Octave Exercise

Inspiration for developing new melodic exercises can come from just about anywhere. I was recently listening to the new Megadeth album, which I’ve listened to plenty of times over the past few months since it came out. In the track Post-American World, I paid extra attention to one of the middle solos, and heard a nice octave run connecting an arpeggio-based melody. I hadn’t caught that previously, so of course I had to work out the notes and devise some exercises. Wider intervals tend to have a more “modern” sound to them that can add a different flavor to your melodic playing.

The simplest way to play two notes an octave apart is with a string between the two notes, which makes alternate picking more challenging. Well, that’s why we develop exercises, right? Let’s take a look at the A minor (C major) scale in octaves:

octavescale

The octave notes are grouped together in the above example, but play them separately as well, using strict alternate picking. Try as many combinations as you can think of — start with the low note, start with the high note, with an upstroke, a downstroke. Take it slow, use a metronome, and observe carefully your picking hand motion as you cross over the B string in each direction. The real challenge is in economizing the height and distance that your picking hand moves, while not hitting the B string.

This example is very similar to the run in the Megadeth solo:

octex01

The cool thing about these sorts of exercises is that the possibilities are practically endless:  you can start from the lower note (“L”) of the octave instead of the higher note (“H”), you can start adding sharps and flats and go through the circle of fifths, go up the neck as well as down the neck, try other string pairs, etc.

Now let’s try the same exercise with melodic displacement. If the above pattern could be noted “HHLL”, then this next one would be “HLLH”, with the lower octave notes between the higher ones.

octex02

This is definitely more challenging as far as alternate picking goes, but what’s cool is the way it goes against what your ear tends to expect out of this type of melody, with the back-and-forth melodic contour.

Let’s try the run with triplet notes, in “LLH” and then “HHL” sequences:

octex03

As you get more comfortable working with all of these exercises and position shifts, start working in things such as slides, palm muting, artificial harmonics, etc.

Here’s another melodic displacement variation (LHL-HLH) for the triplet run:

octex04

Stick with the alternate picking, even though it might seem more difficult at first. Again, pay close attention to the range of motion your picking hand takes as it skips the B string.

This next one will be a little more fun, allowing for more “vocalisms” from the guitar:

octex05

Instead of alternate picking every single note, use the slides on the high E string to your advantage, so you’re only picking the first two notes of each three-note phrase as it descends the scale. Try palm-muting or artificial harmonics on some or all of the notes on the G string. This is very similar to the classic Dimebag Darrell run in the breakdown after the solo of Cowboys from Hell.

To close out this exercise, let’s try a full run down the neck, combining the first two phrases through multiple (non-adjacent) string pairs:

octex06

As always, work the patterns through as many string combinations as possible, go through the circle of fifths, etc. If you have any inconsistencies in your picking-hand motion you want to work on, this is a really useful way to do that, plus the more “modern” sound of the octave interval melodies.

Below are links for a full PDF of all the examples, plus a WAV file set at 120 bpm. Good luck!

Octave Exercise

Fun With Triads: Anastasia

“Rock guitar” is obviously a pretty broad, subjective spectrum. Blues, country, metal, and even jazz contribute to how each of us perceives that category. But virtually any rock player (or any style player) should check out the Slash tribute documentary, Raised on the Sunset Strip.

Beyond the expected accolades from his peers and (former and current) bandmates, what emerges is a profile of someone who is happiest when playing the guitar, who probably can’t conceive of doing anything else. That’s pretty awesome, and is the ultimate goal for just about any player, to be able to make a living at it so you can play all the time.

Slash famously insists that he knows very little music theory, and has no formal practice routine, he just works around in the major and minor scales and blues boxes, plays patterns and things that sound good to him. He’s probably the best contemporary example of a great player who is able to play anything he wants, purely by ear and feel. Tone, taste, and technique all combine for a powerful, passionate style.

We’ve taken a look at the technical aspects of the classic Sweet Child o’ Mine intro riff, which Slash developed as a practice exercise. Let’s take a look at another great melodic intro riff of his, from Slash’s 2012 release. The song Anastasia starts with an almost flamenco-flavored acoustic melody, essentially finger-picking the chord progression, which is in the key of D minor (yes, the saddest of all keys). See tab below:

Ana_intro

Notice the suggested fingerpicking (p=thumb; i=index; m=middle; a=ring finger). Try it also with a “hybrid” approach (pick and fingers), like this:

Ana_intro_alt

The picking does not have to be strictly down-up alternating, also try economy picking (in the same direction on adjacent strings), or starting with an upstroke. As the chords are arpeggiated down and then back up, the main goal is to make sure the sound is smooth and steadily “rolling” back and forth.

This progression is very similar to that of the Ozzy/Randy Rhoads classic Mr. Crowley. If you already know some or all of the classic solos to that song, it may help you get a feel for this one.

Let’s check out a couple of “exotic” scales that can be used to add a little spice to these types of progressions.

The Harmonic Minor Scale and the Spanish Phrygian Mode
Remember that there is more than one minor scale. Usually the natural minor (R 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7, in Dm: D E F G A B♭ C) is used for solos and melodies. But the harmonic minor (R 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6  7, in Dm: D E F G A B♭ C#), which does not flatten the 7th, has a slightly more exotic sound which lends itself well to more “Spanish”-sounding melodies. Anastasia is one of those songs, so having a handle on the harmonic minor scale will pay off huge melodic benefits here. Just one note of difference, but you can really hear it:

D_harm_minor

As always, it’s a huge help in navigating the fretboard to map out scales in as many positions as possible. The first example stays within the 5th position, while the second example starts in the 10th position and travels up and along the neck, ending a full three octaves higher on the 22nd fret of the high E string. Learning the positional “boxes” and then connecting them is the key to fretboard mobility.

Try out this cool scalar lick based on the harmonic minor scale, designed to go back and forth through several positional areas of the neck:

D_harm_lick

The phrase in the final bar will be slightly tricky at first, but that “slide and stretch” move will pay off in developing your own wide-interval melodic licks. Throw in all the cool guitar vocalisms where applicable — palm muting, legato, artificial harmonics, vibrato, etc.

Where the natural minor scale is also a mode (Aeolian) of the major scale, the harmonic minor scale is its own scale, which means it has its own modes. (Refer to the free printable Modes cheat sheet for more information on how modes are derived from scales.)

One of the coolest modes around is the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale. It has that quintessential “classical” feel, and has been popularized over the years by players such as Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth, and Yngwie Malmsteen. It is commonly referred to as the “Spanish Phrygian” or “Phrygian natural 3rd (♮ 3)” mode. To play the fifth mode of the D harmonic minor scale, you start from the fifth degree of that scale, which is A:

A_Phryg3

Knowing how to spell scales and modes intervallically makes it easier to transpose them to other keys. The tab above, while derived from the D harmonic minor scale, would be called A Spanish Phrygian, since A is the root note of the mode. It still plays over D minor just fine, but the D Spanish Phrygian would be a slightly different animal.

So here is how to spell the Spanish Phrygian in terms of intervals:  R ♭2 3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7. Remember, all of those flats are in relation to the major scale.

So now to spell out the notes for D Spanish Phrygian, we take the notes of the D major scale (D E F# G A B C#) and flatten the 2nd (E), 6th (B), 7th (C#), resulting in this: D E♭ F# G A B♭ C. Check the tab below:

D_Phryg3

Both examples stay strictly within position. If you’re feeling adventurous, map the this mode out along multiple positions, like we did earlier with the harmonic minor scale, and develop melodic licks from the notes of the mode. Stay strictly within the note range of the mode before adding “passing tones” or “outside notes”. That’s the best way to train your ears to the “flavor” of any mode or scale.

Here’s another sample lick that takes you through the notes and positions:

D_Phryg3_lick

Quick rundown of the techniques deployed in the lick:  first bar ascends through the mode in thirds; second bar uses pedal point for melodic development before a short ascending transition into the third bar, which features descending arpeggios before landing on a B♭ note (6th degree of the mode). Definitely try sweep picking on those arpeggios in the last two bars, palm muting and artificial harmonics on the pedal point in the second bar, palm muting on the first bar, etc.

Use all those vocalisms judiciously; like a master chef preparing a special dish, you try this spice and that spice until you find the right combination, you don’t throw everything in all at once.

Record a simple one- or two-chord vamp in D minor, and practice all three of the scales (D natural minor, D harmonic minor, D Spanish Phrygian). Listen closely to the differences between them, as well as the similarities.

All of the above examples and techniques are to provide some background and ideas to apply in learning the Anastasia riff. That’s the best way to learn any song and make it your own, rather than merely parroting the notes.

Back to the Song
From that soft intro the band kicks in, with Slash retracing that Dm chord progression, this time with a really cool pedal point ascending triad sequence.

ana-riff

Start by taking just the first pattern, and playing it repeatedly until it’s smooth and crisp at medium to fast tempo (96-120 bpm). As always, take it slow at first until you memorize the pattern, then it’s a simple matter to start moving it along the progression. Listen to how just changing a couple of notes or a position keeps the musical tension going, until it finally releases and you start the descending pattern to resolve the progression.

The way the riff alternates between the B and E’ strings will force you to really examine what your picking hand is doing. Definitely alternate pick everything, accenting only the beat notes, and keeping everything else very moto perpetuo, constant and even.

Moto perpetuo exercises are great for disciplining your picking hand to stay within a steady range of motion and pressure, neither over- or under-accenting, just playing everything smooth and clean. There’s a ton of stuff in this post to work on, so take it a piece at a time, really listen to the nuances and differences between the various scales and modes described, and experiment with what sounds good in developing a nice melodic lick, whether for a solo or for a main riff. Have fun!

Kreutzer #3, Finale

Let’s finish off the Kreutzer Violin Etude #3. Section C starts from the middle of bar 12, riding a cool descending 4-note triad pattern all the way to the middle of bar 16. Check the tab below:

K3SecC

Since we know that a triad, regardless of type, is made up of stacked third intervals, and is spelled R-3-5 intervallically, this 4-note pattern is relatively simple to break down. Using the up-down arrow notation from before, the pattern goes up a third, down a fifth, then up a third, which returns to the first note of the 4-note phrase (↑3↓5↑3).

Just as intervals are the most basic building blocks of music, triads are the next logical extension of intervals. You can’t go wrong with learning and devising as many triad patterns on two and three strings (or more, for open-voiced triads, but we’ll cover that in another post) as possible.

Check out the basic descending 4-note triad pattern in the tab below. The 3rd note of each 4-note phrase is the root of each respective triad, so the 8 triads descending through the octave are: F major, E minor, D minor, C major, B diminished, A minor, G major, and F major. Even though it starts and ends with the F major triad, the sequence actually consists of the C major triads, as we’ll see in a minute.

C01

Now let’s take the above triad sequence, and re-organize the 4-note patterns into the same order as the #3 etude.

C02

It’s always useful to work melodic shapes along all possible string configurations, so for this example, make sure to map it along the other adjacent string pairs:

C03

The etude ends with an arpeggio spanning an octave and a third (C to E’down pattern and playing it over and over again until it’s smooth and clean.

Here are the neck diagrams for the sequence of triadic arpeggios through the C major sale:

chords

The corresponding tab is below. Again, try both alternate and sweep picking. The B diminished arpeggio is set up for string skipping, as it is simpler and cleaner that way.

C04

The links below are complete tabs for the entire piece. The second version contains the alternate B section shown in the Part 2 post.

Kreutzer_#3   Kreutzer #3(alt)

While the piece (like anything called an “etude”) itself is an exercise, the custom exercises designed around the sections will help you isolate associated techniques. Use the exercises to devise shapes and ideas of your own, to use as melodic phrases in your solos. 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!