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!

Single String Thing, Part 2

Let’s finish up our look at scale patterns on a single string by looking at some cool melodic sequences to play along the scale. Hopefully by now you’ve mapped out the A minor scale up and down each string, and learned the pattern for each string, one at a time. (For reference, you can print the handy Fretboard Maps PDF from the Resources page; for the A minor / C major scale we’re reviewing, use the top diagram “Natural notes”.)

The examples here will all take place on the high E string, but of course it is highly encouraged that you try them out on every string, using just the notes in the scale, and paying attention to how the patterns differ along each string.

If you haven’t worked on single string scale patterns before, it may seem a bit limiting at first. But by staying on one string, and within one scale (at least at first; of course you should apply these patterns and sequences in as many keys and scales as possible), forces you to work on several important techniques:

  1. Alternate picking — Obviously this is most logical and efficient way to go on one string. But legato is also handy to try!
  2. Position shifting — As you shift, pay close attention to which fingers you use to anchor the shifts, both ascending and descending. Take it slow and use a metronome, and strive to keep the shifts smooth, even, and locked in with the tempo.
  3. Theory — Going across the neck on multiple strings can force you to think about where and what the notes are on the next string. The linear nature of a single string radically simplifies that process. Notes, intervals, and scale patterns can be easier to internalize this way.

So let’s take a look at a few sequencing patterns that can be run through the scale. The first one is a four-note pattern that ascends the scale one step at a time, and uses shift slides to make it smooth and easy, rather than stretching the hand trying to play all four notes before shifting. Use the suggested fingering and shifting:

SSE_01

Now let’s try the classic 1-2-3-1 / 2-3-4-2 / 3-4-5-3 / etc. sequencing pattern. Many players find this to be an easier way to play this type of sequence:

SSE_02

It’s tempting (and easy) to play a fast sequencing run that simply ascends chromatically, and such runs are definitely part of a well-rounded practice diet. But try staying within the scale for these exercises, and pretty quickly you’ll hear how it lends a more structured, melodic, classical sound

The next exercise utilizes the classical pedal point technique, where a scale fragment or melody is played “against” a repeated stationary note, creating a very melodic effect. Again, be sure to try these types of figures ascending and descending, and see how to “reverse” the patterns when desired.

SSE_03

The last exercise is a sequence found in the styles of many ’80s neoclassical shredders. It involves displacing the notes, ordering them in a different sequence, and then repeating that sequence through the scale.

Let’s take a simple 3-note sequence of notes such as A-B-C (1-2-3). Instead of just playing them in order, we’ll start the sequence with the third note, C, then go back down to A, come back up through B to C, then back down through B to end on A.

So the whole 6-note sequence goes C-A-B-C-B-A (or in numerical notation, 3-1-2-3-2-1). Here is the sequence broken down to a single-bar “cell”:

SSE_04a

It may be awkward at first, because you should be using just the 1-3-4 (index, ring, pinky) fingers to play the sequence at this particular position, but any chance to work on that 3-4 combination is a good thing. Like anything else, take it slow, use a metronome, play it clean and accurate before playing it fast.

Using the fretboard maps as reference, simply run that same 3-1-2-3-2-1 sequencing pattern up and down through the rest of the steps in the scale, as shown in the tab below.

SSE_04

At faster speeds, this type of melodic displacement sounds really cool, and maybe even sounds a bit trickier than it actually is. These “impress the neighbors” runs are always fun to play, and become easier once you master the sequence and see how to move it through the scale.

Definitely get familiar with these patterns, develop some sequence ideas of your own, and run them through the entire pattern along the neck. Again, add sharps and flats as needed to try different keys, and go through the circle of fifths / fourths.

We’ll end this post with a quick variation on the 3-1-2-3-2-1 sequence we were just looking at. It simply goes from 5th position to 4th position — but of course the 4th fret on the E string is a G# note, not in the A minor / C major scale. The G# pushes the tonality to E major (E-G#-B triad), which harmonizes well against A minor. Simply play this bar over and over again until you get the hang of it. Listen to how the sequence “resolves” musically. Experiment and see where other sequences outside the scale can fit in and sound good.

SSE_04b

Use the 1-3-4 fingers for the A minor (5th position) part, and 1-2-4 for the E major (4th position) part, so you get to use all four fretting fingers. Just go back and forth between the two until both feel smooth and easy to play and shift between. It’s a great little exercise for picking and for ear training.

As you practice all these variations, in different keys and on different strings, be sure to keep some blank tab paper handy, and listen for interesting sequences to put together, so you can write them down as soon as you can. Good luck and have fun!

Single String Thing

In past posts, we’ve concentrated on a variety of ways to play scales, but generally on forms and patterns that use most or all of the strings. Those tend to be the most efficient as far as maximizing fretboard navigation goes, and there are lots of cool sequencing patterns that can be developed from those scale forms.

But single-string scales are pretty cool too, and in fact have benefits as well for navigation, and for developing cool sequencing patterns. It’s just about impossible to know too many different ways to play a particular scale.

As always, we’ll use our trusty A minor (C major) pattern, since there are no sharps or flats. Here’s the scale played along the high E string:
SS01
Spelled intervallically:

SS01a
Check the tab below, and play the scale ascending and descending, using the suggested fingering:

SS_01

It’s possible to play as many as four notes along the string before needing to shift position, but it is highly recommended to play no more than three notes before shifting, especially at first. It’s easier to maintain control moving up and down the neck, and the shifts are shorter in distance.

This is a great single-string scale exercise to reinforce that principle.

SS_02

Here’s the same exercise in groups of four, the “three against four” rhythm always sounds cool!

SS_03

Now let’s map the same scale along the B string:
SS02

Don’t worry about starting or ending on the root as you play through the scale patterns, just play as many of the notes of the scale as you can along a given string.

Moving along to the G string:
SS03

Using the Fretboard Maps PDF from the Resources page, map out the scale on the other strings (really just the D and A strings, since of course the pattern on the low E is the same as the one on the high E), and play them all. In the next post, we’ll go over some cool sequencing patterns, stay tuned!

Kreutzer #12 Finale

Let’s finish off the Kreutzer #12 with the last ten bars. Not only does the progression shift substantially, going Bb-Eb° before heading back to the more familiar Am-E, but the sequencing patterns begin differently than before.

K12_05

Make sure, as you continue to refine and internalize the various patterns and sequences in this piece, that you go back and try applying, for example, the sequencing patterns from bars 23 or 27 to bar 1 or bar 5. The main thing here is to master all the triad shapes shown throughout; once the shapes are familiar, they can be sequenced in any way that sounds good to you.

The piece concludes with a return to the home key of A minor, finishing off on the high A note. (Something to try:  what if that final note was an A major chord instead?)

K12_06

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this piece, and gotten some cool ideas for sweep picking, arpeggios, triads, and sequences from the material. We’ll do a follow-up post soon with explanations and printable cheat sheets for triad shapes and circle of 5ths.

The PDF link below contains the entire tab (and notation) for the piece, suitable for printing and easier reading. Have fun!

Kreutzer #12 (full)

Kreutzer #12, Part 2

Continuing on with the Kreutzer #12, let’s see what the next several bars look like. While the chord sequence of the first 8 bars (Am-Dm-G-C) is the start of the classic “cycle of 4ths” progression, instead of going to what would be the next step in that cycle (F), the next arpeggio turns out to be E major, followed by A minor (E-A being yet another 4th interval), and then a nice melodic move by shifting from A minor into A diminished, and briefly nodding back to E major in bar 14. See tab below:

K12_03

Notice how the A°/E arpeggio sequence in bars 13-14 deviates from the pattern established by all the previous arpeggios, at first starting out the same, then shifting back down for the second half of bar 13, then the doubled-up first notes of the E triads in bar 14. This adds a nice change of pace, in terms of style and flow.

The next eight-bar section returns to the original sequencing pattern, starting with an E major inversion (the first note of the sequence is G#, which is the second note of the E major triad). From there the progression returns to A minor, then to B diminished, then back to an A minor/C inversion:

K12_04

Unlike the earlier A° arpeggio, the B° arpeggio in bars 19-20 conforms to the main sequencing pattern set by almost all the previous bars. Again, this is a great extended sequencing pattern to learn, and it’s a terrific exercise to map it out in reverse and play it. Print some blank tab pages from the Resources page and give it a shot!

In the next post, we’ll finish off the #12, and then follow up with another post spelling out some of the concepts (triad shapes; adjacent string trios; cycle/circle of 4ths/5ths) in greater detail.

Kreutzer #12: The Arpeggiator

It’s time for another installment in our ongoing series, “Better Know a Kreutzer Etude.” The etude we’ll be looking at today is #12, a deceptively simple piece that serves as a fantastic crash course in triadic arpeggios. (If you’re not familiar with triads, or just need a refresher, please refer to our PDF cheat sheet.)

This piece is 32 bars long, somewhat longer than the other Kreutzer etudes we’ve covered, but still very manageable. Compositionally, the #12 consists of sequenced, arpeggiated triads, spread over two bars and spanning as much as 3 octaves each. Let’s take a look at the first four bars and see how that lays on the fretboard:

K12_01

Right away you can see where maintaining strict alternate picking will be something of a challenge. Let’s take a quick look at the music itself first, and then we’ll show some picking options for consideration.

The piece is in the key of Aminor, and starts off with an A minor triad (A-C-E) played in an ascending sequence that spans three full octaves. The very first 4-note grouping simply ascends, A-C-E-A’. Each successive 4-note grouping, however, goes up to the next step in the triad sequnce, then down and and back up. So the second 4-note group goes C’-E-A’-C’, the next one goes E’-A’-C’-E’, and so on. This is a common scale sequencing device, and is certainly a valuable one to apply to triads and arpeggios.

The vibrato shown on the sustained notes ending bars 2 and 4 is not in the original score. But anyone who has checked out the scores for the Kreutzer studies knows that many of the pieces have an abundance of suggested variations, such as different bowing and fingering techniques. It’s important to learn these piece as written, but it’s just as crucial to find ways to make them your own at some point, to infuse them with your style and personality.

So each successive 2-bar figure features one of these extended triad sequences; bars 3-4 feature a D minor triad (D-F-A) that also spans three full octaves. Notice how the shapes along the 1-2-3 (E’-B-G) strings are the same for A minor and D minor, just at different locations. This piece will take several posts to break down and tab, and at the end of the final post in the series, there will be a PDF link for the entire tab, as well as a handy cheat sheet showing all the shapes for triads and inversions along the various adjacent string trios (E’-B-G; B-G-D; G-D-A; D-A-E). For now, as we go along, keep an eye out for how these shapes lay on the fretboard for each type of triad (major, minor, diminished, augmented).

Going back to the picking situation:  while again it is definitely challenging to play these types of arpeggios with strict down-up alternate picking, unless you’re experienced with sweep or economy picking, it is recommended that you stick with alternate picking at least long enough to learn and internalize the arpeggio shapes. Since alternate picking is basically the “default” method for efficient playing, it’s one less thing to have to think about while learning what can be fairly complicated patterns and shapes.

Once you have those shapes dialed in, though, here are a couple of more efficient ways to play that first extended A minor arpeggio sequence:

K12_var1 K12_var2

Both of these are essentially sweep picking variations; this piece is a classic example of the type of music for which sweep picking was developed in the first place. The first variation attempts to make efficient use of the picking hand’s “return” motion (i.e., coming back up to set for the next down-picked shape), by using an upstroke at the “turnaround” point. The second variation uses legato (hammer-on) for any note on a string beyond the first note, and then nothing but downstrokes.

Try both variations, see what feels comfortable to you. As always with sweep picking, make sure every note sounds smooth and even, not dynamically louder or softer than the others. Don’t “choke” a note too soon, let it have its full duration before going to the next note. You may find that some combination of the two variations works best for you.

Let’s wrap up this post by checking out the next 4 bars, which consist of a G major arpeggio, followed by a C major:

K12_02

Again, pay attention to how the shapes for major and minor triads tend to fall along these string trios. Learning the shapes, and how to work them anywhere on the fretboard, will help your navigational and improvisational skills enormously. It’s time well spent.

To recap the first 8 bars of the Kreutzer #12:  Am-Dm-G-C. In music theory terms, this is the start of a cycle (or circle) of fourths (intervallically). We’ve mentioned the circles of 5ths and 4ths before, and there will be a cheat sheet explaining the concept in more detail on the Resources page in the near future. It’s yet another very powerful tool to have at your disposal.

So practice these shapes, try a few different picking styles, play them descending as well as ascending if you’re feeling ambitious, and we’ll continue working through the #12 later in the week.

1-2-3-4 Go

Let’s take a look at a simple but effective exercise that will develop kick-ass alternate-picking chops for you, and synchronize your picking and fretting hands like you won’t believe.

The cool thing about this exercise is how simple the premise is, and that it can be plugged into just about any scale formation you like — chromatic, major, minor, etc. For this post, we’re going to use our old faithful basic pentatonic box. The only rule is strict alternate picking, you can start with a downstroke or an upstroke. Of course, you should definitely use a metronome.

1234-01

Easy enough, right? Okay, now let’s play through the scale again — but this time, play each note twice.

1234-02

Play the entire pattern, and observe throughout how your picking motion changes from playing each note once to playing each note twice.

You can see where this is going now, but let’s throw in rhythmic variations to keep it interesting. Play the sextuplet figure shown below:

1234-03a

Now play the same thing in a “straight four” rhythm. Notice how it affects your sense of picking and rhythm, even though it’s the exact same sequence of notes.

1234-03b

Let’s move on to playing each note four times.

1234-04a

Finally, the same 4-note figure played in triplet/sextuplet rhythm. Check it out:

1234-04b

The possibilities for this idea are practically infinite — you can (and should!) do this with all five pentatonic boxes, as well as any scale, any pattern, any melodic sequence, any number of strings. You can of course keep going in terms of numbers, repeating each note five, six, seven times or more.

Pay close attention to how your picking motion changes, from odd numbers of notes to even numbers, and at points where you go from one string to another. Refining the picking and string-crossing motions are the most important part of developing a solid alternate-picking technique.

Here’s the printable PDF for all parts of this exercise:

1234

Refer back through the various scale and pattern exercises here if you need ideas to work through. At the very least, you can work through major, minor, harmonic minor, and chromatic scales, in all the various positions and string combinations (3-note-per-string; 4-note-per-string; single-string; etc.). Melodic sequencing patterns, string skipping, and arpeggios are also fair game.

Definitely use the metronome to keep your rhythm tight (especially for the 3-on-4 and 4-on-3 variations) and track your tempo and progress. Work toward minimizing picking-hand motion and distance moved for alternate picking and string crossing. As simple as the idea is, you can see how applying it everywhere and anywhere will keep you busy for some time. Have fun!

Kreutzer #3, Part 2

While the brief intro section of Kreutzer Etude #3 probably did not take you too long to get a handle on, we loaded you up with several exercises based on the intro motif. The exercises are designed to work on melodic sequencing, and will also help a great deal with fretboard navigation, as they go up and down the neck along adjacent string pairs.

Let’s take a look at Section B of the etude, which takes up the majority of the piece, from bar 4 up through about halfway into bar 12. When you see the tab you’ll understand why that point makes an ideal spot to section off:

K3SecB

As mentioned in the previous post, Etude #3 is an interval exercise, specifically thirds. It is in Section B where most of the work on thirds is done. The entire section is essentially an ascending 6-note figure, comprised of thirds ascending stepwise through the scale, then connected by a 2-note scale-step descent, into the next climbing 6-note figure.

Let’s break down Bar 4 to see how that works. The notes for the first 6-note figure are: B-G-C-A-D-B. Each note pair is a descending third interval:  B down to G is a third, as are C down to A and D down to B respectively. (Be sure to check out the free Intervals cheat sheet on the Resources page if you need a reference or a refresher on the interval terms.) So you have three (3) third intervals grouped together, ascending one step at a time up the scale, right?

Now, after that 3rd (D-B) third interval (sorry if this is confusing), the figure goes to the next scale step, E, and then descends back to the D note, to set up for the next 6-note figure, which starts one scale step higher than the previous 6-note figure. This repeats through the following 7½ bars, a total of 17 times, more than 2 full octaves.

It makes sense to play the 3 thirds in each 6-note figure “in a row,” so to speak, and for the most part, they are tabbed as such. But there are bars where they are tabbed to minimize position shifting, which may be slightly more difficult to finger and learn. So below is an “alternate” way to play the section, where each successive trio of thirds stays on its respective string pair:

K3SecB_alt

As we’ll see with the exercises for this section, there are only a couple of fingering patterns to learn, for thirds along a given adjacent string pair. So you may find the second tab for this section simpler to learn and play. Whatever works — in fact, any tab is generally a suggestion, although one based on experience and practice. But the bottom line is that if it makes more sense to you to play a note or phrase at a different spot from what’s in the tab, go for it, as long as it doesn’t run counter to the overall goal of the technique the study is designed to address.

To reinforce the concept of thirds and their patterns, practice the exercises shown below for adjacent string pairs:

B01 B02 B03

There are two fingering patterns for the B-G string pair, and one of those is also one of the two fingerings for all the other adjacent string pairs. The fingerings themselves should be apparent; for the double-stops on the B-G pair, try using one finger and two fingers, both ways can be applied in various playing situations.

As far as picking, start with down-up alternate, try up-down, and if you’re feeling ambitious, try economy picking (down-down or up-up).

Below is the C major scale in third intervals, going up the B string:

B04

Needless to say, map out the scale on all strings, and play it in thirds as shown above. Then take it through the circle of 5ths/4ths, adding a sharp or a flat as you through the circle.

Finally, check out the melodic figure based on ascending and descending 3rd intervals, shown below:

B05

As with the exercises from the previous post, be sure to come up with your own variations on these useful intervals. Listen to how they sound, and how a major 3rd sounds different from a minor 3rd. Experiment with different combinations of patterns and intervals.

We’ll close out the etude over the weekend. See you then!

Kreutzer Etude #3

We’ve gotten lots of great response and feedback since publishing Climbing the K2 last year, so we’re going to cover more technical studies from Kreutzer, as well as other collections for violin and piano.

At first glance, it might seem a bit odd to practice material specifically written for other instruments, especially studies written to address technical issues on those instruments. And some of that is true; studies that addresses bowing technique for the violin, or two-hand techniques for piano, are not readily applicable for those technical issues.

But many of them are very musical, and address musical issues in addition to the technical aspects. Many of the 42 Kreutzer Etudes fall into that category, as so many of them are interval studies, in addition to whatever proprietary technical issues they are written for.

Etude #3 is a study in thirds, probably the most commonly used interval in single-note (melodic) playing, and the foundation for musical structures such as triads and chords. It’s short, just 16 bars plus a final “landing” note, and relatively easy to play and learn. To make it even simpler to learn and discuss the concepts covered in the etude, we’ve broken it into three easy chunks. This post will cover the introductory measures, with the other two sections to follow over the next couple days.

The piece is in the key of C major (no sharps or flats), and we’ve tabbed it to lay along the general area shown below:

CMajor_notes CMajor_intervals

The majority of the etude is in this area, and of course C major is probably the single most important scale to learn and internalize, in as many positions as possible. There is one section (covered in the next post) which takes you up the fretboard along the E’-B string pair, so it will be useful to know the scale as shown here as well:

CMajor_spec

Check the tab shown below to play both scale forms:

A09-

Use strict alternate picking (starting with down-up, but try up-down as well) and a metronome to internalize these scale patterns. The first one should be pretty straightforward. The second one, with its four-note-per-string (4N/S) fingering at first, followed by the shift to a sextuplet at the end, will be challenging at first, but that’s because it’s supposed to be. Once you get the shift from straight-four to sextuplet cleanly and in time with the metronome, you’ll have a pretty cool sound that’s easy to work into a lot of melodic situations.

Make sure to work both patterns in as many keys as you can think of, chromatically or (better yet) through the circle of 5ths.

So we’ve set the scene, now let’s take a look at the intro section of the etude:

K3_SecA

For our purposes, let’s consider the first three bars as Section A. Looking closely at these measures, we can see that it consists of a four-note melodic figure that repeats and descends mostly through the C major scale form we looked at above.

Especially with short, repeated melodic figures (motifs), it helps to break them down intervallically, to show the relationship of the notes to each other. So the first four notes are G-E-A-G. The distance from G to E is down a third. (In this case, it’s a minor third, but since we are moving diatonically through the scale, that will change to a major third in some instances.) The distance from E up to A is a (perfect) fourth. Finally, the distance from A down to G is a (major) second. So we’ll notate that intervallically as ↓3↑4↓2.

So as you can see, that ↓3↑4↓2 pattern continues right down through the scale, mostly in the 3rd position, to transition into Section B starting on the 4th bar. Throughout the entire piece, we’ve tabbed it so as to provide a variety of patterns and shifting, but we’ll also provide you with some exercises to focus on specific patterns, and how to apply them.

Practice Section A as tabbed, using strict alternate picking, and get the shifts and twists down. Start slow and build speed and accuracy at the same time; in other words, don’t bump up the metronome until you can play the passage perfectly.

Once you have that down, take a look at some bonus exercises that revolve around our ↓3↑4↓2 intervallic shape. Work the shape up and down various adjacent string pairs, as shown below:

A01 A02 A03

Once you isolate each 4-note grouping, you see that there are only 6 shapes total to learn:  3 for the B-G pair, and 3 for all the other adjacent string pairs.

Now let’s try a couple of ways to “invert” the shape. First let’s run it upside-down and reversed — instead of ↓3↑4↓2, we’ll go ↑2↓4↑3. See tab below:

A04

Another cool way to invert is to keep the intervals in the original order, but reverse their directions. So now instead of ↓3↑4↓2, it’s ↑3↓4↑2, as shown below:

A09-A05

You know the drill by now with exercises of this nature — work them through other keys, positions, string pairs, etc. Think of other ways this particular interval sequence could be permuted or inverted. And perhaps most importantly, mix them all up, use pieces from all of them in various combinations. This is a really quick and effective way to build up a powerful musical vocabulary.

We’ll work on Section B in the next post, stay tuned!

Diminished Arpeggios and Sweep Picking Sequences

One of the more interesting flavors to add to your musical spice rack is the diminished arpeggio. Long used in jazz music, it was not used much in rock or metal until European guitarists such as Uli Roth and Yngwie Malmsteen, well-versed in classical music and theory, popularized it in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Check out the Scorpions’ classic Yellow Raven, or Yngwie’s Far Beyond the Sun, and the sound and tonality just leap out at you. These players and compositions paved the way for countless shredders.

As a rank beginner, the first time I heard the diminished scale, I thought the guitar was out of tune, but very quickly came to appreciate its unique tonality. Aside from its sound, a large part of the diminished arpeggio’s beauty and versatility lies in its simplicity.

We already know how triads are constructed, by stacking two third intervals. The diminished triad is made by stacking two minor thirds. You’ve probably heard the old line that an arpeggio is simply a “broken chord,” basically playing each note of a chord one at a time, rather than strumming all at once. Another way to look at it is as an extended triad — you get a triad by stacking two thirds, what if you stack an additional third interval on top of the first two? Now you have a 7th arpeggio; again, which type (major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, diminished 7th)will depend on whether each of your three stacked thirds are major or minor in quality.

When the triads and extended arpeggios are harmonized through the major scale (similar to the way modes are derived), there is only one diminished 7th arpeggio, and it is the seventh (and final) one of the major scale. As always, concentrate on learning the sounds and shapes before the theoretical concepts.

Here’s where the diminished seventh arpeggio gets really simple, yet effective — all three of your stacked third intervals are minor thirds. So each note is three frets away from the previous one, and the next one. This equal distance between all notes in the arpeggio makes it symmetrical.

Let’s take a look at all of the notes (from the 2nd to 20th frets) in the 4-note diminished seventh arpeggio, with the root note of A:

dimfull

Again, notice that there are just four notes:  root, minor (flat) 3rd, flat 5th, and diminished (double flat) 7th. (In terms of interval spelling, a diminished seventh interval is equal to a major 6th interval.) In the key of A, these four notes are A, C, Eb(D#), F#(Gb).

Another simple, effective thing about symmetrical forms is that, for practical purposes, each note in the arpeggio is a root. So any melodic sequence developed from this arpeggio will sound just as good in any of those four keys. This free-floating root characteristic is true of other symmetrical scales, such as the whole tone scale.

Here is a way to play the arpeggio in single-position fashion, but with some navigation up the neck:

dim03

Note that it’s just a single two-string, two-finger (1st and 4th) shape, repeated with each successive string pair. The slight position shifts might seem unusual at first, but try it on a single string pair at first, work it up to speed, and then run the entire shape across all six strings.

Now let’s take our 4-note shape and run it up the neck along a single string pair:

dim04

Just work the shape up one position (three frets) at a time, up and back down the neck, as shown in the tab below, using the 1st and 4th fingers only. This is a great way to warm up your hands for position shifting as well.

da01

Referring back to the earlier “neoclassical” players mentioned, Roth and Malmsteen, let’s take a look at how easily this symmetrical shape falls across three strings for them, especially the first two trios of strings (E’-B-G and B-G-D). Here’s how the arpeggio sits on the E’-B-G strings:

dim01

Play the sequences shown in the tabs below, using the suggested picking and fingering. This is a good one for working on 1-3-4 fingerings, which can be problematic for some players.

da02

da03

Both shapes are useful for working on sweep picking upstrokes. Definitely try both; you may find that the second shape, with the pull-off, allows for smoother phrasing.

The next few tabs will show how to create melodic sequences with this shape that sound good and are not too difficult to play.

da04

da05

The second tab of the above two shows how to effectively sequence rhythmic variations, building each phrase with a triplet 16th and a 4/4 8th note, repeating up the neck. Played over a straight 4/4 rhythmic progression, this is a nice change-up from having the exact same note rhythm all the way through.

For the last sequence for this shape and string group, we’ll complete the sweep-picking sequence by coming back through the shape with a sweep downstroke. This is a fairly common shape in the rock/metal “neoclassical” style that uses diminished arpeggios frequently.

Try to achieve a “rolling” effect, back and forth, between upstrokes and downstrokes. This is a good rule of thumb for sweep picking just about anything, and will give your arpeggio sequences a nice, smooth, even sound.

da06

It’s fine to accent the first note of each beat slightly, but when sweep picking, make sure that each note can be heard cleanly and clearly, independent from the note before it and the note after it. You don’t want the notes to all bleed together into a chord.

A great technique to try, especially when first learning sweep picking, is to palm-mute the note slightly as you pick it. Apply light pressure with the side of the palm of your picking hand as you pick the note, and gradually lift the pressure as the shape and the picking sequence become familiar.

We’ll wrap this up with a look at the B-G-D string group. (If you look at the neck diagram introducing this post, and observe how the arpeggio lays out on the G-D-A and D-A-E trios, you’ll see how the tuning of the B string helps in creating easy-to-play shapes that can quickly be moved along the progression of the arpeggio, up and back down the neck. The shapes on the lower strings are worth learning, but the E’-B-G and B-G-D groups will probably be more useful to you in an actual playing situation.

Here’s the B-G-D group. Where the E’-B-G group employed the 1-3-4 fingering, this one will use 1-2-4, and thus will probably be easier for most people to play.

dim02

Let’s apply this shape to a couple more back-and-forth “rolling” sequences. Again, get a smooth, even tempo and dynamic control over the notes, so that none of them are getting drowned out.

da07

da08

Again, since each of these is just a single shape repeated, it’s a great opportunity to work on sweep- and economy-picking, as well as fretboard navigation, all at the same time. Check out how hammer-ons and pull-offs are used to help set up the picking hand for greater maneuverability, so you’re not having to jump back into position too quickly.

Pay attention to the various picking suggestions in the tabs, and try them all, see which one(s) play more comfortably and smoothly. If you refer to the Roth video (esp. at about 2:23 for the main solo) and Malmsteen video (esp. in the secondary intro phrase, starting about 8 seconds in), you can see these exact shapes at work, and how useful they are for leading musically and navigating up the fretboard.

Definitely check out the entire bodies of work from each of these players (and others, of course), as Roth and Malmsteen pioneered this style and many of these techniques, and were playing this arpeggio when most players were still working with pentatonic boxes and not much else.

Notice also in the videos how little picking motion Roth and especially Malmsteen require when they play. There is basically zero wasted motion, and not only are they extremely efficient in their picking motion, but they make it seem almost effortless. This is the sort of top-level technique that enables you to play just about anything you can imagine, and is achievable with rigorous practice.