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  1. #1

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    Newbie here... My resolution for the soon to be New Year is to get serious about learning some harmony so I can write songs that have more than 3 chords.

    Now, let's say I want to go through Hindemith's Concentrated Harmony book (some forum member kindly recommended it as a good intro text). What is the minimum piano I need to learn for this? And how should I go about learning it?

    Thanks!

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  3. #2

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    This is the "Jazz Guitar Online" forum.
    If you love your instrument, me too and... good for you bro.
    If you want to be a pianist, best wishes for a healthy happy New Year!

    If you want to be a better guitar player studying theory via the piano STOP NOW!

    Most piano players dump tones like crazy, play drop2 (which we do almost by nature) and end up doing "little things" like guitar players anyway...so learn theory through your instrument.

  4. #3

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    Every music major learns piano because it is a graphical representation of the grand staff. It is absolutely a GREAT way to learn theory. Don't let any non-piano-player tell you otherwise.

    "how much" piano you need to know: you need to be able to sight read enough standard notation to be able to play the examples in a harmony textbook. That might be a big hurdle if you don't already have some reading and playing experience on piano.

    A harmony class at your local community college could be an easier route - you'll have a teacher who can play examples AND explain them, which frees you to concentrate on hearing and understanding, instead of struggling with the mechanics of reading on an instrument that is not familiar to you.

    And, sure, try the stuff that other posters recommend, if it intrigues you, but I'm just trying to answer your original question. If all you knew was three words (chords) then writing them over and over and backwards won't teach you new words. So I say "go for it" with regards to learning harmony. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Specifically, you can gain the context of a couple hundred years of compositional and musical sensibilities distilled into a couple of years of study. If you get the right teacher and apply yourself, there's a lot of bang for the buck in it.

    Good luck!

    SJ

  5. #4

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    "Every music major learns piano because it is a graphical representation of the grand staff. It is absolutely a GREAT way to learn theory. Don't let any non-piano-player tell you otherwise."

    Great advice.

    I wouldn't recommend the Hindemith book though.

  6. #5

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    Don't do it dude. You'll just end up pursuing learning the whole instrument. If you prefer guitar, then learn theory on guitar. I would advise just focusing on guitar unless you genuinely want to pick up piano as one of your instruments. Each instrument has its advantages. Piano is nicely laid out and easy to see. But guitar is symmetric, you can play one scale pattern for any key, piano you have to learn the pattern for every scale. Etc.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Howzabopping
    Newbie here... My resolution for the soon to be New Year is to get serious about learning some harmony so I can write songs that have more than 3 chords.

    Now, let's say I want to go through Hindemith's Concentrated Harmony book (some forum member kindly recommended it as a good intro text). What is the minimum piano I need to learn for this? And how should I go about learning it?

    Thanks!
    I think the OP might have gotten sidetracked from his/her actual goal. The real goal, as stated, is to "write songs that have more than 3 chords."

    Music theory is, to some small degree, like geology - it describes an existing object as well as possible given the available knowledge. That is to say, it's descriptive, not prescriptive.

    I'm not sure that wading into Hindemith will help the OP "write songs that have more than 3 chords". Might be better to study songwriting and composition instead - that will give a view of how to write songs. Pick up the theory knowledge as you need it, as you go. Study of theory in and of itself will take years and won't necessarily lead in the direction of more elaborate song structures.

    That said, a less academic approach to theory might be more useful here. For example, have a look at Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book".

  8. #7

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    I got a tremendous amount from just playing chord progressions and bebop heads on the piano slowly (I’m no piano player.)

  9. #8

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    I go to the piano to hear harmony I can't play on guitar.

    For example, a pianist might hold a tritone in the left hand and then try 12 different major triads in the right hand. On piano, it's nothing. On guitar I guess you'd tune the A string to Bb and then play the 6th and 5th together while you ran the triads?

    So, the ability to read piano notation, at least enough to play the examples slowly, can help.

    Most guitarists can't read bass clef very well and piano notation will be good for that. It doesn't come up all the time, but it does come up occasionally.

    But, it's not like you couldn't possibly learn theory without a piano. As one of my teachers told me, "there's always a way" meaning some trick that will enable you to play something that seems difficult at first. So, you'd be able to hear most things.

  10. #9
    When I start working with a new (guitar) student I always ask "Have you had any piano?" and if they say no, I always make a strong suggestion that they get a cheap one because we can do so much more with that tool.
    A piano is really helpful in ear training, particularly intervallic ear training. You can feel the intervals in a way that is confusing at best in position playing on a guitar.
    A piano is really helpful in visualizing phrases, because once you've internalized the layout (pretty much a one step learning curve) you can use your eye, hand and ear in one integrated process and actually see a solo unfold. Music goes up, you see it. Line goes down, you see it. You create an idea by moving from chord tones, between, across narrow and wide leaps, embellish or target a tone, it's all there before you move and that sense of advance composition is there visually. A lot of students fall into a trap of memorizing movements and pre-set patterns to avoid the guitar's potential of playing the wrong notes. Piano has clarity in musicality that way; then it's much easier to transfer that concept to the guitar.
    A piano looks like a musical staff, you can see the big picture and the little note composition at the same time when you get it. These are really important when you compose, and they are important when you solo as a composer and not a noodler.
    Most pianos these days have features built in like pedal notes you can hold down (organ tone with the left hand) while you play arpeggios or notes in the right hand. This makes the process of hearing chord tones a whole lot easier. It also makes it easier to hear the effect of say, a IV chord in the tonality of a key, or how a phrase over the II chord sounds and feels different when there's the I or when there's the IV in the bass. This, in more advanced applications, is an instantaneous application of harmony that most guitarists find elusive when trying to juggle note positions, chord shapes, the right position to even articulate a chord with and lastly but not least, getting a good tone. Experience has shown me that too often, the sound of notes are the lowest priorities when juggling all it takes to make them. I show them on the piano and instantly, you see and hear it. Triads over bass notes? Inversions? Triadic outlines of harmonies? Big stuff on the guitar-things kids do on a piano.
    Funny thing, when I was in music school, I noticed something. In my ear training classes at the highest levels, and in composing classes, particularly in more advanced harmonic areas, the ones who had a more "natural" affinity for the material, those for whom it came faster, tended to be trained singers and pianists. For many, the piano was the closest thing to singing with the hand.
    In my opinion, the piano is a great visual tool to complement the details that derail many guitar students when it comes to composing in real time, which is what good soloing is about.
    Sure it adds a level to the learning curve, but, applied well, it can take you there quicker by broadening the big picture at an early point in the journey.
    But everyone has a different way of learning. You learn how you learn best.
    I will add a note here that I have found Hindemith materials to be amazing in their layout and material covered, but I didn't get to them until after I'd played a LONG time. Personally, that may not have been the best for me as a starter. I loved just finding melody and playing by ear, and the piano made that a lot of fun. Gotta have fun when you're loving the music.
    Last edited by Jimmy blue note; 12-17-2020 at 08:48 AM.

  11. #10

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    The piano is useful ... no doubt about it.

    OTOH the devils advocate side of me can see that the tendency to specify music theory around the piano doesn’t always allow the guitar to be mapped most easily, or used to its fullest advantage; in the sense we spend a lot of time trying to make the guitar fretboard into a piano.

    (As Jimmyblue note points out things that are trivial on the piano - such as just putting a melody or voicing up or down an octave even - require work on the guitar.)

    This can blind us to some rather neat things that come very naturally from the guitar... at least that’s how it was for me.

    So; I think there’s value in thinking both in a pianistic and guitaristic way. I don’t think my understanding of the keyboard has lost me anything, I’ll put it that way.... but I’m also keen to question piano’s centrality to the musical cosmos (I mean drums are the central instrument to jazz IMO but that’s another story.)

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    So; I think there’s value in thinking both in a pianistic and guitaristic way. I don’t think my understanding of the keyboard has lost me anything

    It loses you time .. basically that is the thing that needs to be prioritized .. time.


    Time at the piano means time not spent at the guitar. For some that is a huge thing .. for you maybe less so

  13. #12

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    To compose or study scores or to examine prototype excerpts in theory books, it is necessary to hear internally and/or externally sounds beyond that which can be played on a singular guitar part unless the intent is to compose only solo guitar music.

    Today there are many tools and methods to assist, among them:

    1. Develop your ear
    2. Overdubbing via multi-track, looper or or midi device.
    3. Notation software with and without advanced sound libraries.
    4. Access to unimagined wealth of recording examples for free or low cost that can be tempo reduced, looped and transposed.
    5. Develop rudimentary to advanced piano skills

    Piano historically has been an excellent go to tool for many years.
    IMO well worth your time even if you take advantage of some
    of these other options.
    Last edited by bako; 12-19-2020 at 06:42 AM.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lobomov
    It loses you time .. basically that is the thing that needs to be prioritized .. time.


    Time at the piano means time not spent at the guitar. For some that is a huge thing .. for you maybe less so
    Yes, that may have been the point I didn't quite make above.

    So much time is required at any instrument that switching for the sake of theory is lost time. ( That doesn't mean don't listen to piano. )

    Of course you know of the many linear players who studied harmonically to improve their theory.

    But the guitar is harmonic; you don't need 10 tones to understand theory.

    P.S. There are only three places to be in music anyway so tonic, subdominant and dominant are about it.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lobomov
    It loses you time .. basically that is the thing that needs to be prioritized .. time.


    Time at the piano means time not spent at the guitar. For some that is a huge thing .. for you maybe less so
    No it doesn’t work like that. It’s not linear.

    Sometimes if I practice guitar a lot it gets a bit stagnant. Coming fresh to guitar can sometimes be much better, especially if you’ve been working on music in other ways.

    But TBH if I wasn’t already a capable guitar player it probably wouldn’t work like that.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    But TBH if I wasn’t already a capable guitar player it probably wouldn’t work like that.

    That was an underlying assumption in what I wrote. That you're not an accomplished guitar player.

    We're going round in circles here .. but main priority is getting ear/chops up to par then do whatever .. Play Minecraft if you want

  17. #16

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    For a beginner who is consulting a forum instead of taking lessons, that's like a year of lost time to plink away at piano to 'learn theory' when there's no hindrance at all to learning theory on guitar.

    If your main instrument was triangle, I would say yes supplement your triangle playing with piano and theory.

    If you genuinely want to learn guitar and piano then go for it.

    Otherwise just apply yourself at guitar. It's literally years of wasted time in the beginning stages to learn a second instrument when you don't need to.

  18. #17

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    As you see above - options and opinions are many. One thing to remember is that your learning capacity is degrading heavily with age, so my piece of advice is that if you are 17 don't limit yourself to accessing music by only one instrument whereas If you are 71 focus mainly on the guitar if you want to be good at that. Besides that - getting taught is not a shame and it will - if done well - accelerate your development strongly and also be rewarding in providing the dynamic there will always be in the interaction between teacher and student.

  19. #18
    Reading all the thoughtful replies, I guess I can only say, "I suspected as much."

    I mean, I'm not saying that instead of the Hindemith I will be buying Michael Angelo Batio's Speed Kills... but I'm not *not* saying it either.

    Thank you all, and have a great holiday season!

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clint 55
    If your main instrument was triangle, I would say yes supplement your triangle playing with piano and theory.
    It worked for Ed Grimley :-)


  21. #20

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    Interesting thread. Although I first responded to the advice to avoid piano, I have to say that my own experience illustrates some of the counterexamples that have been posted here.

    I began learning piano because the music major curriculum I was enrolled in required it. I had to take class piano every semester, where we were given progressions written in Roman numeral analysis and instructed to learn to play them in all 12 keys.

    I had literally never played piano before stepping into that class at age 19. I had no dexterity or mechanical technique whatsoever on piano. I had to work hard, think hard, spell every chord in my head or laboriously study each note on the page to figure out where to put my fingers... in contrast to guitar, where I already intuitively knew how to play any interval or any melody I could conceive in my "mind's ear", knew all my scales in all keys, knew a ton of "chord grips" and had some sight-reading skills.

    Instead of being an obstacle, forcing me to think through theory well enough to realize it on piano was REALLY good for me. It made me learn to summon my harmony knowledge in real time to solve a problem, instead of lazily falling back on skills I already had. Literally having to spell out every chord before I could play a note, and figuring out how to map what I understood on paper to a foreign instrument made me get better faster at constructing chords and reading standard notation.

    That said, I regularly visualized a guitar fretboard as my crutch in harmony class. It worked REALLY well at the time. Now, I literally don't remember what that did for me. I think it might have been a way for me to map relative pitches to note names. I had a good ear and a solid knowledge of the fretboard, so I could distinguish a m6 from a M6, for example, but I probably had to visualize the fretboard to spell the note names before all of that knowledge became second nature... drilled into me by being forced to think about all of that stuff in a ton of different ways: RNA, piano class, sight-reading on guitar or piano, being taught systematically what different progressions and substitutions sounded like by a teacher who played EVERYTHING on piano, counterpoint classes, orchestration classes, composition classes, performance classes... it just goes on and on. Want to learn ANYTHING in music? Learn to think about it in a LOT of different ways.

    As others have said, the bottom line is to find what works for you, and focus on that. Or maybe find something that is difficult for you and focus on that, too.

    If your primary goal is songwriting, absolutely study songs you like, find out what you like about them, and learn how and why that works.

    If you are a beginning guitarist and a beginning songwriter and a beginning theoretician, you really can't go wrong to learn more about any of these things. They are different skills, but they are all related in the sense that they are all ways to make music. And all ways to make music are also ways to learn about music.

    Last, but not least, there are a lot of interesting ideas and opinions on JGO, even if they don't always agree. It's a great resource. Thanks to all fellow members, to Dirk, and to all the great musicians that have made so much great music that you can find posted here.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by starjasmine
    it worked for ed grimley :-)
    lmao that was the most fabulous thing i've ever seen!!

  23. #22

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    Ease up on the Triangle Gang .. They're getting gigs and making panties wet


  24. #23

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    @Howza, lots of great ideas here! As mentioned, (1) learning theory, (2) on the piano, (3) in order to write songs with more than three chords, are different, but related, tasks!

    I had to learn theory and piano in music school; the nice thing about piano is the "low to high" layout of the keyboard, which the guitar can't easily do (i.e., you can play ALL the notes of a G13 chord on the piano!). Later on, however, when I started studying jazz (and really, understanding my own instrument!), the theory "came alive" on my guitar, and I had a much better understanding of it!

    Regardless, I'd buy Hal Crook's "Ready, Aim, Improvise" and work through the theory sections. Oh, and then the improv sections, too, since this is "jazz" forum! Oh yeah, and then the hilarious chapters he has on being a musician! Well, I just think everyone should buy this book!

    Have fun with music!

    Marc

  25. #24

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    I had a required course in "functional piano" as a Berklee student many years ago. That course and ear training were the most worthwhile (besides guitar with Bill Leavitt and Mick Goodrick) of the courses I took while there. The OP is not asking whether he should spend a lot of time developing piano chops, but merely if the knowledge of the keyboard would expand his harmonic vocabulary. From my experience, his curiosity should be rewarded with experimenting on a keyboard. There is time, since we're really talking about a few minutes a day messing around, not hours of Hanon exercises. The piano is far easier to understand musical structure on than the guitar.

    And +1 on Hal Crook.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lobomov
    Ease up on the Triangle Gang .. They're getting gigs and making panties wet.
    Suck fest

  27. #26

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    I used to think that Piano is the best way for fingers to "sing" - You think of an interval in either direction and find it more easily on the piano, so as a consequence, this may explain why piano players are better at playing immediately what someone else might play or sing to sing to them.

    But then you realise that finding notes along a single string on a guitar is actually even more logical and easier to see. So for pure ear training using the guitar to express melodic ideas, a lot can be accomplished this way. Later, transferring melodic ear training across the strings can happen quicker, so that any interval in either direction can be found, and obviously easier to play (if not easier to "see"). From here, playing different intervals simultaneously (chords) need not seem so mysterious.

    Now let's not get carried away, 10 fingers kills 4 in every way, but if we at least aim to be as good as a good pianist's right hand, we're doing OK...

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    I used to think that Piano is the best way for fingers to "sing" - You think of an interval in either direction and find it more easily on the piano, so as a consequence, this may explain why piano players are better at playing immediately what someone else might play or sing to sing to them.

    But then you realise that finding notes along a single string on a guitar is actually even more logical and easier to see. So for pure ear training using the guitar to express melodic ideas, a lot can be accomplished this way. Later, transferring melodic ear training across the strings can happen quicker, so that any interval in either direction can be found, and obviously easier to play (if not easier to "see"). From here, playing different intervals simultaneously (chords) need not seem so mysterious.

    Now let's not get carried away, 10 fingers kills 4 in every way, but if we at least aim to be as good as a good pianist's right hand, we're doing OK...
    Indeed. A single string is probably the most pure way to visualize musical contents philosophically speaking. No white or black keys.. Scale/arpeggio formulas right out in the open..

  29. #28

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    How much (if any) piano you need can depend on your goals and aspirations. Who are your role models, the folk you'd hope to be like, play on gigs with, etc.

    It's my observation that most people working together on a given scene have a similar body of knowledge and skills. Virtually every working jazz musician I know has at least a basic working knowledge of the piano. Many songwriter/guitarists (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello) are adept at composing and performing from the piano as well.

    It's hard to say if working through the Hindimeth is the most direct path to your own personal goals, but I believe every serious musician can benefit from time on the keyboard, so if you're inspired to dive in, give it a shot

    Best wishes for your music!

    PK

  30. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by ronjazz
    I had a required course in "functional piano" as a Berklee student many years ago.
    Now we're getting somewhere! What book(s) did the "functional piano" course use?

    Thanks & have a great 2021!

  31. #30

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    So are you going to pursue guitar and piano equally, or are you going to view guitar as your main 'dumb' instrument that you can't learn any theory on and piano as your secondary 'educated' instrument that must be used as the source of all theoretical music knowledge?
    Last edited by Clint 55; 12-26-2020 at 01:21 AM.

  32. #31

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    I am not a piano player.

    The two semesters of piano at our local community college along with theory and sight singing/ear training was a great help with my guitar playing.

    Do it you wont be sorry.

    I was already playing guitar for 50 years when I did this,

  33. #32
    Quote Originally Posted by BBGuitar
    I am not a piano player.

    The two semesters of piano at our local community college along with theory and sight singing/ear training was a great help with my guitar playing.

    Do it you wont be sorry.

    I was already playing guitar for 50 years when I did this,
    Thanks, what books did you use in the piano / theory classes?

  34. #33

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    Piano was a adult beginning piano book, don't remember the title.

    For theory there was no text book just my notes and handouts.

  35. #34

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    Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Music Lesson:

    I know the basic things about the piano. The notes. The white ones — the black ones. The black ones play louder than the white, don’t they?


  36. #35

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    Here's a free online class. I dropped it because it's based around piano and I don't have one, or access to one. They explained modes right off the bat in a way I understood.


    Fundamentals of Music Theory | Coursera

  37. #36

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    Is your intention is to write songs incorporating jazz harmony (it's not clear from your initial post)? If so, I'd forget Hindemith for now and pick up a copy of Jeb Patton's book, Introduction to Jazz Piano: A Deep Dive:

    Introduction to Jazz Piano: A Deep Dive by Jeb Patton | Sher Music Co.

    Patton is an established NY-based player and his book takes you from basic triads to more complex harmony with reference to recorded examples. He offers simplified transcriptions of these tracks to get you playing from the start with the masters. Patton's earlier comping books, aimed at advanced pianists, are similarly designed. Although I work primarily as a guitarist, I've studied both classical and jazz piano for over 50 years (!) and highly recommend his hands-on approach.

  38. #37

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    PMB,

    I took 3 lessons with Jeb Patton before I moved across the country. Nice guy, great teacher. He introduced me to my current teacher.

    I got his first compin book, found out that he taught in Queens, and sent an email.

    Cool experience, even got to have a lesson with his wife--she is quite the vocalist.

  39. #38

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    If you are into jazz i will try to work with Dan Haerle´s Jazz Piano Voicing Skills book, so...you learn your basic chords and progressions with diferent voicings. Fast and straight way to learn.
    Then i will check a book on jazz harmony, there are tons out there, but i would not try something exhausting, but something practical. I guess you migh only need to know a few tonal progressions,those more frecuently used, and ways to modulate, which you´ll find in songs.
    You can study harmony only in C major, where you can see everything clearer. And then work ahead from there to other keys.
    And same as guitar, first voicings you need to learn are Shell voicings, playing the root on the left and guide tones on the right hand.
    If you want to play melody or lines in the right hand you basically can use Bud Powell left hand shell voicings, usually playing R-3 or R-7(two notes) on the left hand.
    The basic thing is easy, from there there´s no limit.

  40. #39

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    I did this. To start, just get the absolute fundamentals down:
    1) major and minor triads - the 3, 3 note inversions in both hands. Start at C (CEG), move to the closest F (CFA), and keep going around the cycle. Then do it again at the next inversion (EGC).
    2) major scales - find a fingering chart, pick one key every day and run the scale two/three octaves in both hands.

    When have those two things down, then worry about jazz voicings, etc.

  41. #40

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    My parents insisted that I take piano lessons as a kid, and I did so for eight years. Even with the cardboard "keyboard" so I could get used to placing my fingers on the "keys." I gave recitals, but I grew to hate having to go to our basement and sit in a knotty pine room at an upright piano and practice every day.

    When I was in high school, rock-and-roll had erupted. The Beatles, the "British Invasion" and the San Francisco scene had everyone with a transistor radio to their ear (am I dating myself too much?). My neighbor and best friend had a guitar that he no longer played and I bought it from him for $10. I taught myself how to play it, and now I could take my instrument with me and not have to go downstairs to it!

    In college, I took a couple of music theory courses. I aced them, primarily because I'd had the experience of playing piano. As it's been noted here, the piano gives one a linear perspective on western music. Fretted instruments "stack" notes, in that it's possible to play exactly the same note on different strings in different positions. A very handy capability, but to me, one has to take a different approach to music theory. In jazz, we are constantly augmenting, diminishing and embellishing. If I want to play a D7sus4, for example, I can visually plot the notes out on a keyboard. But on a guitar, I have to know where the different notes of the base chord (D in this case) are located, and in what position. Then, I have to adjust the chord for the 7th and the suspended 4th, eliminating notes if needed.

    Bottom line for me: I'm grateful to have learned music theory on a keyboard and in a classroom, but I still had to work on applying it to the guitar. You might find it easier and faster to "cut out the middle man," as they say.