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

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

Author:
Desi Serna
Published: October 7, 2013

Overview

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.
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.
Guitar Theory For Dummies Cheat Sheet

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.

Articles From The Book

120 results

Guitar Articles

How to Play the Blues Scale on the Guitar

You can’t talk about blues on the guitar without mentioning the so-called blues scale, which is really just a pentatonic scale with a chromatic passing tone. This added scale tone is a f5th in the minor pentatonic. When the pattern is applied as major, the same note in the patterns becomes a f3rd.

Here is an example that includes A minor pentatonic patterns with added f5ths shown in gray.

Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

You can see an example in Chapter 15, Video Clip 38: Playing the Blues Scale.

You don’t have to memorize and practice all these blues scale patterns, but you should at least try them all and commit the first one to memory. That way, as you work through songs with blues elements in them, you’ll be able to make sense of any f5ths you see.

Because C is the relative major to A minor, you use the same notes and patterns to play C major pentatonic that you use to play A minor pentatonic. The only difference is which note functions as the tonic and counts as the 1st scale degree.

Here are the same patterns redrawn with the C notes marked as 1. Everything has been renumbered from there. So what was a f5th in the A minor blues scale becomes a f3rd in the C major blues scale.

Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

You can transpose blues scale patterns to play blues scales in other keys. For instance, if you want to play a minor blues scale for a particular note on the 6th string, put your 1st finger on it and play the 1st pattern. If you want to play a major blues scale for a note on the 6th string, put your 4th finger on it and play the 1st pattern.

Putting your 4th finger on a note means that you actually start the 1st pattern three frets lower with your 1st finger. For example, the 1st A minor blues scale pattern starts at the 5th fret with the 1st finger. The 1st A major blues scale pattern starts at the 2nd fret with the 1st finger, putting your 4th finger at the 5th fret on A.

Songs that make use of the major or minor blues scale at some point include the following:

“Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band
“Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin
“Love Her Madly” by The Doors
“The Old Man Down the Road” by John Fogerty
“Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan
“Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors
“Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer
“Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
“Take It Easy” by the Eagles
“Truckin’” by Grateful Dead

Some songs, like “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin and “Manic Depression” by Jimi Hendrix, make use of an additional chromatic passing tone in the pentatonic scale. Specifically, they add a chromatic step in between f7 and 1 in the minor pentatonic, as shown here.

Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Whenever you’re applying the pentatonic scale, whether it’s major or minor and whether you’re using it on a blues song or something else, you can always try using chromatic passing tones. If they sound good to your ears, go with them. If they don’t, skip them.

Blues music often features chromatic passing tones. Whenever you come across a run of three or more notes in consecutive frets, you’re probably just connecting pentatonic scale tones with chromatics.

Guitar Articles

How to Mix Up the Blues Scale Options on the Guitar

Blues-based music on the guitar usually applies all three of the scales (that is, the major and minor pentatonic, as well as the full dominant scale) by mixing them up on the fretboard. To begin this mix, combine the major and minor pentatonic scales, as shown here.

Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

You can see an example in Chapter 15, Video Clip 36: Mixing Major and Minor Pentatonic.

Notice that the mixture of both major and minor pentatonic scales includes all the notes from the dominant scale, too. So you’ve covered all your bases! You can move these scale patterns around the fretboard to play over other dominant 7th chords. For example, move everything up one fret to play over Bf7. Move everything down two frets to play over G7. You get the idea.

The following songs provide perfect examples of mixing major and minor pentatonic scale patterns over a chord with a dominant 7th tonality:

  • In “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, most of the guitar solos, including the famous opening to the song, are based in the pentatonic mix except that it’s moved up one fret to Bf.

  • “Crossroads (Live at Winterland)” by Cream, featuring Eric Clapton, is based in A and uses both A major and A minor pentatonic, sometimes mixed together, and other times used independently.

  • In “Sunshine of Your Love,” also by Cream, Clapton alternates between D major and D minor pentatonic scales.

Some other songs that feature lead guitarists either mixing or alternating between major and minor pentatonic scales include

“All Right Now” by Free (A)
“Flirtin’ with Disaster” by Molly Hatchet (E)
“Get Back” by The Beatles (A)
“Hard to Handle” by The Black Crowes (B)
“Red House” by Jimi Hendrix (B with guitars tuned down one half-step to Ef)

Guitar Articles

How to Play Twelve-Bar Blues on the Guitar

After you know how to approach a dominant 7th chord in a blues fashion on the guitar, you’re ready to tackle a whole chord progression. The most common type of blues chord progression is the so-called twelve-bar blues. It’s based on what appears to be the I-IV-V chords of a key, and it’s actually one of the most popular chord progressions in all of popular music. The twelve-bar blues chord progression has many variations. Here is one very basic example in A. This example has three parts. The first guitar is playing a typical shuffle rhythm, using 5ths and 6ths, while the second guitar is strumming some 7th and 9th chords on the upbeat. The third part is a walking bass line drawn from the dominant scale of each chord.

Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna
You can hear and play along with Chapter 15, Audio Track 23:
Blues Play-Along Track in A. You can see how to play over a 12-bar blues progression in Chapter 15, Video Clip 37: Playing Over a 12-Bar Blues Progression.

Blues progressions like the one shown are considered to be I-IV-V progressions. However, only one scale degree produces a dominant 7th chord, and that’s the 5th, V. So because each chord is some form of dominant 7th, each one is actually a V7 chord from a different scale. In other words, blues progressions are really V7-V7-V7, with each V7 chord representing a different parent major scale.

The chords in the diagram break down like this:
  • A7 is V7 from the D major scale.

  • D7 is V7 from the G major scale.

  • E7 is V7 from the A major scale.

You can see these in the bass line. The bass plays the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and f7th on each chord. These intervals are drawn from each chord’s parent major. You can think of each scale as being Mixolydian since the 5th is the tonic. Because the 5th mode is better known as the dominant scale, the scales used over each chord are A dominant, D dominant, and E dominant. Here’s another thing to consider: Each chord is drawn from a different parent major scale, so each chord change is technically a key change. But because the tonic chord in the whole progression is A, musicians think of everything as being in the key of A, which is why they still count the chords as I-IV-V. Notice that the key signature is A major throughout and that each chord requires the use of accidentals, except for E7, which is drawn from the A major scale. Here are different ways to play the twelve-bar blues progression, using the example shown. As you experiment with these options, remember to walk before you run. Start with an easy option, like sticking with one pentatonic scale over a whole progression, and gradually add on from there as you become more proficient.

How to switch dominant scales on the blues guitar

As you play over these blues changes, you can switch dominant scales as you go. You don’t have to stick to the intervals and patterns that the bass uses. Instead, feel free to play in any position on the neck and use any degrees from the scales. Here is one way to switch scales by staying near the 5th position.
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna
Note: The patterns shown here are simply major scale patterns. Just because they are labeled as dominant scales doesn’t mean they’re new patterns. Refer to the parent major scales in parentheses if you need help identifying them. Each pattern starts on the tonic of each dominant scale, but you’re free to play any other notes that belong to the scale, including those that may occur below the tonics.

How to play minor pentatonic on the blues guitar

Knowing how to play and switch full dominant scales is important to understanding how a blues progression is put together and how you can approach such a progression as a soloist. However, blues guitarists usually opt for a different and much simpler approach. The preferred scale among blues players is the minor pentatonic, and instead of switching scales, they stick with one minor pentatonic scale over the whole progression.

How to use a major pentatonic scale on the blues guitar

Using minor over major is by far the most common choice among blues soloists, but another option is to play a major pentatonic scale over a whole blues progression. For example, you can use A major pentatonic over everything. The sound isn’t quite as bluesy, but it works.

When bluesmen use the major pentatonic, they usually mix it with the minor pentatonic, as you hear in songs like “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, “Crossroads” by Cream, and “All Right Now” by Free. Keep in mind that this blues technique is very popular and also applies to other styles of music, especially rock, pop, country, folk, and jazz.

How to change pentatonic scales on each chord

Aside from sticking with one pentatonic scale over a whole blues progression, you can also change pentatonic scales on each chord. So in you’d play A pentatonic over A7, D pentatonic over D7, and E pentatonic over E7, with the use of major or minor, or a mix thereof, being your choice. Generally speaking, rock and blues players like to keep things simple and stick with pentatonic scales that correspond only to the tonic chord in a progression. Changing scales over each chord is far more common in country and jazz. However, a good example of a blues-based song that does some switching over chords with major and minor pentatonic scales is “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” by Georgia Satellites.