Post your posers and teasers to: Theory Godmother, Unit 5, Pines Way Industrial Estate, Ivo Peters Road, Bath, BA2 3QS; or email me at info@ davidmead.net – your every wish is Fairy Godmother’s command!
Fingers in knots or brain tormented by some unfathomable musical conundrum? Then let Dave Mead be your Theory Godmother.
Intruder Alert! Dear Theory Godmother
I was looking through a songbook the other day and I found a song in the key of G that includes the chord F#7. I know that F#7 doesn’t belong in the key of G and so I’m wondering how you’d approach soloing over this change. The rest of the song appears to stick to the chords in the key of G but this oddball change seems to upset my attempts to play over it. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Dave I’ve outlined the changes you sent me in Ex 1 and, yes, the F#7 really does impose itself as a visitor in an otherwise G major chord sequence. Normally you would solo over the Gmaj7, Am7 and Bm7 using a mixture of scale and chord tones and if we wanted to look at the pure vocabulary available, it would take the form of G Ionian, A Dorian and B Phrygian (Ex2). So for three out of the four chords, you’re on pretty safe ground if you just stick to the G major scale. As you know, the trouble begins when we hit the F#7; in Ex 3, I’ve outlined both the chord and the G major scale it’s visiting and you can see straight away that the note F# itself is native to G major, but both the C# and A# present a problem.
My simple solution is not to look at a relative scale for the F#7; as the chord has only a fleeting presence in the sequence anyway, the first place to look is at the chord tones themselves. I’ve written out an F#7 arpeggio in Ex 4 and as you can see, it includes the notes F#A#-C#-E. If we treat the whole sequence as a line of arpeggios, we will begin to hear the effect you want to achieve (Ex 5). It might not sound too much like a solo, but it’s accurately outlining the chords and getting the point across.
The next thing to do is to get those arpeggios under your fingers using a backing track so you can hear everything falling into place. Then try some experiments: alter the rhythm, play extracts from the arpeggios, mix in some notes from the G major scale on the G, A and B chords and if you work at it, you should begin coming up with something like Ex 6. It might not be too elegant, but it’s bang on correct!
Name That Tuning Dear Theory Godmother
Having just begun to explore the world of acoustic instrumental music for myself, I am amazed at how many players seem to have moved away from standard tuning in favour of alternatives. Some of these I can understand, like tuning to a chord obviously makes sense for certain pieces and even DADGAD is fathomable in this respect. But players like Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour and so on seem to choose the weirdest tunings for their music, some of which make no sense at all. So where do the acoustic’s wilder tunings originate?
Ross Obviously, it’s difficult for me to get into these players’ heads, but I think that you can look at the wilder tunings in two different ways. If you’re writing a tune away from the guitar, it’s easy to come up with something that’s very difficult to put onto the fretboard. Every guitarist knows that we are limited in terms of close harmony or some interval stretches, so often the solution is to retune the strings to make life easier. Sometimes it might be a question of dropping the bass strings from E and A to D and G, and the difference is immense in terms of fingering.
On other occasions, I think adopting an unorthodox tuning can present a challenge and has the effect of freshening up your musical perspective. With the strings retuned in an abstract way, it forces you to explore the landscape anew and this is often all you need to spark a great idea.
Well Read? Dear Theory Godmother
I know you’ve been asked this before, but what are your views on a guitarist today learning to read music? Is it really necessary or just purely a nicety and not really that vital? I ask because my teenage son seems to be deadly serious about pursuing a career in music and he is putting up a lot of resistance regarding learning to read.
Bob Had you asked me this 20 years ago I might have replied that it can’t hurt to acquaint yourself with music’s written language. Even if you just master the basics it can provide information above and beyond the numerical sequences of tab. These days though the situation has changed. The music industry isn’t what it was and it’s often the case that freshly-graduated guitar students have to teach to subsidise their income while exploring available gigs; plus many guitarists look towards work in pit orchestras or other situations where a good reading ability is essential.
Competition for work in music that will pay enough to live on is far more fierce than it was when I entered the profession many years ago. It’s very much a question of only the most wellequipped players finding the best jobs. So why not explore the idea of your son attending one of the many guitar schools out there? A quick Google search will reveal them to you and all are well aware of the skills necessary to enter the world of professional guitar playing. Tell him he needs to read!