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7 Guitar Music Theory Tricks You Need To Know

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Guitar Music Theory, Guitar Music Theory Lesson, Guitar Theory

When I first played a pentatonic scale pattern, it clicked. The whole mystery of guitar music theory was resolved in a moment.

All you had to do was play a certain combination of notes that the flimsy book at my side had told me to. And voila, I was a lead guitarist.

Sadly most players will never get past that moment, and their entire repertoire will contain the many ways they rearrange the “box pattern” that I learned. It even happened to me until I learned an important fact……

All guitar music theory is a language used to describe various combinations of notes to play.

Major chords, minor chords, diminished intervals, passing notes, arpeggios, riffs, progressions, etcetera etcetera are ALL just different jumbles of notes that can be played on any instrument.

But it goes beyond that even. Once you know a scale, you’re supposed to learn how to tweak it into a piece of music.

And to help you do that, here’s 7 of my favorite ways to do that, and I promise you can use them right after you read this article.

Guitar Music Theory Trick No. 1: Turning A Pentatonic Into Minor

--12------15--
--12------15--
--12---14-----
--12---14-----
--12---14-----
--12------15--

Everyone knows this pattern if they’ve been playing for awhile. The worst part is that every scale book or lesson I read started with this, instead of assuming that maybe, perhaps, they’ve seen it before.

But there is a good reason to start with this scale. You can transform it into any scale you want.

Look at the next tab. By adding two notes, C and F#, I’ve suddenly got an E minor scale at that same position.

--12----14-15--
--12-13----15--
--12----14-----
--12----14-15--
--12----14-15--
--12----14-15--

And guess what? You can do this with EVERY sort of scale you can think of.

That’s because the pentatonic scales contain the basic scale tones of a major scale, minor scale, and all the modes too. You can tweak one more note to make a harmonic minor, and another to make melodic minor.

I discovered this after comparing many of the scale patterns in my books.

Don’t memorize them!

Just find shortcuts like this, and you’ll be able to use more melodic nuances in your guitar playing more easily.

No. 2: Starting On The 4th beat

-------½---------------------½
-------½---------------------½
-------½---------------------½
--2-2--½-2-2--2-2--2-2--2-2--½
--2-2--½-2-2--2-2--2-2--2-2--½
--0-0--½-0-0--0-0--0-0--0-0--½

Lots and lots and lots of melodies start on the 4th beat.

Doing this will instantly make your leads sound less robotic; especially if you tend to use lots of 16th note runs or 6-note patterns.

This trick gives the riff the impression of hopping onto a more stable foundation. This is the illusion great music gives off. It always seem far off balance, but it just barely stays on time and in key.

That may not make sense, but it will the more you get inside your rhythms and pay attention to where you’re playing on the beat. That is, if you aren’t already.

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Syncopation

--------------------------------------------
--------------------------------------------
--------------------------------------------
---------------2----------------2---------3-
---------------2----------------2---------3-
-0-0-0--0-0-0-----0-0-0--0-0-0-----0-0-0----
 1      2      3  4       1      2  3      4

Syncopation and starting on the 4th beat are the very same thing. It’s the process of accenting a weaker beat in a measure, which most of the time will be the 2 or 4 in 4/4.

And to give you an example, I took a famous riff from a famous band to show you. Do you recognize it?

The numbers underneath signify the beat you’re on at that place. Notice the two figures in bold? Those are what’s being syncopated.

 

Mixing Chords In Minor And Major Keys Together

E Major = E – F#m – G#m – A – B – C#m – D#m7b5

Em = Em – F#m7b5 – G – Am – Bm – C – D

Placing foreign chords or tones into a major or minor scale is a frequently used chromatic device.

So putting a chord that belongs in minor into major, or vice versa, is one of the basic ways to start using the now ignored art of chromaticism.

Chromaticism is often what creates the darker, romantic, or exotic toned music you’ve listened to before. It appears in nearly every type of music, but classical is the one genre it’s most affiliated with as it uses it the most.

Here’s a few examples:

E – G#m

Em – D7 – C#m – F#m7b5

E – B7

Em – Am7 – F#m7b5

See what you can come up with!

 

Passing Chords

Em                       D                 F#m7b5  B

--7--7-7--7---5-½-5--5-9---7---7-½
--8--8-8--8---7-½-7--7-10--7---7-½
--9--9-9--9---7-½-7--7-9---8---4-½
--9--9-9--9---7-½-7--7-10--9---4-½
--7--7-7--7---5-½-5--5-9---9-----½
----------------½----------7-----½

The passing chord is what you see in bold above.

It’s a rhythmic device used in between the more important harmonies in a progression. Using them on an off beat is very cool, and helps you avoid stale progressions that only use one chord per bar.

I use F#m7b5 but you can use almost anything. There’s plenty of suggestions I could make, but use your ear and see what you come up with when using this concept.

 

Suspensions With 4ths And 2nds

Dsus4 E   Asus2

--3--2--7-0--0--½-0-0--0-0--0-0--0-0--½
--3--3--9-0--0--½-0-0--0-0--0-0--0-0--½
--2--2--9-1--2--½-2-2--2-2--2-2--2-2--½
--0--0----2--2--½-2-2--2-2--2-2--2-2--½
----------2--0--½-0-0--0-0--0-0--0-0--½
----------0-----½---------------------½

Everyone probably knows the common Dsus4 extension used many a time in chord arpeggio riffs.

This technique shows the usefulness of non-chordal tones with full chords.

There’s an entire family of musical concepts associated with just what you can do with various type of non-chord tones, and suspensions are just the beginning.

To get started using suspensions, just find the 2nd, 4th, or 6th of any chord, and then play it over the full chord on a strong beat. Read the last part again, a strong beat!

Musicality is about the interesting mixture of intervals, and not scales. No matter how many scales or chord shapes you play, they will always contain the same combination of notes.

That is until you start using concepts like these.

Expanding A Chord With A Slash Chord

G        G/B            D     D/A

--3---------½--5-----5-----
--3----8----½--7-----7-----
--0----7----½--7-----7-----
--0----9----½--7-----7-----
--2---------½--5-----5-----
--3----7----½--------5-----

Now this is probably the most criminally ignored, and unexplored part of music theory on the guitar.

There’s many more ways to play a single chord instead of like the G you see above. And this relates to what I just said in the previous section about finding new combinations of tones.

It takes some training and imagination to see this, but this one concept also has the potential to completely overhaul your rhythm guitar technique and riff ideas.

Break down the notes in every chord, like G/B, and you’ll see that they contain the exact same tones as the open chord shape.

This one tiny concept can unlock the entire fretboard for you, and give you a whole new way to apply the guitar techniques you already know.

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Music Theory Doesn’t Have To Be Hard.

The only reason it’s hard is because our minds are firmly wrapped around the ideas of chord shapes and scale patterns.

That prevents us from seeing all the many different combinations of notes that are possible on the fretboard. There are limitations since we have one hand to create harmony with, unlike the piano, but that is actually great for creativity.

Creativity thrives under conflict and limits, and that’s because limits focus the mind on a single problem.

Did you find these useful?

 

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