I just don't think I'll ever get theory down cold

bbarnard

Member
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3,632
I've been taking guitar lessons from a former GIT teacher (and NGW for that matter) for about 3 years now and I just don't think I'll ever get theory down cold. It seems to be coming so very hard for me. Perhaps I'm just too old.

I know I'm getting some of it in, but man it's not translating to my playing hardly at all yet.

<Sigh>
 

lhallam

Member
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17,017
You are not too old.

Somethings require book-style memorization. Not fun, but once you get it down you will remember it as you use it.

You need to know your intervals inside and out. It's sort of like learning phonics. Once you have them, you can use them to figure things out on your own.

For example, if you see:

A C E, you should know immediately that A to C is a minor 3rd, C to E is a major 3rd and A to E is a perfect 5th. m3 + M3 = minor chord.

Along with intervals you need to know your scale degrees for the same reasons.

For example:

Once you know that G is the 5th degree of a C scale it is a matter of G# for a sharp 5 chord or Gb for a flat five chord.

Sometimes when I'm playing I will decide to finish a phrase on the 13th. If I'm in A major I know immediately that note is F#.

Landing on the b7 sounds pretty cool in some cases, you should know in the key of E that note is a D.

You need to learn all chords in a major scale and a minor scale and play them diatonically up and down the neck.

When you play chords, you should know which is the root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, etc of the chord.

Then you need to learn & play all of the Greek modes.

These things are not fun but they are the building blocks. I'm sure there are guys that will argue with me but believe me, you can't go wrong having them down cold.

Once you have the building blocks, the other stuff should come easier. Time to hit the books and start memorizing. Make some flash cards if that will help.

The next trick is getting from your head to your fingers. Get some Aebersold or something similar to accomplish that.
 

Tom Gross

Silver Supporting Member
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6,124
Well, I would say that not every teacher is right for everybody.

To me, it really helps if a teacher applies the theory along the way to stuff you understand in a style you want to play. What Lance sez is true, you have to put in some boring work, but if you can relate it to making music along the way, it does two things:

- it motivates you
- it clicks. The light bulb goes on.

If you see, for example, the circle of 5ths as related to "Hey Joe", or the relationship between a lot of Carlos Santana's solos & Miles' "So What", or whatever.

The teacher who turned me on to theory gave me music to learn along the way that helped me incorporate it in my playing as I went, that really helped.

Also, sometimes the stuff can come too fast, with too much material. If all you do is memorize pages and pages of stuff, and are moving on before you really master it, it gets overwhelming. This is the best thing I got out of "Effortless Mastery" - the idea of slowing down until you really "own" a new concept.
 

bbarnard

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3,632
Thanks for the insights. I know some of the stuff that Lance has there but not all of it and certainly not to the speed needed to apply it. For example I could have told you that the A C E thing was a minor chord but not "automatically". I do know some of the other things (I can probably play chords to match the scale diatonically for the major scale in at least one or two positions).

Tom, your post interests me in two respects. First my teacher and I don't really like the same kinds of music. He's more of a jazz (Holdsworth, etc.) kind of guy and I'm a blues guy. He's probably the strongest theorist in town. There is no blues teacher in town (e.g., one guy that is really into blues). We do work on songs from time to time but typically we never get through learning a whole song note for note. Usually I get "guidelines" on what the person in the song is doing but not the note for note thing. Case in point, I'm trying to learn the Chris Cain song First Time for Everything (off of Hall of Shame). He worked the general chord structure out for me and then helped me figure out the notes for the intro lick (very fast for me, still don't have it at speed yet, but I'm getting close). Then at the next lesson I told him that littlemoon had indicated that the intro lick was a melodic minor moved up a fifth. I didn't know what that meant so the next lesson was melodic minor shapes and practice. So we've gone away from the song now to that.

I was especially interested in your comment on Effortless Mastery. My teacher has actually suggested that book to me, but I haven't picked it up yet. I feel exactly like you said, that I have too much stuff and don't "own" it yet.

I am working with a theory book now some so we'll see if that helps.

Thanks for the feedback.
 

jzucker

Supporting Member
Messages
20,734
I've said this before. Theory is simple. If you can learn your multiplication tables you can learn theory in 3-4 weeks. It's simply a matter of:

  • Memorizing all your key signatures
  • Learning the intervals 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and understanding how many chromatic steps exist between them
  • Being able to harmonize the major scale and understanding how it relates to your intervals.

Anything beyond that can be easily learned as you go along. Specifically what are you having problems with?

From your description, I'm going to venture a guess that your problem isn't learning theory - It's learning to apply theory. That's a HUGE difference. That takes lots of listening and study but it's certainly not beyond your capabilities.
 

bbarnard

Member
Messages
3,632
Originally posted by jzucker
I've said this before. Theory is simple. If you can learn your multiplication tables you can learn theory in 3-4 weeks. It's simply a matter of:

  • Memorizing all your key signatures
  • Learning the intervals 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and understanding how many chromatic steps exist between them
  • Being able to harmonize the major scale and understanding how it relates to your intervals.

Anything beyond that can be easily learned as you go along. Specifically what are you having problems with?

From your description, I'm going to venture a guess that your problem isn't learning theory - It's learning to apply theory. That's a HUGE difference. That takes lots of listening and study but it's certainly not beyond your capabilities.
I don't have all the key signatures memorized but I could figure them out if need be. That is something I'm working on with the book I'm now using.

I know the chromatic steps between intervals (I'm assuming that you are talking about knowing that there is a whole step between 2 and 3 and a half step between say 3 and 4 - talking major scale now). For me it is more things like the 9th, 11th, 13th. I know that the 9th is the same as the second but finding that note in the next octave (relative to a first octave root) is more problematic for me than finding it in the first octave.

I think I understand harmonizing the major scale. I'm assuming that you are talking about a I major chord vs a ii minor chord (again harmonizing against a major scale), diminished (or more realistically half diminished) on the 7th degree of the scale.

Yes I'd agree, I'm probably talking more about application than anything else. For example. I've been through arps (for harmonized chords) a couple of times but don't have them completely memorized yet. I certainly don't have them applied to my playing in any way yet and if I applied them now they'd sound like an arp played from root to whatever (7, 9, 11 or 13). Trying to start playing it on something other than the root would be challenging for me.

Modes still baffle me. Just found out last lesson that there are modes beyond the major scale ones (e.g., a lydian b7 from the melodic minor, who knew?).

I don't think it is as simple as you make it out to be though Jack. I don't think you could learn substitutions for example in 3-4 weeks.
 

jzucker

Supporting Member
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20,734
Originally posted by bbarnard
I don't think it is as simple as you make it out to be though Jack. I don't think you could learn substitutions for example in 3-4 weeks.
Learning subs is an application of theory, not theory itself. Learning to find the 9th in any octave of any position of the guitar is simple if you're willing to expend the time. It's really just a matter of memorizing the chromatic scale and being able to point to any note on any fret of any string and name the note all the way up the fingerboard. You could make flash cards or use some other type of learning device.

If you're serious about learning theory, memorize all the keys. Don't be working on it. Just do it. Then, be able to recite the major scale in all keys. Then learn the notes on every string and every fret. Once you can do that, it's simple to find the 9th or #11 in any scale position.

What makes it difficult is delaying the obvious which is just sitting down and memorizing the keys and scales. I used to test myself when I was in the bathtub or laying in bed.

As the ad copy says, JUST DO IT

P.S.

I'm not dogging you. I'm just telling you what I'd be telling you if you were my student.
 

Shakkal

Member
Messages
691
You're in the same boat as I am ... you can probably figure out most stuff but struggle to apply things right on the spot because it's not automatic yet, and things seem harder than they really are. I've found that (for me) the only way to really be able to apply theory is to first learn the foundations by repetition and memorisation, in order to not have to spend those extra few seconds trying to figure out stuff ... the mechanics have to be as automatic as 2x2=4. You (I) should reach a point where the problem is not finding where that b9 is but to think whether it's a good time to play it instead of the natural 9 or whatever based on sound alone.
 

lhallam

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17,017
It looks like we're all in agreement here.

Tom makes some very important points. Don't run before you can walk. Get one thing down pat before moving on. That goes for everything. You don't learn to spell before learning the alphabet.

It IS as simple as Jack says. Once you have the foundation all the other stuff comes easier and logically.

Be sure to communicate with your teacher, he's not a mind reader. Playing and enjoying yourself should come first. If you're serious, you will learn the theory eventually. If he's trying to encourage you to figure the licks out off the CD then theory can be helpful.

BTW - One thing that is extremely important is to know every note on your fretboard. Learning all the theory in the world isn't going to help until you know the fretboard blindfolded.
 

lhallam

Member
Messages
17,017
Cycle of 5ths and 4ths never helped me much. Instead I learned this:

Flats are added in this order:

BEADGCF (BEAD CFG) that's easy to remember

In other words 1 flat = Bb, 2 flats = Bb,Eb 3 flats = Bb,Eb,Ab 4 flats = Bb,Eb,Ab,Db up to 7 flats

Sharps are added in the opposite order of flats:

FCGDAEB (BEADGCF backwards) memorize this as well.

So one sharp = F#, 2 sharps = F#,C#, 3 sharps = F#,C#,G#

When dealing with sharps:

The key of a piece is one 1/2 step (minor second) up from the last note sharped. If you see one sharp (F#) then go up one half step to G. So the key is G major. Two sharps (F#,C#) up a m2 from C# is D. So the key is D major. Three sharps (F#,C#,G#) m2 up from G# = A.

For natural minor keys it is one whole step (major second) below the last note sharped. One sharp (F#) and M2 below F# = E, the key is E minor. Two sharps (F#,C#) a M2 below C# is B, the key is B minor. Three (F#,C#,G#), a M2 below G# = F#.

When dealing with flats:

Memorize that one flat (Bb) is the key of F major.

After that, the key is the name of the second to last note flatted. If you have two flats (Bb and Eb) the second to last note flatted is Bb so the key is Bb major. Three flats (Bb, Eb, Ab) the second to last note flatted is Eb, so key is Eb major. Four flats (Bb,Eb,Ab,Db) = Ab major.

Another way of figuring out flats is to go up a perfect 5th from the last note flatted. Five flats (Bb,Eb,Ab,Db,Gb) up a P5 from Gb is Db, the key is Db.

For natural minors the key is a major 3rd up from the last note flatted. One flat (Bb) up a M3 from Bb = D, the key is D minor. Two flats (Bb,Eb) up a M3 from Eb = G, the key is G minor.

Keep in mind that the sharps and flats are "sticky" in other words if you have 5 sharps (F#,C#,G#,D#,A#,E#) the F has already been sharped so it's F# major, the D has already been sharped so it's D# minor.

These are little cheats to help however it is better to memorize the correlation of the number of sharps or flats to the key.

For example three sharps = A major & F# minor, 4 sharps = E maj and C# minor
Three flats = Eb major & C minor, Five flats = Db major & Bb minor

You may notice that the relative minor is a minor 3rd down from the major.

One minor 3rd down from A = F# hence A major and F# minor have the same number of sharps (key signature).

One minor 3rd down from Eb is C so Eb maj and C minor have the same number of flats.

This comes in handy when playing pentatonic scales.
 

spaceboy

Member
Messages
256
yeh, that's pretty much how I work out theory. and there I was thinking i'd a load of work to do to learn it "properly"

excellent
 

Tag

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
39,237
Originally posted by lhallam
Cycle of 5ths and 4ths never helped me much. Instead I learned this:

Flats are added in this order:

BEADGCF (BEAD CFG) that's easy to remember

In other words 1 flat = Bb, 2 flats = Bb,Eb 3 flats = Bb,Eb,Ab 4 flats = Bb,Eb,Ab,Db up to 7 flats

Sharps are added in the opposite order of flats:

FCGDAEB (BEADGCF backwards) memorize this as well.

So one sharp = F#, 2 sharps = F#,C#, 3 sharps = F#,C#,G#

When dealing with sharps:

The key of a piece is one 1/2 step (minor second) up from the last note sharped. If you see one sharp (F#) then go up one half step to G. So the key is G major. Two sharps (F#,C#) up a m2 from C# is D. So the key is D major. Three sharps (F#,C#,G#) m2 up from G# = A.

For natural minor keys it is one whole step (major second) below the last note sharped. One sharp (F#) and M2 below F# = E, the key is E minor. Two sharps (F#,C#) a M2 below C# is B, the key is B minor. Three (F#,C#,G#), a M2 below G# = F#.

When dealing with flats:

Memorize that one flat (Bb) is the key of F major.

After that, the key is the name of the second to last note flatted. If you have two flats (Bb and Eb) the second to last note flatted is Bb so the key is Bb major. Three flats (Bb, Eb, Ab) the second to last note flatted is Eb, so key is Eb major. Four flats (Bb,Eb,Ab,Db) = Ab major.

Another way of figuring out flats is to go up a perfect 5th from the last note flatted. Five flats (Bb,Eb,Ab,Db,Gb) up a P5 from Gb is Db, the key is Db.

For natural minors the key is a major 3rd up from the last note flatted. One flat (Bb) up a M3 from Bb = D, the key is D minor. Two flats (Bb,Eb) up a M3 from Eb = G, the key is G minor.

Keep in mind that the sharps and flats are "sticky" in other words if you have 5 sharps (F#,C#,G#,D#,A#,E#) the F has already been sharped so it's F# major, the D has already been sharped so it's D# minor.

These are little cheats to help however it is better to memorize the correlation of the number of sharps or flats to the key.

For example three sharps = A major & F# minor, 4 sharps = E maj and C# minor
Three flats = Eb major & C minor, Five flats = Db major & Bb minor

You may notice that the relative minor is a minor 3rd down from the major.

One minor 3rd down from A = F# hence A major and F# minor have the same number of sharps (key signature).

One minor 3rd down from Eb is C so Eb maj and C minor have the same number of flats.

This comes in handy when playing pentatonic scales.
I dont remember any of that stuff anymore.. :( When I think "Father Charles Go Down And Eat Breakfast", or "Go Down And Eat Breakfast Father Charles, thats exactly what I do! :D ;)
 

lhallam

Member
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17,017
Originally posted by Tag
I dont remember any of that stuff anymore.. :( When I think "Father Charles Go Down And Eat Breakfast", or "Go Down And Eat Breakfast Father Charles, thats exactly what I do! :D ;)
It's easier to see than to explain because you just look at the key signature on the music and if it's sharps you just think the next note up for major or the next note down for minor.

When you see flats you just look to see the penultimate flat for major or think up one space or line (depending) for minor.

Visually it's very simple.

Dunno "Go Down And Eat Breakfast Father Charles", seems out of order.
 

littlemoon

Member
Messages
857
Originally posted by bbarnard

* * *

Case in point, I'm trying to learn the Chris Cain song First Time for Everything (off of Hall of Shame). He worked the general chord structure out for me and then helped me figure out the notes for the intro lick (very fast for me, still don't have it at speed yet, but I'm getting close). Then at the next lesson I told him that littlemoon had indicated that the intro lick was a melodic minor moved up a fifth. I didn't know what that meant so the next lesson was melodic minor shapes and practice. So we've gone away from the song now to that.

* * *
It's a commonly used melodic minor scale. "Up a 5th" simply means play the melodic minor based on the 5th degree of the key. So, if your playing a I - IV - V blues, "up a 5th" means play the melodic minor scale based on the V. In the key of C, you would play G melodic minor, also known as the C "Lydian Dominant" scale (G melodic minor = C lydian dominant. Same scale, different names).

For the Chris Cain lick, don't move your hand up to the V chord position (root on the 6th string). Stay at the I chord (root 6) position and play the "up a 5th" melodic minor (or lydian dominant) in that position. Mind you, Chris uses a lot of passing notes that are not in the scale, but the lick is based in the scale. Here's the position you would play in the key of C (melodic minor up a 5th, or C lydian dominant):



littlemoon
 

littlemoon

Member
Messages
857
BTW, Chris has been playing that lick for a long, long time (still fresh, though). So, don't assume that there must be something wrong with you if you can't play it up to speed. It's going to require a ton of practice to nail that one up to speed. However, it's a very useful and adaptable phrase in other contexts, and, once you drill it and learn it, you'll own it for life.

littlemoon
 

jzucker

Supporting Member
Messages
20,734
Originally posted by littlemoon
I get asked that question a lot. I used "Guitar Power," a nifty little music utility program to do the scale. You can find it here: http://www.janasoftware.co.uk/

I use ACDSee to cut and paste the screen shot of the fretboard from Guitar Power into a jpeg file. Find ACDSee here: http://www.acdsystems.com

littlemoon
Thanks. I'd need something with higher res than a screen shot. I thought maybe you had a tool that could possibly output a PDF or something...
 

bbarnard

Member
Messages
3,632
Okay I'm confused now. I thought the 4th scale degree was lydian. As my instructor explained it to me, it is the lydian b7 (melodic minor started on the F which can be played over an F7 if the key is C).

littlemoon, I just about have the lick down at speed. I'm using the Tascam CDGT to train it and I'm at 8% speed reduction. I'll get it yet.:dude
 




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