Drill, Baby, Drill!

Here’s an example of how you can take a very simple but effective picking drill, and almost instantly expand it into plenty more ideas. Check out this basic two-finger, two-string pattern:


As will be the case with all the examples in this post, the second bar is simply the first bar reversed. The next step is to add a third finger to the mix:


Pretty simple pattern, right? Here’s a variation that will really come in handy in working on 3-note-per-string scales:


This next variation alternates between groups of 4 and groups of 6. Take it slow at first, but when you get it up to speed, it sounds really cool.


Continue reading “Drill, Baby, Drill!”

Saturday Shredder

Michael Schenker is one of the all-time greats, a criminally underrated player. Into the Arena showcases many of his classic moves. Check out the ascending triadic invention starting at about 2:35, leading into some smooth melodic playing, culminating in a six-string D major arpeggio. Just a really cool instrumental track from start to finish.

Climbing the K2: Finale

I hope you’ve been having fun with the first two-thirds of the Kreutzer #2 so far. It’s a great demonstration of how a variety of melodic techniques can be integrated into a very musical effort, and not sound too “technique-y”.

So here’s the final part of the K2, basically eight bars with a closing bar. We’ll break it down following the tab below:

Picking up where we left off last time:  Bar 17 continues the cool melodic shape started in the previous bar. The shape spells out intervallically as 5-6-7-R’-R-R’-7-6 (still continuing with the one-note displacement begun back in bar 9, so the shape really starts with the 2nd note of the bar). This shape can be worked diatonically down the neck for some cool results. Bar 18 is mostly a short G Mixolydian run, with a couple of thirds thrown in, to transition to the next shape.

The next three bars (19-21) utilizes the pedal point technique to great musical effect. Melodic development begins with a G-Em-A-F-B (harmonic minor)- G run, then a couple quick out-of-key nods (A major and B harm. minor) to build additional melodic tension, leading into the finale.

Heading into the homestretch, the first two beats of bar 22 are D Dorian, transitioning from G back to the home key of C. The key gets emphasized for the finale with some cool arpeggios working in the major 7th (B) to add some musical urgency and resolution. Bars 23 and 24 are identical, reworking the arpeggio as a back-and-forth grouping of 4ths and 3rds, rather than straight up-and-down. The final bar (25) is a quick ascending CM7 arpeggio resolving on a final C note.

Hopefully the K2 has provided you with some ideas for skill-building and melodic development. Once you get it up to speed, it’s a really fun piece to play, and should inspire you for a long time to come. To start off 2013, the entire piece will be offered as a PDF e-book, with additional analysis and relevant exercises to work on. Till then, play hard and have fun!

Killer Chromatic Warm-ups

A good warm-up routine should get both hands going quickly and effectively. It’s the same idea as stretching before a workout, to not only get the muscles up to speed, but to loosen them up, to prevent stiffness and soreness.

Chromatic warm-ups are ideal for getting all the fingers on the fretting hand limbered up. While this is best accomplished with routine exercises that you’ve internalized over the course of many practice sessions, it’s also good to shake things up a bit, and bring in some new ideas to keep your brain and fingers fresh.

Here’s the basic chromatic position run utilizing all four fingers:

There are two main types of variations on this standard pattern that we’ll look at in this post. The first type of variation utilizes displacement along the strings, which forces both hands to synchronize along more complicated patterns. The next example shows the basic run with every other note displaced to the next adjacent string:

Take this one nice and slow at first, keeping a strict down-up alternate picking pattern as indicated. Since this is a very fundamental mechanical exercise, really take the time at slower tempos to observe the motion and mechanics of each hand; they should be economized as much as possible.

Now let’s take the displacement idea, and run it across four strings at a time, one for each finger:

Stick with alternate picking at first, but the really cool thing about this particular exercise is that it also works great for sweep picking:

 If you’re unfamiliar with sweep picking, this is a great way to get more comfortable with that technique. Work just the basic pattern first, without changing string sets or positions at all, just the first two beats of the first bar, back and forth. Take it slow, and concentrate on keeping the notes smooth and even. They should not ring together, you’re not strumming a chord. That’s one of the biggest challenges with learning sweep picking, getting each note to play fully and evenly, yet keeping it from running into the next note.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, this variation will either keep you busy or give you nightmares:

Although we’re tabbing these patterns starting from the first fret, it may be easier to start from a higher position, such as the fifth or seventh fret, and keep working up the neck, or to start further up at the 12th or 15th fret, and work your way down the neck. Don’t be shy about moving these around for more comfort and ease of play. If at any point you start feeling actual pain in either hand, stop immediately and rest your hands for a few.

The other main variation of chromatic exercises involves multiply picked notes, instead of just doing each note singly up through the pattern. Each successive note grouping requires the hands to synchronize just a little differently than you might be used to. Here’s the double pattern:

The triple pattern can be played either as regular triplets/sextuplets, or as a “3-on-4” pattern as regular 16th notes. Check out each variation, definitely play each one, and note how each affects alternate picking.

Chances are that the 3-on-4 pattern will present some difficulty at first, but it’s a very cool-sounding technique at higher tempos. Take it slow at first and use a metronome, and you should be able to get a feel for it before too long..

Finally, the quad pattern:

Collectively, this is a ton of stuff to work with, so as always, take it a piece at a time, work the patterns in as many areas of the neck as possible, and benchmark your maximum tempo on each pattern, to determine appropriate warm-up speeds. Devise variations of your own and work them into your warm-up routines. Have fun!

Saturday Shredder Doubleheader

Eric Johnson’s Cliffs of Dover has to be considered in any discussion of all-time virtuoso guitar pieces. It’s not quite as aggressive as your typical shred tune, nor is it in a minor key. And yet, thanks to Johnson’s incredible technique, flawless tone, and seemingly effortless musicality, it just soars. Here he is at the 2009 NAMM show. Sound quality is not the greatest, especially once the drums kick in, but the six-minute intro is a great compendium of melodic phrases that you should steal and make your own, like right now.

And I couldn’t pass up this terrific rendition by a band at the Kingwood High School talent show in 2008. These guys captured it perfectly.

Climbing the K2, Part 2

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to work with the first eight bars of the Kreutzer Etude #2 posted last week. That first section introduces a deceptively simple but very effective melodic line which descends and then builds back up diatonically along the key of A minor, transitioning in the next eight-bar section, tabbed below:


Remember to stick with strict down-up alternate picking until the patterns are smooth and comfortable, and then you may start to spot opportunities where some legato phrasing or economy picking might be useful. Definitely experiment with palm-muting to accentuate beats and phrases.

The first two beats of bar 9 begin with the triad melodic figure from the first eight bars, but here it extends one 16th note into the next beat, which affects the next musical motif. This little bit of rhythmic displacement is an effective tool to make simple ideas sound more intricate, and not like a dry scale. For the rest of this section (and on to bar 22), the first 16th note for every beat will be the final note of the bar preceding it. So there’s that high A note starting the third beat of bar 9, then the eight-note descending melody, ending on the first beat of the next bar, and so on.

The melody for this section is simply the first six notes of the scale at the respective mode position, then back to the 4th, then up to the 7th (a jump of a third, major or minor depending on mode and position). The intervals spell out 1-2-3-4-5-6-4-7, and descend Am-G-F-Em-D. A simple and effective exercise to internalize this section would be to run the modes all the way up the neck on the A-D-G strings. The rhythmic displacement will probably present the greatest challenge to practice, but once the transition from Section A is smooth, it should be easier to lock in with the displaced melody.

You can see in the final bar of this section (bar 16) how the ascending scales resolve  (with a pretty wide intervallic leap, which can be mastered starting at slower tempos) into a new melodic shape,which continues into the final section of the piece. Next week we’ll post the final nine bars of the K2, and show a simple and effective exercise to get this seemingly complicated (but very cool sounding) melodic shape under your fingers, and move it around with ease. For now, concentrate on learning this section, and combining it with the section from last week, making a smooth, musical 16 bars (so far). More fun to come, so stay tuned!

Pedal to the Metal

One of the cornerstone techniques of neoclassical shred guitar is pedal point, where a melody or scale is played alternating against either a stationary note or a fixed interval. The example below shows a simple line played in A minor, up and back down the neck on the high A string:

If you’ve never tried this technique before, imagine the above example like this:  you’re basically sequencing the A minor scale up the neck in 3-note chunks. In the first bar, there are two 3-note chunks; first the G-A-B (3rd, 5th, and 7th frets), and then the A-B-C (5th, 7th, and 8th frets). In each of these chunks, and on up the neck, the third note is the pedal point, sort of the melodic anchor around which the melody or scalar sequence moves.

You can also easily reverse the sequence, and use the first note of each chunk as the anchor, so instead of your sequence going 1-3-2-3 1-3-2-3 as in the above example, you could sequence the same notes 3-1-2-1 or 2-1-3-1.

Especially when played on a single string, it’s a good idea to stick primarily with strict down-up alternate picking at first, but hammer-ons and pull-offs also sound good, as long as the pedal points stay consistent and in time. This is a technique that relies heavily on being metronomically tight to sound really good.

Some quick music theory observations so far:  on the single-string example, the first and third notes of each position all the way up constitute an interval of a third. Whether the third is major or minor depends on if the first and third notes are 3 or 4 frets apart. So for G-A-B, the G and B are 4 frets apart, so it’s a major third. The next one, A-B-C, the A and C are 3 frets apart, so minor third.

The cool thing about pedal point is that the melodic possibilities are virtually endless, especially once you start incorporating more strings. Here’s a simple two-string run, this time in E minor:

For each position shift all the way up the neck, the pinky should be used to fret the pedal point note. Notice that for most of the positions, on the second and fourth beats the melodic note is on the same fret (on the adjacent string) as the pedal point. So in the first bar, the E note (5th fret B string) immediately precedes the A (5th fret high E string) anchor note on the second beat, then the F# right before the B in the fourth beat.

The simplest way to handle this at higher tempos is to barre the pinky on the B and E strings to play both notes. The last beat on the third bar is where you will need to use your third (ring) finger instead, as the scale note is a tritone below the pedal note, rather than a perfect fourth.

From a music theory perspective, incorporating a second string allows us to move on from just working with thirds, and to start sketching out triads and scales. We’ll discuss triads more in depth in an upcoming post (and post a quick reference PDF on the Free Resources page), but for now, we’ll just note that a triad is constructed from the root, third, and fifth (R-3-5) of a scale. The distance between the R and 3 is an interval of a third (either major or minor, per the earlier reference), and the distance between the 3 and 5 is also a third.

So stacking a major third (G to B) and then a minor third (B to D) produces a major triad. Stacking a minor third (A to C) and then a major third (C to E) produces a minor triad. Stacking two minor thirds (F#-A; A-C) produces a diminished triad. Two major thirds will produce an augmented triad, but those do not occur in the major scale or any of its modes. Since we’re working diatonically (within the scale) for these exercises, we won’t encounter any. (That doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate the pattern into your own exercises!)

If you are not too well-versed in music theory and terminology, a “minor third” may not seem all that different from a “minor triad” or a “minor scale”. Don’t worry about it; these concepts take time to internalize if you’re not familiar with them. The main thing is recognizing these patterns by ear, and getting them under your fingers. The names for everything will come soon enough, but they’re really just ways to have a common set of terms so we all know what we’re referring to.

Anyway, let’s move on. Here’s a variation on the previous two-string pattern, with the melody now descending then ascending:

With multi-string pedal point forms, it’s much more difficult to use any hammer-ons or pull-offs, but there are more options for picking. Start with the usual down-up alternate picking until your picking and fretting hands are properly synchronized at moderate to high tempos. Particularly with these somewhat more complex forms, it’s better to get the pattern down in a single position first, until everything sounds clean and smooth at 112 bpm or so. Then start moving it up and down the neck diatonically, getting familiar with the position shifts, and the various triad forms throughout. Then work it through all the keys, using the circle of fifths/fourths. (For example, if you go up through the circle of fifths, C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-etc., you just add a sharp each time to move up a fifth in key — adding the F# note to the key of C will put you in the key of G; adding the C# note to G puts you in D; adding the G# to D gives you A, and so on.)

For our last example, let’s take a look at a pattern that utilizes a three-note anchor pattern on the high E string, with the scale moving up along with it on the B string:

With the odd number of notes per string before moving from one string to another, this exercise should really help pinpoint any mechanical issues you might have with pick hand/fret hand synchronization.

As always, take it slow at first, get the pattern dialed in, build up speed, add some palm muting or other types of accents on the “1” beat to accentuate, etc.

Again, for those folks that may not have tried this technique much, you can see pretty quickly how you can create a ton of cool musical ideas on just one or two strings. We’ll definitely come back to this topic in upcoming posts, but this should be enough to give you some ideas to work on for a while. Play hard and have fun!