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Dominant 7th Chords

Dominant 7th chords are often used in blues and rock music, but it’s a chord that not many people will be familiar with. Below I’ve mapped out the notes of the A Major triad which results in the familiar CAGED pattern. Then I added the 0 – 10 interval, in this case G to show all the notes of the A7 chord.

Fret Formula: 0 – 4 – 7 – 10
Notes: A – C# – E – G

As you can see below this gives you several different ways to play this chord. In fact each of the 4 inversions are shown. An inversion is a way to play a chord with a note other than the root note as the lowest note. The Root position is with the A as the lowest note, the 1st inversion is with the C# as the lowest note, the 2nd inversion is with E as the lowest note and the 3rd inversion is with the G as the lowest note in the chord voicing.

Dominant 7th Chords Top Strings

Dominant 7th Chords Low Strings

More Blues and Blues Rock theory lessons check out Blues Theory Revolution

Why the piano paradigm prevents you from learning theory

Broken piano keys
There’s a piece of ‘common wisdom’ that is preventing many guitar players from understanding and using music theory. It’s embedded in how millions of guitar players approach their instrument and is responsible for the poor reputation that guitar players have when it comes to understanding theory.

It’s the idea that the piano is the best instrument to learn music theory on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people on guitar forums ask how they should go about learning theory, and the inevitable answer that they should sit in front of a piano or keyboard with a piece of sheet music.

The problem is that most musicians have been indoctrinated into the piano paradigm

Did Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix sit in front of a piano to improve their guitar playing?


I’m not saying you shouldn’t play other instruments like the piano or learn to read standard music notation. It’s all part of becoming a well rounded musician.

But if you want to use music theory in your guitar playing here and now. For example to solo along to a Joe Bonamassa track or have a jam with your friends in the garage then you don’t need to subject yourself to that outdated way of thinking.

The problem is that most musicians have been indoctrinated into the piano paradigm that makes them believe that it is the one true instrument that holds the key to all musical understanding.

And that’s just not true. Our current understanding of how music works and the words and concepts we use to describe them have evolved over thousands of years from the time of Pythagoras, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance into the modern day.

The piano was invented a couple of hundred years ago when the Western music tradition settled on 12 tone equal temperament. Yes, before that many different tuning systems existed (and still exist) and the piano was built to reflect those conventions.

Now these conventions were in some cases practical (you can now make instruments that can play across different keys) and in other cases just legacy rules that were only preserved to ensure backwards compatibility.

The guitar is played in two dimension with chords across strings, not a linear like the piano.

I mean the reason we have sharp and flat notes is because for a long time people made music with just 7 notes at a time and later they added in an extra 5. So rather than renaming every note they just stuck the new ones in between and called them sharps and flats. I’m simplifying things here but you get the general idea that some of these ideas are a total mess.

Meanwhile guitar players are told they have to treat their instrument like it has six rows of keys. How is that helpful? The guitar is played in two dimension with chords across strings, not in one dimension like the piano.

Here’s the crazy thing. I believe the guitar is the better instrument for learning music theory. A case can be made for the piano as being better for reading music notation but we all know you can learn to speak without learning to read or write. Not that that I’m saying you shouldn’t learn to read music, you should.

But if you want to learn music theory for playing guitar, then learn on the guitar.

Don’t believe me?

Here’s a quick example. On the guitar you can literally see the cycle of 4ths and 5ths spiral along the fretboard. That’s how the strings are tuned!

Notice how I called it the cycle of 4ths and 5ths and not the circle? That’s because it’s a cycle or spiral, and you only really notice that on the guitar. People in the piano paradigm don’t have that instant visual aid available to them.

This kind of instant insight is the kind of thing that comes in handy when you want to improvise in a jam situation, learn songs by ear or come up with your own arrangements.

There are many more ways in which you can use the inherent properties of the guitar to understand and use music theory. Check out the lessons on this site and you’ll find a roadmap that will show you exactly how. For a set of free lessons make sure to sign up to the free newsletter as well.

How a guitar pedal can help you learn music theory

Boss RC-3
There’s one thing I wished I had done a lot sooner when learning music theory and that is buying a loop pedal. It’s been one of the best investments I’ve ever made when it comes to becoming a better guitar player.

I always avoided getting one because I didn’t really see the need. After all I have my laptop and I can use it to record myself to play over. But in practice this never happens.

But I started to see people using loop pedals at gigs more often and I noticed how powerful they are these days. Many of these pedals can record music for several minutes and allow you to record several different channels. Some also have basic effects like delay and echo or drum tracks to keep you in time

Not that you need the most advanced versions of these pedals. In fact when it comes to practising at home a simple pedal that allows you to record one track is all you need.

After I bought one I found myself practising scales and soloing much more often. I’d record a basic chord progression and then play over it. Even running up and down scales is so much more fun when you have something accompanying you.

Below I’ve gathered a selection of loop pedals. Like I said, if you’re just using it for home practice then all you need is a simple one-track model.

The multisensory approach

Old guy playing a red guitar
Something that makes learning and applying music theory much easier is making sure that you take a multisensory approach.

By this I mean that you make sure to employ as many of your senses as possible when studying music theory. I’m going to show you how can do this in a practical way.

Now the reason I put such an emphasis on practical exercises in my method is because there is a big difference between being handed information and being shown how to get it into your head and your fingers.

Now obviously by learning with your guitar in your hands you are already using two senses. Your eyes for reading the information and knowing where to put your fingers, and your sense of touch to get those scales and chords into your muscle memory.

The next sense that is critical and funnily enough most often overlooked is your hearing. You might not realise it but many guitar players are so focussed on looking to see whether they are playing the right notes that they don’t spend as much time actually listening to what they are playing. Whether they are fretting the notes cleanly, bending up to the right pitch or strumming in the correct tempo.

I kept listening, kept going to see people, kept sitting in with people, kept listening to records. If I wanted to learn somebody’s stuff, like with Clapton, when I wanted to learn how he was getting some of his sounds – which were real neat – I learned how to make the sounds with my mouth and then copied that with my guitar.
– Stevie Ray Vaughan

There are two ways to open your awareness of how your hearing interacts with your playing. The first is to sing or hum along with everything that you play. I mean everything. Scales, melodies, rhythms. It doesn’t matter if you can sing or not, it’s not intended to be for other people. It’s about connecting what you hear   in your mind with what you can play on the guitar.

Have you ever wondered why so many famous guitar players emote and make noises when they play? It’s because they have a strong musical link between their mind and their hands.

Something I often do is sing and play along with TV or Movie tunes. Things that I know off by heart because I’ve heard them a million times. Or something like the Happy Birthday song. I bet you can hear that in your head right now. Can you play it on your guitar? If not just grab your guitar and figure it out one note at a time.

Another thing you should do from time to time is play with your eyes closed or blindfolded. In this case you’ll find out just how much you are relying on sight in stead of your ears. You’ll also become much more aware of your touch on the fretboard and how it affects the sounds you are making.

Countless studies have shown that imagining doing something gives you almost the same kind of brain activity as actually doing that thing in real life.

Many guitar players feel like they are just running up and down scales when they try to solo. This is one of the best ways to break out of that box because you are putting half of your attention on the feel of your fingers on the fretboard and half of your attention on the music. That’s a lot better than one third on what you see, one third on what you feel and only one third on what you can hear.

Now sometimes you may want to practice when you don’t have your guitar at hand. For example when you’re driving to work or sitting on the train. This is when you should practice singing melodies in your head.

Again, just stop and think about how many famous guitar players or musicians said they would practice in their head when they were sitting in a school classroom when they were young. Countless studies have shown that imagining doing something gives you almost the same kind of brain activity as actually doing that thing in real life.

So just try singing the theme tune to your favourite tv show in your head, or imagine a rhythm to go with the noises of the traffic outside, hear the Major scale in your head or even come up with new melodies. These little things add up and train your mind to become more musical.

If you want more tips and lessons about learning music theory as well as several free e-books then sign up to my free newsletter.