Arkiv for kategorien "Theory"

A new book on music theory

Monday, 7th April, 2008

John DuarteMy lessons on music theory are to a very large extent based on what I learned from John Duarte’s series on music theory in Guitar Player Magazine back in the 80’s. Or to put it a bit different: I learned most of what I know from his articles. From his vast knowledge he was able to present it in a form that made it understandable for us who do not have an academic degree in music. And it was all applied to guitar. Many times I have said that I wish he would publish a book on the subject.

Now a book is here, called Melody & Harmony for Guitarists. I have to add that so far I have only seen information on the book in “new publications” lists. I have not yet seen the book. But as I have been hoping for a book on the subject by John Duarte for a very long time, I include this “news” notice. I wil come back to the book when I have seen and read it. But if it is a bit like his Guitar Player articles, it is definetly worth having.

The book is available from and SheetmusicPlus. At the time of writing it is not available from Amazon UK, despite the fact that John Duarte is English. But I hope it will be available soon.

Try this with Open-G tuning

Thursday, 6th March, 2008

I recently read that some guitarists who where called experts on Open-G tuning, Keith Richards was one mentioned, tuned the second string, which is the third in the chord, a little flat to tune it to the overtones rather than  to the standard G-major chord.

A little theory must be insterte here. When a guitar string is ringing, it produces many tones. We find the first overtone when the string is divied in two, with the string vibrating as two halves rather than in the whole length. This is the note we get if we play an harmonic on the 12th fret (touching the string lightly at 12th fret when it is picked and released imediatly. This will isolate the first overtone.

The next overtone is the string divided in three – which give us a perfect fith above the first overtone (one octave + one fifth above the root). This is the harmonic on the 7th fret.

When the string is divided in four, we get the overtone one octave above the first overtone (two octaves above the root). This is the harmonic on the 5th fret. So far we can stay with the frets.

But the next overtone is one third above. But it is neither a major nor a minor third. It is slightly below the major third. The way we tune the guitar (and the way a piano is tuned) is a compromise called a tempered tuning or equal temperament. The distances between the notes are divided into equal half steps. But this is not in tune with the overtones. In a just or natural temperament you tune to the overtones. And this is what we can to in for instance Open G tuning.

The easiest way to in what can be labeled just Open-G is to find the fourth overtone, the harmonic slightly below the fourth fret on the 3rd string. Tune the 2nd string so that the harmonic on the 5th fret equals this fourth overtone on the third string. I have tried it with slide and it works very well.

As long as we do not move to far from the root, the just or natural temperament works great. But it will not work if we move far away from the root and into other keys. The equal tempered tuning was needed for more complex music with modulations to other keys, etc. You may also run into trouble if you play fretted chords that are not just barre chords, as you change the relations between the strings. (You cannot play a B on third string, fourth fret, as it will crash with the slightly detuned B on the second tring). And if the rest of the band is playing in equal temperament, you may run into trouble. But try it out.

It should work in Open-D, Open-C and any other major chord tuning. But so far I have only tried it in Open-G.

Some questions about chord progressions

Tuesday, 6th November, 2007

I have received two questions from Ray. I post them here, as others may have the same questions. Two answer his last question/comment: The questions are not too elementary. I believe that if you have a question, there are many out there who would like to have an answer to your question.

Question 1

Tillikens has a chart on his page re Beatles early progressions. The bIII bV bVI stuff is driving me crazy. I finally concluded they don’t play b in Am; but why they are called flat and how to transpose them is driving me crazy. Suggestions?

Question 2

I have trouble interpreting your chord progressions.

If the progression starts:

i IIIb that’s Am Eb (or whatever minor key I transpose to?

I IIIb VIb That’s C Eb Ab? Or whatever I transpose to?

i iv i VIIb Am Fm Am Bb

i iv VIIb IIIb VIb iidim V i ?

Sorry if the question is to elementary.


Roman numerals is a generic notation where the numbers indicates chord function. They can be transposed to any key. But you need to know some basic music theory to do the transposition.

The roman numeral I is the root. I use capital I if it is a major chord and lower case i for minor chords. The Romans never used lower case roman numbers, so this is an adaptation of their numerical system to something it was never meant for. Some prefer the form Im for a minor chord.

You may also find someone who use capital roman numbers only. I have had comments from people who think it is stupid to use lower case numbers. They say, at least the few that have sent comments to me, that you will see from the context whether it is major or minor. I do not think that this is a good form of notation. First you will need more knowledge in music theory to understand the notation. They suppose that you know that the second chord in a major key is minor. But an even more serious objection is that this is not always the case. If you use this notation, it is not possible to notate a common chord as the V of V, which is a II (major) where one would normally expect a minor chord. The same goes for other borrowed chords.

To summarize so far: The number indicates a chord’s position in the scale or key. The IV is a chord in fourth position. In C this will be F, in Eb it will be Ab, etc.

The b is a flat, meaning that the note or the chord should be one half step below the position indicated by the number or the note written. Some put the b before the roman numbers, others prefer to put it after the roman numbers. I do not know if there is a “right” way of doing this. I see that practise varies. I prefer to put them after, as this makes sorting more easy. My list of chord progressions is a list genereted from a database and sorted automatically. If I should put the b in front, all chords with a b followed by a roman numercal number would be sorted before those without. A bVII would be put before I. I think this would have been confusing.

A # (sharp) means that the note or chord is played a half step up.

It is time to include my general disclaimer: I am not formally trained in music. People who are trained in music may say that there is one way og notation that is correct. I have not found a consistent practise. I always use the basic major scale as a refernce, even if it is a minor key. The third chord in minor is a major chord. The root of this chord is the minor third, as all minor scales have a minor third. I will notate this chord as IIIb, even though this is the standard third in a minor key. You may find others who will notate this as III, as it is the normal third of a minor key. It may be confusing, but this is how it is.

When I am referring to chords that belong to a scale, I refer to diatonic chords. This means chords built from the notes in the scale. The C-major scale has the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B. Diatonic chords are built with these and only these notes. It will be C-E-G, which is C-major; D-F-A, which is D-minor, etc. The diatonic chords make up the harmonized scale.

Then some comments to Ray’s more specific questions.

i IIIb is a minor root with a major chord on the minor third. If the root is Am, a minor third up from A is C, meaning that the IIIb will be C-major. If the root is C and the i-chord is C-minor, then a minor third up from C is Eb, and the IIIb-chord will be Eb.

I IIIb VIb will in C be, as ray says, C-Eb-Ab. But it is a rather strange progression and I have (so far) not included this in my list of progressions (meaning that I do not know any songs with this progression). I would think of this as a minor progression. I have included i-IIIb-VIb-IV, but I could of course drop the last IV-chord and include i-IIIb-VIb. But as I said, I do not know this progression with a major root.

i iv i VIIb. If we put this in Am it is Am-Dm-Am-G. It seems that Ray, in his question, is referring to the C for any chord but the root. In A the chords are: A is 1, B is 2, C is 3, D is 4, E is 5, F is 6, G is 7. I am using arabic numbers here (yes, our standard numbers are arabic), to avoid reference to specific chords. In a (natural) minor key, the root is a minor chord – i.

The next note in the scale is one whole step up – B. In B-major, the chord is a minor chord, which means that the next chord is ii. In natural minor the root is the same as in major – one whole step up from the root of the scale. But the chord build on this note is a diminshed chord. In A-minor it will be Bdim. Here I have to underscore that I am referring to the diminished triad. If you extend this chord to a seventh, it is not a diminished seventh, but as the chord known as a half diminished chord, notated as m7b5.

The third note is a minor third up from the root. As this is a half step below the parallell major, I refer to this as the 3b note. It is a major chord, meaning that I will notate the chord as IIIb. In the key A-minor, this chord will be C.

The next note, the 4th, is a perfect fourth up from the root. In natural minor, this is a minor chord, notated as iv. In the parallell major key, the root of the chord will be the same, as both scales have a perfect fourth. But in major, it will be a major chord, IV. In A-minor, the chord is Dm. In A-major, it is D. In dorian mode, which is a minor key, we will have a IV.

Both major and minor have a perfect fifth. But again it is a minor chord in natural minor, but major in major. It is notated as v and V resepctively. In harmonic minor and melodic minor the v will be substituted by a V or a V7 for reasons that I will not discuss here.

In major we have a major sixth. The chord on this scale degree is a minor chord, notated as vi. In C-major it is Am, and in A-major it is C#m. In natural minor there is a minor sixth, and the chord built on this note is a major chord, notated as VIb (this is at least how I notate this chord). In A-minor this chord is F, in C-minor it is Ab. In dorian mode there is a major sixth. The chord built on this degree is a diminished chord.

Then there is the note built on the seventh degree. In major this is a major seventh. The chord built on this note is a diminshed chord as mentioned above. Natural minor has a minor seventh and the chord a major chord, and it is notated as VIIb.

The last progression in Ray’s question is i iv VIIb IIIb VIb iidim V i. It has a minor root (i). If we put it in A-minor, this will be Am. The next chord is a minor chord build on the prefect fourth, whic will be Dm. Then there is a major chord build on the minor seventh note, which will be G. Then there is a major chord built on the minor third, which will be C. Then there is a major chord built on the minor sixth, which will be F. Then we have the diminished triad built on the second, which is Bdim (but not Bdim7 – you will often see dim7 notated just as dim). In natural minor, the diatonic chord built on the 5th of the scale will be a minor chord. Here it is a major chord. If we compare Em and E, the Em has the notes E-G-B, while the E has E-G#-B. The G# is a major seventh, the note one half step below the root. This note is also known as the leading note. This note gives a stronger push towards the root, and a stronger sense of being in some kind of an A-key in this case. When the minor seventh is substituted with a major seventh, meaning that we have get a V rather than a v chord, we have harmonic minor. You will hear more about the leading note if you listen so my podcast on What is a key?.

I hope that give a little bit of clarification, and not just add to the confusion.

This is the second part in a series of podcasts on practical music theory for guitar players. In this podcast I discuss how the notes makes up a key. To subscribe, click here put in your podcast software, for instance iTunes.

This is the first in a series of podcasts on practical music theory for guitar players. It is an introduction to the series. To subscribe, click here put in your podcast software, for instance iTunes.

New lessons in Chord Progressions

Monday, 8th October, 2007

I have added a few lessons in the Chord Progressions series. The series will be reorganised. But as with everything, it takes time. I have included lessons on the primary chords (I, IV and V), as well as the secondary diatonic minor chords.

The Chord Progressions series will be a place to start if you want to know more about chord progressions and application of chords. For more in depth information you will be referred to corresponding lessons in the Theory series. And for examples, including references to songs where you can hear the progression, you will be referred to the relevant progressions in the Chord Progressions Section.