Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A question from far, far away

Yo yo yo!

Ladies and Gents, our next question comes from a fella far away from the mind-numbing monotony of Suburban America.

I think it's a very relevant question, especially to you rock 'n metal musicians out there. Check it out!

Hi Josh,

My name is Carlos and i am a guitarist located in Belgium. I've finally decided to learn theory.
I have been reading and studying your lessons and i must say
that you explain things very clearly and funny!
ED'S NOTE: Ha ha! I changed his name to Carlos! What's next? Whelheim from Mexico? It's fun to be an editor.
But i have a problem..
So i learned how to analyze a chord progression with one of your lessons and actually it is quite clear to me, but i wanted to apply the newly learned theory and stood in front of a big wall..

I tried to analyze one of my own songs, but the problem is that you have to know if a chord is major or minor so you can see which place (I-II etc..)
it takes in a scale. the chords is use are mainly power chords.
can you explain to me how i would analyze C5-E5-D5...
I know it sounds stupid, but i can't seem to apply the theory.

Question 2.

You explained chord construction and I think I understand it. M3+m3 is major and so on
but how about constructing chords with other intervals. If I understand right then you use the minor 3rd and the major 3rd interval?
But for example a power chord would be Perfect 5th + the octave of the root?

Yo "Carlos!"

First off, thanks for letting me have fun with your name change. Secondly, if your countrymen invented brussel sprouts, please talk them into inventing a good seasoning for them. Ha ha! I'm such a clown sometimes.
Thirdly, and seriously this time, that's a really good question. It's one thing to pick out the function of a minor7(b5) chord, or some other jazzy invention, but not as applicable for most of us as figuring out where the power chords go in a song.

The reason is: Power chords (or 5th chords, as they're technically supposed to be called), don't have a minor or major sound. They lack a 3rd, which defines the major or minor tonality.

And if we're speaking technically, they're not even a chord! A chord, by definition, must have three or more different notes. (So a power chord with an included octave is still just an interval.)

So, to create a power chord, we take a note, and add a note a fifth above it. It's just one interval: P5 (perfect fifth.)

Harmonizing the Major scale in this manner, we take a note, count up five notes, and add that one. C to G would construct a C5 chord.

C major scale: C D E F G A B C

B diminished 5.

WHAT?! What about that last chord? All other six chords consist of perfect fifths. C to G is a perfect fifth, D to A is a perfect fifth, and so on. However, B to F is a diminished fifth.

Therefore, we can draw the following conclusion: All power chords built from the major scale, with the exception of the chord built on the vii degree of the scale, are perfect fifths.
The vii chord is a diminished fifth.

(This rule also holds true for minor scales, except the diminished chord would be built on the ii of the scale.)

To answer your original question of "how does C5-E5-D5 fit", I would say this:

I would treat it as a I-iii-ii in the key of C major. If we add the thirds of the chords, we would end up with: Cmaj - Em - Dm.

For your second question, yes, there are other formulas to build chords. For example, a Csus4 chord (C F G) would be constructed:

P4 + M2 (Perfect 4th + Major 2nd.)

But chords are mostly built in thirds.

Thanks for the question, "Carlos," and please let me know if it does, or doesn't make sense.

Rock on!


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Friday, April 25, 2008

Be my friend!


Enjoy this blog? Be my friend on myspace! It's www.myspace.com/thefrontsteps

It's really great to hear from folks all over the world. A shout out to Michelle in Australia, too!
I live in a boring town near Washington, DC, USA. My house ain't borin', and my life is cool, but the town...well, it could use a few things. So it's very cool to hear from folks everywhere. If you guys are into the myspace thing, check it out!

Secondly, I'd like to highlight the dangers of solid-body electric guitars. I was teaching the other day, and I had my Fender Strat balanced on my knee. My clients, especially Bob, will attest to the fact that I've got a problem when it comes to keeping cables and cords untangled. Well, a headphone cable got tangled up in the wheel of my office chair. I leaned over to free it. My guitar almost fell off my lap, but I caught it by moving quickly, and banging it squarely under my chin. The music stand almost hit poor Nick in the face, too. Wow. I was even bleeding slightly.

A self-centered random Josh story? No!

The moral of the story: Do not hit yourself in the face with a Fender Strat. It doesn't sound good, and the message it gives your audience is another good reason for bleached-blonde jokes.

So don't do it!

And be my friend!

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Street Fightin' Man


Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! My voice is kinda recovered. Whew. Friday night was the first busking gig of the season for me. Alexandria, VA provides an ideal location for street performance. Host of a wide variety of musicians, jugglers, magicians, and sometimes random preachers and bagpipers, it's a very cool gig. 2008 is my second season in old town.

It's also very taxing! I've learned so much, and most of that is seeing how far I have to go in order to become a successful busker. Curtis Blues is my mentor. Check him out at www.curtisblues.com Curtis told me you've gotta be loud. He's right. Ya gotta play loud. Ya gotta sing loud.

And that is taxing.

Sure, I'll use 12's on my strat, but I've got an amp helping me out at gigs! And a mic! Playing for a few hours straight on an acoustic, and trying to draw folks in by singing at a high volume really can take a bite out of you.

The street taught me an important lesson that I'd like to share with you. Form is everything!

To play fast, you've gotta be efficient. No excess movement. To play for an extended period of time, you've gotta be efficient - with your hand strength. Al Petteway showed a room full of people recently how we all fretted notes with too much force, resulting in unneeded strain.

The street taught me the same lesson, literally busting my chops when I had bad form.

And that's just the guitar playing! Man, I need to ask my vocal teacher a few questions, or maybe just apply what she's been telling me. I was sore the next day! Spring is a froggy season, and my throat was no exception. I'm going to be paying a lot more attention to my vocal form from now on!

Moreover, bad form can literally ruin music. I don't want to blow my voice out, or get carpal tunnel syndrome. I'd best shape up!

Check out your form, and see if you've got it right. Could you play and sing for a few hours straight? Don't get your chops busted - it hurts!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008



I've been getting a lot of email lately. It makes me feel important. Ha ha!

I live about twenty minutes outside of Washington, DC. I can often see the Washington Monument in my rearview mirror. It's nifty. So it's cool to hear from guys in Asia, Europe, or wherever they might live, asking theory questions. It really is a small world.

I'll be answering an email in this blog, so hopefully everyone can benefit from the answer. It's sort of like "Dear Abby," but without the dear, and without the housewife garbage. Ha! Call it..."Yo Josh."

Hello Mr. Urban,
I've been reading your articles on ultimateguitar.com, and I want to thank you a bunch for summarizing plenty of confusing theory. Personally, I understood everything up to key signatures, but started getting lost around the circle of fifths.
In fact, I'm still working out what you mean in The Crusade, Part 9 & 10.
Anyway, I'm sending you this email to ask you for some advice, and possibly help with improvisation. Just last night I was hosting an event, and I went backstage to take a breather and check on my performers.
Now, yours truly has been learning guitar for nearly 3 years, but only recently got serious about it and started taking exams.
So, I walk into the room and find 2 out of the 3 guitarists asleep, and one fiddling about with his guitar. It was an acoustic performance, by the way. The guitarist that was awake happened to be my classmate. He invited me to just pick up a classical guitar and play along with him.
I'm no stranger to scales, appregios, and whatnot, but I always practised on my own and rarely had anyone else to play with. The only other time I jammed with someone else was with my teacher, who is now focused on preparing me for exams, and introducing other fundamentals to me. It took me about half a minute to get the key signature, and then I managed to work up a pattern that sounded mostly alright. But I really wished I could have done better.
Therefore, I have this to ask of you: Do you have any backing tracks that I could use to get me more prepared for jamming sessions? I realise that the best way to do this is with a fellow musician, or even with a band. Unfortunately, I think I need to improve on my own skills before I can go around asking others to help me out.
Any advice that you can provide would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance, poodleman.
"Harry Smith" (All names changed to protect the innocent!)

Yo "Harry!"

Thanks for your email. I did some looking around, and found a SICK site for you to check out! www.guitarbackingtrack.com

It's incredible. Check out the Ozzy Osbourne section! They've got a great track for "Perry Mason." (I love that song, too.)

If you want to plunk down a chunk of change, and can find it on eBay, I highly recommend the Boss JS-5 Jamstation. It's a "band in a box" , loaded with a bunch of presets, but you can program the chords and tempo however you like.

Speaking of a "Band in a Box," there's actually some software out there called just that very thing. Google it, and see what you can find. One of my students just got it, and he'll be giving me a demo this week.

One more thing - be aware that a lot of songs don't fit neatly into one key. To quote one of my teachers, a song is a collection of chords that the composer liked.

To prepare yourself for jam sessions, I would suggest spending time with the blues. Most musicians jam on the 12-bar blues, as it's such a great vehicle for a jam. Learn the pattern, and the pentatonic scales that go over it. If you learn it in one key, you know it in every key! That's the beauty of the guitar. All you need to do is slide it up or down a few frets if the other musicians decide to play in a different key.

Search around for some jam tracks on that site I mentioned, and try googling some other sites.

Keep up the good work, and keep asking guitar players questions. The worst they say is "get lost." You'll find most to be helpful, friendly, and most willing to share.

Best of luck!


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Not there!

I spend a lot of time in two main places.

My head, and my studio. Ha!

And I've been looking for something. My students have also been looking for the same thing. And we're not gonna find it.

It's The Silver Bullet.

We all want a magic pill to swallow that will make us shred like Paul Gilbert. A book we can eat to allow us to comp chords like Joe Pass.

I was at the gym, and I saw an ad on the tv for "The amazing body makeover - no gym required!"

I want something that will make me think differently instantly. (I think they call it "prozac!")

I think a lot of us want to change our lives, both musically and personally. I was sitting at a stoplight today, feeling frustrated that I couldn't just "snap" into a different mindset. I sit down to my music, and get aggravated that I can't instantly shred.

And most of all, I get frustrated waiting for that darn silver bullet to magically change things.

I realized, sitting at that stoplight, that all that I'm working towards is incremental. If I want to ever be not skinny, I gotta pick up the weight, and start liftin'. If I want to shred, instead of buying another book, I need to put on the metronome, and slowly get there.

If I'm sitting on the side of the highway of life, I shouldn't be waiting for that corvette to pick me up.

I should just start walkin'.

Walk on!

Friday, April 4, 2008

New Hero

Happy Friday!

Man, I think it's important to have heroes. A role model you can kinda carry around in your head..."What Would Jimi Do?" when faced with this musical situation. Would Arnold put the weights down just yet?

I've got a new hero, and you folks are in TROUBLE. As the new head of human resources in the Josh world, will you please welcome...Mr. T!

I think it will help my guitar playing. The guitar playing world in general, and me in particular, is subject to a lotta waffling. Should we get the Monster cable, or the Planet Waves cable? The Les Paul, or the Strat?

Now, I'll just ask my inner Mr. T.

He might just growl "Shut up, fool!"

Timeless wisdom. Sometimes, we've just gotta shut up, pick up that guitar, and jam! I've been trying to record a new demo, and I might as well be in IHOP, with all the waffling I'm doing..."I can't find the right tone, man" I was whining to my folks over lunch. Man, I can hear Mr. T growling, so I'd better shut up and quit whining. I think his advice is great.

See if you can use Mr. T's advice in your playing! (And if the drummer in your band is acting up, as they always do, you can just smite 'em, and throw 'em in a dumpster. Ha ha!)

Grrrrrr! Go practice!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Off the deep end

Of course I'm off the deep end.

That's what makes my business run.

But what about you? Looking for some new ideas? Throw yourself off the deep end...with an alternate tuning!

For ages, I had turned up my nose at the idea of using a different tuning to create new ideas. My reasoning was - it's the same 12 notes, why would a tuning make a difference?

Well, besides turning my nose up at lousy musicians like......oh, say, Jimmy Page, I was missing several points.

1. A new tuning creates different possibilities on the fretboard. Some chords that would be impossible to play in standard tuning present themselves, and unique voicings are born.

2. New horizons are everywhere! The old patterns that seemed to hold my playing hostage with an unbreakable grip shattered in the light of "I have no clue as to what's going on!" Playing with "beginners' mind" (check out "Zen Guitar") is refreshing.

Try putting your guitar into some new tunings today. I've been fooling around with DADGAD, and open G is nifty as well. Open D is another very popular tuning.

Check out this link for more info:

Alternate Tunings

And have fun throwing yourself off the deep end!

The water's great.

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