A Course Guide to Guitar Plus at Burleigh Community College
By Andrew Thompson Cert GSMD(T) ALCM
Hello and welcome to Burleigh Community College Guitar Plus. In some cases welcome back. Thank you for choosing this course and I sincerely hope that it will meet your expectations.
Throughout the summer break I have had a good think about what issues I consider to be the most important from the guitarist’s perspective. The field is vast and there are many different directions but I have tried to condense into a ten week course some of the more important topics – popular songs, as usual, are a common theme, because the guitar has seen its most spectacular impact in the popular music field. Traditional classical guitar repertoire, keys, chords and scales are also of paramount importance to the guitarist.
In addition to the topics covered in this course, suggestions are always invited for the study of individual topics, songs or pieces of the students’ choice. So do try and be imaginative and make suggestions for material to study beyond the scope of this course. Remember it is your course and every student will have different expectations of what they would like to achieve.
Once again, thank you for choosing this course and please do not hesitate to let me know if there is anything you feel is not covered that you would like to see included
Andrew Thompson Cert GSMD(T) ALCM
Week 1: The Standard Recipe for Popular Songs
Nearly all popular songs have been written according to a certain formula which involves a Key and a family of chords which provide a harmonic backing for the melody, or tune.
The key is the scale from which all the notes in the song are taken, which includes the chords and the melody. This is a general rule only and there are many examples of exceptions to the rule, but it works in the vast majority of cases and, even the songs which break the rules do so only in slight ways.
Using the Major Scale as the starting point, we derive the following chords that form our family, based on the degrees of the Major Scale
I. TONIC or KEY CHORD (Major)
II. SUPERTONIC (Minor)
III. MEDIANT (Minor)
IV. SUBDOMINANT (Major)
V. DOMINANT (Major)
VI. SUBMEDIANT (Minor)
VII. LEADING NOTE (Diminished)
The actual chord names will depend on the key. For example, in the key of C Major the following chords would feature:
I. C Major
II. D Minor
III. E Minor
IV. F Major
V. G Major
VI. A Minor
VII. B Diminished
If the key is G Major, we would have these chords:
I. G Major
II. A Minor
III. B Minor
IV. C Major
V. D Major
VI. E Minor
VII F# Diminished
As an exercise, work out what the chords will be in all 12 of the major keys. The rule is basically the same for all other keys, ie Minor and Modal keys. You will soon become familiar with what chords crop up in the different keys and it will also help to play by ear.
Some songs are simply 2 chords in a progression throughout the entire song. The Mavericks’ Just Wanna Dance The Night Away is a I-V progression. So in the key of C this would be:
4/4 | C | G | etc
In the key of G it would be:
4/4 | G | D | etc
In the key of Eb it would be:
4/4 | Eb | Bb | etc
Try this in as many keys as you can.
Robbie Williams’ Millennium is another example of a I-V progression and an example of the slight rule breaking that can occur, in this case because the key is minor and it’s fairly common for minor keys to break the rules. For example:
4/4 | E | Bm | etc
See if you can think of any other 2 chord progressions.
By far the most common type of popular song is the I-IV-V progression. These have developed throughout history and are exemplified in the 12-bar blues era of Rock ‘N’ Roll in the 1950s. This gives us the standard pattern or template for virtually every popular song:
| I | I | I | I |
| IV | IV | I | I |
| V | V | I | I |
This structure occurs almost everywhere, with modifications. The structure is important because it gives us a simple pattern on which all popular songs can be based. It doesn’t have to be 4/4, it doesn’t have to be 12 bars and the chords can be whatever the songwriter decides, but virtually every popular song has this at its heart in one guise or another.
Listen to as many popular songs as you can and see if you can determine what type of chord structure the have. You won’t find this easy at first, but once you realise what the chord relationships sound like it will begin to get easier.
Week 2: Extended chords and their uses
Beyond the Major and Minor triads, there are many other chord types which all give their own unique sound or colour to a musical idea.
We will look at chords based on the note C, in which the notes are taken from the C Major scale. For other chords, take the notes from that particular major scale.
Consider a 2 – octave C Major scale:
C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
The chords are constructed as follows:
Major 1 3 5
(C) C E G
Minor 1 b3 5
(Cm) C Eb G
Suspended 2nd 1 2 5
(Csus2) C D G
Suspended 4th 1 4 5
(Csus4) C F G
Major 6th 1 3 5 6
(C6) C E G A
Minor 6th 1 b3 5 6
(Cm6) C Eb G A
Major 7th 1 3 5 7
(Cmaj7) C E G B
Minor 7th 1 b3 5 b7
(Cm7) C Eb G Bb
Dominant 7th 1 3 5 b7
(C7) C E G Bb
Augmented (+) 1 3 #5
(C+) C E G#
Diminished (0) 1 b3 b5
(C0) C Eb Gb
Chords with notes in the 2nd octave have a 7th in them as well:
Major 9th 1 3 5 7 9
(Cmaj9) C E G B D
Minor 9th 1 b3 5 b7 9
(Cm9) C Eb G Bb D
Dominant 9th 1 3 5 b7 9
(C9) C E G Bb D
Major 11th 1 3 (5) 7 (9) 11
(Cmaj11) C E (G) B (D) F
Minor 11th 1 b3 (5) b7 (9) 11
(Cm11) C Eb (G) Bb (D) F
Dominant 11th 1 3 (5) b7 (9) 11
(C11) C E (G) Bb (D) F
Major 13th 1 3 (5) 7 (9) (11) 13
(Cmaj13) C E G B (D) (F) A
Minor 13th 1 b3 (5) b7 (9) (11) 13
(Cm13) C Eb (G) Bb (D) (F) A
Dominant 13th 1 3 (5) b7 (9) (11) 13
(C13) C E (G) Bb (D) (F) A
These are the “basic” chords which we come across in guitar playing. The notes in brackets are often omitted, indeed, many would be unplayable on a 6 string guitar.
In addition, any chord could have sharpened or flattened notes within it, such as 5ths, 9ths, 11ths etc. These are usually denoted by (#) or (b) but sometimes (+) and (-) are used.
For example, Cm7+5 would be C E G# Bb
C7(#5b9) would be C E G# Bb Db
Cmaj7(b5#9) would be C E Gb B D#
Generally speaking, sixes and sevenths are traditional “Blues” chords and many of the others give a jazz feel to a piece, particularly major 7ths and chords with altered 5ths and/or 9ths. Try substituting an extended chord for a simple major or minor and notice the different feel you get.
Week 3: Modal keys
Modal keys are very common in music and there are a great many variations and modes available
This is one of the most commonly used examples to illustrate what is meant by a Modal Key. The notes used in the tune are C D E F G A and B. Therefore we would expect the key to be C Major. Andy yet if we play the chord C Major to back the tune from the beginning it doesn’t sound right. Similarly, the final chord doesn’t sound right if it’s anything other than D Minor. We say that the melody resolves on D Minor.
The Key is actually the second mode of C Major, which is D Dorian.
Exactly the same applies to Scarborough Fair:
The theme music to The Simpsons is another example, this time using the Lydian
Mode, the F# not fitting with the key of C Major
Some other songs with modal chord progressions:
A Hard Day’s Night: | G . C | G | F | G |
Hey Jude (the ending): | C | Bb | F | C |
My Generation: | G | F | etc
Come Up And See Me – Make Me Smile: | F | C | G | F | C | C |
Lucky Man: | G | D | A | A |
Week 4: Songwriting
Writing a song is actually quite easy. We need the following ingredients:
A Time Signature
A Key Signature
A Melody to fit the words
Some chords to back the melody (harmony)
These don’t necessarily come in any particular order. But let’s say the time signature is 4/4, the key is G. That means we’ve got the chords G, Am, Bm, C, D and Em, plus, if we wish to be adventurous, we can veer away from these chords and use some non-diatonic ones. We are writing the song, it’s up to us.
The words don’t have to be a problem either, any words will do. When we look at some of the songs others have written, we needn’t worry about the meaning(s) of our words. In a group like this we can simply pull words out of thin air by playing a word association game.
The title, too, needn’t be a problem. Anything will do. The title doesn’t even have to bear any resemblance to the content of the lyrics. Take Bohemian Rhapsody, for example.
Which brings us to the musical bit, the chords and melody. As long as the chords come back to the I chord (ie the music resolves) there’s usually no problem. Remember the human brain likes to think musically in terms of 4s, so we can have 4 bars, 8 bars, 12 bars etc and that’s all we need. Write down the chord progression (we can always change it later, that’s the beauty of it) and we can fit the words to a melody just by taking notes from the key scale and following the poetic metre of the words.
In practice, a songwriter can usually come up with a song in about ten minutes. It can take a long while to modify it and bring it to the recording studio, but it’s not really that difficult creating a song out of thin air.
Week 5: Blues Improvisation
Paul Harris, in his book, “Teaching Beginners (Faber Music)” says about improvisation, “Play any note. That’s improvisation”.
And I agree with him.
Then you have to play another note. It can be the same one, or a different one. Then you just take it from there.
OK, I admit this is a bit over-simplified, but it’s the general gist of it. Blues improvisation usually begins with a structure, say a 12-bar blues in E:
| E7 | E7 | E7 | E7 |
| A7 | A7 | E7 | E7 |
| B7 | B7 | E7 | E7 |
The time signature can be any. 12/8, 4/4 and ¾ are common.
There are many, many variations on this. A7 in bar 2, C7 in bar 9, B7 in bar 12 are just 3 possibilities but do play around with your own ideas. Remember you are right if it sounds OK. If not, try something else. It’s all about trial and error.
Mix your rhythm playing with some licks, riffs or fills (call them what you will) from the E Blues scale:
Play around with it is the only advice I can give. Your development as a guitarist will only come through self belief and you won’t get that without trying out a few ideas. Don’t worry, your understanding and confidence will soon grow.
Week 6: Traditional Guitar Repertoire
Repertoire can be anything at all. The important thing is that you pick the pieces that are appropriate to you as a player. I could make thousands of recommendations, none of which are appropriate to your particular style of playing or musical taste. But it’s important to have that determination to work at pieces until you are confident enough to perform them to concert standard. The level of difficulty doesn’t have to be great. The simple things are often the most effective.
Anyway, a single-line melody such as Greensleeves is a good starter:
Week 7: Scale Playing and the structure of melodies
In this session I intend to stress the importance of scale playing and how this relates to melody. A simple example is the tune When The Saints Go Marching In:
This is directly from the A Major scale. Another contemporary example is the theme music to BBC1’s Eastenders:
This one’s in the key of C Major. See if you can work out the rest
Week 8: Playing By Ear: The Basics
Playing by ear is something which requires a lot of practice and plenty of trial and error. If you get it wrong, don’t worry because it shows that you are learning and we learn by our mistakes!
You need to know 2 things to play something by ear: you need to know the Key and you need to know the Pulse.
If you can get the key then you already have a good idea of what chords will be involved from our discussions early on in this course. There are, of course, 12 major and 12 minor keys and one of these will generally be the right one. Again it is trial and error and doesn’t come all at once. You need to practice it.
The correct key will be the one in which the home chord is completely resolved, or closed, or finished, or complete, whichever best describes the feeling of resolution. Often a song will begin with the key chord or finish with it, but not always. Like a book, a song can have a closed ending (finishing on the key chord) or an open ending (finishing on a different chord). This evening we will look at a few different songs to see if we can identify the key, but don’t worry if this doesn’t come all at once. If you practice and listen for the places where the key chord comes in, you will begin to grasp the ideas.
Once we have established the key, you can pick out the pulse. One way to do this is to mute the strings with the left hand and just play a simple rhythm along with a track. You will soon find you can pick out the rhythm quite easily. This evening we will look at a ¾ rhythm, a 4/4 rhythm and a 6/8 rhythm, since these are the most common.
Remember, playing by ear is does not come all at once and requires practice, so choose some other songs and try and work out the rhythm and the key. You will improve, so be patient.
Week 9: Songwriting 2
For this session I would like everyone to bring along a song which they have written based on the topics we have covered this term. Ideally the will be complete with lyrics, chord progressions and a title. If the individual composers feel unsure about giving a public performance, then I will do my level best to put together the finished product(s).
This has been left blank to revise any of the topics covered in previous weeks