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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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