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Deacon Martin's Guide to Understanding Music (for Guitar) / Part 4 (Finale)

Updated on March 19, 2016
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Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....

Stop Reading

At this point you should really stop reading this guide.

I've done what I set out to do - passed on to you the full extent of my guitar expertise and musical knowledge. My job is done. You are on your own. Don't worry. You'll be fine. Just keep that guitar near to hand and pick it up from time to time and do the above stuff over and over again.

What follows from here on are more ramblings and meanderings about the other keys and their preferred chords with little bits of incidental and dubious information thrown in. Believe me, you don't need it.

But I'll carry on because, once I get started, it's hard to stop.

I've shown you the notes, scales, and preferred chords for the keys of C, D, and G. There are strengths and weaknesses in terms of sound and playability associated with all keys, but these three seem to lend themselves to most kinds of playing. C is my favourite because it's what I started with, it suits the pitch of my voice, and doesn't need those pesky “black keys” if I want to try to accompany something on the piano. D is commonly used by folkies for reasons I don't fully understand, and a lot of country music seems to be played in G, but really, you can play anything you like in whatever key you like for whatever reason you like.

Everything in the earlier Parts (1 to 3) assumes a “standard tuning”, ie. the strings are tuned to EADGBE. But guitar players who know what they're doing (not me) often tune their strings in all kinds of other configurations. I wouldn't go there if I were you, but it is useful to know that an “open tuning” like G - in which the strings are tuned to GBDGBG (just as if you were playing the standard G chord) - allows you to play “slide” or “bottle neck”. I won't go into this any more here, but I love slide and if you have more than one guitar, try keeping one in the open G tuning and occasionally messing about with a bottle neck.


Those pesky half tones

I mentioned at the beginning that I would talk a little bit more about those inscrutable missing half tones between B/C and E/F. I've yet to find a good explanation for this, but Gurdjieff (Georges Ivanovitch) developed an entire “unified theory” based on these mysterious cracks in the cosmos. He opined that the entire universe is divided into “seven degrees of density” and that each of these is in turn sub-divided into to seven levels of density, and so on, ad infinitum. He reckoned the best way to observe this was to study the structure of music and, in particular, the missing half tones at B/C and E/F. As near as I can make out, he was hypothesising connections between the levels of density at these points - in much the same way as modern string theory physicists reckon that there are connections between multiple universes when their “membranes” touch.

Clearly there is a lot more to be discussed there, but I just wanted to talk a little bit more about those half tones.

The keys and chords I've showed you previously were “major” keys and chords. You may have heard reference to “minor” keys and chords. These latter tend to be characterised by a less bright, slightly sadder sound. A good example is the A chord. You already know from the earlier charts that you fret 3 notes (E, A, and C#) for an A chord. If you shorten the C# by a half tone and fret at C instead, you will hear the subtle, saddened variation when you strum. Just one dropped half-tone gives you that change. This is a glimpse of both the power of those pesky half tones and of the darker more mysterious world of minor keys and chords.

I'm sure you will have seen proper guitarists bending and sometimes wobbling strings with their finger tips. If you bend a string you raise it's pitch and, with a careful ear, you can bend it to reach the next half tone or even the next full note above. This is really good for adding mystery and colour to your playing, not to mention covering up notes you've muffed. Wobbling the strings gives that “vibrato” effect and also draws out the length of time the note will sound. Both very cool variations on the theme.


My final gift to you is the following “key chain” (first introduced to me by Pete Seeger). In this illustration (Figure 4) you will see a circle of letters. Pick any letter as your key, and that letter and the two letters immediately adjoining either side are the preferred chords. How simple is that!!

Figure 4

Farewell fellow lost enthusiasts......


Deacon Martin's Guide to Understanding Music (for Guitar) - Part 1

Deacon Martin's Guide to Understanding Music (for Guitar) - Part 2

Deacon Martin's Guide to Understanding Music (for Guitar) - Part 3

Deacon Martin's Guide to Understanding Music (for Guitar) - Part 4

Deacon Martin on Youtube


Discover other titles by Deacon Martin

  • The Curvature of Certainty
  • The Pocket History of England
  • A Squandered Life: Canadian Boy
  • A Squandered Life: Euro Guy
  • A Squandered Life: Stateless Man

...and watch out for other “Fiddy Cent Guides”, including “Understanding Automatic Transmissions”.

To connect with Deacon Martin, please feel free to do so via:


the blog:

the web site:




Stage 32:


Other East Coast Road Productions can be glimpsed at:


© 2015 Deacon Martin


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