Guitar nostalgia (Part 2 of 4): Tangled up on chords and notes

Note: This series recounts my guitar playing days.  This entry was posted on MySpace on Feb. 17, 2008.

If you hand me some sheet music and ask me to play the notes on my guitar, I could do it. If you hand me a guitar tab and ask me to play the chords, I could do it. Now, after I played the notes and you asked me what the chords and harmonies are, I could not tell you. If after I played the chords you asked what the notes are in those chords, I could not tell you.

Notice the disconnection. I can play chords and notes, but I don’t know the relationship between them. Now, you may ask why this matter. Try writing a song with a melody, a guitar solo and chords without knowing that relationship. Now, you know why I have written only one song in two years. Plus, if you know the notes in a chord, you can play different (and possibly better sounding) variations of the same chord on the guitar instead of standard fingerings. This disconnection fueled part of my frustration over my guitar skills during my birthday.

Me_and_guitar
I was smiling then, but did I really knew what I was playing?

This dichotomy of musical information can be tied back to my musical instruction under multiple teachers. I started understanding notes when I played the piano about 20 years ago. That sight-reading would be reinforced under my classical guitar training in Georgia. I also learned chords separately on the piano, too. My initial guitar lessons eight years ago pushed that chord usage further. Over the years, my instructors have tried to teach me music theory, but many times, that information would be incomprehensible to me. Teachers change or I move away and I must begin anew.

I noticed that when I’m playing the guitar that I’m remembering only where my fingers need to be to produce a desired sound. Take for example the pentatonic scale or a 5-note scale. This scale could be played to produce a guitar solo. I can show you on the neck where to play that scale, but I can’t tell you what the notes are in the scale. There are some guitarists comfortable with remembering only positions. Thus, the proliferation of tablatures. But I never felt comfortable with repeating a series of moves. What’s the point of imitation if the underlying lesson won’t be instilled?

I do not think that I could become the best possible musician if all my musical knowledge remains scattered. I must build bridges within my head. Thus, every day for the last two weeks, I have posted on my scroll bar a chord and its notes, starting with A flat. Hopefully, within a year and 67 days, I could go through every chord. Maybe later, I could post a sound clip of the chord.

OK, what notes (in proper order) are in a C chord? C, E, G. C7 chord? C, E, G, B flat. G chord? G, B, D. E flat 13 chord? Uh … this might take awhile. I’ll get back to you on that.

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