Melodic Warmup Exercise, Part 2

Hopefully the previous post has given you some ideas for developing melodies and progressions, as well as for refining mechanical (fretting and picking hand) techniques. It’s usually more fun and interesting to work on mechanical concepts with melodic ideas, things that sound like actual music.

So let’s pick up where we left off, and take our single-position exercise a little further. Instead of working through a chord progression, we’re going to run through a melodic sequence derived from a scale. Here is the E harmonic minor scale, played in 7th position:

MelWarm04

Use the suggested fingering and picking directions, and play the scale ascending and descending. The slide on the high E string is not absolutely necessary, but will make things easier, and give you more control.

Now, let’s check out the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale. This mode, usually called the Phrygian dominant, but also commonly known as the Spanish or Jewish Phrygian, has a strong Middle Eastern flavor. If you’ve ever listened to Yngwie Malmsteen, Ulrich Roth, or any “neoclassical” style player, you’ll recognize this right away.

MelWarm05

You might wonder what is meant by “fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale”. That simply means that if you start from the fifth note of the (in this case) E harmonic minor scale, which is B, and ascend through the same pattern, the intervals between the notes will alter somewhat, and give the sequence of notes a particular sound all their own. (For a quick breakdown on how modes are derived from scales, please consult the 1-page cheat sheet on the Resources page.)

The previous post focused on the B-G-D (2-3-4) strings for the exercise, and for the most part, this one will as well, with some minor additions. A cool exercise to facilitate finger independence starts from the octave (B) note of the Phrygian dominant mode, 9th fret D string:

MelWarm06

Notice that this sequence is in 5/4 time. If you are not used to playing in odd time signatures, don’t be alarmed. As long as you can keep counting with the beat, you’ll be fine. You’re just going to be counting to 5 instead of 4 on the beat you have set on your metronome. You can think of the above notes as 5 sets of 4 notes, rather than 4 sets of 5 notes, as long as you can keep the beat.

One thing that really helps with odd time signatures is to tap your foot along with the beat. The basic difference between 5/4 and the usual 4/4 is that 5/4 has an extra count to the beat. Just play the above tab in a smooth, even rhythm until it sounds good.

For the rest of this exercise, we’ll go back to the usual 4/4, which should make things easier. Let’s take our melodic sequence and start moving it up further along the scale:

MelWarm07

Again, keep strict down-up alternate picking and use the suggested fingering, and observe how it isolates all of the adjacent finger pairs (1-2, 2-3, 3-4). Usually the 3-4 finger pair is going to give you the most headaches, and this is a good one for working on that pair. Get a nice even rhythm going, repeating the sequence over and over.

The last bar is replicated below, with just the final note of the bar changed, from a D# (8th fret, G string) to a C (10th fret, D string). How does this small change affect the sound of the sequence, and the way you approach playing it? The difference a single note can make sometimes is pretty substantial.

MelWarm08

Play both sequences all the way through, go back and forth between the two final notes of the sequence, observe the picking motion throughout, build up speed gradually and systematically. This is a really fun and melodic exercise that will hopefully inspire you to build your own ideas from other scales and patterns.

Melodic Warmup Exercise

If there’s two things we like here at PTG, when devising useful exercises, one is to keep it as simple as possible, and the second is to combine musical ideas with mechanical concepts. This post and the next will show some ideas that address both those areas.

We’re going to look at the B-G-D string trio, in the seventh position. Let’s take a simple triad progression and see what we can do with it:

MelWarm01

Pay special attention to the fingering, because this is where it becomes somewhat challenging. The first chord, A7, uses (in order from lowest note to highest) the 1-3-2 fingers, while the next chord (G with B root, also known as an inversion) is fingered 3-1-2. So as you transition from the A7 to the G/B, keep the second (middle) finger in place on that G note (B string, 8th fret). Simply switch the first and third fingers as you go from the A7 to the G/B.

Next, on the B triad, you can see that the fingering is just 3-2-1. Easy enough. This time, as you transition from G/B to B, keep the third finger stationary on the B note (D string, 9th fret). You just trade places with your first and second fingers, between the G and B strings, and 7th and 8th frets.

The fourth and final chord in our single-position mini-progression is a C triad, exactly the same as the B triad immediately before it, just one position higher. You can easily slide shift the 3-2-1 fingering up one fret to play this, but to keep this challenging (it is an exercise, after all) use the 4-3-2 fingering shown in the notation. You may want to isolate this further and just work back and forth between the B (3-2-1 fingering) and C (4-3-2) triads until it feels comfortable. This is a very simple but effective exercise for finger independence.

When you feel comfortable working through the entire four-chord sequence, and can do it smoothly and cleanly, keeping the suggested fingers in place during the transitions, you’re ready to use the progression for melodic picking exercises. Let’s take a very simple four-note version of this:

MelWarm02

As always, start slow and smooth, use a metronome to keep in tempo, use strict alternate picking, and pay particular attention on the transitions from one chord to the next. The first transition (from A7 to G/B) may be somewhat tricky, in that you are moving your 3rd finger from the 9th fret on the G string to the 9th fret on the D string for consecutive notes. Again, take it slow and it will fall under your fingers before you know it.

As with any picking exercise, make sure to try as many picking hand techniques (palm muting, sweep picking, etc.) as you can think of. Mix and match these techniques, come up with progressions of chords and triads of your own. Use the chords section here (scroll down on that page) for ideas, and listen to how the chords flow and resolve when sequenced together.

Here’s a variation on our triad sequence, using sweep-picked triplets:

MelWarm03

With these back-and-forth sweep picking exercises, try to achieve a smooth “rolling” sound. Observe the motion of your picking hand, and where the “turnaround” point is from downstroke to upstroke and vice versa. Instead of coming to an abrupt halt to change direction, keep it smooth and even. Think of your regular alternate picking on a single string, and how the picking motion is constant, and not start-stop-start-stop. Sweeping across multiple strings is basically an extended version of that motion, in terms of the distance your picking hand travels.

Definitely come up with chord and shape ideas of your own and put them together. Print a bunch of blank tab and chord sheets, and keep them handy when you’re practicing, so you can sketch out these ideas as you come up with them. Don’t worry too much about figuring out which scale or chord they “belong” to yet, the main thing is that it sounds cool to you, and that you get it written down for future reference. You can figure out the theory later if you want.

The next post will explore a melodic variation on the single position exercise, stay tuned!

Holiday Weekend Discounts and Free Downloads!

For the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, the entire PTG catalog will be either discounted up to 75% or FREE.

Presto and Climbing the K2 will be available for free downloads on May 25th and 26th, while Practice Power, Pentatonic Licks & Sequences, and Hanon for Guitar: Inside Out will be on a Kindle Countdown from May 24th through the 26th. For the Countdown deals, prices start at just 99¢ on the 24th, then go to $1.99 on the 25th, and $2.99 on the 26th.

Get loaded and ready for a summer of great guitar playing, for less than a cup of coffee!

Maximum Fretboard Control: Fretboard Mapping, Part 3

Position Mapping

In this series so far, we’ve looked at the overview of all the possible notes along the entire neck, and broken it down, piece by piece, one string at a time. When learning how to map and navigate the fretboard, it’s important to break it down in as many ways as possible. It’s also important to make these pieces as “bite size” as possible, rather than trying to memorize the entire fretboard all at once.

So it makes sense that the next approach would be by position, to divide the neck into groups spanning four frets each. This will look similar to diagrams you might use to work on standard chromatic exercises that use all four fretting fingers, but remember, we’re not studying technique this time.

So you can play each note in each position with the usual respective finger, but it is not a requirement. The important thing with mapping is to help memorize and internalize the names and locations of the notes.

Continuing with the 12-fret neck diagram we’ve been working with, let’s just break it down into three positions:  open position (through 4th fret); 5th position (through 8th fret); and 9th position (through 12th fret). You can — and should, of course — continue further up the neck, knowing that the notes are the same in that region of the neck as they are 12 frets below, just an octave higher.

As we’ve been doing so far, we’ll look at each section with just the natural notes, then plug in the accidentals. Here’s the diagram for the open position (1st through 4th frets, plus open strings):

PM01a

PM01b

Just as mapping along each string one at a time gets you thinking along the neck, mapping by positions gets you thinking across the neck, adding another dimension to how you perceive and process the entire playing field.

Let’s move up to the next section, which spans the 5th through 8th frets:

PM02a PM02b

Since the two E strings are identical (aside from being two octaves apart), that basically gives you two strings for the price of one. You’re already a third of the way there!

Keep in mind also that, again, as this is not a technical study, you don’t have to play these notes in any particular sequence or order, like you would with practicing scales or sequences. In fact, as we’ll cover more in depth in the upcoming book, there are some really beneficial exercises that specifically involve not playing these notes in any particular order.

Finally, let’s look at the 9th position, which spans to the 12th fret:

PM03a PM03b

Make sure to review all the various “things to remember” from the previous two posts in this series, and apply them here as well. Review all the accidentals, and both of the note names for each of them — every sharp has an enharmonic flat note, and vice versa.

Visualize where the positions border each other, and go from one position to the next. Make sure to keep mapping positions and working them further up the neck, frets 13-16, 17-20, and 21-24 if possible; each of those corresponds exactly to the position 12 frets below. So for example, 17-20 (17th position) contains the exact same notes as 5-8 (5th position), just an octave higher.

As mentioned in the previous posts, just pick one of the diagrams, and work on it for five minutes at the beginning or end of your regular practice session. Assuming you practice 3-5 times per week, I can practically guarantee you real results within just a couple of weeks, certainly within a month.

We’ll finish off this series in a few days with a few simple things you can do to put all these things together and start working the map. See you then!

Maximum Fretboard Control: Fretboard Mapping, Part 2

Picking up where we left off in the last post, let’s resume our crash course in fretboard mapping and note memorization by taking a look at the 2nd (B) through 6th (low E) strings, from the open string on up to the 12th fret. We’ll look first at all the natural notes on each string, and then include all the accidentals (sharps/flats) for the complete chromatic octave along each string.

Reminders from the previous post will be included as we go along.

Here’s the B string:

SSM02b

SSM02a

Remember that each accidental has two (enharmonic) names, so C# is also Db, Eb is also D#, and so on. The name used will generally depend on the key signature. The particular names used in these diagrams are more commonly used than their enharmonic counterparts.

Moving on to the 3rd (G) string:

SSM03b

SSM03a

Remember that all of these patterns replicate 12 frets up the neck; for example, the B note at the 4th fret in the above diagram shows up an octave higher at the 16th fret.

Let’s check out the 4th (D) string:

SSM04b_

SSM04a

You don’t have to worry about it too much while you work on each string one at a time, but as you put all the strings together, it’s critical that you then work on the notes that are multiply located.

Let’s take the D note at the 12th fret on the 4th string as an example. Keep in mind how standard (EADGBE) tuning creates multiple locations for notes. What other locations can this exact note, not an octave above or below, be played? For most of the strings, the same note can be found 5 frets up on the next lower-pitched string (going from D string to A string, for example), or 5 frets down on the next higher-pitched string (going from D string to G string). The exception to this is going between the G and B strings, which will be four frets in the respective direction, rather than five.

Take a look at the entire 24-fret map and see if you can spot the other locations for that note. (Answer at the end of this post.)

Here’s the 5th (A) string:

SSM05b

SSM05a

Remember to learn the natural notes first, by the time you have those down, you’re more than halfway there!

Finally, let’s take a look at the low E string, which as you’ll recall is exactly the same as the high E string, just two octaves lower:

SSM06b

SSM06a

Again, don’t try to learn and memorize every diagram and pattern all at once. Five minutes at the beginning or end of each practice session, focusing on just one string each time, should get you going within a week or so (provided you practice 3-5 times a week).

After a couple of weeks cycling through the single-string patterns, start mapping adjacent string pairs, working on all the various elements covered so far. For now, just do 1-2 (E-B), 3-4 (G-D), and 5-6 (A-E) string pairs. Work these patterns above the 12th fret as well, knowing that the notes are the same, just 12 frets (and an octave) higher.

More techniques and exercises to help you master the art of fretboard navigation will be covered in the upcoming PTG Kindle book, Maximum Fretboard Control, coming soon. We’ll give you a heads-up as to the launch date, as well as free download dates to get yours when it drops. Play hard and have fun!

[Answer to question about the other locations for the D note found on the 4th string, 12th fret:  3rd string, 7th fret; 2nd string, 3rd fret; 5th string, 17th fret; 6th string, 22nd fret. Needless to say, play all of them.]

Maximum Fretboard Control: Fretboard Mapping

Knowing how to navigate the guitar neck is probably the single most important skill to develop, in terms of the results it will bring. You don’t have to learn to read music or any theory concepts to get the hang of fretboard mapping and navigation (though those things certainly don’t hurt, and you should look into those areas eventually).

The next PTG Kindle book, to be released later this spring, will be called Maximum Fretboard Control (in Just 5 Minutes a Day), and it will have plenty of tips, tricks, and exercises to help you in that area. Players of virtually all levels, but definitely beginning and intermediate guitarists, will benefit from these ideas. As the title implies, the idea is to make it quick, easy, and painless to get this vital skill under your belt and into your playing regimen.

You may want to use the Scales and Intervals series to provide some context here, but for the purposes of this post, we’re going to cut right to the chase. There are just a few fundamental things to know up front:

  • There are 12 notes in an octave: A  A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E  F  F#/Gb  G  G#/Ab  A’ (next octave)
  • The octave sequence repeats in both directions, up and down, but can start from any point in the sequence. A 6-string, 24-fret guitar in standard tuning (EADGBE) will have 4 full octaves (open low E string to 24th fret on high E string).
  • Notes without sharps or flats are called naturals. There are 7 natural notes: A  B  C  D  E  F  G
  • Notes with sharps or flats are called accidentals. There are 5 accidentals:  A#/Bb  C#/Db  D#/Eb  F#/Gb  G#/Ab
  • The reason accidentals are doubled up as shown above is because they are enharmonic; that is, A# is the same note as Bb, C# is the same note as Db, and so on. The note name will change depending on the key signature.
  • There are no accidentals between B and C, or between E and F.

Because of the guitar’s tuning, there are multiple locations for most notes. This is part of the reason why standard notation is more difficult to read than guitar tab; where most other instruments have just one location for each note in the instrument’s range, a given note may have as many as six locations on a guitar neck.

Many times, the context of the music will give you a pretty good idea of the most practical location to play a note. But it’s still important to get familiar with all the possible locations for every note.

That’s where mapping the fretboard, and learning it a piece at a time, come into play. Use the Fretboard Maps PDF on the Resource Page to see charts for an entire 24-fret neck. For this post, we’re going to simply use the lower half of the neck, from the nut to the 12th fret.

FM04

This will help reinforce the concept that any given note repeats an octave higher, 12 frets up the neck on the same string. So for example, the C note located at the 5th fret on the 3rd (G) string is replicated an octave higher, at the 17th fret on the same string. (This same C note, located 5th fret 3rd string, is multiply located at the 1st fret 2nd string, 10th fret 4th string, 15th fret 5th string, and 20th fret 6th string.)

In reviewing the chart above, notice that all the accidentals are listed using sharps. You could also list them using just flats:

FM05

Use these maps as references as we move on. Let’s look at the map with just natural notes:

FM01

If you’re a regular reader here, or have some knowledge of theory, you already know that these natural notes also form the C major (or A minor) scale. If not, don’t worry about scales or intervals or any of that stuff just yet, just concentrate on learning the names and locations of these notes first. Again, pay attention to the multiply located notes contained here.

Since the natural notes are 7 out of the 12 notes total in an octave, that means that if you learn the naturals, you’re already over halfway there. Then it’s just a matter of plugging in the accidentals, understanding the enharmonic capabilities of those notes, and putting it all together.

Here are the accidentals, shown as sharps:

FM02

Now shown as flats:

FM03

To touch back briefly on the subtitle of the upcoming book, you really can learn all this with just a few minutes a day. The key here, as with learning or practicing any other idea, is consistency, just doing a little every day. Within just a few weeks of consistent practice, you should have most of these note names and locations committed to memory.

Another key is to take multiple approaches to this, and to take it a piece at a time. You don’t have to memorize the above diagrams right from the start. The best way is to go one string at a time.

Let’s take a look at the first string (high E), first just the natural notes, then every note located from the open string up to the 12th fret (E to E’):

SSM01b

SSM01a

This is yet another instance where there’s a built-in advantage to learning quickly and easily — since there are two E strings, the notes are the same, it’s just that the low E is two octaves lower than the high E. But as all you are concentrating on right now is names and locations, learning one E string gives you the other E string, which means you’re already one-third the way there.

We’ll cover the other five strings in the next post. Stay tuned!