a music theory blog

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Barre Chord Theory

Today we take a break from scales and modes to look at something a bit more accessible and practical for most guitar players - Barre Chord Theory.

Most guitar players learn how to play barre chords fairly early on in the quest to play popular songs, but for those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a barre chord I will start off at the beginning.

Barre chords are chords formed by placing the index finger across most or all of the strings on one fret and then using the other fingers to fret the notes of a common open chord position. Most barre chords are formed off of the shapes of the E and A major open chords. The root note is played on the bass string of the chord (the low E for the E shape and the A string for the A shape).

The cool thing about barre chords is that they allow you to play any chord imaginable with only know 2 chord positions. Want to play a G major? Play the E form barre chord at the 3rd fret. What about a C major? 3rd fret-A form.

This technique also allows you to play minor chords. Play an Em shaped barre chord a the 5th fret for an A minor. Or play an A form barre chord at the 5th fret for a D minor.

One thing that alot of people don't realize is that you can make all sorts of other chords from these basic shapes.

Here is a list of the E form barre chords.
Here is a list of all of the A form barre chords.

If you want to try some jazzy chords but you don't know how to play them in an open position just try the barre chord form. (these also work really well for arppeggios)

This was a short but hopefully useful lesson... I will post the next lesson in the mode series soon... In the meantime, keep checking out my sponsors and if you need to order strings, try the online store on the right (sonic strings). They have great bulk prices and the owner is a really nice guy.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Guitar Strings Online

Not to keep bogging you guys down with advertising but I just found out about a site that offers very good prices for guitar and bass strings. These guys have all the name brand strings for great deals... I just bought a 25 pack of D’Addario EXL110's for $67.99 . Go check them out... Click on the link below or click on the one that appears below my link list on the right.
Guitar Strings and Accessories from SonicStrings.net

And The Winner Is...

Thanks for participating in the Danelectro Hodad giveaway. It generated a lot of buzz and helped get my blog noticed by quite a few people. The winner is...

Jason Morrison from Aurora... congrats, dude and make sure to send in a photo with your new prize.

Check out the review that was just posted prior to this post for our first review and the next giveaway.

Guitar Wheel Review

Dustin Cheatham was kind enough to send in a new product for us to review that I thought everyone would be interested in. It's called the Guitar Wheel:

The Guitar Wheel is "The popular two ounce reference library for music theory."

I originally saw an ad for this in the back of a guitar magazine. I normally don't pay attention to these kinds of ads, but it caught my eye. The Guitar Wheel is a collection of different music theory concepts for both piano and guitar organized in a way that will allow a musician of any level access to everything from the most basic musical concepts to fairly advanced ideas like chord inversions. On the right of the wheel is a Key Selector that allows you to synchronize the wheel to the key signature of your choice. One side is designed to visually represent a guitar fretboard, the other is more general music theory and uses a piano as its main reference.

I'm very impressed with the amount of information that they have been able to pack into such a small and lightweight item. I have binders full of ways to show the information that is represented so concisely on this wheel. Some of the useful information on the wheel:

-Major Scale w/ degrees and notes
-Forming all Diatonic Triads (in barre form) for a given key
-Tonic Chord Inversions
-Intervals (including concert pitch transposition)
-Treble and Bass cleff staff diagrams
-Major/Minor relative scales (along with pentatonic scales)

The Guitar Wheel comes with a nice full color 2 page sheet showing you the basics of how to operate and view the information presented to you. It also comes with a very well produced DVD that is informative and just long enough to keep your interest. (I'm actually in the TV business, so I'm a pretty hard critic)

Every time I've picked this tool up, I've seen something new that I didn't realize connected in some way to another area on the wheel, or to a musical concept even.

The product is a bargain for $19.95. I haven't seen something this well put together as a general music theory cheat sheet before, and I think that it is a tool that any musician should have with them at all times. It took me years of work (on my own) to collect a lot of the concepts shown in the Guitar Wheel using the internet, paying for expensive private lessons, and discussing and debating theory with other musicians. I feel a little disappointed that I didn't have one of these things when I first started playing.

Ok...Now for the fun part. This is the first review on the site, and as such, I want to start a new tradition. Every item I review will be given away to the readers of this blog as a thank you for the positive feedback thatreceiveeve from you guys. So here it is:

Guitar Wheel Giveaway
All you have to do to qualify for the Guitar Wheel giveaway is this:
1. Click on the ads by google ad at the top of the page
2. Search in the google search bar on the right of the page and click on one of the ads there
3. Download and install Picasa (a very nice and FREE photo editor that I use for this site)
Once I have had 1000 people do all of the above, I will post a message to start accepting
email addresses for the Guitar Wheel Giveaway. I will then randomly pick a winner.

Go check out the Guitar Wheel website.
Check out the Guitar Wheel Video.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Introduction to Modes

Well, here we are... Delving into the weird world of modal music. This is going to be the first part of a 3 or 4 part series explaining different ways to look at modes. You may not understand everything about modal music by the end of the series, but hopefully you'll be able to introduce a bit of moda flair into your playing, or experiment with some new ideas.

What exactly is a mode? This questions has alot of answers... I'll reveal them as we work through some of the patterns and definitions of the modes.

How many modes are there and what are they called? There are seven modes. I am going to cover the seven modes that all relate to the major scale in this article.

Let's start with the familiar C major scale:
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C

This is the first mode you're going to learn (or hopefully already know). The major scale is also
called the Ionian mode.

Here is a list of all seven modes:

Ionian (Major Scale)

What is the purpose of modes? Modes create different types of tension and emphasis when played as melodies over a chord progression. One mode can make a progression sound bluesy (Mixolydian) or give it a spanish flair (Phyrgian).

How exactly does this work? One way to look at modes is to view each one as having a different interval pattern based off of the Major scale. This allows you to see which notes are sharped or flatted in each mode.

We established that the Ionian mode is the same as the Major scale of the key that you are in.
The interval patterns for each mode are as follows:

Ionian (Major Scale)
Dorian b3 b7
Phrygian b2 b3 b6 b7
Lydian #4
Mixolydian b7
Aeolian b3 b6 b7
Locrian b2 b3 b5 b6 b7

So how does this all apply to actually making modal music? If I were playing a chord progression in C Major, and the progression has a C7 in it (chord formula = 1 - 3 - 5 - b7), I could decide to emphasize the b7 by switching to the Mixolydian mode for a solo. This would reinforce the tension created by the dominant 7.

Each scale has its own unique sound:

Ionian (Major Scale) - happy
Dorian jazzy
Phrygian spanish
Lydian majestic
Mixolydian blues
Aeolian (Minor Scale) - dark
Locrian weird

So, if you have a blues progression, you can play the major scale with a b7 and it will add the blues tonality to your melody. If you want to add a Santana-esque spanish flair over a progression try playing the with the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th flatted and it will be spanish influenced.

Notice that the Aeolian is also the minor scale. We learned in our Circle of Fifths Lesson that the relative minor of a given key was a minor 3rd away (1 and a half steps). This leads me to the next way we're going to look at modes: as displaced scales (a scale with the same notes as the key that you are playing in but the beginning and ending notes are different i.e. C Dorian begins and ends on D, C Phrygian begins and ends on E, etc.). We'll get into this way of working modally in the next installment.

Keep clicking on my sponors, or downloading Picasas (the box graphic on the right). Doing this helps me keep this site up and running for free.

Win A Danelectro

I now have over 1000 hits, so the Danelectro is officially up for grabs. Send an email to shaungish@mac.com with your contact info (can be just email - I'll notify you if you win to get your shipping address) and I will randomly draw a name. When you recieve the guitar, please send me a photo of you with it so that I can post your smiling face on the blog. I appreciatte all the hits.

Do me a favor and click on the sponors/search on the google search bar and click on the sponors/or download and install Picasa (all of the photos on this site go thru it... nice and free photo editor) so that I can continue this sort of thing. I just got my guitar wheel in... Look for a review sometime tomorrow (and another giveaway).

The next lesson - an introduction to modes - will be posted in a few hours. Check back.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


The next topic is musical intervals and how they relate to guitar. This is going to be a brief definition of intervals, and I will add onto this tomorrow with a example of how an understanding of intervals can help make you a better songwriter.

I'm going to relate the intervals to the major scale box form show in the previous major scale lesson so that you have a frame of reference.

Here are the intervals that are all spelled out in the major scale. The 4th, 5th, and 8th are all called perfects because they are neither major or minor in tonality (when they are inverted, they invert into perfect intervals) The 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th are all major in tonality (happy).

The notes that are not spelled out in the major scale all have a minor tonality(dark).

The only interval that hasn't been covered is the tritone. This is a unique interval in that it is exactly 3 whole notes away from the tonic note. It is used primarily in heavy music (Metallica, Black Sabbath, etc.) to create a dark and heavy feeling.

Examples of all of the musical intervals.

I'll post some riffs with different uses of intervals a bit later.

The response for the Danelectro contest has been outstanding. I'm almost at 1000 hits... Keep coming back and clicking on my sponors, or searching in the google search box, or downloading and installing Picasa... Or all three. I'll let you know as soon as I hit 1000 (as of this writing, I'm at 625 with about 30 sponsor clicks).

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Contest Time

Win a free Sparkle Blue Danelectro Hodad with Vintage Style Tan Tweed Case.

I'm giving away a guitar that I no longer use to promote this site... I'm trying to see how many people I can drive to the google ads that I have on my site. I'm trying to figure out if using google's adsense program will allow me to do what I want to with this site. So, in order to drive some people through here, I'm willing to give away one of my retired guitars. Everyone that is interested do one or all of three things for me:
Click on the ads by google block above the posts

Search for something in the google search on the right and click on one of the ads there

or Download Picasa from the square link to the right and install it (very well made image editing application that's free - I use it all the time).

Once I get to 2000 posts, I will put an email link up... email me to be entered into the drawing for the free guitar. The guitar is in good shape... it just needs a setup and some love (haven't played it for a year or so).

Thanks for the help... if this works, I will probably start doing this more frequently with real sponsors... I have a couple of friends that make med-high end custom guitars that would love some online pub... Let's show them that it works.

Guitar Wheel Review Shortly

Note Theory's first review will be posted some time in the coming weeks...

The product will be the Guitar Wheel. Search for it on the google search box on the right side of the page. It's a pretty cool product and I'm excited to get one in and check out.

B.t.w - all reviewed gear will be given away to a random lucky reader. Visit my sponsors so that I can afford to ship the guitar wheel out to some lucky person once it has been reviewed.

D - A - F Roadmap Clarification

The D - A - F roadmap is a simplified version of the CAGED method that is commonly understood by alot of guitar players. At some point in the near future when I finish with my series on basic music theory I will do another installment that take the D - A - F roadmap into the CAGED system.

Major Scale Part 2 - Chords

Ok... so we covered touched on the major scale in the last lesson. Now, to apply it to guitar.

Here is what the first position of the major scale looks like. The root notes are represented as rectangles. Note that there are three roots... this means that this box patterns covers the major scale as 2 full octaves. To play this in the key of G, start with the root on the 3rd fret of the low E string. Listen to an example.

Here are the exercises as promised to get your hands warmed up to playing the major scale:
G major (first position ascending)
G major pattern

Now, what can we actually do with this? As I said previously, this is the basis for all western music, and as such it is the basis for the theory behind why the music works. By applying the major scale you can form any kind of chord you want.

The notes of G majors are:
G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - G
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8

All of the common major chords (called major triads) have the formula 1 + 3 + 5. G major is created as
1 + 3 + 5
G + B + D

Ever wonder what a Gmaj7 was? Just add the 7th note (F#) to a G chord.

All chord formulas can be found here.

The major scale also tells you what chords you can play in a key and whether or not they need to be major/minor or diminished.

The rule goes like this:
G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - G
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
I -ii -iii- IV- V - vi- vii- I

All uppercase roman numerals are major, all lowercase are minor. The vii is played as a diminished chord.

Alot of times you will hear experienced musicians say "the songs is a I - IV - V
in G..." This would mean that the chords they are playing are G - C - D.
(The I - IV - V is the most common chord progression in most music genres)

Each of these steps of the major scale relate differently to the root note (or tonic). The next lesson will cover intervals and how they create tension and release towards or away from the tonic.

If this lesson helped you out, do me a favor and click on the add above or do a search in the google search box to the right. I don't make any money from running this site, and I don't ask for donations. I want to try to help other musicians out as much as possible, so please click the ads... It's all I ask.

Tune in tomorrow for the interval lesson.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Major Scale - From the beginning

This is the first part in a series that will take a person from the basics of music theory all the way into the mysterious void that is modes. This installment will cover the most fundamental parts of music theory and end with a practical application of the major scale and some practice exercises to get your fingers in shape for playing the major scale in a box mode.

From the beginning...

In western music there are 12 chromatic notes. These notes are all a semitone apart (semitone = 1/2 step a = 1 fret = 1 key for piano). These semitones are all labeled (arbitrarily I think, but I am looking for a reason why) as the letters A through G. The entire 12 note chromatic scale looks like this:
A - A# - B - C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G#

The pattern begins again at A an octave higher than the original A. The # is called a sharp. A# can also be represented as Bb (B flat). Notice that there are no sharps or flats between B - C or E - F. Again, I am pretty sure that this labeling system is arbitrary, but check back with; if I find anything on why the chromatic scale is named this way I'll post it.

The 12 chromatic steps are very easy to find on a piano.
All of the white keys are: A - B - C - D - E - F - G
The black keys are the accidentals (sharps/flats).

Ok... now that we have an understanding of the basic chromatic notes of western music, how do we make it musical? This is where the major scale comes in. If you have ever heard someone say "the song is in the key of C," and thought to yourself "what does that mean to anyone?" this will make the former statement make alot more sense.

The major scale is the basis of all music theory... it allows a musician to form melodies and chords by using its intervals to define patterns on the fretboard (or keys). The major scale itself is a pattern that will work the same in any key. The pattern for the major scale is:
W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Remember when I said that a semitone is equal to a 1/2 step (or 1 fret/1 key)? In the pattern above W = 1 whole step and the H = 1/2 step. So, to find the notes of the C major scale you would start at C and apply the pattern:
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C

It's that simple. These are all notes that can be played in the key of C major without sounding like they don't belong.
Another example, F major:
F - G - A - Bb - C - D - E - F
(A# is not used to show A#/Bb because major scales are spelled diatonically - no two letters can appear in the scale's spelling - thanks to NoteBoat @ the guitarnoise.com forums for pointing it out)

Try to find the major scale notes for the key of G and A.

The next part of this lesson will include a box diagram of the major scale for guitar players and a key diagram for piano players along with real actual sheet music. I'll also throw a couple of patterns to try out and a practical example of the major scale in action (as a melody line).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Music Theory Training Sites

Realty Reality: Music Theory Training Sites
Very long list of music theory resource sites, courtesy of Realty Reality

The Cipher
"The Cipher System is a new method for studying and teaching the elements of Western music theory and the guitar fretboard (among other stringed instruments)." This could open an interesting discussion about the pro/cons of learning to read music as a guitar or bass player.
Your comments are welcome. (I need a comment... for real people).

The next major lesson will be an introduction to the major scale. It should be posted sometime tomorrow with a follow up post over the weekend introducing modes and their relationship to the major scale. I'm going to attempt to make the abstract concept of modes as practical as possible.

D-A-F Roadmap

I saw an interesting pdf file over at Fenders' Players Club website the other day. It lays out a roadmap for playing any major chord across the neck in three different positions. This is really useful stuff because it allows you to find alternate chord formations for arpeggios in a different register of the neck for lead lines.

The concept is simple: Play a standard D major chord in the open position. To voice the same chord in the next position form an A major chord starting at the 5th fret (this can be done with an A-form barre chord or you can lose string 5(A) and 6(E)). The next position is formed as an F major chord at the 10th fret (another way to look at it is as an E-form barre chord at the 10th fret). The pattern concludes by playing a D major chord form at the 14th fret (so that the chord is an octave above the original open form D major chord).

This information is very useful because it forms a neat little pattern:
D - Skip1 - A - Skip2 - F - Skip1

This pattern continues i.e. D - A - F - D - A - F and on and on. To play all of the F chords on the neck with this pattern you would simply start the loop at the F and continue as such:
F - Skip1 - D - Skip1 - A - Skip2

So how does this tell you how to play any major chord? Simply find any E-form or A-form barre chord form of the chord that you want to play somewhere else on the neck (remember that the E-form barre chord is identical to the F major shape with the 5 and 6 string added). So to play any C major chord up and down the neck start with an A-form barre chord at the 3rd fret - C major. The next version would be an F major at the 8th fret, then a D major at the 12th fret...Very powerful stuff.

The roadmap also works for minor chords... just flat the 3rd of any of these chords and you'll have the minor version of the root chord (Dm - Am - Fm roadmap).

Let me know if this has been helpful. (a link to the original pdf file)