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Music theory, scales and vocals

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This may be a dumb question but...

I'm not much on theory; that is to say I know very little of it. Some basic things but not much.

When I learned a little guitar I learned some scales, major, minor/blues pentatonic.

I played mostly Blues and so I was always dealing with a 12 bar Blues progression. I don't know enough about theory to know for sure, but I'm sure this may be similar for other types of music. If I am playing my harmonica for example, in a 12 bar blues progression I can use the blues scale. I am then able to play over the progression using any notes in the scale and they will all work. Generally with the harp I can use any scale in the key I'm playing. Actually, when I play blues I mostly play harp in second position (cross harp) so I choose scales that fit that position. Second position means I will be playing a "C" harp in the key of "G." Harmonicas are diatonic so to switch keys you can't just play in another key, you actually have to change harps. "BUT" you can switch positions so a harp in the key of "C" can be played second position which makes it "G." Second position refers to the second position on the circle of 5ths. To play a harp in second position (blues) you play mostly draw notes, most blow notes in that position are passing notes. You are generally only working holes 1-6 also. (on a standard 10 hole harp).

So the point is that I could take a blues scale and play any note in that scale over the progression and they will all sound good, they all match. If I played 1st position or "straight harp" (all blow notes) I would use a major scale. So now my "C" harp will actually be playing in "C" and any note in the C major scale will fit the song. Obviously if you are playing the melody you need to stick to that, but for fills and solos, backup etc...

Ok...how about singing? I would imagine that music is music and notes are notes right? Voice is just another instrument. I was practicing pentatonic scales this morning as well as minor scales. The exercises had a lot of runs and slides, legato notes etc. That's when I started to wonder if I could just use a scale like that and run around a bit while still staying in key. (is key the right word?) You know, like with harp or guitar. Play with the notes within the scale of the key note I'm singing in. I'm sure I can probably take a G note and use the 1st, third and 5th right? (G,B and D) Any of those notes would fit as they complete the chord right? Or even as in the blues progression, use the 1,4, 5. (G,C and D). How about the whole "G" Blues scale? Does it all fit?

You know, now that I think about it and look at this long post...does it really even matter in singing? I never know what notes I'm singing anyway. I just listen and match. With the harp and guitar I didn't either. I know the scales by the stings or the holes and just played them. I never knew the actual notes. Only the key.

But I was still wondering if the theory was the same.

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I completely agree with rapaels on this one, however I would say it is just as important for a singer to know theory and be able to improvise. I would say that a vocalist not resolving from the 9th for example wouldn't sound wrong in certain genres of music e.g Jazz, providing the vocalist was aware of what they were doing.

It seems like at the moment Tommy you are instrument specific as in you know what notes to play on a harp or guitar for it to sound good. If you really want to understand music theory my advice to you would be to learn the theory first and then apply it to your instrument. To start with why not have a look at key signatures and how different scales are created and learn the rules of theory. For example if we take the scale of C major we know this has no sharps or flats so the notes are :


Now you know that you can then apply it to your instrument and find those notes. If we wanted to change it into a harmonic minor scale we would lower the 3rd note and lower the 6th note so now we would have.

C D Eb F G Ab B C

Then apply it to your instrument. Now you can start playing around with it, see which notes you like the sound of (for me it's the flattened 6th to the major 7th)

My advice to you would be to work from the major scale and know how it's altered to make a different scale THEN apply it to your instrument. I would say the first step would be to learn key signatures ... Hope this helps

And yes, I would agree that a note is a note and a scale is a scale no matter what instrument your playing it on

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Actually, I haven't touched a guitar in years and as for the harmonica, I really don't play that much anymore either. Not in the last few months since I switched my focus to singing. It seems that I've kind of always sung and no matter what instrument I tried to learn I would end up singing more than practicing the instrument. The other day I was going through some vocal exercises to a CD (Anne Peckham). I was going through her pentatonic and minor scale exercises and it reminded me of the harp. So I wondered about the theory and the "improvisation" (I'm all about improvising :))

Thanks for the replies. My brain just clicked the "create new folder" link ;)

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Something else I would do when I was just noodling with the guitar and the 4-track. Let's say that it was 12-bar in the key of E. And lets say one track was playing the turn-around in E. I would solo over it with the blues scale played in the key of A or B. That is, playing the scale in the IV or V while the background guitar is playing in the I position. Or, play the BB King "box" at the 7th and 9th fret, while the background guitar went through the progression of I - IV - V.

One can do that with the voice, as well. Even better. Warm up your scales, which don't have to be 8 notes long. Sometimes, I will warm up with tri-tones. 3 notes linked harmonically or within a scale and move the starting note up or down.

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I have played rock guitar at a fairly good level for 30 years, and only got serious about singing a little over a year ago. In the guitar playing I think about scales, harmony and all stuff all the time. In singing I never think about it at all. Maybe enough has sunk in over the years that it's all happening automatically behind the scenes LOL!

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I agree. When I play guitar I don't think harmonically, I go with the flow. When I play keys on the other hand, I can't NOT think in terms of chord members and voice leading and such. With voice I just do my thang; that probably has its ups and downs.

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