Dude, Where’s My Scales?

Given that this is a course in lead guitar playing you must certainly have been expecting a good healthy dose of scales by the second or third lesson, rest assured scales and their uses is a big part of this course. Experience has shown me however that jumping right into scales, chord scales or modes when teaching and learning the art of lead guitar playing is a big mistake. It's a mistake because it's very difficult to recognize the musical possibilities and control the sounds of the notes in the scales when we are just learning. Practicing scales and then attempting to turn the running or reciting of the scales into guitar solos is a very mechanical affair with a stiff feeling and boring, constant rhythm of eighth notes. It takes a professional with a lot of experience to craft interesting melodies and solos out of different scales and scale sounds.
As you may know, the style makers, the trendsetters, the inventors of lead guitar and modern guitar playing of virtually every ilk created their individual sounds and styles by playing inside the chord, using chord tones, inventing licks with these chord tones and their embellishments. Playing this way provides a solid feeling of being connected, in key and in perfect harmony. Not only is this approach accessable, logical and doable, it feels good and right. That having been said, our study of learning to improvise by thinking about chords and their shapes continues below.

Table Of Compound Intervals

C Major Chord Tones And Tensions

All 3 types of basic chords, major minor and dominant, accept good sounding and interesting harmony notes taken from the scale. These are logical, obvious, upwards harmonic extensions of the chord called tensions or melodic tensions. This is also called harmony by thirds or 'tertial' harmony. My interactive diagram for the chord tones and tensions associated with the the key of C major encourages you to view these tensions as melodic embellishments, or decorations which provide extra character and personality to the basic chord sound. I often view them as spices because they enrich and enhance the overall flavor and sound of the chord without changing the basic quality of the chord.

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I hope you will return to the interactive diagram above again and again as you study this course. For me as a music student, this would've been a dream come true because we are learning to make artistic and musical decisions concerning the notes we decide to add to our solos and music in general not just a mathematical analysis. I like to think of each one of the tensions as a definite and distinct spice that creates an interesting musical flavor for me to control. What can you add to the ways in which I've described the personalities of the tensions?


The diagram below uses a common knowledge C major chord located on fret VIII to illustrate the location of the available tensions in relation to a widely used major chord shape. Think of this diagram as reinforcing the main focus of the course so far: that an effective lead guitarist knows how to create and play hooks, short fills, longer leads and cool licks out of chord tones, approach notes and tensions, their natural melodic embellishments.

This diagram shows a basic 4 note C major chord located on fret VIII with the strongest melodic note, the C root note, in red. Each of the 4 diagrams is an opportunity for you to visualize the location of the melodic tensions as they relate to the chord shape. In the tab below each chord diagram there is a suggestion for resolving the tension back into the chord -what you would do if you were improvising. Play your way through the four chord shapes loosley and slowly, really geting the flavor of the melodic tensions in your ear, once you do, try using these techniques against the play along track.


Use the short video below to experiment with the tensions and try the short bits of melodic material included. As you experiment with playing nice sounding solos over the C major chord sound, return to the basic notes of the chord shape from time time as a way of building your melodies.

Style Study: Early Rock Technique

Just below you see the first of many solos written for this course. As such it is only fitting that this first solo pay tribute to the great early style (1950's to 1960's) of soloing. Thes solos of early rock and rhythm and blues are simple, charming and very often lean heavily on chord shapes and chord tones.

Listen to the recording at least twice before playing the solo on your guitar. Practice with the chart until you can match the guitar on the recording in a note for note fashion.

Early Rock Or Rhythm And Blues Style