Your Guitar Teacher Never Taught You This (Were You Lied to?)

Are you a guitar guy wanting to know the fastest way to understand scales? If so, you're not alone. Guitar schools are full of guitar guys that struggle to understand scales, and they are letting their weakness with key signatures hold them back...

Anyone who doesn't notice their scale development occurring at a rapid rate (or at least as fast as their friends are building scale skill), will often start to think that they are missing a secret ingredient. Or, that they haven't been told something.

They might start to think that they are doomed to being weak with scales forever. They might even think that they're being lied to.

None of this needs to be the case.

Getting good with the concept of key signatures is the answer.

Learning about how keys are the true foundation of music is the critical factor to developing scales at a very high level of applied knowledge.


⚫ Are you a guitar player who realizes the difference between “Key Signatures,” and, “Tonality” ? ...Do you actually utilize this concept?

⚫ Are you a guitar player who thinks that there are dozens of scales, all different, and all of them confusing?

⚫ Has the prospect of even trying to learn scales completely turned you off of learning even the most basic and important scales that we have in music?

If you’ve spent years having never understood how scales really work on the guitar, or if you don’t understand the different keys, (and instead you’ve avoided learning the true musical nature of scales), then this will be an integral lesson to read right through to the very end.

For many of you, I’m sure that at some point (through your study of guitar), a teacher along the way has shown you either a major scale or a minor scale of “some” type, and then, they probably went on to explain the value in learning and practicing that scale.

Did that teacher lie to you, because they didn’t FIRST talk with you about key signatures? Maybe, maybe not. That all depends...

What's important to understand is that this scenario is very common and if you did study the scale shapes (without learning key signatures), I’m not surprised.

Many guitar students develop the ability to play scales without knowing keys, and if you did, then I’m glad to know that you’ve at least practiced the scales.

However what if I told you that scales are actually just a piece of a much higher level concept called, “Key Signatures.”

And, what if I added to this, that the study of key signatures is really at the very core of your study of music.

Knowing this piece of information now, what would change in your guitar playing?

And, how would that change affect all of the ways that you approach; playing songs, writing music, and playing lead guitar?

The first thing to do is help develop a better understanding for key signatures and their relationship to scales.

Let’s take a look at a key signature of, “C.”

This key signature contains all natural notes, there are no sharps or flats, every note is a natural letter name.

If we were to place these notes onto the fingerboard we’d have this layout.

Learn to play through the tones from "C" to "C," (shown on the fingerboard diagram above), to cover the tones located within the key of, "C."

The organization of notes in a key is actually identical to the notes that we’d use to achieve any musical sound that creates any Major or Minor melody part.

This major and minor idea in music is referred to as “Relative” scales and it creates what’s called tonality. It works for all scale concepts including transposed modes.

When dealing with relative tonality or transposed modes, the notes are the same, but when they get performed off of different degrees we end up with a different scale perspective for the sound.

In other words, how the sound of each of those notes is received by our listener can change depending upon which note that we start playing from 1st, along with which note we end on.

In the last section we examined the key of “C.” And, we noticed what that key looked like on a staff and on the guitar.

If we were to play that key from off of a different note, we would establish a new sound.

That principle in music is called, “Tonality.” It’s one of the most interesting things about music because it can be rather subjective, and it can be perceived in different ways.

One musician performing a solo might decide that over a group of chords which relate to the Tonality of “A Minor,” they might want to perform a series of licks and runs largely based off of the scale layout related to the same note, (which would give us an, “A Minor” scale).

However, it would not be wrong for a musician to also perform a solo over “A Minor,” but from the perspective of “C Major.”

In fact, piano players tend to do this sort of thing all the time.

Some musicians tend to not exactly consider “Major” and an, “Minor” as being “different.”

In reality, each one is still just the key of “C.”

So, to help you better understand this, let me play you two melodies. Both over an “A Minor” chord progression.

The first melody will be organized from the perspective of the, “A Minor” tonality, (focusing upon the note of "A").

Melody 1). 
Tonality of "A" Minor - Perspective "Minor"

The second melody will be approached by way of the “C Major,” tonality, (focusing upon the note of "C."

Melody 2). 
Tonality of "A" Minor - Perspective "Major"

Since both of the melody lines come across as sounding quite nice, this clearly relates the fact that the key signature is our primary line of thought when we set out to compose or improvise music.

How we decide to perform ideas (within the key signature), is completely up to us. As long as the chord progression and the ideas that we plan on playing are diatonic to the key, (in other words as long as all the notes are the same), we’ll be absolutely fine with any of the notes in any order that we choose for creating melody.

When it comes to tonality, the chord progression will generally (and more adequately), dictate whether the sound of a series of chord changes promotes "Major" or "Minor" color.

As you heard with my example, there is really no issue at all with playing something like a “C Major” sound over top of an “A Minor,” chord.

When a melody is performed under a chord progression that is part of the same key signature, everything works and it sounds perfectly fine.


Because in the end everything comes down to the notes that you decide to play out of the key that you're in.

That’s what really counts, (learning to do that, and do it well).

And, that’s what your focus needs to be as you’re practicing your musical skills.

As you can tell, the key signatures really are the cornerstone of what we play.

They’re the principle level of thought when we start organizing every musical idea on sheet music (on paper), and keys make up a very specific line of thought for high level composers, and also for improvisers in more complex styles like jazz.

So, if you haven’t been taught this concept before, you might want to ask yourself, “have I been lied to up till now?

Well, if lying is omission, than ‘maybe you were lied to.’

Honestly, you have got to remember that music is highly subjective. And, what a guitar player does, might not be the exact same thing as what a; pianist, or a saxophone player, or what a signer might do.

Each musician will tend to think about music differently.

Musicians will also tend to apply a lot of these concepts quite differently.

And, the more ways that you can learn to interpret music will equal a better more knowledgeable level of musician that you’re going to become in the long run!



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