Simplified Theory For Beginner Guitarists


Music Theory

I'm not going to lie to you music theory is very likely the most boring subject on the planet, full of jargon, complex, difficult to understand and made far more complicated than it needs to be, which is why many self-taught guitarists ignore it and play solos from their knowledge of scales and the fretboard.
You can look up a lot of these musical terms in the guitarists glossary here.

Trouble is there is some important basic stuff you need to know about, and if you don't learn it you will never understand what the hell you are doing and may struggle later on, especially if you join a band or group of other musicians.

If you know some music theory great, it will help you, if not it doesn't matter you will learn what you need as you go along.

Doh ray me so far la tee doh – seven notes right?

Did you count eight and think I'm a dick?
Haha, the last doh is a repeat of the first note but one octave higher in sonic pitch
Oct = latin for 8 right?  There are 8 octaves in the standard music scale.

Standard 6 string guitars usually play 4 octaves of the chromatic scale (more frets or more strings = more octaves)
4 Octaves is all you need to play face-melting guitar solos with!!
There are other important scales for guitarists with more or less notes in, including the Pentatonic and Blues scales, which we will cover in more detail.

Musical Keys
I'm sure you have all seen something like...
 Swastik's Piano Concerto in B flat minor
B flat is a musical key – There are a total of 12 different keys in the chromatic scale, which is what you will be using.

Any piece of music can be played in any one of the 12 keys, most commonly a particular key is chosen is to accomodate the range of a singer's voice, assuming there are vocals in the piece.

In sheet music the 'key' of the piece is noted in the first line or bar of the music right at the start near the treble/bass clef mark, it shows how many sharp or flat notes are in the key, this tells you which key the piece should be played in. (It assumes you know this theory).
Note, the key of C major has no sharp or flat notes at all.

Another important thing to learn about musical keys at this stage is the difference between major and minor keys, the best way I can explain it simply is this, major keys have a bright or 'happy' sound whereas minor keys are more melancholy and have a 'sad' sound.

Key of C
Key of Db  same as C# (enharmonic )
Key of D
Key of Eb
Key of E
Key of F
Key of Gb same as F# (enharmonic )
Key of G
Key of Ab
Key of A
Key of Bb
Key of B  same as Cb (enharmonic )

Enharmonic keys are counted as one key, that's all you need to know at this stage.
Note there is no sharp or flat notes between E and F or between B and C.
Each scale is made up from a series of sharp and flat notes Except the C Major scale which contains the notes C D E F G A B and has no sharps or flats

12 Possible Keys in Music
A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, and G#/Ab.
Mainly, the enharmonic keys are referred to by the flat notes i.e. (B,D and A flat)
Only musicians need to know about enharmonic theory.
A song can be played so that any one of these twelve notes will be the tonal center or 'home' key, according to the scale or chord being played, meaning usually (but not always) you will start and end on this key note or chord. For exaple a song in the key of A will begin and end on an A chord.
Any song can be played in any key, usually a key is chosen to match a singer's voice range or the type of music being played, downbeat or sad songs are often played in a Minor key.
E'g' Motorhead going f**king mad in E with Ace of Spades, would sound crap in C or G major.

The scales you need to learn first are the major scales, the minor scales and the Pentatonic scales, and the apparently musically incorrect Blues scale.
Yes that's right, all that music theory goes right out the window with the Blues scale, according to the theory it shouldn't work, but it does and forms the basis of all rock and pop music... so much for that.
Reminds me of the fact that some boffin worked out it's mathematically impossible for bees to fly! Nobody told the bees, just like nobody told the African slaves that the Blues don't work.

You don't have to worry about the first two, you will already be practising them as the major and minor scales.
With modes, once again think 'patterns'
Memorize the patterns and you have learnt the modes – simples!

Ionian (major scale)
Aeolian (natural minor)
Locrian (leave this one until last)

Vibrato is fingering a note and then wiggling your finger slightly but very quickly, thus moving the from side to side quickly, causing rapid changes in the pitch of the note thus producing 'vibrato' of the note.
Playing vibrato is one of the most difficult techniques, with a lot of practice you should be able to do it with all four fingers, yup even your pinkie.

With all these notes and scales and keys you can see now why it is very important to know the notes on the fretboard like the back of your hand.
And there's more...
With all those in the bag work your way through learning the various musical Modes.

In case you are feeling overwhelmed here is a super-duper tip to help you get over what seems like a mountain...
Memorize the patterns for each scale – the patterns are the same in every key!
Most beginners start out mastering the Key of A, which is the easiest key to play in because it is in the middle of the fretboard and the frets are wider, I recommend you start with this key too.

Blues scale in the key of E
In my humble opinion most Blues sound best when played in the key of E.
Unfortunately playing in E is much more difficult than all the other keys. If you want to play Blues or Rock I suggest you learn in E after you have mastered A.
Blues in the key of E  is tricky, because of the EADGBE tuning at the nut, this means you cannot fret the E note at the nut end because it is an open string E, you can detune the E strings half a step to E flat so you can fret them but this may throw you off because every note you play on the E strings will be one fret lower than normal.