Photo by Facundo Aranda on Unsplash

Theory isn't always the answer, and it doesn't help in the ways that you imagine it would.



  • Develop a larger chord vocabulary
  • Learn how to voice lead through a IIm7–V7–I progression.
  • Understand how to alter dominant chords.
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We're going to look at a simple jazz progression and talk about the struggle to make sense of some of these moves in the context of music theory. I want you to leave this lesson with new ways to think about chord progressions, and perhaps a different way to think about music theory.

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It all started with a Fender Champ and a three-chord rock anthem.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to construct Dorian scales.
• Understand the minor-key harmony of “Last Dance with Mary Jane.”
• Develop an ability to hear the raised 6 in a minor scale. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

I love modes. I love playing them. I love teaching them. But they are tricky to teach because it’s difficult to wrap your head around them without having to dive deep into theory, which isn’t an easy step for some players. As a teacher, I look for ways to make modes fun and relatable, and this always lives and dies by the quality of your examples and source materials. Over this past holiday break, I started researching the mighty 5-watt Fender Champ tube amp. What does this have to do with modes? Read on.

Tom Petty’s guitarist Mike Campbell is a well-known fan of low-wattage Fender amps. I was watching a segment on the history of the Champ and when the main riff to “Last Dance with Mary Jane” came up, it piqued my interest. It was a song I knew well, hadn’t really heard in a long time, and never had a reason to study—until now.

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You don't have to want to play like a jazz legend to practice like one.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Develop a systematic method for mapping out arpeggios all over the fretboard.
• Learn to develop your own practice material.
• Understand how world-class musicians seem to never run out of ideas to practice. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Do you want to play like Pat Metheny? Me too. But truth be told, I have no idea how to do so, though I’ve really tried. It was very difficult to wrap my head around writing a lesson on Pat because the elements that make up his style are so varied and complex—the result of decades of investment on his part. Since he’s one of my very favorite musicians, the thought of writing a lesson about him seemed even more daunting. Of course, if it was easy, we’d all sound like our heroes.

So, where do we start? When studying great artists, it’s usually a good idea to study their process—not necessarily their final products. I’ve found that when you study the creative process, you can apply it to your own music and come up with your own individual style, rather than just resorting to mimicry and copying licks. Pat has a few signature licks, but mastering those don’t really get you that close to sounding like Pat. One thing we can say about Pat Metheny with confidence is that the man knows his guitar, music theory, and fretboard at a higher level than 99.9 percent of guitarists. I recently stumbled upon a video that proves this. It’s a rare glimpse into how Pat practices that will serve as the creative spark for this lesson. Maybe we can learn to practice like Pat.

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