I have recently gotten a private guitar student that is an adult graduate of a big music school, and he came to me because he was frustrated that he still couldn’t do the things that he set out to do in learning music. After talking to him a bit I recognized what the problem was: holes in his overall knowledge base, and primarily in the most basic building block of music: the major scale.
Could he play the scales? Absolutely. Could he really use them to play over all the different music situations he wanted to work in? No, and that was 100% about his lack of head knowledge and not his hands. In this blog, I will tell you about how I got him to know things like that the iV chord in Db is Gbmaj7 and the #9 on an Eb chord is F# – all without having to think about it, to just “know” – interested? 😉
When I first arrived at Berklee College of Music as a budding young jazz guitarist, I had a bit of theory instruction from my teacher, a Berklee alumni named Rod Stephenson. Rod was an amazing guitarist – and even more mazing that he lived in my hometown of Toledo OH – who played solo gigs using a drum machine, GBX bass pedals that he walked bass on with both feet, and played things like Giant Steps and the jazzy tunes from Edgar Winter first album. He would play Giant Steps at about 140 BPM playing the guide tones of each chord with 1-2 fingers, soloing with the other 2-3 fingers, and scat sing what he was soloing. So let’s just say that he knew harmony pretty well.
I on the other hand, probably 6-7 years his junior and having done few if any real jazz gigs yet, knew the major scales to play them on the guitar and solo with. But not to immediately know what any one of the 7 chords in the scales were, and those were the questions I was being asked in my harmony class.
Before I could even start to figure out the answer the questions being fired out by Greg Hopkins, my ex-Buddy Rich trumpet player harmony teacher, all the keyboard players hands were up like a shot. I was seeing that if I didn’t know what the 5th of Eb was immediately, I certainly wouldn’t know that it’s #5 was B natural in time to be able to play that in a live music situation. I knew I had to “KNOW IT” immediately without thinking, and so I actually devised a way to teach myself that, that only took 2 weeks, and I’ve never had to work on since.
All of music is built on the major scales, and as such every other scale or alteration to a chord is described by how they are the same or different from how it compares to a major scale. Given that, if you have them the major scales any less than 100% memorized, your head knowledge will just slow you down rather than helping you to play what is in your head.
This “Magic Major Scale Memorization Module” is what I come up with as in music school to “know” them instantly, and since doing it I have never EVER had do any conscious thought – I just KNOW the answer to any harmonic situation. As soon as I see any chord I know that it is the IV, Vi, ii in a certain key, or that the melody note in front of me is #11 on the chord and will become the b9 on the next chord, etc.
Using this method should get you there in a matter of weeks at most. It’s not free to keep the sense of value in it so people will not blow it off, but it is as close to free as we can make it.
Included are the PDF explanation of how it works as well as the memorization method that I invented to do it – after about two weeks I literally had to stop because scales were flying by where I couldn’t sleep at night, but I finally had my hand up in harmony class BEFORE all the keyboard players 😉
(Please note that there is no video with the PDF package – it’s unnecessary)