Shredder Looking to Open His Horizons

May 7, 2008

Dear Dude,

What is the best way to learn how to play chords and scales on guitar?

Shredder Looking to Open His Horizons

Dear Shredder,

Learning scales and chords on the guitar can be a very daunting task. It’s a lot to memorize, let alone learn. As a little dude I remember reading interviews with Eddie Van Halen and Dimebag Darrel (two of my favorite guitarists) who both claim to have practiced or studied the guitar very little. As much as I would love to claim that I share in their super powers and need little or no practice, it just wouldn’t be true. Unlike the aforementioned shredders I try to do as much practicing as I can. For me rock didn’t come as easy as it must have for those mega dudes and that has meant many long hours of shred time.

The first thing to keep in mind is that learning chord shapes and scales is all about memorization. Figure out what tuning you’re going to be jamming in most and start there. I started in E flat (because Slayer, Pantera, and Van Halen all riffed mainly in that tuning). Later I migrated to the drop C shape, which I do most of my writing in now. Once you determine which tuning you want to start in its best to make a diagram or chart. There are millions of free scales and chord charts out there. You can really use any memorization technique you want, anything from putting stickers on the neck (which actually works awesome!) to flash cards like in grade school. I have found for me that using a method that involves the guitar helps immensely. So try to come up with something that will help you remember what the notes are playing as you play. Even if it’s as simple as saying them out loud as you play each note.

There have been so many books written about chords and scales that it could make your head spin. Do some research, get out there and look around, see what makes sense to you. A book that worked really well for me and speaks to metal heads in general is The Guitar Grimoire by Adam Kadmon. It has almost everything you would need to know about metal chords, scale shapes, and basic music theory.

There are many computer programs that serve the same purpose. I use the program Guitar Pro to do all my tabbing and notation. It contains a really awesome scale tool that is very helpful. Guitar Pro is not the only program like this out there, it’s good to try a few different ones. I suggest Guitar Pro but its really about finding a program, book, or method that works with you and how you remember. Music doesn’t work the same for everyone that’s the real magic of it so you need to find a way that makes sense to you.

Jamming with someone you know, who already understands how notes and scales work, is without a doubt the fastest way to not only memorize the notes but also learn how they work in conjunction with music. As I said in the beginning it starts with memorization but ends at understanding.

Learning anything on guitar is always about repetition so it’s going to take some long hours of wood shredding to get those scales memorized and fluid sounding. Make sure to take it slow, practice with a metronome, and just do each step over and over again. I used to read this all the time when I was younger and never paid attention to it. Its called muscle memory and it really works.

Remember it’s a three-part process: Memorization, Repetition, and Realization. It’s by taking the path towards learning scales and chords that you will stumble upon the ability to not just know them but understand them. And that ultimately will push you and your playing to a place you never thought possible.

The Dude