Melodic Warm-up Exercise

Here’s a cool 16-bar run I’ve been using a lot lately for a warmup exercise. It focuses on a couple of important techniques, gets your hands moving quickly, and gives your ears something to listen to besides straight scales and chromatics. Let’s break it down into two sections.

First things first:  the entire piece is in sextuplets, in 6/8 time. As always, every note should be alternate-picked until you feel like you’ve mastered the progression at a decent tempo, at which point you can and should experiment with the usual dynamics (especially palm-muting and legato). Usually with a warmup piece you don’t really worry so much about using a metronome and keeping strict tempo, but for this piece it would probably help to use one at first, again to the point that you feel comfortable with the progression and techniques.

The piece breaks down into two main sections, six and ten bars respectively. Let’s break down the first six-bar section:

Bars 1-4

mw01

This is a six-note motif, with the root note descending chromatically against a repeated C-D-D#-D-C line, until bar 4, where the 5-note line played against the root becomes C-D-C-F#-C and the picking scheme changes substantially from having that F# note played on the D string instead of the G string. Take that 4th bar slowly at first, until the slight difference in picking sequence feels comfortable.

Bars 5-6 (see above)

One of my favorite melodic maneuvers, ascending triads using chromatic inversions. This sequence essentially functions as the melodic “bridge” between the two main sections. Check the chord implications throughout the piece, and use them for ideas for your own study pieces, progressions, or songs.

Bars 7-10

mw02

The rest of the piece is string skipping, so if you’re not comfortable with that technique, you should be fluent with it after mastering this short piece. Bars 7 and 9 are identical, and 8 and 10 are symmetrical, as diminished triads repeat every three frets, and are musically enharmonic. That’s why in bar 10 the arpeggio is shown as C#° (A#°/G°/E°), as it is technically all four of those things, because of the symmetrical nature of the diminished scale.

Bars 11-16

mw03 mw04

The string-skipping progression continues chromatically in bars 11-12, before heading into a “classical” cycle-of-fifths (E-B-D-A-C-G) progression in bars 13-15, before resolving on the B in the final bar. The stretches in bar 12 are wide, and a simple alternative to that is shown below. It can be either alternate or sweep picked; obviously, I would suggest you try both.

mw05

As always, get the progression comfortable under your fingers, increase the tempo, try various guitar dynamics, and especially throw in some melodic and harmonic changes of your own. As long as it sounds good, warms up your hands and ears, and gets you working on specific techniques, it’s good. Have fun!

More Riffs for Technique

A great way to build technical chops and musicality, and get a break from running the same old scales and patterns over and over, is to take a song or riff that can be used to highlight a certain technique, and use it as warm-up material. Let’s take a look at a few quick and easy riffs from classic (if lesser-known) songs, that will build finger independence and picking technique.

The first example is very similar to the melodic riff from the beginning and end to Rush’s ’70s epic Xanadu.

MR_01

Probably the first thing you’ll notice here is that it’s in a 7/8 time signature. If you haven’t played much outside of 4/4 or 3/4, this is a good opportunity to try out a fairly simple odd time signature. It’s as simple as counting out a beat.

In 4/4 time, you would count “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and” to play a single bar, with each counted beat being a 16th note. For the above 7/8 bar, you simply drop the last “4-and”.

So, “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and”, repeat. It takes a little bit of getting used to, like anything else, but time signatures such as 7/8, 9/8, or 5/4, where a single beat is added or removed, are easier to adjust to.

(Using the above counting example, you would count out a 9/8 beat as “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5-and“. Stick with nailing the feel for 7/8 for now.)

The next thing you’ll see is that the riff is simply the same 7-note pattern played twice, and because of the odd number, in strict down-up alternate picking, the picking pattern for the second time is exactly reversed from the first. So the first note, E (9th fret, G string) is played with a downstroke the first time, an upstroke the second time. This is a really handy riff for practicing “inside” and “outside” picking, for adjacent and skipped strings.

Finally, all four fretting fingers are used to play the riff (which is a sequenced E major scale), and in patterns you may not have practiced before.

So in one mighty little riff, you get to work on:

  • Odd time signature
  • Inside and outside picking
  • String skipping
  • Melodic sequencing
  • Finger independence

Pretty cool.

The next riff is similar to the late-’80 Yngwie Malmsteen song, Déja Vu.

MR02a MR02b

The first two bars of the riff are played four times, before shifting to the third bar. The best way to go about learning this riff is one bar at a time, putting the first two together before moving on to the third bar. Make sure you can play the first two bars together, repeated in a continuous loop (at least 4-5 times without stopping) at a modest tempo (at least 96-100 bpm) before working on the third bar.

The riff and song are in F#m, a good key for rock and metal playing. The first bar is simply a four-note ascending sequence, moving up the F#m scale (F# G# A B C# D E) one step at a time. Before getting to the E (7th degree) in the scale, the second bar of the riff shifts to a nice descending pedal-point sequence, which requires a tricky shift toward the end of the bar. Take it slow, work it up to speed, and pair it up with the first bar, before moving on to the third bar off the riff, which is an extended F#m arpeggio.

Notice that the suggested picking for the third bar mostly involves sweep picking. The fingering is only a suggestion, try different fingers, depending on where and how you decide to shift as you go through the arpeggio. The main thing, as far as the picking and fretting suggestions go, is to keep it sounding smooth and effortless.

It will take some doing to get any or all of this riff up to the tempo that Malmsteen plays in the original song, but the primary goal is just to highlight some specific techniques:

  • Alternate picking
  • Sweep picking
  • Melodic sequencing
  • Pedal point
  • Position shifting
  • Arpeggios

The final riff we’ll look at is similar to one of the main riffs from Dream Theater’s The Root of All Evil. John Petrucci is a master of fast, tricky, melodically sequenced riffs, and this is actually one of his simpler ones.

MR03

Simple is frequently more effective than complex, as far as writing songs and riffs goes, and this riff is a good example of that principle. And yet every finger is utilized, and there’s some position shifting, and the beats on which you cross from one string to the other may be a bit unpredictable at first. Melodically, Petrucci incorporates chromatic notes to nice effect.

  • Alternate picking
  • Position shifting
  • Finger independence
  • Chromatics

Have fun with these riffs, and try to think of others from songs you enjoy, that help pinpoint specifics techniques you want to work on.

Melodic Warmup Exercise

If there’s two things we like here at PTG, when devising useful exercises, one is to keep it as simple as possible, and the second is to combine musical ideas with mechanical concepts. This post and the next will show some ideas that address both those areas.

We’re going to look at the B-G-D string trio, in the seventh position. Let’s take a simple triad progression and see what we can do with it:

MelWarm01

Pay special attention to the fingering, because this is where it becomes somewhat challenging. The first chord, A7, uses (in order from lowest note to highest) the 1-3-2 fingers, while the next chord (G with B root, also known as an inversion) is fingered 3-1-2. So as you transition from the A7 to the G/B, keep the second (middle) finger in place on that G note (B string, 8th fret). Simply switch the first and third fingers as you go from the A7 to the G/B.

Next, on the B triad, you can see that the fingering is just 3-2-1. Easy enough. This time, as you transition from G/B to B, keep the third finger stationary on the B note (D string, 9th fret). You just trade places with your first and second fingers, between the G and B strings, and 7th and 8th frets.

The fourth and final chord in our single-position mini-progression is a C triad, exactly the same as the B triad immediately before it, just one position higher. You can easily slide shift the 3-2-1 fingering up one fret to play this, but to keep this challenging (it is an exercise, after all) use the 4-3-2 fingering shown in the notation. You may want to isolate this further and just work back and forth between the B (3-2-1 fingering) and C (4-3-2) triads until it feels comfortable. This is a very simple but effective exercise for finger independence.

When you feel comfortable working through the entire four-chord sequence, and can do it smoothly and cleanly, keeping the suggested fingers in place during the transitions, you’re ready to use the progression for melodic picking exercises. Let’s take a very simple four-note version of this:

MelWarm02

As always, start slow and smooth, use a metronome to keep in tempo, use strict alternate picking, and pay particular attention on the transitions from one chord to the next. The first transition (from A7 to G/B) may be somewhat tricky, in that you are moving your 3rd finger from the 9th fret on the G string to the 9th fret on the D string for consecutive notes. Again, take it slow and it will fall under your fingers before you know it.

As with any picking exercise, make sure to try as many picking hand techniques (palm muting, sweep picking, etc.) as you can think of. Mix and match these techniques, come up with progressions of chords and triads of your own. Use the chords section here (scroll down on that page) for ideas, and listen to how the chords flow and resolve when sequenced together.

Here’s a variation on our triad sequence, using sweep-picked triplets:

MelWarm03

With these back-and-forth sweep picking exercises, try to achieve a smooth “rolling” sound. Observe the motion of your picking hand, and where the “turnaround” point is from downstroke to upstroke and vice versa. Instead of coming to an abrupt halt to change direction, keep it smooth and even. Think of your regular alternate picking on a single string, and how the picking motion is constant, and not start-stop-start-stop. Sweeping across multiple strings is basically an extended version of that motion, in terms of the distance your picking hand travels.

Definitely come up with chord and shape ideas of your own and put them together. Print a bunch of blank tab and chord sheets, and keep them handy when you’re practicing, so you can sketch out these ideas as you come up with them. Don’t worry too much about figuring out which scale or chord they “belong” to yet, the main thing is that it sounds cool to you, and that you get it written down for future reference. You can figure out the theory later if you want.

The next post will explore a melodic variation on the single position exercise, stay tuned!

Kreutzer #12 Finale

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

K12_05

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

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

K12_06

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

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

Kreutzer #12 (full)

Kreutzer #12, Part 2

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

K12_03

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

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

K12_04

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

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

Kreutzer #12: The Arpeggiator

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

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

K12_01

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

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

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

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

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

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

K12_var1 K12_var2

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

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

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

K12_02

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

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

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

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.

Presto Change-o

The next two PTG books for Kindle are scheduled for release on July 4, with free downloads available for that entire weekend (July 4-7). One of the books is based on the Presto movement of J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata #1 in G minor.

This one is going to be a shredder’s paradise — the piece itself is technically and musically complex and rewarding, and the book also includes dozens of exercises derived from the work. These exercises range from sweep and economy picking to pedal point to developing melodic contour. This book is ambitious in scope, and will give you tons of technique and theory knowledge while you play. And even after the free download weekend, it will be priced at only $2.99, far less than the price of a single professional lesson.

And I promise you, this one book contains months, perhaps years of valuable knowledge that you can apply to your own playing right away.

So I’d like to give you a preview of what you can expect from the Presto book in a couple of weeks.

Let’s take a look at the first few bars of the piece:

Presto-Intro

The Presto starts off with some nice arpeggio work. You can see we have this tabbed for economy and sweep picking, but initially you should run through it with strict down-up alternate picking until you have the forms and fingerings down.

Check out the sweep arpeggio fingerings tabbed below for G minor and G major:

Presto-ex1

You can pick the hammered notes if you prefer, but if your hammering technique is tight, it will actually sound smoother and cleaner as you set up to sweep through the rest of the arpeggio. This is a great introductory exercise to sweep arpeggios, and one that you can break down into its component parts, and incorporate into your soloing and melodic playing.

We’ll have more excerpts in the weeks to come, so play hard and stay tuned!