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Mind Over Matter

There comes a point in every guitarists journey where the question the need for theory. There is indeed a point where an over saturation of theory will build in ones mind, near to the point of fracture. It is my aim with this article to help you develop an attitude that will enable you to understand theory, with out it committing what I call "mind rape" and inevitably out-witting you. I’ve been a student of two things my whole life. Music, and Martial Arts. As I have grown I’ve noticed that music tends to sooth more than the latter of the two mentioned, so I’ve focused on it more.

Music is a grand thing. It has a power you wouldn’t believe unless you’ve experienced it first hand. Indeed there are many ways of feeling, many ways of teaching, and many ways of learning. How often have you wondered where the world came from? Where you lie in the grand scheme of things. How often have you seen your name in the bright flashing lights of the grand stands, while playing a huge show in front of thousands of cheering fans? And out of all those times – when "feeling" the music was the top priority… How many of those times did you consciously think about the use of music theory. Probably slipped your mind completely, didn’t it?

You never bothered to learn what it was that you were feeling. Theory. Every note you play be it in a conscious effort in an established scale, beginners luck, or dilly-dally on the fret board, you are using theory. Whether or not that’s a valid application of theory on the other hand is a subject of much debate, which usually will find it’s way into the sewage system… The flame wars, verbal debates, sometimes physical confrontations that arise from conversation, argumentation, debate and drunken bellowing concerning the words "music theory" will surely outlast any war stories from Viet Nam or World War II. Why? Because since our cro-magnum ancestors Grog and Thag we able to grunt in pitch the entire underlying concepts and heories that make up the gigantic vomitous mass we know as "Music theory", have been put to use.

While it’s doubtful that Grog or Thag had any idea what they were doing – they were doing some thing, and that’s what we’re going to talk about. Now, since Thag was a drummer, lets leave him outta this for a while. We’ll come back to him when we get around to Rhythm – and that’s a can of worms alllll it’s own…

Music theory, especially when put into a guitarists hands, is basically like putting a tank of gasoline right next to a bon fire – it’s an accident waiting to happen. Does that mean guitarists are stupid? Gracious no, it means the temperament of the average axe slinger is just slightly below par. Hence the name Grog, a primitive, yet definitive understanding of the basic needs. You are Grog. At the end of this column we’re hoping Grog will evolve.

Now, lets get into it. Modern music moves in 12 tones. Generally speaking in conventional and classical music a scale is composed of 7 of those tones. There are a few of the scales that don’t follow that particular format. The pentatonic scales mostly. Now, in truth, there is but one scale, and many variations or "Modes" on that same scale.

This is the point where most newbies get lost, so read slowly, and as many times as you have to before you email me. Try to think it through, you don’t learn unless you test your own initial assumptions. However, it’s always good to have a map, but at the same time learning and -memorizing- that map to where it’s second nature is really the only way to get by as a musician. You don’t have to think twice about putting a spoon to your mouth to feed your self. You don’t have to think twice about blinking your eyes, or breathing. Yet those are all learned abilities. While breathing is something your body will do even if you try and stop it, you can control that natural ability. That’s what you must do with your understanding of theory, very carefully and precisely etch the basics into the stone block that you call your memory, and learn how to actively recall any information you need.

The mention of a "Mode" tends to get people thinking of exotic scales and sexy music, and to some extent yeah, that’s true. But a mode is really nothing more than a reference point.

  • E Phrygian
  • F Lydian
  • G Mixolydian
  • A Aeolian
  • B Locrian
  • C Ionian
  • D Dorian

Those are all the modes. The modes are nothing more than different entry points for the same 7 notes of the major scale. Truly- only the Major Scale exists. Everything else is pure theoretical nonsense. However, that nonsense, much like algebra can work for you if you can manipulate the information. So lets teach you how to do that.

The C Major scale, or C Ionian Mode is the home base. Now, all of these modes, when played over a C Major chord will eventually sound like they want to end on C. Alright – now the key of C has no sharps and no flats, also known as accidentals. On a piano that means every white key from C to C is in the C major scale. On a guitar, that means the following frets on your E string.

E—0–1–3–5–7–8–10–

The next note in the scale is called and Octave, and that is the 12th Fret. Now here’s how the modes work on this principle. A mode is just what note you start and stop on within each key. Its how your fingers travel.

So lets say I want to play the E Phrygian mode. That means I play the notes as tabbed above. That’s the entire mode. What about the F Lydian? I play all the notes F through F. G Mixolydian? G through G – etc for all the same modes.

Here’s the key to learning the modes. Memorize where the half steps are in C major! What’s a half step? on a guitar, it’s one fret. From an open string to the 1st fret is one half step. From the 1st, to 2nd, another half step. A whole step is two half steps. so from open position to the 2nd fret is a whole step. From the small tab there you can see where the half steps lie. If you tune your guitar to standard E tuning (E,A,D,G,B,e) low to high you should have no problem understanding half steps. If you tune your guitar to dropped D or down lower, or up higher than standard E, a half step is still a half step, but the location You’ll see them in this lesson will be different and it’ll be up to you to figure out where.

I’m sure some of you have herd of a C minor scale, and a F Phrygian arpeggio and what not. It’s some fairly advanced stuff, but it’s alll sorts of simple when you know the trick to it.

Like I said before, it’s just where you enter the major scale, and how you travel in it. Since each mode amounts to playing the Major scale of off each degree in the scale, it shouldn’t be rocket science right? Just make sure you don’t use and "funny" notes, and start and end on the same note and you can play in any mode in any key – right? WRONG!!!

In fact that is so much farther from the truth you might as well not even read that paragraph! This is precisely why many shredders just learn Tab and not music theory, they learn Licks and riffs and runs and consider themselves shredders. That’s great, they can be good guitarists, and lousy musicians. Bottom line people, a musician KNOWS MUSIC THEORY!!!! There is no way to call a car a car with out it being a car right? A cat isn’t a fish right? They don’t have gills! How on earth is a cat to survive in the water, they can’t swim well, they’ll drown. That’s why they hang at the shallow end of the pool. They can’t swim. There comes atime when you just have to separate the boys from the men. A musician knows music theory, A Guitarist… well, "I can read tab!"… If you ever want to see a guitarist stop playing and get a confused look on his face – put some music in front of him, not tab. Ask him/her to play it… Just watch what happens… A stupefied look will slow creep across their face their eye brows will connect, their dental work will become jagged and aggressively attributed. Their eyes will become heavy set, a hunch their back will form, their hair will become all scraggly and forlorn, their clothing will melt and burn away revealing theirleopard skin loin cloth, and which point he will beat you repetitively with his guitar which is now more aptly named, an "axe" (and if he has any Gene Simmons fetishes, beware…) and at that point you will ultimately come to realize inside every "guitarist" lies … Grog, the enemy of intelligence and avid practitioner of Darwin’s survival of the Fittest.

The object of learning theory is to avoid such gruesome transformations, and to leave Darwin in the murky deaths where he lies today. Right next to the grave I have dug out for Kirk Hammet…. Anyway, lets get a little more theoretical. Since you can play in any given mode over anygiven chord so long as it stays relative to the key (more on that later) you can havelot of fun. Try taking a power chord and doing this.

Play a C5 power chord, then on top of that play up and down the C Ionian mode, then play anA5 power chord, then play the A Aeolian mode over that. Cool is the natural minor scale. The natural minor scale is what you hear in heavy metal, and it’s what most lead guitarists consider to be the best sounding mode. But don’t be fooled, you can play in A minor to a C Major song! since they are relative scales you can get away with it really easily!

Here’s a few examples.

Crazy train by Ozzy ozbourne,. Starts out in F# (sharp) minor. if you count the frets F# is the 2nd fret. 3 frets up is A. So if F# is the minor root, then A is the major root.

Fade to Black, metallica. Intro and outro solos are in B minor. Count up 3 and what do you have? D Major! The song on the recording while it ends, it actually resolves up to themajor scale! What bitchin song can you go straight into from there? Sweet Child of mine,- D major!

There’s a million and a half songs that have relative major/minor transitions, and it’s one of my favorite tools to use in a song, it helps give it dimension, and give the crowd asound that they don’t hear with this absurd "rap-metal" trend that’s been going on.

So here we go, a good application of theory that sounds good, and is easy to learn, anddoesn’t exaggerate anything. ready? This is the intro theme for Final Fantasy VII

C  major scale: Ionian mode, C is the ROOT NOTE! - 8th fret, Low E string!


e---------------------------------7-8--------------------------------
B----------------------------8-10-----10-8---------------------------
G---------------------7-9-10---------------10-9-7--------------------
D--------------7-9-10-----------------------------10-9-7-------------
A-------7-8-10-------------------------------------------10-8-7------
E--8-10---------------------------------------------------------10---



C Major chord          C5 (power chord
e--0------------------------------------------------------------------
B--1------------------------------------------------------------------
G--0-------------------5----------------------------------------------
D--2-------------------5----------------------------------------------
A--3-------------------3----------------------------------------------
E--0------------------------------------------------------------------



Alrighty, grab a friend and have him play the chords and practice, but switch on and off, no need for both of you to be stupid, right? When you come back down the scale,you’ll want to end on C – 8th fret. DON"T!go here:



A minor scale, Aeolian Mode. Scale degree:6

e------------------------------5--------------------------------------
B------------------------4-5-7---7-5-4--------------------------------
G------------------4-5-7---------------7-5-4--------------------------
D--------------5-7---------------------------7-5----------------------
A--------5-7-8-----------------------------------8-7-5----------------
E--5-7-8-----------------------------------------------8-7------------


A Minor chord               A5 Power chord
e--0------------------------------------------------------------------
B--1------------------------------------------------------------------
G--2------------------------2-----------------------------------------
D--2------------------------2-----------------------------------------
A--0------------------------0-----------------------------------------
E---------------------------------------------------------------------


There’s your natural minor scale, and also the relative minor scale for C major!Again, on the way down, you’ll want to hit A – 5th fret, DON"T! Go here:


E Phrygian Mode - Scale Degree:3
e-----------------------------0---------------------------------------
B-----------------------0-1-3---3-1-0---------------------------------
G-------------------0-2---------------2-0-----------------------------
D--------------0-2-3----------------------3-2-0-----------------------
A--------0-2-3----------------------------------3-2-0-----------------
E--0-1-3----------------------------------------------3-1-0-----------

E Major chord< E5 Powerchord
e--0------------------------------------------------------------------
B--0------------------------------------------------------------------
G--1------------------------------------------------------------------
D--2--------------------2---------------------------------------------
A--2--------------------2---------------------------------------------
E--0--------------------0---------------------------------------------


Now on this one you'll find you have to play the open e for lack for a D to work from. But that’s okay, because now we're in F Lydian. And ironically enough, still in C major.


F Lydian mode - Scale degree: 4

e-----------------------------0-1--------------------------------------
B-----------------------0-1-3-----3-1-0--------------------------------
G-------------------0-2-----------------2-0----------------------------
D--------------0-2-3------------------------3-2-0----------------------
A--------0-2-3------------------------------------3-2-0----------------
E----1-3------------------------------------------------3-1------------


F Major chord            F5 Power chord
e--1------------------------------------------------------------------
B--1------------------------------------------------------------------
G--2------------------------------------------------------------------
D--3---------------------3--------------------------------------------
A--3---------------------3--------------------------------------------
E--1---------------------1--------------------------------------------


Things are starting to take shape now aren't they? starting to get a whole cascading mystical ride through the clouds aren't ya? And you're not done yet! Now roll off the F 1st fret, and then slide on up to the 3rd fret - G. Now its time to finish the curve.


G Mixolydian Mode, Scale degree: 5

e------------------------------3--------------------------------------
B------------------------3-5-6---6-5-3--------------------------------
G------------------2-4-5---------------5-4-2--------------------------
D------------2-3-5---------------------------5-3-2--------------------
A------2-3-5---------------------------------------5-3-2--------------
E--3-5---------------------------------------------------3-5----------

G chord G5                Power chord
e--3------------------------------------------------------------------
B--3------------------------------------------------------------------
G--0------------------------------------------------------------------
D--0----------------------5-------------------------------------------
A--2----------------------5-------------------------------------------
E--3----------------------3-------------------------------------------

Now we're back to the Natural minor scale, A Aeolian, A minor scale, Aeolian Mode. Scale degree: 6


e------------------------------5--------------------------------------
B------------------------4-5-7---7-5-4--------------------------------
G------------------4-5-7---------------7-5-4--------------------------
D--------------5-7---------------------------7-5----------------------
A--------5-7-8-----------------------------------8-7-5----------------
E--5-7-8-----------------------------------------------8-7------------


A Minor chord A5 Power chord
e--0------------------------------------------------------------------
B--1------------------------------------------------------------------
G--2------------------------2-----------------------------------------
D--2------------------------2-----------------------------------------
A--0------------------------0-----------------------------------------
E---------------------------------------------------------------------



Now it's time to hit the gray scale, the Locrian Mode in B - it's a very neutral passage it sounds odd if you aren't used to it, but it's a great mode to play in and very good for pentatonic based licks because you can alter the standard blues box.


B Locrian Mode, Scale degree: 7

e-----------------------------------7----------------------------------
B------------------------------8-10---10-8-----------------------------
G-----------------------7-9-10-------------10-9-7----------------------
D----------------7-9-10---------------------------10-9-7---------------
A---------7-8-10-----------------------------------------10-8-7--------
E--7-8-10-------------------------------------------------------10-8-7-


B Minor chord B5 Power chord
e--------------------------------------------------------------------
B--3-----------------------------------------------------------------
G--4--------------------4--------------------------------------------
D--4--------------------4--------------------------------------------
A--2--------------------2--------------------------------------------
E--------------------------------------------------------------------


Alright, almost there, just one last mode to go! D Dorian. One of the more minorsounding scales, with a fairly dark sound, lots of classical music in this mode!


D Dorian mode, Scale Degree: 1
e------------------------------------------10--------------------------------------------
B---------------------------------10-12-13----13-12-10-----------------------------------
G-------------------------9-10-12-----------------------12-10-9--------------------------
D-----------------9-10-12---------------------------------------12-10-9------------------
A-----------10-12-------------------------------------------------------12-10------------
E--10-12-13-------------------------------------------------------------------13-12-10---


D minor Chord D5 Power chord
e--1-------------------------------------------------------------------
B--3-------------------------------------------------------------------
G--2-----------------------7-------------------------------------------
D--0-----------------------7-------------------------------------------
A--------------------------5-------------------------------------------
E----------------------------------------------------------------------


And now back to C Ionian - Scale Degree: 8/Root
C major scale: Ionian mode, C is the ROOT NOTE! - 8th fret, Low E string!


e---------------------------------7-8--------------------------------
B----------------------------8-10-----10-8---------------------------
G---------------------7-9-10---------------10-9-7--------------------
D--------------7-9-10-----------------------------10-9-7-------------
A-------7-8-10-------------------------------------------10-8-7------
E--8-10---------------------------------------------------------10---

C Major chord C5 (power chord
e--0------------------------------------------------------------------
B--1------------------------------------------------------------------
G--0-------------------5----------------------------------------------
D--2-------------------5----------------------------------------------
A--3-------------------3----------------------------------------------
E--0------------------------------------------------------------------




Well now, repeat that for 20 minutes and you've got the theme for FFVII. Groovy huh? Lotsa finger work in there, always practice with a metronome. For now, that should be enough for you to learn, I didn't put up an music score. Didn't feel like explaining how to read music - that'll have to be another lesson. We'll be working getting more and more beginners classes up just as soon as my fingersstop bleeding. I play that one just wee bit faster than the video game... Now for some definitions. Scale - 7 notes in a diatonic (melodic) arrangement. Scale Degree - number of the note starting at the lowest pitch to highest with in a scaleRoot note - the 8th degree of each scale, an octave.Mode - the path of travel through a major scale based on entry relative to the scale degree. One last explanation - a mode be it a natural minor, or major or Phrygian etc is still and always will BE a MAJOR SCALE! it is just where you begin your playing of that major scalethat defines the mode, and you can -ruthlessly- switch modes so long as you know what chords they fit over. That's a few lessons away, we have a lot of ground to cover before we hitchord theory, although it isn't to stay you can't use one with out the other. But then again it's better to have the knowledge and choose not to use it, than want to do something and not know how. Next lesson we'll have some more scale exercises. As always feel free to email me about anything and I'll get back to ya in a day or so. Till then take care!

- Tachi

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