In these online guitar lessons you will learn about the music theory for guitar, ear training, and guitar composition.
Mommy, where do chords come from? There gets to be a time in everyone’s musical development when the question comes up. You know how to play a lot of chords. But where do they come from? What makes a D chord a D chord? What makes a D chord different than a D minor?
Well this guitar lesson is going to dig into the basics for chord construction. Both in general music theory terms, and specifically how it applies to the guitar.
- For more on chord construction and how it applies to the neck of the guitar, check out my Rhythm Guitar Mastery course. I have a whole section dedicated to chord theory. Plus you will build your vocabulary rhythms, strums & chords.
(Video Guitar Lesson 1 of 3)
Building Chords From the Major Scale
Chords are built from scales. Taking a look at the basic chords built from a C major scale is the best place to start your chord theory exploration. A C major scale contains no sharps or flats. Below are the notes of a C major scale.
C Major scale = C D E F G A B C
If you start on C and skip every other note in the scale for a total of 3, this a C major chord.
C D E F G A B C
|___|___| = C (C major chord)
If you start on D and do the same thing, a Dm chord is created. What makes this a minor chord will be looked into later in this lesson.
C D E F G A B C
|___|___| = Dm (D minor chord)
The process of stacking 3 notes up in the major scale could continue until you have a total of 7 different chords, one for each note of the scale.
C D E F G A B C
|___|___| = Em (E minor chord)
C D E F G A B C
|___|___| = F (F major chord)
C D E F G A B C D
|___|___| = G (G major chord)
C D E F G A B C D E
|___|___| = Am (A minor chord)
C D E F G A B C D E F
|___|___| = Bdim* (B diminished chord)
*A diminished chord is just another “flavor” of chord sound. Plain 3 note diminished chords are not very common on the guitar. So for now you are going to learn that they exist, but don’t lose sleep because you don’t know how to play one.
Basic Triads Built from the C Major Scale
The first chords that we are taking a look at are sometimes referred to as triads. A triad is just a term for a 3 note chord.
So putting it all together, here are the 7 basic triads built from the C major scale. (The small circle after the B is the a common chord symbol for diminished)
It’s a little easier to visualize how chords are created on the piano as opposed to the guitar. The video below shows these seven chords and how they would be played on the piano. The white keys from C to C form a C major scale. Therefore to create the basic chords, you skip every other white key. This video does not have any sound.
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All music theory really begins with an understanding of the major scale. The major scale is used as a constant in the musical universe with which other elements are compared.
Below is an important tidbit of music theory information before we get started.
All natural notes (A B C D E F G) are a whole step (2 frets) apart, except between E-F and B-C, which are a half step (1 fret) apart.
A major scale is nothing more than a series of whole steps and half steps. Writing the natural notes from C to C will create a C major scale.
C Major Scale
The easiest way to remember this formula for a major scale is this. There are 2 sets of W W ½ separated by a W. The W stands for whole step, and the ½ stands for half step.
W W ½ W W W ½
This same pattern can be applied to any set of 8 consecutive notes. For example if the natural notes between G to G were written, F would have to be raised a half step to F sharp in order to create the formula needed to make a major scale.
G Major Scale
In the next example the notes from F to F are written. In this case the B would have to be lowered a half step to a B flat in order to conform to the pattern.
F Major Scale
Playing Major Scales on a Single String
Part of learning about music theory is understanding the concept of a topic. But the other part is applying the knowledge and relating it specifically to the guitar.
So here is one thing you can do at this stage in your music theory journey to help apply what you just learned. Pick any note on any string, preferably within the first 3 or 4 frets. Then play a major scale going up on one string following the major scale pattern of whole steps and half steps.
W W ½ W W W ½
The names of the notes are not important for this exercise. The idea is to get used to the pattern. At a later stage in your music theory exploration you can work with note names.
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So What is Meter?
Meters, or time signatures, are ways of organizing music. They help musicians in numerous ways, but are commonly overlooked. Meter organizes music by phrase, rhythm, or by chord changes. Specifically, they organize the rhythm of the music.
There are two parts to any time signature; there is a top number and a bottom number. The top number tells you “how many” while the bottom number tells you “of what.” The top number indicates how many notes there will be per measure and the bottom number indicates what kind of note the top number is referring to.
This example would have four quarter note beats per measure.
This example would have five quarter note beats per measure.
This example would have twelve eighth note beats per measure.
The groupings in a time signature refer to how the rhythms can be divided. The rhythms are divided into groups of twos or threes. Look at the notation below to visualize this.
Notice how the first measure is completely grouped as 2+2+2+2 while the second measure is grouped as 3+3+2. There are two main reasons that groupings are important. One, it is easier for the performer to visualize how the passage should be played. Two, it gives an accurate description of how the passage should be performed.
For the most part, the first note of each grouping is given the accent. This means it will be dynamically accented more than the following notes of the same grouping.
A simple meter is a time signature where each beat is divided into two parts. Common examples of simple meter include 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4. Pay attention to the 8th notes in the following examples.
*Editor note: All of the examples in this lesson are played on a 7-string guitar. If you are a 6 stringer, you can just as easily shift all of these examples up 1 set of strings. So play the notes that were on the 7th string on the 6th, and those that were on the 6th on the 5th etc. They will sound higher, but you will still be able to practice the examples.
This example is in 3/4 meter.
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For more info about Zack Uidl, visit zackuidl.com
© Zack Uidl 2009. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
I am a musician and a film fan. I’ve been a film fan for as long as I can remember. As a child I had been blown away by the Star Wars trilogy, stood in line to catch the latest Indian Jones offering and later eagerly anticipated the release of the next Schwarzenegger classic. So when I was offered the opportunity to write the music for a short film I jumped at the chance. The film was to be a reworking of the Don Quixote story – with our modern day hero doing battle with pollution belching buses rather than windmills.
The opportunity arose through the singer in my band who had seen a stage play produced by a local Television Workshop, which included music from local bands and musicians. We took a chance and contacted the TV station offering our services for their next production. The company replied asking for a sample of our music which we readily sent off. They liked what they heard and we were offered the position of ‘resident band’ in a two night multi-media event. The event was a great success and we again offered our services to the Television workshop for any future projects. Soon after we got a call offering us the chance to write the film score for a short film that the team were currently working on entitle ‘Windmills’. I had no idea how to write a film score, but I was not about to pass up this opportunity so immediately said ‘yes’ and worried about how I was actually going to do it later
The remit for the score was very broad – basically, write what I thought was appropriate. My first idea was to write an upbeat Punk song but I quickly discarded this idea in favour of something Spanish to tie the new story to the original story set in medieval Spain. I already had a Spanish style chord progression I had been toying with for some time and now I had finally found a use for it.
The first problem I encountered was the fact that the film was not yet finished and I had only a vague idea of what to expect. I decided that the best way to tackle this problem was to write a piece of music with several different parts which would allow me to place them in different scenes. These parts would need to convey different moods, be easily lengthened or shortened and be able to fit together in any order.
I took my original idea to the other musicians I was working with at the time and over the next week or two wrote a song with six distinct sections –
1. Verse consisting of Spanish Guitar and vocals
2. Chorus consisting of Spanish Guitar and vocals
3. Instrumental section with Spanish Guitar
4. spacey mid section with string and synth sounds
5. Heavy verse with overdriven electric guitar
6. Fast finale
I got the idea for part four (i.e. playing the verse with an overdriven electric guitar rather an acoustic guitar) from the Doors ‘Spanish Caravan’ which uses a similar technique.
(You can receive an mp3 of ‘Turning’ – soundtrack to the film ‘Windmills’ – by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
Eventually I received a rough cut of the film and began to restructure the song to fit with what was happening in each scene. Fortunately the musical ideas I started with fitted well and I really only had to lengthen and shorten the different parts to fit the scenes. I sent my ideas off to the producer who said he liked them so I began tightening up the music to fit with the action – a dramatic pause here and a building of tension there. I was pleased with the results so far and sent the second draft back to the producer. Again he said he liked it but could I drop out section 3 completely as it interfered with the dialogue. I was slightly annoyed about this as I had spent quite sometime creating many subtle variations for this section. However, I bowed to his greater experience and took the section out.
I thought this was it and the score was finished but the Writer/Director began to make suggestions. He didn’t think the ending was powerful enough. He wanted it like the soundtrack to the movie ‘Speed’. Wanting to do the best job I could I dutifully acquired the sound track and attempted to emulate some of the drama by adding some kettle drum rolls. “Better but not quite there”, he said. I added a tambourine playing sixteenth notes to give a sense of speed and acceleration. “Getting there but could do with more drama” he commented. After several more attempts, in which I added orchestra stabs and a distorted guitar, we finally agreed that there was enough tension and the score was finally complete!
A week or two later I received the final cut complete with music. I was very pleased with the end result. But what was this? The section I had been asked to take out had been put back in but only as a repeated sample of music! All the work I had done creating subtle changes and nuances wiped out and replaced with the same piece of music looped over and over. I was not happy but I let it go – I had done my bit to the best of my ability and for a first attempt at writing a film score I felt I had not done badly at all.
The film enjoyed a short release mainly playing at Art House Cinemas with myself and the singer playing an acoustic version of the song on the opening night. It has also been shown several times on the local Television Network.
Writing this film score was not the easiest thing I have ever done in my music career. I was lucky that the remit I was given to work with was so wide I could do just about anything I liked. However, trying to please both the producer and the writer/director and to reproduce their ideas in a musical form was sometimes very difficult and frustrating.
So what have I learned from this experience and what advice would I give to would-be musicians/score writers?
1. Take a chance, as I did when I approached the TV Company, and get your music out there because nobody is going to discover you in your bedroom
2. Say ‘yes’ first then work out how you will do it later
3. Follow up every opportunity as you never know where it will lead. It was only by taking part in the multi-media event that I later got the opportunity to write the film score
Be open to criticism – don’t just disregard it out of hand as sometimes other people’s opinions can be really helpful even if it’s not meant to be. The writer/director and I did not always agree but we both had the same goal in mind – a great film
And after all this would I put myself through this all again? You bet.
To receive an mp3 of ‘Turning’ (soundtrack to the film ‘Windmills’) please write to email@example.com
© 2008 Shadowplay Collective
For a guitarist, or any other instrumentalist for that matter, one of the biggest obstacles is translating the sounds in our head onto our instrument – in our case, the fretboard. Vocalists certainly have it easier in this regard. When you envision a sound in your head, you can readily open your mouth and create that sound. The translation from the mind to the instrument (i.e voice) is effortless and unconscious. Guitarists don’t have it that easy. But we can get there. If you speak to an accomplished jazz player, more often than not you will find that their seemingly inexhaustive ability to improvise on the fly comes from being able to play the lines they are hearing in their head. So how do you get started on this path to musical expressiveness? With ear training!
Before we begin this journey, we need an ear training resource. While there are certainly a great deal of software packages available, my tool of choice is the following website:
Editor Note: Be sure and also check out the Interval Ear Trainer here at Cyberfret.com
Ear Trainer is a free, web-based tool with useful features such as tempo adjustment, and automatic scoring just to name a couple. You will notice that there are a variety of ear training categories – intervals, chords, scales, etc. We are going to focus on intervals, since they are the fundamental building block for scales and chords.
When just starting out, it is best to keep the “fixed root” option checked off. With this option, the intervals you hear will always start with the same note. This way, you will really get a feel for the differences amongst the various intervals. Are you ready? Let’s get to it then.
Click on the “Beginner” link to the far left. You will then see additional links below “Beginner”. Now click “Simple Intervals”. (Note: Ear Trainer uses MIDI to play notes. If you are using Windows XP, then MIDI playback should be automatically configured. If you do not hear any notes, then you need to do some configuring, which is beyond the scope of this article.) You should hear a series of two notes. You then have 4 options to choose from:
1. Prime – the most basic interval, this is simply the same note played consecutively.
2. Major 3rd – this interval contains 2 notes spaced 2 whole steps apart (such as C to E, G to A, etc), and has a familiar uplifting, happy quality.
3. Perfect 5th – this interval spacing is 3 1/2 steps (C to G, G to D, etc). The so called 5-chords (C5, D5, etc) used extensively in rock and roll are based on this interval.
4. Octave – this interval consists of the same two notes played an octave apart.
The key to developing a good ear is to come up with your own meaningful associations. You need to make it real. One of the best approaches is to associate each interval with a familiar tune. For instance, when I hear a major 3rd, I think of the “Star Spangled Banner”. At the beginning, the words “say can” are a major 3rd apart. Likewise, I have a unique association for the perfect 5th. I think “Top Gun”. Remember that really nice, melodic guitar instrumental in that movie? The one played by Steve Stevens? Those first two notes are a perfect 5th apart. “Star Wars” may be more familiar. The first two notes of that famous theme are also a perfect 5th apart. So you get the point. Each interval needs to be personal for you. They need to evoke a response.
When you are correctly identifying a majority of the simple intervals, it is time to move on to more difficult exercises. Ultimately, you want to end up at the “chromatic intervals up/down” exercises, which you will see after clicking the “Intervals” link. Furthermore, you should deselect the “fixed root” option, so that you become accustomed to identifying intervals across a wide tonal range.
Before we talk about identifying intervals, let’s take a look at how intervals appear in standard notation and on the fretboard. In what follows, “m” stands for minor, “M” is major, and “P” is perfect. The image below shows one possible layout of the intervals in TAB notation. You should be aware that because of the guitar’s ambiguity (i.e. identical notes appearing in multiple locations), there are a variety of possibilities. And most importantly, you should realize that even though this example shows the intervals starting from C, the patterns remain the same anywhere on the fretboard, regardless of the starting note. Regarding the standard notation, note how each interval is a half step higher than the previous one. This gives rise to the term chromatic intervals.
Now that you understand how the various intervals are defined, you are ready for the challenge – learning to recognize them! Here is a list of all the intervals that you will need to be able to identify in the “chromatic intervals up/down” exercises. I have added comments about each interval, which will help you identify them by sound.
|Interval||Tips for recognition|
|Prime||The prime interval, also known as the unison, is simply 2 identical notes.|
|m2||Recognized as the ominous “Jaws” theme! Also the beginning of the main melody from “Für Elise”.|
|M2||Think “Happy Birthday”. The 2nd and 3rd notes comprise a M2 (i.e. the last syllable in “Happy” and the first syllable in “birthday”).|
|m3||My association here is from one of my own songs (that is the best way to associate – create your own music!). I also associate it with the first 2 notes of the most popular scale in rock music – the Pentatonic Minor. For instance, with G Pentatonic Minor, the G to Bb is a minor third.|
|M3||As mentioned above, I think about the words “say can” (as in “Ohh say can you see”) in “Star Spangled Banner”.|
|P4||I associate this with Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, whose opening 2 notes comprise a P4. Another good example is “Here Comes The Bride”. The words “Here comes” constitute a P4.|
|Tritone||This interval goes by many names, but I think tritone is the most useful name in the context of tritone chord substitution (which I will get around to talking about sometime!). I don’t have any song associations with this one. I simply associate it with the characteristic sound of diminished chords and arpeggios – namely, a very ominous, haunting sound.|
|P5||Like I mentioned earlier, I associate this interval with the first two notes of “Top Gun” theme. If you don’t know what I am referring to, then just think about the first two notes of the famous theme from “Star Wars”!|
|m6||This interval reminds me of the song “The Entertainer”. If you don’t know the song by name, then you surely know it by sound. I suggest listening to this song. The very familiar opening, with the series of repeated notes, make up a m6.|
|M6||I don’t associate this interval with a particular song. Instead, I am instantaneously reminded of a lick that is very common in blues music. Just play this interval and I think you will see what I mean!|
|m7||We are getting into difficult territory now. I associate this interval with another of my own songs. Supposedly the Star Trek theme starts with a m7, but I personally have no idea what the theme is. I do have a trick though. In my mind, I hear the higher note as an octave lower. So say the interval is C to Bb, as shown below:
In my head, I end up hearing the following:
And so it has the quality of a M2 interval, and I associate it with the m7.
|M7||As with the m7, this is a difficult one due to the lack of popular tunes to associate it with. I recognize this based on its quality. It is very dissonant. Like the m7, I use the trick where I envision the high note being played an octave lower. So consider C to B as shown below:
In my head, I end up hearing the following:
And so it has the quality of a m2 interval.
|Octave||An octave is similar to the prime interval, except that the notes are an octave apart. The first two notes in “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” are an octave apart.|
|m9||Don’t be thrown off by these so called extended intervals. These are a breeze. The m9 sounds just like a m2, except the upper note is played an octave higher as compared to a m2. So the quality is identical!|
|M9||Just as the m9 is identical in quality to the m2, the M9 is identical in quality to the M2.|
You are now well armed to tackle the “chromatic intervals up/down” exercises. These will be considerably more difficult than the simple exercises, but by using the above information you may surprise yourself at how quickly you make progress!
That concludes this article. I hope some of the concepts that I have discussed become truly meaningful as you pick up the guitar and apply them. You may not appreciate it a day or two later, but if you stick with it for at least a month, I think you will find that the portion of your mind dedicated to music has expanded!
Visit Brian Huether at GuitarDreams.com
©2003 Guitar Dreams. All Rights Reserved.
I had an email from a subscriber recently, and I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember his name because these days unless I write things down, nothing gets done or remembered. It’s my age you know. Anyway, he asked me if I had any tips on recording solo guitar as he had recently been doing so and was having a hard time. He said “Everything is just so exposed, I hear every note, fluff and squeak, and it just sounds terrible and I had to give up in the end”.
This email struck a chord with me because during the last few weeks I have been finishing up my new beginners/intermediate guitar course, ‘Guitar Made Simple’ and have been recording all the audio examples here at my home studio. Now I can tell you that for me, writing this course and getting inside the head of someone who knows nothing about guitar, I mean a total beginner, was no small feat, because after playing guitar for a good while, we naturally take things for granted. Just to illustrate this further, years ago when I gave private instruction, a lady once said to me, “If I fret this note with my left hand here, do I have to strike the same string with my right hand?” This of course may be extreme, but I can assure you that when someone has never touched a guitar in their life, it can indeed be rocket science to them, so teaching needs to be done carefully and attentively during a student’s early stages. And so my audio examples in the first part of this course needed to be played very slowly and explained articulately.
So I’m recording these audio examples, and I find that because many of them are played on the acoustic guitar, solo, with nothing but a little reverb to make me sound better, recording say four notes very slowly in isolation, is unbelievably hard! Just to play a two octave scale, at say metronome mark 60 evenly and cleanly is extremely challenging.
Now, because it’s my guitar course I’m writing, I can hardly give up can I? and the truth is that what is acceptable to me and what is acceptable to anyone reading through the course may well be two different things, but for my own horribly anal and perfectionist nature, I simply HAD to get these little examples to sound as good as I personally could. Even to play one simple chord in isolation with the fingers, where all the notes came through evenly, where the attack of the chord sounded absolutely right, well that was quite an issue too. Not to mention microphone noise and technical issues to get the level right and so on. I would brush the pickguard of my guitar ever so lightly and I would hear it in the recording, and naturally it was unacceptable and had to be re-recorded. And breathing? Well forget it! OK – a little drama here, but you know what I mean. The damn mike picks up absolutely everything. Oh for a drummer to soak everything up!
Have I gone mad you ask? Well no, and I thought I had too, but I put this whole experience down to well, just that – experience. I was a professional session guitarist for years, having played on TV shows, albums and now a recording artist with five albums to my name, so why on earth was this so difficult?? But I honestly hadn’t recorded anything so difficult in a long time! Oddly, the process got easier as the examples got more challenging. Anytime I got to layer an instrument, the recording went just that little bit quicker because it wasn’t so exposed.
I have recorded quite a lot of solo guitar in the past, but music that had a beginning, middle and end and one could get into a ‘performance’ state of mind, and at comfortable tempos. These little isolated examples were difficult because so many of them had to be played so slowly, and at the end of the day I can’t recommend that students run before they can walk.
So what advice do I have to impart? Well first I can now highly recommend that if you think you have good time, if you think you know how to play cleanly and evenly, know how to stop individual strings ringing on when they need to be muted while playing others, know how to project each note at the same volume as the next, then I urge you to play a G major scale, solo acoustic at metronome mark 60 and listen back to yourself. And a better microphone may just make things worse because you’ll only hear more!
Is this advice or instilling fear into you? Well it may be the latter and I do apologize, but only because I may not actually have any real advice other than just do it. I believe that if your ears are open, what you hear back from your recording should tell you what you need to work on.
Here’s the good news…
Do we really want to be robots? Do we actually want to have a quantize button attached to our guitars? Do we want to be that serious and intense? I think the answer is no. This is why most of us are more attracted to humans playing music than machines. Music should push and pull, it should ebb and flow and shortcomings are often the character in one’s playing, to an extent. We need to just relax and play.
But if you are to record your acoustic guitar solo, you will no doubt come face to face with certain issues that I did, and my subscriber friend did also. All I can suggest is this; First, don’t give up, but understand that one needs to surmount a problem to the level of personal acceptance. In other words, if it sounds good to you that’s OK, provided you are pushing yourself and striving for your personal best. Now, that template will probably change as you grow as a musician and what was acceptable then may not be now.
All I can say is, however you feel about this stuff, and whatever level you’re at, recording yourself playing solo acoustic guitar very very slowly is just bloody good practice!
Visit Chris Standring at ChrisStandring.com