7.17.2013

Why You Don't Need to Learn More Chords and Scales



Guitar Pedalboard
Image Courtesy of opethpainter
After spending a lot of time examining the material being posted by other guitar sites around the web, I've learned a lot about the kind of content I want to produce and showcase on this site, and hopefully, it doesn't see its conclusion after teaching you a few chords and scales on the guitar.

Now that I've seen the myriad of other places where you can get that information, I know now that it's not what you need to hear more of.

Now of course, I'll be the first to tell you that chords and scales are vitally important, and are crucial topics for anyone to learn if they even hope to start playing the guitar. But that's just it; it's a starting point, not the end all.

Yet most guitar lessons are centered around learning certain scales or chords, examining their musical properties and then memorizing them or playing them.

That's all well and good, but I would submit that after you've done that a few times you're probably ready to move on to something a little more substantial or in-depth.

For example, improvising the pentatonic minor scale might be a good next step.

Application

So while I'm in favor of a good chord chart or pentatonic guitar lesson (obviously I've written a few myself), I'm also in favor of thorough explanation and application of the entire process, because in reality, chords and scales are hardly even the starting line.

They're a foundation that needs to be built upon, so if you lay the foundation and then stop building, you haven't really accomplished anything.

So don't stop there.

Instead of just learning the foundational aspects, and then saying that the rest is just "hard to teach" or up to "natural ability", why wouldn't those of us who have already trodden that path, try and teach the rest of the process? Sure it's hard to put into words, but it absolutely can be done.

That means there's no excuse for a guitar teacher to leave you hanging at, "here's how to play a B minor chord", and there's no excuse for you to be happy with that limited amount of knowledge.

Instead...

  • What can I do with this chord?

  • How does it fit into a chord progression?

  • What songs can I identify it in?

  • How can I quickly move to and from this chord?

  • What's the optimal finger positioning for it?

  • How can I use this chord to create arpeggios and improve my soloing technique?

  • How can I use this chord to improve my ability to improvise?

and the list goes on...

Guitar teachers usually charge anywhere from $25 to $50 an hour and up. On this site, I delve into these topics free of charge if you're willing to tolerate some Amazon affiliate links, so a guitar teacher should definitely be able to answer some of those questions for you.

That's me giving you permission to ask questions and be as annoying as possible.

Providing the Right Answers

As a guitar player who has sought to provide answers to those questions, I've come to the realization that there is so much more to the guitar as an instrument than what it's given credit for, particularly in the online community.

Guitar blogs and websites provide tabs, chord charts, scales and even lesson plans, but with a few exceptions, I've found it difficult, if not impossible to find lessons that are actually thorough and useful to someone beyond teaching them the basic tenants of the instrument.

We Don't Need More Basics

It's so frustrating, because no one needs more of that. The websites that already showcase that information are doing a good enough job of it, so we don't need anymore free resources (much less a paid teacher) to tell guitar players that they need to memorize modes.

I know that most of you already know that, and for those of you who don't, it's not going to take much time to learn.

That's why I would be one to say, you don't need to learn more chords and scales.

Instead

What I want to do is provide a place where you can go above and beneath that process and actually learn how to apply the basic components of the guitar, to something more useful and musical.

Once you're able to do that, everything about your playing improves, and to a certain degree even gets easier, which I believe makes the difference between controlling your guitar or your guitar controlling you.

You can always tell which side of that fence someone is on just by watching them play for awhile, so don't be on the wrong side. Get control of your instrument.

So what do I do?

It depends on where you're at with the guitar, but once you figure that out, take what you would consider to be the basics of what you've learned: Chords, scales, arpeggios, even songs and use then go through the following process:

  1. Pick each basic skill apart.

  2. Study the small, more minute aspects of what you're doing when you play certain chords, scales etc.

  3. Use that knowledge to free up your playing and build a more diverse and unique skill set.

  4. Apply that skill set to your own music and to the musical needs around you.

Going through this process has helped me to avoid becoming a stylistic clone, and has given me the ability to make myself a creative and useful guitar player to those who need a contributing guitarist. I know that not everyone learns the same way, but this is a pattern that I think can benefit a wide range of musicians.

Thus my encouragement to you would be simply this: Don't settle for simple lessons and stylistic plagiarism.

Instead, learn how to learn in an in-depth way, so that you can carve your own niche and so that other people will imitate your playing style.




About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.