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Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 280
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For the last few years I have been working on learning the fretboard. I've learned how to play the major, minor, and the pentatonic scales in every position all over the fretboard. I know all the modes and how to play in any mode anywhere on the fretboard as well. When I impov a solo I can easily play all over the fretboard in any scale or mode and never hit an "out of key note". But I just don't feel like I'm feeling the music. So I have started to try and improv playing and not use scales. So far I've had mixed results. Sounds a lot like a beginner just noodling around. I can tell when I'm not playing diatonically. I guess the questions is - should I practice this? Will my intuition develop? Should I try to here the music in my head and then play it? Or should I just stick to the easy way of playing in the scale, which I must say produces really good results for me?

Honorable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 632

it sounds like your doin what a lot of people do at first and just kinda learn how to manuver around the scales but you end up just kind of mindlessly wandering around. Eventually you want to be able to actaully play the melody of the song. The melody is that thing that you hum in your head when a song is stuck in your head. So if the rhythm was like (chords) C G C Then maybe the melody would be

Chords:C G C
Melody:C E G B E C

Now those are made out of thin air that probably wont sound good, but the point is that I listen to the song for a minute until I can hum it in my head, and then I match the notes im humming with the notes of the scale (if a song was purley in diatonic Am all the notes for the melody would come out of the Am scale). If there was a part of the song where the melody note was not diatonic to the rest of the song you would know it cause it will sound strange. So you gotta learn to recognize what your hearing by ear training. Over time it becomes easier and easier to do this without much thought cause you match up the notes of the scale to notes your singing in your head. You can kinda jazz it up once you get it down and as long as you hit the important notes at the right times itll still capture the music.

"And above all, respond to all questions regarding a given song's tonal orientation in the following manner: Hell, it don't matter just kick it off!"
-Chris Thile

Illustrious Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 5599

Very interesting subject.

Everybody knows it is great to know all you can about music. To know all the scales in each position, to always hit the right note and know where you are and what you are doing. To understand theory.

But is it?

Many of your greatest players know almost nothing about music. Many can't read music, know just a few basic scales, play in just a few easy keys....

I have seen BB King interviews, he knows very little about music. But he can play the sweetest notes you ever heard.

Hendrix didn't read music. The Beatles didn't read music at first.

So players that do not have a musical education rely more heavily on their ear to play. They tend to play with great expression. Many players like this lack good technique but have learned to milk unbelieveable music out of a few simple scales and notes.

On the other hand, many taught musicians with knowledge and great technique tend to sound mechanical and stale on an instrument.

What to do?

Well, you are in a great position. You know your guitar. But now maybe you need to forget about your knowledge a little bit. Now maybe you need to concentrate on playing by ear.

I agree with everything Dneck said. Listen to a song carefully. I would listen to a song many times. Don't really think. Just listen, and pay attention to how the song affects you. How does it make you feel? And try to express this.

This may sound real dumb, but let's say a song made you think of laughter. Could you make the sound of laughter on your guitar? I have heard players that can do this. Can you make your guitar sound like crying?, or anger?

So forget all the scales and modes for awhile. You will never lose that, and that is a wonderful thing to know. Concentrate on creating sounds, or moods on guitar.

I saw Eddie Van Halen once make the sound of an elephant trumpeting. And it was amazing, he could really make this sound, it sounded just like an elephant. So that shows you that he spent time simply trying to imitate natural sounds.

Also, feel the song and the melody that naturally comes into your head listening to it. And try to play this on guitar. I have often tried to imitate my own singing voice on guitar, and man, it is hard to make guitar sound like a human voice.

So, in the end it is good to have a balance. You want knowledge, that is wonderful. But you also have to let go a little and operate on instinct, feelings, and emotion.

My 2 cents.

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis