Saturday, October 6, 2007

Getting my students interested

I teach guitar to mostly beginners. Mostly young 14, 15 and 16 year old boys who want to be thrash metal players. (gotta love those kids, they fall sooo deeply in love with guitar). I start them on Pentatonic scales and blues chord patterns and of course all the right hand speed exercises. They seem to love this and are willing to practice for hours. But when I start to tell them about major scales and modes and music theory in general they rebel, especially if I mention Jazz (you should see their eyes glaze over). I think it's very important for them to learn this stuff, after all once they know it they will use it.

Q: Do you have any tips for getting these young guys excited about the modes? Anyway, thanks in advance for any help you can give. Love the lessons on your web site, keep em coming. -Mike

A: It is a challenge to get younger inexperienced players into playing the major scale and the modes but as you said, it is important. One reason is simply because using only the pentatonic scales will not lead to any great technical skills. Two notes per string scale patterns fall short when trying to build chops (not that the pentatonic scales are not important). The other reason is of course that the modes open up a lot more choices.

I would perhaps start them on the minor scale. Don't forget, it is still a mode, the aolian mode and you will be tricking them into learning the major scale at the same time. After all, it is great for rock. Have them start working on a few patterns and have them play over some typical rock progressions such as an E minor scale over a Emin-C-G-D progression. Show them how they can add in their pentatonic scales as well. Have them check out guys like Mike Schenker who do this kind of thing all the time. After they get good at that, show them that the minor scale is really the major scale and move into the modes. Have them take a listen to Mike Schenker's solo on "Rock Bottom" from the UFO "Strangers in the Night" CD. It is the perfect example of the dorian mode used for rock. "I don't Need no Doctor" by HUmble Pie is another great example of the dorian mode.

Joe Satriani and Steve Vai both use Lydian everywhere. The trick is to show them the concepts from a rock standpoint. Take the modes one at a time rather than a big theoretic overview. Just say things like; "Play the C major scale over a Dmin-G7 progression" and have them take a listen to Carlos Santana.

After they show some interest tell them why you can do it. It is also quite east to go from minor to harmonic minor using a similar progression as before: Emin-C-G-D-B and have them play an E harmonic minor scale over the last chord. Instant Malmsteen or Uli Roth!