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Learning to Play Guitar Guitar Scales A Unique Approach

Michael Fletcher

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This article presumes that the reader is familiar with several different types of guitar scales, and has a good working knowledge of guitar chords (triads and extended chords). Further, this article presumes that the reader is familiar with some basic music theory (key signatures, chord and scale function within a key signature, etc. ).

In general, guitar scales and guitar chords are a must-know for every guitar player. The depth of each player's knowledge is relative only to the desire of each individual guitarist. For example, some guitarists can play a few guitar scales and guitar chords, but have no desire to truly understand the music theory behind those scales and chords. Other guitarists thrive on scale and chord construction, diatonic and chromatic relationships, and usage (including substitution principles).

This article is intended for the intermediate and professional guitarist. It is also intended for the advanced beginner who has decided to advance to intermediate and then on to professional levels of proficiency.

Learning and practicing guitar scales is essential to one's growth on the instrument. If one truly desires to learn to play guitar, then guitar scales must become part of the learning process. Of course, the exception is for the campfire type of guitarist. Playing a few songs at the beach doesn't require an in-depth study of guitar scales.

As the title of this article suggests, one can practice guitar scales and have fun with music theory at the same time. In fact, if one is practicing correctly, recognition of music theory should be occurring simultaneously along with the mechanical practice. Let's play a game with guitar scales and music theory. This is an easy game to play, yet extremely profound in application.

First, we must establish the foundation for the game. Therefore, we'll utilize the major scale along with it's construction and function within a diatonic tonality. Further, and in the spirit of simplicity, the C major scale will be referenced for explanation purposes.

The C major scale (diatonic scale) consists of eight notes (scale tones) to the octave. For example, C (1)-D (2)-E (3)-F (4)-G (5)-A (6)-B (7)-C (8) represent the notes and degrees of the C major scale. In theory, these notes are represented as I-II-III-IV-V-VI-VII-VIII or I (VIII always means I). All of these notes and numbers represent the players in our upcoming game.

The purpose of the game is simple. However, an explanation for playing the game is appropriate in order for one to fully understand the essence of the game.

Years ago, one of my students asked me how many different ways the major scale could be played. At the time, I was teaching in Hollywood California. I instructed my student to go grab the Los Angeles phone book (sitting on top of an amplifier in my recording studio), and bring the phone book to me. Baffled, my student complied with my request. I opened the phone book and asked my student what the population of Los Angeles was. Of course, the answer is millions of people. Millions of people results in millions of telephone numbers. Hence, the name of the game is Playing The Phone Book.

The rules of the game are as follows. The numbers of any telephone number are matched with the corresponding degree of the major scale. For example, the telephone number 576-3321 would translate into playing the following notes V-VII-VI-III-III-II-I or G-B-A-E-E-D-C (5-7-6-3-3-2-1). When the number 9 is encountered, it means to skip to the next note. When a Zero is encountered, it means to repeat the previous note or command. When the number 8 is encountered, it means the same as the number 1. How would you play the phone number 236-5431? How about 652-3800? How about 871-9056?

How many phone books would you suppose exist in the United States? How many phone numbers would you suppose exist in the United States? How many different ways (presuming you understand the phone book game) do you think the notes of the major scale can be played? Millions! That's right, millions.

By playing the phone book, one develops an awesome awareness of note location and note function. There are hundreds of variations of this game that I teach to my willing students (for scales, chords, and substitution principles). The results are staggering for both fingerboard awareness and knowledge of music theory.

The next time you find yourself with a little time on your hands, pick up the phone book and play it. However, be ready to receive a few strange looks from your loved ones and friends when you attempt to explain your actions. That's also a part of the game. You know, it's called consequence. Just kidding! Have a great time playing the phone book.

©2008 Michael E. Fletcher. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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