Learning Major Scale Patterns and Sus4 Chords on Guitar

01
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What You'll Learn in Lesson Nine

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mattjeacock. Getty Images

In the last lesson in this series intended to instruct novices how to begin playing guitar on their own, we learned some additional fingerpicking patterns, alternating bass note strums, sliding, and string bends. If you are not familiar with any of these concepts, return to lesson seven, or head to the index of guitar lessons to begin at the beginning of the series.

In the following lesson we'll cover:

  • a major scale pattern in two octaves
  • a complex strumming pattern
  • the sus4 chord
  • a more advanced bending technique.

Popular songs you might already know will be suggested and can be used to practice these techniques. Let's get started with lesson nine.

02
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Two Octave Major Scale Pattern

major scale pattern in two octaves
major scale pattern in two octaves.

(Listen to the major scale pattern above)

The major scale is the foundation upon which our music system is built. It contains seven notes (do - re - mi - fa - so - la - ti). If you've seen "The Sound of Music", you'll remember the song about the major scale... "Do(e), a deer, a female deer. Re (ray) a drop of golden sun..."

We're going to learn this scale on guitar, in two octaves. The above pattern for the major scale is a "movable" pattern, with the root on the sixth string. Meaning, if you start the scale on the third fret of the sixth string, you're playing a G major scale. If you start at the eighth fret, you're playing a C major scale.

It is extremely important when playing this scale to stay in position. Start the scale with your second finger on the sixth string, followed by the fourth finger on the sixth string. The next note will be played with your first finger on the fifth string, etc. It is important to be sure that each finger in your fretting hand is responsible for only one fret on the guitar when playing the scale. For example, when playing an A major scale (fifth fret), your first finger will play all notes on the fourth fret, your second finger will play all notes on the fifth fret, your third finger will play all notes on the sixth fret, and your fourth finger will play all notes on the seventh fret.

Performance Notes

  • As always, use ALTERNATE PICKING as your primary method of performing this scale. You can also practice the scale using all upstrokes, or all downstrokes, etc.
  • Memorize this scale. You'll use it extensively in years to come, if you want to learn to read music, or to play lead guitar.
  • Play it forwards and then backwards, in a slow, even tempo. Build up speed only when your technique at slower tempos is flawless. 

03
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A Strum Based on G7

strumming pattern based on G7 chord
strumming pattern based on G7 chord.

 (listen to the above strumming pattern)

In lesson eight, how to incorporate bass notes into our strumming patterns were discussed. Now, that concept will be explored further, except now we'll try and incorporate single notes within the chord with our strumming patterns.

This one will probably be difficult at first, but as your picking accuracy increases, it'll sound better and better.

  1. In your fretting hand, hold down a G major chord, with your second finger on the sixth string, first finger on the fifth string, and third finger on the first string.
  2. Now, strike the sixth string with your pick, and follow that by down and up strums on the bottom four strings of the chord.
  3. Use the above tablature to complete the rest of the pattern.
  4. When finished playing the pattern once, loop it multiple times.

Be sure to keep your picking motion constant, whether you are playing a single note, or strumming a chord. If you are too deliberate while playing the single notes, it will break the flow of your strum, and the resulting pattern will sound choppy.

04
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A Strum Based on Dmajor

strumming pattern based on a D major chord
strumming pattern based on a D major chord.

 (listen to the above strumming pattern)

This slightly tricky strum should really help us work on our picking accuracy. You'll note that this strum also incorporates a hammer-on in the fretting hand - which is rather common.

  1. Begin by holding down a D major chord in your fretting hand.
  2. Now, play the fourth string with a downstroke, and follow that by strumming the remaining three notes in the chord with a down and up strum.
  3. Then, play the open fifth string, followed again by a down and up strum of the remaining three notes.
  4. Now, play the open fourth string again, followed by a down and up strum.
  5. Then, take your first finger off the third string, play it open, then hammer your first finger back on to the second fret.
  6. Complete the strum with another down and up strum, and you've finished the pattern once.

Try it until you get the hang of it, then loop the pattern. It will seem much less complex in no time.

Remember:

  • It is extremely important when playing these patterns to keep your strumming motion constant, whether you're playing the single notes or the full chords.
  • You might find that at first you accidentally play several strings when trying to strum one string. Don't get upset, just try to remedy the problem.
  • When hammering on, make sure that both the initial, and hammered on notes ring.
  • These new strums are rather complex, and will probably be overwhelming at first. Don't get frustrated! You'll get the hang of it eventually!

05
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Sus4 Chords

We've learned a variety of chords in previous lessons, and today, we're going to have a look at a new type - the "sus4" (or suspended fourth) chord.

Sus4 chords (pronounced "suss four") are often (but NOT always) used in combination with a major or minor chord of the same letter name. For example, it's very common to see the chord progression: 

Dmaj → Dsus4 → Dmaj

Or, alternately something like this:

Asus4 → Amin

As you learn these chords, try playing them, then following each with a major or minor chord of the same letter name.

Asus4 Chord

This is a chord (shown above) which you can fret several ways, depending on which chord you're coming from/moving to. If you are planning to follow this chord with an A minor, you can fret the A minor chord, then add your fourth (pinky) finger to the third fret of the second string. Or, if coming from/going to an A major chord, you can fret the notes on the fourth and third strings with your first finger, while playing the second string note with your second finger. Lastly, you could try playing the fourth string with your first finger, third string with your second, and second string with your third.

Practice:

06
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Csus4 Chord

Be careful not to strum the sixth or first strings when playing this chord. Use your third finger to play the note on the fifth string, your fourth finger to play the note on the fourth string, and your first finger to play the note on the second string.

Practice:

07
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Dsus4 Chord

This is an incredibly common chord you'll see all the time. If going from Dsus4 to Dmaj, use your first finger on the third string, your third finger on the second string, and your pinky finger on the first string. If going from Dsus4 to Dmin, try your second finger on the third string, your third finger on the second string, and your fourth finger on the first string.

Practice:

08
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Esus4 Chord

Try playing this with your second finger on the fifth string, your third finger on the fourth string, and your fourth finger on the third string (some people switch second and third fingers). You could also try first finger on fifth string, second finger on fourth, and third finger on third, in an "A major chord" shape.

Practice:

09
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Fsus4 Chord

Play this chord by placing your third finger on the fourth string, your fourth finger on the third string, and your first finger on the remaining two strings. Be careful to only play the bottom four strings.

Practice:

10
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Gsus4 Chord

Pay attention to the fifth string on this chord - it should NOT be played. Use your third finger (playing the note on the sixth string) to lightly touch the fifth string, so it doesn't ring. Your first finger should play the note on the second string, while your fourth finger plays the note on the first string.

Practice:

11
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Sus4 Barre Chords - Root on 6th String

Like all barre chords, we can learn one chord shape and move it around, to create many more sus4 chords. The diagram above illustrates the basic shape of the sus4 chord with the root on the sixth string.

When playing the chord, be aware that the notes on the second and first strings are *optional*, and don't need to be played. You can try playing this chord shape by barring with your first finger, then playing the note on the fifth string with your second finger, fourth string with the third finger, and third string with ​the fourth finger. Alternately, you could try playing the sixth string with your first finger, barring the fifth, fourth, and third strings with your third finger, and avoid playing the second and first strings.

Practice:

12
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Sus4 Barre Chords - Root on 5th String

The diagram above illustrates the basic shape of the sus4 chord with the root on the fifth string.

You can finger this chord shape by putting your first finger on the fifth string (and optionally the first string as well), your second finger on the fourth string, your third finger on the third string, and your fourth finger on the second string.

Alternately, you could try playing the fifth string with your first finger, barring the fourth and third strings with your third finger, and playing the second string with your fourth finger.

Be aware when playing this voicing that the note on the first string is *optional*, and is often left off.

Practice:

Things to Remember About Sus4 Chords:

  • Sus4 chords are also commonly referred to as simply "sus" or "suspended" chords.
  • Sus4 chords tend to feel "unresolved" if left hanging - you probably wouldn't want to end a song on a sus4 chord.
  • Many guitarists insert sus4 chords into music with simple major and minor chords, to spice up a guitar part.

13
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Sight Reading and Essential Guitar Knowledge

Berklee Modern Method for Guitar
A Modern Method for Guitar Vol. 1.

There comes a point in the development of a guitarist that he/she must decide if they're really interested in learning guitar. If the answer is "yes", then learning the basics of sight reading is essential.

Until this point, I've tried to keep the lessons as "fun" as possible, free from excessive technical exercises, musical theory, and sight reading. Although I'll continue to present the lessons in this way, if you want to become a "real musician", these are all important areas to explore.

Although in a perfect world, I'd be able to provide you with a great online resource for learning to sight read music on the guitar, the topic is just too broad in scope to be presented well on a website. So, I'm going to recommend you purchase the excellent Modern Method for Guitar books, by William G. Leavitt.

Often referred to as "the Berklee books", this series of inexpensive publications is a valuable resource for working on sightreading, and honing your technical skills on the guitar. Leavitt does not hold your hand through the learning process, but with some focused practice you'll learn to read music, and improve your technique through playing some of the études presented within the book. You can spend a great deal of time with these books (there are three in the series), as there is a ton of information contained within the pages of each edition. If you are serious about becoming a "musician", rather than someone who just strums a guitar at parties (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that), I highly recommend that you pick up at least one of these books.

Other Essentials

There are a few things every guitarist worth their salt should own. Here's some info on a few of these essentials.

A Change of Strings

It's Murphy's Law... guitar strings break at the exact time you need them not to. You'll have to accept that, and be sure to always own at least one full set of unused strings, so you can replace any that break immediately. You should also be changing your strings at least once every couple of months (more often if you play constantly). For more detailed instructions on how to change guitar strings, take a look at this illustrated string changing tutorial.

Collection of Picks

Definitely own a reasonable collection of picks, so you don't have to go hunting between the pillows of your couch if you ever lose one. I'd suggest finding a favorite brand and thickness of pick, and sticking with it. Personally, I avoid those extra thin picks like the plague.

Capo

This is a small device which wraps around the neck of your guitar, pinching the strings off at a specific fret. It is used to make the guitar sound higher, so you could sing at a higher pitch if a song is too low for you. As long as you don't lose them, a capo should last you a long time (many years), so it's a worthwhile investment. I have found that Shubb capos work best for me - they're a little more expensive (about $20), but worth the extra money.

Metronome

An essential item for the serious guitarist. A metronome is a simple gadget which emits a steady click at a speed which you determine. Sounds boring, right? They're great for practicing with - to make sure you're keeping in time. These little devices will improve your musicianship incredibly, and can be found for as little as $20. Alternately, there are a lot of free metronome apps for your mobile devices.

14
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Learning Songs

We're making a lot of progress, so understandably, the songs each week are getting harder and harder. If you're finding these overwhelming at first, try looking for some easier songs to play in the easy song tabs archive.

In case you need a refresher, here are the pages to check open chords, power chords, barre chords, and sus4 chords.

Needle and the Damage Done - performed by Neil Young
NOTES: this song is great for practicing the strumming concept we learned today, as well as for improving your picking accuracy. This will take some time to master, but it's worth it.
MP3: Amazon MP3 download

Happy Xmas (War is Over) - performed by John Lennon
NOTES: Lots of sus4 chords in this one. This song is in waltz (three four) time, so strum: down, down up down up.​

You've Got to Hide your Love Away - performed by The Beatles
NOTES: As with the above Lennon tune, this is a waltz... strum: down, down up, down up. This should be a fairly simple song that illustrates the use of a Dsus4 chord. (This is an Oasis tab, but the idea is the same)

The Man Who Sold the World - performed by David Bowie/Nirvana
NOTES: this song is interesting for several reasons - there are some neat chord movements, and the riffs are great. If you study the guitar riffs, you'll notice that some of them are simply major scales in one octave.
MP3: Amazon MP3 download
(this mp3 is the Nirvana version of the song from the MTV Unplugged set .)

15
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Lesson Nine Practice Schedule

As I do every lesson, I'm going to urge with you to go back over old lessons - we have covered such a vast amount of material, it's highly doubtful you remember how to play everything we've learned. After you've done that, you can focus on the following:

  • First, make sure your guitar is in tune.
  • Get yourself a metronome to practice with.
  • Practice the major scale, using the metronome to keep time (pick a tempo you're comfortable with)
  • Review barre chords we've covered. Also, go over the newly learned sus4 chord. Pay attention to how similar sus4 chords are to major chords with the same letter name.
  • Practice this lesson's advanced strumming pattern. This is a tough one, but you're going to want to incorporate these concepts into your strumming, so it's worth the work.
  • Try some string bends, slides, hammer ons and pull offs whenever you play guitar. Try playing your scales with these techniques.
  • Keep practicing the fingerpicking patterns from lesson seven and lesson eight, and the songs from those lessons that use them.
  • Try to play all of the songs above, plus keep playing those from previous lessons.

If you're feeling confident with everything we've learned so far, I suggest trying to find a few songs you're interested in, and learn them on your own. You can use the easy song tabs archive, the greatest albums tab and lyrics archive, or the guitar tab area of the site to hunt down the music that you'd enjoy learning the most. Try memorizing some of these songs, rather than always looking at the music to play them.

In lesson ten, we'll tackle palm muting, a more advanced bending technique, chord inversions, new songs, and much more. Best of luck!