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A question about scales for you pure guitarists


rocketman

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In this month's issue of GP magazine there is an article about scales and the circle of fifths. Because I started on piano first I never had to use "tricks" like this. All the "theory" is right there on the piano keys.

 

But this got me thinking. When I play my guitar and I need to be in a certain key I know the notes automatically from my piano training. The only thing I really had to learn is the location of the notes on the frets.

 

But I wonder how a pure guitarist thinks. Here's is the root of my question. My son plays guitar more than piano. I taught him one octave of a G scale on the guitar. Then I told him to do an octave higher. For piano it's easy. But he completely fumbled this on the guitar because he learned the pattern and forgot about the notes. When I told him to think of the notes from a piano perspective he got it.

 

So how do you "see" the guitar? Do you see it more from a note point-of-view or as a bunch of patterns? The former would be knowing each note that you play, while the latter would be more like knowing the pentatonic scale and staying within that pattern for the scale.

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I have to admit that I'm mostly a "pattern" guy. [blush]

 

I know the notes if I think about it, but the temptation to do the shortcut and just think in patterns and where on the neck I play them, is too great.

 

The same concept goes for chord shapes.

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It has to be both.

 

The physicality of the guitar and the dynamics of how you pick and fret make a great big difference, so in order to accomodate that and stay within at least reasonable Not Jazz* territory, the guitar is patterns.

 

When given the luxury of planning and thinking about it, as in recording, then it is just another instrument full of notes, so figure out the notes.

 

After the actual music is figured out, return to the physicality of it to bring the music to life in a variety of ways, pick the right one, and commit it to physical memory via patterns.

 

rct

 

*if you actually are playing Jazz, just play notes, doesn't matter where they come from. Play them enough times to convince people you know what you are doing, no matter what it sounds like.

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Pattern guy here. I know where the notes are on the E string and A string because of playing barre chords. I'm just starting to mix relative modes more in my playing, which allows me to move the patterns around the neck.

 

I even approach piano as patterns. I learned the basic patterns of chords to teach myself enough piano to write music. I can read music notation, I also sing and play violin and cello from sheet music, but I don't enjoy it as much as improvising on guitar using scales and patterns.

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If you were to ask a more accomplished/experienced player than me, the answer might be different. I think a lot has to do with how we learn to play. I was taught the patterns and intervals in five positions. My teacher did not teach me the CAGED method, but I learned the principle behind that method before I took lessons, and when learning a new scale, I will use that method. So, I found the 3 roots on the neck to each of the five patterns (boxes/shapes). Then I learned the intervallic distances from the root for each note in the scale. To this day, I do not think of the note names.

 

So, I think in patterns. It would help if I instinctively knew the note names on all frets, and as I practice site reading, I am getting better. And as I get better, I hope that I get to the point where I instinctually play what I hear in my head, transcending the need to think in patterns. It's happening, slowly.

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I started piano at 4 and hated - therefore resisted - it. Trumpet at 4th grade through my first three years of college, and in a couple of early "no chart" rock/jazz bands of the early 60s. Started guitar '63. Lost my top front teeth '65 ending trumpet playing.

 

But I freely admit I'm likely among the world's worst "trained" sight readers. I can use the map for doing a classical guitar piece if I already know the piece for sound and the music is simply a way of reminding me of specific notes. I never tried maps for jazz or other styles.

 

Basically my head sees chord patterns, but as a mostly "solo" fingerpicker and ear player I also see/feel bass runs as well as treble notes.

 

Yet I've never "thought scales" at all, though obviously I use them in bass runs, some "frills" in the trebles, etc.

 

Transposition has not been much of a problem, but overall I think that's because I think in terms of chords and progressions and the the notes of a melody will at least fall into place with "passing chords" of one sort or another.

 

Dunno if that makes any sense, though.

 

I just reflected on how I might play scales in A major... and my brain started doing them from a root position of a "cowboy chord" A major; then it automatically flipped into a "G major" shape over a barred second fret... etc.

 

I'm convinced that if one started playing guitar at an early age before any other instrument or any "reading music" training at all, there still are dozens of ways of teaching that would depend on both genre, style and concept. There's the "single string lead" concept (yeah it could be octaves or other double stops, but basically "single string"), the "chord rhythm" concept and then a classical guitarist's concept of somehow following the map with the fingering hints.

 

So I think a lot has to do with how one is taught "music" both informally in what one has heard and hears naturally, and formally with how one learns how to put that concept of a piece into action. I will add here that I think some folks are "natural" bass players, some "natural" rhythm players, some "natural" single string lead players and some are "piano bar players using a guitar" which fits my head rather well.

 

Learning theory might come up with an explanation, but let's face it, there's no single basic concept of curriculum for teaching guitar as there is for piano - and even with that, one must note the uncounted "ear" players who have done quite well over the years with no formal training whatsoever.

 

So... in terms of learning theory, I don't "see" or "hear" notation on a piece of paper. There's no real association to notes; I intellectualize what's there and try to make something work on a fingerboard as I did with trumpet or piano ages ago. For what it's worth, at this point in life I tend to see piano playing as "patterns" too.

 

I do better with tablature - and that's how I picked up some Flamenco from a book nearly 50 years ago. That made a lot better sense to me than notation that works well enough on a keyboard or with single string playing, but not for using all 6 strings up and down the keyboard as in doing a bit of "classical" or Flamenco material.

 

I tend to "hear" melodies and basic progressions, and fight then to find chords that fit and basic pop music progressions seem just to "happen."

 

At that point it's a matter of figuring an arrangement in a key that allows me to do some bass notes along with melody if instrumental only, and then whether to capo or attempt another key.

 

I look at folks like Joe Pass and Chet who apparently did the same, and I'm in awe at how much better they determined a solution.

 

So... basically I think in ways we're back to learning theory and a certainty that each individual will have different "cues" to enable learning guitar, regardless what sort of music he or she wishes to learn.

 

Dunno if that answers your question or simply adds more. But I do know that there are many different ways to teach "foreign" languages, for example, and that different folks will learn quite differently. I think in guitar finding various "directions" to teach music is yet more complex since it's a as much physiological (more than speaking another language) as well as psychological/memory sort of thing to determine, "what is music; how does an individual conceive of it; how does that relate to guitar?"

 

m

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I think that, just as in learning piano, it helps to see intervals on the fretboard, because then we can quickly see the notes available for chords, arpeggios, scales and modes, even inversions. Though I am not a very good reader, if one knows the circle of fifths, then all that is necessary to read a piece of music to determine the key, locate the scale pattern wherever you want to play it, find the accidentals, then relate the intervals on the sheet music to the intervals on the guitar. Being able to hear the intervals is also very helpful.

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I have to admit that I'm mostly a "pattern" guy. [blush]

 

I know the notes if I think about it, but the temptation to do the shortcut and just think in patterns and where on the neck I play them, is too great.

 

The same concept goes for chord shapes.

Kinda with ya on this one. I know notes, but don't think about "okay this is a flatted 3rd so I can play this". It's more of "I know this spot is okay in this pattern". that said, I have been trying over the past few years to get much better at theory and understanding why I play what I play. Doesn't mean I think about it while I'm doing it though. [confused]

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I agree it has to be both.

 

But you need more than a one octave pattern.

 

If you showed him the G major scale starting on the low E third fret(G), the 1st major pattern(Ionian) will take you through 2 octaves to the

high E third fret(G). And after that the modes.

Same for the pentatonic scales.

 

I also am a pattern guy. And while I can move around the fretboard ok, I find it limiting not being fluent enough in my theory

to be able to use it in real time. I have to stop and think about it.

 

I working on it though ,, albeit rather slowly.

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Kinda with ya on this one. I know notes, but don't think about "okay this is a flatted 3rd so I can play this". It's more of "I know this spot is okay in this pattern". that said, I have been trying over the past few years to get much better at theory and understanding why I play what I play. Doesn't mean I think about it while I'm doing it though. [confused]

 

To me, this is the problem with a lot of blues players (and a lot of shredders and more than enough jazzers). Early Clapton, Buddy Guy, to a certain extent, BB King... I hear a lot of straight pentatonic/blues scales in their playing. Not always, but enough of the time. And a pentatonic scale has the potential for yielding some unique and fresh sounding licks. But thinking outside "the box" is where you have to go to get there. Plus, using dynamics and playing with some feeling is a must.

 

The thing is, the more theory I learn and the more I read all of these great technical players and their discussions of advanced theory, the less stock I put into all that BS. After learning a certain amount of theory, the secret becomes putting in time on the instrument and playing what sounds good to you.

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Because I started on piano first I never had to use "tricks" like this. All the "theory" is right there on the piano keys.

 

 

 

 

I fully believe that learning the piano before any other instrument makes the learning of every other instrument that much easier.

At least for the theory part of it for sure.

 

I made both my kids start on piano.

After that they can choose their own paths.

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I fully believe that learning the piano before any other instrument makes the learning of every other instrument that much easier.

At least for the theory part of it for sure.

 

I made both my kids start on piano.

After that they can choose their own paths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

+1...........another piano crossover player here. Keyboards open it up so much easier than anything else. But, for those die-hard fret-boards only scale runners, this is terrific to open your eyes and ears with...

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I have to admit that I'm mostly a "pattern" guy. [blush]

 

I know the notes if I think about it, but the temptation to do the shortcut and just think in patterns and where on the neck I play them, is too great.

 

The same concept goes for chord shapes.

 

yep, me too. thats how i learned years ago. i see the neck as those specific patterns.

 

Zigzag, thats funny ! lol

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Guest Farnsbarns

I'm not sure what's being discussed here. The circle of fifths is a part of music theory that is as applicable to piano as it is to guitar as it is to an orchestra. I don't think I understand the question.

 

How would you play any fingered instrument without knowing patterns? WWHWWWH is a pattern and without knowing the steps used to form major, minor or any mode scales you'd be lost, no? If someone says to me, improvise a lead solo in F sharp Lydian I've either got to know the pattern, or shape of the scale, the 7 chords and the progression or i could learn where every A, A#, B, etc etc is on the fretboard and know the note names and the intervals in every mode of every key.

 

Are we saying that some people play by thinking, "I want to end this phrase on a flat seven, I'm in C major, so the flat 7 is A# and my A#s are on the 6th and 18th frets on the first string, the 11th fret on the second string, etc" and then decide which one to hit? I could never do that, I'm seeing my scale pattern all over the neck and when my ear hears the need for that flat 7 my eye sees it in the pattern and I'm there. I might do this in my minds eye but I cannot see how anybody would think it out by memorising notes in scales and then finding the note, we'd be in the middle of the next bar before I'd worked out what note was the flat 7.

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I think Farns has a good point and perhaps well points out the split between playing as improvisation and writing music that then is played from some sort of notation.

 

One improvises regardless of style by what's in his or her head. Doc Watson was improvising, but with what was in his head from his regional music traditions and what was on the radio as he grew up. Ditto Louis Armstrong on trumpet with a more "Dixieland" sort of flair. Etc.

 

Long ago in college I wrote an atonal piano piece in an ABA format designed with 12-tone row that then was run backward, forward, upside down and upside down and backward. A really great pianist/classical musician actually played it.

 

But... I couldn't on guitar if my life depended on it, I think - and I can do a bit of Bach.

 

A friend is a marvelous pianist and she's writing some really neat material, but she also demands that she plays her own music with the written music right there in front of her instead of just letting go and playing stuff. I'd love to be able to sit down and jam with her a bit but... we live in different worlds, as far as I can see. (for reference, http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiasGotTalent)

 

Me, I just let go and play stuff. Don't ask what mode if I'm doing St. James Infirmary, or such stuff. It's what's inside. Ditto if I do blues or a fat-chord version of some old swing or pop material.

 

I'm doing more or less what I hear inside. Were I to write it down and play only what's written... it wouldn't be me. Then again, even Bach left room for some improv in his material.

 

I dunno. I think all of us have minds that hear and learn music differently and therefore have different "beliefs" on how music should be practiced and performed. On piano, I simply can't imagine playing the simplest 3-chord folkie thing in Ab major, although I likely could pound out right-hand chords and left hand bass in C major. <sigh>

 

So much to learn, so little time, it's perhaps best to determine what brings one joy and then let it happen.

 

m

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I think Farns has a good point and perhaps well points out the split between playing as improvisation and writing music that then is played from some sort of notation.

 

One improvises regardless of style by what's in his or her head. Doc Watson was improvising, but with what was in his head from his regional music traditions and what was on the radio as he grew up. Ditto Louis Armstrong on trumpet with a more "Dixieland" sort of flair. Etc.

 

Long ago in college I wrote an atonal piano piece in an ABA format designed with 12-tone row that then was run backward, forward, upside down and upside down and backward. A really great pianist/classical musician actually played it.

 

But... I couldn't on guitar if my life depended on it, I think - and I can do a bit of Bach.

 

A friend is a marvelous pianist and she's writing some really neat material, but she also demands that she plays her own music with the written music right there in front of her instead of just letting go and playing stuff. Rocketman - you'll get a kick especially outa the second bit.

http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiasGotTalent

 

 

Me, I just let go and play stuff. Don't ask what mode if I'm doing St. James Infirmary, or such stuff. It's what's inside. Ditto if I do blues or a fat-chord version of some old swing or pop material.

 

I'm doing more or less what I hear inside. Were I to write it down and play only what's written... it wouldn't be me. Then again, even Bach left room for some improv in his material.

 

I dunno. I think all of us have minds that hear and learn music differently and therefore have different "beliefs" on how music should be practiced and performed. On piano, I simply can't imagine playing the simplest 3-chord folkie thing in Ab major, although I likely could pound out right-hand chords and left hand bass in C major. <sigh>

 

So much to learn, so little time, it's perhaps best to determine what brings one joy and then let it happen.

 

m

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Zigzag,, that was hilarious dude. I literally lol'd.

 

And now I'm also glad that at 11 my son this year dumped the keys and has taken up the drums..

He likes singing too so what's the formula for singing drummers??...lol.

 

 

 

 

 

+1...........another piano crossover player here. Keyboards open it up so much easier than anything else.

 

Thanks man but I'm not a crossover player. Always played only the guitar. But I knew a long time ago how

the keys were laid out and how theory made much more sense on them. So I forced the keys on my kids...lol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How would you play any fingered instrument without knowing patterns? WWHWWWH is a pattern and without knowing the steps used to form major, minor or any mode scales you'd be lost, no?

 

 

Not really. (Unless of course,, I am lost and don't even know it..lol)

 

But I don't think of WWHWWWH, or as I learned it TTSTTTS, as a pattern.

I think of that as more of a formula.

 

When I learned the major scale(and the pentatonic for that matter) I learned it as a pattern, like a picture.

And I memorized the patterns of the modes without understanding the theory of them.

It wasn't until several years later I took up a little theory and learned about the Major scale "tone tone semitone tone tone tone semitone" formula.

 

Not saying that's correct,, just how I learned it,, or was shown.

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I'm not sure what's being discussed here. The circle of fifths is a part of music theory that is as applicable to piano as it is to guitar as it is to an orchestra. I don't think I understand the question.

 

 

I think I understand what rocketman is getting at (maybe).

 

I originally learned to "play" (I still don't think I can play - at least not to the standard I want to) by reading. This was back in the days when there just wasn't anything out there in terms of self-teaching books with CDs etc. You went to a guitar teacher old school (reader) or you managed to find a an "ear player" who would teach you and watched as many guitar players as you could.

 

So I went to an "old school" teacher and learnt to read (very badly - No milod, you are NOT the world's worst sight reader. That title's mine!) and eventually I got to know the notes of the fretboard all over and I got to know them without knowing scale patterns (I have learnt patterns - some of them - since.

 

So when I improvise now - sometimes I do use patterns - but not when I really "get going" - I just think "scale notes" and the patterns go out of the window (just not in my mind) and I just play according to where I fancy putting my fingers on what scale notes I choose - 18th fret or down by the nut - whatever. No "pattern" in it in terms of what's in my head - just the scale or variations (blue note etc). I think this is what rocketman might be getting at but I might be completely off beam here.

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Interesting question.

 

Whatever instrument is your primary instrument - that's the one you understand. The other one is the one you struggle with and don't understand.

 

So your first instrument is the one you know the "theory" for and the others seem like they require some kind of cobbled together mechanical approach to playing.

 

On guitar, you don't know the actual note so much as you know the note relative to the root. Transposing is nothing on the guitar, so you don't think so much in terms of the absolute note you're playing.

 

I know nothing about piano but I'm guessing that guitar is more accomodating to visualization techniques. It's gotta be easier to transpose on. I'm guessing that playing piano is kind of like playing golf in that you have to be able to tolerate really suxxing for a while before you can tolerate your playing.

 

Of course the guitar is going to be more "pattern" or "relative" based, because the piano has a fixed pattern of keys that rarely makes logical sense. So you have to be able to see through the pattern of the keyboard and then superimpose a pattern on top of that. That seems like it would be pretty difficult thing to do.

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I never learned piano and can't read music. I can play a few chords on the piano and some pretty mean blues as long as it's in the key of F. [biggrin]

 

As for guitar, I am totally a visual/pattern guy. In fact when I am listening to music now I often see the fingers doing what I perceive as the pattern needed for that lick.

 

The problem as I see it with this approach is that I have a hard time letting go of the patterns and just feeling something. It's like I am always thinking it instead of feeling it. What I really want to do is what Milo describes here...

 

Me, I just let go and play stuff.

 

I used to practice all the modes all over the neck but I got bored with it... Lydian, Mixolydian, freakin Locrian, blah blah. I don't know if it was really helpful or not. Perhaps I would have been better off practicing just closing my eyes and letting it rip.

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