chart of the major scales, it becomes easier to find out that F major scale is the scale with Bb on its forth degree. But what we're looking for is a scale with B, not Bb on IV. All we have to do is raise the whole scale half a step, along with IV. So we get F#, which looks like this...

I       II     III   IV  V     VI    VII    
F#   G#   A#   B   C#   D#   F         - F# major scale

Finally, B major chord as the first degree only happens on the B major scale, obviously.
I       II     III    IV    V     VI    VII
B     C      D    E      F#    G#   A     - B major scale

The same goes with minor chords. On a scale, a the only degrees that harmonize to a minor chord are II, III and VI. So, whenever a minor chord is played, it will be the VI degree of one scale, the III degree of another scale and the II degree of yet another scale.

So, when a B major chord is played, you will stay in key whether you play the E major scale, the F # major scale, or the B major scale. Each scale will sound different, but never awkward over the B major chord. This is a great way to change the "flavour" of what you're playing, and boost your creativity with a technique the guitar masters themselves use. But whenever the chord changes, you'll be lost, and need to figure out the possible scales for the new chord all over again. The ideal would be to find a scale that goes with all the chords that are being played...

Many sites teach you to do this exercise with every chord and cross-match the possible scales for every chord, trying to find one common scale to all the chords. This is certainly one way to do it, and it helps understand the way this all works. But eventually it is very tiring and time-consuming, especially for the musician that wants to be told a sequence of chords and be able to quickly find the scale to improvise and impress everyone else. There are mental shortcuts that help you a lot finding out a scale for all the chords.

1 - look at the major chords and try to find two major chords one full step apart from each other. 
        Example, F major and G major, E major and F# major, Bb major and C major...

     The only way they will fit on a common major scale is putting them as the IV and V degrees of a scale,                           respectively.
        Example: F and G only have in common the C major scale; E and F# only fit together in B major scale;    Bb and C only fit on F major scale.


2 - look at the minor chords and try to find two minor chords one full step apart from each other.

     The only way they will fit on a common major scale is putting them as the II and III degrees of a scale,                           respectively.

3 - look for a diminished chord. 
     A diminished chord can only be VII degree of a scale.


You can now go look for sites with the chords of your favorite songs and find their keys! That is a great way to practice the concepts you learnt today ;)

And finally...

THE TRICK OF THE MASTERS

Remember when I said the chorus and bridge of With a little help from my friends break the rules? They do, in a way that is very common on the rock genre. What they do is use the VII degree of the E major scale, lower it half a step and transform it on a major scale. Many other songs do this; it's a way to break the rules that still sounds pleasant. After all, the true art of music is knowing when and how to break the rules on a creative and pleasant way.
I     II     III    IV   V   VI   VII
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#           - E major scale

Without breaking the rules, only D# diminished chord could be played. But lowering it half a step to D and transforming it on a major chord brings us a D major chord...

Chorus:
               D                   A                 E
Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
               D                      A                 E
Hm, I get high with a little help from my friends
                      D                    A                  E
Uh, I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends



So we have the modified VII degree (D major), the IV degree (A major) and the I degree (E major).

Bridge:
            C#m       F#m
Do you need anybody?
  E              D          A
I need somebody to love
            C#m    F#m
Could it be anybody?
      E            D              A
It's got to be someone I trust


C# minor is the VI degree of E major scale; F# minor is the II degree; E, D and A were already present on the chorus. It's always the scale of E major!

2/04/2013

Guitar Theory Lesson 2 - Major-Minor relationship, Chords and Chord inversions

RELATIVE MINOR - THE CONCEPT

Now that we have learnt about notes and scales, we are going to take a more global view on them to find out some useful and interesting facts.

Let's see the Major scales of all non-accidental keys:

 I      II      III     IV      V      VI     VII
C      D     E       F        G      A       B

D      E      F#    G       A       B       C#

E      F#    G#    A       B       C#     D#

F      G      A     A#     C       D        E

G      A      B     C       D       E        F#

A      B     C#    D       E        F#     G#

B      C#    D#   E       F#      G#     A#

All these major scales are built applying the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 formula on the chromatic scale, remember?

Each scale has seven notes (there are a few scale types with more or less than seven notes, but they are more rare). We can give a number to each "slot" on the scale. In fact, it is common to refer to a scale note using roman numbers. The number (from 1 to 7) of a note inside a scale is called the scale degree. For example, C Major's second degree is D. F Major's fifth degree is C.


Now, let's make a grid of the Natural Minor scales:

I      II      III      IV      V      VI      VII
C     D      D#    F        G       G#      A#

D     E      F       G        A       A#      C

E     F#     G      A        B       C        D

F     G       G#    A#     C        C#      D#

G     A       A#    C       D       D#       F

A     B       C       D       E       F         G

B     C#     D       E       F#     G         A




It's time to introduce the concept of relative minor. Let's compare the C Major and the A Minor scales.
C - D - E - F - G - A - B    -    C Major scale
A - B - C - D - E - F - G    -    A Minor scale

The notes of both scales are exactly the same! Now take a look at the D Major and B Minor scales:

D - E - F# - G - A - B - C#   - D Major scale
B - C# - D - E - F# - G - A   - B Minor scale

Again, the notes are the same.

This happens because for each Major scale, there is a Natural Minor scale with exactly the same set of notes. In fact, the Natural Minor of the sixth degree of any Major scale has the same notes; when this happens, we call it the Relative Minor of that Major scale. For example, A is the sixth degree of the C Major scale; so, A Minor is the relative Minor of C Major scale - both these scales have the exact same notes. D Major's sixth degree is B; B Minor is the Relative Minor of D Major.

CHORDS

We are now ready to grasp the concept of chords. A chord is a set of two or more notes played at the same time; the notes chosen for the chord always follow some rules, just like in scales. In fact, chords ARE built based on scales!

The most important chords in music are called triads, because they have only three notes on them. The actual number of notes played can be more than three, but one or more notes will then be repeated on different octaves. If you've already learnt to play chords on the guitar, you might be wondering "if the chords only have three notes, how come I play them on more than three strings?". The answer is exactly this: you're playing only three notes, and you're playing some on them on different octaves at the same time! Maybe it's confusing for now; if it is, don't worry, you'll understand in a second.

Some chords have four notes, like the famous seventh chords; these are usually related to a sense of tension that craves resolution on a posterior chord.


There are four main types of chords, each with its name: major, minor, augmented and diminished. Let's start with the major chord, which is the simplest.

To form a major chord, all you have to do is play the note that gives its name to the chord, the third and the fifth degrees of the major scale on the chord's key.

1 + 3 + 5

This sounds confusing, but it's not. Suppose you want to form the C Major chord. First, you recall the C Major scale:

C - D - E - F - G - A - B

Then, you take the first (C), the third (E) and the fifth (G) notes of the scale and put them together. Those three notes are the C Major chord. Simple as that.

Let's try B Major. Remember B Major scale?

B - C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A#

B is the first degree; D# is the third degree and F# is the fifth degree. So, the B Major chord is B + D# + F#!


Now the other chords. The principle is the same, only the chord formula changes - just like in scales, remember?

For the minor chord, you take the notes from the major chord and lower the third degree half a step:

1 + 3b + 5

So, the C Major chord was C + E + G. The C Minor chord shall be C + Eb + G.

The augmented chord takes the major chord notes again, but this time the fifth degree is raised half a step.

1 + 3 + 5#

C augmented is C + E + G#.

Finally, the diminished chord takes the major chord notes once more, but lower the third and the fifth degree half a step.

1 + 3b + 5b

Yep, you guessed it: C diminished is C + Eb + Gb.


Now, about those six-string chords with only three notes. First, let's see the shape of the C Major chord.



As you can see, C is played on two octaves, and E is played on three! The notes repeat themselves, hence the 6 "notes" on the triad chord. You could play the chord with only the 3 highest strings, for example. It would still be an unambiguous C Major chord.


CHORD INVERSIONS

This brings us to the concept of chord inversions.

A triad has a rigid set of 3 notes. However, the sorting of these notes througout the octaves is irrelevant. For example, the most obvious way to choose the notes for the C major chord is by keeping all notes on one octave, and choosing a C, then the E and the G on that octave - C E G. But there's no rule against playing that C note an octave higher! In that case, E would be the new lowest note, then the G, and finally the C.
We could then go one step further: play the E an octave higher too. G would be the new lowest note; C and E would be an octave higher. All those combinations are by definition C major chords. They're just inverted versions of the same chord. That's what we call chord inversions.

Don't worry if you can't read notation, I'll guide you through this. I do recommend you learn the basics, though; but that's another topic. These are the notation representations of what we just talked about. The possible arrangements of the same notes are the chord inversions. Notice how the notes remain the same:



We are basically flipping the notes, taking the bottom one and stacking it over the others. Each arrangement has its own name:

Root, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion.

On the guitar, this would look like this:


We've been using C Major as an example; any other chord has inversions, of any other key (D, E, F...) and any other type (minor, augmented, diminished...)!
2/02/2013

Guitar Theory Lesson 1 - Notes, intervals, scales and the Major & Natural Minor scales

NOTES

Notes are the building blocks on music. A note is the smallest "building block" in music; you can split chord progressions into chords, chords into notes, and scales into notes. But you can't split notes further into anything else. They are the musical atoms, so to speak.

Notes are organised on scales and chords in such a way that they sound pleasant to the ear and invoke certain feelings, such as tension, resolution...

To begin with, there are 12 notes:
C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B

The notes are the seven letters from A to G plus intermediate notes between two consecutive letters. There are two exceptions, though. There is no intermediate note between E and F, nor between B and C.
By convention, the sequence of notes is usually presented starting on the letter C. Also by convention, the hash symbol (#) is used as a "+ 0.5" symbol. For example, C# is C plus "half a note". There is also another symbol for the "intermediate" notes: the "b" symbol. This symbol acts as a "- 0.5" modifier. Db is D minus "half a note".
You might have already guessed that C# and Db are different representations of the same note. These "different" notes that after all sound the same are technically called enharmonic notes.

So, another way to write the previous sequence of notes is:
C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B

Note once again that there is no note between B and C nor between E and F. So, there is no such thing as Cb nor Fb.

We have just learnt the first scale: the chromatic scale. It's a fancy name for the pallette of all the notes there are.

The palette of notes (or the chromatic scale) only has 12 notes. But if you keep increasing the pitch after you've reached the last note of the chromatic scale, you'll reach new notes. These new notes are named from A to G again; the naming of the notes kind of "wraps" back to the start. So, the note immediately higher than B is called C, but it's said to be an octave higher than the previous C. So, an octave is a span of notes from C to the next higher B.

C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B      C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B
----------------------------------------      -----------------------------------------
                  Octave 1                                               Octave 2

The same name-wrapping happens if you go lower than C, The note immediately lower than C is B, but this B is said to be an octave lower.

INTERVALS

An interval is the offset between two different notes. The interval measures the "distance" between the two notes in the chromatic scale. In other words, it counts how many steps it takes to go from one note to the other.

Let's explain it in context. Consider the chromatic scale.

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B

There's an interval (a "space", an offset) between any two different notes. Each "space" or "step" you take from one note to the next (or to the previous, if you're going backwards) is, by convention, called a half-step. C is separated from C# by one half-step. And so is D from D#. And A from G#.

Between C and D there are two half-steps, which we can call a full-step. From C to E, for example, there are two full steps (or four half-steps), just like from F to A. This is what an interval is all about - the number of full steps or half-steps separating two notes.

Another way of defining half-steps and full-steps is this: a half step moves to a contiguous note on the chromatic scale; a full step skips one note, completing two half steps up or down the chromatic scale.

You're probably aware theorists love to come up with names for everything. Needless to say intervals have a name for each amount of half-steps.

So, if you do the math, you'll realize you can take up to 12 half-steps before you wrap to the note you began counting from (ending up in a different octave, of course). Each of these 12 interval possibilities has a name. Let's see a chart of these names, using C as the first note just for the sake of illustration.

                  Starting from C, we took...         This interval is called....
C                        No steps                              Unison
C#                      1 half steps                          Minor second
D                        2 half steps                          Major second
D#                      3 half steps                          Minor third
E                        4 half steps                          Major third
F                        5 half steps                          Perfect forth
F#                      6 half steps                          Diminshed fifth
G                       7 half steps                          Perfect fifth
G#                     8 half steps                          Augmented fifth
A                       9 half steps                          Major sixth
A#                     10 half steps                        Minor seventh / dominant seventh
B                       11 half steps                         Major seventh
C                       12 half steps                         Octave


DON'T FRET! I know this is a lot of names! There's no need to memorize them (at least not for now). You'll gradually memorize them without even noticing it as you hear / read those names. Besides, some intervals are more important than others. You'll realize that over time. Whenever you need, feel free to consult this table (or other table of this sort you eventually find in the internet).

SCALES

What are scales? Scales are palettes of notes. Just like a painter has a palette of colors to choose from for his paintings, a musician uses scales to pick notes to build his songs.
All scales are technically derived from the chromatic scale. The principle is always the same: some notes are chosen from the chromatic scale while others are excluded, and voila, a new scale is built!

The construction of scales has rules, though. Mathematical rules. For each scale there is a set of sequenced half steps and full steps in the chromatic scale that need to be respected. 

MAJOR AND MINOR SCALES

The two most used scales are the Major and the Minor scales. Let's start with the Major scale.

Each scale has a type (in this case, the Major scale) and a key. The key, simply put, is the first note of the scale.

The formula for the construction of the Major scale is:

Full step - Full step - Half step - Full step- Full step - Full step - Half step

Or, put in terms of the number of half steps:

2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1

Let's build the C Major scale. First, here's the chromatic scale again:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B

As this is the C Major scale, the first note is C, just like we saw above. Applying the first step on the formula, which is a full step, we get to D...

C - D

Now, the second step is also a full step, which leads us to E...

C - D - E

The third step is a half step. So, the forth note on the C Major scale is F...

C - D - E - F

Applying the remaining steps, we get the full C Major scale...

C - D - E - F - G - A - B

As you can see, the C major scale has no accidentals (i. e. no notes with a sharp nor a flat). In fact, the C Major is the only major scale with no accidental notes on it. All other keys have accidentals on their major scales.

Imagine you'd want the B Major scale. All you have to do is take the major scale formula again...

2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1

...and the chromatic scale...

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B

Now, instead of starting in C, you need to start in B, since it's the B Major scale. Taking a full step from B takes us to C#...

B - C#

...another full step lands on D#...

B - C# - D#

It's time for that half step again. The forth note is, therefore, E...

B - C# - D# - E

You get the picture. The complete B scale is:

B - C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A#

As you can see, the B Major scale has few notes in common with the C Major scale. There are a lot of accidentals in there. Each major scale has at least one different note from any other Major scale. No two Major scales in different scales are alike.

There are just as many Major scales as there are notes on the chromatic scale. One could make the F# Major scale, or the D# scale, for instance.

Now, the Minor scale. The Minor scale is known for sounding a bit more melancholic, nostalgic, sad than the Major scale. As it is a different scale, it also has a different formula to determine its notes. There are three kinds of minor scales - the harmonic, the melodic and the natural minor. But we'll talk about the natural minor, for three reasons: it's the simplest to understand for now, it has a close relationship with corresponding major scales (more on this later) and it is not specifically used for harmony nor melody. Now, the formula for the Natural Minor scale is this:

2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2

You probably won't notice this at first sight, but the natural minor scale and the major scale formulas are the same but starting in different positions.

           2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1       Major scale
2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2                  Natural Minor scale

The Natural Minor scale starts two "slots" backwards on the major scale (or 5 "slots" forward, which is the same). This is why there is a close relationship between minor and major scales: for each major scale, there is a corresponding minor scale with exactly the same sequence of notes, but starting on a different note. This might sound a bit confusing; don't worry if you don't grasp this concept completely right now. We'll explore it better later on.

Now, to construct the C Minor scale, for example, let's take the scale formula and the chromatic scale again...

2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2
C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B

You know the drill. A full step to D, half a step to D#, a full step to F...
C - D - D# - F - G - G# - A#

Here we go, the C Natural Minor scale!

Now, before we finish this lesson, there's something you need to understand about intervals and scales. Take the C Natural Minor scale we just built: what is the interval between F and G? Is it a half-step or a full-step?

You're probably tempted to answer "half-step", as G comes right after F in the C Natural Minor scale. But you need to understand the naming of note intervals is ALWAYS in terms of the chromatic scale. So even if you're thinking about a major or minor scale, when you want to determine the interval between to notes of that scale, you count the half-steps / full-steps between these two notes considering the chromatic scale.

So, in this case, even though there's no note between F and G in the C Natural Minor scale, there IS an F# between F and G in the chromatic scale...

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B chromatic scale

So the answer is: F and G are separated by a full-step! In other words, a major second, according to that table of interval names :)


1/25/2013

Guitar Freak Workstation - the XXIst century guitar trainer

Guitar and Music Notation - Introduction

Comparing the guitar to the piano, one can say the guitar is optimised as a transposing instrument, and the piano is more intuitive for sheet notation writing and reading. The guitar is easy to transpose a song because all you have to do is move a certain number of frets up and down and the whole song will be in a new key; nothing else needs to be changed, neither scale patterns nor chord shapes. On the other hand, music notation was somehow conceived with the piano in mind - to each piano key, there is one and only one position in the staff. And as the notes go up and down the staff, they are played to the right and to the left respectively. That is not what happens on the guitar: each note can have three different possible positions on the guitar neck, and the notes aren't horizontally organized (one can say their relative pitches along the neck are even quite counter-intuitive ).

Maybe because of the guitar special properties, guitar players tend to focus on the improvisational approach of music. After all, learning scales on the guitar is more straightforward than on the piano, because the shapes are always the same. However, when it comes to learning new songs, guitar players are handicapped. They either choose to focus on the song chords, key signature and modes and fiddle from there, or have to decipher guitar tabs. Guitar tabs have the information needed about the notes and frets to be played, but no data about the notes timing. So, the guitar player has to know the song well already before learning to play it.

This is a tendency that can be detected on the software tools available for guitar and piano players to improve their instrument proficiency. Whenever you want to practice your sight-reading skills (playing a song you don't know by reading a sheet and playing it in real time), it's almost certain whatever program you find will be tailored for the piano - it's assumed guitar players aren't interested in that! And needless to say, the guitar sight-reading does have its particularities - for instance, there can't be more than three consecutive 3rds on a chord, or else the chord will be unplayable on the guitar. Both programmers and users steer away from notation applied to the 6 strings. The software for guitar is almost always tailored to master the guitar's strongest treat: improvising through scales.

Tackling the Guitar Sightreading Problem

I became tired of having to memorize songs and solos to play them. It's extremely frustrating when learning a song become a memorizing session. One loses his patience quite quickly. So I decided to beat the dragon: learn to sight read on the guitar. I was shocked when I found out how rare programs for that purpose are. There are tools for recognizing the notes and chords alone, tools to learn scales on the guitar, tools to know the notes on the guitar fret, even a couple of tools to randomize sheet music for piano sight-reading... But no tool designed to practice sight-reading on the guitar!! The only tool I found for that was a piece of software called Guitar Freak Workstation with Sightreader Master Extreme.

I refused to believe there wasn't any online free tool for such a simple task. But eventually I had to give up to the overwhelming evidence. So I looked for other solutions: practising each step of sight reading separately. First, learn to recognize the notes on the staff. Then, the intervals on the staff. Afterwards, the notes on the guitar neck. After that, the INTERVALS on the guitar fret. Uff... I virtually needed a different tool for each of those steps. And then, I needed something that put me using all those skills at the same time - actual sight reading. There's no such thing for the guitar. The best you can find is guitar etudes composed by classic guitar players. The problem with these etudes is you can't control their level of difficulty. They either are too easy for you, or too difficult. They either involve the same frets over and over again or bring in frets you haven't practiced yet; or the note times are too complex for you yet; or something else.

I'm a free software & sites fan. I believe it's very hard to come up with a topic you can't find info & solutions for on the net without a price tag. But Sean Clancy, the creator of Guitar Freak Workstation, seemed to be the only man on Earth with the audacity to approach the guitar sight-reading problem using the latest technologies. So I downloaded the trial version and decided to give it a spin. I liked it so much that I decided to acquire the full version.


The first thing you notice when you open GFW is that it really is a whole workstation - no marketing gimmick there.


The part of learning the fretboard notes is there - on the "Learn Fretboard".

There's the "Theory Testing" button, with exercises to pratice scales, chords and single notes recognition. Notes can be referred to on the ABC notation or according to their scale degree (I, II, etc). There are quite a few other customization options too: treble or bass clef, enharmonics...

"Quick Chords" lets you check a chord database reference to know where and how to position your fingers on the fretboard. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. It also shows you the chord on staff notation, tells you the scales that work over that chord, and gives a description of each scale's feeling and application!! I was delighted to find all that information in one tool alone.

These three tools alone put Guitar Freak Workstation on the top of its league already.

The "Progression Creator" and "Progression Player" speak for themselves. Edit and playback your (or preset) chord progressions for improvisation and jamming.

The "Ability Trainer" is a recorder for you to listen to your own playing and detect where you're making mistakes without noticing. It also has a looper for speed practicing.

The "Transcriber" is where you can load an mp3 and slow it down to figure out the single notes of faster licks, mark important sections of the song, activate loops, etc. Sean Clancy's suggestion is to use it practice transcribing to a staff, but you can use it for anything else, really.

The "Guitar / Bass Invertor" show you the positions of the notes of a chord or scale on the fretboard, along with a description of some of the chord/scale types. The difference between this and Quick Chords is QC only shows you the chord shapes; the invertor shows you the notes themselves all over the fretboard, so you can choose your own chord voicing/inversion.

"Real World Training" and "Perfect Pitch Training" provide you exercises to practice your relative and absolute pitch recognition, respectively.

GFW comes with a bundle of 4 guitar-related books.

- Guitar Virtuosity for the Everyday Man
- Joe Pass Licks - Just add fingers
- Learn to Burn: The Guitar Speed Manual style
- How to be awesome at jazz Guitar Chords


You can even customize and add scales and chords on the GFW database.

Finally, the paradigmatic Metronome and Tuner finish off this guitar Swiss knife.



Now, let's talk about my favorite, the very best and exclusive tool. The Sightreader Master Extreme.


Sightreader Master is a random sheet generator with possible customization of all its parameters. You can control the range of frets the generated notes are on, the activated strings, the scale and key signature the notes belong to, the range of possible intervals between two consecutive notes, the metronome BPMs, the probability of accidentals, the probability and type of chords on the staff, the probability of each time value on notes and rests and even combination of time values, the presence of tied notes, the volume of the metronome and the volume of notes playback... You name it. There are 66 scales/modes to choose from, each one of them with a description attached. It's guitar sight-reading heaven. And I'm not even covering every feature, this post is too long already!




Conclusion

The first time I tried SightReader Master, I was getting some bugs, e.g. I was getting notes outside the fret range I specified. But then I fiddled a bit with the program and somehow that stopped happening. Maybe it was something I did wrong. Besides that, the only thing I would change would be to make it compatible with lower resolutions. In 1024 x 768, some parts of the program window are offscreen.

Guitar Freak Workstation with Sightreader Master Extreme is a complete Swiss knife of guitar drills. It puts together every kind of useful tool you find on the net on a simple WYSIWYG interface, without unnecessary "visual bells and whistles" (if you get what I mean). But the strongest feature of this toolpack is its exclusive component: the dedicated sightreading drill generator. This one alone makes Sean Clancy's software stand out.

For almost half the price of any decent pedal (60$), you can license the SightReader Master alone. If you want the whole toolset, it won't cost you more than the ordinary decent guitar pedal effect (95$). I don't know about you, but I could certainly live with one less pedal to have all the practice tools I need in one panel, AND get going on my definitive quest to learn to sight-read on this 6-string notes mayhem.

I hope this heads-up is useful for you. ;)

Happy string pulling!!