Lesson 3: Guitar Concepts
The guitar is currently one of the most popular instruments in the world. Even if you have no interest in becoming a professional musician, the concepts introduced by understanding the guitar can be transferred to any other instrument you might want to play. Learning to play can be both exciting and challenging, but most of all it should be fun. Remember that you can e-mail us if you're having any problems!
Relating the Guitar to What You Already Know
Take a minute to think how you would describe a guitar to someone who had never seen one. You know that it has a round body and a neck with six strings. The strings are held down on the neck and plucked or strummed at the larger part of the body. There are also many divisions on the neck called Frets that tell the player where each half step is.
Although the guitar has six strings, each string only contains the same twelve tones you know about that repeat over and over again. The first and thinnest string is the E string. It has the highest pitch of the six strings and is an E when plucked without being held down anywhere of the neck. In order of highest to lowest pitches (and in order of their appearance on the guitar) the six strings are E B G D A E. If you hold down one of these strings on the first fret its pitch is raised on half step (i.e. an E becomes a F, an A becomes a Bb). Each consecutive fret increases the tone by one half step.
Now, let's quickly review the C major scale: C D E F G A B C, and the pattern that forms it: whole whole half whole whole whole half. There is only a half step between an E and F or between a B and C. All the other notes have a whole step between them.
Now, you should recall that a sharp indicates that a note is to be played one half step higher than written and a flat indicates for it to be played one half step lower. This implies that the fret just to the right of middle C should be C#, and it is. But what about Cb? The note a half step lower than C is B, but it is also Cb. Now you see how it is possible for a note to have more than one name. What about a Db? It is the same note as a C#, but some key signatures will simply indicate a Db instead of a C#. It is up to the musician to realize that these are both the same note.
By using a combination of both different strings and frets, it is possible to form any scale following the correct pattern of half and whole steps. You just have to remember where the whole and half steps are in the scale. For example, what note is a whole step higher than an E? The answer is F#.
Harmony and Melody
Guitars are fairly unusual instruments in that they are used to play either the melody or accompianment to a song. Many times, the melody is sung while the guitar is used to play the accompaning chords. Sometimes, however, the guitar completely replaces the voice. Remeber Slash of Guns n' Roses? His solos were actually variations on the same theme as Axl's vocals. But, how can you find what the harmony is if you only know how the melody goes?
The key to solving most problems of harmony usually lies in the chords that match the melody. As you have already learned, the chord made up of the first third and fifth of the scale of the key that a piece is written in is called the I chord. You also learned that the I, IV and V7 chords of a key are often used within one song.
A song's accompaniment is not limited to these three chords. In fact, outside of beginning music, you hardly ever see a piece with as common a pattern as this. However, it is very important to be familiar with these chords and their fingering for use with fake books, and because they will show up in some form in almost every piece you ever encounter. The I, IV, and V7 chords are also very commonly seen as broken chords.