Archive for the ‘Guitar Lessons’ Category

Pfft…yeah, right.

As if a rock guitarist could explain the essence of the greatest guitar chord book ever written.

Then again, some would argue it’s one of the worst books written because of wildly unstructured layout. I mean, if I’d written an all encompassing book like this, I might have started with power chords, working my way into the jazz genius.

Man, the nerve of this blogger–thinking he knows how a chord BIBLE should be written!

I bought this book back in college. Let’s not mention dates, but I had hair back then. I got it because my teacher recommended it and seeing that I was logging in 4-6 hours of practice each day, why not invest some of that time into something besides Satriani solos?*

I think I skipped the first six sections (chord formulas? Polytonal chords?) and hit on Section 7: Essential Chords because with a title like that I had to take it seriously. But if you’ve seen those two pages you know what you’re in for; something involving lots of aspirin.

But I plowed through that list over several months, forgot most of it, but picked up some cool voicings that I use to this day. Then over the next five years I spent unhealthy hours pouring over all this chemistry, writing notes in the margins, writing progressions of my own to see if I understood the information. Many years later, I still find those papers in my drawers, and they don’t make a darn bit of sense!

I finally burned out on trying to make sense of Ted’s genius. I wasn’t qualified to handle it. I moved on to lessons in guitar magazines, “easier” books, exploring on my own.

At some point, long after college, I opened up a page of progressions in Chord Chemistry and played through them. Back in college these chords were just weird shapes I tried to memorize unsuccessfully. They sounded cool, but I was annoyed that I couldn’t unlock the secret as to why they sounded cool. But in this moment they suddenly made sense. The voice leading, substitutions, inversions–I GOT IT!

Well, not always to the point where I could be certified as a chord chemist, but I saw the connections between what Ted was teaching versus the “easy” stuff I’d picked up previously. Puzzle pieces came together so compositional riddles could be solved.

I have a few pointers for tackling the information in this crazy text. What makes me qualified to do so? Teaching guitar for twenty years, for starters. I probably lost students trying to force this material on them prematurely, so I learned what they should tackle FIRST before digging into Chord Chemistry.

  • Power Chords: Yes, the ones that let you play Green Day songs. If you can’t rock out and hold solid grooves with power chords you’ll have more fun licking dirty guitar strings** than reading Chord Chemistry.
  • Open Major/Minor Chords: Because…if I have to explain why you’re better off practicing on a couple rubber bands!
  • Bar Chords: Often called the Caged System. Learn these shapes in major, minor, major 7, dominant 7 and minor 7 FIRST!*** Get those down and all the crazy 13ths, #5/b9 chords will make WAY more sense.
  • Triads: Major and minor shapes all over the neck are a must. I’m tempted to say you should learn these before the bar chords, but greener players tend to get frustrated with such thin sounding chords, not to mention liking the freedom of hitting more strings that bar chords offers.

Hey, all this info is on my poster, getting the shameless plug out of the way. It’s also covered in Ted’s Essential Chord List, though buried with all the inversions you probably won’t need for awhile. So…practice this up to your threshold, then move on to non-Ted stuff so your brain can process it.

What’s valuable to you in Chord Chemistry varies on experience levels. Personally, I found Section 15: Triads to be mind blowing. I’d already been playing bar chords for many years, so learning how to create diatonic chord scales on the p.82 shapes opened my mind up to all sorts of ideas.

I also absorbed Section 10: Moving Chords a 4th early on. Something about being able to take a shape I knew on one set of strings and create the same chord on another group helped me come up with ideas faster than just memorizing a bunch of chord boxes.

Section 18: Blues Progressions should be closer to the front of the book, IMHO. For rock guys like myself, at least. Seeing how all these crazy chords can be used in a I-IV-V context is a lifetime of new doors opening. If you have a basic grasp of diatonic harmony concepts you’ll find another year or two of practice just absorbing the turnarounds on p.99. bIIIM7–bVIM7–iim7b5–V7??? I know…but it sounds awesome!

I could write at least a blog a month on new things I’ve learned from this book, but I’ll leave it with this: My biggest mistake when I first bought Chord Chemistry was approaching it like a method book to study front-to-back. Frustrating! Study the sections that make sense to YOU and inspire you to practice. If you’re confused by the concepts on a page move on to something else. Come back to the confusing chapter a few months (or even a few years) later and you’ll be surprised that it suddenly makes sense.

*Which I couldn’t play, anyway. I mean, I could play them, but not in any way a fan would recognize.

**Your own dirty strings, not someone else’s. That’s just unhygienic!

***But don’t beat yourself up if you learn a ninth chord before doing this. You’re supposed to be having fun!


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Warning: Another very basic guitar lesson post–nothing fancy here! So if you’re all ready comfortable with playing in 3/4 time sorry I wasted your seconds clicking on this post. 🙂

But as I’ve introduced students to the concept of odd time signatures I’ve noticed their comprehension is blocked by a very straightforward roadblock…what’s the difference between odd time and common (4/4) time when the building blocks (quarter notes, eighth notes, etc.) are the same? For example, if you’re simply playing a quarter note groove is it in 3/4, 4/4, 6/4, 1,000,000/4 or what? The roadblock is something along the lines that odd time signatures should have, well, ODD rhythms!

And they can, but they don’t have to.

Check out the top example the PDF I put together. A repeating measure in 3/4 followed by the exact same quarter notes in 4/4. Close your eyes and you can’t tell which time is being played. It’s all about how you’re counting in your head. Are you counting “1-2-3, 1-2-3…” or “1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4…”? That’s it.

Now you’re disappointed. Odd time grooves sound so cool when Rush/Tool/Dream Theater use them. How come mine sound dumb? Because you’re just learning them, duh! Learn every easy rhythm your ears can find and suddenly those complex riffs aren’t so complex.

The second row on my PDF is basically the same riff twice except the second measure in 4/4 has an extra note the 3/4 measure doesn’t. Simple, eh? But now you’re starting to hear the difference.

The first measure of the third row was one of the first I learned where the concept of 3/4 first clicked for me, perhaps because it’s two dotted quarter notes that completely fill a 3/4 space. There’s a smoothness (in my opinion) that has a distinct 3/4 feel without feeling odd to play. The second measure of that row is the same thing with the added note on the fourth beat, a helpful way to compare the feels of similar riffs.

Tip of the iceberg with this stuff. There are so many resources to learn just about anything on this I wouldn’t know where to start. Oh, wait…this link has some cool tips on it.

Not to mention the odd time lessons and other cool chordal tips found my rhythm guitar poster.

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This is for the advanced beginner or intermediate players out there. So all you cats comfortable with diatonic harmony can spare me the rants about how easy this is. Besides, you sould be practicing right now!

I often get the student questions about how to play in a particular key or how to make your chord progressions more interesting. They know a bunch of bar chords, maybe even dabbled in the ones with the fancy names like 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. But bouncing around the shapes randomly doesn’t satisfy, so how do you lasso the chords into something decent? Tricky question to the less experienced, compounded by the experience level of the player and how much music theory they have under their belt. But to get the ball rolling I’m going to start with a straightforward outline that will get you making the music first. Then you can tackle other questions later with your teacher…or give ME a call if you’re in Marin County and could use a few more lessons. 😉

Let’s focus on the key of C Major. You’re pretty much restricting yourself to the following chords (for starters):

I = C major

ii = D minor

iii = E minor

IV = F major

V = G major

vi = A minor

vii = B diminished

That’s it. If you restrict yourself to playing just those chords anywhere on the neck you’ll be playing in the key of C and it will sound pretty smooth as you switch them around. Get to work, you’re done here.

Or perhaps you’ve come back wondering why things are better than you started, but not quite what you were hoping. Going from B diminished to F major doesn’t cut it for your ears or whatever. Over the years (or more likely the centuries) certain progressions in a key have become so popular to certain styles of music that they’re practically rules of engagement. Arguably the most popular progressions in a key are…

I-IV-V (C-F-G in the key of C). The vast majority of blues uses these changes, not to mention a significant chunk of most of styles of music.

ii-V-I (Dm-G-C in key of C). A HUGE part of jazz, though quite useful in other styles too.

What’s that…you haven’t dealt with Roman Numerals since the second grade??? Then welcome them back, as you’re going to find them useful in music theory. Ya see, it’s a pain in the butt to talk about chord changes with your band in terms of all the chord names. “We’re going C major, D major and G major in the verses, then we’re going to switch to B major, E major and F# major in the bridge.” The brain doesn’t like that, so we’ll typically say, “I-IV-V in C for the verses, then I-IV-V in B for the bridge.” Assuming you’re comfortable doing this in all keys, such a direction is pretty easy to absorb.

What’s that…you’re sick of playing just major and minor chords? Well hey, I never said you were restricted to them! I, IV and V are always major-TYPE chords, so you can start putting those major 7 and major 9 chords to use as substitutes. ii, iii and vi are reserved for minor-TYPE chords, which means minor 7ths and such will also give you the variety you seek.

The V chord is also cool because it’s often (ALWAYS to many players) reserved for dominant 7th chords and other chords in the dominant family. So you’ve got one more option to play with.

Oh, but there are some many other options, so many things to try, rules to break! All in due time. I gotta get some practice time in myself… 😉

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I’ve been a bit busy over the past year, working on music to A Virus Named Tom and a quick contract over at Ubisoft doing some notetracking on Rocksmith. If your fingers are hurting trying to learn Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell” or Foo Fighters “My Hero” you can direct your hate mail this way! But I’ve got some time opening up in the schedule and I’d like get back into one of my primary loves, teaching! Talking guitar & bass with the local folks keeps my musical brain sharp and teaches me as much as it does them. Almost 20 years teaching and I still learn stuff!

I used to teach in various North Bay music stores, but they tend to be noisy with all the other lessons going on around them, so now I invite students to my quiet home studio just off the 101 freeway (also nice for recording demos), along with a few housecalls up through Santa Rosa (where I find myself quite a bit these days). Interested? Got some basic info on my website. All students get a copy of my rhythm guitar poster and the opportunity to laugh at my silly teaching jokes! I’ve got plenty of references if needed. Thanks!

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One of my students was asking about this, so I created a quick audio file where I play the differences between swing 8th notes and 8th note triplets with the middle 8th left out (a quarter note/8th note grouping as I explain it in the audio). Playing these two examples sound exactly the same; they just look different on paper.

I was going to write up a few examples of what the notation looks like in these cases, but I got some Christmas shopping to do and the SOUND is more important in this case. Shoot me an email if you’re confused and I’d be happy to explain, point out another link, etc.

Keith’s 8th Note Swing Audio Lesson.

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The following lesson doesn’t contain ANY animal products!

I’ve been pursuing the vegan lifestyle as far as food goes for the past year. It’s actually pretty cool as long as you get a good cookbook (I love you, Chloe Coscarelli). But first rule about being a vegan…you don’t talk about being a vegan! People don’t hear you say you’ve given up meat…they hear you throwing the first punch in how they’re animal killers, that the Raiders suck, that Brokeback Mountain–though a compelling story–wasn’t really that great a movie to warrant an Oscar. And then it becomes a debate on why you suck and WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LET THEM EAT THEIR MEAL IN PEACE????????

So enjoy your lentil stew as you work on your right hand picking technique in today’s lesson…

I came across this Paul Gilbert lesson over the summer. Nothing terribly fancy or complicated in the riffs, but I found them challenging anyway because of the demands required in my right hand, string crossing in particular. I’m a lefty who plays right handed guitar, so nothing ever comes naturally in the right. Anyway, going through Gilbert’s lesson I noticed that the string crossing elements of his riffs were a bit harder for me that the single string ones. I found myself isolating the string crossing element and expanding it across the fretboard, which you can see on the following PDF…

Keith’s String Crossing Lesson

The actual riff and rhythms are arbitrary. I like to mix them up with different fingers, rhythms, etc. The important part is the motion and how you start with an up stroke on the high string and a downstroke on the lower, adjacent one. It’s not like you have to use this technique exclusively…but it’s a motion that I found I’ve neglected in my own practice, which often leans towards how many things I can pull off on a single string. These riffs isolate the string crossing motion and prepare you for whatever madness comes next.

The main difference between the A and B riffs in the PDF is that A has you repeat the pattern a couple times in each string grouping while B just runs through each grouping once. Jam it out, focus on it, practice it in front of the TV a bit until you realize you’re nailing down the motion without even thinking about it because you’re watching Sons of Anarchy.**


*I had cheese in my burrito last weekend…FAIL!

**Who would have guessed such a bland concept about a biker gang could be so freaking AWESOME?! It’s all about the writing, folks. Quality stuff.

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I’m home sick, getting in a little extra practice time. Specifically, the Mixolydian mode because I have a student asking about it.

Not going to get into the theory behind WHAT Mixolydian is because you can Google that info a million different ways. Just wanted to throw out a few things I found helpful. For starters, this cool jam track…

Modes can be a pain in the butt to finesse. If your chord progressions get too elaborate your leads will end up sounding more like the parent key (say, A major/Ionian when you’re trying to play E Mixolydian). But who wants to jam on a single dominant 7th chord for an entire song or even a solo section? Then again, compelling melodies and harmonies can be that simple, so you might as well start there.

Got a handle on your diatonic harmony/major & minor chord scales? Here’s the chord scale for Mixolydian:


I like to make the I chord a dominant 7th much of the time. Or you could go jazz and make anything a 7th chord…more theory for another time. I find emphasizing the I chord and sneaking in nearby chords gives you cool Mixolydian harmony.

For most of my college years I’d fit minor pentatonic into anything and everything. Now if I have a simple power chord groove that drops down a step here and there I think, “Oh yeah–I to bVII…Mixolydian. Or switch between that and pentatonic because if the power chord is just the root and 5th then the lead gets to choose whether you’re hearing a major or minor third–Mixo/minor, that is.

Here’s a cool progression that I think works well with C Mixolydian:

C7 Dm7 Bb Or with a bit C9 Dm7 Dm9 Bbsus2
//// // // of spice… //// / / //

So we’re talkin’ I7-ii-bVII. You could explore the usual I-IV-V progression, but in this case the V chord is minor so you’d get I-IV-v.

Anyway, these are a few ideas. I’m sure there are guitar scholars who could school me on this stuff many lifetimes over. Maybe they’ll stop by and add something cool in the comment section. 🙂

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