Quick tip for songwriters and composers, especially ones wanting to create memorable, popular music. The idea is that trying to re-create your song using memory alone will highlight the elements that are most memorable and allow you to reconsider the use of any parts you didn’t remember.
Let’s clear something up before watching the video. There’s been some confusion in the video comments which, I think, stems from the fact that there’s 2 things often referred to as “Neck Positions”, but only one of these is relevant here. The first is Scale Position – the note of the scale you begin on, (“starting on the 2nd degree of the scale”, for example); the second, and the subject of this video, is Fret Positions – the fret on which you start playing.
Guitar positions are a way of indicating where on the fretboard you play barre chords or scales. It allows you to know what chord voicings a composer wants you to play, or it lets you know if there’s an easier way to approach a lead line, by starting in a position you wouldn’t usually expect to. If I say “A minor, 5th position” everyone knows to play an A minor barre chord rooted to the 5th fret. These can be indicated on notation with roman numerals, but since TAB has become more and more popular it kinda makes the position markings obsolete.
They are, in my opinion, pointless because the number that dictates the position is the same as the fret number. Fret 1 is position 1 for example. So, we could quite easily replace the word “position” with “fret”, everyone would know what we meant and we wouldn’t have to pointlessly throw around extra terms. It’s just unnecessary. For example – could you play “A minor at the 5th position” becomes “A minor at the 5th fret” – easy. If it meant something other than the fret number then it’d make sense. But it doesn’t.
I sometimes use neck positions as a starting point for teaching modes because it allows a student to think about a scale as being something you can play all over the neck, rather than being confined to a box shape. I’ll usually talk about how the Major and Minor scales can be played together, then work out the notes in between. Usually that’s enough for students and is a great basis for building up to the modes, but sometimes I’ll talk about these traditional scale positions for a couple weeks, and then basically replace the position number with the name of the mode.
For example, if we’re in A Minor, we could play 3rd position Am, then start referring to it as G Mixolydian. Similarly, B Major, 4th position becomes G# Aeolian. It makes more sense to refer to modes in terms of how they relate to each other rather than being abstract and separate scales which is how they’re usually taught – maybe not in a classroom, but certainly on the internet. That way is helpful to teaching modulation, but with my method you actually learn how modes are created, how they relate to each other, so when you do start to address modulation you have a much better foundational understanding. It doesn’t seem to have a detrimental affect when we then start talking about modal modulation, which was a concern when I first tried this. I will use the term “open position” when referring to open chords or a scale using open strings, because you can’t say the “0 fret” because it’s not a fret, right?
So, that’s why I don’t usually teach neck positions – because we can just say “fret 3” and we all know what’s going on. Also a bit of info on how I approach relative major / minor scales, and teaching the modes.
If you repeat a “bad” musical idea enough, it begins to sound right. This can be a fun and unique music-making tool – you just have to believe it’ll sound OK!
Musical terms defined, including Interval, The Modes, Orchestra, Inversion, Lyrical, Cadence.
Now, I’m not saying you should rip-off other’s music in this way, only that you could. I’m just going to assume you need this video because you innocently and accidentally copied someone else’s work – this is the internet, no judgements here.
At any time, in any key, you can actually play any note. This can be a little confusing at first, but ultimately is an easy way to add character to your improvisations, and create much more interesting melodies.
Below is what you might call a scale diagram – if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re only 2 notes away from playing all the notes…
You can see the minor scale outlined with the red dots, (each conveniently labelled with it’s interval), and the new outside notes are coloured individually.
The Blue Note – b5
This interval sounds awful out of context, but it does have 2 uses. Firstly, you can make something sound tense by changing between a perfect and a diminished 5th – especially in rhythm playing, which has a cool kinda Led Zeppelin feel to it.
Secondly, and the focus of today’s attention, is using it as a bridge between the perfect 4th and 5th, which is what a lot of blues-based riffs and solos rely upon.
If you’ve played a major scale, you should already be comfortable with the idea of a major 3rd, and hopefully comfortable that you, technically speaking, shouldn’t play this note when in a minor scale.
To heck with your rules. If you know where your minor 3rd is, this note is the fret above that. I came across this by watching a blues guitarist friend of mine, and noticed he was throwing this note in directly after the minor 3, (the same way you might throw in the blue note). The Minor 3 – Major 3 – Root lick has lived in my phrase book ever since.
The Phrygian Note – b2
I call it that, because it’s what gives the Phrygian mode it’s very particular flavour. The note is the fret above the root, and you can get away with it in a blues or rock setting, because these styles often avoid playing the 2 chord, (which would be Diminished in the minor scale). This ambiguity about what the 2nd degree of the scale is means you can make it whatever you darn well please.
Often I’ll use this in conjunction with the major 3rd to give a flavour of the Middle East in what I’m playing, (in my mind I refer to this as “the cool part of the Phrygian Dominant mode”)
How to “Sell It”
I get it, these notes sound weird so how can you really “sell” them to a listener.
- Confidence. An audience will know you screwed up either from your face and body language, or because you stop playing for a moment to berate yourself. The best way around this is to intentionally play notes you know won’t work and get comfortable with them. Play a backing track, and try to hold a diminished 5th or flat 2 through the entire thing. Your brain and muscle memory will want to correct you – don’t let them. Pretty soon you’ll be fine with throwing outside notes into your everyday playing.
- Short Note Duration. You can get used to these notes by keeping the notes really short, and gradually build-up your confidence in the sound of these notes.