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

Robbie Robertson

This Saturday, I’ll be playing the music of The Band with my fellow Elegant Bachelors at Venkman’s in Old Fourth Ward. From time to time we will play an entire night of a band’s catalog. In the past we’ve played an entire night of music by The Beatles, The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers.

For me, it is always great to revisit these catalogs and absorb myself in the songs. Although I have played these songs many times, there is always something exposing itself for the first time. Whether it’s a new lyric, different chord or riff, or a new version that I haven’t heard before.

The Band are a musicians’ band. They were road tested, solid players with great vocals, musicianship and stage presence (some of the many reasons they made a great backing band for Bob Dylan). Other classic bands can be put in this category, Little Feat, Steely Dan, etc., but the Band possessed a rawness that is difficult to capture. They were Americana before it was a musical genre. How did this Canadian-American band so perfectly capture the essence of American music, blues, soul and country?

Much like The Band are a musicians’ band, Robbie Robertson is a guitarists’ guitarist. He has a unique style that is understated, tasteful, funky, sensitive and confident. Perhaps his most trademark technique is the use of pinch harmonics (picking the string with the thumb of the right hand immediately after the pick strikes the string). Add to that unapologetic bends, string squealing and chunky double stops and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with. He was a songwriter, singer and lead guitarist of one of the most influential rock and roll bands of the 20th century. Have a listen here for the band at their peak with some live recordings released a few years ago from 1971. They are not just any band, they are THE BAND.

 

In Cahoots

November 13, 2016 Comments Off on Robbie Robertson

New Charts!

What is a chart? In musical terms, a “chart” is short for a written arrangement of music. Don’t worry, there are no bar graphs, tables or spreadsheets!

For those of you that have taken lessons with me, you know that I am BIG on making charts. In short, charts take out the guesswork and allow you to play along with recordings and other people with full confidence. Over the past year I have been uploading select charts from my personal collection to our library page. I just uploaded a new batch of charts including songs by Stone Temple Pilots, The Beatles, The Who and more! Please use these only for your own educational purposes and enjoyment. Disclaimer: they are free to download and may contain some errors or be incomplete.

Feel free to explore and see if you can start charting out songs you are working on now!

P.S. Charts are also very helpful when writing or sharing your own songs

August 3, 2016 Comments Off on New Charts!

Favorite Albums of 2015

Do you ever finding yourself listening to the same music over and over again? If the answer is yes, look no further. The year 2015 is coming to a close and it has been a great year for music. Some of my favorite artists have continued to forge new territory and grow creatively.

One of the great things about being a guitar teacher is that students can turn you on to some really great stuff. It’s time for me to pass some of that great stuff along as well as some of my own discoveries. This is not a “Best of 2015” list. Notice I chose the word “Favorite”….completely my opinion. The list is also not ranked, so feel free to shuffle. I’ve chosen one song from each album, but all of these albums are worth a listen. Enjoy!

You can listen to the playlist on Spotify here!

FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2015

 

Fruition – Holehearted Fools

Chick Corea Trio – Trilogy

Lettuce – Crush

Chris Stapleton – Traveller

Infamous Stringdusters – Undercover

Warren Haynes – Ashes and Dust

John Moreland – High on Tulsa Heat

The Wood Brothers – Paradise

John Scofield – Past Present

Ryan Adams – 1989

Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Dawes – All Your Favorite Bands

My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Let Me Get By – Tedeschi Trucks Band (2016)

November 23, 2015 Comments Off on Favorite Albums of 2015

What songs do you learn at Guitar Shed?

I try to give all of my students the option of learning material that they enjoy. I have heard horror stories for years of people taking lessons and quitting because they were “forced to learn” repertoire that did not interest them. But what do you do if a student has no idea what they want to learn or has trouble communicating what their favorite songs are? If students can’t think of a song or don’t know where to start, I am always happy to pick out a tune that is appropriate with their skill level and capabilities. However, I prefer to give students the option of choosing material first. Not only does this make the student more motivated to practice, but it also exposes me to music that I might not otherwise discover.

Can’t I just look up tabs and chords on the internet? Yes. I encourage students to look up songs on the internet, but (like most things on the internet) to take them with a grain of salt. Play along with the song first. If you can’t figure it out and you’ve explored all of the options, then look up the song. Tabs are a great resource but they leave out one gaping hole. RHYTHM. Granted, sometimes tabs do notate rhythm but it can be clunky and difficult to read. This is where playing along with the song is essential. You get to feel and internalize what it is like to play IN TIME with the song. Want to take it one step further? Make your own chart of the song. Want to take it even further? Throw away your chart after you memorize it. You will still be able to visualize your chart in your head and it will be much easier to remember than a tab or chord chart you found on the internet. Tabs often contain errors with wrong notes, wrong key signatures, song forms etc. So chances are if something sounds wrong to you, it probably is wrong. That’s where the teacher comes in. When a student is struggling with a piece, we are here to help you get through that musical wall.

So do you just learn songs at Guitar Shed? The short answer is no. We do learn a lot of songs, but I always tell my students that I like to “teach through songs.” What does that mean? Each song is unique and I believe they can be used as vehicles to teach important concepts in context. The more songs a student learns, the more context they have to apply musical concepts. This also strengthens the interconnectivity of ideas and allows musicians to adapt to a variety of musical situations. My ideal lesson would be a perfect balance of repertoire and theory. Too much of either and you will fall off the musical tightrope.

So back to the original question. What songs DO you learn at Guitar Shed? Here’s a list of the artists that we are studying right now:

  • Albert King
  • B.B. King
  • Bach
  • Beethoven
  • Bob Dylan
  • Cat Stevens
  • CCR
  • Chopin
  • Daft Punk
  • Dawes
  • Dolly Parton
  • Doug Sahm
  • Eric Clapton
  • Eva Cassidy
  • Gershwin
  • Grateful Dead
  • Harold Arlen
  • Herbie Hancock
  • Horace Silver
  • Jason Isbell
  • Jerry Garcia
  • John Maye
  • John Moreland
  • John Prine
  • John Scofield
  • John Williams
  • My Morning Jacket
  • Neil Young
  • Oingo Boingo
  • Otis Redding
  • Pearl Jam
  • Pete Seeger
  • Peter, Bjorn and John
  • Phish
  • Pink Floyd
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Robert Plant and Alison Kraus
  • Rolling Stone
  • The Allman Brothers
  • The Beatles
  • The Eagles
  • The Magnetic Fields
  • The Rolling Stones
October 26, 2015 Comments Off on What songs do you learn at Guitar Shed?

Muscle Shoals + Jason Isbell

I have been a fan of Spotify since it was some far off Swedish musical myth in 2008. Almost 10 years later and it seems more and more that streaming music seems to be the way of the future these days. Despite Neil Young’s criticism of sound quality and my roughly 1/2 cent that I get from royalties from each play on my albums, it’s still my primary source of listening to music. Tidal, Neil Young’s Pono, and Apple Music are all getting in on a piece of the pie, making everyone up their game. The other day I got the following notification from one of my favorite artists, Jason Isbell.

“With Something More Than Free coming out next Friday, July 17, here are some of Jason’s favorite songs created in his hometown of Muscle Shoals, AL. Listen to the singles “24 Frames” and “Something More Than Free” on Spotify now.

What’s better than having every song at your fingertips and being able to share them instantly with whomever you want?…. Having your favorite artists share their favorite songs with you! Listening to this playlist you realize why everyone from The Rolling Stones to Etta James wanted to record at Muscle Shoals. For those of you who think that Muscle Shoals is some type of clam, do yourself a favor and watch the 2013 documentary of the same name. There certainly was magic in those walls and equipment.

In addition to the well known classics, “Still Crazy After All These Years”, “Wild Horses”, “Hey Jude” (featuring Duane Allman on guitar)…. Isbell included some deeper cuts that I hadn’t heard before (selections from Percy Sledge and Aretha Franklin). And you can’t leave out “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers. From the first note, that songs plasters a smile across my face that doesn’t leave for 3 minutes. Every instrument and part is full of feeling and in the right place. I listened to Jason Isbell’s album last week on NPR’s first listen and I ensure you he is in the right place too. Keep an eye out for this album that drops tomorrow, July 17 and this triple threat guitar player/singer/songwriter. Looks like he’s playing a new festival in Piedmont Park on October 18th in Atlanta. Might want to put that one on the calendar.

 

 

July 16, 2015 Comments Off on Muscle Shoals + Jason Isbell