Tommaso Zillio

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notes or intervals guitar

If you’re anything like my students (or better yet, if you are one of my students), then you have probably heard me go on and on and on about how valuable it is to know all of the notes on the guitar fretboard.

Needless to say, not everybody thinks in this way.

Recently, a few people on YouTube commented on my videos to make me notice that many other notable guitar instructors, such as Tom Hess (*), prefer to see the fretboard in terms of intervals and note relationships, rather than focusing on the notes themselves.

(*) Just to be clear, Tom Hess has been my guitar teacher for the longest time, and even today, I consider him one of the most knowledgeable guitar instructors alive. Not to mention a close friend of mine. I mention all this since people are surprised that, on this specific point of fretboard visualization, we teach different things.

Now, this battle between schools of thought has been raging for centuries (cue epic music), and thousands of innocent guitar students have been caught up in the middle of the fray, condemned to eternally asking themselves which method is better.

(Dramatic description provided entirely for entertainment purposes, though the flame wars about this on social media have been epic…)

So, is there a best way?

Well, let’s find out!

The way I see it, there is one main benefit to each method. And while I could go on and on and on about every tiny little intricacy of what makes each method different and all of the little pros and cons of both…

… and indeed I do, in this video right here:

In this video we also talk about:

  • What to call the Lydian Dominant scale (besides… Lydian Dominant)
  • Great advice by Ornette Coleman
  • Why you should practice finger dexterity/agility
  • And more…

But if you want to go more in depth on Notes VS Intervals - including how you can practice them to visualize your guitar fretboard with ease - then watch this other video:

After all this talk about notes and intervals… to put all of this to use and actually make some music, check out my Complete Chord Mastery guitar course, where you can use both these concepts and see what makes the most sense for you.

Video Transcription

Hello, internet. So nice to see you today, we’re gonna answer your questions

Ornette Coleman said something like that he didn’t think about whether he did something that was good or bad, but that he did it. Sorry, I don’t have the exact quote.

And I think that’s a great way to think about it, actually. Because, you see, when I was when I was not a musician, the only parameter I have to listen to music was I like it. I don’t like it.

But the more I went ahead and learn about music theory, and I widened my horizon of listening, and I started listening to different styles. And the different to listen different styles, especially when they told me to not listen to that style, okay?

A lot of people today will tell you to not listen to pop, for instance, because whatever, because it’s a commercial music or, it’s bad for you like junk food.

The important thing about music is that if it’s, at least for me, if it is, expresses what the artist wanted to express, and then and then may, like some music, or sorry I may not like some of this music, because I don’t like what the artist has to express.

But I have to admit that the music is good, because it expresses exactly what the artist wanted. I just disagreed on a specific feeling or idea or concept etcetera.

My point being, the more you learn, the more you listen, the more you understand music, and the more your perception of music change. And the more you start seeing all the good in all kinds of music, and you understand why people like it, if some music exists is because somebody likes it. Otherwise it wouldn’t exist.

It’s really hard to compose music, nobody likes; try, but it’s really, really hard. Even if even if you played the worst thing ever, you can imagine completely out of time and out of tune, I can tell you that some people will like it, it’s incredible.

But the thing is, and they will be right there because they will be listening to something that you are not listening to right now. There is much more music out there, that is much more good music out there than you can imagine. And some of the music we don’t like today or you think it’s bad. It’s actually pretty good if you listen to it with the right ears and with the right attitude.

Okay, so I think we’re not call them as a great idea here that it doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. You did it, it’s an expression of who you are, then you want to be able to express yourself better, but you are the only judge of that.

Okay, so I don’t know, I like it. I like it a lot. And it actually solves a lot of problem because musicians are always there thinking that a second guessing themselves, doubting their abilities. But I think we can all use some some injection of self esteem here and you think, okay, that’s what I like, that’s what I’m gonna play, and to hell with everybody else, I just play with they want to play.

Bla bla bla never get into the point.

I see. You’ve never heard of us. Italians.

We make you an offer you can’t refuse, and we talk your ear off. Welcome.

Tom Hess suggests that knowing the notes isn’t the best way, his best way is knowing the numbers and feel of the intervals between positions yet you are student of Tom Hess and this gets very confusing as to what is the best way.

First of all, just because I am a student of Tom Hess does not mean that I think or do think exactly exactly exactly like Tom Hess.

I mean, Tom Hess and I are friends. I’m one of his students, we share a lot of opinions. Okay, but we don’t agree 100% on literally everything. Okay, there’s nothing strange if your student thinking in a different way. I mean, why would you even think differently? Okay, so that’s the first thing.

My second idea is that actually on this situation, the contradiction is only apparent because Tom Hess, puts a lot of accent on playing the intervals playing the degrees of the scale, and by the way, what he’s saying is playing the degrees of the scale; intervals is not always the right term.

But you can play the degree of the scale only if you know where the scales are. The thing is, even if you know for instance, how to play a major third on your guitar.

How do you find, and you say you’re soloing over an A minor chord and you want to play a minor third over that chord. And you know that the I know that the minor third of the A minor chord is the C note, but you can know it just by the shape of the interval etc.

But the first thing you need to do is to find out where there is an A over your guitar, I mean one way or another you need to know what the root of the chord is on your guitar. And then from there, you can apply the patterns, the intervals, etc. To play the interval you want.

Tom Hess is perfectly correct in saying that the musical meaning comes from the degree or the interval, whatever you want to call it, not from the absolute name of the notes not from the letter, okay?

But once you know that, then you can decide you’re gonna play these notes based on the position of the pattern or the interval or bass because you know that add the third of an A, it’s a C, minor third of A, it’s a C, and so on and so forth.

And both paths seems to work pretty well, as long as you know what you’re doing. So the contradiction is apparent. If you ask me right now, what am I doing when I’m playing? My answer is I don’t know.

Meaning that I thought so much about guitar and music in those years that for me, going by absolute name of the notes, or going by interval, it’s exactly the same, I instantly know the intervals between all the notes and know and they’re not at specific intervals. And I can go back and forth seamlessly.

So, I don’t think that is a contradiction. But if there is a contradiction of all those path, just pick the one that is easiest for you. Okay, and they will work.

I believe the formal name for this scale is the Mix-O’-lydian-an-Mix-o-lydian.

So we’re talking here about the Lydian Dominant scale a Lydian Dominant scale, in C, it’s C, D, E, F sharp, G, A B flat, okay? So, like a Lydian scale, you get an F sharp like a mixolydian scale, It has a B flat.

So, yes, we should have called the scale a mix of Lydian and Mixolydian. You guys see how this is not a good idea. If I call the scale in different ways the acoustic scale because it could remember it. It’s the same note of the harmonic series complex thing, but we can leave it if you guys are interested.

Or Lydian Dominant, like I like to call it Okay, well mixolydian sharp four whatever, okay, but yeah, it would be funny to call these the mix of Lydian mixolydian or the mix-o-lydian scale, but there will be too much confusion.

But anyway, it’s a fantastic scale. I already made a video about that. If you’ve never heard it played, find the chords in these are probably gonna leave the video. It’s a great scale.

This guy is definitely an alien. There’s no human being that could do that moving fingers.

Oh, I’m an alien, an illegal alien. I’m an Englishman in New York. I’m Actually, not my hands are not particularly agile, either. Okay, so if you’re thinking of what I’m doing is completely off the charts or impossible normal humans cannot do it on on the matter of finger dexterity. I’m not I’m a sub normal human. Okay, I am definitely on the bottom half of the population.

The only thing I did was to sit down and do some of those exercises, no more no less, okay, and it was contained in the video I made about finger dexterity.

Really, what you see is just me sitting down doing five minutes of those exercises every day for quite a long time. Okay, and then my fingers can move a little bit better in the direction I want. Everybody can do it.

If I can do it. And again, I’m a clutz my, my, my I have scarse control of my hands, which are not particularly strong or agile or flexible. Okay? If I can do it, literally anybody can do it.

Okay. In general, generally, all of my students start when they can come in and beginners, they already are more agile than what I was when I started. The point is take heart, okay? It’s not that it’s impossible. It just take a little bit of time, you always underestimate what you can do. When you stick to that practice for a few weeks or a few months. You always underestimate what the result will be. Because if you do the little bit every day, the results compound fast and you get much further than you think you can.

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