Category Archives: Making Good Music

Know the 3 King of Scales – The Major, Minor & Dominant

Music and playing the guitar is like taking a walk in a place called Music Land, a mountainous place where a traveller strolls along to visit.

If the path of The Major Scale gives you the feel of the most natural walk, then the other 2 scales give you one that is sad or melancholic and adventurous or edgy. Together, the Major, Minor and Dominant, they are the 3 King of Scales.

Joe Pass, the legendary jazz virtuoso says that when he plays, he thinks jazz with only 3 types of chords. The Major, Minor and Dominant. The rest are just derivatives of that. So it’s good to get acquainted with them.

Check out the best way to understand the major scale if you have not.

And here’s the plot on how you can understand these three kings.

  • The Major is the Stable Kind King
  • The Minor is a Melancholic Drama King.
  • The Dominant is an Adventure Seeking King.

The Major King
always walk up the mountain from his home like this. This is his groove.
From Home (his palace?),
he will    SKIP  ^   SKIP  ^   STEP  SKIP  ^   SKIP  ^   SKIP  ^   STEP
The way he travels will make him sound authoritative and strong.

The Minor King
 has this groove
From his palace,
he may    SKIP  ^  STEP SKIP  ^   SKIP  ^  STEP SKIP  ^  SKIP ^
The way he moves, it will always sound sadder than the Major King. (It has the stepped back 3rd which gives it a minor sound)

[Image of Scale coming soon]

The Dominant King  has a very different groove
From his palace,
there are several ways but he may SKIP  ^  SKIP  ^  STEP SKIP ^  SKIP ^ STEP SKIP
He will always sound a bit curious but still with the confidence to still go and explore places. (It has the stepped back 7th)

[Image of Scale coming soon]

The key is to learn this, is to recognise how these 3 scales sound like to you. Maybe you have a different way of describing the Kings of Scales.

Exercise Recognising These Kings

  1. Play these scales, up and down the guitar. Get used to the scales and how it feels.
  2. Play each of these scales for 10 minutes each.
  3. Try to describe the scale in your own words.
  4. Find out which note or notes make these scales different with respect to the major scale


The Foundations of Good Music When Playing The Guitar

One of the key mistakes I made when I started was playing and practising aimlessly. I wasn’t playing music but just noodling with it. Not either writing my own or playing an existing music. I’ve wasted my years fallen into the habit of just mucking around with the guitar.

I find that finding a good piece of music to play inspires us to a tangible thing we are moving towards. It starts off with finding a piece of music that inspires you and that the melody and words connect and relate with you.

Ever felt that you enjoy a certain song but you can never engage with it when you play it? Chances that the words and melody don’t sync with your subconscious. Even though you consciously want to play it, your subconscious or your spirit is rejecting it.

Finding a good first song is important. It is usually your favourite song which melody or lyrics speaks to you deeply. Normally our first song is one that its so attached to you that you no problem remembering the lyrics of that song.

Check this out:  The First Song To Play On Guitar

Having chosen your first song, go and remember all the chords, followed by the chord sequence, sing or play the melody and enjoy your first song as your signature song.

In summary,

Get one right and repeat for all songs

Check out the other 2 Foundations:
Good Guitar & Good Connection 

You Don’t Have To Play Like Prince, You Can Play Like Yourself

I was watching this amazing Youtube Video of Prince. In the past, I used to be amazed and then feel unworthy that I cannot play like Prince. That’s bad for playing the guitar.

Today, I would watch videos like this, be amazed and inspired. And then I will feel that its possible (just like it is for Prince) to play uniquely just like myself. By building the foundation of Good Guitar, Good Connection and Good Music, I don’t have to compare but I can play like myself.

Click above to enjoy this free download

Just a reminder every time you see your hero play, don’t compare but conclude that you too can do the same. Play like yourself.

Having said that, I want to state what Prince ever said about learning the guitar during a rare interview with Guitar Player magazine in the July, 2004 issue.

Prince laid his feelings about the state-of-the-guitar on the line, and his point still resonates today: “Kids don’t learn to play the right way anymore. When the Jackson 5 came up, they had to go through Smokey Robinson and the Funk Brothers, and that’s how they got it down. I want to be able to teach that stuff, because kids need to learn these things, and nobody is teaching them the basics. See, a lot of cats don’t work on their rhythm enough, and if you don’t have rhythm, you might as well take up needlepoint or something. I can’t stress it enough. The next thing is pitch. That’s universal. You’re either in tune or you ain’t. When you get these things down, then you can learn how to solo.” U heard the man. So let’s get to it.

Enjoy the weekend!

Best Guitar Practice Routine

One of the most joyful time in my day is when I grab the guitar and be prepared for the best use of my guitar practice time.

Vince Lombardi’s famous quote says ” Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect “. So finding out what’s the best guitar practice routine is essential in your journey to play good guitar.

While it is true perfection robs our joy in many aspects of life, perfect practice is what creates the most enduring joy that gets better every time you pick up the guitar. Not only can practice time be enjoyable, you’ll enjoy playing more, the better your practice time becomes.

So let’s dive into finding out the best guitar practice routine for yourself.

Get Connected First

Remember just like in a relationship, the better a marriage, a working partnership or a friendship is, the more connected two persons are. So in practicing, you have to practice being connected with what you do. So what’s your true goal of playing? Get connected there. What’s your love for your guitar? Get connected there too. You may want to do The Guitar Meditation If You Have A Looper. But without it, you are still fine as long as you know that being present and connected is the great first place to start.

And finally, do you love your practice and your practice routine? You have to work out the meaning and how to be connected there too. Well, if you made it here, you are in the right place to start your practice time.

Have Fun With Your Major Scale

The basis of practice the guitar has to be knowing the major scale and knowing where the 1s, 2s, 3s … and the 7s are in that scale.

Playing scales may seem boring to some but for many professionals, striving to play it well and make every note clear, smooth and with feeling is essential practice. It boils down to if you are personally connected even with one note. The major scale is the mother of all scales so playing it and getting connected with it is irreplaceable.

With the major scale, you can play the minor scales and many other scales. Do you know that the natural minor scale (otherwise known as the aeolian scale) is found within the major scale (also known as the Ionian scale)? So is the Dorian, the Phrygian, the Lydian and the Mixolydian and the Locrian scales.

Let me know if you want me to share the trick to find them in the major scale in the other post. For now, just know that major scale helps us play the rest without needing to memorize more.

When You Play, You Hum

I first learn this from Jimmy Bruno while studying in his online institute. He said if you play and connect your fingers with what you hear, next time you hear something, your fingers automatically go there. So hearing your note as your fingers play it is the key, humming it or singing it out as you play enhances the listening. So as you practice, try to hum it along. The good thing about humming it is the when you go out without a guitar, your can hum and play air guitar.

That practice without a guitar alone is going to increase your practice time multiple fold and you’ll get connected with the sound and your finger.

Practice The Songs You Are Most Connected With

I’m not a proponent of playing too many songs and playing it mediocrely. I will go easy on playing too many songs and focus on the song you are most connected with. Once you have that song, you get into the following

Step 1: Chord Structure.

Find out what is the chord sequence. I usually go with the numbering system. Like for example, I’m trying to memorize Wind of Change by the Scorpions so I’m going.

4 2 4 2 6 5 1 (singing with the tune of the intro)
1 2 1 2 6 5 1 (singing with the first verse)

Again this way of singing it helps me be able to practice without the guitar.

Step 2: Play or Sing The Melody

I will practice the melody of the song either by playing the notes to the song or singing the song (even if I have a bad singing voice)

Step 3: Play the chords and sing.

I will attempt to do it together. But not at one go. I will play in parts. Master the verse, then the chorus, then the bridge.

The key thing about playing songs is to enjoy the song. If you don’t, go look for one that you’ll enjoy playing. I know sometimes in band situations, you are forced to play songs that doesn’t resonate with you so much. I know its tough but if you want to be in the band, that’s the joy of sharing things and experiences, but you should have a chance to ask them to consider playing songs you like too. So get your repertoire of songs you like through practicing the songs you are most connected with.

Practice Parts That You Struggle With

Now after practicing your playing and your songs, there will be parts that you find you struggle with. There should be time dedicated to work on those. I find a lot of times, the struggle has to do with the timing of the song. So I used a looper or a metronome for that.

I may even work on the part I most struggle with that is not even related to playing the guitar. A lot of times, I find I can’t play a song because I’m not familiar with the song. So the exercise may just be to myself more familiar with it through listening to the recording or just closing my eyes and imagining myself or the original artist sing it.

End With A Doxology Kind Of Song

Just like they do in a traditional church, they end the service with a Doxology. Get to play a phrase or a song that you know very well so that every practice sessions get ended well.

The reason to do it is because your brain gets stuck with the last feeling you have of each session. So if you end with frustration rather than success, your brain is going to associate practice with trauma and that’s not going to help you progress you later when you practice. You will just freeze up and conclude that practice is drudgery.

So always end well with a song or a phrase you can play very well. Or you can just end with saying “Thank You” to God or to your guitar for serving you.

I, being a Christian with a love for tradition, I just really just play The Doxology.

Hope you have found this post helpful to find your best guitar practice routine. Remember at the end of the day to not take things too seriously but to let go and enjoy the process. It’s not an EGO trip and you are not going to be the next Van Halen or Carlos Santana, you just want to be yourself and play good guitar. So enjoy finding your perfect practice routine because you are playing guitar your own way.

Drop me a note about your guitar practice routine? I’m interested to hear how you do it.

How To Survive Your First Jam Session

I have always been a bedroom musician, enjoying playing guitar for my own inspiration and to connect with myself (Mostly with a looper, which is by the way, an excellent tool to do that). I never thought I will write about how I survive my first jam session anytime soon. But I came back from my first jam session with last Friday. Friday. I took up my courage to respond to an ad for Jam Buddies on a local forum and meet 4 guys who’s been playing together for years. I tell myself “Not Good Enough, But I’m Doing It Anyway”. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it to be.

1. Expect To Suck

I tell myself “Not Good Enough, But I’m Doing It Anyway”. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it to be. But yes, you should expect to suck but what you’ll learn and experience is super valuable. The skill of playing for yourself and playing with others is very very different and its good to acknowledge it. You may want to say “Thank you guys for having me, I’ve been playing for a while and I know playing on my own and with others is different skills so please bear with me”. 

2. Request To Observe & Listen First

Before you jump into it, let the first few songs go before you take up your instrument. Good to request to observe so that you fit into their style than you impose your style on them. I found out that my new found Jam buddies love playing pop/rock from the 80s & 90s with some new songs here and there. Although I like more folk, blues and jazz, I fit it whatever they are playing. I took up the instrument only to play on the 3rd song.

3. Flow With The Leadership

In every song, there’s someone who initiates the song to play. For a start just flow with the leader. Try to listen to the suggestion and instructions of the leader. It’s better to flow with who is leading than to come in to suggest how you best want to play it. My role seems to be as the rhythm guitarist as the current guitarist loves to do solo instead. So flowing with the leadership, I oblige to play rhythm most of the time even when I’m not good with it. One of my greatest satisfaction was to be able to play and lay the 12 bar blues shuffle for them to solo upon. Get the joy of serving the team and being able to contribute.

3. It’s About Knowing The Song & It’s Chord Progression

You may feel bad you cannot follow the songs your jam buddies can play so well. This is mostly because you DON’T KNOW THE SONG. It’s no biggie, just come to under and familiarize yourself with the songs first. You don’t have to play every song, you may request to skip it and go one to study the song first. After that Jam session, I  got myself to go listen to the recordings and play along with those recordings. Frankly, I have never done that and saw the value of doing that before. Now that I’m playing with others I know. request to observe so that you fit into their style than you impose your style on them. I learned so many new songs and come to pay attention to songs and be familiar with them as never before.

4. Come With At Least One Song You Know How To Play

They will ask you “So what song do you want to play?”. Well, its good if you have one with the key you know how to play. If not, just decline and request to observe first. But having a song that you can play helps you be a part of the team where you can lead and they follow. I suggested “Desperado” and “La Bamba”. What’s your one or two songs?

5. You Don’t Have To Play All The Time

Don’t over do it. Choose the songs, you want to play along. If not, it is okay to take a break. Grab a drink, tune your guitar, small talk with others, compare guitars or just sit in to listen with your eyes closed and enjoy the music played. Nothing is better than having someone appreciate the music being played more than having the chance to play. Jamming is about community not just the music. Enjoy being in the group. At the end of the day, I believe Jam Buddies is about the “Buddies” rather than the “Jam”, so be good buddies. I intend to buy supper the next round to win some hearts.

6. Intend Your Homework

I had a great experience in that Jam Session with my new found Jam Buddies. We played from 10:30pm to 2am!! The session ended with one of them inviting me to join the Chat Group. And some others connected with me personally to ask other things that I was doing. I was thrilled to be accepted into the group. My first group message was to apologize for holding the group back and promised to do my homework the next time.  Yes, I intended as my homework to go through the songs played and familiarise myself with the chord progressions. I also intend to contribute by suggesting interesting songs I know how to play. The skill of playing with the group is different than playing with myself. I have learned how important it is to listen to one another, how to make a contribution and make friends along the way. Hope you enjoy this How To Survive Your First Jam Session, from my first hand experience as a newbie here. Let us know your experience and share how was yours?

Don’t Play Guitar First, Enjoy Music

Yes, don’t start by making things complicated, learn to enjoy music first. If you start playing guitar without first being intimate with music, you will very quickly hit a brick wall.

I started loving music first. I was exposed to Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Mahler, Wham and all kinds of music from an early age.  It was cassettes and then very soon CD for my era. Today I am into hifi and I have an intimate turntable setup I thoroughly enjoy.

That was me having that advantage of being introduced to music before the guitar. But it’s not too late for anyone to learn how music can reach out and touch us first.

Let’s start right.

If music is a language then it has to speak to you. Allow the music that you enjoy say something to you. What do you hear or feel when you listen to a piece of music?

Why do you like or dislike it? How has it connected you?

Try different types of music. I don’t usually like pop because it says things that are too obvious. I like a bit more mystery and subtlety so I turn to something else. I like jazz, especially the instrumental ones. Jazz really speaks to me.

Here’s the start to explore various genre of music (with some of my favourite recommendations).

POP, and feel the mood and the words, how is it speaking to you? Maybe it is for a season or situation in your life. Join the dots to yourself and your own life and value a particular song.

ROCK as its usually strong and in your face. It brings to you the lowest low and the most celebrating high. It’s sentimental and anthemic. It’s a great messenger. What do you hear as the message in your Favourite rock song?

FOLK as a personal narrative. Like a simple down to earth kind of song. It’s poetic and usually tells us a story we can relate to. Enjoy a good folk song.

COUNTRY is folk with not so down to earth approach, it’s very sitcom much like an opera of folk.

HEAVY METAL is noise to me. It speaks irritation to an old man like me. It maybe honey to you. Different strokes for different folks.

BLUES is what blues is. Blues! A feeling more than a word.

And lastly but not the least

JAZZ speaks many colours of life to me. Now that is just me.

Before you pick up an instrument and have it to communicate and express yourself, how does others speak to you through their music? What kind of music speaks to you? Which artiste do you like? And which song speaks what to you and in what way?

Best Way To Understand The Major Scale

I was asked to explain what is the major scale. The best way I can explain it is using the analogy of a mountain called Music Mountain. It’s a mountain where a traveller who has several homes goes on a journey from his 1st home and then goes up (and sometimes down) to his another home up the hill. The journey consists of steps that spiral up the hill.

The journey up has 12 steps from root home to the next root home

Home (Higher Root)
Home (Lower Root)

The major scale is the path of  8 specific steps the traveller can go on his journey. There are other spots that he can go but the Major scale has specific 8 steps and it is known in the most common path in Music Land.

So where are all these 8 spots or notes on the guitar? One of them is of course along the same strings just going up the fret as in the diagram.

However, that’s not very practical as there are the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th strings to use. So therefore on a guitar, we have several of these Major Scale locations. Below is one of them (where the Red notes are the Root or Home notes)

The one we have above is the E-shaped major scale path because the open E chord sits right in there.

Learning to play Good Guitar means to know this ‘Major Scale’ path as the most travelled path really well. Every starter begins with this and every journey to play Good Guitar has to master this.

The rest of the Major Scale locations are

(Location 2)

(Location 3)

(Location 4)

(Location 5)

Exercise to Walk This Path

Go for a walk, journey by playing each of these steps ie. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and finally back to R. Notice how you feel when you are on each of these steps?  Hear the quality and tonality of the sound. If Root is the Home and the feeling of settledness, what is the 2nd, the 3rd and the rest feels?

As a start, get to know these steps well.

The Root, the 3rd, the 5th and the 7th (or commonly called the Pentatonic scale) are the most common locations people tend to rest on the journey. How do these steps feel when you reach there?

Explore the most restful locations of the major scale:
“The Pentatonic Scale”

To me the 3rd feels like a great first place to rest, the 5 feels like a good place to have lunch and the 7th the cool front yard to hang out so close to home. The 3rd feels like exciting, The 5th feels strong, the 7th Jazzy.

What about you? What does each note in the major scale make you feel? How about when you walk around Music Mountain using ALL THE NOTES instead?

I hope you’ll find that the more you travel the “major scale” by going up and down the notes that you will make this the reference point of what is a “NATURAL” and quite an “easy” walk.

Next, we are going to explore, 2 other scales. One will be sadder (called the Minor Scale) and the other more edgy (called the Dominant Scale).

Together with the Major scale, they make up the 3 Kings of Scales.


The Root Note is a Home

This is Singapore, the vibrant city I live in.

This is my house, the home I go back to.

I live in a very vibrant urban city but I love my quiet home because after a long day in the city; its a place to go back to. After the trades and transactions, the deals and all that needs to be done, regardless if it’s a quiet day filled with joy or one bustling one with challenges, there’s nothing like coming home.

Coming home makes me feel settled. I can find refuel, find rest and feel the love again.

Then very soon, I will be charged up again, ready to go.

The Root Note

In the same manner I love my home, I love the root note in playing good guitar.
Just like a house we go back to, the root note is a place of harmony, rest, a home to go back to.

Cherish the root note as the stable home you can go back to. It’s a place you can surely win in playing good guitar. Don’t neglect it, the Root Note is the first note in making good music. It’s a good place to start.

Here’s some Good Guitar Practice using the Root Note

  1. Get a simple chord looping in 4/4 in the background using a looper pedal.
    (I suggest a simple C or Am chord)
  2. Play just the root note of the chord.
  3.  Listen to the beat. Then when and where you should play it.
  4. Feel the note even if it’s just one note. Feel also the space between the note.
  5. Experience, the sense of harmony, rest and what it means to be at home everytime you hit the root note.
  6. End this exercise, trying to step out. Not too far. Just in the vicinity but always come home.

Check out The Best Guitar Looper if you don’t have one.

How is the root note for you? Do you feel home?

In life, where is your home? Is it a physical home or maybe it’s a home in the heart. Maybe it’s a person?  How do you feel when you are home?

Leave me a comment below or after knowing the Root note, you can check out  the best way to know the Major Scale.

First Song To Play On Guitar

I’ve wasted many good playing years. How I wish I knew the importance of choosing my first song to play on guitar.

The Police released Synchronicity the album with the hit song “Every Breath You Take” in 1983. Soon the MTV came out with such a huge following. When I watched that hugely successful MTV, I plead to myself,  “Andy Summer (the lead guitarist)’s riff in that song is the coolest thing I have ever heard in my life”, I have to learn to play that. And I did.

But sadly, I only learn that little riff before I got distracted by something else and moved on without learning the whole song.

Then I would attempt another new catchy song but again the cycle repeats itself. There will always be another song on the radio, in a concert or a new album I bring home. At the end, I will always have with me the chorus of a song I can wow my friends, the verse of another, the riff of yet another and a solo of another. I even tried to play some smooth jazz progressions….. in parts!.

For years. I’ve gathered so many parts but I couldn’t properly play one full song properly.

That is the sad part of my playing life.

When my ‘enlightenment’ came, (See About Me for that story) I took almost a year to learn to play what I call my  FIRST SONG again. The song was “Amazing Grace”. It was a simple song, one that connects to me and one that can be branded MY SONG. Though it was a simple song, it brought joy that I can play it well. Today I could strum it, pick it and even sing it fully. I could even play the chord melody of it. I finally could play my first song on guitar properly and with much enjoyment.

Have you ever been like me?  Know a lot but not any one song fully.

Well from my journey of fancy licks to just a solid O’song brings me to share with you 3 tips how to pick the first song you play on your guitar.

#1. Find a Song that is simple enough for you to master

Something that you know how to hold the chords to. A song with not more than 4 or 5 simple chords. You should rule out jazz songs with all those 6th, 9th and dominant chords for now.

Start with a simple song. A simple blues song maybe.

I have to admit it was Victor Wooten’s rendition of Amazing Grace on his bass guitar that sold it for me that it doesn’t need a complicated song to play good guitar.

I decided to make that song, Amazing Grace the first 3 chord song, I learn and master and have fun playing properly in its entirety.

#2. Find a Song that connects with you.

The story behind the song Amazing Grace speaks to me. It’s about the composer’s life as a minister.  He wrote it when his life was in total wreck and yet trusting God and acknowledging Him to be still his Amazing Grace. I can relate to that. In my many times of trials, this song speaks to me. Therefore it fits as the song to pick for me as the song musically and lyrically really connects with me.

Pick yours! (Don’t be in a hurry to choose) You may want to listen to a lot of songs and ask yourself which song touches you the most. Check the song not just musically but lyrically too. Sometimes it may just be a song you learn in your childhood. It maybe your wedding song or the first song you heard on your first date with your spouse. Maybe its a simple blues song by your favorite bluesman that made you cry the first time you heard it. It can be any song as long as its personal to you

#3 Find a Song that others can tell it’s your song. 

The song is part of the brand call YOU. It has to be your song and if your life has the first soundtrack, what would it be. Don’t worry, your soundtrack will change through time as you learn more songs but your first song is always going to be special.

It’ll go down in history as the story of your first song will be told over and over again in future conversations or set lists of your life.

Once you have worked out what your first song is, then go learn to play the whole song thoroughly. Seriously don’t go to search “easy songs to play on the guitar” and learn so many mediocrely but nothing really well. Learn this one song masterly.

Imagine one day when you know one song and could play just that song for others that others is going to call it your song, how worthwhile will all the effort put in feel?

So hope these 3 tips will help you choose your first song to play on your guitar.

Drop me a comment and I’m totally curious …..  so what is your first song? And how did you choose it?

Listening to a good O’Vinyl

How about an O’Vinyl to turn our day around? It’s much better than a CD. It is well accepted that the quality of digital audio still could not get back the “magic of analog” enjoyed in the past. Today there’s a big movement of music lovers back to vinyl (even amongst the millennials) and the sales of vinyl is growing every year.

On O’ Vinyl Day, I have with me  “Hothouse Flowers Live, a collector’s limited edition” LP I bought from someone who no more time to listen because of a new baby in the family. Irony because after a bustling day, I need it for the perfect wind down time.

Hothouse Flowers are Liam Ó Maonlaí, Fiachna Ó Braonáin, Dave Clarke, Peter O’Toole, an Irish outfit with musical influence that spans folk, gospel and rock. Caught them LIVE! many years ago when they supported Dire Straits on their On Every Street tour in Perth. When they play, they play as much as they have fun and we can feel it so deeply in their sound.

Playing music as much as having fun turn a listener’s day around. And listening to an O’Vinyl after a long bustling day is a surely good enuff lifeskill.