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!

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!

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!

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.

Outside the Box: 3-4N/S Major & Minor Scales

There are so many ways to play a given scale, and it’s useful to know as many as possible, in order to have something for every occasion. You’re probably familiar with the standard scale form that stays in a single position:

CMajor_fing

Three-note-per-string (which we refer to at PTG with the “3N/S” shorthand) scales are extremely handy for generating melodic sequences that are easy to play at higher tempos, and cover a greater range than position scales.

AMinor_3ns

The natural progression from 3-note-per-string scales is 4-note-per-string (or 4N/S). Here is the G major scale mapped out as such, sliding with the 4th finger as it ascends:

GMaj_4NS_int

GMaj_4NS_fing

Notice how the fingering shapes line up along the adjacent string pairs, with some position shifting — the low E and A strings have the same shape; the D and G strings have the same shape; and the B and high E strings share a shape. This makes the entire scale somewhat easier to memorize, but there’s still a fair amount there.

Now let’s look at the A minor scale in 4N/S:

AMin_4NS_int

AMin_4NS_fing

This one’s a little tougher; A and D have the same fingering shape, and B and E’ share a shape. But that’s about it. Additionally, even with the position shifting and finger sliding, these are still not easy shapes to play, especially for people whose hands are not that large.

While it’s important to learn as many scale shapes and patterns as possible, as pointed out earlier, this is really only true as long as the patterns are simple to learn, convenient to play, and actually facilitate making music. There’s no point in learning a pattern that you can’t use for melodic material.

The 4N/S shapes are still worth learning, as they do give a greater melodic range to work with, and can be used for melodic sequences the same way 3N/S scales can. And the expanded fretboard navigation is valuable in greater fretting hand control.

But there’s also a happy middle ground worth learning, in combining 3-note- and 4-note-per-string patterns. This gives you the best of both worlds — there’s still a huge range of the neck that’s covered with the pattern, but they’re more playable by guitarists of most experience levels, and they don’t require huge hands to play.

Check out the G major scale, this time alternating 3  and 4 notes per string:

GMaj_int GMaj_fing GMajor

The great thing about this pattern is that it’s just a single pattern on the first two strings, duplicated across each successive string pair. You just have to learn the one pattern, and move it up an octave, then another octave. Simple.

And it’s the same case for the minor scale, just a different single pattern to learn:

AMinor01_int

AMinor01_fing

AMinor_asc

As always, be sure to practice these patterns ascending and descending. Where the 4th finger is used to slide up in an ascending pattern, the first finger is used to slide down the descending pattern.

Let’s reverse the 3-then-4-per-string pattern, and try it descending:

AMinor02_int

AMinor02_fing

AMinor_desc

Try the 3-4 pattern ascending, and the 4-3 pattern descending, and vice versa. Use any melodic sequences you can think of through these patterns as well. Until you’re comfortable with each pattern, use strict alternate picking throughout, then work in legato, palm muting, economy picking, etc. And of course, move the patterns around the neck, in as many keys as possible. Because of the greater range covered, there may be some limitations, especially with the high E string.

Here’s a sample scale run to try out:

3-4ScaleLick

Take it slow, use a metronome once the shapes are familiar, and come up with additional ideas and sequences to try. Good luck and have fun!

Outside the Box: Pentatonic Shapes

The pentatonic scale and its five boxes are powerful, because the patterns are simple to learn and easy to apply quickly. The basic minor box (#1) is the first pattern many players memorize:

PentBox01

The intervals for the minor pentatonic scale are R(root)-b3-4-5-b7, the notes (in the key of A minor) are A-C-D-E-G. While this shape is the easiest of the five boxes to learn and apply quickly, as luck would have it, there’s an even easier pentatonic shape. If you start from the b7 instead of the root, you get a simple two-string shape:

PentShape01_int

Use the fingering as shown below:

PentShape01_fing

Work the shape, ascending and descending, using strict alternate picking, until it’s smooth and even. It shouldn’t take long before you can nail this at a fairly high speed:

PentShape01

You can probably already see where this shape lies an octave higher, and two octaves higher. Linking all three octaves together provides a cool way to navigate quickly and melodically up the neck with little difficulty.

PentShape02_int

Even though the shape starts on the 7th of the scale and ends on the 5th, you can play it as is over an A minor (or C major) progression, and hear how it locks right in melodically. Beginning and ending phrases on scale degrees other than the root or 5th can produce some interesting ideas.

For this extended shape, use the fingering suggested below, just the 1st and 3rd fingers, sliding up from the 4th degree of the scale to the 5th in each octave. This will facilitate quick fretboard navigation, and give a smoother, more even sound.

PentShape02_fing

PentShape01_3oct

Check out this quick sextuplet lick that weaves back and forth through the scale:

PentShapeLick

Remember to work the shapes ascending and descending, in as many keys as you can, and come up with sequences of your own. The next post will take a look at how major and minor scales can be mapped for better navigation as well.

6 Essential Pentatonic Licks and Sequences

Let’s take a look at some more melodic phrases and patterns from the pentatonic minor scale. These are based on the first two of the five A minor boxes, and you should definitely work the patterns across all the boxes, on all strings, in as many keys as you can think of. Check out the Pentatonic cheat sheet from the Resources page for reference on all five boxes (in A minor).

The first two boxes, with the b5 note (blues scale):

Box1   Box2

The first pattern is a classic 2-finger, 2-string riff, fretted with just the index and pinky fingers. Check out the tab below:

Pent_01

Try out both picking suggestions, straight down-up alternate picking and with some legato thrown in, for a smoother sound.

For even more legato, try the variation below:

Pent_01a

As always with legato, try to keep a smooth, even tone and consistent volume for all the notes in the phrase. The picking directions are suggestions; if another way works better for you, stick with that.

Here’s another cool 2-string phrase, which might be easier to play at higher speeds; again trying alternate picking and legato variations:

Pent_02

This is a good phrase to get maximum legato with:

Pent_02a

Two-finger phrases are ideal, since they’re easy to play fast, and simple to move around the fretboard. This repeating sequence is based in the middle of the first box, and incorporates the flatted fifth “blue note” (Eb):

Pent_03

Phrases with 3 and 6 notes sound really cool played in groups of four. Try the above phrase as a quick four-on-the-floor sequence:

Pent_04a1

Pent_04a2

Now try it an octave higher, which puts the phrase on the B and high E strings, and moves up to the 2nd pentatonic box:

Pent_04b

Melodic sequences are fun to play and sound cool when played at a fast tempo, but it’s important to apply parts of those sequences into actual melodic phrases that really sing in a solo. Check out the tab below, which throws in some nice chromatic phrasing with the sequence, ending up in the first pentatonic box:

Pent_05

The final lick has more chromatic notes thrown in the mix than the previous example, and again moves from the second box to the first. Dig in on the closing notes for added emphasis.

Pent_06

It’s great to have an arsenal of licks that use multiple positions, and navigate around the neck. Again, refer to the cheat sheet on the Resources page, and work through all five boxes, and come up with phrases of your own that weave through two, three, or all five boxes.

Coming Soon — More PTG Books for Kindle!

Hope you’ve all been enjoying the Kindle books we’ve released here at PTG all summer. We have several more in various stages of development, including one that is nearing completion and should be ready for release early September.

This next book will be a departure from the classically-oriented material we’ve been doing, and it’s something we’ve had a lot of folks asking for. The book will review the five pentatonic boxes, and will dozens of cool phrases you can use in each of those boxes.

There will also be brief explanations, for less experienced players, on how and why this stuff works, and how to use all the little “vocal” sounds the guitar can make that most other instruments can’t. If you’re looking for something that will take your playing to the next level, and that you can put to use right away, this is the book for you!

Stay tuned, we’ll have release dates coming soon, plus free download dates for the entire PTG library!

Free Download Weekend!

Our new Master the Classics book, Hanon for Guitar: Inside Out, is now available for Kindle on Amazon. This weekend (August 17-18), you can pick it up for FREE! Inside Out takes the classic Hanon piano exercises and adapts them for guitar in just about every conceivable layout.

Once the free weekend is over, Inside Out will retail for just $3.99. I guarantee you that no other Hanon for guitar book has this much material in it — even at twice that price.

If you’re not sure what the Hanon deal is all about, check out our 99¢ Hanon Sampler. In 17 quick pages, you will find:  an explanation of what the Hanon exercises are and why they can supercharge your guitar chops; a tab of Exercise #1; a brief explanation of intervals and tabbed interval studies (3rds through 7ths); and an intro to Exercises #2-20 (which are covered in full in Inside Out).

Hanon Sampler is also free over the weekend. Whether you’re a beginner looking for material to build foundational technique, or an advanced player looking for great rut-busting melodic development, the Hanon exercises will add another dimension to your playing.

You don’t need to know any theory to use these books (or any of our books), just how to read tab! With our easy-to-follow methods, you’ll pick up the theory as you go along, without any studying, just playing!

So what are you waiting for? Go get the Hanon books now, while they’re free, check them out, leave a review on the Amazon pages!