Post your playing posers and technical teasers to: Theory Godmother, Guitar Techniques, 30 Monmouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org - every wish is your Godmother’s command!
Neck Pain Dear Theory Godmother
I’ve heard so many methods of learning how to know the notes of the neck thoroughly but with so much information out there, it’s hard to pick out which is the best for learning them well. Are there any tried and tested methods you know which are very effective in learning this? And if so, what is a good way of putting this into practice with the things you already know on the guitar?
Jordan-Lee The guitar must be the only instrument where its players question the necessity of learning where the notes are. A student once asked me if he really had to know the names of the notes on the fretboard; my flabbergasted response was that it would be a good idea, as he wanted to learn to play jazz! It’s vital for communication: if a keyboard player told you he was playing an E flat major chord with an F in it, you’d be able to find it quickly with that information. It’s important, too, for the location of root notes for barre chords, different scale variations and many, many other things. It’s bonkers to ignore it!.
Write out a neck chart (don’t just copy one, as pen memory is a good first step). I’m guessing you know the notes on the bottom two strings from playing barre chords, so the next step is to find the octaves on the other strings. If you know that G is the 3rd fret on your sixth string, then try to find it on the fourth and first strings, too. Your big clue is the E shape barre chord (Ex 1 - Gs are arrowed) as these two notes are within that well known shape. The A shape barre will fill in further gaps (Ex 2).
After that, try notes nearby - now you know the Gs, where are the Fs and As? Once you know the octaves, finding other pitches is merely a question of working things out alphabetically; constant reference to your neck chart will speed up the process, so keep it somewhere you’ll see it every day.
Jazz Dilemma Dear Theory Godmother
I’m slowly getting the hang of soloing in a particular key where you effectively use one scale to accommodate all the chord changes, shifting target notes as you do so. But what happens over chords with no diatonic relationship? A few friends and I are trying our hands at some modern jazz. One tune calls for an intro where the chords are two bars of Amaj7 followed by two bars of Abmaj7 repeated several times - and I’m meant to provide some sort of melodic content over the top.
As there’s no common denominator in terms of relative scale I wonder how you would approach this? Common ground has eluded me so far!
Malcolm You’re right in thinking that the two chords you mention have no relationship diatonically - so why try to find one? Why not celebrate the differences instead? It might sound difficult to find a melodic solution to your conundrum, but you’d be surprised. In Ex 3 I’ve played something that sounds fine, yet technically, all I’m doing is referring to the A and Ab major scales at the appropriate moments.
Apart from this, you could play a similar phrase in the two keys (Ex 4), or even a slight variation (Ex 5).
Record a loop of the two chords and find some compatible melodic statements to play using the related major scales. It might seem like trial and error at first, but that’s how we all learn and develop.
There are, of course, other ways to approach this situation, like the use of chromatic notes or what’s known as ‘anticipation’ where you enter the new chord a little early and let the harmony catch up; but if this kind of idea is new to you, then what I’ve outlined above is a good start to make. After a little practice I’m sure you’ll come up with some nice melodic statements.
Key Change Blues Dear Theory Godmother
I’ve been playing in a band for a while and we’ve had the same singer for a couple of years. But that singer has moved away and we’ve been holding auditions to find a speedy replacement as we’ve got some gigs quite soon. Luckily we’ve found a fabulous female singer who will add a whole new dimension to the sound (our previous singer was a guy). The trouble is, her vocal range is totally different and she can’t sing some of the tunes in the keys we’ve been playing in. This isn’t a problem for the keyboard player since he can initially use the transpose facility on his piano until we get the new arrangements sorted. But I have to transpose and subsequently relearn tunes I’ve been playing for ages and I don’t know where to start. Transposing is more than just shifting a few barre chords up or down the neck and so I wondered if you’ve got any tips on a quick fix so I can do the gigs while I frantically write out all the charts in their new keys and learn them.
Trev Ultimately, you’d aim to transpose the songs and relearn them in their new keys. And as long as your knowledge of moveable chord shapes is up to scratch, it won’t take as long as you imagine. It’s just a little perplexing that some of those big, open position chords might no longer be available; but hey ho, welcome to music’s whacky world!
In the short term, have you thought about a capo? It’s the equivalent of your keyboard player’s ‘transpose’ button and could be engaged with only a bit of thought beforehand. If you currently play a song in C and the new key is Eb, all you’d do is place the capo at the 4th fret and use the same shapes as before. This might be the quick fix you’re looking for (although there’s no shame in making it a permanent one) but it will allow you to perform confidently on upcoming gigs while you woodshed the new versions at home.