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improvising and jazz guitar scales

Guitar Scale Hacks: How to Jazz Up Any Scale & Start Improvising

improvising and jazz guitar scales

Many beginner musicians want to learn to improvise on the guitar, but just don’t know how to start. In this guest post, Greg O’Rourke from fretdojo.com teaches you three easy tricks that will supercharge your guitar scales and bring more life to your solos.

 

Have you ever tried to improvise on the guitar and it sounds like you’re just running scales up and down the fretboard?

Look:

Regardless of what style you want to improvise in, only knowing the scales isn’t enough.

Here’s the deal:

To sound like a convincing improviser, you need to learn the vocabulary of the style you want to play — meaning the particular patterns and approaches that give a style of music its unique sound.

Which is what this article is all about.

By the end of this post, you’re going to learn three easy jazz tricks to transform any boring old guitar scale into a hip, jazzy-sounding pattern that will supercharge your soloing.

Let’s get into it!

The Basic Idea

The approach I’m going to show you is to:

  • Look at the finger patterns on each string of a guitar scale, then
  • Substitute them with finger patterns commonly used in jazz.

For this lesson we’re going to use the ol’ faithful C major scale.

Let’s use the well-known pattern commonly played in the 7th position on the fretboard (for those of you who know the CAGED system, this would be the “E” pattern of C Major):

Listen & Play: Guitar Improvisation Exercise 1

jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-1

jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-2-corrected

Audio:

If you aren’t familiar with this guitar scale pattern yet, practice playing bits and pieces of it over the backing track to get familiar, as the video below demonstrates:

Video Example:

Backing Track:

As you can see, if you improvise just by going up and down guitar scales it sounds like, well… just like scales going up and down.

Boring!

Let’s see what we can do to jazz this sucker up…

Step 1: Substitute the ‘134’ Pattern

Look at the notes that sit on the 3rd string for this guitar scale:

jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-3

As you can see, this string uses fingers 1, 3, and 4, hence a ‘134’ pattern.

Hmmm… let’s try something.

Replace this finger pattern with a ‘4123’ pattern instead:

jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-4

To get used to the idea of replacing the finger pattern, play the simple exercise below.

Listen & Play: Guitar Improvisation Exercise 2jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-5

Audio:

Here’s the trick.

Now, whenever you play the 3rd string as you improvise, replace the ‘134’ pattern with the new ‘4123’ pattern.

Video Example:

Go on — try it! Here’s the backing track once again:

Backing Track:

Hang on:

Notice how this can be used on other strings of this C major scale as well…

Eureka! The 4th string also has this ‘134’ pattern.

Do the same finger pattern replacement on this string too.

Listen & Play: Guitar Improvisation Exercise 3jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-6

Audio:

I want you to practice soloing over the backing track once again.

This time, whenever you hit the 4th string or the 3rd string, play the pattern ‘4123’.

Backing Track:

Great — you’re sounding a whole lot jazzier already!

Let’s have a look at how we can mess with the other strings to get more of that jazzy sound into our soloing.

Step 2: Substitute the ‘124’ pattern

Here’s the finger pattern on the 1st string in this C Major scale:

jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-7

As you can see, the 1st string has a ‘124’ finger pattern.

It’s time to soup up this finger pattern too.

Can we use the ‘4123’ pattern (the one you used on the 3rd and 4th string) here?

No, you can’t — the final note (the ‘3’)  will be a note that is not in C Major, which will sound bad.

For this approach to work, we need a pattern that will finish on a scale note.

So, we’ll need a different pattern. Let me think…

How about this one:

jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-8

Looks good — this new ‘43241’ pattern ends up on a scale note (the ‘1’).

This ‘43241’ pattern is one of the most commonly used vocabulary ideas in jazz, and it’s easy to play too.

To get familiar with this new pattern, play this exercise on the 1st string:

Listen & Play: Guitar Improvisation Exercise 4jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-9

Audio:

Improvise with the backing track in a similar way to what you did on the 3rd and 4th string.

This time, whenever you play the 1st string replace the ‘124’ pattern with the ‘43241’ pattern.

Video Example:

While you’re at it, make it more interesting by experimenting with different rhythms and accents each time you play the pattern.

Backing Track:

This ‘43241’ pattern works really well on the 5th and 6th strings too, as they also have a ‘124’ pattern in this C Major guitar scale.

I’ll show you what I mean:

Listen & Play: Guitar Improvisation Exercise 5jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-10

Audio:

Step 3: Enclosures

Great, so we have now jazzed up every string of this guitar scale…

Or have we?

Hang on — it looks like one string hasn’t been covered yet: the 2nd string.

The problem with the 2nd string in this C Major guitar scale pattern is that there are only two notes on the string.

D’oh! We can’t play the other two patterns you’ve learned so far, as they were for three notes, not two.

Don’t sweat! There is a solution.

We’re going to use enclosures to surround (or ‘enclose’) each of these two-note scales.

I know what you’re thinking:

“What’s an enclosure??”

I knew you were going to ask that.

Let me explain.

Enclosures are one of the most commonly used devices found in jazz solos.

They give a great chromatic sound and are characteristic of jazz bebop in particular.

Enclosures are useful as they can be added to any note in any guitar scale.

Here’s an example of an enclosure:

Listen & Play: Guitar Improvisation Exercise 6jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-11

Audio:

In this next exercise, you’re going to apply an enclosure to each of the two notes found on the 2nd string of the C Major guitar scale pattern:

Listen & Play: Guitar Improvisation Exercise 7jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-12-corrected

Audio:

Now try to improvise on the backing track with enclosures on these notes whenever you hit the 2nd string:

Video Example:

Backing Track:

Note: You can do enclosures on any note of the scale, not just these two scale notes on the second string — try it and see!

Step 4: Combining it All Together

Fantastic! We have now jazzified every string of C Major guitar scale.

Your final challenge awaits…

Have a go at playing the substituted finger pattern for each string one after the other, going from the 1st string to the 6th string:

  • 1st string: 43241
  • 2nd string: enclosures
  • 3rd string: 4123
  • 4th string: 4123
  • 5th string: 43241
  • 6th string: 43241

Listen & Play: Guitar Improvisation Exercise 8jazz-guitar-scales-image-example-13

Audio:

Now improvise on the backing track by adding the relevant pattern for each string here and there as you solo.

Video Example:

Backing Track:

A couple of things to be aware of as you improvise on the guitar:

  • If you do the new jazzy patterns too much, it will sound too “spicy.” Just add them here and there and it will sound totally hip.
  • The challenge here is to remember what pattern goes with which string in the guitar scale. Be careful as you’ll find it won’t sound very good if you mix them up by mistake.

Huzzah! Just by adding some simple finger patterns, you know have an interesting, jazzy foundation for your guitar solos.

Summary

You can apply this technique to any guitar scale:

  • Whenever you have a ‘134’ pattern on a string, replace it with ‘4123’.
  • Whenever you have a ‘124’ pattern on a string, replace it with ‘43241’.
  • Whenever you have only 2 notes on a string, use enclosures around each note.

So there you have it: three simple finger patterns that you can apply to any guitar scale, to instantly get that jazzy sound.

The question is…

What guitar scales do YOU have under your fingers to jazz up?

Let me help you out.

Download a free copy of my Essential Guitar Scale Patterns PDF eBook, and you’ll learn the most important guitar scale shapes that you need to know for any style of music.

I would also like to give a shout-out to Matt Warnock at mattwarnockguitar.com, whom I credit first showing me these innovative ideas for scale patterns. He’s a great teacher and has a ton of resources about jazz guitar improvisation on his site.

I wish you well in your guitar practice. Happy soloing!

Ready to learn more? Find a local or online guitar teacher, or check out our live, online group classes for guitar!

AndyWPost Author: Greg O’Rourke
Greg O’Rourke is a professional Australian jazz guitarist and holds a Bachelor of Music (Hons) with the Australian National University. He’s also the owner of fretdojo.com, which offers detailed lessons and eBooks on how to master jazz guitar.

3 Simple Guitar Warm Ups You’ll Never Outgrow

3 Simple Guitar Exercises that You'll Never Outgrow

Do you play guitar warm ups before you practice guitar? Here, teacher Kirk R. shares three guitar exercises that are perfect for players of all levels.

There are literally thousands of exercises and warm ups for the guitar. There are some that are great for beginners who are just getting used to having their fingers on the guitar, and some that are designed to challenge and grow the technique of seasoned players.

But who has time to learn thousands of guitar exercises? Wouldn’t you rather learn a few simple routines that will continue to push your technique as long as you play the guitar?

Here are the only three guitar warm ups you’ll ever need! Each of these guitar exercises will benefit players of any level.

Top 3 Guitar Warm Ups

Guitar Warm Up 1: Left Hand String Skipping

This is one of the simplest guitar warm ups that I use every day. It begins with your first, or index, finger on the first fret of the lowest string.

You’ll then ‘hop’ the same finger to the fifth string, also on the first fret.

Continue moving up one string at a time until you reach the first, or highest string and then return, one string at a time, to the lowest. Repeat this on the first four frets each time with a different finger.

one

This is a great technical guitar exercise that may seem too simple for more experienced guitarists at first. If you think it’s too easy, make sure to pay attention to the articulation and connection of each note.

Play it slowly and try to make one note fully connect to the next, with no gap in the sound caused by lifting the finger too early.

Guitar Warm Up 2: Chromatic Scales

This is another one of my favorite guitar warm ups that I still practice every day. Not only do I currently use it, but I’ve been playing chromatic scales since my first guitar lesson when I was a kid. It can be played in a variety of ways, but let’s start with the simplest.

two

It can be played on any string, but here I’ll use the second string as an example. We begin on the open note followed by the notes of frets 1, 2, 3, and 4 played with the index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers, respectively. After reaching the highest note, follow the same pattern back down.

It’s simple, uses all the left hand fingers, and it’s easy to memorize: sounds like a useful warm up to me!

Once you’re comfortable playing this on every string, you can combine the patterns and move from the low E all the way to the G# on the fourth fret of the first string. One hiccup in the pattern happens between the third and second strings.

If you play both the fourth fret, third string, and the open second string (marked with parentheses below), you’ll have two B naturals. The solution is simply to play one or the other. I like to change it up to keep on my toes.

three

You haven’t had enough chromatic scales, you say? There are plenty more permutations of this same basic pattern.

The next step is to continue beyond the high G# all the way to the 12th fret E on the first string. You can do this in a couple of ways, but my recommendation is to shift up a single string from the first to the 12th fret (three groupings of finger 1, 2, 3 and 4). I like to do six complete scales (low open E to high 12th fret E) each time shifting on a different string.

As with all shifts, pay close attention to your left forearm.

Once you’ve mastered all of these guitar exercises, try playing them in parallel octaves.

Guitar Warm Up 3: Accent Patterns

If you’ve been trying out the guitar exercises thus far, your left hand could probably use a rest. This warm up is designed to give you better control of the accenting of notes regardless of how they’re struck and what the notes before and after them are doing.

The concept is quite simple. You’re going to play a group of 2 to 10 notes with certain ones accented, or played more loudly, and the rest more quietly.

Let’s begin with an easy one. Play a group of two notes, accenting the first and playing the second more softy. Continue repeating this pattern until it is comfortable and can be done without focusing on it.

four

Next let’s reverse our pattern, accenting the second note of the pair. This may seem like a small change, but remember you’ll be using different muscles to accent this second note.

For players using a pick, this will change the accent from happening on a down stroke (the natural accent), to happening on the up stroke.

If playing without a pick, keep your pattern of right hand fingers the same (imim or mimi) so that a different finger is accented.

five

Additionally, use unusual right hand patterns, such as all the same finger, or all down strokes.

These simple ideas can produce a variety of helpful patterns that, if practiced regularly, will give you the flexibility to accent the notes you want regardless of the finger or direction of the stroke forced by the context.

Here are a few more suggested patterns to get you started.

six

Remember to always make sure that your notes are an even length and that playing the patterns comfortably and accurately is more important than playing them fast and impressively.

What guitar exercises do you play every day? Share the guitar warm ups you use in your practice routine with us below!

Kirk RPost Author: Kirk R.
Kirk is a classical, bass, and acoustic guitar instructor in Denver, CO. He has a Bachelors in Guitar Performance and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in performance.  Learn more about Kirk here!

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3 Things Guitarists Must Practice Every Day

3 Things Guitarists Must Practice Every Day

 3 Things Guitarists Must Practice Every Day

With so much music in the world to play, how do you figure out how to practice guitar? Guitar teacher Jack C. breaks it down to the basics…

One of the most common questions I’m asked by students, whether they are total beginners, or seasoned veterans who have been playing for more than ten years, is: “How exactly should I practice guitar in order to get the most benefit from my time?” As my explanation, I always like to break down guitar knowledge in three basic categories.

1. Technique

Technique is the actual mechanical movement of your hands which you use to create the sounds coming from your guitar. It entails training the muscles in your hands so you can develop the strength and muscle memory to pull off the actual chords and scales we use when playing the instrument.

2. Music Theory

Music theory is the mental aspect of learning any instrument. It is the act of breaking down the sounds we hear in to names and formulas. It’s the science behind the sounds.

3. Creativity

I believe, like any skill set, musical creativity CAN be learned and taught. Some people are brought to believe that you’re either born with that creative muse or you’re not. This simply isn’t true.

Let’s say we have a 2 note per string pentatonic scale (you can use any of the scales found here).

A great practice exercise would be to pick each note in ascending order from the low E string to the high E string, then descending using strictly alternate picking (up and down only). Start very slow, then gradually increase the speed at which you do this exercise. Then, once that movement is mastered, and the scale can be played by memory, you can then try creating a simple melody using only those notes found within the scale.

This exercise kills three birds with one stone! You are practicing your technique by working on your alternate picking, you’re learning a portion of music theory by memorizing the scale, and you’re exercising your creative mind by applying the scale you learned in creating your own melody.

By combining all aspects of learning guitar in to one exercise, you are now making the most out of your practice time. This approach to practicing is used by some of the greatest players in the world, and has proven to be one of the most efficient ways to practice the instrument. As you progress in your skill level, this approach can be applied to different scales, chord progressions, and picking techniques.

In review, we know that if a guitar exercise can cover these three aspects of guitar playing: technique, theory, and creativity, all at once, then we know it is an exercise that will serve us well in our guitar journey! Thanks for reading and if you have any questions for me, I’m more than happy to answer your questions.

Learn more about the guitar by taking lessons with a private instructor. Search for your guitar teacher now! 

Jack C Jack C. is a guitar instructor in Huntington Beach, CA. A professional gigging musician, teacher, producer, and session player, he earned degree in Music Theory and Guitar performance from Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. Learn more about Jack here!

 

 

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Ten tips on building muscle memory with guitar

10 Guitar Exercises and Tips for Building Muscle Memory

 Ten tips on building muscle memory with guitar

Did you know that by programming your muscle memory, you can make playing the guitar feel more natural, and even improve your technique? Guitar teacher Michael N. shares 10 guitar exercises and tips to help you build up your muscle memory…

1. Understand muscle memory

Every instrument player uses muscle memory. Every day activities like driving, riding a bicycle, and even typing this article,  are easier because of muscle memory. Remember to continue slow, correct, and “meaningful” practice so that the muscle movements needed are correctly memorized. Once you learn a scale or a chord really well, you will have a remnant of the scale embedded into your memory, specifically your muscle memory. Use this to your advantage by imprinting these memories really well early on!

2. Use a metronome at a slow speed

This type of metronome practice gives you room to concentrate on new technical aspects at an attainable tempo. This type of practice is more valuable, proving the fact that multiple reps of something aren’t worth as much unless focus on improving each time with consistency is inherent.

3. Practice placing chords shapes one finger at a time

Analyze what each finger has to do between each chord. Make those movements with finger one finger at a time, then two at a time, and eventually place your fingers in the whole chord all together. Eventually the entire chord movement will become an automatic move into place with simultaneous finger movement!

4. Practice the chord “shapes” without strumming

Place your fingers in a chord and then change to the next. Try practicing chords in sequences of three or four at a time. These should be chords that you have already learned, so you can make the shapes while watching TV or having a conversation. Taking out the variable of strumming is a great way to isolate and improve your left-hand technique!

5. Pay attention to what changes from one chord to the next

Sometimes a finger does not have to move very far to get to its next location. Sometimes it is already where it needs to be! Be conscious of these situations to make sure you are moving efficiently from chord to chord without extra movement.

6. Make the switches between chords a fast snap

Even if you are waiting four beats between chords or just switching chords freely when you can, try to start quick “snaps” to prepare and think ahead to the next chord. With four beats for instance, you should be thinking about the next chord as fast as possible or on the second beat of the group of four.

7. Counting and closing-in exercise

This is one of my favorite guitar exercises for when you are building up a specific chord change, but you need to be able to do it faster. Example: playing C to G is a challenge for you. Put a metronome on at a very slow and attainable tempo and the first time think in groups of 4 clicks. Play the chord only on the first click of four while counting out loud and changing the finger positions as fast as possible. Feel good after a while? Next try changing the chord within three clicks. Can you move right after the second click? Finally, when you’re up to speed, you can move the chord on each click and the counting and closing in exercise is complete.

8. One finger can get there before the others

When you are learning new chords, you have a chord change that is usually challenging to get in time, or you have a fast tune; you may still be able to make the chord! Remember that one finger could get to the next chord before the other fingers trail along, so you could strum a few strings that include the finger that has made it, position your fingers that are late, and then complete the strumming when all fingers are positioned. Try it out!

9. Focus on your fingertips

You might be noticing buzzing or strings that sound weird for certain chords. It could be that you are half-muting a string with part of your finger! Make sure to arc your fingers and use just fingertips on the fretboard for some chords and you can avoid the extra contact with the open strings underneath those fingers. Practice placing each finger down on the fretboard, being mindful to only press through the tip of your fingers. Boom. Problem solved.

See Also: Exercise that Builds Strength, Stamina, and Accuracy

10. Think ahead

As soon as one chord or note is placed, strummed or plucked, think ahead to the next necessary movement and make it. Then as soon as that chord is placed, do the same. We will always be thinking ahead until the end of a piece. Now, I am just thinking ahead about the next article I might write!

Learn more guitar exercises and improve your skills by taking lessons with a private guitar teacher. Guitar teachers are available to work with you online via Skype or in-person depending on locations and availability. Search for your guitar teacher now!

Michael N

 Michael N. is multi-instrumentalist and instructor in Oak Creek, WI. Available for lessons in person or online, Michael teaches guitar, drums, singing, and piano, as well as trumpet, marimba, and kazoo! Teaching for more than 7 years, he earned his Masters of Music in Instrumental Conducting and is even the current Youth Percussion Ensemble Director at UW Milwaukee and the Percussion Coach at Oak Creek High School.  Learn more about Michael here!

 

 

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Explore the Fretboard With These 5 Essential Pentatonic Scale Shapes

Explore the Fretboard With These 5 Essential Pentatonic Scale Shapes

Explore the Fretboard With These 5 Essential Pentatonic Scale ShapesKnowing your pentatonic scales on the guitar will open up a new world of possibility when it comes to improvisation and soloing. Guitar teacher Milton J. explains why…

The guitar is a wonderfully rewarding instrument to play. Its versatility lends itself to a variety of melodies and chords that make the instrument welcome in many musical genres. As we find all of the wonderful ways the guitar will bring musical joy to your life, an essential part of learning the guitar is understanding the pentatonic scale and how to find it on the fretboard.

The Pentatonic scale is a musical mode made up of five notes per octave, which contrasts to the normal heptatonic, or seven-note, scale such as the major scale and minor scales we learned early on in our guitar lessons. Understanding the construction of the major pentatonic scale is made easier by using the circle of fifths. One construction takes five consecutive pitches from this circle of fifths starting on C, these being C, G, D, A, and E. Transposing, or rearranging, these pitches to fit into one octave gives us a major pentatonic scale: C, D, E, G, A.

However, most commonly used for blues and lead guitar scales would be the relative minor pentatonic scale, derived from the major pentatonic. The scale tones, or notes within the key numbered 1 through 8, would be 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 of the natural minor scale. Using A minor as a example since it is the relative minor of C major, the notes would be A, C, D, E, and G.

With that said, the following represent the 5 main pentatonic scale shapes for guitar, which can be transposed across all minor keys.

5 Pentatonic Guitar Scale Shapes

G Major Pentatonic Guitar Scale 5 Positions

Much like playing the piano, each finger has a purpose on the fretboard. As you read the tabs above, understand that each number corresponds with the fret and each line corresponds with the string your fingers should be placed upon (the bottom string being the low E string, and the representing the high E string). From there, your fingering should also correspond to the numbers, as each fret has a corresponding finger. When the tab calls for a skip of a fret, you also skip a finger.

In Example 3, the first two notes call for an A on fret 5 and a B on fret 7. Use your first finger to fret the note on the fifth fret. For the second note, use finger 3 (ring finger). That means your fingers numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4 correspond to the frets 5 through 8 on the guitar. Maintain this alignment as finger 1 needs to be moved across the fretboard; for example, when finger 1 acts as a barre in example 4. When practicing these pentatonic scale shapes, be sure to practice using these fingerings to build muscle memory in your left-hand fingers!

Now, it is important to note that routine practice and memorization of these five shapes will allow you to use scales effectively for your lead guitar solo lines and melodic improvisations. To understand more fully how beneficial these pentatonic scales can be for your guitar playing, now is the time to begin guitar lessons with your local TakeLessons teacher today!

Happy practicing!

MiltonJMilton J. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!

 

 

 

 

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Tricks For Differentiating The Two Blues Chord Progressions

7489124186_1624b51ca5_k (1)Ready to get started with learning blues chord progressions? Here’s an intro by Austin, TX guitar teacher Samuel B...

 

In order to properly respect and understand both the theory and structure of ANY kind of American music, it’s essential to be able to play the blues. Although the form is said (by some scholars) to have originated in Africa within the story-telling traditions of village griots (historians/poets/musicians who would play a five-stringed instrument known as the halam, which is believed to be the banjo’s precursor), the call-and-response idiom recognizable within the tradition of singing a line and repeating it (often within the first half of a stanza) likely has its origins in the cotton field.

Unless you’re John Lee Hooker (who made a career of playing a single chord in a manner derivative of African forms — listen here), there are two blues progressions – the twelve-bar and the eight-bar.

I typically teach one song for each. The first is Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” — listen to the song here:

The other song I like to use is Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues”:

I’ve taught other students (with whom a shared enthusiasm for blues and blues-based music is not as apparent) each progression using other tricks.

  • The Eight-Bar Progression Begins With Two (Not Four) Measures Of The First Chord

The structure of the twelve-bar pattern is as follows: E-E-E-E-A-A-E-E-B7-A-E-E/B7. Although Johnson switches to A for the second measure and then back to E for the third (which is an acceptable variation), he adheres to all of the changes I’ve identified.

The eight-bar progression follows a similar albeit condensed sequence: E-E-A-E-E-B7-E-E/B7. The YouTube version I’ve included above involves another acceptable variation: an A minor chord instead of an E major one during the fourth measure of the verses.

One of the easiest differences to remember between this sequence and its twelve-bar counterpart is the opening of each. The eight-bar opening is merely half the length of the twelve-bar one as E (in this case) and is played for only two measures.

  • The Eight-Bar Progression’s First Change Lasts One (Not Two) Measures

Again, the eight-bar pattern represents 50% of another of the twelve-bar segments as A (in this case), and is played for only one measure.

  • The Eight-Bar Progression’s Closing Involves Two (Not Three) Chords

Think of the twelve-bar closing as rolling down a hill. You start at the top (at B7 in this case), roll down to the chord behind it (A), and arrive back down at the foot (E), staying on each chord for no longer than one measure. The eight-bar’s closing (by contrast) involves a simple return to the foot. You might even consider using Star Trek terminology here and think of your hand being “beamed” back down to E instead of rolling back to it.

The ending measure of each of these blues chord progressions is identical, though probably the most difficult measure (in both cases) to learn to play. It involves more than one chord and a change only one-fourth of the way in (EB7B7B7). I dub this final chord (B7) the interrupting chord. Unlike the other chords, it’s awkward and abrupt. However, it’s as essential to each progression as the other chords are. A feisty accent is a more acceptable ending for a blues stanza than merely having it drift off on the chord it began on.

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!

 

 

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The Real Reasons Why You Need To Learn Guitar Scales

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Is it really necessary to learn guitar scales? If you’d rather just focus on chords and songs, you’re not alone. But here, Austin, TX teacher Samuel B. shares why practicing your scales will ultimately make you a better guitar player down the line…

I’m a 25-year veteran of playing the guitar. In seventh grade, I took an introductory class to both the guitar and keyboard, in which I received only a “B” as I pretty much neglected the keyboard altogether. Besides, I’d taken piano lessons already and was, by that time, more interested in portable instruments with strings and a neck as played by my musical heroes (i.e. Tom Petty and George Harrison).

A few years later, I purchased a hand-strengthening tool. I suppose I had in mind (for some reason) that I’d be able to use it to practice when an instrument wasn’t handy. Needless to say, the hand strengthener did not serve this specific purpose. I see nothing wrong with purchasing accessories (such as this one) provided that you understand their intended effect — strengthening your hand, in this case, rather than improving the fluidity of your playing.

As far as fluidity is concerned, nothing beats practicing your scales. I now introduce a relevant one for each of the first two sets of first-position chords you’ll learn (the ones in the key of C and the ones in the key of D, respectively). Beyond that, there’s more room for experimentation (particularly with blues progressions in E — the next key slated in the curriculum).

Scales serve multiple purposes:

1. They condition your fingers for playing chords.

Think of playing scales as warm-ups. As I type, I’m considering a relevant metaphor. One of the computer programs that taught us how to type in second grade (The Typing Teacher) focused on our recognition of the home-row keys (ASDF, JKL;) and the proper positions for pressing each. On the basis of our mastering the home row, we were subsequently taught the fingerings for the keys in the upper row as well as the lower one.

Along comparable lines, the C fingering is the same as that of its D counterpart a full step up the neck — just with (in this case) your use of four (not three) left-hand fingers to press the notes otherwise played openly. However, the comparison itself presents a pretty simple concept — that your mastery of one body of knowledge provides the basis for your branching out into mastering another.

Regarding both playing scales AND typing, I don’t even think about what I’m doing nowadays. As a matter of fact, I sometimes have to pick my brain a little when I help students learn guitar scales as I play the ones I know (the major and the blues scales predominantly) with natural ease. At some point, I also began sensing a correlation between the components of the chords in the key of E and the notes of the blues scale. I now play them interchangeably, which is another purpose served by scales — they are the foundation of improvisation.

2. Once mastered, a scale provides you with everything you need to launch a heartfelt solo — even one involving fewer than five notes.

From that point, the sky’s pretty much the limit. I even remember being prompted to play a ONE-note solo during a jazz band rehearsal. Without scale knowledge, though, I’d have had no basis for playing a solo whatsoever unless it simply involved picking out the notes comprising chords, which makes for pretty dull and predictable listening.

Here’s a great video that shows how a basic knowledge of scales can add some flair to even the most basic melodies.

3. Scales also serve as teaching tools for introducing music theory.

I’m quick to point out that the C scale (the first thing you’ll learn) is the only one that contains no sharps or flats. I even mention its relevance to the white piano keys periodically. A “Do a Deer” reference would work here too. Similarly, I tend to explain the basic building-blocks of major chords (the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale) and the half-step difference between major and minor ones (regarding the lowered third note in this case). You’ll also hear me mention the added seventh note in seventh chords (G7th in C for example).

As a teacher, I’ve found scale mastery to be the sole factor determining a student’s rate of progress. As you learn guitar scales, you’ll have a greater level of musical confidence. Just as your mastery of home-row keys determines your readiness for learning to type essays, your mastery of scales will serve as a cognitive lubricant welcoming upcoming knowledge and skills with aptitude and enthusiasm. Substitute “practice your scales” as the punchline to that old “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” joke.

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!

 

 

 

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How to Read & Find Bass Guitar Tabs For Your Favorite Songs

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Want to play all of your favorite songs on bass? Learn where to find the tabs you need in this guest post by San Diego teacher Justine D...

 

Bass guitar tabs can help you sharpen your listening skills, try out new skills and techniques, and — of course — learn your favorite songs’ bass lines! In this blog post, we’ll cover where you can find bass guitar tabs and how to decide which one you want to use.

What is a bass guitar tab and how do you read it?

Did you know that “tab” stands for “tabulature,” a kind of musical notation that focuses on fretted finger placement rather than the actual pitches? It’s been in use for years; in fact, during the Renaissance tabulature was used to help lute players play and write down songs! Today, many bass tabs are written and shared online by musicians like you who want a way to remember their favorite songs.

tabulature example

Bass tab features four horizontal lines that represent each of your strings; the line at the very bottom represents your low E string, while the line at the top represents your G string. The numbers on the lines represent what fret to play. Read the tab from left to right, playing only the notes indicated by the numbers. In this example, you would play the 1st fret of your E string six times before moving on to the next measure.

Where can you find bass tabs online?

  • Ultimate Guitar: Despite its name, this website does have bass guitar tabs, too! Use their advanced search to make sure you only get bass tabs in your results. I like this site because tab submitters can indicate the difficulty of the tab and the genre, making searching easy. There’s quite a range of genres here — anime to electronic to world and rap — but most of the tunes are in the rock genre.
  • Big Bass Tabs: Here, the name rings true: this site only lists bass tabs! The majority are rock songs, though you can find the occasional rap and pop bass tab, too. They have a dedicated requests page that you can try if you’re looking for a hard-to-find tab. You can also find bass lessons here.
  • 911Tabs: If you can’t find a good tab on the above two sites, this is another good website to try. This site doesn’t actually host the tabs on their server; instead, it’s more like a search engine that checks other sites’ databases (including Ultimate Guitar) and shows results from multiple places. However, they don’t show all the versions that other sites may have.

While they aren’t dedicated tab repositories, Bass Musician Magazine and No Treble share tabs from jazz, metal, and other rarer genres of music. You won’t find just any tab here, though; you’re limited to what they’ve chosen to provide to you. Many of the tabs are more intermediate to advanced, though, so it’s a good place to browse and learn more complex music and techniques. You may even pick up a new favorite artist or two!

How do you know which bass tab to use?

Anyone can submit a bass tab to any of these websites, and they don’t usually review the tab before it goes online. Because tabs are written by ear, some tabs may have mistakes. Other musicians may upload additional versions of a song’s tab to correct the mistakes they see or share the way they play it.

Many sites use a rating system that allows users to show which tabs they recommend and which they don’t; look for a 4- or 5-star rating next to a tab’s link.

Popular songs may have up to 20 or more tab versions on a site. I typically start with the highest number version (e.g. “Money (version 25)”, versus “Money (version 2)”), assuming that the multiple versions are fixing errors found in versions 1–24.

tabulature example 2

Lastly, most tabs don’t indicate any kind of rhythm; you have to rely on your ears to help you know how fast or short you play the notes. Some tabbers will try to space the numbers out, but this can still be unclear. If you see a tab that does explicitly state the rhythm, though, try that one first! In this example, the Es at the top indicate the eighth note rhythm of the bass line.

Good luck with your bass playing! If you come across a resource we haven’t listed here, let us know where it is by leaving a comment below!

JustineDJustine D. teaches guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, and music theory lessons in San Diego, CA, as well as online. She received a double major in in music and psychology at Kalamazoo College, and joined the TakeLessons team in 2011. Learn more about Justine here! 

 

 

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Cool Songs to Learn on Guitar: How to Play “Breathe” (Anna Nalick)

Ready to learn a cool song on the guitar? Here, Lowell, IN teacher Blake C. shares his guide to the acoustic version of Anna Nalick’s “Breathe”…

 

Looking for cool songs to learn on guitar? You’ve probably seen the typical suggestions, such as “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin or “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne, but there are a lot more to learn. But there’s no point in just listing them out–instead, in this article I will discuss a somewhat unsuspecting cool guitar tune that is fun to play and even more enjoyable for your audiences to listen to, even if your audience is limited to your family.

The song “Breathe” by Anna Nalick is probably not a song that comes to mind when considering cool songs to learn on guitar. However, the acoustic version of the song–I especially like the Rhapsody Originals live version on YouTube performed with one guitarist–has several nuances that spice up the simple guitar part. For the purpose of this blog article, I will review the chords used and some of the nuances that add flavor to the tune.

First, listen to the song below.

Now we’ll get into learning the chords.

Fig1

The version of the A Major chord played during the verses, as illustrated in Figure 1, is not the initial version of the A Major chord learned by beginner guitarists, but is even easier to play than the usual second fret version of the A Major chord. The chord name is normally written as an A chord without the term Major included in its title.

In this version of the A Major chord, the 1st and 5th strings are played open, which creates resonating notes that nicely connect this version of the A Major chord with the next chord played, the G chord. However, like the version of the A Major chord played, the variation of the G chord played is not typically taught to beginner guitarists, but is even easier than the usual G Major chord played on the 2nd and 3rd frets of the guitar.

Fig2

The G chord used in the song requires the guitarist to simply move the A Major chord from the 5th fret location to the 3rd fret, creating a G6/9 chord. Okay, I may have exaggerated a bit about the simplicity of this version of the G chord–if played how the guitarist plays the chord, your thumb will play the G note located on the 3rd fret of the 6th string.

Playing the G note located on the 3rd fret of the 6th string is not essential to achieve the intended feel of the song, but it is one of the “cool factors” for this version of “Breathe”. If you struggle with placing your thumb on that note, skip it for now, but make it a goal and continue to work on it.

Many transcriptions of this tune are available on the internet, but more often than not are written using the A Major and G Major chords located within the first three frets of the guitar in the place of the A Major and G 6/9 chords used for the version above. A closer listen reveals the resonating 1st and 5th strings in both the A Major and G 6/9 chords. These resonating strings within both chords create another “cool factor” for this tune. It may be simple, but it sounds terrific!

Fig3Fig4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, the version of the D Major chord is the same version typically taught to beginner guitarists, as illustrated in Figure 3. Then the guitarist plays the A Major chord on the 5th fret as illustrated in Figure 1, but then adds “coolness” to the guitar part by placing his 4th finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd string to create an Asus4 chord, as illustrated in Figure 4.

Fig5

Before he starts the musical phrase over, he plays a resonating Aadd9 chord by removing the 1st and 4th fingers, which leaves his 2nd and 3rd fingers in place while he strums the all strings from the 5th string to the 1st string–the Aadd9 chord is illustrated in Figure 5. Once again, simple, but the Aadd9 chord nicely emphasizes the end of that phrase leading to the next phrase.

Fig6

For the pre-chorus, the chords used are A Major, B minor–titled as Bm in the chord chart–and the same D Major chord illustrated in Figure 3. The B minor chord, which is not necessarily a beginner chord, is played as a barre chord on the 2nd fret, as illustrated in Figure 6. Once you develop your hand and finger strength along with fretboard balance, barre chords are often easier to play than some open position chords.

Fig7

Fig8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversely, the version of the A Major chord played in this section of the song is the same version taught to beginner guitarists, which is located on the 2nd fret of the guitar and illustrated in Figure 7. After the A chord, the guitarist moves to an E Major chord in 1st position as illustrated in Figure 8. Leaving well enough alone would be easier, but not as cool–the guitarist embellishes by hammering the 4th finger onto the 2nd fret of the 3rd string and then individually picking the remaining higher notes of an Esus4 chordm as illustrated in Figure 9. This is subtle, yet extremely cool.

Fig9

Fig10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, the chorus of this acoustic version of Anna Nalick’s “Breathe” begins with a relatively standard G Major chord, as illustrated in Figure 10. Although this version of the G Major chord is not always taught to beginners, it offers better balance than the usual versions of the G Major chord. The standard version of the open D Major chord, as illustrated in Figure 3, is played which leads to the version of the A Major chord illustrated in Figure 1.

The little nuances of this version of the song are somewhat typical in the world of guitar, and are definitely worth working on until you can effortlessly insert them into this tune as well as others. Keep practicing, and if you would like to further develop your music skills, contact TakeLessons.com to locate the best guitar teachers in your area or online!

BlakeCBlake C. teaches songwriting, singing, and guitar lessons in Lowell, IN. He specializes in classical guitar technique as well as modern rock and blues styles. Blake has been teaching for 20 years and he joined the TakeLessons team in July 2013. Learn more about Blake here! 

 

 

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The Easy Way to Learn Guitar Chord Transitions | 5 Steps

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Chord changes tripping you up? Here, Brooklyn, NY teacher Jef B. shares his secret for the easy way to learn those tricky guitar chord transitions…

 

“Gaah! I want more fluidity while playing Stairway to Heaven, but there are so many chords and the song is so long and I can’t switch between them well and…!!”

Sound familiar?

When I was first learning to play guitar, I didn’t realize how much something as simple as switching from one chord to another would help me overcome other challenges I faced in my daily life. It’s true, and learning guitar is a great way to overcome any challenge. Chords are like little mini challenges that support the songs of life. Once they become fluid you will be skipping merrily along from one place to the next.

Like most people, I struggled with being fluid when changing chords on the guitar. I felt at times that I would never be able to achieve what I saw professional guitarists do with such ease. It’s a bit like when I used to draw: one day I realized I couldn’t draw like Michelangelo, so I stopped! But all I really needed was some encouragement, guidance, and, well, some drawing lessons!

I recently took saxophone lessons with a great teacher and was reminded of something crucial when it comes to fluidity: it’s about taking baby steps. My teacher suggested that I practice my scales at the rate of my heartbeat (60 BPM). No faster, until it’s perfect. It’s funny because I hadn’t thought this way before on the horn, yet here is what I teach on guitar about being fluid with your chords. It’s remarkably similar.

So you are having difficulty switching from the G chord to the D7 chord. Anybody would at first. The shapes are so different from one another. Here’s my advice for the easy way to learn guitar chord transitions:

Step 1: Get your picking (or strumming!) hand outta there. It wants to help out, but right now it is getting in the way, so put it behind your back. Forget that it exists if you can! Or tell it to take a coffee break because it’s been working so hard…

Step 2: Slowly switch back and forth between the two chords that are challenging you with your fretting hand only. Breathe and relax. Try to notice how little your fingers actually need to move. I emphasize slowly; there is no rush. It’s easy to get into the mindset that there is some pressure on you, or maybe you feel the need to impress your teacher. Let those notions go! You are learning guitar because you want to play! Do this slowly until it feels like habit to build up your muscle memory. It will eventually become effortless, like having a conversation over tea about something you love.

Step 3: Add your strumming hand back into the mix. Don’t forget to breathe! Strum as slowly as you need until it takes no effort. Great music is relaxed no matter how intense a song is.

Step 4: Take a little break to absorb what you have just achieved. Think of it as a celebration. Celebrating helps me face the next challenge with ease.

Step 5: REPEAT 1-4 on your next challenging chord change.

It’s taking these little bite-sized steps that will get you there, just like learning anything else. Break it down and practice the little things SLOWLY. Those little things add up quickly and before you know it, you’ll be a chord master!

I also encourage you to play with other people as often as you can. We have a way of leading each other when we work together, much like dancing. Be amazed at what you can do!

JefBJef B. teaches bass guitar, guitar, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. He currently plays in a jazz band called Gospel Of Mars, and recently started a project called Gardens that leans heavily toward trip hop and psychedelic. Learn more about Jef here

 

 

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