Newsletter Vol. 4 # 14 – November 1, 2011


Welcome to Volume 4, Issue #14 of Guitar Noise News!

In This Issue:

  • Greetings, News and Announcements
  • Guitar Noise Featured Artist
  • Spotlight on the SSG
  • Topic of the Month
  • New Articles, Lessons, Reviews and Stuff
  • Great Advice from Great Teachers
  • Events Horizon
  • Random Thoughts

Greetings, News and Announcements

Hello and welcome to the November 1 issue of Guitar Noise News, your free twice-a-month newsletter from Guitar Noise.

I’m writing this on October 28 and we’ve got snow three inches of snow or so that’s covered the ground all day. And it’s not even Halloween yet! Speaking of which, do try to have a safe and fun Halloween if you’re out and about.

Our big news is that Paul has negotiated successfully with Alfred Music to purchase the rights to some of their songs for our song lessons here at Guitar Noise. Little by little, we’ll be bringing back some of our old song lessons, as well as brand new ones! This has been a long time coming and we can’t thank you enough for both your patience and your support.

We’ve chosen three R.E.M. song lessons – “Man on the Moon,” “Losing My Religion” and “Driver Eight” – to help us celebrate being able to bring back the music and tablature into our Guitar Noise lessons and we also do so to commemorate this great band who’ve recently decided to part ways. And we hope you will join us in thanking Alfred Music Publishing for working with us in order to bring copyrighted material back into our song lessons.

And as we bring some of these old lessons back, we’re going to try to tidy them up a bit. We hope you enjoy them and find them educational, entertaining and inspirational.

Spotlight on the SSG

Last Sunday, October 30, the Sunday Songwriters’ Group finished its tenth year. It’s an incredible achievement and a testimony to Nick Torres and Ryan Spencer, who came up with the idea back in the early autumn of 2001. And a great deal of credit has to go to both Bob Mothers, who ran the SSG for four years and to Vic Lewis who’s also done more than his far sharing of keeping the SSG up and running.

But as much as the Sunday Songwriters’ Group has its founders and leaders to thank for its continued success, that’s nothing compared to the accolades we have for every single person who has contributed to the SSG over the past ten years, whether by sharing the song lyrics and music one has written or by offering up candid, constructive and encouraging observations on each other’s work. This cooperative and friendly support has resulted in hundreds of songs begin written and has also hopefully helped many would-be songwriters become songwriters as well as helped songwriters become better songwriters.

Guitar Noise Featured Artist

Chuck Berry turned eighty-five last month. We’re giving him a belated birthday celebration by naming him the Guitar Noise Featured Artist for the month of November Read all about him on the Guitar Noise Profile Page.

Topic of the Month

With the holidays coming up sooner than we’d like, it made sense to choose “Buying a Guitar” as November’s Guitar Noise Topic of the Month. We’ve had quite a few articles over the year dealing with the topic, ranging from going into the music store for the very first time to buying used instruments to making sure you’ve thought about your guitar’s shape when it comes to making a purchase. You’ll find all there and more by visiting the Guitar Noise home page and clicking on the latest “Topic of the Month” up at the top of the middle of the home page, just below the blue banner.

New Articles, Lessons, Reviews and Stuff

Easy Songs For Beginners

Man on the Moon – R.E.M.

Man on the Moon by R.E.M. is a beautiful song that beginners can easily learn to play. We’ll also add some nice touches for a solo arrangement.

Losing My Religion – R.E.M.

In our beginner arrangement of R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion you can play the guitar, mandolin and bass parts all on a solo acoustic guitar. Sounds great.

Driver Eight – R.E.M.

This is a fun and easy to way to play the REM song Driver 8. We’re also going to learn a few new tricks like incorporating riffs into strumming.

Determining The Key Of A Song
by David Hodge

Figuring out what key a song is in is something guitarists usually do if they are playing music with others. How can you tell what key a song is in? David gives you some tips in this three parts mini-series.

Where Do I Begin…
by David Hodge

This is easily one of the most common questions we get: What order should I read the lessons in? Well, that really depends on who is asking the question.

Book Review: “Travis Picking” By Andrew DuBrock
by David Hodge

Andrew DuBrock’s latest guitar tutorial book, “Travis Picking” does an excellent job teaching not only the basics of Travis picking but the intermediate and advanced techniques, too.

Great Advice From Great Teachers

This month, we’ve another great bit of advice from long time Guitar Noise contributor Tom Serb:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Scales – Part 1

In this series I’m going to show you what scales are, and how to use them. Since members of Guitar Noise are guitarists, we’ll start off with the “guitar friendliest” scale, and move from there to the other ones that are the most musically useful (the major and minor scales).

After that, we’ll look at what modes are – and how to use them – and wrap up with some of the more unusual scales used in different types of music.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

The most commonly used scale for guitarists is the minor pentatonic scale. A few definitions before we start playing it, because these terms will come up again: “scale” comes from the Latin word for “ladder”, and it’s used to describe any sequence of tones that rise or fall through one octave. (An “octave” is the distance from any pitch and the next pitch with the same name – like the distance from fifth string, third fret C to second string, first fret C.). “Pentatonic” comes from the Greek words “pente”, which means five, and “tonikos”, or tone; pentatonic scales are any scales with five different notes in the octave. And “minor” is a term applied to any scale or chord that contains the major scale’s third note lowered by a half step – a C major scale is the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C; any C based chord or scale that has Eb in can be considered minor.

What makes scales sound different from each other isn’t just the notes in the scale – it’s also the relationship of the sounds to each other. In most melodies, scales, and chord progressions, there’s going to be one pitch that sounds final… like you’ve arrived at the end of the musical journey. That pitch is called the “tonic”, and it’s the note that names the scale: A C minor pentatonic has C as it’s home base, while an Eb major pentatonic (which contains exactly the same pitches, as we’ll see later on) has Eb the tonic.

When we analyze the makeup of a scale to see what makes it different from other scales, music theorists compare them to the major scale – the building block of almost all music theory. Later on in this series we’ll look at what makes up a major scale; for right now, we’ll just say that the minor pentatonic scale has the formula 1-b3-4-5-b7, which means a C minor pentatonic scale has the notes C, Eb, F, G, and Bb.

If we start from the C note on the eighth fret of the sixth string, we’ll find the easiest way to finger this scale is C, then Eb on the 11th fret of the 6th string, F on the 8th fret of the 5th string, G on the 10th fret of the 5th string, Bb on the 8th fret of the 4th string, and C again at the 10th fret of the 4th string. Those notes make up the entire scale, but we can keep going through the next octave and get this fingering:

| 8 | | | 11 |
| 8 | | | 11 |
| 8 | | 10 |
| 8 | | 10 |
| 8 | | 10 |
| 8 | | | 11 |

A brief note about fingering: although there are some guitarists, even a few famous ones, who use just two fingers for these scales, I’d advise you to learn them in strict position (fingering 1-4, 1-3, 1-3, 1-3, 1-4, 1-4 for the one just shown. Avoiding unnecessary shifts of position will help you visualize the fretboard; once you can “see” the notes that belong to this scale, feel free to use whatever shifts and stretches you’d like.

Notice there are just two notes on each string. That’s because of the scale structure, and the way the guitar is tuned… and it gives us a huge advantage over other instruments in using this scale. Since each string will have only two notes, one of them must be the lowest note on the sixth string – and as a result, there will be only five possible fingerings, one beginning with each scale note.

To put it another way, if you’re playing the C pentatonic scale in 8th position, you’re playing 10th fret notes on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th strings, and 11th fret notes on the other three strings.

If you want to move your hand up to the 10th position, you can play those same notes using the first and second fingers; we can complete the next scale fingering by filling in the pitches C, Eb, F, G, and Bb that we can reach from the 10th position:

| | 11 | | 13 |
| | 11 | | 13 |
| 10 | | 12| |
| 10 | | | 13 |
| 10 | | | 13 |
| | 11 | | 13 |

We can continue moving up the fretboard to the 11th position and get this fingering… which is actually the one I teach last in lessons, because it’s the only one that involves a shift of position:

| | 13 | | 15 | |
| | 13 | | | 16 |
| 12 | | | 15 | |
| | 13 | | 15 | |
| | 13 | | 15 | |
| | 13 | | 15 | |

You can also play that fingering one octave lower, in open position. But when learning scales, I find it best to stick to “closed” fingerings (no open strings) until you’ve mastered the positions. If you can’t reach the 16th fret on your guitar, no problem – just practice these fingerings in a different key. In the key of F, the first fingering will be at the first position, the second fingering in third position, and this fingering will be in 5th position.

Now I’m going to drop an octave – notes on the 15th fret are an octave higher than the notes on the 3rd fret, so this fourth fingering pattern will begin with the G (the fourth note of the C minor pentatonic scale) at the third fret:

| 3 | | | 6 |
| | 4 | | 6 |
| 3 | | 5 | |
| 3 | | 5 | |
| 3 | | | 6 |
| 3 | | | 6 |

There’s one thing I want you to notice about this fingering: it’s the same as fingering 1, but with two notes moved up a fret – the higher note on the 5th string, and the lower note on the 2nd string. The reason why that happens is important in music theory, but it’s beyond the score of this lesson – I’ll talk about it at some point in the future.

Finally, our last fingering begins with the fifth note of the scale – Bb if you’re in the key of C. We end up with this:

| | 6 | | 8 |
| | 6 | | 8 |
| 5 | | | 8 |
| 5 | | | 8 |
| | 6 | | 8 |
| | 6 | | 8 |

Notice two things about this fingering: first, it’s the only fingering that’s perfectly symmetrical, with the two ‘outside’ strings fingered 2-4, and the two central ‘inside’ strings fingered 1-4. Second, I want you to notice that there is a note on the 8th fret of every string… just as there was in our first position.

This means we’ve come full circle, and have now identified every possible fretboard position of the notes in this scale. A complete view of the C minor pentatonic will look like this:

( fingering 3) (fingering 5) (fingering 2) (fingering 4)

| 1 | | 3 | | | 6 | | 8 | | | 11 | | 13 | | 15 | | | 18 | |
| 1 | | | 4 | | 6 | | 8 | | | 11 | | 13 | | | 16 | | 18 | |
0 | | | 3 | | 5 | | | 8 | | 10 | | 12 | | | 15 | | 17 | | |
| 1 | | 3 | | 5 | | | 8 | | 10 | | | 13 | | 15 | | 17 | | |
| 1 | | 3 | | | 6 | | 8 | | 10 | | | 13 | | 15 | | | 18 | |
| 1 | | 3 | | | 6 | | 8 | | | 11 | | 13 | | 15 | | | 18 | |
(fingering 4) (fingering 1) (fingering 3)

Depending on your guitar, you might be able to keep going for another position, or even two.

Events Horizon

Every Wednesday we’ll be posting our “Events Horizon” calendar up on the Guitar Noise blog. You can read the one from this past week, which covers from October 26 through November 5.

Random Thoughts

Between getting the green light to get back to work on the Guitar Noise song lessons and the start of Year 10 of the Sunday Songwriter’s Group,not to mention spending the better part of the last fifteen months working with Nashville songwriter Casey Kelly on “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Art of Songwriting,” it’s no surprise that songwriting has been on my mind a lot of late.

There are a lot of reasons why people write songs – but usually it all comes down to communicating with someone about something. Maybe the something is the someone. That happens quite a bit.Songs, like conversations with friends or like books or movies or even paintings and photos, give you a shared connection with both the songwriter and everyone else who’s heard to song. That’s a lot of power.

Like any trade or art form, there are all sorts of songwriters. There’s the casual enthusiast who writes for his or her own enjoyment as well as the seasoned veteran who gets commissioned to ply his or her craft. You’ve got the songwriter who is into writing more as a way to validate his own life, making everything about the song draw your attention to him. And you’ve got the songwriter who makes you see the world in entirely new ways without even noticing that it was a song that made you do so.

Over the past ten years I have had the honor and the pure pleasure of watching music being created before my eyes and ears at the Sunday Songwriters’ Group. People from all over the world (some I’ve met as a result of becoming involved with their music) have become part of my life with their melodies, harmonies and rhythms. I can’t thank you all enough for making the world a better and brighter place. I eagerly look forward to hearing more!

Until our next newsletter, play well and play often. And for those of you going out and about, my best wishes for safe travel.

And, as always,