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Blues Guitar Lessons: Notes On The Neck

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Welcome back.
I hope you've been
practicing those chords.
You know, if your fingers are aching,
body's quaking, and you're saying lord,
why me?
Well, you've got the blues.
Now seriously,
you don't want to strain yourself.
I know I said that already,
but that's very important.
Cuz that'll bring things
to just a grinding halt.
And the other thing to be aware of,
of course,
is it takes time to build calluses.
You're pressing these pieces of wire down,
which is probably something you
haven';t done on a regular basis since
you first started playing the guitar.
And it's painful, it is.
And it takes a while to
build those calluses up to
where they don't hurt anymore.
But it will happen, trust me.
And then the cords that you're struggling
with now will become second nature and
you'll wonder why it was ever a problem.
But it takes a little bit of time,
you know,
there's effort involved in all this stuff.
Now we've talked about how to find your
way around the neck and use the number
system, and In the blues world numbers
are really, that is the system.
You know, blues guys,
I'm saying this in the general sense,
don't talk about let's play in B flat or
A sharp or any of that stuff.
It's take it from the five.
You know there's a lot
of numbers involved.
One, four, five in particular.
We're going to get into all of this stuff,
trust me.
But the musical alphabet
was developed many,
many years ago and
it is the basic language of music theory.
Insofar as theory and
blues intersect, which they do,
I'll give you some explanations here.
I'll also refer you to the theory
workshop, which has an in-depth
discussion of all aspects of music theory,
going far beyond blues.
They'll give you a great foundation and
fill in some of the blanks
that I might leave.
So, musical alphabet, what is it?
Well, it's A B C D E F G.
If you live in Germany, or
some other parts of Europe,
you might have heard of H,
which we over here call B flat.
For all practical purposes,
it's a 7 letter alphabet.
F. G. That's the end of it.
So, how do we find those
notes on the neck?
Well, first of all, let's keep in mind
that that alphabet was not developed
by guitar players for guitar players.
It was developed really
based around the piano.
Or the piano was based around that.
I don't know which came first,
the chicken or the egg.
But, the piano is the basic
instrument of music composition.
And, so, when we talk about theory and
how things are laid out, so forth, a lot
of it was originated by piano players and
it's easy to see it on a piano.
On a guitar,
we have to do some translating.
So, on a piano, for example,
you sit down at the piano,
and if you ever took a piano lesson
the first thing they said is.
See where the name of the piano is there,
Steinway, you know you
got an expensive one.
Right below that,
that's middle C, all right?
And middle C is a white key.
And if you go up the scale,
meaning on a piano,
to the right, you get C and
the next note over the white key is D.
Ready now, why isn't it A?
Well, I don't know.
You got to the theory guys and
they'll tell you that.
But middle C is the basic note
from which the major scale
is laid out on the piano, so
if you play a major scale on the piano,
and major scale, of course,
you know what it sounds like.
Play that on a piano, it's all white keys.
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and then C, again.
The octave has the same sound,
but a higher pitch.
Now, when you look at the piano, okay,
those are all white keys, that's cool.
What about the black keys?
The black keys are in between
some of the white keys, and
not in between other white keys.
What's going on?
Well, that has to do with
the structure of the major scale.
Now, the major scale is sort of
the overall description of tonality.
When we talk about a key,
we're talking about
a piece of music that is
built around a central tone.
We talked about playing an E chord,
well that's built around the tone E.
By taking it a step further,
if I'm in the key of E,
that means all of the notes that I'm gonna
play, in one sense or another, the chords,
the scales are gonna be centered
around that pitch, that note E.
And that is the concept of tonality.
Pop music is all tonal.
If it's atonal or lacking in tone,
it ain't pop music, trust me.
Blues has it's special kind of tonality,
but it is tonal music.
So when you take that major scale,
you see that some of the notes, and
you'll see it on a piano and
you'll see it on a guitar.
The equivalent on the guitar of the piano
whole step, which is a white key,
a black key, and another white key
Two half steps equal a whole step.
There's two frets, so here's C.
Here's that black key in between C and D.
And there's D, a whole step.
So we look at that major scale, and
if you analyze it, you see that there's C,
there's D, that's a whole step, there's E,
there's another black key in there,
that's another whole step and then
there's no black key, it's a half step.
E to F.
Continuing, whole step to G,
whole step to A,
whole step to B, and
finally another half step between B and C.
So the major scale has two half steps.
One between the 3rd and the 4th, and
one between the 7th and the 8th.
Now, why did they make it complicated?
Why not just make it all whole steps and
be done with it?
Well, listen, here's all whole steps.
[SOUND] It sounds a little bit unsettled,
That's not a comfortable tonality for
most of us.
So what the half steps do is
they define the tonality,
they give us the center of gravity which
[SOUND] [SOUND] they call it resolving,
resolution, meaning it returns
to a comfortable home position.
Half step goes down [SOUND] [SOUND],
half step goes up [SOUND] [SOUND]
putting them together [SOUND] Ahh.
All right, so that's the major scale
that's how the half steps are constructed.
When we put that on the guitar
neck we have to think okay,
now the guitar is not built around
the note C in an obvious way.
In fact, if we're gonna pick a key
the guitar is probably built around E.
Six string, first string,
that's our comfortable sound right there,
open E is our, kind of, our home chord.
So, I have to take that idea of
the major scale and the half steps and
translate that on to the guitar neck.
If E is my bottom note, and I go up
the major scale, not the E major scale,
but I'm going to translate the C
major scale on to the guitar neck.
I'm starting on E.
That's the third note.
What's the fourth note?
Well, I know now that that's a half step.
This one fret, F.
That's why when we went from the E chord
up a fret, that's why that's F, right?
That's a half step.
E, F.
Now, I know from the major scale
construction that the next note up,
from the fourth to the fifth,
is going to be a whole step.
That's G.
Another whole step after that,
that's A, five to six.
[SOUND] Another whole step, six to seven.
[SOUND] And then finally,
you have step to finish it off.
[SOUND] And I'm back to C.
[SOUND] So the notes on the six string,
starting with open E would be E.
First fret F.
Third fret G.
Fifth fret A.
Seventh fret B.
Those dot markers come in handy, right?
And then there's C.
Now when I keep going, C to D, that's the
first note of the C scale to the second.
So that's a whole step.
There's D.
And then I arrive on E again.
And on the guitar, the sixth string, open,
and the same string at the 12th fret.
That's the octave.
So once again the notes
on the sixth string,
the natural notes we'll call them,
they have no other addition.
E, F, G, A, B, C, D, and E.
Okay that's all fine.
What about the notes in-between.
On the piano it's the black keys.
On the guitar,
it's those empty frets there.
So I go from the first fret,
to the third fret.
What do you call the second fret?
Well, these are called sharps or flats.
Now if I take F for example,
and I go up a half step.
It's not quite G,
that's the note in between F and G and
I call it F sharp,
it's F raised by a half step.
By the same token,
if I'm going down and I'm on G and
I go down a half step, I call that G flat.
Now, F sharp, G flat.
Sounds the same.
What's the deal?
Well the name depends on how it's
being used and what key you're in, and
some more theoretical considerations
that we'll deal with when we get there.
But a note that has two names like that,
it is both F sharp and G flat,
those names are both correct,
this is called en, E-N, enharmonic.
Just file that away, you can use that at a
party, you can impress somebody with that.
So we've got F, F sharp, G,
now every time there's a whole step,
I can fill it up with a sharp going up
the scale here, G sharp, A, A sharp, B.
Now here's my natural half step, B to C.
I don't have any sharps or flats in there.
D sharp, D.
I'm sorry, that's C sharp, D.
And then D sharp, E.
Once I arrive at the twelfth
fret the whole thing repeats.
So if I go up a fret from E there's
F again, there's F sharp again,
there's G and so on.
Okay, now let's do a little quiz
here based on that knowledge.
I'm going to give you a note and
you're going to find it for me.
On the sixth string, okay.
C, okay?
Thinking, counting,
looking at the dot markers.
Definitely use those.
Eighth fret.
How about A flat?
A flat?
So first you've got to find A.
Go down a half step.
There it is.
You get the idea.
We have the C scale,
which tells us visually on the piano and
then on the guitar, the natural notes,
no sharps, no flats.
That we know how to fill in the sharps and
the flats to name the notes in between.
That means that we can find
any note on the sixth string.
It just takes a little time, and that's
why you practice is to reduce the amount
of time that's necessary to think,
and it becomes more automatic.
Now, the same thing applies
on the fifth string.
Obviously the starting note is different,
but the same principle.
Starting on the note A, right?
Now A, if I was in the key of C,
A would be the sixth note A, B, C.
So that means from the sixth to
the seventh, that's a whole step.
So second fret that's B.
There's my half-step C.
Now from C, I go up a whole step to
the second note of the C scale, that's D.
Another whole step is E.
F is a half step, G is a whole step,
and A is a whole step.
And the same rule applies to
the sharps and the flats.
There is A, A sharp, or B flat.
Now, almost all the time especially in
blues you're gonna call that B flat,
not A sharp.
It's not that A sharp is wrong.
Just that blues guys don't think A sharp.
One reason for that is one of the founding
instruments of the blues style back in
the day was the saxophone.
Saxophones are flat key instruments.
That's what they're built around.
We're built around E, A tenor sax is
built around B flat, so they like flats.
So, that's known as B flat
throughout the universe of blues,
no matter which direction you're going.
So, A, B flat, B, C.
What about this one?
Either one, C sharp, D flat, D.
This one's gonna be called E flat for
the same reason that you call that B flat.
Sax player thing.
There's E, half step, F,
F sharp, G flat, either way.
G, G sharp E flat, again either way.
And finally back to A.
So [COUGH] other than the amount
of time it takes you to think,
you now have access to all
the names of the musical alphabet.
All the notes on 5th and the 6th string.
What this allows you to do is take
those chords that we learned,
play them in any key.
First let's do another little quiz just to
make sure you're catching
on to the concept here.
I'm gonna name a chord.
I'm gonna give you the string
that the root is on and
the alphabet name of the root and
you're gonna find it.
See how fast you can nail this thing down.
On the sixth string, give me B flat
dominant seven on the sixth string.
That means the root is
on the sixth string.
Find B flat and
play me a dominant seven chord.
There it is,
there's your big bar chord, right?
B flat is the root,
I form the shape, I'm good to go.
Now, play me a B flat dominant seventh
chord with the root on the fifth string.
Well, okay, we already did that.
There's A, there's B flat, easy.
Now wait a second.
That's B flat.
And that's B flat.
What do I need two B flats for?
That's gonna have to do with how you
organize your rhythm parts when we start
playing blues.
Because you're gonna need
both of those chords and
arrange them in different orders.
That's gonna be very important, so
yes, we're learning the same
chord in two different places.
And that's an essential
part of learning the neck.
Let's do another one.
How about fifth string,
E flat, dominant seven?
Okay, same bar chord.
There's C, there's D,
there's E, there's E flat.
Sixth string,
how about F sharp dominant seventh?
Sixth string, F sharp, there's E,
there's F, up a half step,
All right?
Now, you can do that again,
it's just a matter of time.
How long does it to take you
that to figure that out?
We figured out how to play those cords and
practice moving from one chord shape or
voicing as it's called.
They call them voicings because
back in the day music was written,
we're talking way back in the day,
music was written for singers.
And so the voices, soprano, alto,
tenor, baritone, those were the voices.
And the voicing would be the notes
they would sing in unison.
Or not in unison, but in harmony.
And so we borrow that term for the guitar.
We say it's a chord voicing and
each note is a voice.
So, you've learned how to manipulate those
voices and go from one string to another.
Now you wanna practice them and
at the same time learn how
to play in different keys.
Now I could just go up the neck.
This is one way to do it.
and then go to the fifth string.
That's B flat.
Now I know that for sure, right?
And, I could go up to the third fret and
there's G and
then next to it is C, okay that's good.
And I could go up another fret,
following the dots now,
there's A, there's D, and so on.
Nothing wrong with that.
That will show you in one sense how
the notes are found on the strings and
also maneuvering the chords around.
There's another way to do it which
is a little trickier at first, but
it pays off down the road,
because it teaches you more
about the natural motion of
chords that we use in blues.
And this is called the Cycle or
the Circle of Fourths.
And you're gonna see
that in your material.
What it is, is taking all the keys
including the sharp keys and
the flat keys, all keys, and if you count
up the number of frets by the way, there's
seven notes in the musical alphabet, but
we go from E up to E, there are 12 frets.
So there's seven natural notes and
then there are five in between notes,
the sharps and flats, all right?
So organize all 12 of those possible
notes into a system in which the first
chord you play, and let's pick C, cuz it's
easy to kind of visualize and follow.
There's C,
at the sixth string at the eighth fret.
The next chord I play in the cycle of
fourths, it's gonna be the chord
that's four notes away from that.
Four steps.
I'm talking about steps
of the major scale.
Now, we know how the major scale sounds.
You've been singing it since birth,
Whether or
not you know how to play a major scale
on the guitar is not a big deal.
You can suss it out by ear.
There's a fingering, right?
We don't care about that
particularly at this point.
That's just for reference.
So C, D, and
now I go up to the fourth note, that's F.
So I go from C, up a fourth
is F.
when I go up a fourth again from F,
there's B flat.
Now, I'm getting pretty high on the neck
and this is where we come
back to the blues reality.
I can't really play
rhythm chords up there.
It's too far up the neck,
they don't sound right.
So I have to transpose as it's called,
which is change to a different position.
And this is where that voicing comes in.
That different version of B flat.
Now I play it on the sixth string.
So I went from C seven up a fourth to F.
Then I went up a fourth again, but
I moved it down an octave to B flat.
Starting my cycle of fourths.
I go up a fourth again, there's E flat.
Now when I go up a fourth from E
flat there's A flat.
I'm getting closer but
it's still pretty far up there.
I want to put that on the sixth string and
then up a fourth.
Almost there but
let's keep it down at the low end.
There's G flat or F sharp.
There's C, have to get my bar just right.
Now the next one
that's E.
Now I could play open E but it sounds
different because of the open strings.
So to keep the sound
a little more consistent,
I'll go to my bar chord
on my fifth string.
And then there's A.
And then D.
And then up a fourth to G.
And I'm back to C again.
And here I wind up on the fifth string.
So I just played through all 12 keys in
the cycle of fourths, and I played every
dominant chord, and I mixed up the chords
on the sixth strings and the fifth string.
Now when we play rhythm parts and
we play blues progressions,
we'll be mixing up the notes on
the sixth and the fifth string.
And that's just gonna
become second nature.
But this is the practice routine,
as you set your metronome, and
again you don't chase it, you set it for a
point at which it gives you time to think.
You can see the cycle of
fourths on the page, and
you can follow that thing
all the way around.
You have to synch that information
with where you are on the neck.
This is gonna take a little time, but
after awhile it'll start to happen
in a much more automatic way.
And by the way you don't
have to start on C,
you can start from any note
because the cycle of fourths.
So you just pick it up anywhere
on the line and wherever you are,
you just keep going clockwise and it'll
take you around that cycle from any point.
So if we start on A for example.
Playing the cycle of fourths
starting on A.
There is A and the next one is D.
G, C, F, B flat, E flat,
A flat, D flat, G flat, B.
[LAUGH] Sorry.
E and back to A again, right?
So, I'm playing all twelve keys,
I'm learning the names of the notes on
the neck, and I'm really starting to get
the geography of the neck figured out.
And that will be the foundation from
which we're going to be able to move all
over the place, and
play all kinds of cool stuff.
All right, so work on that for a little
while, I'll see you the next time.