Keep reading if you want to be able to figure out songs on your own, like to strum along or inprovise over them! (This is especially helpful if you’re a beginner I think.)
So in my guitar practise I came upon this really neat method of figuring out / improvising over any song in only a few minutes. Hear me out, cause I think this is a really useful thing to teach to beginner guitarists. I’ve never seen it taught anywhere.
It’s based on the fact that on fret 0 (no capo) the open string notes are all included in the C Major scale (and the A Minor one of course), and also the G Major scale (plus the E Minor scale). So that gives us four keys in Capo 0 that we can strum along to / play over using the open strings and the open chord shapes. Then on Capo 1 there’s C#/Db Major and G#/Ab Major (with the relative Minor keys), and so on. So with only the first six frets and a capo, you get all the keys to play w the open strings / open chords. So put on any song at all, move the capo around a bit to hear which chords sound right with it, and you can basically play along just by trying which of the common chord shapes (G, C etc) are used in the song. It worked for me, and I swear I’m by no means a pro, I’ve only started guitar a few months ago.
The details are even more intriguing, though:
To know which key exactly the song is in, all you need to do is check wether F or F# (always pretending the capo is fret O of course, so it might not be an actual F, just the position) sounds right played over the song. Reason for that is that in C Major F is included, but not F#, and in G Major it’s the other way round. And to see if it’s the major key or the relative minor, it basically depends on whether there’s mostly minor chord shapes (Am, Dm, Em etc) or major (C, G, D etc).
You can use that knowledge to know instantly how to play the I, IV, V etc chord over any song (which is a very good shot since many pop songs use just these chords). For C Major that is the C Major chord shape, the F Major and the G Major. And for G Major it’s G, then C, then D. So if you know just these chord shapes, there’s a TON of songs you can figure out yourself how to play along to. (Which is the most satisfying experience as a beginner!!) And if you know the C, D, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and Bm shape, you can play any chord (I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi) from any key in its basic form!! That was simply magical to me once I had figured it out. Pretty much ANY song I like I can now at least sort of strum along to and it’ll sound good.
Then for improvising a melody line over a song, all you need to know is where the notes of the key are – or rather, which are the notes NOT in the key (I called them Deadnotes), because of course the positions stay the same to C Major/G Major in Capo 0 when you move the capo up for the other keys. And C and G also only differ in the F/F# thing, which is easy enough to memorize.
(You can also just skip the first step of figuring out the key / capo position by just looking up the key on the web, and there’s tons of websites for that.)
Now I hope you find this as exciting as I do. I’d love for guitar beginners like me to get this magical feeling of the guitar really opening up for them.