Guitar Theory For Dummies: Book + Online Video & Audio Instruction book cover

Guitar Theory For Dummies: Book + Online Video & Audio Instruction

By: Desi Serna Published: 10-07-2013

With an approachable and engaging style, Guitar Theory For Dummies goes beyond guitar basics, presenting the guidance intermediate to advanced players need to improve their improvisational and compositional skills. Plus, with access to audio tracks and video instruction online you can master the concepts and techniques covered in the book. Key content coverage includes: pentatonic and major scale patterns; the CAGED chord system, chord progressions, and playing by numbers; roots, keys, and applying scales, plus modes and modal scales; intervals and chord extensions; popular song references and theory applications that help you understand how to play popular music and contemporary guitar styles, and create music of your own.

Articles From Guitar Theory For Dummies: Book + Online Video & Audio Instruction

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121 results
121 results
Guitar Theory For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-27-2022

Guitar theory is an area of study that explains how you can play, improvise, and compose popular music on the guitar fretboard — and why certain elements of music go together the way they do. Dive into guitar theory by exploring a fretboard diagram showing notes along the 6th and 5th strings; some major scale patterns; Roman numerals and the major/minor chord sequence; and mode names.

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Getting to Know the Notes on a Guitar Fretboard

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Guitar players must know the notes on the fretboard to keep track of the specific scale patterns and chords they play all over the neck. But rather than memorize every single note in every fret on every string, guitarists do better to just know the natural notes along the 6th and 5th strings. After all, most scale patterns and chord shapes are rooted on these strings. Octave shapes can be used to track other notes in other positions. The following fretboard diagram shows you the notes along the 6th and 5th strings. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

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Guitar Theory: Modes of the Major Scale

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

As you study guitar theory, you'll hear terms like mode, tonic, and scale. The most common scale in music is the major scale. It includes seven degrees, or pitches, and involves seven steps or intervals. When you play the major scale beginning on its 1st degree, you create the familiar "Do, Re, Mi . . ." sound. But the starting position of the major scale isn't always the 1st degree. What is a mode? Music often centers on other degrees in the major scale besides the 1st one. For example, start a major scale on the 6th degree and you create what is known as the minor scale (also known as the relative minor or natural minor). The 1st and 6th degrees of the major scale produce the major and minor scale. In music, you say that the scale has these two different modes. The major scale has more modes than just the 1st and 6th degrees. The truth is, any scale degree can be used as the starting point. However, the major and minor modes are the most commonly used scales in music. In fact, they're so common that they're not usually thought of as modes. Instead, they're thought of as plain or natural scales. It's only when music centers on one of the other degrees in the major scale that the music is considered modal. Of modes and tonics in the major scale There are seven degrees in the major scale, and each one can function as the tonal center, or first tone (tonic) of the scale. Long ago, the Greeks named each one of these modes. The names are as follows: I. Ionian: More commonly known as the plain major scale. ii. Dorian: A type of minor scale with a major 6th. Fairly common. "Oye Como Va" by Santana is an example of a song that centers on the 2nd degree of the G major scale using the chord progression Am7-D9. You say that it's in A Dorian mode. iii. Phrygian: A type of minor scale with a flattened 2nd. It has a Spanish flavor to it, but it's not used much. One example is "The Sails Of Charon" by Scorpions, which centers on the 3rd degree of the G major scale, producing B Phrygian mode. IV. Lydian: A type of major scale with a sharpened 4th. Occasionally used temporarily in a song before the music settles on a more stable tonic, such as I. Listen to "Man on the Moon" by R.E.M for an example of C Lydian, the 4th mode in the G major scale. V. Mixolydian: A type of major scale with a flattened 7th. Very common, almost as much so as the plain major scale. You should recognize this mode anytime you start on a major chord and then move down a whole step to another major chord. A change like that is almost always V-IV. "Seven Bridges Road" by the Eagles centers on the 5th degree of the G major scale, producing D Mixolydian mode. vi. Aeolian: More commonly known as the natural or relative minor scale. vii. Locrian: Not used. The 7th triad has a flattened (or diminished) 5th making the chord too unstable to function as a usable tonic.

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Guitar Theory: Roman Numerals and the Major Scale Chord Sequence

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Guitar theory reveals that the major scale is stacked in thirds to make triads and chords. Each scale degree of the major scale produces a triad and major or minor chord. Starting with the first degree of the major scale, the chord qualities go as follows: major-minor-minor-major-major-minor-minorb5 (also called a diminished triad) This seven-chord sequence is one of the most important patterns in music. When it comes to playing chord progressions, musicians refer to this pattern by using uppercase Roman numerals to represent major chords and lowercase Roman numerals to represent minor chords. The following chart will help you keep track of the system: Uppercase Roman numerals: I-II-III-IV-V-VI-VII Lowercase Roman numerals: i-ii-iii-iv-v-vi-vii Here's what this naming system looks like in action when you apply it to the major scale chord sequence and the key of G, specifically: Major Scale I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viib5 G Major Scale G-Am-Bm-C-D-Em-F#mb5 Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

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Sample Major Scale Patterns in Guitar Theory

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

As you explore guitar theory, you'll learn that the major scale is a series of notes played in an ascending and descending fashion. Guitarists use the major scale to play melodies, riffs, solos, and bass lines. Additionally, it's used to play intervals, build chords, and chart progressions. The following sample patterns show you how to play the G major scale in four positions on the fretboard: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

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Using an Open G Tuning and Playing Guitar Like Keith Richards

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has crafted some of the most famous guitar riffs of all time. What's unique about his style is that most of his signature hooks are chord changes, not scale riffs. And these changes almost always combine chord voicings derived from the CAGED system's A and C forms. Richards favors the use of an open G tuning, which detunes the 1st, 5th, and 6th strings one whole step. He then either avoids the 6th string or leaves it off the guitar completely. Normally, guitar strings are tuned from low to high as follows: String: 6 5 4 3 2 1 Pitch: E A D G B E In open G tuning, the guitar is tuned like this: String: 6 5 4 3 2 1 Pitch: D G D G B D Changing the tuning of the strings like this means that standard chord shapes and scale patterns no longer work. In some cases, this creates an advantage. For example, in the tab shown in the following image, you can play a G chord in the open position with all open strings. You can then play full major chords around the neck by simple barring with one finger: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi SernaChords in open G tuning. In the preceding example, you can even play the 6th string, which is the 5th of each chord and becomes an alternate bass note. For example, G/D, C/G, and D/A. Next, you can play I-IV chord changes by simply adding two fingers. In the open position you can change from G to C by holding down the 1st fret of the 2nd string and the 2nd fret of the 4th string. Notice that this pair of notes comes directly from a common open C chord. In standard tuning you also need to hold the 3rd fret of the 5th string, but in open G it works to play the 5th string open because it's the 5th of the C chord, G. This same type of change works anywhere on the neck. When you barre with your 1st finger at the 5th fret in this tuning to play C, you can add your 2nd and 3rd fingers to strings 2 and 4 at the 6th and 7th frets. This is a small part of a C form barre chord, but because of the special tuning, you can strum across all strings without adding any more fingers. This same type of change can be done anywhere on the neck. You see it done in four positions in this second example: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi SernaI-IV changes in open G tuning. Notice that when you move to the C form IV chord, as in G-C, the C chord has an alternate bass note (the 5th) plus an added 9th (the D note on string 1). This remains true in other positions and gives the chord changes their signature sound. Keith Richards used this sound to good effect by moving the chord shapes around in many of the Rolling Stones' most popular songs, including "Brown Sugar," "Honky Tonk Women," and "Start Me Up." You can make use of this style of playing without retuning your guitar. In open G tuning, strings 2–4 do not change, and it's on these strings that the main chord changing happens. Try keeping your guitar in standard tuning and playing through the second example with only strings 2–4. The chord voicings may not sound as full, and you miss the add9, but it's worth it to pull out some classic Rolling Stones riffs on the fly without having to change your tuning.

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Guitar Theory in Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone"

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

"Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan is considered one of the most influential compositions in popular music. Harmonically, it's a great example of using the major scale's sequence of major and minor chords. It's based in the key of C and cycles up and down chords I through V. The intro starts out with a change from C to F, which is I-IV in C. But it's really at the verse where you begin to see the major scale in action. At the same time that Dylan begins with the words, "Once upon a time you dressed so fine. . . ," the chord progression climbs directly up the C major scale, as shown here: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna"Like a Rolling Stone" 1. Notice that you play the C scale in order: I ii iii IV V. You also repeat this four-bar phrase. You can use either open chords or barre chords, whichever you prefer (or try both). The next section of the song features the words, "You used to laugh about. . . ," and the chord changes F-G, IV-V in the scale: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna"Like a Rolling Stone" 2. When Dylan begins with the words, "Now you don't talk so loud. . . ," the chords move backward in the scale from F to C, IV-iii-ii-I: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna"Like a Rolling Stone" 3. Next is the "About having to be scrounging for your next meal" section. Here you play Dm-F-G, ii-IV-V, with the goal being to build tension on the dominant chord, V, before releasing the tension on the tonic chord, I, for the upcoming chorus: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna"Like a Rolling Stone" 4. And finally, the big chorus. Here the song makes good use of a typical I-IV-V chord progression by beginning on C and following it with F and G: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna"Like a Rolling Stone" 5. At the end of the chorus, the V chord, G, is held for an extra measure, creating more of the dominant tension from earlier that, once again, releases on the tonic chord, C, but this time to begin a new verse.

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10 Steps to the "Hotel California" Guitar Solo

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

"Hotel California" by the Eagles features one of the best-known extended dual guitar solos of all time, and understanding the music theory behind it will help you master it. The chord sequence isn't a commonly used progression, and properly applying scales to it requires some extra insight. The guitar solo section is played over the same chord progression heard in the song's introduction and verses. The key is generally regarded as B minor, though the progression is interspersed with 5ths and modal interchange, which creates temporary focus on chords other than Bm. As a result, lead guitarists need to either modify the B minor scale or change scales altogether. As you soon see, sticking with one pentatonic scale is also an option. In their most basic form, the chords are as follows: Bm-F#7-A-E-G-D-Em-F#7 Now, take this progression one chord at a time. Bm Use the B natural minor scale, which is the 6th mode of D major. Here, you see a sample B minor scale pattern. Notice that a B minor pentatonic scale (shown in black) fits right into it: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna F#7 Whenever you have a minor tonic chord and a dominant 7th a 5th away, they are often derived from the harmonic scale (the B minor and F# also occur in the ascending form of the melodic minor scale). Normally the F# in the key of B minor is minor, but by raising the 7th degree of the minor scale you get a major 3rd in the F# chord and the harmonic minor scale. The following scale pattern is identical to the one in Step 1, except this: All the A notes, the 7th degree of B minor, have been raised to A#. What was a flattened 7th is now a major 7th and highlighted using a diamond shape: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna A The next chord in the progression is A, which fits right into the initial key of B natural minor. It's the bVII chord if you count Bm as I (it's the V chord if you count from the relative major, D). Return to the regular B minor scale for this chord. E At this point you ought to pick up on a kind of sequence in the chord changes. You start on B and then move up a 5th. Then you move a whole step and repeat similar movement: A up a 5th to E. You see this sequence continue in a moment, but first, you need to play over the E major chord. Normally, the key of B natural minor features an Em chord. But in B Dorian mode, which is drawn from the A major scale, E is a major IV chord (Bm-E is i-IV). By raising the 6th of B natural minor you change the Em chord to E major and produce the B Dorian scale. The following pattern illustrates what this scale looks like. See that it's similar to B natural minor but with the flattened 6ths raised to major 6ths. Notice that B minor pentatonic is still part of the scale: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna G Now you're back to B natural minor because G is diatonic to B minor and its relative major, D. So go back to the original B minor scale pattern in Step 1. D Are you seeing the 5ths sequence here? Bm-F#7 is a 5th, A-D is a 5th, and G-D is a 5th. You move down a whole step in between each pair. Because D fits right into B minor/D major, you stick with the same pattern from the previous chord. Em Here, the 5th sequence is broken. The Em chord still fits into B minor/D major, so no scale changes are required. F#7 Finally, the F#7 from step 2 appears again, but this time with its dominant function used in full force to lead the progression back to the base tonic, Bm. Use the B harmonic minor scale again (Step 2). The base scale is B minor throughout but with some modifications made along the way to accommodate chords that are out of key. As a result, you end up using the B natural minor scale along with B harmonic minor and B Dorian. The five-tone B minor pentatonic scale is common to both the natural minor and Dorian mode, but it doesn't entirely fit with the harmonic minor because it includes a b7th compared with the harmonic minor's major 7th. Still, you could play B minor pentatonic over the entire progression, including the F#7 chord, because it's not always necessary to outlining the V7 chord in a minor key. Go this route and you can stick in one pentatonic scale in what is otherwise a fairly complex chord progression. Outline with arpeggio patterns. Whether you choose to stick in the B minor pentatonic the whole time or change between natural minor, Dorian, and harmonic minor, you can add more direction to your solos by hitting on the chord tones of each chord as it passes. You can know which notes in the scale to emphasize over each chord by visualizing chord shapes in the scale pattern. In Step 4, you see the B minor pentatonic scale illustrated seven times, with each example highlighting a different arpeggio pattern that corresponds to one of the seven chords from the progression: Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna Follow the voice leading. A neat feature of this chord progression, and one that you can take advantage of in your solos, is its use of voice leading. The chord changes Bm-F#7-A-E-G-D feature the chromatic line B-A#-A-G#-G-F#, as shown in Step 9. B is the root of Bm, A# is the 3rd of F#7, A is the root of A, G# is the 3rd of E, G is the root of G, and F# is the 3rd of D. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna So instead of switching scales or outlining chords with arpeggios, you can think of one base scale, like B minor pentatonic, and then play around the chromatic voice-leading line. When you do, you'll be making all the proper changes to the scale pattern anyway. So this is just another way to accomplish the same thing. After the chromatic voice leading finishes, you can continue to follow the chord changes with the notes G-A#. G is the 3rd of the Em chord, and A# is the 3rd of F#7 (again). In the original recording, lead guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh take an approach similar to the steps outlined here by sticking in familiar pentatonic boxes and then decorating with notes from the related scales and chords. You also hear them employ various articulations, such as slides, bends, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, plus embellish with chromatic passing tones. In this video, Desi Serna uses pentatonic, major, minor, and harmonic minor guitar scales to demonstrate his interpretation of Hotel California guitar solos — a lesson suitable for intermediate- and advanced-level lead guitar players.

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Guitar Theory: Looking at Lead Patterns

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Guitar players can use several types of scales and patterns to play melodies, riffs, and solos, but some are used far more than others. For example, the plain major scale and Mixolydian mode are very common, while Lydian mode is rare. Also, the natural minor scale and Dorian mode are common, but Phrygian mode isn't. And with them all, guitarists often prefer to work within a familiar pentatonic scale box. Get to know four basic lead patterns that you can expect to use most of the time. Each pattern uses pentatonic pattern 1 as its base and then fills in with notes from the four most widely used scales: Major scale Mixolydian mode Minor scale Dorian mode In the examples that follow, you stay centered on the same primary pitch, A. You play A major and A Mixolydian, then A minor and A Dorian, sticking in pentatonic pattern 1 the whole time. But this key is just used as an example. Once you get the lead patterns down, you can apply them to other keys. In the following image of A major lead patterns, you see A major pentatonic, followed by the same pattern with notes from the full A major scale, and then A Mixolydian mode. The A major pentatonic pattern in the first fretboard diagram is your base. Notice that because you're playing in a major key, the pattern actually begins three frets lower than the tonic pitch. To make the pentatonic pattern a full major scale, you add in 4ths and 7ths as shown in the second diagram. This is what you use anytime you're playing over a progression in Ionian mode, which is the plain major scale. The second most common major mode is Mixolydian. To change your lead pattern to fit over progressions based in the 5th mode, flatten the 7ths. You see b7ths used in the third diagram. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi SernaA major lead patterns. When you play in major keys, you typically use either plain major or Mixolydian, so these two patterns have you covered most of the time. If you're unsure if a song is in plain major or Mixolydian, just play through each lead pattern and listen for which one is the better fit. Specifically, listen to determine whether the major 7th or minor 7th sounds right. An example of a song that you can use the A major scale lead pattern on is "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes. Play the A Mixolydian lead pattern over "Franklin's Tower" by the Grateful Dead. Next, work with A minor pentatonic. In the following image of A minor lead patterns, pentatonic pattern 1 has been moved up three frets from the previous major examples. In this position, the pattern starts directly on the note A. To play a full minor scale, add in 2nds and minor 6ths as shown in the second diagram. To play in Dorian mode, raise the minor 6ths to major 6ths as shown in the third diagram. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi SernaA minor lead patterns. When you play music in a minor key, it's mostly likely to be natural minor — such is the case, for example, in the guitar solo section to "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin. If another minor mode is in use, it's probably Dorian, as is the case in "Oye Como Va" by Santana. So these two lead patterns cover most minor keys. Notice that the plain A major scale and natural minor scale use identical patterns. The only difference is where you start them. For A major, you position the pattern so that it starts three frets below A. For A minor, you start right on A. Because the major and minor scales form the same pattern, you really need to be familiar with only three lead patterns in all. These three patterns are major/minor, Mixolydian, and Dorian. Many guitar players never use much more than these.

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How to Group Notes on the Guitar

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Grouping notes together on the guitar helps you remember string areas that don’t connect easily to a common open chord or open string. As you review the note groups, take a few moments to rehearse all the notes in each group, playing through them forward and backward and calling them out as you go. After you have all these natural notes memorized, you can easily fill in the gaps with flats and sharps. A-B-C To start, take the first three notes on the 5th string: A-B-C. You can play this same group of notes with the same spacing beginning at the 5th fret of the 6th string. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna Wherever you find an A, B is always a whole step higher, and B and C are always a half step apart. If you memorize these notes on the 5th string between the open position and the 3rd fret, then you also know the notes on the 6th string between the 5th and 8th frets — they’re the same! C-D-E Similarly, you can group the notes C-D-E. These notes are always separated by whole steps. On the 5th string, they’re at frets 3, 5, and 7, and on the 6th string, they’re at frets 8, 10, and 12. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna Whenever you’re on a C, you can reach up a whole step to D and another whole step to E. Likewise, whenever you’re on an E, you can reach down a whole step to D and another whole step to C. E-F-G You can also group the notes E-F-G on the 6th and 5th strings. On the 6th string, these notes are between the open position and the 3rd fret; on the 5th string, they’re between the 7th and 10th frets. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna Wherever you find an E, F is always a half step higher, and F and G are always a whole step apart. F-G-A Finally, you can group the notes F-G-A, which are always separated by whole steps. On the 6th string, they’re at frets 1, 3, and 5; on the 5th string, they’re at frets 8, 10, and 12. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna Whenever your 1st finger is on F, you can reach up a whole step to G and another whole step to A. Similarly, whenever your 4th finger is on A, you can reach down a whole step to G and another whole step to F.

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