Guitarists, Learn the Lingo to Jam

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Ever been to a blues jam? Well, there is a lingo, if you will, that you need to get familiar with! A language that musicians use to call songs, that gives you a quick reference to how the progression goes. Layouts to help guide you through the chord changes and enlighten you about what you’ll be soloing over, as well.

For example, if someone calls a 12 bar I-IV-V progression in the key of C, would you know what they were referring to? Well, they are referring to the chords constructed from the first, fourth and fifth notes in the major scale. In this case, the key of C.

Do you know how to construct a major scale? Just in case you don’t, let’s visit this for a moment.

The major scale is constructed with eight notes. The first note is the root note or key the scale is in. From there, you travel a distance to get to each note that builds the scale using whole steps and half steps. A whole step is two frets distance. Example, move from first to third fret on any string. A half step is one fret distance. Example, move from first to second fret on any string.

Now, start on the root note. Let’s start at the third fret on the fifth string. This will give us a C note. Pick it, then move up the neck one whole step to the fifth fret and pick the second note of the scale which is D.

Move a whole step up the neck to the seventh fret and play an E. This is your third note in the scale.

Now, move a half step forward, placing you at the eight fret on an F, the fourth note, in your C major scale.

Move forward a whole step to the tenth fret and play a G. This is your fifth note in your C major scale.

Move forward a whole step to the twelfth fret to an A. This is your sixth note.

Now, move forward a whole step to the fourteenth fret and this places you on B, the seventh note in the scale.

Now, move forward a half step to the fifteenth fret and this is a C note.

There, you have it! All the notes that construct the C major scale! Start on a C note and end on a C note.

The key of C major scale is constructed with these notes; C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. You can play a major scale in any key. Simply determine what key you want to play it in and start on that note. From there, apply the major scale formula to play the rest of the notes in the scale. Whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step!

Of course, it’s a lot easier moving up one string rather than moving across the strings and obviously you have to learn the layout of the notes on the fretboard to be able to fully apply this information.

I encourage you to apply this information and play the scales on the neck moving up the same string initially, allowing your ears to become familiar with the sound of the scale, and then venture into finding the same notes working across the strings, calling out the names of each note. It’s a win, win. You are going to learn the layout of the notes on the fret board and learn the notes that are in each key of the major scale!

So, you need to get familiar with your musical alphabet. For example, natural notes. A, B, C, D, E, F, G. You also need to become familiar with sharp and flat notes as well. To make any note sharp (#); move forward a half step or one fret. To make any note flat (b); move back a half step or one fret. Your musical alphabet is compiled of these notes: A, A# or Bb, B, C, C# or Db, E, F, F# or Gb, G, G# or Ab.

I’ll clue you in on all your natural key major scales, whether they use sharps or flats. The key of A, B, D, E and G have sharps. The key of F has one flat note. Obviously, you have major scales that can be in a sharp or flat key as well.

First, write out the natural key major scales applying the major scale formula. Example, the key of G major scale consists of these notes, G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. This scale has one sharp note. That is F#. In the key of G, your I-IV-V chords are G, C and D. This is what you need to do for each key. How did I figure out what the I-IV-V chords are? Write out a major scale in the key of your choice.  Determine what the first, fourth and fifth notes are in the scale. Constructed from each one of those notes in the first, fourth and fifth position of the scale, gives you the root or key of your I-IV-V chords.

I encourage you to make a chart.

I-IV-V chords:
Key of A: A, D, E
Key of B: B, E, F#
Key of C: C, F, G
Key of D: D, G, A
Key of E: E, A, B
Key of F: F, Bb, C
Key of G: G, C, D

Now, you obviously need to get familiar with the sharp and flat keys as well. Learn the major scale in every key. Then, pick out what the I-IV-V chords are in each key. So, for example, if you play a I-IV-V chord progression in the key of C, your I-IV-V chords will be C, F and G.

You may encounter some chords you are not familiar with in certain keys. Its ok, you’ll get there! Have patience with yourself, it’s a lot of information to process and apply.

At blues jams, there will typically be a song or progression called that uses the 12 bar I-IV–V progression. Now, I’m not saying this is how every blues tune ever recorded is constructed. But, it certainly does cover quite a few tunes that you’ll be able to get up to speed on pretty quickly to partake in a jam situation.

A twelve bar I-IV-V chord progression is a great place to start. So, for example, a 12 bar, I-IV-V progression is called in the key of C. 12 bars? Hmm. What’s that? That’s how many measures you cycle through in the chord progression before you are back at the beginning of the chord progression. A typical 12 bar I-IV-V progression consists of the 1st four measures being the I chord, then the fifth and sixth measures being the IV chord. The seventh and eighth measure, return to the I chord. The ninth measure is the V chord. The tenth measure is the IV chord and the eleventh measure is the I chord. The twelfth measure can be the I or the V chord. Sometimes, there’s a quick IV in the second measure taking the place of the I chord. Always ask before the song starts. There can be some variations in a 12 bar I-IV-V progression. For example; a long I chord in the beginning of the progression, stops, etc. Always ask! And when in doubt, layout!

You’ll catch on. It is beneficial to learn some of the lingo before you head out to a blues jam. There are other types of chord progressions I will be sharing with you in future articles. Chord progressions, that you’ll find, are used quite often in various styles of music.

I hope you find this information helpful and are able to apply it ASAP! Pick up your guitar and play!

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