Major Tone 3 – Guitar Lesson with Mike Overly

February 25, 2015

Mike OverlyFollow GRAMMY® Nominated Music Educator Mike Overly in this classic Vintage Video as he presents essential information about the guitar’s 5 major chord forms and the 7 major scale and arpeggio forms. <;

To discover more about Mike and his 12 Tone Music Publishing company, please visit: <>.

And don’t forget to join the official Mike Overly/12 Tone Music Mailing List… and please forward this link to a friend!



Open is the Exception to the Rule – by Mike Overly

November 6, 2014

Bass NutIf we were to learn any subject, and we began with an exception to the rule – without even knowing there was a rule – do you think that we would learn that subject very well? Of course not! So, let’s begin this lesson by stating a simple rule: all sounds on your bass may be played by using a left-hand finger, even if that sound is at the nut. For example, on string four, the letter E is at the nut, which may be played by using a finger, that’s the rule. Let’s think about this.

If you were asked to play fret seven of string four, you would use a finger without even being told to. In other words, you realize that you can not make a fretted sound without using a finger. That’s a given, or in Latin, a priori, which means: existing in the mind before it is actually experienced in the real world. Here’s another way to think about the rule: to play a fret is to use a finger, even when that fret is the nut!
Here’s the important part. When you play a sound at the nut and use a finger, you call the nut: fret zero. Said another way, when you think fret, you think finger. This fret and finger association is the rule. However, you may play the sound at the nut by not using a left-hand finger. In this case, you would call the nut: open. Open is the exception to the rule!

Ask any six year old what is this symbol: O. The answer will probably be: a circle! Remember, a symbol is something that represents something else and when a circle symbolizes a number it is called zero and when the circle is a symbol for a letter it is O, as in Open. Let’s read this telephone number: 555-1230. Did you read five-five-five-one-two-three and the number zero, or did you read: five-five-five-one-two-three and the letter O? Most read the letter O. Now why is that? One of my students said, O represents Operator on the telephone key pad. Good answer. However, notice that zero ends with the letter O, and many, instead of saying the whole word zero, have shortened it to just the letter O. This is interesting, calling a number a letter, because it also happens with TAB.

We have previously learned the simple definition of TAB: four horizontal lines symbolizing four strings, with fret numbers on those lines to indicate which fret on that string is to be to fingered and played. Let’s read the following TAB.

Bass TABDid you read the fret numbers: one-two-two and the number zero or did you read: one-two- two and the letter O, as in Open! As Dr. Seuss might have said it: say what you mean and mean what you say. Now, let’s explore the sound at the nut.

When a sound is at the nut, and only at the nut, you may play this sound in two different ways. 1) by thinking of the nut as fret zero and applying the rule by using a left-hand a finger, or, 2) thinking of the nut as Open and applying the exception to the rule by not using a finger.

Bass NutNow, here’s a trick question: How many frets are there on a 24 fret guitar? Sounds easy, but surprisingly, there are 25, 24 frets plus 1 fret zero! Here’s another way to think about it. There are 100 sounds on a 24 fret bass. Here’s the math: 4 strings X 24 frets + 4 sounds at fret zero, the nut = 100 sounds. Said another way, 4 strings X 25 frets = 100 sounds. What do you think about that – there are 25 frets on a 24 fret guitar!

Now, let’s illustrate the rule with a movable major chord. Notice that the movable form “circle four-one” major chord can play all 21 letter name major chords!

FormAnd the exception to the rule. Notice that the non-movable Open major chord can only play one major chord – E major!

OpenLet’s end this lesson by applying these two major chord fingerings, fret zero and Open, to Johnny Smith’s: Walk, Don’t Run, made famous by The Ventures, in 1960.

Song ProgressionAs we can see, the rule is faster because it’s more efficient because all the chords have the same fingering. In contrast, the exception to the rule, Open, is less efficient and slower because you  change your left-hand  fingering to play Open. But remember, one fingering is not better than the other, they’re just different, and both have their unique benefits. Viva la Difference!

’til next time, have some fun at the Nut, no matter how you play it…I’ll be listening!

Improve Your Improvisation – by Mike Overly

October 2, 2014

Improv SignHere is something surprising. Even if you know the key signature of a song, you still don’t know what key you are in. This is because one key signature represents two keys: one major key and one relative minor key. And even after analyzing a song to determine the correct key, you might not be able to improvise. This is because you still need to know what scale to play. As we will learn in this lesson, that’s not always an easy choice to make.

Let’s begin with a traditional definition of improvise, also known as extemporize. Improvise is the creative activity of immediate, in the moment, musical composition. Improvisation combines spontaneous theoretical and technical actions coupled with the communication of feelings and emotions. Improvisation may also include immediate responses to other musicians. Individual musical ideas of improvisation are united on the ground of shared harmonic changes, called chords. And because improvisation is a performative action, which depends on instrumental technique, a major component of improvisation is skill. It’s important to remember that there are musicians who have never improvised, and there are other musicians who have devoted their entire lives to improvisation.

In contrast to the above complex definition, I simply define improvise as: free to choose. By this I mean, the improvisational musician is free to choose any scale or mode that they think sounds good with any chord harmony. For this lesson, let’s simply define a mode as an altered scale. Now, what’s important to remember is that the improvisor is the authority. The improvisor plays what sHe likes, to express how sHe feels!

Improvisational music of “uncertainty” differs from traditional music of “certainty” in that improvisational music enfolds, whereas traditional music unfolds. By that I mean, traditional music begins with one scale which unfolds into many chords with certainty, whereas, improvisational music begins with one chord that enfolds many scales with uncertainty.

With this elementary beginning, we can now understand that improvisational music is the enfolding of one chord into many scales and modes. In other words, improvisation is the traditional unfolding music process reversed in an enfolded retrograde manner. Said in a different way, in traditional music the scale is known first and from that known scale you spell the harmony. In contrast, in improvisational music the harmony is known first and then you are free to choose any scale or mode that you feel sounds good with that harmony. Remember, the choice is always yours.

There are many, many scales and modes that may be played with any given chord. For example, a major chord triad contains the scale degree tone numbers 1 3 5, and any scale or mode that contains these tone numbers may be played. However, don’t forget, this is just a beginning, as there are no right or wrong sounds in improvisation – there are only sounds that you like. Said one more time, as an improvisor, you are free to choose any scale or mode you wish ~ it’s all about you!

The following are a few of the many scales and modes that you may choose to play with the major chord, tones 1 3 5 (one, three, five). At first, a scale or mode may sound unfamiliar and weird to you, that’s okay, just keep playing until that scale or mode becomes familiar. At that point, you will begin to “like it” and begin incorporating it into your improvisation.

Major pentatonic: 1 2 3 5 6
Scriabin: 1 b2 3 5 6
East Indian: 1 3 4 5 b7
Ionian mode: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Lydian mode: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
Mixolydian mode: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
Melodic minor lydian mode: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7
Melodic minor mixolydian mode: 1 2 3 4 5 b6 b7
Harmonic minor aeolian mode: 1 #2 3 #4 5 6 7
Hungarian major: 1 #2 3 #4 5 6 b7
Byzantine: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7
Hundusian: 1 2 3 4 5 b6 b7
Octotonic hybrid: 1 2 3 4 b5 5 6 7
Symmetric hybrid: 1 b2 b3 3 b5 5 6 b7
Novem hybrid: 1 2 3 4 b5 5 6 b7 7
Taurus hybrid: 1 b2 b3 3 4 5 #5 6 7
OverMoto hybrid: 1 b2 2 3 4 b5 5 b6 6 b7 7

This same improvisational approach may be applied to the minor chord, tones 1 b3 5 (one, flat three, five).

Minor pentatonic: 1 b3 4 5 b7
Balinese: 1 b2 b3 5 b6
Japanese Hiro-Joshi: 1 2 b3 5 b6
Hawaiian: 1 2 b3 5 6
Scriabin minor: 1 b2 b3 5 6
Dorian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
Phrygian mode: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Melodic minor ionian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7
Melodic minor dorian mode: 1 b2 b3 4 5 6 b7
Harmonic minor ionian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7
Harmonic minor lydian mode: 1 2 b3 #4 5 6 b7
Natural minor ionian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Natural minor lydian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
Natural minor mixolydian mode: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Neopolitan minor: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 7
Hungarian minor: 1 2 b3 #4 5 b6 7
Moroccan: 1 2 b3 #4 5 b6 b7
Romanian: 1 2 b3 #4 5 6 b7
Taurus hybrid: 1 b2 b3 3 4 5 #5 6 7

And finally, this improvisational approach may be applied to the suspended chord, tones 1 #3 5 (one, sharp three, five).

Scriabin: 1 b2 #3 5 6
Japanese Kumoi-Joshi: 1 b2 #3 5 b6
Japanese Kokin-Joshi: 1 b2 #3 5 b7
Korea Ujo: 1 2 #3 5 6
Egyptian: 1 2 #3 5 b7
Korea P’yongjo: 1 2 #3 5 6 b7
Pacific suspended: 1 2 #3 #4 5 6 b7
Lydian suspended: 1 2 #3 #4 5 6 7
Morollian: 1 2 #3 #4 5 b6 b7
Tarrian: 1 #2 #3 #4 5 6 7
Sharno: 1 b2 #3 #4 5 b6 b7
Diamond suspended: 1 b2 #3 #4 5 6 7
Enigmatic hybrid: 1 b2 #3 #4 5 #5 #6 7
Romanian suspended: 1 2 #3 #4 5 6 b7
Belmontian hybrid: 1 b2 2 #3 b5 5 b6 6 b7 7

As was said earlier, there are many more scales and modes that may be learned and applied to chords, so, be sure to study pages 296 and 297 of Guitar EncycloMedia to discover other choices.

‘til next time, have some improvisational fun, no matter what chord you’re playing… I’ll be listening!

All the Chords I Needed to Know I Learned at My First Lesson – by Mike Overly

May 22, 2014

Mike Overly Custom Guitar by Ed SchaefferAt a recent Homeschool Convention someone asked me: How many chords are there on the guitar? That’s a very good question, I replied. Is the answer, six, ten thousand, a million, who knows? What we do know is that there are only five simple open shapes from which all chords originate!

Let’s begin by imagining the picture on the cover of a puzzle box. Visualize the picture on the box and see it as a whole picture. See this whole picture as the seven letter of music on your fretboard. When these seven letters of music: A, B, C, D, E, F, G are horizontally connected on the 6 strings and 12 frets of your guitar, the following picture is revealed.

Now, imagine taking a pair of scissors and cutting this whole fretboard picture into five pieces, which we will call fractions. How hard would it be to put together a puzzle if it only had five pieces – Playskool® right? Well, the five puzzle pieces are the five open major chords: E, D, C, A, G which like an anagram can be rearranged into the word: CAGED. You probably know these five open shapes already.

Next, let’s see how these five shapes become movable forms on the holistic fretboard. Simply stated, the definition of holistic is forms interlocked. To see this holistic connection, we need to know that a chord contains at least three different letters that are played at the same time. For example, an F major chord is spelled with these three different letters: F A C. However, unlike English, these 3 letters may be arranged in any combination, for example: F A C, A C F, C F A, F C A and the chord will still be F major. These different letter orders are called inversions. In the following example, we’ll group the three F major chord letters vertically as we move up the fretboard, and like magic, the five F major chord forms appear!

Perhaps you’re having a little trouble seeing them? The following animated gif image we help you visualize these five shapes more clearly, by highlighting the three F major chord letters, FAC, into the five movable major chord forms.

Congratulations! You can now see all five F major chord forms on your holistic fretboard.

Now, here’s the important part, no one knows any more F major chords than you do… there are only five! And by simply moving these five major chord barre forms to a different letter location the fretboard, all major chords can easily be played – but that’s another lesson…

So, till next time, have some fun interlocking your five form holistic puzzle pieces ~ I’ll be listening . . .

%d bloggers like this: