Updated: Apr 11
For many years, I played the guitar without understanding how chords were made, which notes were used, or where they were on the fretboard.
I used scale shapes, fingering patterns and other ways to negotiate the fretboard, which I found easier to understand than music theory, especially as I'm a very visual learner. So for me, YouTube videos, diagrams, scale maps and so on were easier for me to get my head around.
However, I found that although I could play in all the main modes - Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian - and I could play lots of licks I was really happy with, it often felt a bit random when improvising.
Sometimes, when comping, I'd find myself running out of ideas, and when soloing some of my main notes sounded great and other slightly off.
Learning theory helped me lots, and it is something that we as guitarists often avoid, sometimes still becoming very proficient, but still not understanding what we're actually playing.
Understanding what we're actually playing and how it relates to the tapestry of the music we're playing with gives us a wonderful freedom.
So when we understand how a chord is made, and what notes are used to make it, then suddenly, we can work out many other places to play the same chords, giving us a great many options.
We understand which notes sound great against those chords. For example, imagine you're playing in the key of A minor, with the backing track playing an Am chord. You may finish a lick on a D, which doesn't sound amazing as it doesn't resolve as strongly as other options. However, the if the next chord is a Dm, this same note will sound great!
So along with knowing what chords we're playing over, we ned to know what notes make them and how they relate to the chord.
Here's a quick 5 minute lesson that introduces this concept.
Now you've seen the vid, it's time to start experimenting.
What are the chord tones for a Dm? What about an E? Where are they all on the fretboard?
It's asking questions like these, and finding out the answers by investigating the fretboard ourselves that gives us the answers we need to help us become better musicians.
Have fun, and remain inquisitive!