A sign that one is moving towards an advanced level of guitar playing is that wrong notes, mistakes and inaccuracies during practice do not bother him anymore.
Rather, anything he does wrong is considered as an opportunity to learn and improve.
What is a wrong note on guitar
Because there is no universally accepted definition of a wrong note, for the purposes of this article, a wrong note is defined as a note that sounds bad.
Students with a limited understanding of music theory may believe that if you’re playing say, in the key of C major, and use the note F#, you’re playing a wrong note.
Yet, a composer can use the note F# in a C major melody and not only make it sound good, but that F# will take the melody to a higher level.
What this means is that if a note sounds good, it is good, even if the present level of music theory knowledge of the person playing it can’t explain why.
In this article, we’ll look at two common ways notes can sound bad, why they sound wrong, and how to fix them or make them sound good.
- Right note performed badly
A note may sound bad not because it is the wrong note, but because it is performed badly.
Any guitarist can play a note badly due to a momentary lack of attention, but if you keep playing the same note (or group of notes) badly, it indicates a technique related problem that you should work on.
We can make the right notes sound bad for a variety of reasons. The following are some possibilities. Check to see if you’re playing notes incorrectly for one or more of the following reasons:
- Bad synchronization between left and right hand
- Weak pick attack
- Weak hammer on/pull off
- Note is slightly off time
- Left hand finger is touching the fret
- Left hand fingers are pulling the strings down, thus bending them and changing their sound
- String bend does not reach the target note
- Unwanted string noise is drowning the note
Isolate the wrong note along with 3-7 surrounding notes, practice them very slowly and identify what’s the cause.
Now, if you determine that the reason you’re consistently playing a note incorrectly is, say, a lack of synchronization between left and right hand (which results in hitting the note slightly before or after your left hand finger has been on the fret, causing an unwanted buzzing effect), this issue is likely to manifest itself in the majority of your other guitar licks, riffs, and solos, not just the one in question.
If you practice to fix the specific problem the wrong note has led you to, you will have not only fixed a note, but also improved your overall level of playing because now you can identify any note you perform badly due to the same cause, and easily fix it.
- Note in the wrong place
The second note of the second bar of the following example clearly doesn’t fit with the rest of the melody.
That note completely destroys the melody, and the next two notes, despite being correct, now sound terrible.
Listen to the same melody if I substitute silence (a rest) for the wrong note. The last two notes no longer sound bad.
The incorrect note is F#, and the scale is C major, but the reason it sounds bad isn’t because the note F# isn’t in the key of C major.
Rather, since the note F# sounds dissonant when played in the key of C, it will only sound good if it is resolved carefully. In the example above, the F# just took the melody into a different direction but without appropriate resolution it simply sounds wrong.
Thus, you can learn from such a wrong note by resolving it to a nearby note that is in the key and exploring where it takes you melodically.
Instead of ruining your melody, the wrong note can take it to a different, usually more interesting place, as shown in the example below.
Although the note F# appears twice, it resolves to the nearby note G each time, changing the melody from what it would have been to something else entirely.
Also, as opposed to the previous example, note F# is not emphasized. Rather, it is a short note that serves as a passing note to a consonant note, spicing the melody up without ruining it.
When you accidentally hit a note that sounds conflicting with the rest of the music, this is usually because it’s not in the key you’re playing in. Such a note is called a chromatic note and you can deal with it in two ways:
- Each note in the major and (natural) minor scale is either a semitone (one fret) or two semitones (two frets) apart.
This means that if you hit a note that is not in the scale you’re playing in, moving that note a semitone forward or backward will land you on a note that is in the scale.
If you’re improvising or jamming with friends, this is a quick way to turn the wrong note into a right one.
- If you’re not improvising on the spot and have time to stop and think, you can analyze the wrong note and consider how that note can take the melody to a different direction (as I did while creating the last example).
Rather than just quickly resolving it into a right note, explore ways the wrong note can be resolved to make the melody more emotional due to the added dissonance in the music.
In the journey towards advanced guitar playing, the ability to embrace mistakes as learning experiences is a key indicator of progress.
This article discussed the most common types of wrong notes on the guitar and the valuable lessons they offer.
By addressing issues that arise when you either play the right note badly, or a note that sounds out of place, you will not only fix specific problems but also elevate your overall guitar playing proficiency.
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