Holiday Weekend Discounts and Free Downloads!

For the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, the entire PTG catalog will be either discounted up to 75% or FREE.

Presto and Climbing the K2 will be available for free downloads on May 25th and 26th, while Practice Power, Pentatonic Licks & Sequences, and Hanon for Guitar: Inside Out will be on a Kindle Countdown from May 24th through the 26th. For the Countdown deals, prices start at just 99¢ on the 24th, then go to $1.99 on the 25th, and $2.99 on the 26th.

Get loaded and ready for a summer of great guitar playing, for less than a cup of coffee!

Maximum Fretboard Control: Fretboard Mapping, Part 3

Position Mapping

In this series so far, we’ve looked at the overview of all the possible notes along the entire neck, and broken it down, piece by piece, one string at a time. When learning how to map and navigate the fretboard, it’s important to break it down in as many ways as possible. It’s also important to make these pieces as “bite size” as possible, rather than trying to memorize the entire fretboard all at once.

So it makes sense that the next approach would be by position, to divide the neck into groups spanning four frets each. This will look similar to diagrams you might use to work on standard chromatic exercises that use all four fretting fingers, but remember, we’re not studying technique this time.

So you can play each note in each position with the usual respective finger, but it is not a requirement. The important thing with mapping is to help memorize and internalize the names and locations of the notes.

Continuing with the 12-fret neck diagram we’ve been working with, let’s just break it down into three positions:  open position (through 4th fret); 5th position (through 8th fret); and 9th position (through 12th fret). You can — and should, of course — continue further up the neck, knowing that the notes are the same in that region of the neck as they are 12 frets below, just an octave higher.

As we’ve been doing so far, we’ll look at each section with just the natural notes, then plug in the accidentals. Here’s the diagram for the open position (1st through 4th frets, plus open strings):

PM01a

PM01b

Just as mapping along each string one at a time gets you thinking along the neck, mapping by positions gets you thinking across the neck, adding another dimension to how you perceive and process the entire playing field.

Let’s move up to the next section, which spans the 5th through 8th frets:

PM02a PM02b

Since the two E strings are identical (aside from being two octaves apart), that basically gives you two strings for the price of one. You’re already a third of the way there!

Keep in mind also that, again, as this is not a technical study, you don’t have to play these notes in any particular sequence or order, like you would with practicing scales or sequences. In fact, as we’ll cover more in depth in the upcoming book, there are some really beneficial exercises that specifically involve not playing these notes in any particular order.

Finally, let’s look at the 9th position, which spans to the 12th fret:

PM03a PM03b

Make sure to review all the various “things to remember” from the previous two posts in this series, and apply them here as well. Review all the accidentals, and both of the note names for each of them — every sharp has an enharmonic flat note, and vice versa.

Visualize where the positions border each other, and go from one position to the next. Make sure to keep mapping positions and working them further up the neck, frets 13-16, 17-20, and 21-24 if possible; each of those corresponds exactly to the position 12 frets below. So for example, 17-20 (17th position) contains the exact same notes as 5-8 (5th position), just an octave higher.

As mentioned in the previous posts, just pick one of the diagrams, and work on it for five minutes at the beginning or end of your regular practice session. Assuming you practice 3-5 times per week, I can practically guarantee you real results within just a couple of weeks, certainly within a month.

We’ll finish off this series in a few days with a few simple things you can do to put all these things together and start working the map. See you then!

Intermediate Warm-ups: Using Riffs to Build Technique

Continuing from the recent post on warm-up routines, let’s take a look at some ideas that will help you connect technical ideas with musical ideas. One of the best ways to do that is by finding familiar songs and riffs that highlight particular techniques, and use them as practice pieces.

We’re going to look at three riffs in the style of classic rock/metal songs that will build your picking hand strength, stamina, and accuracy. For the most part, use down-up alternate picking, except as indicated. Definitely use a metronome. Strive not only to play the riff at its original tempo, but to exceed that tempo if possible.

The first riff is similar to Ozzy’s classic Crazy Train. Take it slow until the pattern feels comfortable. Maintain strict alternate picking throughout, and use the suggested fingering. This is a great riff to work on those tricky 1-3-4 fingering combinations.

R01

Next up is the opening riff to Guns ‘n’ Roses Sweet Child o’ Mine. Slash has mentioned in interviews over the years that it was a warm-up exercise long before it became the intro to a massively popular song.

R02

Try the suggested fingering, and definitely use alternate picking throughout. This is a fantastic riff for string skipping, and for working on the 3-4 fingering combination.

The third song we’ll look at is a true metal classic, and one of my favorite songs ever to just fire up the amp and play loud. Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell is one of those killer Dimebag Darrell riffs that, if you walk into a guitar shop and crank it out with conviction and authority, with a good crunchy tone, people will stop what they’re doing and listen. It’s a fun, deceptively simple riff, played in two octaves. Let’s take a look at the upper octave, which kicks off the song:

R03

Note the accents on each downstroke, and the palm muting through most of the riff. If you haven’t worked much with palm muting, it’s a fun technique that sounds cool with a fat distorted tone.

The main riff then descends an octave, to the open E string.

R04a

Notice the change in fingering, which takes advantage of using the open position. Here’s a different way to play the lower-octave riff, that takes advantage of the extra punch of the low E string:

R04b

Try them both, throw in palm mutes and pinch harmonics, in the Dime style. Learn all these riffs as mechanical exercises that enhance technique, and as pieces of music, that you can add flavor to as you see fit.

Chances are that the biggest challenge with playing this riff at higher speeds is crossing back and forth between strings. So let’s head back up to the 12th position, to the higher intro riff, and break it down a bit. Here’s the first two beats (each four-note group of 16th notes is a “beat” in this case) of the riff:

R05a

Just play that section over and over again, building speed only when it’s accurate. Remember, if it sounds sloppy slow, it’s going to sound really sloppy at faster tempos. Anything played clean and tight at a slower tempo will sound better and more technically proficient than something “close enough” at a faster tempo.

From the second beat to the third beat of the riff shows the transition of the riff, which is basically a sequenced blues box to begin with.

R05b

You can probably see right away where nailing this section will do wonders for your picking hand. Additionally, you should be able to come up with plenty of variations of your own, based on this sequence, that will sound cool, work the rest of the fretting hand, and possibly be useful in your own songs.

If you work those two bars up to tempo, and put them together, you should be able to nail the end of the riff pretty easily. Keep an eye throughout on the range of motion for your picking hand when going from one string to the next; this is one of the most essential keys to technical mastery.

So while these riffs (and any others you may think of) should keep you busy for a while, as a small bonus, let’s take a look at some of the techniques and tricks Dime uses throughout the Cowboys solo. After an introductory four bars of tritones, Dime uncorks a sweet pattern across the neck. Utilizing a 1-2-4 fingering, this pattern will give your hands a nice stretch and broaden your range on the fretboard.

R06a

This is a tough one to put into theoretical terms; like Eddie Van Halen, many of Dime’s solos and riffs don’t fall clearly along this or that scale. This is a great example of how, if you play something with great tone and conviction, it really doesn’t matter what scale it corresponds to — if it sounds good, it is good.

Let’s take the shape and work it up to speed on any one given string (in this case, the low E):

R06b

Notice the picking indications, try alternating between the palm-muted triplet and the legato triplet with straight down-up alternate picking, or down-stroking the first note of the legato phrase on the accented beat. Either way works, whatever sounds better and feels right.

Starting at the thirteenth bar of the solo, Dime hits a nifty little chromatic lick that falls nicely across the E5 (minor blues) key. Here’s one way to play it, which again at higher speeds will test your picking hand:

R07a

Now try playing the same lick all on the G string, which makes it a decent chromatic stretching exercise:

R07b

Finally, the rhythmic breakdown at the end of the solo contains a really nice shifting scalar lick, in two octaves:

R08

Keep the slides tight, rhythmically and dynamically, and see how many other scale forms you can map this sort of thing out on, if you’re comfortable with it.

Definitely look for more riffs you can use for technical warm-ups and exercises, and of course develop as many of your own as you can. Play hard and have fun!

Free Kindle Books April 1st!

No foolin’ — on April 1st, the entire PTG catalog for Kindle is FREE!

You don’t even need to go out and buy a Kindle, just pick up the free download for your computer. Tell your friends, grab your downloads, leave some reviews, and spread the word. Get all 6 PTG books for the price of none!

Remember also that if you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow any book any time for free! (Amazon Prime’s borrow limit is one book per month.)

[Update 4/2/14:  Just wanted to thank everyone for the fantastic response yesterday — over 12,000 PTG books were downloaded in just 24 hours! Again, please leave reviews on the books’ Amazon pages, spread the word about the books and the site, and by all means, please drop us a line at purpletigerguitar@gmail.com if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions. Thanks again for your participation!]

Support PTG!

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If you’re interested, please consider checking out one or more of the PTG books currently available at Amazon for the Kindle. All of the books are priced at $3.99 or lower, so for less than the price of a cup of coffee, you’ll get a set of instructional materials that will supercharge your playing, and give you more musical knowledge.

There are also several ways you can support the site with just a couple of minutes of your time, and without spending a dime of your hard-earned cash:

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5 Basic Warm-ups

Just as it takes solid practice habits to develop good technique and improvisational style, it takes a solid warm-up routine to get your hands ready to practice effectively. There are virtually countless exercises you can do to prepare both hands, but let’s go over a few basic warm-up patterns that emphasize mechanics, that you can easily tweak and incorporate your own ideas into.

Keep It Simple

While the amount of time and experience playing will tend to dictate the kinds of things you use to warm up, the one thing to remember is to keep the whole thing as simple as possible. All you want to do with a warm-up routine is exactly that — warm your hands up, prepare the muscles to do a little heavy lifting. Just as an athlete stretches out and does a few light exercises before running serious practice drills, you need to get all the muscles in your hands and fingers ready to exert themselves.

So make sure, right from the start, that your hands are actually warm, or at least not cold. Cold temperatures will cause muscles and nerves to contract, and if you attempt to practice or play with truly cold hands, you will run a greater risk of pain or injury to those muscles. Take a minute and stretch and flex each hand by itself, isometrically. Make a fist, squeeze a little, unclench and stretch out the fingers as much as you can without pain, and repeat a few times. Rub the large muscle in each palm (at the base of the thumb) with your other hand for 30 seconds or so. The idea is to get your joints and muscles warm and loose.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a bunch of quick, melodic classical etudes and pieces that I like to use for short warm-up routines. As your experience and style develop, you’ll add these sorts of things into your warm-ups:  pieces of songs, melodic patterns, blues licks, a few bars of playing advanced techniques (string skipping, sweep picking, etc). But it’s generally best to start out with a few quick “mechanical” patterns that use all four fingers, in various sequences.

Most players will find that the 3-4 (ring-pinky) and 4-3 fingering sequences to be the most problematic. Like anything else, take it slow and work it up to whatever speed you can, making sure it’s smooth and precise. Keep an eye out for any other patterns or combinations that present a challenge, and devise your own short exercises to address those issues.

3 Things to Work On

Let’s break this down to mechanical basics. Just about any exercise addresses one (or more) of three simple concepts:

  1. Fretting — This includes all fingering sequences and combinations, first on a single string, then incorporating more strings.
  2. Picking — This includes alternate picking (usually starting with a downstroke, but also practice beginning phrases with an upstroke), as well as legato, palm muting, sweep picking, and string skipping.
  3. Position Shifting — Just what it sounds like:  moving up and down the neck, ideally with the same level of effort as playing in a single position.

We’ll take a look at five warm-up routines that should address foundational technique for any style of player. The reason they are referred to as “basic” is because they focus totally on mechanical (as opposed to melodic or musical) ideas, getting all the fingers involved in as many ways as possible.

To the extent that there are ground rules for warming up, they go more or less as follows:

  • You should spend no more than 10-15 minutes max warming up. In fact, five minutes can frequently be enough. Just go until your hands feel loose and ready to practice hard.
  • Don’t worry about using a metronome. You can do so if you want to make sure you’re playing in time, but unlike practice, warming up does not need to be tracked or optimized for mechanical efficiency. However, all of these exercises can and should be incorporated here and there into your regular practice routine, where (hopefully) you’re using a metronome, and tracking progress.
  • While there are only five basic exercises here, you’ll see that we also provide you with a lot of patterns, sequences, and variations to “plug into” each of them. There is no way (or need) to play all of them in any one sitting. The idea is to give you plenty of material to rotate in and out of your warm-up routines as you choose, and hopefully serve as starters for ideas to develop on your own.

Because the exercises are “chromatic” in nature, they are tabbed as if starting at the 1st fret, and working all the way up the neck (at least to the 12th fret) and back. This is ideal for navigating the fretboard. However, if you have smaller hands, you may prefer to start further up the neck, around the 7th fret or so, and working from there. In fact, there are more advanced warm-up exercises (which we’ll look at in a future post) that should be started up at the 12th or 15th fret, and worked down the neck, and you may not be able to work them all the way down to the 1st position. That’s okay, that’s what practice is for, right?

Here’s the first pattern, a simple triplet figure that uses all four fingers, 1-2-3 up and 4-3-2 back down:

BW_1-01

Naturally, warming up with strict alternate picking gets both hands going pretty quickly. Make sure also to try these patterns legato, to get each fretting finger up to speed, maintaining even tempo and dynamics:

BW_1-02

With any pattern, but especially purely mechanical ones, you want to work them across the neck on all six strings, and up and down the neck in as many positions as possible:

BW_1-03

The above tab is a great example of combining the “horizontal” and “vertical” aspects of a pattern. Below is an example of working the pattern up and down the neck along a single string, which is a fantastic way to work on position shifting.

For warming up, it’s probably enough to go back and forth between two positions, maybe four positions at the most; for an actual practice exercise, I would recommend covering at least 8 to 12 positions.

Observe the slight (but important) differences between shifting up and shifting down, you may even want to isolate these and practice each “direction” separately.

BW_1-04

Those of you who are mathematically inclined have probably already figured out how many different fingering combinations are possible (using each finger just once). The second pattern is a small but crucial switch in fingering — instead of 1-2-3 ascending, 4-3-2 descending, let’s switch the 2nd and 3rd fingers in both ascending and descending sequences:

BW_2-01

Just plugging in the few variations from the first pattern (alternate picking; legato; across the neck; up and down the neck) provides tons of possibilities.

BW_2-02

The third pattern changes from triplet rhythm to straight fours, another minor but important change.

BW_3-01

Remember that the triplet and straight-four rhythms can be played “against” each other; that is, playing a triplet pattern in straight-four rhythm (or vice versa) creates a “3 on 4” (or “4 on 3”) effect, That’s probably more ideal for practice than warming up, but it’s something to keep in mind, as those polyrhythmic effects can add a ton of flavor to your playing — and has the added benefit of sounding more complicated than it actually is!

You can also start these patterns descending, rather than ascending (you can also start your alternate picking with an upstroke).

BW_3-02

Adjacent string pairs are ideal for quickly bringing both hands up to speed, as the picking hand is forced to go from one string to the next, and back again. Again, working in repetitive “cells” of two positions (no more than four) really allows you to focus and observe what both hands are doing, and where any mechanical issues might need attention.

BW_3-03

As always, combining the horizontal and vertical is where both hands achieve maximum efficiency, and technique starts improving:

BW_3-04

The next pattern is a classic exercise known far and wide as the “Trill Drill”. The idea is to take all six possible two-finger combinations (1-2; 1-3; 1-4; 2-3; 2-4; 3-4), and do a minute of each, just trilling (hammer-ons and pull-offs). Just pick the first note (or don’t).

Don’t worry about speed, you can practice or warm up at any tempo with this. The purpose of the Trill Drill is to achieve a smooth, even sound. The “lower” finger serves as an anchor, and is usually the stronger of any given fingering pair, but the idea is to get the “weaker” finger to a comparable level of ease and smoothness.

The first three should be fairly simple, using the index finger as the anchor:

BW_4-01

As with all of these warm-up patterns, you can (and should) try them at as many positions and on as many strings as possible. The main reason for tabbing them in the 1st position is because it shows the fingering as well, making the pattern easier to internalize. But definitely try these out anywhere and everywhere on the fretboard.

The Trill Drill gets progressively more difficult, as we move along the hand to the next anchor finger (middle finger):

BW_4-02

For warming up, a few bars of each should suffice. For an actual practice situation, make sure to use a metronome, so that you stay in tempo, and go for a full minute for each trill. One minute doesn’t sound like much, does it? But you’ll find out pretty quickly that trying to keep a smooth, dynamically consistent sound at a single tempo for that long will test your stamina, especially on the weaker fingers.

The last one is a bear, even for advanced players:

BW_4-03

Again, for warm-up purposes, just burn through a few bars of each to get the fingers moving. But this is a valuable exercise to practice, and will give you excellent legato technique.

The final pattern is designed to stretch your fretting hand out a bit, and should be started up the neck somewhere. We’ve tabbed it at the 7th position, but if your hands are small or you don’t have much experience with these types of patterns, try it further up the neck. If you feel any acute pain at any point, stop. You don’t want to risk any sprain or muscle injury.

This pattern uses the 1st (index) and 4th (pinky) fingers only.

BW_5-01

Play the pattern as a repeated, single position “cell,” not too fast. If you’ve seen some of our past posts on sequencing, this is a cool pattern to try out some sequencing as well:

BW_5-02

Again, because of the stretch, don’t worry about working the pattern up and down the neck, just across the strings and back. Come up with other sequencing patterns on your own.

Finally (and again, you may want to move this up the neck to a more comfortable position), try incorporating the 2nd and 3rd finger into the stretch pattern.

BW_5-03

The one-fret gap between the 1st and 2nd fingers, and the 3rd and 4th fingers, will be challenging. Notice that there is no such gap between the 2nd (middle) and 3rd (ring) fingers — the muscles in the hand that allow for finger stretching and flexibility are generally not as strong or well-developed between those two fingers. If you do attempt the stretch between those two fingers, try it way up the neck (like around the 17th fret or so), take it slow, and be careful.

These five basic warm-up patterns should give you plenty of ideas for patterns and variations to try out. The link below is a PDF containing all the material covered here, suitable for printing. Please feel free to share it, as long as it’s for free and properly attributed.

5 Basic Warm-ups

We’ll cover intermediate and advanced warm-up patterns in future posts. Have fun!

The Right Mindset

Have you ever made a resolution for the new year, and failed to follow through on it? Losing weight, getting in shape, learning a foreign language, mastering a musical instrument — most of us have at one time or another made a promise to ourselves, and by the end of January, have given up on it. It happens to the best of us.

Concepts such as “excellence” and “mastery” are loaded terms, in that they tend to produce unrealistic expectations. The culture bombards us with quick-fix solutions, promising to “solve” your “problem” in five minutes or less. It’s as easy as taking a pill.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, and pardon my French, but that’s bullshit, folks. Things like excellence and mastery are indeed goals worth striving for, but it must be understood that those things are produced by habits, and as such, don’t have a tidy, finite timeline. They shouldn’t take huge amounts of time or ability, but they do require consistency.

Most of us are familiar with the idea that if you do something for about 28 consecutive days (the number varies, usually between 21 and 30 days), it becomes an ingrained habit. This is true for just about anything you set about doing to improve yourself. If you eat less and exercise more, and keep track of your intake and your weight as you go along, you will almost definitely see real results.

On the other hand, if you binge-diet and have a marathon workout session on Saturday, but sit around and gorge on pizza the rest of the week, not only will you not lose weight, but you’ll probably be sore, because your muscles will not be conditioned to be punished once a week. Your body is a machine, and will respond according to how you treat it.

The same goes for your brain, which is where good habits are built and maintained. So it’s important to get in the right frame of mind. The first and most important thing to remember is that, while the ideas can be learned in just a few minutes, and can be maintained in probably 30-45 minutes a day, 4-5 times per week, you still have to do it. Think of it like the game of chess — it takes about ten minutes to learn the rules, but years, even lifetimes to master.

The next thing is to be realistic about your expectations. Most of us are motivated to make the jump from listener to player because we heard someone who inspired us with their talent. It could be speed, precision, musicality, the perfect melody over the perfect chord progression, any or all of those things. I can guarantee you that nobody gets that good overnight. It takes patience, practice, persistence. It takes time.

You have to be willing to give yourself enough time. If you pick up the guitar as a rank beginner on January 1st, you have to understand going into it that you will not be Eddie Van Halen by January 31st. You won’t be EVH by January 31st of the next year. But if you develop consistent practice habits, take it a bite at a time, and work on the right materials with clear, realistic short-term goals, you will see progress, guaranteed.

So don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not as far along as you think you should be at a given moment. Observe your strengths as a player, and work on them, because those are the elements that will be the foundation of your style. Observe also the things you need to improve, and find and develop materials to address them. Use a metronome and track your progress. Then do it all over again tomorrow, and the next day, and so on.

No one is Paul Gilbert or Joe Satriani right out of the box — those players will be the first ones to tell you the same thing. In guitar, just as in the rest of life, persistence beats talent in the long run, every time; in fact, persistence is what it takes to develop talent.

Set realistic short-term goals for yourself, such as learning a new scale in several different positions in a week, or six or eight songs in a month. Some goals you’ll meet right on schedule, some you might come close but not quite “on time.” That’s fine, just finish up and move on to the next goal. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how quickly all those modest goals build into a formidable technique and style.

As always, play hard and have fun!

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