When I was starting out as a guitar player, it took me a while to understand the ultimate purpose of playing guitar. During those early years, I had some chops and I knew some theory, but my playing felt like it lacked purpose. That’s because it took me a while to understand that the ultimate purpose of playing guitar, at least to me, was to make the instrument an extension of your own self.
When most people start learning guitar, the first chords that they learn are often the A, C, D, E and G open chords. And the CAGED chord system is a chordal shape that can be used to navigate the fretboard using the C, A, G, E and D open-chord shapes, in that particular order, to ultimately be able to spot any major chord all across your fretboard.
Another great thing about this spread-fingering shape is that, from a theoretical perspective, it makes it much easier to visualize your scale intervals and to navigate across them. Say, for instance, you want to figure out how your I, III and V intervals sound when played together. You can do so easily by using this spread fingering position.
Today we’re going to simplify and understand an extremely important part of music theory: chord progressions. Like all the knowledge areas we’ve covered so far in this series, I’m going to explain this in the simplest of terms so you can achieve a thorough understanding and absolute mastery of this concept.
The goal this month is not to talk about the theory behind them, although I will be doing that in the next month or two. It’s to get you adding the pitches, and exploring these notes, aurally, as well as using them in your phrasing. So let me show you what I’m talking about.
The concept of “preparing” instruments comes from the composer John Cage, back in the 1950s. He began by writing a series of pieces for piano. He would take a grand piano and put objects — found objects, hardware, various apparatus, in between, on, over and under the strings, producing all sorts of interesting sonic and percussive effects and changing the sound of the instrument without relying on electronics or other things like that.
What we’re going to be doing today is drawing on this knowledge to learn how to combine the minor and major pentatonic scales to create patterns that give us a very unique and interesting sound. For this example let’s start off by running through the first position of A minor pentatonic starting on the fifth fret of the sixth string.
Today we’re going to pick things up where we left off by tackling the notes on the fourth string. And remember, we’re going to be focusing on the prime pitches — that is A, B, C, D, E, F, G — like we did with the fifth and sixth strings. I do this because I’ve learned that simplifying the notes across the fretboard can make things easier for students to master them.
In today’s lesson, we focus on a couple of exercises to help you develop and maintain technique. Once you are familiar with them, exercises like these also can serve as good warmup drills before recording or performing. And it’s worth noting that mastering exercises like these can go a long way to enhancing your general musicality and confidence.
I want to continue improving your knowledge of the fretboard by touching on the topic of chords. Now, most of you probably know all your chords, but what I want to do with this series is really build up your knowledge of the fretboard from the very ground up. So, as with the last lesson, we’ll be starting off with the basics and making sure that you know all your chords with absolute certainty.