Post your playing posers and technical teasers to: Theory Godmother, Guitar Techniques, 30 Monmouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at email@example.com - every wish is your Godmother’s command!
David Mead answers your theory queries.
Root Of The Problem Dear Theory Godmother
I am trying to learn and practise scales. The problem is how am I supposed to practise them in different keys? I’m told all you need to do is find the root notes, but it isn’t that simple is it? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Louis When you first start out practising the scales in different keys it can seem a little bewildering. But there is a system and, once you’ve mastered it, you’ll find it becomes easier and easier to traverse from one key to another. The first thing you need is a chart of the guitar neck that shows you where all the notes are. I’ve provided one in Ex 1, but it would be better if you copy it out onto a large sheet of paper and hang it somewhere that you’ll see every day. Don’t worry about the sharps and flats for now; it makes things a lot clearer if you notate only the ‘whole notes’ and remember that ‘sharp’ means one fret to the right and ‘flat’ means one fret to the left as you view the fretboard from the playing position.
Next, I’m assuming that you have a book detailing the scales you want to learn and I’m hoping that, in all instances, the root notes are clearly marked. Then, all you have to do is take a scale pattern, locate the relevant root and play it. To begin with, you’ll have to perform this task slowly and methodically, but as you get more used to the system you’ll find that matching up a scale with any particular root note takes no time at all.
In Ex 2 I’ve written out a couple of examples of scale diagrams with the root marked; one major scale, the other minor. If I wanted to play the major scale example in the key of B, all I have to do is find a B on the sixth string – at the 7th fret – match it to the root and play the shape in the diagram.
It’s very important that you begin on the root, as I’ve outlined in Ex 3. Even if there are a few ‘spare’ notes at either end of the scale, always begin and end on the root note as this will go a long way towards tuning your ear into the correct sound of each scale
Economic Sanctions Dear Theory Godmother
I gave up the idea of ever becoming a flashy lead player a long time ago. I can pull off a reasonable solo as long as it’s short, sweet and fairly slow but anything else is virtually out of the question. So I’m turning my attention to rhythm, my goal being that I can one day join a band and play a useful role as a solid accompanist. The trouble I’m having is translating the chords I see in songbooks into something that sounds right. If I play whole barre chords in some rock songs, it just sounds wrong, too crowded and not at all like the record. I know that rhythm players often play reduced versions of chords, but how do I know how much is enough? How economical can you be with a chord and still get the point across?
Jed You can be amazingly economical with chord voicings, Jed. The basic major or minor chord comprises only three notes so it’s feasible to break the fuller chord shapes on the guitar neck down to root, 3rd and 5th (Ex 4). You can even go with root and 5th or root and 3rd. Dominant 7ths can be pruned down to essentials, as in Ex 5 where we’re only playing the 7th, 3rd and 5th.
Get a chord book to see where the intervals fall within the various shapes, then try trimming them down and playing them in different songs to see if they sound more like what you’re hearing on records. And get transcriptions of rhythm parts so you can see specifically what different players do to trim their chords down.
Jazz Nines Dear Theory Godmother
I have been playing guitar for a few years and can play open and barre chords successfully and with relative ease. I am now trying to move into jazz and add 9ths but, apart from the dominant 9th shape, I find the major 9th and minor 9th such a finger-twister that I can’t get to either fast enough. I know practice makes perfect, but can you tell me if there is an easier, finger-happy configuration to play major and minor ninths?
Andrew Of the chord shapes you sent me (see Ex 6) the major version is a bit of a handful, but the minor shape is quite common and shouldn’t be causing you too much of a problem. Regarding the minor 9 chord, a lot of players leave out the two lower bass strings and just play the top four strings as a barre with the 9th played by the fourth finger. It’s a lot easier and, in context with bass and even keys, no one will hear any difference.