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Embracing the Visual Nature of the Guitar

Often the guitar is looked down upon because it’s so visual and pattern based. Once you learn one major scale pattern, for example, you can instantly play all the major scales simply by moving the pattern up or down without actually knowing what notes you’re playing.

This obviously is not a good idea. You should strive to understand what you’re playing in addition to being able to perform it. However, the pattern-based and visual nature is an incredible asset in understanding music more deeply.

For example, if you play this common voicing of CMaj7, x3545x, you can visually see the chord as Em/C without any additional brain power. You simply see the shape of the Em triad and the C underneath it. It’s hard to overstate how valuable this is.

In a nutshell what it allows you to do is to understand harmony represented as visual shapes, as opposed to linear whole and half steps. It’s an incredible asset if you know your fretboard well.

Another great example is to be able to name difficult intervals instantaneously. In college music theory class this was particularly useful. If you’re asked to name the #9, #5, in an Ab7alt chord I instantly see that chords shape in my mind and simply name the notes right of the fretboard in my mind, B and E.

This is extremely helpful in the professional world as well. Being quick on your feet with harmonization, intervals, and transposition is a coveted asset as a professional musician.

These are only two quick examples. Visually seeing chord progressions and their functions would be another obvious application of this visual principle on guitar. Perhaps more on that in a future post.

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