The Blog

Guest Author: Marc-Andre Seguin

About the Author

Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar. Marc-Andre was kind enough to reach out and create a custom blog post for our students at Guitar Shed. I mentioned to him that one of the main things our students are struggling with is being able to keep the form of a song. Read on for some very insightful tips and advice. Thanks Marc-Andre!

Tips to Learning Chord Progressions

Learning a new song song, especially the sequence of chords, can be a long and daunting task. Here are a few tips to help you memorize the order of chords in any song you wish to play. Although the first suggestion is quite simple, the rest of the article is really something you should take your time with. If you manage to incorporate this into your musical understanding, you will reap the benefits in the long term and have an easier time understanding music in general.

Break the song up into sections

If you take the time to divide the song into sections and then smaller chunks if needed, you’ll have a much easier time remembering the music as a whole. For example, take the time to identify the choruses as opposed to verses. Usually, these will have different progressions and will have lengths of 4 or 8 bars. It will make things a lot less daunting and easier to chew on. Some songs have also bridges to consider.

When starting out, it’s a good idea to actually write the chords out on a piece of paper. Draw out a grid with 4 bars per line (I simply draw 5 vertical lines with even space between them to make up the 4 bars). Then, making sure you count the beats, write in the chords. For every beat that repeats the same harmony, write a single slash to keep track of the harmonic rhythm, which is simply a nice way of saying when the chords change. Keep track of each section and label them when needed. Once you’ve written out the whole song, seeing the music in parts like this will help you memorize the music by breaking it down to smaller, more manageable pieces. Here is a short example to illustrate a simple chart:

Verse

| G / / / | C / / / | G / / / | D / / / |

Chorus

| G / / / | / / / / | D / / / | / / / / |

At this point, if you are a beginner or simply having trouble committing songs to memory, it’s a matter of memorizing the chords, by name, until you can play each section by heart. It’s a tedious process, but it’s part of the bigger picture which will enable you to see patterns and accelerate the learning process.

Calling the chords by roman numerals, rather than by name

Eventually, once you’ve spent enough time simply learning songs chord by chord, it’ll be time to enhance you’re theoretical knowledge to eventually help you learn faster and even transpose music quickly.

The first thing that you’ll need to be capable of doing, is identifying the key of a song. A fast and almost foolproof way of doing this is checking out the last chord of the piece. To be sure though, the simplest way at this point is to first write down all the unique chords present in the piece of music you are looking at. Then, starting from the root of each of those chords, write down the corresponding major or minor scale that start from that note. If you have a 7th chord in a piece that’s not a blues song, chances are that the key won’t be from that scale, so you can skip those. Once you’ve written out all the notes, compare each and every note in the scales you wrote down with the roots of the other chords in your song. If something is out of place (for example you might have a Bb chord in your list when you write out the C major scale – that scale doesn’t include B flats) go to the next chord until you find the perfect scale that fits the roots of all the chords.

Once you’ve determined the scale you are in, you will now be able to attribute roman numerals to the chords and effectively perform musical analysis to explain the music you have. Simply attribute the numerals to each chord in the progression relative to their position in the scale. For example, if you determine that the song is in C major and you see an F chord, that F would be IV (being the fourth note in C major). Repeat this procedure for the rest of the chords. If you wrote out the song in sections like mentioned previously, you can focus on sections and learn the progression in smaller chunks. You might end up with something looking like this for a particular section (with the respective harmony of your music):

| I / / / | VIm / / / | IV / / / | V / / / |

Eventually, this type of analysis will be made in your head and will come very quickly, especially if you do it often. On the guitar, it’s easy to then perform these sequences if you play with bar chords, streamlining the learning process to simply remembering the changes as jumps corresponding to the scale tones rather than a sequence of seemingly open random chords.

Another advantage of this type of analysis and playing is that once you become faster at recognizing the harmony changes as numerals, transposing music will be much simpler. By simply applying the numerals to the new key, it will be easier to call upon the correct chord this way than transposing each and every chord in the progression.

Recognizing common progressions

The more you apply roman numerals to chords, the more you will start to see recurring formulas. Although music itself is limitless, the progressions aren’t and our ears seem to gravitate towards a handful of sequences, preferences that are usually explained with theoretical concepts. You probably have come across a very famous progression called the blues. This relatively simple progression spans 12 bars and visits the IVth and Vth chords of a scale and inspired countless of songs, melodies and solos. Here it is in it’s simplest form:

| I7 / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | | IV7 / / / | / / / / | I7 / / / | / / / / | | V7 / / / | / / / / | I7 / / / | / / / / |

You should be able to play this at any key and visualize each change before it happens. This kind of rigorous learning will cross over to other progressions and make your life learning things a lot easier. Here are a few other common progressions you should be aware of:

– | I / / / | IV / / / | V / / / | I / / / |

– | I / / / | IIm / / / | V / / / | I / / / |

– | IIIm / / / | VIm / / / | IIm / / / | V / / / |

Although there are a lot of things to learn, you should definitely invest time in teaching yourself to identify song keys quickly and break down the chord progressions into numerical grids. You’ll be surprised how fast your understanding and ear training will develop and help you anticipate harmonic movement.

 

February 14, 2018 Comments Off on Guest Author: Marc-Andre Seguin

Practicing Tools – Recommended Software

Many of my students know that I like to utilize a few different software programs in our lessons. Here are the main three that I use on a daily basis.


Metronomics 

Price: $4.99 mobile app $7.99 desktop

This is my favorite metronome to use because it is easy to use and there are several features for the advanced musician as well. Many kids complain about metronomes because the sound of the “click” is annoying. This app is great because you can choose from several different percussion instruments (i.e. bongos, snare drum, wood blocks, etc.). You can also build your own drum grooves to make a drum loop that sounds very realistic. Within each instrument you can control the volume, probability, and subdivision length. All of that at a very friendly price!


Transcribe

Price: $39 desktop only

I tell all of my students “this is what got me through college.” As a music major I had many assignments to transcribe complex pieces. The most important feature of this software is the ability to SLOW things down without altering the pitch. There are several other programs out there, but I have been using this for 10 years and they are continually updating it with improvements. In the “old days” musicians would slow down the speed of a record player to try and learn songs by ear. This is the 21st century version of that same concept, time to get on board and use your ears folks!


iReal

Price: $12.99 mobile app $19.99 desktop

This app is a game changer. A “Real Book” is a collection of charts that has been used in Jazz for decades. This software takes that concept to a whole new level. There are robust play-a-long features, the ability to create your own charts and vast forums online to download songs from. All of the charts in the forums are free and as you can see from the screenshot, my collection includes bluegrass, blues, jazz and more. If you are looking for software and jam tracks to play-a-long too, look no further.

July 12, 2017 Comments Off on Practicing Tools – Recommended Software

Now Offering Drum Lessons!

We are very excited to announce that drum lessons are starting at the Shed! Zack Albetta will be teaching drums to students ages 8 and up. Lessons are available in 30 or 60 min time slots on Tuesdays starting June 6th.

This has been in the works for a while and now that our remodeling and soundproofing is complete, we are ready to start making some noise. Times are filling up, so register today to guarantee your spot.

Read more about Zack below…

Zack Albetta has been playing and teaching professionally for 15 years. He grew up in Santa Fe, NM, where he began playing drums at age 8. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Music in percussion performance, a Master of Music in percussion performance, and a Master of Arts in jazz and studio performance. From 2003 to 2010, Zack lived in Kansas City, MO and was a first call drummer in that city’s rich and historic jazz scene.

In 2010, he moved to Los Angeles, where he expanded his jazz resume, played dozens of musicals for the region’s top theatre companies, and became a staff musician at Disneyland. In 2016, he and his wife relocated to Atlanta, where he has hit the ground running with top acts such as Atlanta Funk Society, The Equinox Orchestra, and Delta Moon. As an educator, Zack has taught everything from beginning private lessons to college classes with students ranging from ages 8 to 80.

May 25, 2017 Comments Off on Now Offering Drum Lessons!

String Project Improv Ensemble

I had the pleasure of working with these talented high school students all year for UT’s String Project. Here’s our arrangement of “Blue Bossa” by Joe Henderson. Enjoy!

 

May 2, 2015 Comments Off on String Project Improv Ensemble