Friday, July 27, 2007

The Circle of 5ths

Q: Hi Chris,

What is Circle Of Fifths? please tell me about Circle Of Fifths and why it is so important.

Thank you,

A: The circle of fifths is simply a geometric diagram that makes it easy to see the relationship between all the keys in music. If you look at the diagram, you will find the key of C up on top. The key of C is at the top because it has no sharps or flats. The next one to the right is the key of G and it has one sharp (an F sharp by the way). G is a perfect 5th from C, count the notes and you will see: C-D-E-F-G. A perfect 5th from G is D, and the key of D has two sharps so D is the next key after G.
If you go the other way from C (counter clockwise), the diagram becomes the circle of 4ths. C to F is a perfect 4th: C-D-E-F and by moving in this direction, each key will gain a flat.

If you tape the chart on your wall and look at it before you go to sleep, it will start to make sense to you. It simply makes it easy to remember the keys and their corresponding sharps and flats.
I'm going to get into the diatonic system in a second so if you think you aren't going to get it, go here and learn about the major scale and the diatonic system.

Sometimes the circle gets used to make progressions. A good example would be ii-V-Is taken around the circle. So the first one would be a ii-V-I in C: Dmin7-G7-Cmaj7. the next ii-V-I would be taken from the next key down, the key of G: Amin7-D7-Gmaj7, etc.. You could also take the same ii-V-Is the other way aroung the circle of 4ths. Ex: Dmin7-G7-Cmaj7, Gmin7-C7-Fmaj7, Cmin7-F7-Bbmaj7, etc..

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Q: Chris, I stumbled onto your site looking up 8 bar blues progression. Thanks for the info. I do have a question for you about tone. How do you balance the lush 9th chords with the distortion in the leads. I either have a killer clean sound for 9 chords and the lead that sounds too clean or a muddy sounding 9 chords and perfect lead. Can You help? Thanks, Rick

A: There are a few different things you can do. One thing is use one of those two or three channel amps and just switch between them. I personally don't do this unless I'm playing in some sort of fusion or pop situation where I have to have chrystal clear chords and super saturated solos.

But for my own general brand of music, which if you heard, is mostly Blues and Rock, I use one amp channel and that is it. What you may of heard on the mp3s on my site is pretty much a Marshall amp or something pretty similar. First I dial up my basic tone from which I will subtract to for rhythm and add to for solos. I don't think about the signal chain, meaning effects until I get the amp tone happening first.

You want middle of the line overdrive here, so with a Marshall, I put the gain on about 4 or 5(depending on the model, room and guitar I am using). And maybe the volume on about 4 or 5 again depending on the venue or studio. Bass up around 8, mid up around 7 or 8, treble at about 4 or 5 and presence on maybe 1 or off if I'm using a Tele. I should be able to roll off a little volume on my guitar and get a pretty clean sound, thus the somewhat clean tone for chords. I could roll back the volume to about 5 on the guitar and get a almost completely clean tone. If I roll back the tone as well on the guitar a bit, and use my neck pickup, I can almost get a hollowbody type sound.

For my solos, I use a tube screamer, or something similar. What you heard on the recordings was probably a HAO Sole Pressure. But I like tube screamers as well. Lately I have been using a Xotic BB preamp which is an overdrive/booster type of thing. How you set your boost, is with the distortion at about 1 or 2 and the volume at 10. This way when you step on it, it boosts your volume and sustain a little but doesn't really change your tone too much. I am using the Xotic box now and quite honestly, it is the best thing on the market today.

The main point is the sound you get from your guitar and amp first and then giving it a little boost from the box. Some of the tones I get are a little different from tune to tune so take a listen to the mp3s for free here, and if you have any questions about the individual sounds, e-mail me and ask and I'll be happy to tell you how I did it. You will be happy to know that it is not rocket science and you won't need a million dollars to get the same tone. Check out tunes like "Big Bad Sun," I like the tone I got there. Link: "Big Bad Sun"

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Modes of Harmonic Minor

Q: Could you please shed some light on the modes of the harmonic minor scale. I notice that you do not elaborate on this material in your book - The Infinite Guitar, yet several of these, most notably the phrygian dominant and double harmonic, are popular among the more adventurous in order to expand their colour horizons.

A: I'm not an expert on using the modes of the harmonic minor scale. I dabbled in it a bit when I was a kid and when I found the melodic minor scale and its modes, I lost interest in its cousin the harmonic minor scale. Its modes are not very common, so there seems to be no standard name given to all the modes. Regardless, that shouldn't stop us from taking a closer look at each of them.

Let's write out each mode using the A harmonic minor scale as our base:

A-B-C-D-E-F-G# - This is the harmonic minor scale from its root. If we harmonize a chord, we will get a Amin(maj7) chord. The scale played over an Amin triad or min(maj7) chord sounds sort of Spanish or Middle Eastern like a snake charmer or something. I've done session work where the producer specifically asks for a Spanish or Middle Eastern cliche sound and have used this scale in those situations.

B-C-D-E-F-G#-A - The harmonized chord is a min7b5 chord. The scale looks like a locrian scale with a major 6th. Possible name: locrian #6. This mode is often played over the minor iio-V (Bmin7b5-E7b9).

C-D-E-F-G#-A-B - The harmonized chord is a maj7#5 chord. The scale looks like a major scale with a augmented 5th. Maybe a lydian augmented scale would be a better choice as the lydian augmented scale contains a #11 rather than the natural 11th found in this scale. Possible name: augmented major.

D-E-F-G#-A-B-C - The harmonized chord is a Dmin7 chord. The scale looks like a dorian scale with a augmented 4th. Possible name: dorian #4

E-F-G#-A-B-C-D - The harmonized chord is a E7 chord, harmonized to a 9th chord it becomes a E7b9 chord. This mode is probably the most common of the harmonic minor modes. Sometimes called: phrygian dominant. This mode is pretty common for rock over the major or dominant V chord.

F-G#-A-B-C-D-E - The harmonized chord is a Fmaj7 chord. It looks like a lydian scale with a #9th! Wow! I've heard this scale referred to as a split major third scale.

G#-A-B-C-D-E-F - The harmonized chord is a G#dim7 chord. Possible name: diminished b2.

Just because I'm not well versed in these modes doesn't mean that they are not of use. You may find that they work great for you. Tell me how they work out.