Monday, October 7, 2013

The Language of the Diatonic Guitar

Sources of confusion in any endeavor must first be identified before the confusion itself can be dealt with. If you find the guitar fret board confusing; why? If you are confused by basic western music theory concepts, then it's likely that same confusion will make its way into your study of the guitar.

You may think that the concepts and terminology of music theory are too difficult to bother with, but remember that — in the western diatonic system of music, which is what you are working with if you play the guitar (whether you know it or not) — fundamentally there are only 12 major keys and only 7 notes in each key. Think of it like the 12 months of the year and the 7 days of the week. These are not huge numbers.

The following terms are essential concepts in diatonic theory;

Tonic, Supertonic, Mediant, Subdominant, Dominant, Submediant, Leading Tone

... They are the Scale Degrees. They are, more or less, equivalent to the following;

Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti ... 

I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII ...

C, D, E, F, G, A, B ...

Here are simple definitions;

Tonic -  The tone upon which a key is based. Note number I. C in the key of C major.

Supertonic  - The tone a whole step above the tonic. Note number II. D in the key of C major.

Mediant - The tone a third above the tonic. Note number III. E in the key of C major.

Subdominant - The tone a 4th above the tonic. Note number IV. F in the key of C major.

Dominant -  The tone a 5th above the tonic. Note number V. G in the key of C major.

Submediant -  The tone a 6th above the tonic. Note number VI. A in the key of C major.

Subtonic - The tone a minor 7th above the tonic as well as the same note a whole step below the tonic. Note number bVII. Bb in the key of C major.

Leading Tone -  The tone a major 7th above the tonic as well as the same note a half step below the tonic.  Note number VII. B in the key of C major.

Notice that there are two 7ths; the Subtonic and the Leading tone. The importance of this distinction becomes clear, for instance, when you switch from playing a major key love ballad or folk song to playing a raunchy blues based riff. The major 7th (Leading Tone) is the norm outside "blues based" music, whereas the Subtonic is the norm in blues. This is a gross simplification, but it should illustrate the concept.

Hierarchies ... The Tonic and the Dominant are the landmarks in the system — Roman numerals I and V, respectively. You are already familiar with these two tones. Play any typical major barre chord, G major rooted on the 3rd fret of the 6th string, say. 

The lowest pitched note is the root of the chord, the next note up in pitch is the 5th. If you are in the key of G this G barre chord will the the Tonic Chord and the root and 5th of the chord will also be the Tonic and Dominant tones of the key.

If you play a G7th by releasing your 2nd finger and moving your 4th finger to the 6th fret of the 2nd string, you are playing what is also known as a "Dominant 7th" chord. This is not the same as a "Major 7th" chord. The difference between the G major, G Dominant 7th (usually referred to as G7th) and the G Major 7th chords is seen in the diagram which follows;

Each of the chords above have their own story to tell about where they come from and how they like to be used.

G Major chord

G Dominant 7th chord

G Major 7th chord

The G Major chord is a triad. It comprises three tones: G-B-D,  though there are three instances of the Root (G), two 5ths (D)  and one 3rd (B) amounting to six notes. This chord could be the Tonic chord in the key of G, the Subdominant chord in the key of D, or the Dominant in the key of C. When a 7th is added to the triad, it will be either a G Major 7th or a G Dominant 7th depending on which key degree it is positioned.

If a 7th chord is rooted on the Tonic (I) or the Subdominant (IV) it will be a Major 7th chord. If it is rooted on the Dominant (V), then it will be a Dominant 7th chord. This is true in every diatonic major key. It works this way because of the distribution of major and minor thirds within the key;
Study the diagram above carefully. Notice that the I and IV chords have the same interval structure of major and minor 3rds. Notice how the interval structure of the V chord differs from the I and IV.

The remaining chords are three "Minor 7ths" (ii, iii and vi) and a "Minor 7 flat V" (vii) — also known as a "Half Diminished" chord. 

Here are the 7th chords of the key of G major;

And here are the 7th chords of the key of D major;

The structure of each chord is actually only a starting point. For instance; although the I and IV chords are the same internally, their different positions in the key will potentially lead to differing harmonic and melodic possibilities when improvising around each of them. 

All contents of this blog are © Mark Newstetter

Friday, August 30, 2013

Super Arpeggios

Theoretically simple arpeggios are not so simple on the guitar. Playing the sequences of major and minor thirds which, at the simplest, can be expressed as "every other white key on the piano;"

Because arpeggios are actually chords, the notes in an arpeggio may be numbered accordingly. The first note of a simple arpeggio is the Root. The keyboard diagram shows an extended G dominant arpeggio in the key of C;

The equivalent arpeggio on the guitar is shown below;

If the convoluted blue pattern above is confusing, try breaking it in half. Here's the upper part;
... and the lower part;

As you can see, each half of the full extended arpeggio is quite symmetrical. When combined the form is more complex, but visualizing the dual symmetry makes it easier to navigate.

There are seven super-arpeggios in this system. Below you see them all, labeled for the major scale degree on which each one is rooted;

You can treat these arpeggios as we've done with the G dominant, playing the lower three strings and the upper four strings of each separately, then joining the upper and lower forms.

Here's notation for all nine patterns shown above;

Here are sound files of each 6-string arpeggio as shown in the diagrams and notation above;

... E Mediant (Open position) Arpeggio
... G Dominant (3rd fret) Arpeggio
... B Leading Tone (7th Fret) Arpeggio
... D Supertonic (10th Fret) Arpeggio
... F Subdominant (1st Fret) Arpeggio
... A Submediant (5th Fret) Arpeggio
... C Tonic (8th Fret) Arpeggio
... E Mediant (12th Fret) Arpeggio

You can find  more about arpeggios elsewhere in this blog.

All contents of this blog are © Mark Newstetter

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Holistic Fretboard

You are looking at layers of tonality. Each color and shape represents a different aspect of the diatonic key of C. The layers are translucent, allowing multiple elements to be seen simultaneously. Obviously this particular view of the guitar fretboard is of limited (if any) practical use — it is mostly an aesthetic exercise — but peel the layers away, and these multi-colored, geometric tonal groupings reveal the true harmonic nature of the instrument.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Hidden Diamonds

Here's a pattern that will reveal a lot about the nature of the fret board. In Fretography, the yellow field in the diagram below is called the Mixolydian Super Zone. Notice that its lowest note is on the 5th scale degree. This is a very useful pattern in that it spans a wide range in the center of the key system. In the key of C major, it runs from the 3rd to the 7th fret.

In the notation above, you'll see that there is a unison D on the 3rd and 2nd string. When playing this pattern it's a good idea to play both D's because their positions are an essential part of the symmetry. Knowing where both of these positions are will really help you find your way around. Remember that D is the only note in the key which is found in such a symmetrical relationship with itself.

The diagrams below show the Mixolydian Super Zone (yellow) and the Hidden Diamonds (blue). Each  diamond has a D (green star). The upper diagram shows the pattern as scale degrees, the lower shows note names. You can use the scale degrees to understand how this pattern works in any key by shifting it to different fret positions.

The two diamond shaped blocks comprise four triads. One diamond contains the notes D, B, F and A — the other; D, F B and G. These notes produce the following chords: D minor 1st inversion, G major 2nd inversion, and both a 1st and 2nd inversion of B diminished. The following notation shows these four chords ...

The symmetry of this group of chords is very strong. Study the diamonds in the diagram and notice the positions of the following pairs of notes; A—G, F—B, D—D. These pairings correspond with the overall symmetry of the Diatonic system. Notice the role of D in all four chords. Also notice the shifting inner tones — B, A, G, F which descend through the tritone.

The notation below shows the same ida with the two last chords shifted down an octave to emphasize the descending inner tones (blue) ...

To clarify the symmetry, the diagram below shows the pattern broken into its upper and lower string groupings ...

In this closeup of the upper four strings, pay special attention to the relationships of the following pairs of notes; I — III, IV — VII, V — VI and II — II. These notes will always fall in rotationally opposite positions across the string group, from the center outward.

Now let's look at the same notes in the lower string group, an octave down ...
And a closeup of the lower forms. Notice that II is at the very center of the array and in the upper left and lower right corner. Again, look for the I — III, IV — VII, V — VI and II — II note relationships ...
The next of the "diamonds" are actually triangles spanning the upper strings of the Void position which comprises the 10th through 12th frets in the key of C. In any major key, the tonic will be on the 4th string within the Void Zone.

In the diagram below you see all three basic forms with the Void in the center and the upper & lower strings separated ...

Here's notation for a riff in the key of G major, using the lower shapes shown above and the void position triangles ...

Finally, here's a diagram of all the "diamonds" within the lower four strings ...

Look at the connected forms in the center of the lower four strings. Notice that the combination forms root triads II - IV - VI and V - VII - II, or D minor and G major in the key of C. This cluster highlights tritone which is common to both diamonds.

All together these hidden diamonds contain five of the seven notes of a major key; II, IV, V, VI and VII. Only the Tonic and the 3rd are left alone. 

All contents of this blog are © Mark Newstetter