Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lesson 2 - Open String, Basic Theory & Scales

Before we start any hands-on, let’s first embark on the part that most guitar learners fear and hate most - Music Theory.

Well, worry not, because I will not be going through any formal musical notations, treble clefs and all the complicated parts. These are not needed to start playing accompaniment. They are more for classical players.

Instead, I will cover the simplest portion you will need which is based on Counting in Music.

First, you must know that in music, we use English alphabets as basis to represent notes and chords. But we do not use every alphabet from A to Z.

We simply use from A to G looping back to A again after every G.

So, loosely speaking, we will go:

A -> B -> C -> D -> E -> F -> G -> A -> B -> C -> D -> E -> F -> G -> A…

So far so good? Ok next, let’s change the above alphabets to numbers instead, so that we have:

1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 -> 5 -> 6 -> 7…and so on…

Now, let’s also include decimals and fractions here in steps of 0.5, we will have:


1 -> 1.5 -> 2 -> 2.5 -> 3 -> 3.5 -> 4 -> 4.5 -> 5 -> 5.5…and so on…

Then we derive the following table:





From the above table, we derive some facts about music counting:

  • we add a # or a b to the alphabets to represent the steps of 0.5 higher or 0.5 lower respectively.
  • # is read as SHARP, which means half a step (or a semi-tone) higher
  • b is read as FLAT, which means half a step (or a semi-tone) lower
  • A note’s SHARP (#) is equal to the next note’s FLAT (b). For Example: A# = Bb, C# = Db, F# = Gb etc.
  • For simplicity, just REMEMBER by heart that there are NO SHARPs (#) or FLATs (b) between B and C AND between E and F.

So now, you can count in music!

We know that after A, it is A# (or Bb),
- after A# is B, it is C,
- after C, it is C# (or Db),
…and so on…

So far so good?

Let’s continue!


Notes on Your Guitar

Now that we know how to read and count music notes, how do we play and identify them on a guitar? 

Let’s first take a guitar, sit in a playing position, and look at the GUITAR FRET BOARD from that perspective:



















From the above diagram,

  • I used Microsoft Excel Tables to represent the Guitar Fret Board.
  • Each of the 6 Strings is represented by an Excel Table Row.
  • The most bottom String (nearest to the floor when you look down at the fret board) is the 1st String
  • The most top String (nearest to your face when you look down at the fret board) is the 6th String
  • Strings 1 to 3 are called TREBLE STRINGS. Strings 4 to 6 are called BASS STRINGS.
  • If you play any of the 6 Strings without pressing any frets on with your left hand, all the notes that sound out are known as OPEN STRING NOTES. 1st String = E, 2nd String = B, 3rd String = G, 4th String = D, 5th String = A, 6th String = E
  • Starting from the NUT onwards to the RIGHT direction are all FRETS of your Guitar Fret Board.
  • Each Fret is separated by thin pieces of metal called FRET WIRES.
  • Starting from the Nut onwards towards the RIGHT direction, we count each SPACE between the Fret Wires as ONE FRET.
  • So the first Space we encounter right after the nut is called 1st FRET, the second Space we encounter after the first Fret Wire is called the 2nd FRET, the third Space we encounter after the second Fret Wire is called the 3rd FRET and so on…
  • Whenever you press a String with your Left Hand on any FRETS and play, it sounds out as a Note too.
  • It is helpful and highly recommended to remember the OPEN STRING NOTES for TWO REASONS:
1)    You will be able to tune your guitar to the correct and standard tuning of the Open String Notes.
2)    You will be able to derive any Notes on the Fret Board by just counting and referencing from the Open String Note of any string.
  • Conclusion: every Fret increase you press and play consecutively is your current NOTE increasing by half a step (or one semi-tone).
Example: 1st String OPEN is E NOTE. 1st String 1st FRET will be F NOTE (+ one semi-tone from E NOTE).
1st String 2nd FRET will be F# NOTE (+ one semi-tone from F NOTE) and so on.


So now you know your Open String Notes (1E, 2B, 3G, 4D, 5A, 6E) and I assume that you already have an Electronic Guitar Tuner. TUNE your guitar before you proceed to the next page and also every time before you start playing!

Make it a habit to tune your guitar before you start playing or if you have any performances. No audiences would enjoy an out-of-tune performance.

Every time after you change to a new pack of strings, the strings will need some time to get used to the new tension on your guitar. So during those few days after you changed your strings, you will have to tune them regularly as they will easily get out-of-tune.
As you continue to fine-tune and play, the strings will gradually season to the needed tension and tuning.

I will not cover details of guitar tuning here as there are so many types of dummy-proof electronic tuners in the market that are so easy to use.

Remember once again that whenever you change guitar strings, always do it 3 at a time. Do not take out all 6 at one time.

The reason is that your guitar neck will WARP (simple terms: bend) due to sudden release of tension of the 6 strings.

And when that happens,
  • Your strings may get a high possibility of buzzing when you play due to unnecessary contact with the fret board.
  • You may find it hard to tune correctly and any chords and notes you play will sound weird and incorrect.
So far so good? Let’s continue!

Reading Tablatures

Before we start to play anything on the guitar, we need materials to read just like a pianist needing piano scores to play songs. We have guitar scores too, but I am not teaching you to read scores, but rather we will read Guitar Tablatures or simply, Guitar Tabs.

Below is a simple Guitar Tablature diagram:



  • Look at the above diagram just like how you look down at your guitar fret board when you are in your playing position.
  • The 6 Guitar Strings are represented by the dashed lines (---) starting from the Open String Notes (1E, 2B, 3G, 4D, 5A, 6E).
  • Imagine that the above diagram is a GRAPH with:
1)    Y-axis as the Notes played on the different Strings of different Frets.
2)    X-axis as the Time.
  • So as you read the graph/ diagram from left to right, different Notes are plucked according to which Note(s) come first.
  • Example, if we read and play the above tabs now from left to right,
1)    the 1st Note you will play is 5th String 3rd Fret,
2)    the 2nd Note you will play is the 4th String OPEN (0 means open string),
3)    the 3rd Note you will play is the 4th String 2nd Fret,
4)    the 4th Note you will play is the 4th String 3rd Fret,
5)    ...and so on…


    Now, let’s look at a more complicated Tablature:



    • Notice that at certain points of the X-axis (TIME), there can be two notes appearing at the same time.
    • It simply means playing two notes at the same time.
    • It is possible to play up to a maximum of six notes of all six strings at the same time too! Those are generally what we known as CHORDS. We will come to that at a later chapter.

    Other than numbers appearing on the Tablature, there are some basic and common symbols that will appear on Tablatures which you should know:
    • “H” or Hammer-On.
    Example 2H3 or 2h3 means you place your Left Hand Index Finger on 2, pick it one time with your Right Hand,  and right after that, your Left Hand Middle finger will press on (Hammer-On) to 3 without playing or picking anymore by your Right Hand.
    • “P” or Pull-Off.
    Example 3P2 or 3p2 means you place your Left Hand Index Finger on 2 and Left Hand Middle Finger on 3 at the same time. Then, you pick  it one time with your Right Hand and right after that, your Left Hand Middle Finger will “PULL OFF away 3” so that the next note sounding out will be 2.
    • “S” or Slide. Example 3S7 or 3s7 means you place your Left Hand Index Finger on 3, pick it one time with your Right Hand and right after that, your Left Hand Index Finger on 3 “slides its way to 7”.

    Sounds confusing? Don’t worry as I will demo them on instructional videos in later chapters! For now, just get the basics right on reading simple tablatures will do!

    Playing Your First Scale – C Major Scale at 1st Position

    Below is the Guitar Fret Board Diagram again. But this time round I have changed the font color of the Notes that you will be playing out later to bright yellow. These Notes are all part of the C MAJOR SCALE.


    There are many different guitar scales at different positions on the guitar fret board. But we will learn the above first, because in my opinion, it is the most basic scale every beginner guitarists should know.

    Now we shall play the above scale starting according to the sequence of the C Major Scale from C -> D -> E -> F -> G -> A -> B -> C.

    Notice that in this scale, there are no SHARPs (#) or FLATs (b).

    As a matter of fact, the C Major Scale is the only SCALE without SHARPs (#) or FLATs (b) notes.


    First lets’ take a look at how you should hold your PICK. (When I play Scales, I will prefer to use a Pick. When I play chords, I will prefer to use fingers. ) 



    Also, remember a Basic Rule: Every Note you pick should be in ALTERNATE STROKES.
    That means if the 1st Note you hit is DOWN STROKE, you will hit the next Note with an UP STROKE.
    Then the next NOTE will be a DOWN STROKE again and so forth.

    The C MAJOR SCALE 1st POSITION TABS is as below:


    Notice on the above scale (when playing forward), that after one round of C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, the scale will repeat the same cycle of notes again (ie. C, D, E F, G, A, B, C again). We call the repeated cycle a HIGHER OCTAVE.


    Also, the reason why it’s called 1st POSITION is because the Index Finger is position (and takes care of the 1st Fret Notes) on the 1st Fret most of the time.




    Playing C Major Scale from 5th POSITION


    Below is the C MAJOR SCALE again (notes in bright yellow). Same scale, same notes, but at the 5th POSITION. The reason is because most of the time, your Index Finger is playing on the 5th FRET’s notes. 







    Advance Scales - G Major Scale

    Now that you have mastered C Major Scales at two different positions (there are more positions, you can find plenty of resources online), let’s try one more scale called the G MAJOR SCALE.


    If you notice, this scale has one note with SHARP (#). And that is F#. In a much later Lesson, I will explain again on how SHARPs (#) and FLATs (b) come about in different Major Scales.







    Your First Song on Tabs!

    Now that you can play scales on guitar with a pick and you have unleashed your own ability to read tabs, let’s try to play the melody line of a popular classic called Somewhere Over the Rainbow.



    For the above tabs, I have segregated them into smaller section called BARS. A Bar is a separator symbol in music scores which splits the score up in equal section in terms of how many beats one should count in each bar when playing. In this case, we have 4BEATS per Bar. It’s just like how you will clap your hands or tap your feet when you sing this song. So in this case, you will clap or tap 4 times per bar.



    If you remember in my Introduction, I stated that my guitaring style is based on accompaniment or sing-guitaring. What you played above is called MELODY of the song.

    Melody is like how the actual song’s main Notes are sounded out. When we play in terms of accompaniment, we say it as playing the RHYTHM of the song. In Rhythm, we play CHORDS. The background music accompanying my melody in the video is the Chords of the song.

    So, why am I teaching Melody here? One reason is to conclude this lesson and make sure you understand what you have learnt.


    Another reason is because it is the fundamental before you can go to the next Lesson on Chords!

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