Music Theory for Guitarists 

[ Foundations | Intermediate Lessons | Advanced Lessons ]


Gabriel Perry - July 2017, Boulder, Colorado You've just stumbled upon a little treasure chest of musical goodies - a pool of wealth which, if you exert some effort, will greatly increase your understanding of music theory, how this theory relates to improvisation and, more specifically, how it directly relates to playing the guitar.

My guitar lessons give you the strong theoretical foundation needed to become a great guitar player and put you well on the path of becoming a truly great improviser, but don't take my word for it, read what others have said about these lessons.

Essentially, what I've done is condense a good portion of what I learned while attending the Berklee College of Music as well as ideas and tricks I've picked up over the last years of playing the guitar.

These lessons are perfect for the serious student who aspires to get into a music school, which is something I highly encourage - especially if one wants to become a professional musician. These lessons are also perfect for those who wish they had gone to music school, but never got there.

Number of Visitors Since 25-Mar-2004:   Amazing Counters

Here is a high level summary of the topics covered:
  • Intervals - the basic building blocks for all theoretical concepts in music.
    • how to play them
    • how to name them
    • enharmonic spellings
    • tricks to memorizing/deriving them

  • The Major Scale:
    • construction
    • the major scale formula - w, w, H, w, w, w, H
    • diatonic intervals
    • key signatures
    • the circle of 5ths
    • relative minor keys: unlocking the fingerboard, seeing the connections

  • Diatonic Harmony:
    • triads and 7th chords
    • the "caged" method
    • arpeggios
    • 3-note voicings - essential building blocks
    • all about inversions
    • drop-2 and drop-3 voicings: jazz foundations
    • tensions: adding color to your chords

  • Pentatonic Scales:
    • the "ins" and "outs" of major and minor pentatonic scales
    • how to switch between major and minor forms
    • how to use them in different contexts besides the standard major/minor idioms
    • extended pentatonic structures - unlocking the fingerboard once again
    • how to use pentatonics in conjunction with modes and other scales:
      • the bridge between 7-note scales and 5-note scales - an essential approach every musician should understand

  • Modes:
    • how to think about them
    • how to use them
    • how to hear them
    • the derivative approach - helps you to leverage knowledge you already know
    • the parallel approach - helps you to think in more direct and sophisticated ways
    • essential fingerings and forms
    • modal harmony:
      • how to write and play modal vamps and progressions
      • characteristic notes: what makes a mode a mode

  • Diatonic Reharmonization: useful techniques for songwriting and improv

  • Melodic Minor Scales:
    • chords and harmonies
    • derivative modal forms
    • the "way" to sound "out"
    • the "jazz" scale - they call it the "jazz minor" scale for a reason

  • Minor Key Diatonic Harmony:
    • modal interchange - the pat metheny technique (he uses it all the time)
    • pivot chords - the doorway to modulation

  • Jon Damian's Magic Palette:
    • 3-note motives
    • a mind blowing strategy that opens up the fingerboard and gets you playing in new and exciting ways
    • maybe the coolest thing you'll ever learn about the guitar and about music

How to proceed...

Listed below is the table of contents for 29 guitar lessons, a project I worked on in my spare time for about 3 years. In keeping with the spirit of a "free" internet, and as a way of allowing you to preview this material, I'm providing the first 10 lessons for FREE while selling the rest for only $25 USD (U.S. Dollars).

Another Option: If you don't want to buy all of the lessons at once, you can take your time and buy either the Intermediate or the Advanced lesson sets for only $15 USD each.
A Third Option: Or, if you're just interested in only a few lessons, you can purchase any ONE lesson for only $2 USD.

At the very least, I encourage you to check out the first 10 lessons even if that material is somewhat familiar to you already. In that section, I present some very good exercises on improvisation as well as my treatise on intervals - a subject which tends to cause great confusion for many musicians.

I'd also like to encourage you to check out the more advanced lessons as this is where things really start to get interesting. I'm quite certain that all of this material will be worth your while.

Since this site has been online (since 2003), and since I first started teaching back in 1995, all of my students have been very satisfied with my approach to the somewhat daunting subject called "music theory."

Even folks who have been playing for many years have written to me and expressed their gratitude for this body of work. Read the testimonials. I, too, think you'll be quite happy should you decide to make a small investment and purchase these lessons.

Remember, you have a few different payments options:

  1. Buy ALL 29 Lessons for only $25 USD.

  2. Buy the Intermediate Lesson Set (Lessons 11-20) for only $15 USD each.

  3. Buy the Advanced Lesson Set (Lessons 21-29) for only $15 USD each.

  4. Buy Any ONE Lesson for only $2 USD.

Free updates...

Finally, if you do decide to buy ALL of my lessons and then at a later date discover that I've written additional lessons that were not included in your original purchase, just let me know and I'll happily send you the new ones free-of-charge.


And now the journey begins...

Lessons Overview (ESSENTIAL READING: Some words of encouragement.)
Lesson Testimonials (Read what others have said about these lessons.)
Purchase These Guitar Lessons (Help further your musical knowledge by supporting this website.)
Original Recordings by Gabriel Perry (APPLICATIONS: Theory in practice, it's not all talk.)
The Pedalboard (Check out some of the gear I use these days to make music.)
Email This Page To A Friend (Help spread the word of Flupe.)
Make A Donation (Please help support this site by making a small donation.)

And it goes without saying... if you have any questions or would like to give me some feedback, please contact me. I would love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by.

Gabriel Perry - Christmas 2014, Boulder, Colorado

Gabriel Perry
Boulder, Colorado


Lesson Topics Covered Date Posted
FREE: Lesson 1: The Twelve Notes of Music
  • the chromatic scale
  • the chromatic scale on the A string of the guitar
  • note names
  • accidentals
  • introducing intervals
  • enharmonic spellings for note names
(Revised: 7-JUN-2003)
FREE: Lesson 2: The Major Scale - Part 1
  • tableture diagrams
  • the open position
  • the C major scale
  • whole steps vs. half steps
  • position playing (playing vertically) vs. playing up and down on one string (playing horizontally)
  • the major scale formula
FREE: Lesson 3: The Major Scale - Part 2
  • further discussions on playing vertically vs. playing horizontally
  • the major scale on one string
  • how to figure out notes on the guitar
  • the natural notes on the guitar
  • an Intro to the Major (Ionian) mode
(Revised: 9-AUG-2002)
FREE: Lesson 4: The Major Scale - Part 3
  • 2 patterns for the major scale:
    • root on the 6th string
    • root on the 5th string
  • a way to approach (use) these 2 patterns to play any major scale
FREE: Lesson 5: Intervals - Part 1
  • definition of an interval
  • the staff
  • diatonic intervals
  • how to tune your guitar using unisons
    • harmonics
    • intonation
  • 2 components of an interval:
    • the name or quality part
    • the number or quantity part
  • the "rules" of intervals
  • how intervals relate to half steps
  • some exercises and examples to help put it all together
    • power chords
(Revised: 7-FEB-2003)
FREE: Lesson 6: The Major Scale - Part 4
  • how to construct any major scale
  • key signatures
  • the circle of 5ths
  • the notes in the 15 major keys
(Revised: 2-DEC-2002)
FREE: Lesson 7: Intervals - Part 2
  • how to play intervals on the guitar
  • 21 diagrams (100 fingerings) for intervals less than or equal to an octave
FREE: Lesson 8: Intervals - Part 3
  • nondiatonic intervals
  • weird intervals and some tricks to help you memorize interval names
  • another way to express the major scale formula:
    • R, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, R
  • the major scale as a frame of reference
  • enharmonic spellings for intervals
FREE: Lesson 9: Pentatonic Scales - Part 1
  • the chemical composition of the minor pentatonic scale (R, b3, 4, 5, b7, R)
  • the quintessential pattern for the minor pentatonic scale (root on the 6th string)
(Revised: 20-AUG-2002)
FREE: Lesson 10: Pentatonic Scales - Part 2
  • all 5 patterns for the minor pentatonic scale
  • some interesting observations and things worth mentioning


Intermediate Lessons

Lesson Topics Covered Date Posted
Lesson 11: Diatonic Harmony - Part 1
  • harmonizing a major scale
  • triads in A major
  • triadic formulas:
    • major (r, 3, 5)
    • minor (r, b3, 5)
    • augmented (r, 3, #5)
    • diminished (r, b3, b5)
  • essential guitar chord forms - part 1
  • there are only 4 augmented chords
  • putting it all together - triads in all major keys
Lesson 12: Triads - Part 1
  • figured bass notation (5-3, 6-3, 6-4 chord forms)
  • inversions of triads:
    • root position (r, 3, 5)
    • 1st inversion (3, 5, r)
    • 2nd inversion (5, r, 3)
  • close voicings - "tightly packed" triads
  • all close triadic chord forms on the guitar
Lesson 13: Position Playing and Major Scale Modes
  • the rules of position playing
  • 7 patterns for a C major scale
    • 2 octave patterns
    • fingerings: 1s, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4s
  • an explanation of the major scale modes using the derivative approach:
    • ionian
    • dorian
    • phrygian
    • lydian
    • mixolydian
    • aeolian
    • locrian
  • the relativity of music
  • establishing a tonal center:
    • pedal tones
    • altering the tuning of the low strings on the guitar
  • essential playing exercises
  • putting it all together:
    • examples of how to think "derivatively"
    • a table of all the major scale modes
(Revised: 27-MAR-2003)
Lesson 14: Diatonic Harmony - Part 2
  • harmonizing a major scale again - further explorations of diatonic harmony
  • 7th chords in A major
  • 7th chord formulas:
    • maj. 7 (r, 3, 5, 7)
    • min. 7 (r, b3, 5, b7)
    • dom. 7 (r, 3, 5, b7)
    • min. 7 (b5) (r, b3, b5, b7)
  • essential chord forms - part 2
  • putting it all together - 7th chords in all major keys
Lesson 15: Minor Scales - Part 1
  • the 3 standard minor scales:
    • natural minor (a detailed explanation)
    • harmonic minor
    • melodic minor
  • relative major/minor keys and scales
  • diatonic harmony for a natural minor key
  • harmonic analysis of pink floyd's comfortably numb
  • modal interchange - borrowing chords from a parallel key or mode
    • pivot chords
    • avoid notes
    • dominant 7 sus 4 chords (R, 4, 5, b7)
  • the "blue" note (flat 5)
(Revised: 12-DEC-2003)
Lesson 16: Pentatonic Scales - Part 3
  • the major pentatonic scale
  • the major pent. scale formula: r, 2, 3, 5, 6, r
  • major/minor pent. patterns are the same, just use them differently
Lesson 17: Modes - The Parallel Approach
  • the 3 main parent scales:
    • the major scale
    • the melodic minor scale
    • the harmonic minor scale
  • major sounding and minor sounding modes
  • modes using the parallel approach
  • 12 pedal tones: a playing exercise
Lesson 18: Diatonic Reharmonization
  • this lesson explains how to create 3 general sound classifications for diatonic chords for a major key:
    • tonic  (I, iii- vi-)
    • subdominant  (ii-, IV)
    • dominant  (V, vii°)

  • this technique provides you with a basis for chord substitution (or reharmonization).

  • this lesson is a must read for songwriters and those interested in arranging music as it is a very useful compositional technique which can help you to be more creative.
Lesson 19: Modal Harmony - Dorian Mode
  • most people know how to play a modal scale, but most don't know how to write modal progessions. this lesson will teach you how and more.

  • everything you need to know about modal harmony is covered. topics include:
    • how to create modal vamps (chord progressions).
    • characteristic notes - what are they and what is the rationale behind them.
      • the characteristic note for dorian: the "raised sixth"
    • tonic chords vs. non-tonic chords
    • characteristic chords
    • modal cadences: characteristic chords resolving to tonic chords
    • triads and 7th chords diatonic to the key of dorian - yes, modes are keys too!
    • avoid chords and avoid chord progressions: what are they, where do they come from, how not to use them, etc.

  • also covered in this lesson: an overview of the "less familiar" modes viewed from a "traditional" perspective. this viewpoint provides the foundation for understanding each mode's characteristic note.

  • the "less familiar" modes:
    • dorian (covered in detail in this lesson)
    • phrygian
    • lydian
    • mixolydian
    the "more familiar" modes being:
    • ionian (the major scale)
    • aeolian (the natural minor scale)

  • after reading this lesson, you'll understand modal harmony, and dorian mode specifically, inside and out.
Lesson 20: Modal Harmony Concluded
  • a continuation of the same approach presented in the previous lesson

  • the other 4 modes are presented in detail:
    • phrygian
    • lydian
    • mixolydian
    • aeolian

  • again, characteristic chords and chord progressions are discussed thoroughly.

  • as are modal recipes (vamps), avoid chords and the avoid chord progressions for each mode.

  • we then wrap things up with a nice little vamp in A aeolian which is analagous to the c major vamp which was presented in lesson 3.


Advanced Lessons

Lesson Topics Covered Date Posted
Lesson 21: Palette - Three Note Motifs
  • this lesson alone is worth the price of admission. the ideas come from  jon damian, a virtuoso jazz guitarist who teaches at the berklee college of music in boston.

  • famous cat (guitarist) who studied with jon: bill frisell. this is most likely where bill learned how to develop his unique intervalic approach towards music.

  • non-famous cat (guitarist) who studied with jon: gabriel perry. i had the good fortune and pleasure of studying with jon for a semester while attending berklee in the early 90s. (later, after school, i studied with jon privately for a summer before moving to boulder.)

  • years later i'm still working on and learning from the concepts and materials jon presented to me in our lessons together - the sign of a truly inspired and gifted teacher. i believe, the palette, is his best lesson.

  • so what's the big deal? in short, the palette systematically catagorizes the guitar's intervalic capabilities. one learns how to develop an intervalic vocabulary on the guitar.

  • where does the palette come from? jon damian's whacky imagination. oh yeah, and from... motifs.

  • motifs? what the frell are they? why... little musical ideas or themes. in this lesson we explore:
    • motifs as musical building blocks
    • 3-note motifs: the palette's foundation and your key to unlocking the intervalic potential of the guitar.
    • inversions of motifs - motific cycles
    • 2 main motific catagories:
      • tightly-packed (close) voicings
      • spread-out (open) voicings
  • the palette reveals 6 types of motific families:
    • clusters
    • triads
    • quartals (forths)
    • 7th chords with no 3rd
    • 7th chords with no 5th
    • structures an octave in height
  • in short... this lesson will keep you busy for the next 50 years.
Lesson 22: Drop-2 Chord Voicings
  • learn how to play any jazz chord you could ever want.
  • drop-2 theory is explained in detail.
  • drop-2 voicings are presented and a method is shown how to create these voicings.
  • drop-2's yield 12 patterns on 3 sets of 4 adjacent strings:
    • (6, 5, 4, 3) - the bottom 4 strings
    • (5, 4, 3, 2) - the 4 middle strings
    • (4, 3, 2, 1) - the top 4 strings
  • this lesson also covers the 15 types of chords found in music:
    • maj.7
    • min.7
    • dom.7
    • min.7 (b5)
    • min. maj.7
    • min.7 (#5)
    • maj.7 (b5)
    • maj.7 (#5)
    • dom.7 (b5)
    • dom.7 (#5)
    • dom.7 (sus 4)
    • maj.6
    • min.6
    • dim.7
    • tonic dim.
  • 12 drop-2 patterns for each chord type above gives us a total of 180 patterns.
Lesson 23: Drop-3 Chord Voicings
  • and just when you thought you were finished with chords... we do the whole thing again but with drop-3 voicings.
  • drop-3's yeild 8 patterns on 2 sets of strings:
    • (6, 4, 3, 2) - bass notes on the 6th string
    • (5, 3, 2, 1) - bass notes on the 5th string
  • 8 drop-3 patterns for each chord type in the previous lesson yields 120 patterns.
Lesson 24: Tensions (Color Tones)
  • ever wonder how to "color" or embellish your chords? well, this is the lesson for you. i cover everything you need to know about these color-tones which are also called tensions.

  • first, we start with a brief review of triads and 7th chords, then we get into tensions. topics include:

    • compound intervals - intervals beyond an octave
    • 9ths above chord tones
    • major 9ths vs. minor 9ths
    • avoid notes
    • available vs. non-available tensions
    • a simple method for cool voicings with 6 examples
    • some of my favorite chords with 16 examples
    • drop-2 and drop-3 tension substitution rules: now you learn how to embellish all those chords you learned in lessons 22 and 23.

  • then we explore charlie parker's blues for alice. this is a great vehicle to explore even more topics:

    • tension substitution examples for drop-2's
    • tritone substitutions
    • guide-tones
    • another cool voicing for an E7 alt chord, you can never have enough
    • berklee college of music - chord lab 3 examples (more than you could ever want)
    • berklee chord lab 3 midterm exam, oh my!

  • again, another lesson which will keep you busy for the next century.
Lesson 25: Secondary Dominants
  • the lesson for songwriters
  • the definition of a secondary dominant chord
    • cadences
  • the 6 secondary dominant chords in the key of C major
  • the 4 common characteristics of all secondary dominants
  • secondary dominants as a way to spice up your tunes
  • harmonic analysis of the beatles' hey jude
Lesson 26: Minor Scales (Part 2) - Melodic Minor
  • this lesson opens pandora's box... you really start down the dark side of the force with these ideas and concepts. warning: this lesson is not for the weak-minded masses.

  • the lesson extensively explores the use of the melodic minor scale, topics include:

    • diatonic harmony for a melodic minor scale
    • the melodic minor scale formula
    • triads and 7th chords
    • altered dominant harmonies
    • line clichés - minor and major
    • the "james bond" chord
    • drop-3 examples
    • "thumbed" voicings

  • the melodic minor modes:
    • melodic minor (jazz minor)
    • dorian b2 (phrygian w/a raised 6th)
    • lydian augmented
    • lydian b7 (overtone scale)
    • aeolian major (mixolydian b6)
    • locrian w/a raised 2nd
    • altered dominant (super locrian)

  • 7 scale patterns, 7 recordings

  • practical applications:
    • cool altered dominant 7th voicings in E
    • putting it all together - jam over E7
    • a minor pentatonic scale in place of super locrian? too cool.
Lesson 27: Pentatonic Tricks
  • a pivotal lesson which really puts things into perspective and ties almost all previous concepts together enabling one to truly develop a philosophy and approach towards improvisation.

  • this lesson thoroughly re-examines diatonic harmony uniting it with pentatonic theory in an insightful and inspiring way.

  • also, some fun with 7th chords and triads which create a new approach towards playing chords, working with harmony, and of course, soloing.

  • more work with tensions and avoid tones, as well as more sound advice on soloing and striving to think in terms of a "bigger picture".

  • and finally, a "12-tone" approach is presented which basically blows the doors off all of the rules and really opens one up to new ways to approach and synthesize music. these concepts will guide you on the rest of your musical journey for years to come.

  • my holy grail of lessons has finally been actualized!
Lesson 28: Extended Pentatonic Structures
(A Handful of Blues)
  • this lesson explores how to move horizonally between the 5 basic pentatonic patterns presented in lesson 10.

  • along the way we discover the magic of the pentatonic "boxes" - little power-packed note bundles.

  • these "boxes" are powerful because they're simple structures (easy to play) yet they contain a ton of guitar licks. more poetically speaking, each box contains "a handful of blues."

  • connecting the "boxes" to the larger pentatonic shapes yields extended pentatonic structures. this simple technique unlocks a whole "fretboard of blues."

  • then we explore how to switch between parallel major and minor pentatonic scales using the root as a pivot - a simple yet powerful idea indeed.

  • and finally, i provide a brief introduction into the "12-bar blues". (i would be remiss if i did not.)
Lesson 29: Triads (Part 2) - The CAGED Method
  • in this lesson we explore the CAGED method - a simple way to play major and minor chords using only 5 voicings (more or less).

  • not really an advanced lesson, but something i want to present as it's a nice way to get around the neck when playing major and/or minor chords.

  • some of the voicings can be a little awkward, so i show you some ways to transform these trickier voicings into more practical ones.


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NOTE: All lesson material © and ® by Gabriel Perry 2004-. All rights reserved.

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