View Poll Results: Do you use theory and scales in your guitar playing?

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Thread: How important are scales and theory in your guitar playing?

  1. #491
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    Quote Originally Posted by rob aylestone View Post
    I've heard this many times before, and it's worthy of some rebuffment - despite what they actually said. If you study music theory, you learn new vocabulary, and sets of rules that get stuck to, unless you know better. The rules are complex, the vocabulary damn hard and most of it has links to physics too.

    Modes are the one that always get talked about. People having to learn the names of the different scales as if the name is important. Most self-taught musicians start with the key of C. C, G and D are the ones guitarists often get from books, when for much of our music from the 50's onwards would have been more handy as E, A, B and D. People bang on about modes when they just define things differently. Very often when people learn them, they learn them in isolation, with no link to anything. I remember a young friend of mine proudly telling his mate he had learned the G Mixolydian scale. I said I only knew the C Ionian one. Being a smartarse I milked this for all it was worth.

    The upshot is that most self-taught musicians know Majors and minors, they know 7ths - both kinds eventually. They usually know what a 6th is, and Perfect 5ths are everyday stuff for the chuggers. They just don't know the words - they know the sound. The people in that list new this stuff, they used it in the stuff they wrote, they just didn't know they knew this stuff as it came to them because they are musicians.

    Knowing all the modes so you can play them solo, as a scale is not really very musical. It's memory and maths. The folk who stand in and just ask what the first chord is, or what key it is are the good ones. Somebody says slow blues in Bb, and they can play it. I bet if you suddenly froze time half way through the song, they'd have to look at their hands, count the frets and say after a pause, Eb - even though they just played it perfectly. Happens to me all the time. We're perhaps playing through and suddenly the keys guy says "after you play the C through to the Eb, can you go down quickly to an E - and I don't even remember playing C to Eb. If he suddenly throws out a sequence of note names I'm lost. If I say can you play it, and he does, I know exactly what to do. The intervals and fret positions are in my head. I don't play by note names, often never looking at the fretboard at all as I'm singing and cannot look down. I navigate by finger memory. When I get a job reading, I play the notes and then often get to the end of a song and have no memory at all of what I just played.

    I bet Kurt Cobain knew loads of sequences of notes he used regularly, and just didn't know what their correct names and terms were - he just used them because they sounded right!
    In addition to all you said (which I agree with)...I'll just add that in some ways, I think focusing on which mode or even which scale...ends up being more of a limitation than a benefit...unless...you're so deep into all that theory, and you can recite it in your sleep, so that even though you *know* the mode, the scale, the notes...you're still able to play "beyond that knowledge", and just focus on the music.
    What I mean is that for the less than deep theorists...when you kinda focus on "what mode am I in"...it can box you in, same as when people focus on the pentatonic "boxes" they play on the fretboard.

    While I do know what key a song is in and which scale might be appropriate...I prefer to try and stretch that somewhat and go outside of those boxes, and by not focusing on "what mode am I in"...I'm just playing what sounds good and I'm finding new ways to approach some things where otherwise I would be just sticking the that known scale or mode that works.
    Lately I've been finding "new notes" when I'm just jamming to some well worn backing tracks...notes that wouldn't fall into any "appropriate" scale or mode category, but they can work when phrased in, in a certain way. Notes that individually just sound out of key...and they are...but strung in with the "right" notes a certain way, they give a different flavor to the lines....and frankly, I have not yet even bothered to try and theoretically figure out WTF I'm actually playing.

    TBH...I'm finding that for a lot of Rock/Pop stuff where one might go for a typical pentatonic blues scale or a major scale...it's possible to play almost all the notes in-between and make them work...with maybe just 1-2 that will simply never fit. What I mean is...there's a lot you can do outside of those typical scales where normally one might feel obligated to stick to them because they know it's this scale and this mode...etc.
    A deep theorist could probably stand there and tell me..."You're playing this...and now you're playing that"...but OK, I don't get anything from that or feel any more inspired. Sometimes if you know what is "appropriate" ...what scale and mode, and notes...then you may not try anything beyond that.

    We all develop our own perspectives of what we are playing...even if we don't know are give names to it...and as long as you know the basics of some theory, when someone yells out the first chord, you're going to know what to play, and certainly by the 3rd or 4th chord there will be little doubt...even if you have no idea what the proper names are of what you are playing.
    Deep theory is great when everyone in the room is also deep into it...and then THAT is the language used for music communication...but I think even the guys who have no idea about basic theory, often find a way to communicate when they play together a few times.

  2. #492
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    There's just no substitute for knowing your scales. Theory more broadly, I couldn't say. I don't know much of it apart from the how to build standard and color chords and which chords generally go with which tones in a scale. Here is one thing any player ought to learn to do, automatically and effortlessly: Play a major scale starting and finishing on any degree in that scale. Whether you want to talk of "modes" or whatever, if you can visualize and play the major scale from any degree, you've already unlocked a lot of fretboard knowledge.

    For example, I can play a major scale treating G as the root. I know that E is the sixth degree of that scale, and that if I play all the notes in the G major scale starting and ending at E, I've also just played E natural minor. I know I can build other minor scales by starting on the second (A), third (B), or seventh (F#) degree of that G major scale. And I can build other major scales starting on the fourth (C) or fifth (D) degree.

    And I can treat any one of those degrees as the root of its own corresponding minor or major scale, and build out a chord progression around it, using the notes and chords in the G major scale.

    I struggle to remember the names of the modes. But the stuff I just mentioned is super useful knowledge that comes into play every single day, in playing and writing songs.

  3. #493
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    Quote Originally Posted by miroslav View Post
    Once we got into the Internet heavily from the late '90s, I remember seeing tabs in the early 2k's online, and at first paid them little mind, but as time went by I noticed they were everywhere on guitar sites.
    From 92'-96' I had subscriptions for Guitar World and other mags, and all for the tabs. I didn't see a reason to memorize notation, and tab is no different than it really. Just another set of symbols dictating a piece of music. I already know numbers - why memorize another set of keys?

    Is there anything that separates notation from tab? The measures and tempo are there in tab, so is there another element missing? Genuinely asking - I grew up on tabs, so I'm not familiar with notation. I told my teacher back in 91' forget the notation (I was 9, lol), I just want to learn punk and rock songs.
    "No healthy person waits in line with a slew of geriatrics on a Sunday morning for pancakes" - RFR https://soundcloud.com/andrushkiwt

  4. #494
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    Well, if you've never heard the song before, tabs aren't helpful at all because they just tell you where to put your fingers, not how long to hold them there. Notation gives time duration of each note, so it's much more valuable. Though, to do that you have to learn note and rest duration and the notes of both staffs. So, it takes a lot more time and effort.

    I'd say if you never plan to play others music without hearing it then you don't really need notation, though one could argue it still helps with subdivision (I'd argue you're better off learning rudimentary drums to learn how to subdivide, though).

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  6. #495
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    I can't do tab at all, apart from working through, one finger at a time. Just because I grew up on the other system. You could argue conventional notation lacks the ability to say where to play it on the neck, which it does - and sometimes it takes a while to work out the best way, and indeed your best could be different from my best. They're just different, and do slightly different things. Tab is more precise in how to play it, but conventional notation is more precise in cases where different notes are played for different times. Notation flows, and tab is blocks joined up. In honesty, it's what you find best isn't it. Some conventional folk have real trouble with drum notation because it has multiple things on the same line. Doesn't cause a drummer an issue though. Conventional notion also requires a memory - because the notion that a D might not be a D but a Db because a few bars back there was a symbol telling you so always seemed a very strange way to do it.

  7. #496
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    What I grew up with --- i.e., guitar mags in the mid 80s onward --- always combined a tab staff with a standard notation staff, so you had not only the fret locations but also the rhythmic duration of all the notes. So that's what I'm used to, and that's still the standard for most guitar magazines these days---has been for a long time.

    Now ... the stuff you see on the internet everywhere that's just submitted by anyone and everyone ... yeah that's mostly just tab.

    When I went to UNT, my sight-reading improved dramatically, because tab was nowhere to be found. In classical guitar, they have clues in the notation to tell you where notes are on the neck, but when doing things like reading melodies to jazz standards and such (which we did often at UNT), you're on your own to place the notes on the neck. I got good at scanning the whole piece of music to get a sense of the range and to make a plan of which position(s) I was going to use.

    I tell you what ... some of the folks there were just the most amazing sight-readers I've ever seen. I knew a sax player from the 1 o'clock lab band (the top level band in the jazz school), and she told me that she typically reads about 6 or 7 measures ahead of what she's actually playing! Granted, she only ever reads single notes (not chords), but it still seems like an unreal feat, especially considering the complexity of the music she's reading. And her performances would certainly corroborate her claim, as her precision was simply unreal.
    famous beagle

  8. #497
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    Quote Originally Posted by rob aylestone View Post
    Conventional notion also requires a memory - because the notion that a D might not be a D but a Db because a few bars back there was a symbol telling you so always seemed a very strange way to do it.
    It certainly is whatever works best for you.

    However, IMO, not using key signatures would be equally strange if not more so. Using a key signature lets the performer know the key of the piece, so it's not really as if you have to remember that a D should be Db. Once you know the key of the song, then you adjust accordingly, and your framework changes.

    Think of the alternative. If no key signatures were used, then first of all ... you wouldn't know what key the song was in, unless it was written with the tempo maybe. That's an alternate method, which seems plausible. But, the issue would then be, when in keys with a lot of sharps or flats---like E major for instance (4 sharps)---you're going to have a pretty cluttered manuscript. Not only that, but for me, the biggest benefit of using key signatures is that it helps those accidentals stand out (much like bold or italic print ) and signal you that something different is there.

    If you don't use a key signature, and you're in E, for example, then a sharp on an A note (which is normally natural in E) wouldn't stand out as much against all the other sharps on F, C, G, and D that are already there. By using a key signature, though, those accidentals are much easier to recognize, IMO.

    That's the way I see it, anyway.
    famous beagle

  9. #498
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    This comes down to what you want to do.

    If you want a particular sound involving jazz improvisation and knowing melody lines over certain harmonic intervals, then scales and music theory will be important.

    If you are playing bass for a Jimmy Reed or AC-DC cover band,......... not so much.

    I like learning music theory in stages.

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