***Disclaimer-I apologize in advance to any and all LEFT-handed guitarists out there, but all my diagrams and videos are oriented for Right-handed players (players who use their right hands to pick). All of the information is still valid for lefties, but you will have to visualize a “mirror-image” for many of the graphics.
As a beginner, your fretting hand needs to perform the lion’s share of the work. The earlier you work on correct mechanics,the better. Don’t be overwhelmed by trying to remember all of these suggestions at once; concentrate on one or two points at first. After your hands “remember” these mechanics you can move on to others.
Making contact between the string and the fret is the key to producing a clean sound. If we make constant clean contact, the note will sustain as long as the string vibrates. If the pressure is removed, the note will die out. On a properly set up guitar, it shouldn’t take much finger pressure to make the connection. You should experiment to find the least amount of pressure it takes to produce a tone. Exerting too much pressure is fatiguing and could possibly pull the note out of tune on higher profile frets. Here are some helpful hints to perfect your fretting hand:
when fretting a note, get as close to the body side of the fret space as you can without physically touching the wire- touching the wire will mute the note.
keep your fingers straight with the fret wires- this will increase your stretch.
your palm doesn’t need to squeeze around the neck. Use only the fingers you need (with your thumb applying opposite pressure) to produce sounds. If you try to grip too close, you limit your stretch and cramp your hand.
don’t keep your elbow tucked into your torso- this pulls your hand out of position and hinders your ability to move up and down the neck fluidly.
Here are some easy exercises to help you with your technique:
This first example uses all four fingers of your left hand to cover a 4 fret block. Each finger will cover one specific fret across the guitar. In this case, our index plays the 5th fret, middle plays 6th, ring plays 7th and pinky plays the 8th fret. Imagine yourself drumming your fingers on a desk (from index to pinky).
* Don’t be afraid to experiment with any and all exercises. Why not try playing EX.1 starting from a higher /lower fret while maintaining the same shape?
This exercise uses the Low E (6th) string exclusively, but you should also try it on the other five strings. You will still use one finger per fret like EX.1, but now our “four-finger block” will ascend up the neck- one fret at a time. (*NOTE that whenever you hear terms like “ascending”, “up” or “higher” it means that we are headed towards the body of the guitar).
We are about to learn THE most important scale in all of music:
THE MAJOR SCALE
Why is this scale so important? Well, because the vast majority of music you hear comes directly from it. And when musicians talk about other scales, they still use the Major scale for comparison.
Like all scales, The Major scale has a formula. In other words, it has a specific pattern that it must adhere to. You can measure the Major scale or any scale’s formula by measuring from note to note to note, etc. In music we measure these using half-steps (1 fret) and whole-steps (2 frets). (Later on we’ll experiment with others).
The Major scale uses 7 different notes to produce a “happy” sound. The eighth note is the same as the first, and in traditional theory you should start and end a scale on the same note.
The formula for ALL Major scales is:
This means that you play a note on any given fret. We’ll call this number (1), then go up a whole step to land on number (2). Count up another whole step and you end up on number (3). Next count a half-step to reach number (4). Another whole step to find number (5), and another to get to (6). A final whole step will take you to (7). Count up one more half-step to find your octave.
Here is the Major scale formula on your guitar neck:
You can start this formula on any fret or string and play a Major scale. Try a few (make sure to stick with the formula!). Does it sound happy yet? If not try again…it should start sounding like the “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti/Si, (Do)” that we all remember from childhood.
We just learned the Major scale up one string. It works fine, but the linear shape requires a lot of movement up and down the neck. But NO WORRIES!!! One of the coolest things about the guitar is the fact that you always have the option to play something with a different fingering. Let’s try a more condensed version of this scale:
In the last lesson we likened 5 note Pentatonic scales to “skeletons” of the original 7 note scales.
This guy represents a 7 note Minor scale. (His name is the Natural Minor Scale– we’ll learn all about him later.)
Here is his 5 note Pentatonic “skeleton”. It’s still the same guy/scale-there’s just less of him.
Let’s say theguy (Natural Minor scale) contains the notes: A B C D E F G (A)
His skeleton uses 5 notes to give the basic form of the scale: A C D E G (A)
SO…Anytime we can use a full 7 note scale, we can always substitute the 5 note pentatonic skeleton.
But what if we tried to go all mad scientist on this poor guy’s skeleton??? What if we added anotherbone (note) or two? It wouldn’t be too much different from the Pentatonic skeleton, but it would be vastly different from the original guy/ scale…
Minor Pentatonic is interchangeable with Natural Minor. All the notes agree. But when we add in foreign notes, they aren’t found in the original body scale. These oddball additions are referred to as passing tones. Because they aren’t technically correct, they sometimes have a “brash“ effect. Listeners are quick to pick up on these deviations because they vary from the overall scale and “feel” of a song.
Many styles of music use passing tones. We’ll also learn about other scales incorporating passing tones to create new and unique sounds.
Probably the most commonly used scale that contains passing tones is the “Blues Scale“. The Blues Scale is essentially the Minor Pentatonic with one passing note added per octave. I’ve marked the passing tones with an “X”. Remember to play these! It’s no longer a pentatonic scale because it has more than five notes. Here is the pattern (remember to use the four finger block!):
Here is the Blues Scale in the Key of X:
What if we try to attach even more bones/notes? We can add notes to the Blues Scale and come up with a scale that doesn’t really have a name. I call it the BWPT (Blues with passing tones):
It’s not as difficult as it first appears. There are only two fingerings to play this scale- index, ring & pinky or index middle and ring. Guitarists like this shape because of it’s symmetry. It is easier to play across the strings if the pattern stays the same. Try this simple exercise using the first three strings: