The low threshold to entry for guitar

Em7

deus ex machina
Joined
Apr 27, 2012
Messages
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Guitar is one of the few musical instruments where one generally does not have to learn how to read music or learn music terminology to play. Do you believe it hurts or helps a guitarist over the long term? I personally believe that learning music and music theory is a must over the long term. While there are gifted musicians who do well with limited to no formal training in music, I have witnessed my fair share of one genre self-taught musicians over the years who struggle to play anything else. I am not the strongest music reader, but I can read music and I know music theory thanks to Guitar for the Practicing Musician and taking music theory in college. I also know why a minor chord is a minor chord and a major chord is a major chord and the ramifications that that difference has on soloing. I was shocked to discover that I was the only person in the audience at an Experience PRS master class that David Grissom gave who knew what a "no third" chord was and why it was important. We can do better than that as a community. Those of us who know music theory should help those do not and those who do not know music theory should not be hostile to those who do. Far too many guitarists who do not know music theory are stuck in the "pentatonic box," often playing the minor pentatonic over its parallel major progression. If one wants to use the minor pentatonic over a major progression, one needs to learn about a major key's relative minor key. For example, I have lost count of the number of guitarists who try to solo in G minor pentatonic over a G major chord progression. That is usually not a pretty sight. If one wants to use the minor pentatonic over a G major progression, one needs to solo in Em pentatonic because Em pentatonic and G major pentatonic have the same notes. The difference lies in the tonal centers.

Here's some food for thought. Here is a song that almost all guitarists with no formal training get wrong when they improvise the solo. The basic progression for Marshall Tucker's "Can't You See" is D/C/G. What is the key of the song? It is not G major, even though G, C, and D are the I, IV, V chords in G major. The song is in the key of D major. D and G and the I and IV chords with C being a lowered version the VII chord because it is using mixolydian mode (major scale with a lowered 7th interval). If you watch how Toy Caldwell plays the solo, you will see that the song is in the key of D major. He plays the solo between the 7th and 10th frets. The first chord in a progression is usually the I chord (tonic chord) in the key. That is a dead give away that the song is not in G major. Understanding music theory allows a guitarist to make quick work of songs that look like I/VI/V progressions on the surface, but are not I/IV/V progressions.
 
Guitar is one of the few musical instruments where one generally does not have to learn how to read music or learn music terminology to play. Do you believe it hurts or helps a guitarist over the long term?

Here's some food for thought. Here is a song that almost all guitarists with no formal training get wrong when they improvise the solo. The basic progression for Marshall Tucker's "Can't You See" is D/C/G. What is the key of the song? It is not G major, even though G, C, and D are the I, IV, V chords in G major. The song is in the key of D major. D and G and the I and IV chords with C being a lowered version the VII chord because it is using mixolydian mode (major scale with a lowered 7th interval). If you watch how Toy Caldwell plays the solo, you will see that the song is in the key of D major. He plays the solo between the 7th and 10th frets. The first chord in a progression is usually the I chord (tonic chord) in the key. That is a dead give away that the song is not in G major. Understanding music theory allows a guitarist to make quick work of songs that look like I/VI/V progressions on the surface, but are not I/IV/V progressions.

I find, depending on the goal of the player, not learning theory hurts. And it's mostly in accurate communication with others.

As an example, the analysis of the example song in terms of its tonal center is correct but the conclusion that it is D major is not.

D mixolydian is correct even though Mixolydian can be thought of as major with b7 which is how I prefer to think on a gig.

Where I've seen issues is being on a gig with classically trained musicians like violinists, some keyboard players, some saxophone players. If you call the tune in D major they WILL play D major and wail on that C# at some point.

To me, there's a balance of having the knowledge to communicate effectively but also making sure your ears are open and working to link the two together.
 
Like anything it depends on the goals of the musician. Theory is a tool which serves a purpose. It can be helpful in writing music, understanding music, and communicating music. That does not mean every musician needs it to accomplish their goals. Different musical styles and musician's roles place different value on different skills.

I learned bits and pieces of theory over the years out of curiosity or in various school music programs (I guess that dates me a bit ;) ) but I am exclusively a bedroom (office actually) player who enjoys playing along with my favorite bands. My goals are simply to improve the quality of my playing and to learn more songs. I do not like solos (leads and high speed fretboard gymnastics cause me to roll my eyes and change the song) and I often substitute rhythm parts when playing along to songs rather than learning/playing solos. Most of the music I play is punk, hardcore, or metal. In that context and with those goals, theory is not critical to my playing. Technique and rhythm are much more important to accomplish my goals. If I had to sit down and think about it, I could read a staff to see the key but I would not be able to name the notes in any particular mode. I might be able to describe the notes in a major vs minor chord. None of that matters for my goals. I play ~10 hrs a week, repeating the same 30-40 songs, while adding 1-2 songs a month, and I have a ton of fun with it.

So to answer your question more succinctly, each Musician should find/use the tools which allow them to accomplish their goals. Music theory has no impact in my current musical endeavors. That may change if I do something different in the future.
 
As the years have passed by, I have learned more theory to help me create what I hear in my head. I'm glad I didn't learn it earlier, because exploration has been fun, but I'm glad I learned enough along the way. Now that I know more about music and composition, I know where to go with learning theory. It has helped me grow over the last few years.
 
Agree and agree some more. It has (and is stil) hamstrung me not being tought theory, even though I had about 5 yrs of classical training. I asked my teacher about some curious things I noticed in sheet music to my guitar and he (in retrospect) blew me off. I still remember that even 30 yrs later as a weird moment and kind of a "forming" moment.

I am a autodidact if it comes to theory, and have made some steps, but have not found a good way to make it stick, internalise it, and I always have to work to get it right. What did not help that in the book I used there was a faulty circle of fifths, which caused me to not being able make sense of it. After a few tries I figured out it was wrong.

That being said: does anybody have some good tips for books or resources that actually WORK? I can read sheet music, (more or less) get the circle of fifths, but more advanced stuff is still eluding me and I really am looking for more lately
 
While Music theory is an extremely valuable asset , there have been many very gifted musicians that couldn't read a note.

I was in Orchestra in school , then Classical guitar in college .. yet oddly we never really studied theory

My Music teacher (violin/ viola) gave me " The Idiots Guide to Music Theory" it includes a CD . She has her Masters in performing Viola and was he strictest teacher I've ever had including my 7th dan Sensei from Shizouka. " You're and Engineer .. study this ..intensely ! I'd made instruments for her whole band so we were tight but she was TOUGH.

As a senior Engineer for over 30yrs I can tell you , I found Calculus for Electronics a breeze comparitively , I have however found it incredibly useful in my growth., and would recommend it to any who want to go down that path
 
I am a autodidact if it comes to theory, and have made some steps, but have not found a good way to make it stick, internalise it, and I always have to work to get it right. What did not help that in the book I used there was a faulty circle of fifths, which caused me to not being able make sense of it. After a few tries I figured out it was wrong.

That being said: does anybody have some good tips for books or resources that actually WORK? I can read sheet music, (more or less) get the circle of fifths, but more advanced stuff is still eluding me and I really am looking for more lately

I'd be more than happy to help. That goes for anyone too.

Even though I have a bachelor's degree in music with guitar as my principle instrument and did well in theory/aural training, it wasn't until I was out gigging 3-6 times a week that I was able to really apply those concepts.
 
I think it all depends on a person’s goals. I don’t really have any musical talent or ability. For me, guitar is a stress-relief and hobby. My main goal? To challenge myself and develop an ability that doesn’t come naturally to me.

After four years of between 2 and 5 hours per week, I’m at the point where open chords are getting much easier. It’s interesting to me because I’m a touch-typist who can do around 80-100 words per minute, if I’m trying. So the ability to get the muscle memory down is there, but chord shapes don’t come easily to me.

Music theory? Down the line, for me. My son is three. He’ll learn the guitar and piano as he gets a bit older. I want him to see that I do things that are hard for me and get pleasure out of the experience.
 
I'd be more than happy to help. That goes for anyone too.

Even though I have a bachelor's degree in music with guitar as my principle instrument and did well in theory/aural training, it wasn't until I was out gigging 3-6 times a week that I was able to really apply those concepts.
Thanks, I'd be happy to pick up that glove. I'll PM you!
 
Guitar is one of the few musical instruments where one generally does not have to learn how to read music or learn music terminology to play. Do you believe it hurts or helps a guitarist over the long term? I personally believe that learning music and music theory is a must over the long term. While there are gifted musicians who do well with limited to no formal training in music, I have witnessed my fair share of one genre self-taught musicians over the years who struggle to play anything else. I am not the strongest music reader, but I can read music and I know music theory thanks to Guitar for the Practicing Musician and taking music theory in college. I also know why a minor chord is a minor chord and a major chord is a major chord and the ramifications that that difference has on soloing. I was shocked to discover that I was the only person in the audience at an Experience PRS master class that David Grissom gave who knew what a "no third" chord was and why it was important. We can do better than that as a community. Those of us who know music theory should help those do not and those who do not know music theory should not be hostile to those who do. Far too many guitarists who do not know music theory are stuck in the "pentatonic box," often playing the minor pentatonic over its parallel major progression. If one wants to use the minor pentatonic over a major progression, one needs to learn about a major key's relative minor key. For example, I have lost count of the number of guitarists who try to solo in G minor pentatonic over a G major chord progression. That is usually not a pretty sight. If one wants to use the minor pentatonic over a G major progression, one needs to solo in Em pentatonic because Em pentatonic and G major pentatonic have the same notes. The difference lies in the tonal centers.

Here's some food for thought. Here is a song that almost all guitarists with no formal training get wrong when they improvise the solo. The basic progression for Marshall Tucker's "Can't You See" is D/C/G. What is the key of the song? It is not G major, even though G, C, and D are the I, IV, V chords in G major. The song is in the key of D major. D and G and the I and IV chords with C being a lowered version the VII chord because it is using mixolydian mode (major scale with a lowered 7th interval). If you watch how Toy Caldwell plays the solo, you will see that the song is in the key of D major. He plays the solo between the 7th and 10th frets. The first chord in a progression is usually the I chord (tonic chord) in the key. That is a dead give away that the song is not in G major. Understanding music theory allows a guitarist to make quick work of songs that look like I/VI/V progressions on the surface, but are not I/IV/V progressions.
If it is in D Mixolydian that is the 5th mode of G Major. D major has a C# in it as noted by @jak3af3r. If you see a progression with two major chords one step apart they are the IV and V chord of the key.
 
While Music theory is an extremely valuable asset , there have been many very gifted musicians that couldn't read a note.

I was in Orchestra in school , then Classical guitar in college .. yet oddly we never really studied theory

My Music teacher (violin/ viola) gave me " The Idiots Guide to Music Theory" it includes a CD . She has her Masters in performing Viola and was he strictest teacher I've ever had including my 7th dan Sensei from Shizouka. " You're and Engineer .. study this ..intensely ! I'd made instruments for her whole band so we were tight but she was TOUGH.

As a senior Engineer for over 30yrs I can tell you , I found Calculus for Electronics a breeze comparitively , I have however found it incredibly useful in my growth., and would recommend it to any who want to go down that path

I am an engineer and a computer scientist by training. For me, it was easier to look at intervals as mathematical relationships when dealing with triads. For example, a minor chord is a minor third + a major third, a major chord is a major third + a minor third, and diminished chord is a minor third + a minor third.

A mathematical way to look at a m7 chord is that it is a combination of a minor chord plus its relative major chord. For example, Em is E, G, B and its relative major is chord is G is G, B, D while Em7 is E,G,B,D. The minor 7th D in Em7 is the perfect 5th in G. What is nice about minor seventh progressions is that they add an air of sophistication to what is usually a fairly boring progression. For example, if we play a i,iv,v minor progression in Em, we play Em, Am, Bm. That is what most people play when they jam on a Em progression at a blues jam. That makes pentatonic soloing in Em brain dead simple. However, if we switch to a m7 progression and use Em7, Am7, and Bm7, soloing in E natural minor (aeolian mode) when played against a m7 progression sounds more sophisticated, almost jazz like.
 
My boss who owns and teaches at the instrument repair shop I work at says 'if you cant read music then you aint a real musician'. Thats funny cuz I cant read and yet I shred balls over him and others who can. Notation is just someones ideas dictated, just like tab (albeit more precise)...... nothing more. Knowing it doesnt make anyone 'better' at creating music, has nothing to do with it.

When was the last time you saw a band with music stands on stage?
 
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Depends.

There are so many complicated pieces of music that were created and invented by guitarists who never had proper lessons and teaching. They had no music theory knowledge and yet created more complex pieces than the most creative musicians with years and years of knowledge around theory and scales....

I think being at The right place and right time is most important. Location, timing, balance, the will to persist and passion. All those things could mean more. Who's to say, though?

Me, myself? I have years of music theory but I'm also trained by ear. So what does that mean? It means I can play whatever I hear off the radio no matter how difficult or if I've played the chords before but I don't use music theory to figure that stuff out. I don't know the names of the chords I learn from songs I hear on the radio. Does that make me less of a player or musician than someone who's gone to Juliard and relies solely on music theory for everything?

So there ya go!
 
Re: theory, lemme just drop this here.........


Victor Wooten is the man. His book 'The Music Lesson' should be required reading for any music curriculum.

The things is, the player has to serve the music, because the music itself is what is important. Theory is often helpful for communication between musicians, and as a starting point. For example 'Here's a chart of this new tune I want us to do'. but if the musicians can't hear it in their heads, even if they are great readers and great technical musicians, it won't have the sort of flow and feel the good music always has, and the players will be working very hard, using the wrong side of their brains.
 
I knew quite a bit of music theory before I started playing guitar.
I don’t think I would be nearly as versatile without the theoretical background. It helps me make better choices when I have an idea that is worth developing.
I am also certain that I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to play many of the shows I did, which it turns out made me a much better player.
 
A mathematical way to look at a m7 chord is that it is a combination of a minor chord plus its relative major chord. For example, Em is E, G, B and its relative major is chord is G is G, B, D while Em7 is E,G,B,D. The minor 7th D in Em7 is the perfect 5th in G. What is nice about minor seventh progressions is that they add an air of sophistication to what is usually a fairly boring progression. For example, if we play a i,iv,v minor progression in Em, we play Em, Am, Bm. That is what most people play when they jam on a Em progression at a blues jam. That makes pentatonic soloing in Em brain dead simple. However, if we switch to a m7 progression and use Em7, Am7, and Bm7, soloing in E natural minor (aeolian mode) when played against a m7 progression sounds more sophisticated, almost jazz like.

I like this line of thinking because it forms the basis of not playing notes that clash.

In this example, if we take the chords and spell them out, throw out the duplicates, and arrange the letters in order we get. E F# G A B C D which is E natural minor.

This immediately informs us which notes will work (mostly) over the chords in the progression because they are exactly the notes from the chords.

I say mostly because there are tensions that can be created that may sound displeasing to most listeners like playing C over the Bm7 or Em7.
 
Just Bend Or Slide Until It Sounds Right. Most People Have Short Attention Spans And Won't Remember The Note You Played Previously That Was Out Of Key So Voodoo Them With The Ol' Bend And Slide Trick And Repeat It So They Know You Mean It. ;)
 
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