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rocketman

A question about scales for you pure guitarists

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A long time ago when there were more kick-punch martial arts photos available and some of the really incredible jump techniques were being shown, I asked my instructor at the time why those guys didn't get into the Olympics for high jump, etc. His response was that it simply wasn't their thing and was regardless a rather different sort of technical skill.

 

I think we have some similarities with that situation in music and how our minds perceive and respond to, and feel for performance. We learn differently; we "feel" for different sorts of performance.

 

Could Fats Waller have "made it" as a classical pianist? Horowitz as a jazz piano player? I dunno. I think their heads were where their heads were.

 

Bottom line, RMan... I think that thinking about it when it comes to guitar, jazz scales, etc., may almost be counterproductive - but it's a counterproductive that you probably cannot stop because that's how your head works - at least at this time of your life.

 

Honestly, as an old guy, I'd simply say that your journey is your journey... consider paths not taken, but most of all, enjoy. You have exceptional musical talent and it's a gift to be savored, not necessarily over-analyzed.

 

<grin> OTOH, it's easy for me to say that latter, but I'm exactly the same sort mentally - simply without the talent or skill. <chuckle>

 

m

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Wow, lots of good discussions and inputs here. Let me add some more thoughts.

 

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.

 

Yes this is true but no piano player I know thinks like this. I was never taught the circle of fifths. My teacher gave me sheet music of every scale and told me to learn them. The advantage the piano gives over the guitar is that the piano forces you to see the notes. There is no way around it. A guitar player doesn't even need to know WWHWWWH, just what pattern to play on the frets. Pin is saying pretty much what I meant.

 

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.

 

Great stuff Milo! She's got some real good talent and she's right on.

 

Bottom line, RMan... I think that thinking about it when it comes to guitar, jazz scales, etc., may almost be counterproductive - but it's a counterproductive that you probably cannot stop because that's how your head works - at least at this time of your life.

 

Couldn't agree more! My jazz instructor pounded this into my head: "Learn as much theory as you can, but forget about it when you're improvising." In the immortal words of Yoda "You must unlearn what you have learned." You do it enough times and things come instinctively to you. I know to play a certain mode at a certain time, but my brain doesn't tell me to do that anymore, at least on piano. I'm not there on guitar though, not by a longshot.

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Guest Farnsbarns

Yeah, the circle of 4ths/5ths is more of a writing tool than a playing tool. It just shows us chord relationships in an interesting and clever way...

 

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I get a kick out of the circle of 5ths 'cuz sometimes it seems folks take shortcuts.

 

Here's one from Fred Neil where it's easy to tell the chords that take some shortcuts (E/G/; A/C/E)

 

... then the same basics and from about the same time and place but with a much more... well, you call it... to the chord structure that's essentially blues but...

 

m

 

Fred and his own version of his own piece:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaUHv89OpuM

 

Karen Dalton and her version thereof. (Yes, that's Bobby Zimmerman with the harmonica in a photo a ways in.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQ78-GT3gdQ

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i started taking piano lessons when i was 7. after 2 yrs of that, i was sick of it but my mom wouldnt let me just quit. if i dropped the piano i would have to take up another instrument, which looking back was a great decision on her part. so i took up trombone in the school band, played that damn thing all the way through jr high school. funny thing was, i was so lazy, that for the 2 years of piano and the years of trombone (by the way, i wanted to play the drums but the band teacher said those spots were filled) i never learned how to read music. i couldnt tell you what key i was in or anything. but i knew where it was on the instrument. i used my ear to determine whether or not to play a sharp or flat. so out of laziness i developed a good ear. when i started taking guitar lessons, my first teacher was a older jazz guitarist and he taught me theory and beyond, then my 2nd teacher taught me the "boxes" or patterns we've discussed. when i started playing in bands, the theory is a great foundation of knowledge, but it was my ear that really came into play. still wished i had learned to play drums. no girls ever checked out the trombone player...

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karloff...

 

I think your experience wasn't really that uncommon.

 

It also brings up the challenge of teaching/learning theory when it comes to music.

 

In fact, I'm convinced that music and "foreign" languages are perhaps even more "strange" in terms of learning than many other subjects one wishes or is "scheduled" to learn either formally or informally.

 

Frankly I doubt that regardless some are considered "expert" teachers of music, that we have any studies to really understand how different individuals learn, and again especially music and languages that are huge, life-encompassing universes. I have a personal hunch that it has something to do with how one processes the metaphor of both language and music in one's brain.

 

The "formal" standards of training work well, I think, both in music and languages for a certain mindset. But not so well with others.

 

m

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I never heard of a "Circle of 5ths" until recently as my kids were learning in it piano.

 

 

I think I have got by fine without knowing it. But now that I know it(or can at least figure it out using a clever sentence's acronym) I think

it could be useful. If you wanna know the sharps or flats of the key you are in,, and/or the relative minor's of the major keys,,, I guess it's useful?

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I love threads like these. I'm in the pure guitarist camp.

 

I learned scales early on and never could read music nor do I know the notes other than the bottom E string and the first 3 frets, without thinking, of the other 5 strings on a guitar.

 

I've played scales that I memorized as a teenager (trying to get to the guitar part of zigzag's equation) for so long it's now intuitive restricted only by my limitations (which are considerable and confined to only a few scales).

 

I think it is both good and bad. Good from a sense that I think I can come up with something original and not be confined by rules that I don't know.

Bad because I don't know enough to expand upon, in a creative way, the rules that so many people have put so much into developing.

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I think in a sense we're discussing something similar to analysis of language.

 

There are the "descriptive" and the "prescriptive" perspectives.

 

The descriptive student of language simply describes what he/she sees in terms of a language. How are nouns and verbs used in real life, how are they written in "mass" communications and how are they spoken in informal interpersonal relations.

 

The prescriptive student of language sees language as something not dissimilar to math in that there is a correct answer to how one should use nouns and verbs, and that there is a "correct" and an "incorrect" way to use them to facilitate communication.

 

I think that when we get involved in scales as "how it should be," as opposed to "a good exercise," we are entering the prescriptive in music.

 

Some of us prefer that intuitively because that's how our heads work - and there likely is little to be done to change that. Nature, nurture - both likely are involved to an extent. So guitarist "A" with great talent and skill may or may not prefer intuitively to follow a given scale simply because that's how his/her head works. On the contrary, guitarist "B" may intuitively prefer not to follow certain scales but simply play what is in his/her repertoire of pleasing or otherwise memory-stored concepts of "appropriate" sounds.

 

I find it difficult to be critical or either sort of foundation of what makes a musician tend - we all will learn as we go along at our own pace - toward one or the other.

 

In language, I tend to be exceptionally "prescriptive" on grounds that changing word meanings with no restriction will inevitably create difficulty in understanding what is spoken or written. Changing grammar, ditto. I know that some current grammarians believe that language may be reduced to mathematical sorts of formulas, but that lessens the importance of word meanings and how subtly we might use the language to express shades of meaning.

 

It's the same in music. I'd say to an extent it expresses what has been discussed in various threads here - skill versus talent. Talent expresses through music, skill is a technical ability to produce various notes. The two are never truly mutually exclusive, but IMHO very few musicians have both great skill and great talent.

 

But those who always seek to improve skills will most likely best utilize their own level of talent. "Scales" may or may not be the most appropriate vehicle for this - but honestly, I'm rather unsure what is. I think it depends on the individual.

 

m

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Guest Farnsbarns

I think in a sense we're discussing something similar to analysis of language.

 

There are the "descriptive" and the "prescriptive" perspectives.

 

The descriptive student of language simply describes what he/she sees in terms of a language. How are nouns and verbs used in real life, how are they written in "mass" communications and how are they spoken in informal interpersonal relations.

 

The prescriptive student of language sees language as something not dissimilar to math in that there is a correct answer to how one should use nouns and verbs, and that there is a "correct" and an "incorrect" way to use them to facilitate communication.

 

I think that when we get involved in scales as "how it should be," as opposed to "a good exercise," we are entering the prescriptive in music.

 

Some of us prefer that intuitively because that's how our heads work - and there likely is little to be done to change that. Nature, nurture - both likely are involved to an extent. So guitarist "A" with great talent and skill may or may not prefer intuitively to follow a given scale simply because that's how his/her head works. On the contrary, guitarist "B" may intuitively prefer not to follow certain scales but simply play what is in his/her repertoire of pleasing or otherwise memory-stored concepts of "appropriate" sounds.

 

I find it difficult to be critical or either sort of foundation of what makes a musician tend - we all will learn as we go along at our own pace - toward one or the other.

 

In language, I tend to be exceptionally "prescriptive" on grounds that changing word meanings with no restriction will inevitably create difficulty in understanding what is spoken or written. Changing grammar, ditto. I know that some current grammarians believe that language may be reduced to mathematical sorts of formulas, but that lessens the importance of word meanings and how subtly we might use the language to express shades of meaning.

 

It's the same in music. I'd say to an extent it expresses what has been discussed in various threads here - skill versus talent. Talent expresses through music, skill is a technical ability to produce various notes. The two are never truly mutually exclusive, but IMHO very few musicians have both great skill and great talent.

 

But those who always seek to improve skills will most likely best utilize their own level of talent. "Scales" may or may not be the most appropriate vehicle for this - but honestly, I'm rather unsure what is. I think it depends on the individual.

 

m

 

I think a true "musician" is somewhere in between in your analogy. Putting in the effort to learn the theory to the extent that one knows when one can ignore it. The blues is a great example, living somewhere between the major and minor modes, using, for example, both sixths, both thirds and both sevenths. There are those that can do his with no idea of how, when or where it can be done, just by ear, there are those who don't do it at all, staying with the "blues scale", using no seconds or sixths and sticking with the minor third, ending every phrase on the root note of the chord. Then there are those who can hear that all the unusual notes work but need to know why, either because of their nature or because they need a formula to apply. I can't be sure which camp I fall in to, I learned my theory over several instruments, cornet, then baritone, then back to cornet, then some keys, then trombone and finally settling on guitar. The process started when I was about 5, over 30 years ago. I know I don't think about theory when I'm actually playing properly but I often play/hear something I find interesting and the link about the theory after the fact.

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I was forced to learn piano at a young age; I was taught to do it without looking at the keyboard, to keep my eyes on the written music. I got hit hard on the back of my hands with a ruler if I stopped looking or made a mistake. So of course I hated it and gave it up as soon as I was allowed.

 

On my 21st birthday I got just enough money to go to Maxwell's Music Shop in Woking, Surrey and buy a Yamaha FG180 acoustic guitar - wish I still had it. I also bought the 2 Johnny Smith tuition books, which was a bit ambitious. Smith's books are written in music stave and he used bass clef too. I learned the 6 scale patterns and started practicing them all round the circle of 5ths. And I did circle of 5ths/4ths with all chords.

Other guitarists I met, whether learners or in bands, didn't generally do it that way.

 

Learning to read music well (sight-read, I don't) on piano or guitar has some serious challenges as they are polyphonic.

2 staves on piano, potentially an awful lot of ledger lines on guitar, and chords with both. Quite a challenge!

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Farns...

 

There's no question in my mind that you're correct in that most of us do fall between the polarities of this.

 

In ways I consider myself more or less like the old players in a piano bar who could transpose - but then had a general style to cover most any type and genre of music as opposed to thinking in terms of "theory." A friend is a good and "in demand" piano player who does things mostly by ear - but I've noticed that on occasion the ear doesn't translate to pick up a minor chord. Given his talent and skill... I dunno where he fits along the line between the poles.

 

m

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I think it comes down essentially to the amount of natural talent possessed by the individual player. I do have some natural talent in terms of perfect pitch but the rest is limited. So I tried to make up for that by learning theory. Our drummer had natural talent. He didn't know a thing about theory but only needed to listen to a chart once and got every cut down perfectly. Here's our big band when we were 16. I'm on the keys, my brother is on bass and our best friend is on sax. Notice the cuts at around 1:37 with the band that our drummer does. Spot on. The whole band was pretty tight too. Every solo was ad libbed. We were rated the top high school band in the country at the time.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZ_P8KfiAWE

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From where I stand it seems to me that the simplicity of scale patterns is both a great thing but it can also be a crux. Most of us here realize that there are a few shapes of the major scale that covers the entire fret board. If you want to change keys you only need to move those patterns and they all fit like a puzzle - this scale is always next to that scale etc...

 

This is the beauty of it's simplicity. Once you learn the patterns in one key, they are all the same. It is a crux because it is easy to stay within only those patterns. We learn a few favorite riffs (which can be many for some) but we use them too often while never exploring outside the pattern.

 

On the other hand, I've been studying Bebop jazz guitar this past year which is more about learning the notes and specifically playing the arpeggios. I sometimes think about what note in the chord I'm starting on to give it a different sound. My problem is this is a totally different way of thinking and I think I loose some of the emotion in my playing. My goal is to smoothly transition between my traditional patterns and bebop arpeggios.

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I know what every note sounds like before my finger lands there...... Same thing when I play the trumpet..... My advice is take an ear training class and learn how to sing the notes before executing them..... It really helps with improvising.....

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And May I add..... Knowing scales is incidental...... Also playing different styles of music and playing with different musicians is the biggest builder for being a great guitar player..... I now can spot the difference between the player that sits in his or her room and the player that plays in a band or jams with different players..... Pretty interesting how different they are..... None better or worse of course

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Cupla points...

 

First, I think Duane has a doggone good point about singing a lead bit before putting in onto guitar or trumpet or whatever.

 

OTOH, that's coming from a single melodic line instrumental perception.

 

Although I was a trumpet player, both school bands and a bit of rock/pop/jazz by ear when I was a kid, my head always was more "keyboard" in terms of hearing music. That is, I always wanted to do melody and chording at the same time. When I learned it could be done on guitar, it was... what I wanted for my musical schtick. Gotta admit that it ain't all that complex, but then again, I'm probably not, either.

 

In more complex/advanced Bebop, I think one has a bit of difficulty in that to me, it just isn't melodic. It's like Bartok where you hear the melodies but they just aren't "natural."

 

Granted, that's just me. But I think you need to determine somehow where your head is, and then add new material to your mental filing cabinet. I'm not sure that it "works" to go beyond that mental filing cabinet of melodic or even chord interpretation without getting ahead of yourself kinda like a runner or skiier whose head gets physically too far ahead of his center of balance. He tends to trip and fall. Yeah, a skilled person can do it, but I think that's where "art" is lost.

 

m

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Cupla points...

 

First, I think Duane has a doggone good point about singing a lead bit before putting in onto guitar or trumpet or whatever.

 

OTOH, that's coming from a single melodic line instrumental perception.

 

Although I was a trumpet player, both school bands and a bit of rock/pop/jazz by ear when I was a kid, my head always was more "keyboard" in terms of hearing music. That is, I always wanted to do melody and chording at the same time. When I learned it could be done on guitar, it was... what I wanted for my musical schtick. Gotta admit that it ain't all that complex, but then again, I'm probably not, either.

 

In more complex/advanced Bebop, I think one has a bit of difficulty in that to me, it just isn't melodic. It's like Bartok where you hear the melodies but they just aren't "natural."

 

Granted, that's just me. But I think you need to determine somehow where your head is, and then add new material to your mental filing cabinet. I'm not sure that it "works" to go beyond that mental filing cabinet of melodic or even chord interpretation without getting ahead of yourself kinda like a runner or skiier whose head gets physically too far ahead of his center of balance. He tends to trip and fall. Yeah, a skilled person can do it, but I think that's where "art" is lost.

 

m

 

Great points..... I've always had the luxury of playing guitar with singers, so I've always been able to "stay in the moment." So I've never reached the point of being self-indulging when I play.... I do sometimes go a little beyond myself but I know when to real myself back in.

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... I now can spot the difference between the player that sits in his or her room and the player that plays in a band or jams with different players...

 

There are probably lots of signs that give the woodshedder away, like relying too heavily on scales and not enough on melody in an improvisation, not laying back enough or filling the gaps, not listening to others to shape their own playing, not playing on the beat, playing too loudly relative to others, poor phrasing and playing lead lines that are too long, etc., etc. -none of those things are good, IMO.

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There are probably lots of signs that give the woodshedder away, like relying too heavily on scales and not enough on melody in an improvisation, not laying back enough or filling the gaps, not listening to others to shape their own playing, not playing on the beat, playing too loudly relative to others, poor phrasing and playing lead lines that are too long, etc., etc. -none of those things are good, IMO.

 

 

LOL...... I really don't try to judge others playing to that point..... I'm sure at some point during my playing evolution I was all of the above....lol.... But I was fortunate to grow around musicians that didnt point it out, but took the time to steer me.... [thumbup]

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I know what every note sounds like before my finger lands there...... Same thing when I play the trumpet..... My advice is take an ear training class and learn how to sing the notes before executing them..... It really helps with improvising.....

 

This is weird. My jazz piano instructor made me listen to Louis Armstrong. He made me learn his melodies on piano. He said the same thing that you state about ear training. True story.

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In high school music theory we had to compose a melody and sing it before he played it, and it better match.

 

rct

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This is weird. My jazz piano instructor made me listen to Louis Armstrong. He made me learn his melodies on piano. He said the same thing that you state about ear training. True story.

 

Claude Gordon was my trumpet teacher for 8 years [thumbup]

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