Guitar Notes

A big thank you to everyone who’s been checking out the site so far, we’ve had folks checking in from around the world — Brazil, Russia, India, Macedonia, Australia, and elsewhere. That is awesome, and again, we very much appreciate all of your comments, suggestions, and questions. Keep ’em coming!

We have a lot more cool things in the works, for players of all levels. We’ll be posting a series on basic chord formations throughout this coming week, starting Monday. We also have several publications in the works; some will be posted for free on the Resources page, and a few others will be offered here in PDF format for a couple bucks, as well as on Amazon in Kindle format. Stay tuned!

Lick of the Week: 2-Finger Symphony

Welcome to our first “lick of the week” feature, where we’ll use basic ideas to build up to a cool passage of roughly 8 bars in length, that you can then use to impress your neighbors and scare away wild animals.

Our first LotW is an idea that sounds more complex than it is, and it can be played by just about any level of ability. It involves using an open string as a pedal point, with the 1st and 4th fingers forming movable triads around that point.

One of the first “cool licks” that a lot of players learn is the open string pull-off triplet. It’s a staple of many early rock guitar solos, because it’s easy to do and it sounds good. The tab excerpt below shows this in both pull-off and hammer-on form:

2FS_01

As you can see, if your 1-4 fingering is at the 5th position on the E string, you have an A note at the 5th fret, and a C note at the 8th fret. So the A-C-E grouping forms an A minor triad (R-b3-5). In the 4th position you have G# and B at the 4th and 7th frets respectively; G#-B-E is an inverted E major triad.

(Theory note:  G#-B-E also spells out G#m6 (R-b3-6), but especially when paired with an Am triad, it resolves more as an E harmonically. It also depends on the key that the triad is being played over. But by themselves, the triads spell out Am-E. As always, it’s more important that it sounds smooth and clean, than to worry about the theory behind it.)

If we played the above triad forms on the B string instead of the E string, the two triads would spell out E-G-B (E minor) and D#-F#-B (B major inversion); on the G string they would be C-Eb-G (C minor) and B-D-G (G major inv.). Again, just listen to how the first triad on each open string resolves into the second one. Pretty cool melodic tension there.

Let’s try a simple four-on-the-floor variation, on the open B string, shown below. This one sounds somewhat like the opening riff of the AC/DC classic Thunderstruck. Even though every other note here is an open-string pull-off, be sure to maintain alternate picking for the picked notes throughout:

2FS_03

Continue reading “Lick of the Week: 2-Finger Symphony”

Back to Basics: 2-Finger Patterns: Stretch Type Thing

Before we move on to symmetrical/chromatic patterns that utilize three and four fingers, let’s add to the patterns we looked at previously, which involved all the combinations of two fingers.

You might be wondering why we don’t just go straight to working out various combinations of all four fretting fingers. It’s a valid question, and the main reason for it is because beginning with the simplest, most fundamental motions possible allows you to more quickly identify and isolate any mechanical issues that you may have with either hand, including synchronization.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how to sequence these patterns, and starting with basic two-finger ideas makes the concept easier to learn and apply to more complex melodic ideas (such as scales).

In the meantime, check out these “stretch” variations of those patterns, where an extra fret or even two might be inserted into the pattern. Neck diagrams are shown below:

2fs01 2fs02

Notice the fret markings under each diagram; it is recommended that you try each pattern at the 7th fret at least. You may want to start even higher up the neck, at the 12th or 15th fret, and work your way down. These larger stretches will feel uncomfortable and difficult at first. If you feel any actual pain or acute discomfort, stop right away and give your hand a rest, and try the pattern at a more comfortable location.

Once you have the stretch patterns down, make sure to go back through all the basic ascending and descending tabs from before, and apply the new stretch fingerings. Again, take it slow at first and don’t strain anything. Have fun!

Back to Basics: 2-Finger Chromatic Patterns

Following up from last week’s diagram of the chromatic scale, let’s take a look at some basic patterns derived from it. There are six possible two-finger combinations, diagrammed below:

1-2_1-4

2-3_3-4

This is where the terminology can be somewhat tricky if taken literally; while we’re referring to the above fingering combinations and patterns as “chromatic”, they really aren’t. “Chromatic” means a descending or ascending sequence of semi-tones (half-steps). These are two-finger patterns that replicate on every string, which is symmetrical, rather than truly chromatic. But “chromatic” is also commonly used to refer to patterns which are atonal, or not derived from any clear scale or key.

As always, these are just names for things, and you should feel free to call them whatever works for you. For our purposes here, “symmetrical” and “chromatic” can be used more or less interchangeably to refer to these patterns.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the basic 1-2 pattern being worked across the strings and back in several variations (see tab below):

1-2(1)

Use strict down-up alternate picking until you’re comfortable with each pattern, then reverse the picking sequence (start with an upstroke). Check out the triplet/sextuplet variation below:

1-2(2)

It sounds pretty cool at higher speeds. As with any new exercise or pattern, take it slowly, use a metronome and work your way up to speed.

Finally, be sure to try out the pattern with hammer-ons and pull-offs. It may take a bit of practice to work in the alternating pick directions from one string to the next, but it’s an efficient way to develop the picking hand.

1-2(3)

Keeping in mind that these tabs are highlighting just one of the 6 possible 2-finger combinations in just a couple of positions, there’s a ton of useful practice material to be mined just from these simple patterns. Use the neck diagrams at the top of the post for reference, and work through all the above tab variations with the other possible finger combinations.

Next week, we’ll combine some of these fingerings into more challenging patterns, and we’ll also show you how to sequence these patterns to produce more interesting musical ideas. See you then!

Back to Basics: The Chromatic Scale

The Back to Basics series will profile fundamental concepts and patterns, in order to provide “building block” ideas for players of all levels.

The chromatic scale encompasses all 12 notes of the octave. (For guitarists especially, the term is also used to refer to exercises which are not based on any particular tonal or scalar root, and incorporate patterns of some or all of the fret-hand fingers.)

Since all of the fingers come into play, the chromatic scale is ideal for warm-up patterns. Musically, since by definition all possible combinations are included, short chromatic patterns can also be useful for connecting scalar or modal ideas to one another.

There are two common ways to play the full chromatic scale:  in open position, from the open low E (6th string) to A on the 1st string (2 octaves + perfect 4th), or in any position, with a small shift on most strings, ascending and descending. (See corresponding diagrams and tabs.)

ChromOpenChromOpenTab

Chrom5 Chrom5Tab

Continue reading “Back to Basics: The Chromatic Scale”

Guitar Notes

Just a quick thank you to everyone who’s dropped by and checked out the site, I hope it’s been useful and helpful to your playing. Please feel free to send me your questions and comments, and any suggestions you may have. I want PTG to be a resource to help you get your playing to where you want it to go, one lesson at a time.

Please also be sure to check out our Free Resources page, we’ll be adding more downloadable resource documents in the weeks to come. We’ll also be doing some “back to basics” posts in the near future, so that players of all levels and experience have content available here. Thanks again!

Climbing the K2

One of the most enduring and fundamental sets in the classical violin pedagogy is the classic folio of 42 etudes by 18th century violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, who to this day is considered one of the founding pillars of French Romantic-era violin. Kreutzer was a contemporary of Beethoven, and the latter’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9 was dedicated to Kreutzer.

Of the 42 etudes, the signature piece is Etude #2. Centuries after it was written, it remains an essential part of the instructional canon for classical violinists. The opening phrases of Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption are based on #2’s opening melodic phrase.

Since many violin exercises fall very well on the guitar neck, this is an ideal piece to take a look at. While just 25 bars long, the “K2” goes through a variety of cool techniques and melodic ideas, and is sure to provide challenges along the way, even for experienced players.

The first eight bars of the piece are shown below:

The guitar sounds one octave lower than written in standard notation, so pieces transcribed from other instruments should typically be transposed an octave up. However, leaving the piece in the lower octave, as we’ve done in the excerpt above, provides an opportunity to work in areas of the neck that may not frequently get much melodic attention. Note also how, with strict down-up alternate picking, the string changes take a bit of practice to internalize, as there are frequently odd numbers of notes per string, and the changes often occur on a downbeat.

The melody is pretty simple and straightforward, an intervallic line based on the C major scale, working down and back up the neck through the key diatonically. The first two bars the melody repeats through C, then shifts to Am (relative minor) for the next two bars. Bars 5-8 ascend the pattern diatonically using this intervallically displaced triad pattern. (We’ll explain the concept of displaced intervals in more detail in a future post. For now, “displaced” simply means that instead of a straight up-and-down scale, the notes are moved around for more melodic possibilities.) The triads ascend: F-G-Am-B diminished. These triad patterns should be simple to replicate on any pair of adjacent strings, just about anywhere on the neck.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the next eight bars of the piece. Till then, keep climbing!

Economy Legato, Mr. Roboto

One of the really cool things about the guitar, as opposed to, for example, the trombone or the piano, is that the guitar has options in how to produce notes — you don’t have to pick every single note. Smooth legato phrasing is a great complement to a solid picking attack, and helps make a soloist’s overall style more multi-dimensional.

Here’s a cool run that works on legato phrasing as well as economy picking. It’s a basic four-note A minor diatonic run, descending from the 5th fret on the high E string, and ascending back up:

Try it first with straight down-up alternate picking, just to get the patterns down. Once you feel comfortable with it, it’s time to work some hammer-ons and pull-offs in.

It’s okay to have a little bit of emphasis on the first note of each beat, but the way to get a good legato sound is to make sure that all the unpicked notes sound at about the same level, and are in time. Use a metronome and take it slow at first.

So far, we’re still alternate picking from string to string, which may make the first two notes of each beat somewhat challenging to keep in time at higher tempos. But economy picking might make things a bit simpler and smoother:

Playing the phrase with economy picking pairs up the pick strokes for the descending and then ascending parts of the phrase. At first, you may want to break the phrase down to just four notes at a time, first the descending part, then the ascending part. Beginning a phrase with an upstroke — much less two upstrokes — may seem awkward at first.

If you’re unfamiliar with economy picking, it can be challenging at first to get the simultaneous pick strokes to sound smooth and even. As with sweep picking, you’re not quite “dragging” the pick across the strings like a strum, but the pick strokes aren’t completely independent, either. Strive for a smooth, even sound and feel, and the proper picking motion will become more comfortable.

Once you’re able to clock it smoothly at about 120 or so on your metronome, expand the run to an entire octave:

When you hit the turnaround, transitioning from the second beat to the third and ascending back up the scale, you could play it without picking the G at all, but it may be easier to maintain a strict rhythm by picking the first note of each beat, plus it will set up the consecutive downstrokes.

Since this exercise is designed to simultaneously work on elements of picking and fretting, it helps to work on one aspect at a time. Getting the legato down first, making sure the notes are fretted smoothly and evenly, will make learning the economy picking side of it easier.

Outside/Inside Picking

For many players, including myself, one of the most persistent mechanical challenges is picking from one string to another. Of course, this can mean a wide variety of combinations, but let’s start with the most basic idea of getting your picking hand from one string to an adjacent string, using standard alternate picking. When learning or refining any technique, it’s important to isolate the motion to its most basic mechanical fundamentals, and build on it.

Let’s take the middle string pair, 3rd (G) and 4th (D) strings, and break down the mechanical motion of going from one string to the other. Imagine a point halfway between those two strings. If you start on the D string with a downstroke, and then play the G string with an upstroke, then you’re going from the “outside” of the strings toward that imaginary point; if you start on the G string with a downstroke followed by an upstroke on the D string, then you’re starting from the “inside” of the strings, heading “out” away from that midpoint. So for the sake of simplicity and common terminology, we’ll just refer to those as “outside” and “inside” picking combinations, respectively. See the tab below:

(*Note:  Different players and teachers have different names for concepts such as this. I’ve seen other teachers and books refer to the “outside” one as “inside”, and vice versa. That’s fine; especially when it comes to naming things, the only rule is “whatever works”. If it makes more sense to you to call them “inside” and “outside”, “A” and “B”, or “Sid” and “Nancy”, then go for it. We’ll stick with “outside” and “inside” here just for the sake of having a common terminology.)

Try it out on all five adjacent string pairs briefly. It shouldn’t take long for it to sound fairly tedious, and more like an exercise than like actual music, so let’s come up with something. Here’s a quick progression to run through on the 3-4 string pair, that sounds more musical:

Since we’re just working with two-note figures (diads), the tonalities indicated above are just the most obvious ones within the key of A minor. For example, the first diad of A-C could also be a C6 inversion.

Fret-hand fingering should be pretty self-evident throughout; the final A-D diad can be either barred or played to set up the ending power chord. Mainly we want to focus on how the picking hand is situated throughout, maintaining a steady back-and-forth. Start with down-up picking at first, then try up-down. Also try reversing the note sequence for the diads with each picking configuration; for example, the first A-C diad would be C-A, exact same fingering, just different order.

Diads are pretty easy to develop and move around, so be sure to try out your own ideas, on as many adjacent string pairs as possible. The minor third interval tuning of the 2-3 (B-G) string pair should present some useful fingering ideas. These ideas apply to non-adjacent string groups as well, of course, but stick to adjacent string pairs until you feel like you have mastered these sequences, and you can play them smoothly and cleanly at a minimum of 120 bpm straight 16th notes. Again, focus on economizing the motion in your picking hand before bumping up your metronome.

Finally, here’s a fun and musical alternative to our diad sequence — since the overall key is Am, working in the open A string builds on the mechanical concept. Work both ideas on other string groups, further up the neck, etc.