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Thread: Chord Tones vs. Scales in Improv.

  1. #1
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    Chord Tones vs. Scales in Improv.

    OK, well just as a pre-cursor to anything I say below - as always, I find I really don’t disagree much with what you say .

    But having said that (paradoxically perhaps) I think we are each recommending very different approaches to learning, practicing and playing guitar ....

    ... though the difference may be typical of whether one is coming at this from a classic jazz perspective or a classic “rock” perspective ... and I think it’s quite likely that both roads, although starting out from quite different places, will converge and end up at more-or-less the same destination in the end.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    I think understanding scale structure is crucial. I teach beginners the C major scale (in open position) on the first day - and of course give them tunes to practice it with (I don't encourage scale practice for its own sake).

    What I'm opposed to is learning scale patterns - at least not until one has grasped what keys and chords are all about.

    I think one can learn all one needs to know by learning to play melodies and simple chord sequences. Understanding the "do-re-mi" matters - but beyond that, all one needs to do is work with songs, with actual music. In practice, all a scale is is chord tones, plus passing notes which happen to be tones from the other chords.

    IOW, I see no sense in divorcing scales from their musical context.
    Well you may be right. Chords may be the best way to do it. Though I think learning and teaching also works very well if the student/anyone does begin by learning the most important scales patterns ... and then experimenting with playing those scale notes against different chords in the key.

    Perhaps it's quite different with classical music, where young kids are often sent for piano or violin lessons before they ever have any notion of a favourite instrumental “song“, and certainly not a favourite classical “song“. So for those classical kids, I think it’s highly unlikely they will turn up to lessons asking their teacher to divert from whatever the teacher has prepared, and ask instead for the teacher to spend the lesson teaching them their favourite first movement (Allegro) of Elgar's Concerto in B-Min Op.61, or whatever .

    Whereas, whenever I've taught kids to play guitar, they often turned up with a CD of their favourite band, asking to learn that stuff.

    So in the case of contemporary electric guitar (as opposed to classical), I think it's inevitable that people do try to learn favourite songs, simply because that's usually the motivation for them wanting to play guitar in the first place.

    So I think that naturally means that as well as learning "scale patterns", people always do spend quite a lot of practice time actually learning to play songs.
     
    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    In that case, IMO, they are wrong. That's not the best way to learn how to improvise.

    Put it this way: I was self-taught (as I know you know ). I never learned scales and arpeggios, much less practiced them. At the same time, I never had any problems knowing how to improvise. The people I see asking questions about how to improvise tend to be the ones who have learned all their scales and are wondering know how to "apply" them.
    It's not that they shouldn't have learned scales (nothing wrong with that knowledge!); it's that they should have learned other more important stuff, either as well as, or (ideally) before.
    You never tried to learn any scales or arpeggios?

    Do you mean, you went for several years without learning or practicing scales? Or do you literally mean that even now, you have never learned & practice playing scales at all?

    When I started playing I had no idea that something called “scales” even existed (much less anything called “arpeggios”). So for the first 5 years I had never practiced a scale or arpeggio either (I didn’t know any!).

    But in my case, that was frankly an utterly hopeless unstructured way of ever learning how to play. I was just stumbling around entirely aimlessly in the dark, hoping to find nice sounds on the guitar ... without the faintest idea what I was doing.

    It was only really about 10 years ago when I decided to pick up the guitar seriously again, and when I then found the guitar world had changed out of all recognition with a whole generation of new guitarists, and crucially a vast mass of great instructional books and self-teaching DVD’s (not one of which was available in my “initial stumbling in the dark years”).

    It was only then that the light came on, and I realised that everyone was playing by using scales to play solos/melody, and to create chords (from the scale), to write songs and to improvise “in Key”.

    That has been great. Because, now, using those books and DVD’s, I was finally presented with a structured intelligent explanation of what to learn and what to practice if I wanted to play like the guys who wrote the books and made the videos and DVD’s ... and that was a roll call of virtually every famous contemporary guitar player in world the of “rock” ... ie “rock” in it’s broadest sense meaning virtually everything except pure traditional jazz forms (but inc. jazz-fusion and probably free-form abstract jazz), classical and flamenco.

    As you say, that may be a very serious error to learn from all those famous players and how they play from scales and arpeggios. Seriously, I can quite believe that you are right to say it would be far better to learn and practice from chords ... and indeed, in those DVD’s there are a few guys like Don Mock (a fusion and Be-Bop player, who spends a lot of his time teaching and producing instructional books and DVD’s for others) who do mention the need for learning chords and learning to think in terms of chord tones (he has an excellent short DVD called "Jazz Guitar Rhythm Chops", which I’ve tried to use quite a bit) ....

    .... but - against that, in most of those books and DVD’s the guy is explaining to you how he actually plays. He’s explaining how he thinks about improvising, and what he actually does. And I assure you that it’s true, if you try to collect all the best DVD’s and books in that very wide “rock” style, then you will struggle to find more than a tiny handful that are teaching mainly from a chord tone approach (the book by Barrett Tagliarino, which I have often recommended here, is and exception, ie “Chord Tone Soloing”).

    If I was buying more books/DVD‘s that were specifically teaching traditional Jazz forms such as Be-Bop or Swing, then I think it‘s quite likely I would encounter lot‘s of teaching from Chords and Chord tones (a nice jazz book which does take that chord-tone approach and which might be slightly more accesible/readable for rock players is "Jay Umble, Payin Your Dues With The Blues ... and another which I'm currently practicing from and finding brilliant for learning more about chords and where I've decided myself to try focusing on playing melody from the chord tones is "Bruce Buckingham, Chord Tone Melody (Guitar)" ) . But the catch there is - the totality of that instructional jazz market is only a fraction of that available for “rock”.

    So what I’m saying is - the practical outcome, from a self-teaching point of view, is that if you are focused mainly on “rock” guitar, inc. all that jazzy fusion stuff (as I am), then you really will find that not only do you have a choice from 50x as much as you’d have with pure jazz, but also that 95%+ really are teaching almost exclusively about scales and arpeggios, rather than ever mentioning much at all about improvising by chord tones.


    ... reply continues in next post ....>

    Reference material for practicing Chords and Chord-Tone improv.

    Don Mock, Jazz Guitar Rhythm Chops, DVD
    Barrett Tagliarino, Chord Tone Soloing, introductory level guitar book & CD
    Bruce Buckingham, Chord-Melody (Guitar), in depth book and CD
    Jay Umble, Payin Your Dues With the Blues, Jazz guitar book inc. CD


     

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    ... continued from the post above ....>

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Well, that's often stated as a classical or jazz requirement. It's about knowing your instrument, essentially, a technical issue.

    It has to be linked (as you imply) to an understanding of key, and that "key" is not just a scale, a set of notes; it's a concept of tonality.

    And still, it won't make any sense unless one learns tunes and songs that employ those scales.

    And - my main point - you can learn it all via the tunes and songs themselves. IOW, you start with the actual music, and scale knowledge can come from the kind of questions one might ask about how the music works: eg, why those notes and those chords go together; what's the linking concept? It's the scale (of course). That's interesting (if theory interests you) but that knowledge is not necessary to be able to improvise. All that's necessary is knowing the melody (vocal tunes or riffs) and the chords.
    I really hate to guess how long it might take to become a good guitar player just by learning songs, without ever knowing about scales and arpeggios and how they fit into keys and chords etc.

    As I say - I did play like that, mainly from trying to learn songs (often by ear and guesswork, without any printed music) for 10 years or more, without having the faintest idea of what a scale was or why the chords had to come from a particular key (they were “just some chords” to me). I just tried to learn to play the notes the way they sounded on the record. But as I said above - I found that an utterly hopeless and slow way to learn - I was just stumbling around in the dark all the time.

    If I tried that now then I think it would be far easier. Because now I could easily find all the printed TAB/notation. So from that it might begin to dawn on me that certain consistent patterns were emerging. Ie certain sets of notes were being used often (ie scales!), and certain groups of chords kept appearing in some styles of music (keys!). But even so, I would be relying on almost re-inventing the wheel by needing to spot those patterns and notice that composers were doing similar things from one song to the next.

    But it’s obviously vastly easier if someone writes a book or produces a DVD (formally a video tape) simply telling you straight out - “ this is what I do to play. This is how I learned to compose songs, to improvise over backing chords, etc. ... so I'm going to show you how to learn all these scales, chords, arpeggios, keys, etc. ” ... as I say; that is really removing the need for you to hope that you will somehow re-discover the wheel all on your own! ... a process which I think is obviously far too vague & too much a matter of “hit & hope”.
     

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Not really. It's a mistake to think one needs to do all that before one can improvise; but not a mistake to spend that time studying, if one wants to be a consummate musician. One can improvise well, and musically, with very little knowledge, after perhaps a few weeks (or maybe months) of study. It's just a question of attitude.

    Of course, the improvisation won't be of stunning technical quality, or extensive developmental content. But so what? It's a first step. One is always limited by one's technical level. But one can be creative right from the start.

    And if one starts by learning to play tunes, then one gains an understanding of how melody works, right from the start. Improvisation is about putting notes together in a melodic way (ie using intervals and rhythm). You don't have to understand what a scale is, it can all be done with a little chord knowledge, and by adapting learned melodic phrases.

    Not only that, it will sound more musical that way than if it's derived from scale and arpeggio study (which tends to make improvisation sound like scale and arpeggio exercises).
     
    I'm not sure that anyone thinks it's impossible to improvise before you have a fantastic knowledge of numerous scales and arpeggios.

    I'm not suggesting, and those books and DVD's are not suggesting, that people should spend years just practicing scales alone, without every trying to learn a song or to learn any chords or anything (even apart from learning songs, scales and chords etc., there are of course dozens of other elements that musicians/guitarists need to practice and learn, eg timing, “touch & feel“, emphasis on certain notes, techniques like vibrato etc, ie all sorts of technique things as well as all sorts of things to do with “musicality” and phrasing etc.).

    The suggestion (it’s a lot more that merely a "suggestion" in the books I‘m talking about) is simply that you learn to improvise and write melodies by working largely from scales.

    So the sort of thing that beginners (whatever a “beginner” is) might do is to spend an hour practicing scales (all the while realising why he/she is doing that, ie how that will be used in playing music), and then the rest of the practice session working on all sorts of other things, inc. time spent learning songs.

    IOW - you try to learn a lot of different important elements, inc. scales and songs and chords etc. But when learning to improvise, the approach is to decide what scales and arpeggios will sound good against the sound of various different chords ... and then you experiment by playing something from those scales .... as opposed to what I think you and Jed and others are suggesting, which I think is to say that guys should forget the scales (and the arps?) and take note of what chords they are listening to and try to play a melody using the chord tones, ie in order to be in sympathy & in key with the chord-harmony.
     
    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    If that's the case (and I doubt it's as many as 99%), then IMHO they are all wrong.

    One thing you hear pro jazz musicians saying again and again, is it all comes from chord tones. Melody too, of course, but based around chord tones.

    You're right that doesn't seem to filter through to a lot of teaching material. IMO, that's because scales and arps are easy to teach. They are simple formulas and diagrams. Sets of patterns and rules that can be written down and easily digested. (It culminates in dreadful jazz chord-scale theory - which has become increasingly notorious in its vulgarised form. It's easy to teach like that, so that's why it's taught. There's nothing really wrong with CST in its proper context, but it's become divorced from its origins.)

    I don't doubt that those people are all excellent musicians. I suppose I'm thinking more about old-school players like Joe Pass.
    OK, it might be 95% rather than 99% lol. And as I say, the “99%“ may just apply to the sort of “rock” style books/DVD’s that I’m familiar with.

    I think that may really be the explanation here. Ie - if you are following a certain style of jazz playing, then you may indeed find plenty of teaching and advice about concentrating on chord tones. But if you are working more from the very broad genre of rock-based teaching, then it really is going to be all about scales.

    Though on the face of it, I don't think I would agree that it's actually easier to teach or to learn playing from scales and arpeggios. I think that’s actually very difficult and a lifelong learning task even for the most dedicated professional who plays all day every day ... you are never going to know all the scales and arpeggios as well as you’d ideally like to.

    In fact I suspect it’s actually far easier to learn chords and playing from chord tones. Which is why I think this whole question is particularly important.

    But as I say, I think the catch is that there really is comparatively very little in the way of good self-teaching sources from books and DVD’s. And unless you can find one or two real gems amongst those instructional jazz books, then afaik and as far as I can see, there is no clearly established comprehensive framework from which to build yourself a practical & complete practice/learning programme comparable to that which you find for the scale approach eg on that Henderson DVD (there are others apart from Henderson, eg the two books from Frank Gambale, but apart from that the rest are just dealing with specific areas of learning and practice, eg Paul Gilbert’s teaching stuff is excellent, but really just focusing on left & right hand technique using very fast scale sequencing)

    .... still continued below!! ....
     

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    ... third continuation !! .... >

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    I guess a lot of this is down to personal taste: what kind of thing one regards as "good" improvisation. There's certainly a big demand today for fast playing, for the kind of improvisation that IS based on scales and arpeggios (reaching its nadir in "shred" of course). There's an appreciable audience for guitarists who simply show off their chops; the "wow" factor.

    I admit that's not my taste, and I admit I know very little of the players you mention. (The only one I've heard much of is Allan Holdsworth.)

    So - if they want to teach scales and arps, and people want to learn that, who am I to say they're mistaken?

    I'm only pointing out the degree of confusion that seems to exist among many learners about how improvise. It just baffles me. They have the tools and don't know what to do with them. Something is wrong somewhere.

    I'm not laying the blame at the door of any of those you mention - I've never seen any of their DVDs, so I couldn't possibly judge. But, generally speaking, there seems to be something lacking in a lot of guitar teaching.
    [continued below...]
    OK, sure - there are always matters of personal taste to consider. I’m probably unusual, and you might very well be critical of the way I think about music, but I’m really first and foremost a “guitarist” rather than a “musician”. By which I mean - I’m influenced by what appeals to me as good guitar playing, almost regardless of the musical genre.

    So if I like the sound of the guitar work (the phrasing and the sound of the notes etc.) then I will often try to learn that and use that in my own playing ... whether that’s’ classical, metal, shred, trad swing jazz, be-Bop, fusion, US country, grunge, blues, flamenco, purely abstract forms, everything and anything ... as long as I hear the guitar work and think “OK, that’s a great sound”.

    Yes, I know you don’t care much for Paul Gilbert's style of playing. That's fine of course. But just re. the above point - I found I liked his stuff purely because I heard “notes & sounds” there, which I wanted to learn and use for myself. The other thing about Gilbert, and particularly in the context of all we are saying about teachers and learning - Paul Gilbert is a really excellent teacher, so although his stuff is technically very difficult to play, at least he has made 5 or 6 DVD’s explaining it and demonstrating what to do in a crystal clear and sympathetic helpful way (which unfortunately imho cannot be said for most guitar books and DVD’s).
     
     

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    Seeing as my replies to your replies are going to multiply similarly, we may be advised to pursue this privately. But what the hell, I'm sure some readers will benefit from some of our words of wisdom... (let's hope )

    here follows part 1 of many..

    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    Well you may be right. Chords may be the best way to do it. Though I think learning and teaching also works very well if the student/anyone does begin by learning the most important scales patterns ... and then experimenting with playing those scale notes against different chords in the key.
    But you have to be referring there to fairly advanced students. You're talking about learning improvisation, yes? 99% of the students I teach begin by wanting to play a few songs they recognise - that's the ultimate goal of their ambition. So that's what I show them how to do. It involves strumming chords - but that's enough of a technical challenge in itself of course.
    So before I give them chords, I take them through some one-note-at-a-time stuff, to get them used to fretting and picking techniques. "One-note-at-a-time" can of course mean scales - and as I say, I do teach ONE scale to begin with (C major, in 3- or 4-string sections in open position). But I give them tunes to play using that scale, so at least they can play something they recognise.
    This is about beginning to learn the fretboard, as well as the concepts of major or minor scales.
    It would be some months (and maybe after a year or so) before I start approaching the idea of "playing scales against chords". Few of my students have any idea about improvisation, and even those that want to do it (a large minority) are scared by it.
    I begin this by showing them pentatonic patterns, developed from chord shapes. Again, that starts in open position, but I also work with the common A minor pent shape in 5th position. (I'm just starting to take an adult group through that, after some 25 hours of tuition so far.) And still, it begins with a tune. Summertime, in this case, as an example of a (mostly) minor pentatonic tune. (We've already done some major pent melodies, such as Amazing Grace and Knockin on Heavens Door.)
    Kids, naturally, are ready for improvisation a lot earlier than adults! (with some kids, it's all you can do to stop them making up stuff, usually consisting of horrendous noises...)
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    Perhaps it's quite different with classical music, where young kids are often sent for piano or violin lessons before they ever have any notion of a favourite instrumental “song“, and certainly not a favourite classical “song“.
    I'm not sure how common that is, actually. I think kids who are "sent" for classical lessons tend to display some interest beforehand, if not some actual "talent". I.e., the common scenario is that ma or pa hear junior tinkering around on a neighbour's or relative's piano, and think "hmm, let's channel this properly".
    Some kids actually do latch on to favourite pieces, even classical ones - although they may not connect with the idea that it would be possible to actually play them.
    I think it's a long while since it was the case that parents thought music lessons would "improve" or "civilise" their children, regardless of any musical interest the child showed (or more likely didn't). There is certainly a widespread feeling that "music is good for you" (for every child), but it doesn't (now) involve intensive private lessons on piano or violin; more likely huge group drum-banging sessions in school!
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    Whereas, whenever I've taught kids to play guitar, they often turned up with a CD of their favourite band, asking to learn that stuff.
    Right. My teenage students are like that.
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    So in the case of contemporary electric guitar (as opposed to classical), I think it's inevitable that people do try to learn favourite songs, simply because that's usually the motivation for them wanting to play guitar in the first place.
    Sure. Total agreement here! This is as it should be, IMO.
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    So I think that naturally means that as well as learning "scale patterns", people always do spend quite a lot of practice time actually learning to play songs.
    Hold on. Where does "learning scale patterns" come into it? We're talking about kids who want to learn to play their favourite songs. Why shouldn't they spend ALL their practice time "actually learning to play songs"?
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    You never tried to learn any scales or arpeggios?
    As a beginner, certainly not. Of course, I ended up learning them (and using them) anyway, without knowing what an "arpeggio" was called. I did that because I heard my heroes doing it, and copied them, because I wanted that sound.
    I understood it purely as using chord tones. And I understood scales as things that tunes were made from. And things like riffs came from somewhere in between: very close to chords, but more like melodies.
    I don't remember, but I think I would have learned about the major scale at school when I was taught recorder (beginning age 11). We may not have been taught the concept, we might just have been given simple tunes to play. But the feeling and sound of that do-re-mi entered my consciousness around that time.
    When I actually got interested in music, a few years later, I didn't make the connection (consciously) with the tunes and chords I was learning on guitar. What I wanted was to play a few Shadows tunes, maybe the odd Stones or Kinks chord progression, maybe a Dylan song or two. I also wanted to make up my own tunes (which I did straight away). What I didn't have any understanding of then was improvisation. I thought it sounded like fun, but it also sounded totally disorganised, and wasn't my main goal.
    A few years later, I did start investigating scales seriously (way too seriously), and tried inventing my own. That was a lot of fun, but led nowhere.
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    Do you mean, you went for several years without learning or practicing scales? Or do you literally mean that even now, you have never learned & practice playing scales at all?
    Both.
    Well, OK - I do sometimes practice scales, but mostly as warm-up, as finger exercise. If I do it for any longer than a minute or two (and it's usually a lot less), I'll start breaking them up into melodic phrases, turn them in to music in some way. (I don't to play scales when I perform, so why should I practice them? I practice the stuff I want to perform. Of course, that's made of scales, but that's kind of irrelevant.)

    Like I say, of course I KNOW scales, both theoretically and technically, and use them all the time. And as I also say, I must have been aware of this concept called a "major scale" - and I knew about minor pentatonics, because the first thing I ever learned (even before I owned my own guitar) was the Smokestack Lightnin' riff. But of course nobody told me that was a "minor pentatonic", and I wouldn't have cared or felt privileged to know that. It was the Smokestack Lightnin' riff (and the Spoonful riff too), that was what mattered.
    IOW, I could hardly have cared less about the underlying structures of what I was playing - any more than a driver cares about how a car engine works (as long as it does...).
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    When I started playing I had no idea that something called “scales” even existed (much less anything called “arpeggios”). So for the first 5 years I had never practiced a scale or arpeggio either (I didn’t know any!).
    Right! Me too! Think how much playing you did and how much fun you had - for five years - without knowing any of that! (A veritable Garden of Eden....)
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    But in my case, that was frankly an utterly hopeless unstructured way of ever learning how to play. I was just stumbling around entirely aimlessly in the dark, hoping to find nice sounds on the guitar ... without the faintest idea what I was doing.
    Ah - well that's different.
    I was stumbling around too, but I consider the "light" that showed me the way was the songs I was playing. I was following where they led. I was improvising, but if anyone had asked me what scale I was playing I couldn't have told them. (I could have told them the key I was in, and the chords I was using, but that wouldn't have excluded various blues chromaticisms.) Why would I have cared about that?

    [cont below...]

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    It was only really about 10 years ago when I decided to pick up the guitar seriously again, and when I then found the guitar world had changed out of all recognition with a whole generation of new guitarists, and crucially a vast mass of great instructional books and self-teaching DVD’s (not one of which was available in my “initial stumbling in the dark years”).
    Right. A big difference between us, of course, is that I had no such hiatus. I've been playing since 1965, and been in bands (sometimes 3 or 4 at the same time) since 1966.
    But I did also go through a kind of stage - around 20 years ago - where I decided to "get serious" (well, a little more serious ). I'd known a pro jazz sax player since he depped with a band I was in 1975. He introduced me to the whole new world of modern jazz, which had passed me by. The only jazz I liked was the non-serious kind: vintage New Orleans and "hot" 30s swing. I'd played at being Django Reinhardt for a couple of years, knowing no jazz theory - well, I mean having read no books and had no lessons - just copied the records. (Before then, I'd been in folk, blues and rock'n'roll bands.)
    This guy - I'll call him TW - used to talk at length about music, and it was always on this much higher level. I used to say having a conversation with him felt like grabbing hold of an express train. Clearly my musical level up to then had been primary, or high school at best. His stuff was university.
    So - as I reached the age of 40 - I though I ought to be mature enough to try grasping that stuff, and I enrolled in a jazz workshop. On guitar first, but then on bass (because there were too many guitarists, and I had been an occasional bassist before).
    That's where I started learning about all this chord-scale stuff, about ii-V-Is, modes, and all.
    In fact, the theory merely confirmed (mostly) stuff I already knew. (I had read a lot of books - musicology and science as well as theory - in the 10 years before that.)
    I have to underline that I experienced no epiphany or revelation from my jazz education. It filled a few gaps in what I knew; it taught me a lot of terminology (some it useful). It introduced me to a lot of music I'd not heard before (most of which I found boring). It affected my playing in that it made me think a little more about what I was doing.
    Naturally, the new music I heard (that I did like) had an effect. So I heard Monk and Miles. I liked Monk's rhythmic edginess, his wit, and tried to incorporate some of that attitude into my playing.
    Of course, I learned about the melodic minor modes (eg altered and lydian dominant), which were new to me - but could never find any natural situation in which to use them. Not until I found the chords that made sense of them. I understood the altered scale, but it made no practical sense until I realised it was a transitional harmony employing chromatic resolutions. IOW, when it came down to the melodic function of voice-leading, then I got it. As a funky scale on a dom7, forget it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    It was only then that the light came on, and I realised that everyone was playing by using scales to play solos/melody, and to create chords (from the scale), to write songs and to improvise “in Key”.
    Right! I think I came at that from the other angle.
    I'd always played in key, using the correct scales, because I just copied stuff. I transcribed records, learned riffs and licks, saw how they fitted the chords, and then applied them accordingly when I improvised.
    IOW, because I understood the note-chord links, I could transpose stuff. I wasn't stuck with only using a lick in the one place I'd got it from.
    So it was accidental. I didn't intend to learn chord-scale theory, or key theory. But I was in a train on a track, not a car on a road. I didn't need to "steer" - I got to the right destination without trying (or knowing where I was going).

    That's what's always been behind my teaching emphasis. This is what worked for me. It was no "system" whatsoever, but I was never confused, never lost - so it must be good. I had no talent whatsoever, and a crap ear. But I did it all correctly, because I just learned from songs.
    Even when I composed my own songs, I'd usually begin from some kind of template, the style of another artist. This song was going to be a Stones-style song, that one a Donovan-style song, etc.
    When it came to technical stuff (show-off chops), again I learned licks, from blues, Chuck Berry, or ragtime guitar players, or Django LPs. I just practised till I got them (near enough). And I'd fill in the rest with what I knew worked (chord tones and pentatonics, half-step approaches).
    Of course, it presumably culminated in what must be my personal style (which is not flawless by any means). Having played folk, blues of all eras, jazz of most styles, rock of most styles and eras, soul, funk, country, R&B, reggae, Latin, etc etc - I consider myself adaptable between styles. I know the cliches, the identifying characteristics of most popular styles. I enjoy pastiches. But at some level I probably still sound like "me" in all of them.

    My problems are still technical. When I hear myself on recordings I can hear embarrassing flaws (generally to do with rhythm or articulation). And that's because I don't do enough technical practice. I don't practise with a metronome. I don't practise for speed. I'm lazy. Those are recognised failings - and I'd never advise people to do as I do in that respect!
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    ...now, using those books and DVD’s, I was finally presented with a structured intelligent explanation of what to learn and what to practice if I wanted to play like the guys who wrote the books and made the videos and DVD’s ... and that was a roll call of virtually every famous contemporary guitar player in world the of “rock” ... ie “rock” in it’s broadest sense meaning virtually everything except pure traditional jazz forms (but inc. jazz-fusion and probably free-form abstract jazz), classical and flamenco.
    OK - and that just exposes my ignorance, because - while I've heard OF most of those names you mentioned in that last post, I've never heard any of their music, with the exception of Allan Holdsworth (who I quite like) and Paul Gilbert (who I don't).
    (And I've never heard of Barrett Tagliarino, Bruce Buckingham or Jay Umble. If those guys are "famous" it's not in any circles I ever move in. That doesn't make them bad players or teachers, naturally. But I'm sure you'll agree their fame is of a different kind to - say - Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, John McLaughlin...)

    The truth is - and I guess I should hang my head in shame here - I'm not really a rock fan. Same as I'm not really a jazz fan. I can't summon up the enthusiasm for either genre the same way a real fan can. There are a few artists I really admire (almost worship in awe) in both genres, but that doesn't translate to enjoying being immersed in that kind of music generally. Most jazz bores me, and most rock I find ridiculous (amusingly pretentious or pompous).

    So I don't doubt at all that your methods (both of learning yourself and teaching others) are exactly right for "rock guitar" as you understand it - even (I guess) for "jazz fusion guitar". Neither of those are small niche markets , so it's totally valid. I really don't want to appear dismissive, because (as I say) it's just a region I'm almost totally ignorant of. And I've not had students who've mentioned any of those names either. (I would certainly research them if I had).
    I do always take serious note of any name a student brings to me that I don't know. I've discovered some great music that way - and of course lots more swathes of quite boring cookie-cutter rock. But then the customer is always right! (If I really think a suggested band or player is dull, then I recommend that the student seeks out their influences, gets a sense of the history of that style. Invariably, good discoveries are made that way. IOW, I don't knock their taste, just seek to expand it in a natural way.)
    And I've also discovered - through forced listening - that bands I never really liked, and still don't much (such as G'n'R), have a lot of musical value. Pros of that level are no fools.

    [cont again...]

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    As you say, that may be a very serious error to learn from all those famous players and how they play from scales and arpeggios.
    Hey, that's not what I say at all (or not what I meant to say anyway).
    There are several questions begged by that assertion:
    1. Do they ONLY play from scales and arpeggios?
    2. Which scales and arpeggios precisely? (After all, practically all music could be reduced to scales and arpeggios, if you want to look from that angle. It doesn't have to be a limiting concept; just one (of many) analytical processes.)
    3. If you "learn from those players", maybe there's other things you can learn too? Eg, from listening to them. What about their tone and phrasing, dynamics, etc? (Scales and arps, however broadly defined, are only one part of music.) Maybe we can analyse what they do in other terms, that might be more useful?
    4. Not all great players are great teachers - at least, they can't all turn their skills and knowledge into lesson material. (They are all great teachers if we know how to learn from what they do, rather than what they say.)
    I couldn't possibly comment on the people you mention, of course, having not seen their material. Even if their material is top notch, it won't deal with everything that makes them great musicians.
    5. It's hardly a "serious error" if one wants to learn to play in the style of those players. That ought to go without saying. Even if their DVDs don't tell you anything about what makes them good musicians, they tell you what they think is important. And that must mean something.
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    .....But the catch there is - the totality of that instructional jazz market is only a fraction of that available for “rock”.
    Point taken, and I admit it had never occurred to me before that jazz and rock approaches might be that different.
    (Obviously the rock market is much bigger than jazz, so you'd expect more books and DVDs.)
    The scale-and-arps approach is certainly common in jazz - but as part of technical knowledge, learning one's instrument. Harmonic and chord theory is built on top of that. Naturally, jazz is harmonically far more complex than jazz, so it would make sense that a chord-based approach is more "jazz" than "rock".
    But - like I say - I've played in a whole load of different styles in my career, and not noticed that the chord-tone approach is ever inappropriate in rock.
    (But then fusion and the more advanced styles of heavy rock are outside my experience.)

    In blues, it's true, chord tones are a secondary concern. People frequently just steam away on the scale, regardless, and it works (I do that myself, not infrequently!). Against that, B B King - for one - works (quite consciously) from chord tones; maybe not all the time, but he's certainly aware of them.

    In rock with a heavy blues influence, of course chord tones may be glossed over in a similar way. The more rock moves away from blues, the more you hear soloists using chord tones - I'll mention just Dave Gilmour and Slash. And OK, Mark Knopfler.

    I also think there's a danger of a false dichotomy here. Arpeggios are of course chord tones. What's the difference? (From the way Mark Knopfler plays, I doubt he'd make any distinction.)
    The difference (if there is one) is - I guess - that arpeggios are "vertical" - tending to expand upward through a few octaves over one chord - whereas a "chord-tone" approach tends to focus on the horizontal aspect of linking one chord with the next, through voice-leading. IOW, being less interested in stretching the material up and down the instrument, but in how a note on one chord is going to lead to a note on the next.
    Of course, it would be quite possible to teach either concept the other way: to focus on voice-leading with arpeggios, or building chord tones vertically (into extensions and alterations).
    What I'm saying is that (IMO) horizontal matters more than vertical.
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    So what I’m saying is - the practical outcome, from a self-teaching point of view, is that if you are focused mainly on “rock” guitar, inc. all that jazzy fusion stuff (as I am), then you really will find that not only do you have a choice from 50x as much as you’d have with pure jazz, but also that 95%+ really are teaching almost exclusively about scales and arpeggios, rather than ever mentioning much at all about improvising by chord tones.
    I don't disagree, but I'm also interested that you are talking about available commercial teaching material.
    IOW, I'm really not interested, as a teacher, in what I can "find" in the market. I've long ago given up hope of finding any book or DVD that I would want to use in my teaching, other than to maybe steal one or two ideas (and that's rare). (The only exception is theory books published by ABRSM - and I only use those to assist my teaching of notation, where conventions are pretty much fixed, not open to interpretation. As such, it's hard to improve on official texts. Still, I try...)
    It's not that I ignore everyone else and go on my merry way! I've absorbed a lot of stuff from a lot of teaching books over the years - all of them have had worthwhile content (worth nicking, that is, even in only small parts). I don't regard any of it as "wrong", or "mistaken". (I mean I haven't actually read any book I'd describe in that way - with the possible exception of Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book, which I admired tremendously at first.)

    I've yet to read and respond to your continuations.... (We may both need a large cup of coffee before continuing... )

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post

    .
    .
    .

    ..
    ..
    .
    .

    I've yet to read and respond to your continuations.... (We may both need a large cup of coffee before continuing... )
    Ha, ha ... well, that previous reply actually took me a full 3 hours to write! And that reply was only to half of your first post!

    So, let's call a bit of a speed limit here lol (I mean, I guess we both have at least some sort of life away from this place!).

    OK, what I'm going to do is to skip the 2nd half or your very first post, and just try to "interleave" some brief comments in red within your post above.

    I'm not going to describe my life in music again ... you already know pretty much what that has been like (by the way the hiatus was never total ... the guitar always sat on the sofa in the lounge, and I'd pick it up a few times each week even at the lowest points .... but I emphasise again the problem - I really did not know what I was doing! ... and I was acutely away of that! ...

    ... I knew there was a whopping great chunk of vital knowledge missing about how I was supposed to play (there had to be "a method", it could not have all been coming from random inexplicable genius) ... but by that stage it had got to the point where I had largely given up hoping to discover the "secret" ... and of course by then I was also distracted by full time work).

    OK, so as I say - I'll try to reply to the above via brief comments mixed into your post. ... until then - have a good day/days (hmm, I still need to write part-2 of the Henderson DVD thread as well ).

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    ... continued from the post above ....>
    Me too...
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    I really hate to guess how long it might take to become a good guitar player just by learning songs, without ever knowing about scales and arpeggios and how they fit into keys and chords etc.
    Yes, but you learn that from the songs. As long as you learn either the vocal melody or any guitar riffs or solos along with the chords.
    Every song worth a dime shows you how chords and scales work together. It's like reading sentences written in a foreign language: they show you the grammar and word order.
    Of course, you need the "vocabulary" first. But scales alone are like the words in a dictionary - divorced from meaningful context.
    As you say, it's important to know how scales and arps "fit into keys and chords" - but what better way than working with music that demonstrates the principles?
    Naturally, any teaching method will talk about the principles at the same time, to point out patterns. One doesn't just expect the student to absorb the principles by osmosis. (That will happen over time, of course, but as you say it may take a while.)
    But "becoming a good guitar player" is not the only thing this is about. Becoming a good "musician" is (IMO) more important.
    The more a student is interested purely in guitar skills (idolising some guitar hero or other) the more I'll take them through technical stuff like - yes - scales and arpeggios. But most of my students are more interested in the guitar as a tool - not to become a rock god, but to entertain friends or family, and only in their wildest fantasy to ever consider joining a band. (Naturally I encourage the latter ambition, stressing it's not such a wild idea...)

    It's just occurred to me that one reason (one among many, no doubt, good and bad) that "real music" is not used in teaching books and DVDs - one reason they focus so much on scales and arps, etc - is copyright. I've always found it frustrating that otherwise good teaching material is forced to use pieces written by the author - often with jokey titles referring to the artist they're supposedly pastiching - rather than the songs we all know and love and want to learn about.

    There are occasional exceptions (where the publishers presumably obtain some kind of licence) - such as Mark Levine's book (which has short clips from jazz recordings all through it), and Rikki Rooksby's songwriting books, which often quote from famous songs.
    Somehow an illustrative piece "in the style of" so-and-so is never good enough.
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    As I say - I did play like that, mainly from trying to learn songs (often by ear and guesswork, without any printed music) for 10 years or more, without having the faintest idea of what a scale was or why the chords had to come from a particular key (they were “just some chords” to me). I just tried to learn to play the notes the way they sounded on the record. But as I said above - I found that an utterly hopeless and slow way to learn - I was just stumbling around in the dark all the time.
    Maybe the differences with me were:
    (a) I was always learning very simple stuff (theoretically), even as I was getting more technically accomplished. It was folk, blues and simple rock'n'roll. Even the Django stuff is very simple in chord terms. There was nothing remotely challenging or confusing in theory terms, nothing that required any head-scratching.
    (b) I was always in bands, so always had a practical perspective. We were entertaining people in folk clubs, pubs or college bars - not jazz clubs. (We wouldn't have got away with our Django pastiches for long in serious jazz clubs. Well, our excellent fiddle player would have, but I don't think I would.) At least one of the groups was a semi-comedy outfit, going for laughs. Prog rock it was not! Fusion, no way!
    (The most technically challenging stuff I did - Blind Blake-style ragtime blues - was still based on amusing entertainment. It was supposed to make you smile, not stroke your chin, or gape in awe.)
    (c) I don't remember ever having ambitions much beyond where I was at (other than fantasies of fame of course). IOW, it never occurred to me that what I was doing wasn't advancing my development as a guitarist. So the idea that what I was doing was a "slow way to learn" wouldn't have made any sense. Who cares? I was doing OK, in the present. I was slowly getting better, naturally, but there wasn't any music I wanted to play that I couldn't see my way to being able to. Anything vastly more complicated than what I already knew (such as prog rock, classical music, modern jazz) held zero interest for me as a listener, so why would I want to be able to play it?
    (I could already play pretty much as well as Eric Clapton, I thought, or Big Bill Broonzy. I didn't regard that as "hard". Challenging, perhaps, but not beyond possibility; I knew what it was about, certainly - I could fake it stylistically anyway. OTOH, someone like Robert Fripp or John McLaughlin - mind-boggling technique, but I couldn't connect with their music. I accepted I'd never be that good, and it didn't bother me.)
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    If I tried that now then I think it would be far easier. Because now I could easily find all the printed TAB/notation. So from that it might begin to dawn on me that certain consistent patterns were emerging. Ie certain sets of notes were being used often (ie scales!), and certain groups of chords kept appearing in some styles of music (keys!). But even so, I would be relying on almost re-inventing the wheel by needing to spot those patterns and notice that composers were doing similar things from one song to the next.

    But it’s obviously vastly easier if someone writes a book or produces a DVD (formally a video tape) simply telling you straight out - “ this is what I do to play. This is how I learned to compose songs, to improvise over backing chords, etc. ... so I'm going to show you how to learn all these scales, chords, arpeggios, keys, etc. ” ... as I say; that is really removing the need for you to hope that you will somehow re-discover the wheel all on your own! ... a process which I think is obviously far too vague & too much a matter of “hit & hope”.
    Yes, of course. If I'd been able to get hold of - say - a Bert Jansch book in 1966/7, replete with full notation and annotations, I wouldn't have spent countless hours grappling with a record deck and tape recorder, transcribing his debut LP, almost in entirety.
    But then I don't think I'd have learned so much, so well. I was forced to play those things over and over, just to get them down. So they entered my bloodstream. I can still play those things now, they feel totally natural.
    If I'd had a book, I might still have spent some time learning to play them - but I wouldn't have had that connection. On the plus side, of course, it would have given me time to perhaps move on to other things, to broaden my learning. But it would have thinned it out too.
    Every time I've gone to the trouble of transcribing stuff, rather than reading notation or tab - which is actually not that often - I've really learned it. It's like money in the bank. (As well as Jansch, I'm thinking of the Chuck Berry intros I learned - every single one of them - or the altered dominant phrases from Miles's "All Blues"; or Django's solo from "Undecided". You possess the music in way no book or DVD can ever allow you to.)

    It didn't matter that I didn't have the tools to explain how the music worked. I didn't care that this tune might be mixolydian and that one aeolian, or whatever, or that Django was using tritone subs. Once I have it in my hands and fingers, that's all the understanding I need. The theory is only one other route to that goal; once I'm there, I don't need it any more.

    Of course, I agree with you that any assistance from the horse's mouth is invaluable. I would sneer at lots of teaching material from other people claiming to show how such and such a famous player played (I can find that out for myself, thanks very much). But something from the player himself - esp in the nature of a viedo or DVD - that's gold! Because you not only have the words (which can still mislead), but you have the sound and vision, the guy actually playing stuff. I even like interviews with players, just talking about their music, because you pick up on crucial things like attitude, ways of thinking.

    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    The suggestion (it’s a lot more that merely a "suggestion" in the books I‘m talking about) is simply that you learn to improvise and write melodies by working largely from scales.
    I don't think that's wrong - obviously any melody is constructed from notes which comprise a scale! - but I don't like the emphasis.
    In a sense it's like saying you learn to write poetry by practising saying words. Useful no doubt! You can't write poetry without words! (Unless it's concrete poetry, that is...) But it doesn't really get you very far.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    So the sort of thing that beginners (whatever a “beginner” is) might do is to spend an hour practicing scales (all the while realising why he/she is doing that, ie how that will be used in playing music), and then the rest of the practice session working on all sorts of other things, inc. time spent learning songs.
    OK.
    One has to KNOW scales. And obviously one has to practise them in order to know them. That's largely a technical issue: knowing how to find the notes on the fretboard, remembering the patterns, etc.
    One then needs to know how they relate to keys and chords. That's more like theory.
    Both these things are ideally connected, as you say, with playing songs. It's the songs that illustrate the theory: the way a scale gets turned into a melody (when it's notes are linked in time in certain ways) and into chords (when its notes are stacked in certain ways).

    When you say "realising why he/she is doing that, ie how that will be used in playing music" - that realisation comes from the connection with actual songs. It doesn't have to involve ideas about improvisation just yet.
    Ie, the first thing a scale is used for is to create a melody.
    The second thing (perhaps) is to build a few chords, to accompany the melody, make it more interesting.
    The third thing is the input of the musician - firstly as various kinds of expression: choices about how fast to play, how loud to play, etc.
    Then other things such as changing the rhythm, or perhaps the timing of the tune (eg the way a singer might personalise a melody).
    Ultimately, that emerges as instrumental improvisation. (Not all students will want to go this far, certainly not early on. Others will be busting to get to this point!)
    An alternative route for the creative musician might not be improvisation on existing tunes, but original composition. (It could be both, of course.)
    But the study of melody and chord progression is fundamental in both cases. As with any creative pursuit, you learn by doing - and you learn by following masters.

    The question really - IMO - is how you break down the constituent parts of music. How much detail do you need to understand? Different people need different amounts, and different levels of analysis. "Hands on" is enough for some, others need screeds of theoretical justification.

    I know it's a tired old reference, but the Beatles - arguably the greatest popular composers of the 20th century - learned their craft by listening and copying, and by just doing it. It's not true, of course, to say they "knew no theory". They knew theories of pop composition supremely well. They just didn't get any of it from books, they got it from records (and from some experimentation).
    And if we want to talk about great instrumentalists (which the Beatles weren't, much), again you find them all learning by listening and copying, and just doing it.
    Of course, the older ones had to - there was no other way to learn!

    I'm not saying we should totally reject methods such as books and DVDs. DVDs are certainly better than books as music teaching tools. (A book is a pathetic thing, really, as it contains no sound. It can have a lifetime's worth of ideas in it, which is not to be sniffed at - far more than a DVD can. But without sound it's crippled.)
    And we can't all have masterclasses with our own personal pros!

    (I think I'm going a little OT here...)
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    IOW - you try to learn a lot of different important elements, inc. scales and songs and chords etc. But when learning to improvise, the approach is to decide what scales and arpeggios will sound good against the sound of various different chords ...
    Well, it depends on the kind of improvisation.
    If jamming from nothing, improvising from scratch - or on one given chord - that's possibly true. But then that's more or less a compositional technique.

    Most kinds of improvisation, however, are based on existing tunes or sequences. In that case, it's not about "deciding" what scales go with the chords. That decision has been made for you, by whoever wrote the tune. Your job is to identify the scale(s). Your first job, anyhow.
    And you may not even need to determine a scale. The chord tones may be all the information you need. (Eg, if the chords are C, F and G, then you already have the whole scale there.)
    True, it is part of the creative process for an improviser to look beyond the given material, and decide if maybe it can be made more interesting. But you shouldn't start from that point (ignoring what's given).

    This is, in fact, one of the problems with chord-scale-based teaching. It ends up as meaningless improvisation, people running scales, because they've found a scale that fits, and they know it, and they think that's enough. As if the object is just to "find a good scale". (I suspect even in fusion this is a bad idea...)

    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    and then you experiment by playing something from those scales .... as opposed to what I think you and Jed and others are suggesting, which I think is to say that guys should forget the scales (and the arps?) and take note of what chords they are listening to and try to play a melody using the chord tones, ie in order to be in sympathy & in key with the chord-harmony.
    But that doesn't mean "forgetting" the scales. The chords contain the scale(s). This is the point. If you follow the chords, you are using the same material as if you begin from the scale, but you are using it in an appropriate way.
    And this method doesn't exclude the notion of chromaticism - of adding notes from outside the scale implied by the chords. To begin with, the student improviser ought to follow the chords - to understanding the "inside" stuff, the progression and how it works. (As I say, this includes the correct scale; there's barely any need to identify it.)
    Once that is grasped, one can explore "the other 5 notes" - the chromatics that work as "outside" contrast with the diatonic scale.

    I understand that this is a somewhat old-fashioned jazz method. But I'd be surprised if it can't be employed appropriately in fusion or in modern guitar-based rock.

    The argument about isolating chords, and experimenting with different scales (or modes) on each chord, derives from modal jazz. All jazz of the last 50 years has incorporated that concept, alongside the previous functional system in which key and chord progression plays a central part.
    But rock - AFAIK - still retains key-based instincts, even when it borrows modal sounds. The inside-outside contrast still applies.
    And even in modal jazz, chord-scales are still pretty much specified. It's not up to the improviser to "decide" on them. The improviser identifies the mode in question (from the chord symbol and/or the melody), uses that, and may then decide to alter the odd note for colour or contrast.
    There's not a lot of music where the scale choice is fully open to the improviser.

    But the big mistake, made by many people about chord-scales, is to apply that concept in functional progressions. Treating each chord as a separate entity in that kind music is a serious error. Not only is it likely to make the music sound disjointed and nonsensical, but it makes the improviser's job unnecessarily complicated.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    I think that may really be the explanation here. Ie - if you are following a certain style of jazz playing, then you may indeed find plenty of teaching and advice about concentrating on chord tones. But if you are working more from the very broad genre of rock-based teaching, then it really is going to be all about scales.
    Well I wouldn't say that's "very broad". You seem to be narrowing "rock" down to to certain kind of scale-based guitar improvisation.
    "Rock music" is a lot more than that. After all, improvisation itself plays only a small part in rock music! In many bands, there is no improvisation at all, or very little. A rock guitarist needs - first of all - to learn how to play chords in time, with various kinds of accents and articulation (fret muting, palm muting, etc). You can't be a lead guitarist without a strong rhythmic foundation. That's not just about learning chords (in all their various shapes and positions), but about control of timing and accent.
    Once you're at that stage of accomplishment - I might agree that work on scales and arps will pay dividends for a lead player.
    From what I know of fusion, control of rhythm is even more crucial than in other forms of jazz or rock. Rhythms can be at least as intricate and detailed as the chords or scales involved.
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    Though on the face of it, I don't think I would agree that it's actually easier to teach or to learn playing from scales and arpeggios. I think that’s actually very difficult and a lifelong learning task even for the most dedicated professional who plays all day every day ... you are never going to know all the scales and arpeggios as well as you’d ideally like to.
    I think I know all mine as well as I need to.
    I could be a bit faster in getting to them sometimes, I guess. But I don't much like the sound of arpeggios (except in small parts), so it doesn't bother me too much. (But I'm getting too personal again...)
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    In fact I suspect it’s actually far easier to learn chords and playing from chord tones. Which is why I think this whole question is particularly important.
    Why is difficulty of learning a virtue? If something is harder to learn, does that mean it's better? (or better for you?)

    One of the problems with chord-scale theory (as I mentioned) is it makes music look more complicated than it is.
    Of course, some music IS complicated, quite deliberately (such as most classical, some forms of jazz, and all prog rock). But it's crazy to look for complication where none exists. (Unless, of course, you want to make a bit of extra cash by bemusing your students... )
    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    But as I say, I think the catch is that there really is comparatively very little in the way of good self-teaching sources from books and DVD’s. And unless you can find one or two real gems amongst those instructional jazz books, then afaik and as far as I can see, there is no clearly established comprehensive framework from which to build yourself a practical & complete practice/learning programme comparable to that which you find for the scale approach eg on that Henderson DVD (there are others apart from Henderson, eg the two books from Frank Gambale, but apart from that the rest are just dealing with specific areas of learning and practice, eg Paul Gilbert’s teaching stuff is excellent, but really just focusing on left & right hand technique using very fast scale sequencing)
    Well, again, I'm not too interested in what's available in books. What's available on records is enough for me.
    (I can see that sounds flippant, as learning from records alone is not exactly easy for a beginner. But nobody said it had to be easy.... Simple, yes. Easy, no. But fun, of course!)

    (There will now be a short intermission - probably of a few days - while I go off and get my life back... )

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Hey, that's not what I say at all (or not what I meant to say anyway).

    There are several questions begged by that assertion:

    1. Do they ONLY play from scales and arpeggios?

    Yeah I think they do only play from scales and arps ... if you look at the printed music then it's clear they are targeting chord tones on the changes, but they never mention that, and therefore my impression is that they are focusing almost all their attention on improvising from thinking of which scales and arps to play ... at any rate, that is what's in their books and DVD's (and you wouldn't know anything about chord tones unless you analysed the notated sheet music).

    2. Which scales and arpeggios precisely? (After all, practically all music could be reduced to scales and arpeggios, if you want to look from that angle. It doesn't have to be a limiting concept; just one (of many) analytical processes.).

    The choice of which scales and arps is different for different players of course. I'm looking a lot at instructional stuff from Scott Henderson (which is partly the basis for all this discussion) and Frank Gambale, where it's virtually all the same scales you'd find in jazz ie inc. diminished scales and whole tone scales + melodic minor and all the common modes ... the arps are all the ones you'd expect - maj7, min7, dom-7/9, min7b5, minMaj7 ...

    ... the Gilbert stuff is simpler re the variety of scales, but still inc. diminished arps and arps mixed with other scale notes (4ths and #4's etc).

    3. If you "learn from those players", maybe there's other things you can learn too? Eg, from listening to them. What about their tone and phrasing, dynamics, etc? (Scales and arps, however broadly defined, are only one part of music.) Maybe we can analyse what they do in other terms, that might be more useful?

    Tone and phrasing are great imho (way better than formal jazz stuff, personal opinion of course), and yes they do talk about that ... Gilbert's DVD's often emphasise picking hard or soft and varying their tone by changing pick angle against the strings etc. The Henderson DVD is in 2 halves - the 2nd half is 100% about phrasing and musicality.

    4. Not all great players are great teachers - at least, they can't all turn their skills and knowledge into lesson material. (They are all great teachers if we know how to learn from what they do, rather than what they say.)
    I couldn't possibly comment on the people you mention, of course, having not seen their material. Even if their material is top notch, it won't deal with everything that makes them great musicians.

    Oh, most great players seem to be appalling teachers lol. Malmsteen made a notoriously useless dvd. The Holdsworth dvd (was a video) is almost unintelligible (not in a good way either!). the Brett Grassed dvd has very little too it (not hopeless, but must try waaaay harder), etc. etc.

    That's really why I was focusing on Scott Henderson, Paul Gilbert and Don Mock - their teaching is excellent ... very clear, and helpfully sympathetic ... they obviously cared about the level, extent and quality of the advice they are giving.

    Yes you can learn from listening to the music of great players (without any explanatory teaching input from them). But that is obviously vastly harder than if the same guys write a book or film a dvd in which they genuinely care about everything they are explaining to you about the way they play.

    5. It's hardly a "serious error" if one wants to learn to play in the style of those players. That ought to go without saying. Even if their DVDs don't tell you anything about what makes them good musicians, they tell you what they think is important. And that must mean something.

    Well the books and dvd's certainly don’t telly you everything you might need to know.

    Afaik - I never yet heard even one famous player truly describe how much work he really put in in order to get that good!

    But the ones I mention are telling you all the "secrets" of how they play. Your job as a student is just to practice all the stuff they are showing you. And frankly, that is a huge gold mine for the price of a £20 DVD or a £10 book.

    Point taken, and I admit it had never occurred to me before that jazz and rock approaches might be that different.

    It had not occurred to me either before we started discussing it here!

    (Obviously the rock market is much bigger than jazz, so you'd expect more books and DVDs.)

    Yes. So there is much more stuff that is crap. But also a lot more that is truly fantastic. The trick is to buy the fantastic stuff, and turn that into your own personal practice regime, day in day out, year in year out ... hence the Scott Henderson DVD (or if you want to shred -melodically (really!) - then the Paul Gilbert DVD's) - or if you want to move a bit closer towards jazz then Don Mock's two DVD's are excellent (plus his 3 or 4 books are "useful").

    The scale-and-arps approach is certainly common in jazz - but as part of technical knowledge, learning one's instrument. Harmonic and chord theory is built on top of that. Naturally, jazz is harmonically far more complex than jazz (you mean "rock") , so it would make sense that a chord-based approach is more "jazz" than "rock".

    Yes.

    But - like I say - I've played in a whole load of different styles in my career, and not noticed that the chord-tone approach is ever inappropriate in rock.

    My progress through style is only (putting it in term of easy to recognise players) - Clapton Beano to Jeff Beck 1970's to Holdsworth 1980's (failed - could not discover what he was doing at all!) - to 20 year hiatus - to EVH, Gilbert, Malmsteen, Scott Henderson (I'll exclude bands I got from 15 year students, eg Linkin Park, Block Party, Nirvana, Green Day etc.) ... there are dozens of other guitarists of course, but they are not really what I'd call and influence in the sense of trying copy their stylistic playing (maybe Albert King and Buddy Guy on blues stuff ... all the other electric blues guys have been influences too of course, but not copying elements of their style specifically)
    .... continued in next post! ....>

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonr View Post
    but then fusion and the more advanced styles of heavy rock are outside my experience.)

    ok. But maybe ... Just maybe ... It would be interesting to see what you make of that scott henderson dvd. Not because you would learn anything you don’t already know. But to see what you made of his teaching, of his scale & arps approach, and importantly his playing quality in terms of his phrasing ideas and his touch and feel on the instrument. Imho, he was a far better guitarist when he made that original pair of videos (the dvd is a re-cut) than he is now (or at any time since in his more bluesy pursuits).

    in blues, it's true, chord tones are a secondary concern. People frequently just steam away on the scale, regardless, and it works (i do that myself, not infrequently!). Against that, b b king - for one - works (quite consciously) from chord tones; maybe not all the time, but he's certainly aware of them.

    don mock has a deal to say about that in his main dvd (see previous post for title) - he shoes first what happens if you just play like that ... And then he shows what happens when as he says he "specifically address each chord" ... And then the rest of that dvd builds on doing just that (it's purely jazz-blues, and very basic by jazz standards, but of course waaay more advanced than most rock and blues players know). That's a great dvd to learn from actually, ie to turn into a practice routine .... Only problem is, his playing is super hard to emulate ... I think the problem is his note emphasis, ie he is using really strict alternate licking (almost like paul gilbert!) but i think he's emphasising 2nd and 4th notes in a jazzy style ... At any rate, he's only guy where i can't quickly emulate his playing (and i have tried!).

    in rock with a heavy blues influence, of course chord tones may be glossed over in a similar way. The more rock moves away from blues, the more you hear soloists using chord tones - i'll mention just dave gilmour and slash. And ok, mark knopfler.

    slash i hardly ever listened too (not impressed). Not greatly impressed by gilmour or knopfler either lol. Certainly pink floyd has some great songs, and as un-improvised composition i like gilmour’s sound and his phrasing, but what i've heard is simple and mostly quite obvious pentatonics (eg money, time and other stuff from the moon). Pentatonics are great by the way, "can't whack" em! ... But maybe not the most esoteric or unusual. Sultans of swing i think is a brilliant guitar track. But never noticed much after that.

    i also think there's a danger of a false dichotomy here. Arpeggios are of course chord tones. What's the difference? (from the way mark knopfler plays, i doubt he'd make any distinction.)

    yeah ... Arpeggios are chord tones lol! I wondered if i should have said that right from the start! But there is a difference in the way guys like gilbert and henderson are using arpeggios ... They are using them like scales. Ie to create specific short melodic phrases ... But not necessarily to follow any backing chords at all.

    the difference (if there is one) is - i guess - that arpeggios are "vertical" - tending to expand upward through a few octaves over one chord - whereas a "chord-tone" approach tends to focus on the horizontal aspect of linking one chord with the next, through voice-leading. Iow, being less interested in stretching the material up and down the instrument, but in how a note on one chord is going to lead to a note on the next.

    yes, well observed. I had not really thought of it like that. Arpeggios are generally played "vertically". Although, you may recall that several times in the past when guys here have asked about arpeggios (bluesking (remember him?) was on a quest to practice arps from don mock which he liked a lot (i have the book, but i think there are better sources for arp practice and inspiration) i several times posted a youtube clip of paul gilbert explaining his approach to playing arps going horizontally up the neck in octaves (nice and easy to understand and learn), as well as his more usual approach of playing arps by string skipping to give wider intervals and hence often more dramatic sounds ... There’s a mass of that sort of arpeggio playing in his stuff.

    the scott henderson dvd is stuffed full of great arpeggio phrases of course.

    of course, it would be quite possible to teach either concept the other way: To focus on voice-leading with arpeggios, or building chord tones vertically (into extensions and alterations).
    What i'm saying is that (imo) horizontal matters more than vertical.

    maybe. But i try to do both. If i'm playing "positionaly" then i like follow henderson and use arpeggios moving from one position to the next (different arpeggios often, eg cmaj7 going to gmaj7, over a c-maj-chord). And as i said above, i particularly like what paul gilbert does with arpeggios, stretching them all the way from top to bottom of the fretboard in octaves or by string skipping and position shifts.

    i don't disagree, but i'm also interested that you are talking about available commercial teaching material.

    yes. Throughout this i'm really talking about how to learn guitar by teaching yourself from things like the various books and dvd’s that i've mentioned. That's why the idea of "don't bother learning scales" tied into what i'm currently trying to post as a weekly section by section analysis of the scott henderson dvd (which is taking that scale approach).

    iow, i'm really not interested, as a teacher, in what i can "find" in the market. I've long ago given up hope of finding any book or dvd that i would want to use in my teaching, other than to maybe steal one or two ideas (and that's rare). (the only exception is theory books published by abrsm - and i only use those to assist my teaching of notation, where conventions are pretty much fixed, not open to interpretation. As such, it's hard to improve on official texts. Still, i try...)

    oh, i do use everything i find when i think it's useful as a source of musical ideas and a visual aid to explaining things. But what do i know lol (err, don't answer that in public!).

    it's not that i ignore everyone else and go on my merry way! I've absorbed a lot of stuff from a lot of teaching books over the years - all of them have had worthwhile content (worth nicking, that is, even in only small parts). I don't regard any of it as "wrong", or "mistaken". (i mean i haven't actually read any book i'd describe in that way - with the possible exception of mark levine's jazz theory book, which i admired tremendously at first.)

    i'm just tremendously indebted to guys like henderson and gilbert for taking the time and trouble to put all their knowledge down on vide or in a book for £20. I've learnt almost everything i know from them (well, actually i learned a great deal form all your older posts here ... And if i was not being entirely dismissive of my own efforts i'd have to admit i probably learned a lot without truly realising it from all those "stumbling in the dark" years). So i try to learn what i can from everything and everything ... And certainly from the fantastic range of books and dvd’s that you can now buy at the click of a computer key.

    i've yet to read and respond to your continuations.... (we may both need a large cup of coffee before continuing... )

    yeah, well maybe take a rain-check on most of that lol ... Too much already!

     
     
     
     
     
     
     

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    As a quick interim post before (trying!) to reply to your other posts, a couple of things occur to me -

    1. When we say that we had not previously noticed that jazz players tend to play from chords, whilst rock players play from scales - of course for the most part the explanation is probably that we may be thinking of the sort of jazz players who are playing almost entirely by improvising ... but most rock guitarists do not play much by improvising anyway ... at least, at live gigs they usually "attempt" to play famous songs from the hit records (as close as they can to the record ... often, not very close lol!).

    Fusion players do improvise. But even there, I have the impression that when Holdsworth (say) plays a concert, he's mostly playing his best known songs and trying to play them as they were on his records.

    Some blues guys improvise a lot. In his earliest days Clapton did that live with Mayall and with Cream. But afaik Clapton was definitely playing from scales.

    2. Mention of Clapton and Cream raises another point - what happens if there are no backing chords? How then do you improvise from chord tones? Cream were a 3-piece without any rhythm player, so I guess Clapton was not following any chords per se. Maybe the bass notes count as "chords"?

    But what happens if it's just you as solo guitar with no other instruments playing? How then could you improvise from chord tones?

    3. By the way - the only reason I’m constantly mentioning learning from books and DVD’s, is because that was the entire reason why I was posting in this thread. Ie, to give suggestions on how the OP (Sketchy) and others (eg rbarata following the Scott Henderson thread) might use the material available in certain books and DVD’s to make up their own extensive practice regime ... and as I say, all the books and DVD’s that I’ve seen do concentrate on using scales and arpeggios a great deal. So That was the only reason why I’m banging on about those particular half dozen books and DVD’s
    Last edited by Crossroads; 04-29-2011 at 07:30 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    But what happens if it's just you as solo guitar with no other instruments playing? How then could you improvise from chord tones?
    Sure, the soloist can emphasize chord tones while mentally following the structure of the song, thereby implying the changes.

    (And if he doesn't, actually, what is there to connect his solo to the changes? - to say he's actually improvising over the song, rather than just noodling on a given scale?)

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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton View Post
    Sure, the soloist can emphasize chord tones while mentally following the structure of the song, thereby implying the changes.

    (And if he doesn't, actually, what is there to connect his solo to the changes? - to say he's actually improvising over the song, rather than just noodling on a given scale?)
    Of course people maybe drawing these lines between chords and scales just a little bit too sharply. Unless someone is noodling in an atonal style - then there's a tonality and hence a chord implied. As soon as there's a cadence, irrespective of whether they play a complete chord - then there is a chord progression implied.

    The choice of chord tones versus scales is not a choice at all. We are always playing relative to the chords. In those rare situations where someone plays only to the key (scale based playing) - they are still playing to the chords - they just don't know as such. Fusion guys just play to more complicated chords than rock guys. But when the rock guys go "outside" they are playing to more complicated chords as well.

    cheers,

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