Improvising In G: A Major Building Block to Guitar Mastery

The guitar – what a beautiful and versatile instrument. It’s one of the things I love most in the world. Why else would I write a blog about guitar playing and about guitar centric music? Not only do I love it, but I also have a passion for passing on my knowledge to younger generations, in my ambitious hope to help keep the guitar and guitar based music relevant and viable for years to come.

There is plenty of good music being created all the time. You just have to look for it. Don’t let the Top 40 people or the Grammy people dictate to you what you should be listening to. I listen to old music and, I’ll admit, that I prefer music of the late sixties, seventies, and eighties. But I also like current rock, some current pop (I love Dua Lipa and Halsey, and I also think Adele is one of the greatest musical talents of the past fifty years) and have a real affinity for nineties era grunge and alternative. I love Frank Sinatra music, Bob Marley music, some classical, and quite a bit of country. I also really like David Guetta, Calvin Harris, and lot of other EDM. I don’t just listen to old rock & roll, just for the record.

I do care that younger generations still get to experience the brilliance and innovation of seventies era classic rock. Given the popularity of older music on platforms such as Sirius XM and Spotify, I feel encouraged that bands like Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, and Led Zeppelin are still very popular and relevant. I write and curate for this website to encourage people of all types and ages to discover the instrument. To embrace it and to make it a part of their lives. I truly believe that learning to play the guitar (or any instrument) is a gift you give to yourself and to others, for a lifetime.

Now on to our lesson. In previous lessons, I discussed and showed how to play all of the major chords, from A to G. If you refer to the In-Tune Guitar Academy YouTube channel, or previous articles on this site, you will find them. Before diving into learning the G Major scale, let’s review the G Major chord (GM in common music notation).

The open G Major chord consists of the G on the first string, third fret; an open B string (the second string); an open G string (the third); an open D string (the fourth); a B on the fifth string, second fret; and a G on the sixth string, third fret, which is our root note for both the G Major chord and the G Major scale. Please note that a series of three notes form the basis of this chord, what we call the triad. These three notes are G, B, and D (the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale). You play all of the six strings to play the following chord. The three notes are the first, third, and fifth position of the G Major scale.

The triad for the C Major chord are C, E, and G, which are the third, sixth, and first (or eighth) notes on in the G Major scale. The triad for the D major chord are D, A, and F#, which are the fifth, second, and seventh notes in the G Major scale. That’s why G, C, and D Major are chords of the G Major scale. Studying the scale and understanding how these chords (specifically their triads) interact with the scale will help with your improvisation technique.

The first position of the GM barre chord, consists of all of the strings on the third fret being barred, meaning the root note will be the same as the open GM chord – sixth string, third barre. The D on the fifth string, fifth fret, which happens to be the fifth degree of the G major scale – more on that later. Another G on the fourth string, fifth fret, which is the octave of the root note (8 degrees higher). Then a B on the third string, fourth fret, which is the octave of the B on the fifth string, second fret. On the second string, third fret is a D and on the first string, third fret is a G (both these last notes formed by the barre). When you compare this shape to the G Major scale, you will see how similar they appear.

An easy way to visualize how this barre chord was made, think about the E major chord and how it is shaped. Normally you would play with the 1, 2, and 3 fingers of your left hand over the first and second frets, open E strings and open B string.

To make a GM barre chord, instead play this same shape using the 2, 3, and 4 fingers instead, and move that shape down three frets so that the 3 and 4 fingers are on the fifth fret and the 2 finger is on the fourth fret. Now use your index finger (the 1 finger of your fretting hand) and press down across all six strings on the third fret. If you are new to playing barre chords, that will be the most challenging part.

Now on to the business of the G Major scale. We will focus on Pattern Two of the G major scale – there are seven patterns in total.

The G major scale in this position consists of the root note G on the sixth string, third fret (number 1 degree); the A note two frets higher (a full step) on the fifth fret with your number 4 finger; the B note on the fifth string, second fret using the 1 finger; the C note on the fifth string, third fret using your 2 finger; the D note on the fifth string, fifth fret using your 4 finger; the E note on the fourth string, second fret with you 1 finger; the F# (F sharp) note on the fourth string, fourth fret; and then the G note on the fourth string, fifth fret (the octave of the first G note). You then repeat the same sequence on the third, second, and first string, where the octave becomes the first degree in this second sequence. If you watch the video that accompanies this article, you will understand this better.

The best way to learn this scale – and any other scale – is by repetition. By practicing, your hands will form muscle memory and, over time, you will be able to play this scale without thinking about it too much. I recommended that you play along to a metronome as you practice this scale so that you develop and practice your timing.

Typically, when improvising using this scale, I would normally start on the root note, sixth string, third fret, but the scale actually begins on the F# of the sixth string (second fret). To help you learn and practice this scale, there is a really cool trick that I think is fun to play and helps you to really learn this scale. You play, starting at F# on the sixth string, second fret and just seesaw your way through the scale. Again, watch the video to better understand this exercise. As always, play along to a metronome to help you keep your timing in check. Tapping your foot along to the beat of the rhythm will greatly help you keep in time with the metronome. And work your way backwards through this sequence.

The chords of the G major scale are G major (GM), A minor (Am), B minor (Bm), C major (CM), D major (DM), E minor (Em), and F diminished. This pattern is the same for all major scales: major-minor-minor-major-major-minor-diminished. Therefore, a I-IV-V song in the G major scale is played using the GM, CM, and DM chords – a very common pattern in pop, rock, and country music.

Next lesson, I will put this information into practice and make a video about writing a song in this scale, using the I-IV-V pattern. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write them in the comments section below or send me an email at frank@intuneguitaracademy.com.

Good luck, good practicing, and enjoy the journey.

The accompanying video:

References:

  • Incredible Chord Finder, 2nd Edition, Hal Leonard Corp.
  • Incredible Scale Finder, Hal Leonard Corp.
  • Music Theory for Dummies, by Michael Pilhofer and Holly Day, Wiley Publishing Inc.

To read another similar article, please click on the following link:

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