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1.What is music theory

Music theory is the language of music and the study of how music is put together. Having an understanding of music theory is helpful in many ways. For example, when teaching it is much easier & quicker to communicate ideas to a student if the student has a good knowledge of theory. If you play in a band ideas can be passed around and expressed clearly and concisely if the members have good theory knowledge. For lead guitarists theory helps you put the right scale with the right chords. For writers and composers it provides clear direction on chord progressions and melody.

Almost all of the top guitarists today have a good knowledge of theory as well as strong technique. If you want to join them you will need the same.

Music was around a long time before theory came along so it could be said that theory is just a way of writing down and remembering things that sound good. I have come across students who have no musical knowledge what so ever but have written some great music. When we have sat down and analysed what they have written we have found that their music conforms with accepted music theory. The reason for this, I believe, is that we grow up listening to music and are conditioned to hear music in a certain way. Therefore when we write music it conforms to the musical patterns we have grown up listening to. If somebody can write music with no theory knowledge what is the point of learning theory? By learning why your music sounds a certain way theory can help you recreate that sound or avoid it. It should also open up new musical avenues for you to explore.

Finally, music theory will help you gain an insight into how your guitar works. Attempting to jam with other musicians without theory is guesswork usually. Theory gets you straight in and playing something cool which surely is what playing an instrument is about.

Next up:  Lesson 2 – Naming the notes

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How To Read Guitar Tab

Guitar tab is a method of getting guitar music on paper without having to read music. The advantage of tab is it is relatively easy to learn and you can be learning songs very soon after learning to read it. The disadvantage is tab has no rhythm notation so can be tricky to learn songs you are not familiar with.

Example 1

The horizontal lines represent the six strings on the guitar. The thickest E string is at the bottom up to the thinnest E string at the top. You read tab from left to right so the first three notes in the above example would be played one at a time.

The numbers on the lines tell you which fret to play. The first note you would play on the above example is the 3rd fret on the A String.

A zero represents an open string, so the second note on the above example is an open D string. The third note would be the second fret on the G string.

When the notes are stacked on top of each other like at the end of the above example this means you play the notes at the same time. Hopefully if you play the last stack of notes together you should end up with an A Major chord.

There are many more symbols associated with tab but we will learn these as we go along.

How To Read Chord Boxes

A chord is a group of notes played together to create a certain type of sound. The type of sound the chord makes depends upon the notes used in the chord. There are many diferent types of chord with Major and Minor chords being the most common. When you learn a new chord listen carefully to the sound and mood it creates. The following chord is a D Major.

D major chord box

The Chord Box

The horizontal lines on the diagram represent the frets with the double one at the top being the nut. The vertical lines represent the strings with the thickest on the left. The black dots tell you where to put your fingers and the numbers next to them tell you which finger to use. An “X” next to a string means dont play it and an “O” next to a string means pluck the string without fretting any notes, this is called an open string.

When playing chords first of all make sure you are only plucking the strings you should be doing. Then pluck the strings one at a time starting with the thickest and make sure each note rings out clearly with no unwanted buzzing or muting. If the chord isn’t sounding right you will have to adjust your fingers and sometimes press a little bit harder. Check your fingers are only on the string they should be and are not resting on the fret wire. When you are happy the chord is correct it is time to strum the chord. Strumming means playing all the notes at virtually the same time plucking the strums using a downward sweeping motion.

Next:  Beginners Chords

Thoughts on Guitar Practice

In this lesson I will show you how to master the guitar in twenty minutes. Learn all the tricks , techniques and scales the pro’s use.
We have all seen the ads that claim to show you how to do this.  Well here I am going to show you how to do it for free.
OK now for the truth.
You cant master the guitar in twenty minutes.  To learn to play an instrument takes time, a lifetime in fact, there will always be something that you can do better.  You will reach different levels of playing along the way but once you reach one level you will find there is a higher level to aim for.
The only way you will improve your playing is practice,and good quality practice. Speak to guitarists you admire, the guitarist in you favourite local band, your teacher, or read articles by your guitar heroes and you will find one common thread running between them. They all practiced, a lot.

Some thoughts on practicing. 

You should practice as often as you can.  Twenty minutes a day is better than two hours every Sunday.  If you practice infrequently you may find that the improvement you made in your last session is gone by the next time you pick your guitar up.
Order Your Practice. Put together a routine with your teacher which focuses on the areas you want to improve on and sustains the areas you are currently happy with.  If you practice nothing but sweep arpeggios for six months you may find the rest of your playing suffers.
Set Targets.  By setting targets you can clearly see how much your playing is improving over time.  Seeing your improvement provides good motivation for further practice.
Practice Slowly and Accurately.  If you practice at a speed which is too high for you, you will end up making more mistakes and playing sloppily.  In the long term you will succeed in becoming a very good sloppy guitarist who makes lots of mistakes.
So there you go.  Master the guitar in twenty minutes….a day.

Why Learn Guitar Anyway?

There has never been a better time than now to take up the guitar.

My first electric guitar was a white strat copy.  At the time it was a reasonable quality beginners guitar.  The action was so high you could have driven a truck between them and the neck, the frets so flat it had a fret less feel to it, and tuning pegs that Arnie at his prime would have struggled with and I loved it.  The choice of beginners guitars was quite limited and amps were almost impossible to find at an affordable price.
My amplifier was a RSC combo 5.  Never seen another one like it. It was a 5 watt practice amp with an oval speaker.  I poked holes in the speaker as I heard this would make it distort. It did, but in a rubbish way.  I also used this as a bass amp, it distorted well enough with a bass plugged into it.  It finally died when I stuck a switched on soldering iron into the back of it in an attempt to re solder the speaker wire back on.  I had neglected to turn the amp off and when the iron hit a live wire it went bang.  Thankfully I survived.

This was replaced with a Carlsbro Cobra amplifier.  This was certainly a step up from my RSC as it had two gain controls and a parametric eq and would produce an almost respectable distortion.    It had one channel so a clean sound was produced by backing the guitars volume control off.  I kept this amp until I left music school and started getting some professional playing work when I replaced it with my first Mesa/Boogie.
My next guitar was a Washburn WP50 Les Paul purchased from spectre sound in Bingley.  This was a cool guitar.  I learned to play on this guitar by trying to figure out Mark Knopfler phrases off a old cassette recording of sultans of swing.  Even now my left shoulder is slightly lower than my right due to the hours stood practising with this heavy beast round my shoulder.

Next up came the Ibanez Jem which is still my mainstay.  We used to stand and stare at this Guitar in Peps music shop window in true Wayne’s world fashion.  I couldn’t believe that this guitar was mine after I had bought it.


The point of all this rambling is this.  For around £200 now you can have a starter guitar and amp of good quality compared to the beginners instruments of yesterday.  You no longer have to struggle learning to play on instruments with dubious action, low quality materials, and dodgy finishes.  If you are thinking of taking up the guitar, whatever age you are, get down the music shop or the online store and get yourself a starter pack.  Find a teacher or try some free online lessons and get on with it.  You wont regret it