The Right Mindset

Have you ever made a resolution for the new year, and failed to follow through on it? Losing weight, getting in shape, learning a foreign language, mastering a musical instrument — most of us have at one time or another made a promise to ourselves, and by the end of January, have given up on it. It happens to the best of us.

Concepts such as “excellence” and “mastery” are loaded terms, in that they tend to produce unrealistic expectations. The culture bombards us with quick-fix solutions, promising to “solve” your “problem” in five minutes or less. It’s as easy as taking a pill.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, and pardon my French, but that’s bullshit, folks. Things like excellence and mastery are indeed goals worth striving for, but it must be understood that those things are produced by habits, and as such, don’t have a tidy, finite timeline. They shouldn’t take huge amounts of time or ability, but they do require consistency.

Most of us are familiar with the idea that if you do something for about 28 consecutive days (the number varies, usually between 21 and 30 days), it becomes an ingrained habit. This is true for just about anything you set about doing to improve yourself. If you eat less and exercise more, and keep track of your intake and your weight as you go along, you will almost definitely see real results.

On the other hand, if you binge-diet and have a marathon workout session on Saturday, but sit around and gorge on pizza the rest of the week, not only will you not lose weight, but you’ll probably be sore, because your muscles will not be conditioned to be punished once a week. Your body is a machine, and will respond according to how you treat it.

The same goes for your brain, which is where good habits are built and maintained. So it’s important to get in the right frame of mind. The first and most important thing to remember is that, while the ideas can be learned in just a few minutes, and can be maintained in probably 30-45 minutes a day, 4-5 times per week, you still have to do it. Think of it like the game of chess — it takes about ten minutes to learn the rules, but years, even lifetimes to master.

The next thing is to be realistic about your expectations. Most of us are motivated to make the jump from listener to player because we heard someone who inspired us with their talent. It could be speed, precision, musicality, the perfect melody over the perfect chord progression, any or all of those things. I can guarantee you that nobody gets that good overnight. It takes patience, practice, persistence. It takes time.

You have to be willing to give yourself enough time. If you pick up the guitar as a rank beginner on January 1st, you have to understand going into it that you will not be Eddie Van Halen by January 31st. You won’t be EVH by January 31st of the next year. But if you develop consistent practice habits, take it a bite at a time, and work on the right materials with clear, realistic short-term goals, you will see progress, guaranteed.

So don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not as far along as you think you should be at a given moment. Observe your strengths as a player, and work on them, because those are the elements that will be the foundation of your style. Observe also the things you need to improve, and find and develop materials to address them. Use a metronome and track your progress. Then do it all over again tomorrow, and the next day, and so on.

No one is Paul Gilbert or Joe Satriani right out of the box — those players will be the first ones to tell you the same thing. In guitar, just as in the rest of life, persistence beats talent in the long run, every time; in fact, persistence is what it takes to develop talent.

Set realistic short-term goals for yourself, such as learning a new scale in several different positions in a week, or six or eight songs in a month. Some goals you’ll meet right on schedule, some you might come close but not quite “on time.” That’s fine, just finish up and move on to the next goal. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how quickly all those modest goals build into a formidable technique and style.

As always, play hard and have fun!

Outside the Box: 3-4N/S Major & Minor Scales

There are so many ways to play a given scale, and it’s useful to know as many as possible, in order to have something for every occasion. You’re probably familiar with the standard scale form that stays in a single position:

CMajor_fing

Three-note-per-string (which we refer to at PTG with the “3N/S” shorthand) scales are extremely handy for generating melodic sequences that are easy to play at higher tempos, and cover a greater range than position scales.

AMinor_3ns

The natural progression from 3-note-per-string scales is 4-note-per-string (or 4N/S). Here is the G major scale mapped out as such, sliding with the 4th finger as it ascends:

GMaj_4NS_int

GMaj_4NS_fing

Notice how the fingering shapes line up along the adjacent string pairs, with some position shifting — the low E and A strings have the same shape; the D and G strings have the same shape; and the B and high E strings share a shape. This makes the entire scale somewhat easier to memorize, but there’s still a fair amount there.

Now let’s look at the A minor scale in 4N/S:

AMin_4NS_int

AMin_4NS_fing

This one’s a little tougher; A and D have the same fingering shape, and B and E’ share a shape. But that’s about it. Additionally, even with the position shifting and finger sliding, these are still not easy shapes to play, especially for people whose hands are not that large.

While it’s important to learn as many scale shapes and patterns as possible, as pointed out earlier, this is really only true as long as the patterns are simple to learn, convenient to play, and actually facilitate making music. There’s no point in learning a pattern that you can’t use for melodic material.

The 4N/S shapes are still worth learning, as they do give a greater melodic range to work with, and can be used for melodic sequences the same way 3N/S scales can. And the expanded fretboard navigation is valuable in greater fretting hand control.

But there’s also a happy middle ground worth learning, in combining 3-note- and 4-note-per-string patterns. This gives you the best of both worlds — there’s still a huge range of the neck that’s covered with the pattern, but they’re more playable by guitarists of most experience levels, and they don’t require huge hands to play.

Check out the G major scale, this time alternating 3  and 4 notes per string:

GMaj_int GMaj_fing GMajor

The great thing about this pattern is that it’s just a single pattern on the first two strings, duplicated across each successive string pair. You just have to learn the one pattern, and move it up an octave, then another octave. Simple.

And it’s the same case for the minor scale, just a different single pattern to learn:

AMinor01_int

AMinor01_fing

AMinor_asc

As always, be sure to practice these patterns ascending and descending. Where the 4th finger is used to slide up in an ascending pattern, the first finger is used to slide down the descending pattern.

Let’s reverse the 3-then-4-per-string pattern, and try it descending:

AMinor02_int

AMinor02_fing

AMinor_desc

Try the 3-4 pattern ascending, and the 4-3 pattern descending, and vice versa. Use any melodic sequences you can think of through these patterns as well. Until you’re comfortable with each pattern, use strict alternate picking throughout, then work in legato, palm muting, economy picking, etc. And of course, move the patterns around the neck, in as many keys as possible. Because of the greater range covered, there may be some limitations, especially with the high E string.

Here’s a sample scale run to try out:

3-4ScaleLick

Take it slow, use a metronome once the shapes are familiar, and come up with additional ideas and sequences to try. Good luck and have fun!

Outside the Box: Pentatonic Shapes

The pentatonic scale and its five boxes are powerful, because the patterns are simple to learn and easy to apply quickly. The basic minor box (#1) is the first pattern many players memorize:

PentBox01

The intervals for the minor pentatonic scale are R(root)-b3-4-5-b7, the notes (in the key of A minor) are A-C-D-E-G. While this shape is the easiest of the five boxes to learn and apply quickly, as luck would have it, there’s an even easier pentatonic shape. If you start from the b7 instead of the root, you get a simple two-string shape:

PentShape01_int

Use the fingering as shown below:

PentShape01_fing

Work the shape, ascending and descending, using strict alternate picking, until it’s smooth and even. It shouldn’t take long before you can nail this at a fairly high speed:

PentShape01

You can probably already see where this shape lies an octave higher, and two octaves higher. Linking all three octaves together provides a cool way to navigate quickly and melodically up the neck with little difficulty.

PentShape02_int

Even though the shape starts on the 7th of the scale and ends on the 5th, you can play it as is over an A minor (or C major) progression, and hear how it locks right in melodically. Beginning and ending phrases on scale degrees other than the root or 5th can produce some interesting ideas.

For this extended shape, use the fingering suggested below, just the 1st and 3rd fingers, sliding up from the 4th degree of the scale to the 5th in each octave. This will facilitate quick fretboard navigation, and give a smoother, more even sound.

PentShape02_fing

PentShape01_3oct

Check out this quick sextuplet lick that weaves back and forth through the scale:

PentShapeLick

Remember to work the shapes ascending and descending, in as many keys as you can, and come up with sequences of your own. The next post will take a look at how major and minor scales can be mapped for better navigation as well.

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