Fretboard Evolution Vol. I
Fretboard Evolution Vol. I: A Guitarists Guide to Harmony - 208 Page PDF eBook
By: Steve Rieck
This book was written with a specific type of guitar player in mind – One who's played for several months or years and is comfortable with open major and minor chords as well as barre chords and some scale patterns.
If you feel like most of what you do on the guitar is based on visual patterns and shapes and it’s hard to make a lot of logical sense of it, this book is for you. If you’ve had a good background in music theory but feel blurry on some aspects or how to relate it to the guitar, this book is also for you.
Although much of the information is presented in the context of what is known as “jazz harmony” and is written with guitarists in mind, the information is universally useful to most styles of music and instruments.
In addition, each chapter contains a summary quiz as well as a series of exercises to practice on your guitar.
The goal of this book is to embrace the patterns and shapes we all must know and at the same time liberate you from being able to approach the guitar from only that angle. Hopefully the result will be better ideas all around.
You should also be aware that I’m going to start simply, from the beginning. Without a doubt, many of you will already have knowledge to varying degrees of many of the things presented in this book but again, my hope is that the information can fill in the gaps and be presented in the most effective way possible.
Why many guitarists are challenged by music theory.
The visual shape and pattern-based nature of the guitar fretboard is great news to any beginner. Not many instruments allow a novice with good ears and instincts to memorize a few shapes and fingerings and simply shift those same shapes up and down to change keys, develop music etc.
That’s one of the reasons the guitar is so popular. Consequently, a lot of players develop who can play a lot of music but suddenly feel lost when they try to step out of their comfort zone. The guitar eventually becomes an endless, compounding game of visual memorization.
It's interesting to notice that from the first lesson, a piano or wind player needs to think about the notes on their instrument and some basic music theory in order to get almost anything done. String instruments, by their very nature, lend themselves to playing by instinct alone.
The real goal of course, is to get the information so under control that it becomes something much more subconscious. A place where we can feel the creative possibilities expand.
The two most important things!
Ultimately, this book is about putting the missing pieces of music theory and harmony together for a guitarist who has the mechanical basics covered. The fact is, if you want to advance any amount of theory information and be able to apply it in any practical way you MUST start with two critical things:
(The first chapters of this book are devoted to simple exercises for developing both of these.)
1. You must become effortless in your knowledge of all of the notes on your fretboard, the octave relations and why the notes occur where they do.
2. You must become effortless in your knowledge of the seven notes of all of the major scales with and without your guitar.
The good news is that once that critical foundation is firmly set, each concept of music theory, every chord and scale you learn no matter how advanced becomes a relatively simple formula you can memorize and play easily in any key. The other huge advantage is that you begin to not only see but also hear how these chords and scales are related.
For example, if we say that a “dominant 7th” chord is made up of the 1st, 3rd, 5th and “flatted 7th” notes of a major scale, that is meaningless and useless to a player who doesn’t know the notes on their fretboard and isn’t confident with the notes of their major scales.
For the player who has set that foundation however, the notes of any 7th chord are instantly defined and he/she sees dozens of ways of arranging those notes on the fretboard into useful chords and - equally as important - they begin to recognize and hear that flatted 7th.
That’s just a single example. ALL scales and chords can be thought of as formulas applied to the notes of a major scale as above. Luckily, we don't need to just memorize all those formulas by rote. There is a method to the madness.
Again, these two things are the basic requirements for any music theory knowledge, without them, we hit a brick wall.
Any chord is merely a combination of three or more specific notes. Any two notes within a chord or scale represent an “Interval” or simply a measurable-musical distance between the two notes (Chapter 3 is devoted to understanding intervals in more detail).
A two-note combination (interval) may sound stable or unstable to your ear or in more basic terms pretty or ugly. This relationship of consonance and dissonance is a big part of what creates the magic in any chord – or for that matter any melody and music in general.
Lastly, I want to point out the obvious - that music theory is not a system of laws to rigidly restrict your musical decisions. It’s merely the facts about harmony (“These notes make this chord – Here's how I could combine them on the fretboard” and so on…). Your ears are the ultimate judge of whether something “works” or not. Theory helps you interpret what you’re hearing the same way grammar helps you communicate in language. Knowledge of grammar doesn’t negate your ability to use slang or intentionally use colorful language it merely allows you to recognize it and be in better command of what you’re trying to say.
So harmony, like spelling and grammar is a series of facts that allow you to see a bigger picture. It should not choose your words for you. Another way to look at it is that harmony is such a profound and wondrous system that it would be a shame for any lover of music to not study and understand it.
It’s been said that being too educated in an art form will tend to make you think and create within accepted parameters. My thought is, when you understand the fact that certain chords fit into a certain key or that certain notes make up a certain scale or chord, you can just as easily find the ones that don’t fit and use them, but this time with intention. As one of my former teachers told me, “you need to know the rules before you break them”.
"Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?"- Richard Feynman
Predictability is generally a bad thing in art and if you treat music theory as a set of rules that you shouldn’t or can’t break, your music is probably going to be predictable. When used well, it can give your compositions a sense of clarity and intent in those situations where good ears and instincts aren’t enough. It also helps you interpret other music on an entirely different level and is an enormous aid in the transcription process.
Having taught thousands of students this information for decades, I can promise you, you're going to be amazed how much of this you can master and how straightforward it is. Hopefully you'll find this book is set up so that each chapter is immediately helpful as each successive chapter increases your knowledge and that knowledge makes a practical difference in your playing.
The first 13 Chapters are what I'd think of as the essentials. I know 13 chapters sounds like a lot for essentials but I think you'll find I’ve spread a lot of information into many smaller chapters in order to keep things clear. Beyond chapters 1 - 13, you might choose to learn some more advanced concepts in the remaining chapters.
MASTER THE FUNDAMENTALS! Looking at the index, you might feel intimidated at first. I promise you it will all seem fairly easy once you are completely comfortable with –
1. The notes on your fretboard and how the fretboard works.
2. The seven notes of each of the major scales and how/why the scales themselves relate to each other.
One last time, anyone trying to learn music theory without being completely at ease with those two most important things is attempting an impossible task in my opinion. You cannot construct a building from the 10th floor. You need to set a solid foundation and give that foundation time to take hold before you start building on it!
Additionally, becoming a competent reader of standard notation is beyond the scope of this book as is the extended world of rhythm the value of which is impossible to overstate. In fact, be sure that with an underdeveloped sense of rhythm, none of the content of this book is worth much at all. The second book in this series will be an extended look at rhythm and time signatures whereas this book focuses strictly on harmony. These subjects should be a top priority for any serious music student. Although many of the exercises contain tablature as well, both of these books assume a basic knowledge of standard music notation.