Newsletter Vol. 4 # 19 – January 15, 2012


Welcome to Volume 4, Issue #18 of Guitar Noise News!

In This Issue:

  • Greetings, News and Announcements
  • Guitar Noise Featured Artist
  • Topic of the Month
  • New Articles, Lessons, Reviews and Stuff
  • Great Advice from Great Teachers
  • Emails? We Get Emails!
  • Random Thoughts

Greetings, News and Announcements

So, did you notice that I still had 2011 in the date of our last newsletter? The one which started out with the bold “In case you’ve not been told, it is now 2012” as its opening line? If not, forget I even mentioned it! Instead, let me welcome you to the latest issue of Guitar Noise News, your free twice-a-month newsletter from Guitar Noise. And I hope that your New Year has been a good one so far.

We’ve also another New Year coming up! A week from tomorrow, which is Monday, January 23, is Chinese New Year. The Year of the Dragon! If you happen to be born this year or (much more likely) happen to be turning 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84 or 96, then this is your year.

Not that it really has all that much to do with anything, but when Nick was up here in the Berkshires last fall to record some songs, we got breakfast at a local shop that had a zodiac based on various delicatessen items. Turns out I was born in the Year of Chopped Liver. No lie. And I swore I’d never tell what year Nick was born in, so don’t ask!

In case you missed the last newsletter, we’ve brought back “Horse With No Name” to the pages of Guitar Noise. It joins “Hey There, Delilah.” and our three R.E.M. song lessons – “Man on the Moon,” “Losing My Religion” and “Driver Eight” back on our “Easy Songs for Beginners” lessons page, where each lesson comes complete with lyrics, music notation and tablature and also a healthy dose of educational and entertaining text. Again (and always), we’d like to thank Alfred Music Publishing for working with us in order to bring copyrighted material back into our song lessons.

Finally, just in case you’re wondering exactly what Nick was up here recording last fall, I’m please to announce that I’ve finished another project for Alpha Books. It’s another in their “Complete Idiot’s Guides” series – “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing the Ukulele” and it will be out in bookstores (online and on earth) on July 3 this summer. Nick recorded vocals for many of the song examples and also contributed an original song of his own (“It’s Not a Love Song”) for the chapter on how to play ukulele in a traditional band setting. We’ll be posting more about this upcoming book, including some cool ukulele lessons not included in the book, later on this spring. And Paul will be posting a link for the book on our bookstore page as soon as it’s available. As with all my previous books, I cannot thank the Guitar Noise community enough for all their support. I hope you’ll find this new to be up to the high standards you set.

Guitar Noise Featured Artist

The plan is to have Eddie Van Halen be the Guitar Noise Featured Artist for the month of January and Paul’s whipping up a bio of this celebrated guitarist and you’ll be able to read all about him on the Guitar Noise Profile Page.

Topic of the Month

On top of everything else, we’re doing some revamping of our Guitar Noise Topic Pages. For over fifteen years now we’ve been a premiere guitar tutorial website and thousands (if not tens of thousands) of beginner guitarists have found help and advice to start them on their musical adventures. We’re going to be putting the best of all our beginner lessons together in one place. So whether you are totally starting from scratch or whether you’re just looking to get some beginner advice for a particular topic like finger picking or basic theory, you’ll now find them all in one easy step.

Stop by the Guitar Noise home page and click on the latest “Topic of the Month” – Beginner Guitar Lessons – up at the top of the page, just below the blue banner.

New Articles, Lessons, Reviews and Stuff

Gustavo Assis-Brasil – Hybrid Picking Lines & Licks For Guitar For All Styles
by David Hodge

An excellent companion book for Gustavo Assis-Brasil’s “Hybrid Picking for Guitar.” A great source for lead guitarist whether you use hybrid picking or not.

Andrew DuBrock – Easy Fingerpicking Guitar
A Beginner’s Guide to Essential Patterns & Techniques
by David Hodge

“Easy Fingerpicking Guitar” has to be the best step-by-step fingerpicking tutorial for beginners that exists. You’ll learn great technique immediately.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Scales – Part 4
by Tom Serb

Believe it or not, scales are your friend. There is no reason scales should scare or confuse guitar players and with Tom’s help we’re going prove that. Part 3 covers various the Major Scale, which is considered by most musicians to be the most important one you can learn.

Adding Some Personal Touches
by David Hodge

Our lesson of “Horse With No Name” continues with a advice on how to spice up your strumming as well as a look at the solo from the original recording.

Great Advice From Great Teachers

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Scales – Part 6


Modes are probably the single most confusing element of music for guitarists. There’s a ton of mis-information out there, which just makes things worse. But they’re not that difficult to understand and use if they’re approached properly.

What we think of today as “modes” are simply scales. Several of them are very old – the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian modes were used in Gregorian chants written over 1500 years ago. At the time, they weren’t called “modes” (at the time, a mode was actually a rhythm!), but the word was first used in the 6th century by a theorist named Boethius in translating some 1st century Greek music theory. About 300 years later, a monk named Hucbald applied the term to the already existing church scales, and we’ve called them “modes” on and off since then.

The church modes were simply considered different scales that composers could use in creating chants. There wasn’t any relationship between them, and no one thought of them as the same notes. That changed in 1547, when a guy named Heinrich Glarens (or Henricus Glareanus as he called himself in Latin) realized that the four church modes and two secular scales – the major and natural minor – made use of the same notes. Glarens created all the confusion by organizing the six scales this way:

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C = the major scale

D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D = the Dorian “mode”

E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E = the Phrygian “mode”

F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F = the Lydian “mode”

G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G = the Mixolydian “mode”

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A = the natural minor scale

Since the four church scales had Greek names, Glarens decided the major and minor scales should also have Greek names; he called the major scale the “Ionian mode” and named the natural minor the “Aeolian mode”. He also theorized that there should be a scale which started with B:


Glarens called this one the “Locrian mode”. That’s pronounced “luh-cree-in”, “lock-ree-in” or “low-cree-in”; I use “lock-ree-in”, but I’ve heard different theory professors use all three… I suppose it depends on where you went to school! He quickly discarded the scale as useless in practice, but it remained a part of music theory.

On to how to use them… I first encountered a mention of modes in a book on rock guitar in the early 70s, accompanied with a brief explanation of Glaren’s classification and a few exercises. They seemed interesting, but it wasn’t enough information for them to actually be useful to me. Then I headed off to college, and modes were covered in a music history class – we had to learn the names of them, again by Glaren’s system: test questions included things like “which mode begins on the third note of a major scale?” I tried my best to use them on my guitar, but they really didn’t sound different from other scales.

Then I took improvisation lessons from Paul Zibits, who still teaches – he’s currently with California State University at Long Beach. I told him the problem I was having, and he told me I was doing it wrong – I was focusing on a related scale – trying to play F Lydian while I was thinking in C major, the “related” major scale. Since modes are scales, and scales relate their pitches to the key note, I needed to be thinking in F, not C. That’s the whole trick!

So let’s start by looking at the F major scale and the F Lydian scale:

F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F = F major

F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F = F Lydian

The only note that’s different is the B. Looking at Lydian as a scale formula, it’s 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7. All you have to do to play a Lydian scale is to take a major scale and raise the fourth note! Here’s how it would finger in second position:


And in fifth position, with a shift on the third and fourth strings:


I’m sure you can apply this logic to the other positions of the major scale.

The Mixolydian mode works out the same way:

G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G = G major

G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G = G mixolydian

This means the mixolydian scale is 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7, or the major scale with a flatted 7th. Here’s G Mixolydian in 2nd position:


There are two important things to take away from our look at modes so far:

1. Modes are just scales. If you’re going to relate them to something, relate them to a scale with the same key note; any other approach is extra thinking at best, and musically misleading at worst.

2. There’s no such thing as a “modal fingering”. We’ve already seen that in 2nd position you can play in C major (C Ionian), G Mixolydian, or F Lydian. We can actually play almost ANY mode in this position, and that’s going to be true anywhere on the guitar. If you’re thinking in fingerings, you’re not thinking in sound – so your results will probably seem mechanical.

Time for one quick detour – when I say you can play “almost” any mode in this position, some will be easy, some hard, just like the many varieties of the major scale fingering. The ones that will be impossible will be the ones that are “related” to Eb major. Because of the guitar’s tuning, none of the 2nd fret notes (F#/Gb, B, E, A, C#/Db, F#/Gb) are in the Eb major scale (Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D-Eb). I call this the “guitar’s gap”; each major scale has exactly one position (and possibly its octave) with no notes.

The remaining modes could also be compared to the major scale, but the ones that are left all have something in common – a flatted third. (The Ionian mode is the major scale, and the Aeolian mode is the natural minor; we’ve covered both of those earlier)

D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D = D major

D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D = D Dorian



E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E = E major

E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E = E Phrygian



B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-B = B major

B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B = B Locrian


Since each of the remaining modes has a b3, I find it easiest to treat them as alterations of the natural minor scale.

D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C-D = D natural minor (relative to F major)

D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D = D Dorian

Compared to the natural minor, Dorian has a raised sixth. So if you want to play in A Dorian, just take the A natural minor and raise the sixth – make all your F notes sharp. Here’s fifth position:


Or you could shift on the fourth and third strings:


Next up is Phrygian:

E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E = E natural minor (relative to G major)

E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E = E Phrygian

Compared to the natural minor, Phrygian has a b2. To play in A Phrygian, think in A minor, and flat the 2nd (B):


The final mode, Locrian, is the only one that requires changing two notes from the natural minor:

B-C#-D-E-F#-G-A-B = B natural minor (relative to D major)

B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B = B Locrian

There are two ways you can approach this one, mentally… you can either alter two tones from the natural minor scale, or if you’ve got the other modes down cold first (which I’d recommend), you can alter ONE note from the Phrygian – simply play Phrygian and flat the 5th. Here’s how A Locrian will shape up in fifth position:


Emails? We Get Emails!

We’ve not dipped into the “email bag” for a bit (not that there haven’t been questions! not a day passes without at least two or three!) so I thought I’d share this one, concerning the CAGED system of learn and other things, with you all:

Hi Dave,

A couple questions, if you don’t mind!

A) Are you familiar with the whole “CAGED fretboard layout” (I’m 99% sure you are!) and what is the “best” way to go about memorizing/utilizing this?? I rack my brain every night, but always feel I’m one piece short of the puzzle!

B) What is the best methodology for learning to sing & play, simultaneously?? Metronome? “Hearing both guitar and vocals, simultaneously”, etc.?

C) Not to be vague, but how can you, objectively, determine if you have the “raw talent” to rock professionally?? If at all.

Thanks for writing.

In regard to “Question A” about the CAGED fretboard layout. While this is a standard traditional way for guitarists to learn their way around the fretboard, for the average guitarist, it can be a lot to take in at once. That’s one reason why I first try to work with students to get through three forms of the CAGED system first, namely the “E,” “D,” and “A” parts of CAGED. Why? Because it’s easy to associate these three shapes with open chords that you already know and use a lot. You might want to check out the article at Guitar Noise called “Moving On Up” to get you started.

As for singing and playing at the same time, most people have troubles with this initially. We have quite a few lessons (including a few of our Podcasts) at Guitar Noise that deal with this topic. You can find them here: Singing Lessons.

Personally, I find it easiest to do this by getting the rhythm of a song down first. A lot of beginners strum to the melody of the song when the reality is that the rhythm has to hold steady while the melody dances around it on its own rhythm. If you can’t hold the rhythm steady you’re always going to have problems doing both strumming and singing.

And as to the “raw talent” needed to rock professionally, well, there’s a lot of things that I have to ask about that. First off, what do you mean by “rock professionally.” There are a lot of people who make their living playing music and only doing that, but it’s more of the living you might associate with being a tradesman like a contractor or a plumber (or even a teacher) more than with the dream life style of a rock god (name your favorite band or guitarist here).

More times than not, the reality is that it’s not about talent but rather about the business effort one puts into making music his or her business. It helps to be good, but that’s secondary to spending pretty much all your time marketing and getting yourself gigs. Essentially you (or your band) is a small business and you have to be willing to put all the effort and energy into it like someone who owns a restaurant or a store or someone who is a commission sales rep does.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to email again with any more questions you may have. I look forward to chatting with you again.


Random Thoughts

Imagine for a moment that you’ve taken a trip to a place where the majority of the people don’t speak your language. And imagine that you enjoyed the trip so much that you’ve decided to spend some serious time there, seeing the sites, enjoying the food and culture, taking part in the life that you find attractive enough to want to be part of it.

Would you think twice about learning how to say “hello” or “thank you” or “please” in whatever the native language happened to be? I highly doubt it. You’d probably make a point of doing so. And simply being there every day would give you the chance to pick up new words every day. Learning one new word a day, even for the most language-challenged of us (that would include me!) isn’t that strenuous a goal.

And before you knew it, you’d have more and more of the language in your ears and head. Obviously you wouldn’t be fluent at it for quite some time, but at least you’d have the ability to communicate. And you’d improve on your abilities with each use of the language.

I think that most of us would agree on this scenario, even though I suspect some would be more of the “what kind of person would choose to live in a foreign place and not learn at least enough of the language to get by comfortably?” Whatever, the point is that learning something, anything about your surroundings would be to your advantage. If not today, certainly at some point in the future The only reason that anyone would not do so is simply that one chooses not to.

So why shouldn’t we apply this logic to learning to read music? I’ve mentioned this in past newsletters, I’m sure, but it bears repeating. The true reason most guitarists don’t learn to read music is simply because they don’t want to. And I can respect that, provided they are being truthful about that reason and not dressing it up as “I don’t because I don’t need it” or “I don’t because it’s not necessary” or “I don’t because someone-who-s-been-in-the-music-business-all-his-life-doesn’t-and-he’s-doing-okay.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of how I could possibly know what I might need in the future or what is or isn’t necessary to my lifelong enjoyment of playing guitar. And since I’m not that one particular “someone-who’s-been-in-the-music-business-all-his-life” I certainly wouldn’t be so presumptuous to put myself on the same plane as my idol.

What I do know is that any musical knowledge that I have learned over the years has always helped to make me a better player at some point down the road. Not always immediately, but definitely at some point. If I had only learned what I needed to know for that moment, it would have taken me another dozen decades or so to get to the point where I am now. Not that I’m even a fraction of a percent of where I would like to be as a player.

If you’re still looking for a New Year’s Resolution, I’d like to suggest learning a new language. You can start out very easily and learn one note a day. If you do, you’ll have all the vocabulary you need for guitar music in less than a month. Then it’s all about practicing and using your vocabulary and you can find lots of ways to do that.

And, as with all your skills and knowledge, you’ll find ways to use that will surprise and hopefully delight you!

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,