Before I discovered the system of understanding the guitar, not only in music theory, but in a practical way to apply it to the guitar, I learned from the box scales how to solo. Then came my first blues scale, you know the one that we all learn, starting at the 5th position and involving the flat 5 or “Blues note”! I recall thinking to myself, “Man if I could just learn to play some mean blues I’ll be set”.
A great many years went by and I discovered that while I was playing pretty well, and managing to express myself, there were times when I’d hear others playing the blues and they seemed to have more notes, and smarter note choices. Because I didn’t understand much of what I was doing, it was beginning to wear on me.
I managed a little more soloing mileage with the famous BB King Blues box. Particularly in Bends, that Money Note (The last note in the box) when bent, felt like I was connecting to the “mojo” of all the other guitar gods before me.
That did it for a while, but still I started hearing these other notes that simply weren’t in the Blues shapes or BB’s box, and I began to wonder what they were, were they from Mixolydian? Were they some obscure Jazz idea that no one was copping to? You do know that many guitar players have a bag of tricks they pick up over the years, and they keep these close to their chest. After all its their Ace in the Hole, its what makes them stand out when they need to kick it into high gear. I have them, we all do, and we don’t reveal them easily. Why should we? No one revealed it to us. It’s sort of one of those things you have to be hungry enough to want it for yourself, to go out and discover, like a diamond in music.
When I was in my hunt for those elusive notes, I really had no idea where to begin. I had no foundation in theory or understanding the musical fretboard beyond a few tired patterns. That didn’t come till years later, but today I’m going to share with you what I ultimately discovered, what it was, how it worked and why it worked.
You don’t need to know music theory for guitar, but if you do it will make sense. If you don’t, and want to learn an easy systematic and progressive approach to not only unlocking the mysteries of the fretboard to the guitar, but also giving you the music theory understanding of a guru, then consider enrolling as an online student at the Rock N Blues Guitar Academy. Note that I said it was easy. Easy is the key word here, because most methods are anything but. No method out there is easier or more thorough than ours. But, lets get back to our lesson.
In music, there are two kinds of notes, and neither of them are “bad” notes. In fact, there are no wrong notes on the guitar. There are notes which create tension and notes that resolve or have no tension. If you play a note in a scale that relates to chords in a given key, you have note harmony, and relatively little tension. Our Academy students sometimes call these “safe” notes, because when you play them you are “safe” from sounding off, or bad. Nothing wrong with that, but if nothing is ever given tension, nothing really interesting can be sustained either.
Tension notes that “throw” the ear, that say “Watch out, what was that?” and then sound “good” again are the notes that we want to hear, to make things sound good, even for a second. Otherwise after a while, nothing will sound remarkable. You can string skip, sweep arpeggio you way through, and whatever you like, but after a while, nothing’s going to sound all that interesting.
This dissatisfaction and resulting void led to my search and self-study of the guitar that spanned over a decade, and what I discovered became the very things that we teach everyday, concerning advanced guitar knowledge and applied music theory. But back to the lesson, concerning those elusive notes that I’d hear, I’d discovered them years before my journey had concluded, and these notes are shown below in white.
These were the notes, but it wasn’t until I had come out of my own journey of learning music theory that I understood what was going on with the guitar. First of all, let’s look at the elusive notes:
Finally I had discovered them, but what are they? At the time I didn’t know, but for those of you who are interested in music theory on the guitar, here it is. I wasted a good many years climbing up that mountain, before I understood theory. Its a sad moment when a guitar player realizes that for the several years they’ve been playing they really haven’t moved much at all.
As I said before, when you have music notes outside a scale, you create “tension” Tension can be good, in fact it can be very good! The outside notes in question were Major 3rds over a Minor Chord. Inside the scale, the Minor 3rd of A, is a C. A minor consists of only 3 notes: A C and E. All of these notes were found in the A Pentatonic Minor scale, so guess what? No Tension. Nothing overly interesting going on.
The A Major Chord has the 3rd raised a half step making the notes A C# and E. This C# Played in the A Minor scale created a dissonance (temporarily) of Major versus Minor, which….added interest and shine to the lead licks I was hearing. Instantly this little trick of playing Major 3rds mixed in against my usual Minor Pent licks worked perfectly. Now you can use them too. A couple of notes about them though:
If you land and stay on the note, be prepared for a jolt. It will sound off and wrong, and create and maintain a lot of TENSION.
The best way to use them, is to consider them specific “Passing” notes that you can use to add a little zing to your playing. Use them on the way to a note that you’re ultimately going to resolve to. This very quick tension and release, is very effective, and has a “What was that? Oh now it’s gone approach” that the ear LIKES.
If you too would like to unleash your own applied knowledge of the fretboard, or perhaps learn to instantly name the notes of any chord like a computer, or analyze what you are playing to gain further insight and development from theory as its applied to the guitar, like I have demonstrated in this little lesson, consider enrolling as a student in our Academy – the first course is absolutely risk free. You can learn guitar theory easy online at your own pace. Have a look at our site at www.rnbacademy.com, and let us know if we can help. We are a real school that operates every single day in South Texas, and has been helping area guitarists since 2004. We are absolutely passionate about helping guitarists totally master their understanding of their instrument.
In the meantime, have fun and happy jamming!