Thread: Easy guitar theory to move beyond Rocksmith... | Forums

  1. #1

    Easy guitar theory to move beyond Rocksmith...

    If you are an experienced player and know music theory, please ignore this wall of text (or point out mistakes). Otherwise, the following might be what you are looking for:

    So you have been playing Rocksmith for a bit: learned some chords, songs, riffs and techniques. Where do you go from here?

    If you want to get into writing music, improvising solos and widening your experiences, here is an easy way to start.

    Scales: why learn them? You may note that some chords in a song just seem to go together. You may have tried to put some random or convenient chords together yourself, and been able to hear which chords work together and which ones don't. The ones that work together are often comprised of notes in the same scale and key. When you learn the scales and how they fit together, writing songs that make musical sense becomes an easy task, as does improvising guitar solos.

    Is it easy? With a little dedication, yes. It is certainly a lot easier than spending years trying to "find" the right notes to play at the right times. Some guitar players will just learn one scale (usually Dorian). The seven modes whose frightening names you might hear thrown about by guitar players can all be played in one pattern. The determining factor is which note you consider to be the root note. Don't be intimidated by the likes of Major, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. They are all the same collection of notes, but starting and ending at different points.

    Now the question is, why learn several patterns for playing the same collection of notes? If you want to be able to traverse the entire fingerboard while playing solos, horizontally, vertically and diagonally, you will want to learn all of the patterns and how they fit together. Imagine jamming to a song, and being able to find the right notes to play ANYWHERE on the guitar...that is a good feeling. 15 minutes a day for a couple of weeks and you will be well on your way. Have you ever seen a guy play a guitar solo and keep his hand on the same part of the neck the whole time? Not very dynamic, is it...

    Since a standard tuned guitar is set to G (every open string is in the G Major scale), it is easy to start with learning the scales in G Major. Any other key will just be a matter of sliding to a different starting position. With learning the following scales, you can write songs in (to jam to songs in) G Major, A minor, and often times E minor, like Bridge of Sighs by Robin Trower. It is easy to play through them in time to a song in the same key.

    Or, throw together a loop of 3 or 4 chords from the scale and play in time. You can use any of these chords in any order and it will work:
    G Maj(7), Am(7), Bm(7), C Maj(7), D Maj, Em(7). The (7) means that the 7th chord is optional and will work as well. Again, why do these chords all work together and sound right when played together? Because they are comprised of notes from the same scale.

    Play the scales up and down at a speed in which you can hit each note cleanly such that no other note or string is ringing.
    (just like Rocksmiths ScaleRunner):
    thinnest string on top, thickest string on bottom. These are 5 vertical mode patterns:
    E|-2-3--5- E|---5-7-8 E|-7-8--10 E|--10---12--- E|---12---14-15
    B|---3--5- B|---5-7-8 B|-7-8--10 B|--10---12-13 B|---12-13---15
    G|-2--4-5- G|-4-5-7-- G|-7--9--- G|9---11-12--- G|11-12---14---
    D|-2--4-5- D|-4-5-7-- D|-7--9-10 D|9-10---12--- D|---12---14---
    A|-2-3--5- A|---5-7-- A|-7--9-10 A|9-10---12--- A|---12---14-15
    E|-2-3--5- E|---5-7-8 E|-7-8--10 E|--10---12--- E|---12---14-15 and then to an octave of the first pattern

    Many guitarists think of each mode as having an "anchor" fret, sort of like a home base for playing vertical patterns. Find the anchor fret the is the most economical for your comfort for each pattern. For example, the most commonly learned pattern is the second one, or Dorian. Many will consider the 5th fret as their anchor, making for economical movements for each set of notes on the same string, and only one fret shift of the anchor for the middle two strings (4-5-7 on the D and G strings).

    Why only 5 patterns for 7 modes of the same scale? Again, these are all the same collection of notes, so the mode you are playing depends on which note you start on. If you care, starting on the first note of the first pattern is the Locrian mode. Starting on the second note of the first pattern is the Ionian (Major) mode. (Think Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do). Starting on the first note of the second pattern is the famous Dorian mode, etc. Some of you may have learned this pattern as a sequence of whole steps (up 2 frets) and half steps (up one fret). Just to show you that all those modes are from the same set of notes, consider this:

    If we denote a whole step as "W" and a half-step as "H", the Major scale (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do) can be expressed as:
    1st note->W->W->H->W->W->W->H.

    The "1st" note is "Do", or the root of the Major scale, and the last "H" ends on the octave of "Do". So if you were to extend the scale into multiple octaves, remember that the last "H" (the last half step), takes you back to the first note. So we have:


    If you want a Dorian mode, start on the "Re". Re-W-H-W-W-W-H-W.
    If you want a Phrygian, start on the "Mi". Mi-H-W-W-W-H-W-W.
    If you want a Lydian, start on the "Fa": Fa-W-W-W-H-W-W-H.
    Mixolydian starts on the "So". So-W-W-H-W-W-H-W.
    Aeolian starts on the "La". La-W-H-W-W-H-W-W.
    Locrain starts on the "Ti". Ti-H-W-W-H-W-W-W.
    And Back to the octave of the Major (Ionian) Starting on "Do". Do-W-W-H-W-W-W-H.

    (The Major modes are in RED).

    After you get the patterns down, mix things up to keep those scales interesting (and bind them together):

    1) play each pattern ascending, descending, and in groups of three notes at a time as you ascend and descend.
    i.e., play the first three notes of a mode starting with the first note, then three more successive notes starting with the second note...
    E|-2-3-5--3-5---5--------------------all the way to the last note in the mode. Repeat for each pattern.

    2) play the scales horizontally on each string, one string at a time, to bind each pattern together:

    3) For each string, play the scale horizontally one string at a time, alternating between the open string and the next two successive notes in the scale:
    E|-0-2-3-0-3-5-0-5-7-0-7-8-0-8-10-0-10-12-0-12-14-0-14-15 and back on down to the start

    4) Speed pick the notes in the scale horizontally (on one string) and vertically (in a mode pattern)

    5) Run up and down vertical mode patterns with hammer-ons and pull-offs

    6) For each third note in the scale's vertical pattern, bend up to it from the second note as opposed to fretting it.

    7) Run through the horizontal scales by finger-tapping.

    I hope this gives you a good foundation to start on. Let me know if you want to see more and I can introduce the blue note (for you blues fans), the harmonic minor scales (for you neo-classical fans) and how they fit together.


    Now, on to the blue note. Attempt a brief experiment: Play a G Major chord, then immediately play a single note on the 5th string (A string), 6th fret. That note is a D#. Hopefully you can hear that the D# has NO BUISNESS being played with a G Major chord. It soulds bloody awful. That dissonance is called "the blue note". It is what makes the blues sound like angst. It is not to be triffled with. Think of it as ripping off a band-aid - a moment of pain, followed by relief.
    Here's what our Dorian shape looks like when we add the Blue note:


    The Blue note (seen in blue text) is often used as a transitional note. You get a brief sense that something is wrong when the note is played, because it clashes horribly with the other notes in the scale (or chords behind it). But dramatics are completed when you resolve the dissonance by leaving the blue note and returning to one that does make sense. Make sense? A lot of great blues riffs employ this sharp little gem. Try this one in E min:

    h denotes a hammer-on, / denotes a slide up

    As simple as that is, the cool sound comes from the blue note, the B flat (A string, 1st fret) and its resolution when it slides up to the B, thus completing the little phrase that marks our E chord.

    If you are trying to find the blue note in any Dorian shape, just add a note between the 4th and 5th notes in the scale. When improvising a solo or melody, be careful how long you stay on that note. A little pain can be good, but too much dissonance can be uncomfortable. The general rule is, don't start a phrase on the blue note and don't end on the blue note. I have only heard that done once (by Joe Satriani, who actually got away with it sounding really cool).
    And now for an easy substitution once you get the blue note down. Take our Dorian shape, and make the 4th note sharp (raise it a half step). What we are doing here is replacing the 5th note in the Major scale with the Blue note. Our result: a Harmonic Minor scale:


    Harmonic Minors sound great - depending on your phrasing, they can sound neo-classical, Arabic, Celtic, Indian or baroque. Since we eliminated our old 4th note in the Dorian to make way for a more exotic one, our chords that can be pulled out of the Harmonic Minor are more exotic. For the scale I have above, experiment with playing melodies over the following chords: Am(7), B Maj, C Maj (7), #D dim (7), Em, #F dim (7), G aug. The (7) denotes that you can play the 7th version of the chord as well.

    Here is a horizontal harmonic minor scale, with the finger above each note (1-index finger, 2-middle finger, 3-ring finger, 4-pinky) on the high E string:

    ....x. ..

    If I am playing a horizontal scale in groups, say tirads, I will use my index finger to anchor each group of 3 notes:

    ....x.1.4.x.1.2.x.1.3.x.1.2.x.1.3..x.1..3..x.1..2. .x.1..3..x.1..2..x.1..3
    E|--0-1-4-0-4-5-0-5-7-0-7-8-0-8-10-0-10-12-0-12-13- 0-13-16-0-16-17-0-17-19-

    BTW, for something fun, try this horizontal harmonic minor scale with finger tapping. Here is a classic harmonic minor tapping riff:


    Happy improvising.

    Now it is time to put those easy patterns to work:

    Some guitar players hit a brick wall when it comes to improvising. Not so much in the "Jazz Odyssey" sense, but whipping out a guitar solo on the fly while a friend plays the rhythm part to Johnny B Goode. Here are a couple of exercises that can help you release your inner guitar solo: This is not a set of instructions on HOW to improvise, but rather a set of exercises that help in learning how to improvise.

    1) Play the horizontal scales over a ringing open note. Hit the low E string and let it ring. While the string is ringing, play a horizontal scale on another string (like the D string). Switch up the timing on the notes - slide up to some, fret up to others, and even bend to the next note in the scale.

    let ring

    Try this with different open strings that ring, and other horizontal scales on other strings. Again, play with the timing of your notes, and allow yourself to expressively move up and down the neck by means of sliding, bending and fretting to the next note in the scale.

    2) Pick a group of three chords from this set: G Maj(7), Am(7), Bm(7), C Maj(7), D Maj, Em(7). The (7) means that the 7th chord is optional and will work as well. Play those three chords a couple of times until you get the sequence locked in your head. (Or, have a friend play them / record and loop them on your computer). Now, to time, pick a vertical mode and play the notes in the scale to the time of the rhythm part. You may find that some notes sound "right" when they land on certain chords.

    After running through the scale a few times, start to switch up the durration that you stay on a note before moving to the next. Go to some notes quicker, hang on the ones that sound better over the chord. Then start to expressivly go from one note in the scale to the next by either sliding to it, bending to it or fretting it directly. Pick some notes, hammer on and pull off to others.

    3) Once you are comfortable with exercises 1) and 2), it is time to start thinking about phrasing. For your three chord sequence, the first chord usually establishes the root note (or central tone that we will consider our "home base"). If your chords are, in order, Am -> D Maj -> C Maj, then A is our root. The mode shape that will likely be the most comfortable to start would be the Dorian, since it has the root (A) as the first note in the mode.

    Once the root is established, consider the following: (this will sound strange, but it is a FANTASTIC exercise for improvising)
    Think of a literal sentence in your head. It can be any sentence, long or short. Now play the sentence through notes in the mode...use the cadence in which you would vocalize the sentence in time to the rhythm. You may notice that some phrases sound more natural than others. Try phrases that start with the root note - try others that end on the root note. Get a feel for which phrases sound natural.

    Switch up how you move from one note to the next (fret, slide, bend, hammer/pull-off). Make some phrases end with a question mark (upwards bend), some end with an ex****ation mark (agressively played notes). Experiment with timing, agressiveness and subtlety.

    Every once in a while, you might play a phrase that sounds really cool. Immediately repeat it. Then repeat it again. Then again, but slightly change something. Some repetition, and then variations on that theme are a great phrasing technique.

    Expand your phrases to all of the mode shapes to cover the entire fretboard. Make some phrases strictly horizontal ones (on one string). Make others strictly vertical (in one vertical mode), and others diagonal (movement horizontally and vertically at the same time).

    Experiment and have fun. Let your skills and comfort develop naturally over time. Try not to play too fast - play the notes at a speed in which you can play them cleanly. Speed will come with time. Most of all, be aware that guitar skills are built in a stair-step fashion: you will notice a little jump in skills, then you will plane out for a while before the next jump.
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    crispyfunk's Avatar Senior Member
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    Oct 2011
    Thank you for the post this is something i have become Obsessed with , i feel like its my main goal in life to understand music theory to the point to where i can write music the way i want to hear it.

    nothing gives me more of a since of accomplishment than starting to understand this music theory its been a life long dream to understand this stuff no matter what the cost or how long it takes.

    thank you for the Help

    I have started with learning all the notes on my fret board at first i thought it would be hard to remember all the notes but i found a pattern and it became easy to find all of the same notes all over the neck

    the next thing I learned was all the positions in the A major scale , i can play each position fairly fast once i go over it once slowly but im getting faster at it. i can in vision all the different patterns for each position

    when can i play like bucketHead ?

    i have noticed that the patterns i learned are called Sweeping patterns they are a little bit different from the Conventional patterns your showing should i try to learn both? because its just a little bit different and wouldnt be that hard to remember both

    on second glance these patterns are very different from what i learned im only seeing 5 and you dont have a pattern for each note in the scale your skiping every other note it seems like or your just missing the second pattern and the fifth pattern
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    bradiam's Avatar Senior Member
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    Dec 2011
    Great post, thanks. I would love to see more stuff like this on the forums.

    Like Crispy, I have become a bit obsessed with it.
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    Originally Posted by crispyfunk Go to original post
    i have noticed that the patterns i learned are called Sweeping patterns they are a little bit different from the Conventional patterns your showing should i try to learn both? because its just a little bit different and wouldnt be that hard to remember both
    Different people will learn scale and mode patterns in the way that fits their hand the best. For example, the vertical mode patterns I have above allow for a triad (3 notes) on 5 out of 6 strings, and minimize horizontal movement. Some people with a wider finger reach will play the Dorian like this:


    Those triads on the A, D and G strings is easy for some, and allows for a solid anchor that doesn't need to shift on the 5th fret. For others, the reach might be uncomfortable from the 5th fret to the 9th fret, so they opt for the more compact pattern that requires an anchor shift. The important thing is to be able to run through a particular scale anywhere on the neck, and to move between them as well. A little speed picking, a bucket of chicken and you can now play just like bucketHead.
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    crispyfunk's Avatar Senior Member
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    Oct 2011
    is their a reason you didnt put in the First and the fourth pattern or i guess i should say the Ionian and the lydian patterns of the G major scale?

    your progression is starting with (Locrian)(7) you skip(ionian)(1) and went to (Dorian)(2)- (Phrygian)(3)-you skip (Lydian)(4) and go to(MixoLydian)(5)-(Aeolian)(6)
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  6. #6
    rcole_sooner's Avatar Moderator
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    Mar 2009
    Norman, OK
    I wish I did not have brain lock on this stuff, I'd be a much better player.
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  7. #7
    i'd recommend Guitar Fretboard Workbook by Barrett Tagliarino as a really good starting point

    after nearly 30 years of only playing from tab with no understanding of theory whatsoever,
    this was the first thing to really click for me.

    i find it very accessible, and barring a couple quick jumps in the learning curve late in the book; quite well paced.
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  8. #8
    Originally Posted by crispyfunk Go to original post
    is their a reason you didnt put in the First and the fourth pattern or i guess i should say the Ionian and the lydian patterns of the G major scale?
    All 7 modes are there in the 5 patterns - again, the mode you are playing only depends on which note you consider to be the root. The 5 given vertical patterns are cut out of the modes to be economical for hand positioning and finger movement. Some people prefer different vertical shapes - some prefer diagonal movement to learn scales, but I think the most gentle introduction into scales would use vertical shapes that are economical to move through and have patterns that are easier to learn.
    I would imagine a lot of players aren't very concerned wih the mode names: they are likely more concerned with where the right notes are, and what the best way is to get from one to another. Once you know where the notes are, you can predict what the next note will sound like before you play it - then you are half way to improvising.
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    crispyfunk's Avatar Senior Member
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    Oct 2011
    that makes since i just wish i could sit down one on one with a teacher i have a hard time visualizing this stuff some times and i find that its mostly because im trying to make it out to be harder than it really is
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  10. #10
    crispyfunk's Avatar Senior Member
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    Oct 2011
    Originally Posted by rcole_sooner Go to original post
    I wish I did not have brain lock on this stuff, I'd be a much better player.
    this is how i have felt and to some point still feel this way.

    what i think helped me was i had to think simple for me all this information is locked in a children s song called Doh Ray Me, that song is the KEY to understanding all of these modes and positions, In my honest opinion if you can play the major scale then you can do this its just a small step from playing the scales in one position to playing all the positions of a scale , if your thinking its going to be harder than learning one Major scale than your making it seem to hard like i have done for the whole 15 years i have played guitar its only been with in the last month that this stuff is not seeming as hard as it once did
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