Intervals: The Root Of Feeling

Pun intended.

Intervals are a massively important but often overlooked aspect of music theory, especially for guitar. Knowing what interval you’re playing and what impact that has on your listener will make you a powerful composer and improviser.

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Neck Positions Are Dumb, Discuss.

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.

Chromatic Scales

All the scales you’ve learnt so far have probably been Diatonic ones. A Diatonic Scale is one that ascends and descends in a pre-ordained pattern of Tones and Semitones. A Chromatic Scale is derived from a much smaller pattern. In this lesson we’re going to learn the two Chromatic Scales that have the most musical potential, (that doesn’t mean they sound great by themselves though!)

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As implied by the brackets, the Whole Tone Scale can comfortably be played over an Augmented Chord.


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It’s much easier to play this scale outside of a box pattern.. If you attempted to learn the pattern starting on roughly the same fret, like we normally do, you would probably struggle as there’s basically no memorable pattern.
The Whole-Half Scale can be used over a Diminished Chord.

Many guitarists will try and tell you that Chromatic Scales are only useful as an exercise to improve finger dexterity and left-right hand coordination.  There are, however, some much more rewarding applications – try out the following:
– Ascend a Major or Minor Scale, but descend with either of these Chromatic Scales.
 – Play normally over a chord progression, but dip in to either of these scales when you reach a Diminished or Augmented Chord.

The Dorian Mode

In this lesson I’m going to go over the 2nd mode of the Major Scale: The Dorian Mode.

The Dorian mode most closely resembles the Natural Minor Scale, so we’ll start with that, here is the D Natural Minor Scale.
R   2   m3   4    5  m6   m7
D   E    F    G   A   Bb    C

To turn this into the Dorian Mode we need to sharpen the m6. So our new pattern is this.
R   2   m3   4    5   6   m7
D   E    F    G   A   B    C

Here is the tablature for D Dorian. Remember, this is a moveable shape so you can, for instance, play it 2 frets higher and make it E Dorian.

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It’s important to make your own mind up about what the modes sound like, and what particular thoughts or feelings they invoke. Take some time to play around with the above pattern, maybe work out a couple licks and slip them into your regular solos, or over simple backing tracks.

You could also listen to the following tracks as an aural study, as these are all written in the Dorian Mode:
Oye Como Va by Tito Puente, (popularized by Santana)
Billie Jean by Micheal Jackson
Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple
Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles

I will be uploading a Dorian Etude in the near future, but in the mean time you could mess around with this Dorian I, IV, V progression:

   I                                   IV                                     V
Dm                                 G                                    Am
Dm7                               G7                                  Am7