Let’s check in on our ongoing Kreutzer Etude series, and take a look at a short yet melodic piece, the #5 Etude. It is just 24 bars (the final bar is a single ending note) of triplet 8th notes. Some of the etudes we’ve looked at so far are useful in developing specific techniques, such as alternate picking or sweep picking.
Certainly the #5 will help with alternate picking as well, but its real strength is in taking simple scale patterns and developing them melodically. It’s also an interesting exercise for practicing position playing, and we’ll show you how to play this piece in no less than four different positions (two in the lower octave, two in the upper octave).
Since this etude is in a fairly unusual key for most guitarists (C minor / Eb major), it also serves as a great way to learn how to play effectively in those keys. As always, there will be additional exercises to help in learning the piece, as well as show you some ideas in scales and fretboard navigation.
So let’s take a look at the first half of the piece, break that down into a couple of sections, and check out some exercises to go with those sections.
Breakdown and Analysis
You don’t really have to know too much music theory to benefit from the analysis and exercises, but the more you know, the easier it is to follow along. If some of the terms don’t make sense right away, don’t worry about it. Concentrate on learning the piece itself first, you can always come back through and check out the extra parts later.
As noted above, the key signature for this etude is C minor (relative major is Eb major). The notes in the C natural minor scale are C D Eb F G Ab Bb. It always helps to match up the notes numerically, as degrees of the scale, so C is 1 (1st degree), D is 2, and so on, right up to Bb (7th degree of the scale).
For those of you unfamiliar with reading musical notation and key signatures, take a moment and look at the three flat (♭) markings on the left side of the notation staff, just to the right of the clef. In order from left to right, those flats are Bb, Eb, and Ab, corresponding to the flat notes indicated in the scale.
Section A (Bars 1-4): The first four bars introduce a 12-note pattern based on the C minor scale. This 12-note pattern is basically a doubled 6-note pattern, the second one lower than the first. Starting from the 5th degree of that scale (G note), you go up 2 scale degrees (to Bb, the 7th note of the scale), then right back down the scale, five notes in a row. The pattern then starts up again from the next lower scale degree.
The first bar works this pattern down twice, so let’s look at it first as notes, then as numbers of the scale.
Notes: G-Bb-Ab-G-F-Eb D-F-Eb-D-C-Bb
Numbers: 5-7-6-5-4-3 2-4-3-2-1(root)-7
(Note that the Bb at the end of the second 6-note pattern is an octave lower than the one near the beginning of the first pattern.)
Practice that first bar over and over again, until the pattern feels comfortable, and you can hear how the pattern sounds. Observing how the numerals correspond to the notes can be tricky at first, but it will make it easier to extrapolate the pattern through this scale (or any scale), and develop exercises to work along the entire fretboard.
Now looking at the second bar, we can see that, rather than continuing the 6-note base pattern straight down through the scale, it jumps back up a fourth (interval) to start up the pattern again. This happens again, going from bar 2 to bar 3, and again to bar 4.
Here’s an exercise that will illustrate what we’re talking about with “extrapolating” a pattern “through a scale” or along the fretboard. This first exercise takes our 6-note base pattern, and works it down through the scale in the 3rd position.
If you break it up into 6-note chunks, you can see that each one starts one scale degree down from where the last one began. Numerically that would go 5-7-6-5-4-3, 4-6-5-4-3-2, 3-5-4-3-2-1, 2-4-3-2-1-7, and so on. Those sequences will eventually repeat as you go down (or up) through multiple octaves. Check it out:
Now, we’ll take our full 12-note pattern, and work it up the fretboard along the G-B-E’ trio of strings, ascending one scale degree at a time:
Unless otherwise noted, stick with strict down-up alternate picking, until the patterns feel comfortable. After that, feel free to start with an upstroke, incorporate legato, palm muting, etc.
With these and any other exercises, use whatever musical knowledge you have to transfer them into as many keys as possible. For example, how would you play this exercise in C major, instead of C minor? How would you start from a given key, and work the exercise through the entire circle of fifths/fourths? Can you play these patterns on other string combinations, and map them out along the neck? Those can be tough questions for people who don’t have much theory, but if you use our free cheat sheets consistently, that knowledge comes pretty quickly, and will make it much easier to learn more complex ideas with less time and effort.
Despite the simplicity of the etude itself, the above demonstrates very clearly how many ideas can be drawn from just a simple 12-note scale pattern (composed of a doubled 6-note pattern), played for 4 bars in a single position on the guitar. Pretty cool, right? Chances are that this post alone will give you plenty of ideas to keep you busy for a long time — and we’re only covering the first half of the etude right now.
Before moving on to the next section, let’s take a quick look at the scales for this etude, in various positions. Here’s the base C minor scale in the 3rd position, starting from the 5th (A) string, played two ways, first in position and then 3-note-per-string style, with the position shift:
Usually the importance of scale patterns that use three or four notes per string is emphasized here, and those patterns are more useful in encompassing a broader musical range, as well as navigating more of the fretboard. You can cover more ground with a 3-note-per-string (3N/S)pattern than with a position scale pattern.
However, position patterns are still valuable to know and use, in that they provide yet another way of visualizing the fretboard, and that minimizing movement along the neck can help simplify the notes and patterns. Certain positions tend to be more conducive to certain keys and scales, but the fact of the matter is that every key in every scale is contained to at least some extent in every single position on the fretboard.
The relative major key/scale to C minor is Eb major. Here is that scale, first in position and then as a 3N/S pattern:
Use the suggested picking and fingering, and be sure to run all these scales down as well as up. Observe how the descending shifts may differ from the ascending shifts, and which fingers prepare to “anchor” for those shifts in each direction.
Also practice the scales along all 6 strings:
Section B (Bars 5-11): Bar 5 starts out with a straight run up the scale, starting from Bb. Modally, this could be considered Bb Mixolydian. On the descent in bar 6, notice that the second-to-last note in that bar is an A, rather than an Ab, implying Bb major (G minor). Bars 7-8 shift the A note back to Ab, and feature some nice back-and-forth intervallic play.
Bars 9-11 have an ascending-descending scalar sequence that misses the 2nd degree (spelled intervallically: 1-3-4-5-6-7), moving the sequence up a scale degree at a time. The tonality shifts the Ab back to A yet again for the first two of those bars, before settling back to the original key for the time being. We’re only talking about changing a single note (Ab to A and back) in the context of the scale, but you can hear how that small change creates melodic tension. This etude plays with that melodic shift repeatedly, and it’s a powerful tool to incorporate into your soloing.
Here’s a couple simple but effective exercises based on what we’ve seen in Section B. First, let’s take a look at three different ways to play the Bb Mixolydian mode. The Mixolydian is the fifth of the seven major scale modes. It is identical to the major scale, except for the flattened seventh, and is most commonly found these days in country music, but certainly has nice melodic applications in blues and rock.
The idea here is to play the same scale, starting with a different finger each time. Here is the standard 3N/S pattern, beginning with the index finger:
Easy enough, right? The first 3 strings have the same pattern, and the subsequent shifts are small and fairly easy to learn. Now let’s take a look at starting with the middle finger, and remaining in position:
Note the position shift heading into the B string, in order to catch the Ab (G#) note at the 9th fret. You can also play that note on the 4th fret of the high E string, and not have to shift at all, but stretch the index finger down a fret to play the note. Needless to say, it never hurts to get familiar with both of those ways.
Now let’s take a look at playing the mode starting with the 4th finger. There’s a 1-fret shift at the B string, and then we’ve added a nice 4-note descending sequence to help work on the fingering and shifts:
Remember when learning new scale patterns, that once you learn the basic pattern itself, to move beyond just running the scale straight up and down, and to plug it into different sequencing patterns. Check out some of these past posts on scales and sequencing for some ideas:
3N/S Patterns: Major Scale
3N/S Patterns: Minor Scale
3N/S Patterns: Harmonic Minor Scale
Melodic sequencing is the key to building technique and musical knowledge at the same time, and will absolutely give you a huge advantage in understanding how to create memorable solos and melodies. Stay tuned for the second half of the Etude #5 in a few days!