This topic firmly falls within "should I learn music theory?". Music theory is a vast subject, and it is up to the individual to decide how far they wish to go. However, learning small parts that help you develop as a musician and make playing and learning easier is an absolute must.
Beginning learning chords on the guitar is all about learning chord "Shapes", and we learn to associate the names of chords with these shapes. We learn some more, and then barre chords are introduced. Finally, there is a realisation of how many different chord shapes we must learn.
It is simpler if we apply a little bit of music theory and take our base chords that we first learn and learn the function of each note and modify the chord to suit. Let us take our humble open "E" chord
If we lift our 1st finger, the chord becomes a minor chord. If we lift our 3rd finger, the chord becomes a 7 chord. If we lift both our 1st finger and the 3rd finger, it is an m7 chord. If we put our 4th finger down on the 2nd fret of the 1st string, it is an add 9 chord, keep it there and lift the 3rd finger and it is a 9 chord, lift the 1st finger as well, and it is an m9 chord.
If we do not understand each chord's notes' function, then what I described is confusing and information overload. However, if we learn that little bit of music theory associated with chord construction, we know:-
We can alter the basic C, D, A and G open chord shapes accordingly to create the same. Apply these to Barre chord shapes, and suddenly, the amount we have to learn is not overwhelming.
Next week I will cover more about how this works with a slight dash of theory thrown in to make it easier to understand.
Pentatonic scales frequently are criticised and thought of as purely for beginners, with some advanced players considering it beneath them. And yet they have a wealth of possibilities that open up improvisational skills that bridge the gap from the basics to chromatic note choices.
The starting point is probably the source of these issues, with the minor pentatonic being one of the first scales to learn. Once you have it, you now play a solo using it and produce something that you struggle to make sound good. It is not the scale’s fault, but it is the fault of a lack of demonstrating how to use it correctly, note choice, expressive techniques, sequences, intervallic sequences, and letting the music breath, all of which make you sound good improvising.
This blog is about the actual scale and its practical use to develop your understanding of how the notes you play fit into the chords.
Keeping it simple, songs are in a Major or Minor key. The chords correspond to this key throughout the song. Let us choose Major and play the Major Pentatonic over this chord progression. Sounds OK but doesn’t always fit well, and this is due to the chords changing underneath. To develop our musical understanding, we should change the Pentatonic scale we play according to the chord currently being played. The very act of doing this starts the focus of the chord tones, changing tonal centres and the notes we should play over which chord.
Far easier a concept to understand than to achieve in practice, this one step takes a lot of work in understanding chord progressions, understanding where the notes on the neck lie and the knowledge of the minor and major pentatonic scales all over the neck.
The following steps combine the pentatonic scales with the key’s Major or Minor pentatonic scale. We are getting to this stage and now playing in modes of the original key without having to learn them thoroughly. (In fact, it is easier to learn modes from here as the application is already in place)
Basics covered, we move onto the minor’s and compensate for the alteration of the V chord from Minor to Major. Start to include the Dominant Pentatonic and the Half Diminished pentatonic, and we are getting into fairly advanced territory.
The first obvious question is left or right-handed guitar? It is not necessarily the case that a left-handed person plays a left-handed guitar or a right-handed person plays a right-handed guitar.
The best way to refer to this is a right-handed guitar should be on the left leg and a left-handed guitar on the right leg. However, it is good to know why and what difficulties you will face if you don’t follow this guide rather than dictate this.
Your Back – Your Shoulders are angled when sitting with the guitar on the wrong leg leading to back pain and posture issues. When on the correct leg, the shoulders are level.
Standing up to play – If you ever want to perform standing up, the guitar will be in a different place to your hands if you play seated with it on the wrong leg. The difference in hand position leads to more mistakes. On the other hand, if you sit down from standing, the guitar naturally falls into place on the correct leg.
The angle of the neck – The guitar neck is angled upwards when on the correct leg and is less strain on your fretting hand wrist. The guitar neck usually angles downwards on the wrong leg, encouraging more wrist bend and strain.
The fretting arm on leg – Due to the angle of the neck, the fretting arm sits on the leg. When on the correct leg, the arm cannot rest on the leg and has the freedom to move.
Neck Access – On the correct leg, your body doesn’t stop access to the upper areas of the neck.
Finger Stretch – Instantly, you have more finger stretch available for those problematic chords and licks due to all the posture corrections above.
And finally, I agree, it doesn’t feel natural to have your guitar on the correct leg at first. But, with a bit of effort, you quickly get used to it and notice the difference in your playing.