Key signatures

Here is a link to a good chart of the circle of 5ths. This is an important chart for every musician to learn and understand (at least those that want to read music). It's a method for memorizing all of the major and minor key signatures. Remember the order sharps and flats 

Flats (same as sharps but backwards) 

So what are key signatures anyway? 

Key signatures and scales are essentially the building blocks of most of the music we see. I should note that there are a few rare exceptions to this rule, particularly by Schoenberg and matrix music. Mostly though from the scales we derive our harmonies and melodies, it gives music the structure our ear seems to crave. 

Key signatures are the system of organizing these scales. Scales always follow a particular pattern, but they don't always have to start on a particular note. Once the first note is established the pattern is always the same. So for example a major scale will always follow a tone, tone, semi-tone, tone, tone, tone, semi-tone organization. On the guitar one fret is a semi-tone and two frets represent a whole tone. On the piano a semi-tone cane be found between a black and white key. Different scales have different patterns (major, minor, pentatonic etc). As we can begin on different notes we will require different notes to create the same pattern, as a few notes will usually need to be modified with a few sharps or flats. Key signatures give us the particular sharps or flats one would need to use to create the same pattern on a different starting note or root. We can organize all of the possibilities into a wheel called the circle of 5ths, this circle gives us all the possible major and natural minor key signatures. Key signatures are placed at the beginning of the staff so the composer doesn't need to sharp and flat every single note - it simply applies to the rest of the composition (unless another key signature is written later). 

Essentially a "key" answers the question what sharps or flats do I need to create D major or B flat major etc. 

This concept might be best demonstrated during a lesson but some additional reading is available here. Learning music theory is a bit like learning a new language, it can be a bit confusing early on.


Jazz theory

Tritone substitution. This is a wonderful way to add a little harmonic spice to your playing. Also useful in creating a modulation. Could be used in rock if you were looking to do something harmonically interesting.

Coltrane changes

Some more useful links explaining Coltrane changes


Here is a good lesson on guitar improvisation - could apply to the bass as well.

Remember that if you are improvising over a seven-note diatonic scale there are essentially seven correct notes and five wrong notes. The chromatic scale (or every-single note) has 12 notes, so the difference gives provides these numbers. This means that if you randomly play a note you have a greater than 50% chance of playing something in the scale. It also means that the problem is easily corrected by moving by a semi-tone in either direction. Playing notes that are out of the scale or chord can sound great if resolved to a scale-tone.

It's important to follow the changes and learn your arpeggios but this is a great a approach for improvisation.


For those interested in composing music for different instruments (particularly orchestral) I'd recommend picking up an orchestration book. One such recommended book can be found with the following link

Also The Study of Orchestration by Samuel Adler. Out of the two I prefer and still use the content and layout of the Adler however the Blatter is good too.

A website with more information on this topic is....

Alternate tunings

Alternate tunings are a wonderful way to breath new life into the guitar. They are particularly useful for composition, as they change the way we view the guitar stimulating creativity. I use a Gibson robot guitar for alternate tunings, this self-tuning guitar makes the process simplier and speeds up the time it takes to change tunings. The following tuning are listed from the thickest to thinnest strings, always travel to the nearest note from standard tuning - never up or down the octave. Here are some of my favorites tunings.

EADGBE - standard tuning

DADGAD - great tuning the open strings create Dsus chord. Used by Jimmy Page.

DGDGBD - double dropped D tuning

EBEG#BE - open E tuning, popular for slide guitar

E flat tuning - standard tuning but everything is tuned down by a half-step. Makes the guitar sound deeper.

DGDGBD - open G tuning

DADGBD - dropped D tuning, probably the most common alternate tuning as it's easy to tune from standard

For an even longer list of possible alternate tunings click here

I also play the electric sitar, one of my albums features the instrument

My favorite electric sitar tuning is (from the string closest to the floor up)

F#C#G#C#C#C# - it's a bit of a drone tuning with a sus chord. Similiar to DADGAD on the guitar.

Here is a link for addition sitar tuning information

The instrument has numerous drone strings but the musician usually only plays the first two or three string, therefore it's not as daunting as it appears.