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!

Fun With Triads: Anastasia

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

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

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

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

Ana_intro

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

Ana_intro_alt

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

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

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

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

D_harm_minor

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

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

D_harm_lick

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

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

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

A_Phryg3

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

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

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

D_Phryg3

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

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

D_Phryg3_lick

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

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

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

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

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

ana-riff

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

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

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

Kreutzer Etude #5, Part 2

Here’s the second half of the Kreutzer Etude #5. Let’s recap the first half of the 24-bar piece:

K5_01

K5_02

We’ll pick up from bar 12 (the last bar in the excerpt above, and look at the second half (bars 13-24) of the piece. Here is the second half tab:

K5_03

K5_04

Please click the link below for a printable 1-page PDF of the entire piece [tab only]:

Kreutzer #5

Continuing with the breakdown, analysis, and exercises for this half of the etude:

Section C (Bars 12-17):  The 1-3-4-5-6-7 sequence from Section B continues into this section, but with a slight twist. You may recall from Etude #2 a device called melodic displacement, where the beginning note of a phrase is moved before or after the main beat in order to throw it “off” the beat. This provides some rhythmic tension, and keeps the passage from sounding like a straight up-down scale run.

In this case, the phrase extends one 16th note into the next beat with the octave (root) note, thus displacing the phrase by a quarter-beat, before descending to repeat the 3-4-5-6 and then b7 from the lower octave. Starting on bar 13, instead of going back to the root to start the phrase at the next scale degree, like in the previous bars, the phrase begins on the 6, then shifts to the pattern for the next degree, starting on the 3. This continues through bar 16, then bar 17 reverses the pattern to descend into the final section.

If the above paragraph seems confusing, don’t worry. Just practice a bar or two at a time, start connecting them together, and listen to the musical changes as you go along. Once the patterns are comfortable and sound like music, you can go back and map things out. The exercises are designed to help in all of those areas.

This exercise is based on that initial 1-3-4-5-6-7 sequence we saw in bars 9-11, that ascends an octave and then descends back down, with the entire sequence moving up one scale degree at a time. This is a great opportunity to map out the sequence all the way up the neck, as shown below:

K5_ex_05

This is a cool exercise to work on legato chops. Note the final run that ascends a second octave instead of descending. Mapping that second octave is the goal of the final exercise of this post.

K5_ex_05b

Use the printable PDF tools on the Resources page (fretboard maps, blank tab sheets) to map out the rest of the neck with this scale. Whether we refer to the scale as Bb Mixolydian, Eb Major, or C minor, the notes used are the same:  C D Eb F G Ab Bb, repeating in an endless cycle in either direction. The scale is sequenced 1-3-4-5-6-7, moving up one scale degree each time.

So the first 2-octave run goes C-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C’-Eb’-F’-G’-Ab’-Bb’-C” and back down, then D-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D’-F’-G’-Ab’-Bb’-C’-D” and back down, and so on. This is where diagramming the notes and mapping out the scale and patterns really help you visualize all that information and get it down tight. Remember, for this exercise we’re just using the same seven notes all the way up the neck, just beginning from the next note up in the scale each time.

Section D (Bars 18-24):  While this entire etude is relatively simple and straightforward, the finale is the easiest section of the piece. The first four bars of this section (18-21) consist of an Eb major scale ascending and descending, twice. Bar 22 recaps and displaces the 1-3-4-5-6-7 motif one more time, heading into bar 23, which restates the first bar but heads straight down the scale, landing on a final Eb note (which you can play as a big power chord if you like).

Okay, so as we’ve been mentioning throughout the two posts on this piece, C minor is the relative minor to Eb major. It seemed like a good opportunity to look at playing in the 6th position, where you would usually play in Eb major. Here are the first few bars of that tabbed:

K5_alt_01

Now you can see where all various ways we practiced the same scale really pays off. Also, as shown in previous etudes that are in a low enough position and span only a certain range, it’s a great idea to transpose them up an octave (12 positions up the neck) whenever possible.

In this case, we can transpose both versions, here is the 3rd position version, transposed up to the 15th position:

K5_u_01

Here’s the 6th position version, moved up to the 18th position. This is a great way to get comfortable at “higher altitudes”:

K5_alt_u_01

Finally, here is a ZIP file containing complete PDF tabs for all four versions, plus complete Guitar Pro tabs for all four versions (free demo of the program on the sidebar). It is strongly encouraged that you get into those GP6 tabs and move them around as you see fit. Also included is a WAV audio file of the piece, so you can get an idea of what it should sound like.

Kreutzer #5

It is a moto perpetuo (constant rhythm) style piece all the way through, but as with alternate picking, learn it the “right” way first, then start finding spots to display your own style and personality — legato, palm muting, dynamics, slowing the tempo, etc. There’s a wealth of techniques to be explored in this piece, and plenty of things to incorporate into your own playing style.

While all this information may seem overwhelming, keep in mind that you don’t have to learn or play it all in one sitting, or even several. Again, concentrate on the etude first, and bring in the analysis and exercises as they start making sense, and become useful to you. Like a large pizza, take it a slice at time, save some for the next day. Have fun!

Learning to Read Tab and Notation

A very common question among players is whether they really need to learn to read music. Some will just dive right into reading tab and standard notation, and figure it out, while for others, it seems too much like work, time taken away from actually playing. It is mostly that latter group that asks if knowing how to read music is necessary.

And the answer is both yes and no, which can be frustrating for most people. Which is it, yes or no? As with many things, it depends. Look, if you just want to learn a few songs, a couple of pentatonic boxes, keep it real and play completely by ear, you can definitely do that. There are countless musicians who have had legendary careers, who cannot read music and do not know theory. If you can navigate your way around to where your ear can hear what you like, and you know the patterns to create those sounds, you can write plenty of songs in that style.

When talking about “reading,” especially for guitar, it helps to make a distinction between standard notation and tablature. Unless you’re learning jazz or classical guitar, learning standard notation is not as critical a skill. (But it certainly doesn’t hurt.) Tab, on the other hand, is essential to getting anywhere beyond the absolute basics. Almost any song or exercise that will further your development is going to at least be in tab.

The best analogy I can think of as to why it’s worthwhile to at minimum learn to read tab has to do with reading in general. You want to be able to read any book or magazine or publication you might pick up, so you learn what sounds letters make, separately and in combination, how to put words and phrases together, etc. It’s the same with music — you can figure out by ear how to play this or that song, but to grab a tab book or a piece of sheet music and make it sound like something, that takes an understanding of the basics of reading tab.

And reading tab really isn’t that difficult, for the most part. Aside from seeing the fret/string combination and being able to play it as you read it, the other major feature that needs some study and attention is note values and rhythm. This means understanding the difference between a quarter note and a 16th note, or a triplet or odd grouping, which is mostly being able to tap your foot to a beat and count it out.

Learning to read notation is somewhat trickier, because the guitar is considered a transposing instrument, and so is written in standard notation one octave lower than it actually sounds. This can be confusing at first.

Also, unlike other instruments, the guitar has more than one location to play most notes. Take a middle C note for example — there’s only one place to play that note on a piano, but five locations on guitar (1st fret, 2nd string; 5th fret, 3rd string; 10th fret, 4th string; 15th fret, 5th string; 20th fret, 6th string). The context of the music and the practicality of the location (most people are not going to play that note on the 20th fret of the low E string) will help determine where to play the note. But it still can be difficult to properly sight-read (that is, read the music while playing it, in real time) standard notation, where with a little bit of practice, sight-reading tab is fairly simple and straightforward.

Some players have a fear that learning to read music, or learning theory, will affect the way in which they approach and play their music. This is not entirely unfounded — since there are only so many hours in the day or week available to practice and study, it’s reasonable to believe that excessive amounts of time spent on learning theoretical concepts will take away from learning the practical applications — that is, songs — of those concepts.

But with practice time that is properly segmented and prioritized, you can do both — learn useful concepts that will advance your understanding of music in general and guitar in particular, and more importantly, how to apply those ideas. It doesn’t take that much time, either — a 15-minute segment of your practice routine, over the course of several weeks or months, should be sufficient to internalize your ability to read tab, and use it to apply your own musical ideas.

Learning to sight-read standard notation is a worthwhile effort, because it will make a wider variety of music (again, primarily jazz and classical) available to learn. But it should be noted that it will take substantially more time and effort than learning to read tab. If you’re “starting from scratch” and don’t know how to read tab or notation, but would like to learn both, I would suggest starting with tab and progressing to notation once tab has been mastered (in other words, you can sight-read and play an unfamiliar page of tab in real time).

In the next few weeks, we’ll do a “quick and dirty” rundown on the basics of reading tab, and put that into a 1-2 page cheat sheet for the Resources page.

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.

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

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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.

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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.

Fingerstyle Playing: Giuliani Studies 1-12

Fingerstyle playing is a valuable part of any guitarist’s repertoire, no matter what your regular style happens to be. Once mostly associated with classical or country styles, rock and metal have gained depth and dimension by incorporating the dynamics found in fingerstyle playing.

The most useful studies in gaining picking-hand finger independence are in classical and country music. Classical especially has a large canon of works, developed over hundreds of years by many master teachers. So it makes sense to take a look at what is universally recognized as one of the most important works of the classical guitar canon, Mauro Giuliani’s 120 Right Hand Studies. This collection of short (just two bars each) melodic pieces gets progressively more difficult in general, and will train each of the picking-hand fingers.

Let’s take a look at the first twelve of these studies, as shown in the PDF and sound files below:

120studies-for-right-hand(pdf)   120 Right Hand Studies(wav)

(Please e-mail or let me know in comments if either or both of the files have any issues loading.)

As you’ll see, each study simply shows a technique, going between two chords, C in the first bar and G7 in the second bar. Especially in the first few studies, the G7 chord uses the third, B, as the bass note. Once you have the studies and techniques mastered, definitely start using other open chords and sequences, and combine them in ways that sound good to you.

We’ll put up photos and video soon so you can see a visual demonstration of proper picking-hand technique, but in the meantime, the basic position of readiness is to have your hand slightly cupped over the strings over the soundhole, hovering just above (1/8″ to 1/4″) the strings. Your thumb should be in position to strike the E or A strings, and the next three fingers over the D,G, and B strings respectively. The pinky is used, but rarely; until you get into more advanced classical guitar concepts such as tremolo, focus mostly on getting the thumb and first three fingers dialed in.

The tab is in the PDF just to make things easier to sight read, but definitely check the picking hand indications in the standard notation as you read along. The indications are as follows:  “p”=thumb, “I”=index, “m”=middle, “a”=ring, and “c”=pinky.

While these can be played on electric guitar, definitely work them on a nylon-string classical if you can, or a steel-string acoustic if you have one. The strings are spaced slightly more on classical and acoustic guitars, and thus will train your picking hand properly.

It’s also important to achieve a good, solid tone with each of your fingers as they strike the strings. Think of the midpoint between the 3rd and 4th (G and D) strings as your center, and each of your picking-hand fingers is striking slightly toward that center. So your thumb will strike downward as it plays root notes on the E, A, and D strings, while the other fingers will pull just slightly upward toward that center when playing the G, B, and E’ strings. (An exception is when the thumb is playing a bass note on the G string, in which case you strike downward, like you would on the lower strings.) Each finger should strike its string clear and smooth, and produce a tone that rings out and can be held for duration.

Shifting from C to G7 will be tricky at first, because in the full G7 chord form, you will need to use your ring finger for the low G note, which will appear in many of the studies. Use the index finger to fret the F note on the high E string, the pinky for the D note on the B string, and the middle finger for the B bass note on the A string.

Economy of motion for both hands should be a priority in developing any technique, but will be especially important here, as your picking hand will now be doing more than just picking up or down as a group of fingers, requiring attention to both hands as you play. Work on mastering the fretting of the chord forms first, especially since they’re the same in each study, then concentrate on what each finger of the picking hand is doing in a given study.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each of the twelve studies covered here:

#1 — The first study introduces the basic chord forms, with the thumb cycling through the first three notes of each chord as roots. Take it slow at first, and get a feel for shifting between the two chord forms. Notice that for three of the four beats on the G7 chord (beats 1, 2, and 4), there is no G note, making the tonality implied.

#2 — This is just the first study, but with the notes played one at a time. Keep a nice, slow, rolling triplet rhythm, count or tap along while you get your picking-hand fingers used to the independent motion, then use a metronome.

#3 — This reverses the order of the notes played on the B and E’ strings, so the middle finger will strike before the index finger (p-m-I instead of p-I-m).

#4 — Going back to the p-I-m sequence, but now “rolling across” the neck before returning the thumb back to the original bass note on the 4th beat. This is not as tricky as it might appear.

#5 — Now we’re rolling across the neck with a reverse m-I-p sequence.

#6 — A couple of minor curveballs in this one, rolling across with a p-m-I sequence. First, the bass note (first note of each beat) has an extended duration. Let it ring out for the full beat, not just the triplet. The other two notes of each beat remain triplets. The rest of these twelve studies will have this first-note duration. Secondly, notice that for the first three beats of each bar, the last note of each beat is also the first note of the next beat, but they are picked by different fingers, index then thumb. A great introductory study for finger independence.

#7 — Let’s introduce the ring finger to the festivities here. In the 1st and 3rd beats of each bar, the chord is spread out on the A-G-E’ strings (and the low G is finally introduced in the 3rd beat of the G7 bar), while on the 2nd and 4th beat, the “interior” of the chords are played. You may want to give this study some extra attention, to make sure that the low G in incorporated comfortably into the established G7 form you’ve been working on so far.

#8 — A simple reworking of the “spread” and “interior” forms from the previous study. This is a good one for gaining independence for the ring finger.

#9 — This is a nice and easy introduction to the back-and-forth “rolling” technique, where a chord form is played low-to-high and then back down. The first two beats feature that technique, and it’s a valuable one. Pay particular attention to keeping your picking hand position as anchored as possible, and not floating back and forth with the flow of the notes. You shouldn’t have to move your hand at all, just the individual fingers.

#10 — Another reversal of the fingers against the thumb root. By now this shouldn’t be too difficult.

#11 — The first note of each beat features the melodic note, played by the index finger, with an accompanying root played by the thumb. You may want to practice playing just the I-m-a sequences first, then add in the bass notes. This is a great introduction to incorporating moving bass lines against a static melody (in counterpoint, this is considered oblique motion).

#12 — You know the drill by now — reverse the fingering of the upper triad melody, from I-m-a to a-m-I. By now your ring finger should feel comfortable in these sequences.

Throughout all of the twelve studies included here — and for any fingerstyle study — strive for clarity of tone, an even rhythm, and consistent volume. Especially at first, some of the weaker or less coordinated picking fingers may be lower in volume and/or weaker in duration and clarity. Play through all twelve of these studies until the chord shifting feels smooth and natural, and the fingers on the picking hand are strong and comfortable.

We’ll cover the next 12 studies in a future post, but later this week, there will be a couple of short, simple pieces that will give you some additional melodic and rhythmic framework to apply these ideas to.

3N/S Patterns: Harmonic Minor

The harmonic minor scale is actually easier to play in position than as a 3-notes-per-string (“3N/S”) pattern. But because these patterns have so many cool uses for melodic sequencing, and are helpful in traveling up and down the neck, it’s worth learning.

If you’re not familiar with the harmonic minor scale by name, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard it here and there. It is not commonly used in pop music, but is frequently found in metal and classical. Guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen have built careers on the virtuosic, heavy classical sound of this scale.

Spelled intervallically, the natural minor scale (in relation to the major scale) goes: 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7. So the 3rd, 6th, and 7th degrees of the major scale are flattened to make a natural minor scale (aka Aeolian mode).

The harmonic minor scale is the same as the natural minor, except that the 7th degree is not flattened, only the 3rd and 6th degrees. This creates a wider interval between that b6 and the Δ7 (the delta Δ can be used to denote major), which creates the melodic tension most associated with the harmonic minor scale.

Check out the diagrams below for notes and intervals in the scale:

HMinorScale

Here’s the tab and .wav for the scale:

HMinor_Scale

HMinor Scale

It takes a bit of back-and-forth shifting going from string to string, but once you get the shape down it’s not too bad. As always, take it slow at first, use strict alternate picking, and observe what each hand is doing as you shift and move from one string to the next.

The practice sequence below moves along the scale in thirds, ascending then descending. Check the tab and .wav files:

HMinorSeq

HMinor Seq (60bpm)   HMinor Seq (120bpm)

We’ll post some more ideas for melodic sequencing with 3N/S patterns soon, but in the meantime, try all of the sequencing ideas we’ve gone through so far on all of the scales (blues, major, minor, harmonic minor) we’ve looked at. Interval studies (such as the sequence in thirds tabbed above) are especially useful in discovering patterns within these larger scale patterns.

3N/S Patterns: Minor Scale

In looking at 3-note-per-string (aka “3N/S”) scale patterns we’ve touched on blues and major scales. Let’s take a look at the natural minor scale next. We’ll use the A minor scale, since it’s all natural notes (no sharps or flats), and the A minor scale is the relative minor of the C major scale. (Conversely, C major is the relative major of A minor.)

Here is the scale, spelled out in notes and then in intervals:

MinorScale

To add a little bit to the reference to modes from last time, since we know that a mode is a scale starting from a given tone, and there are seven tones in a major scale, then there must be seven modes, right?  This is where that “relative minor/major” idea comes in; if you count through the respective scales, you can see that the minor scale is the 6th (or Aeolian) mode of the major scale, which is A.

Here’s the tab and .wav file for the A minor scale:

Minor_Scale

Minor Scale

You’ll have to shift a little bit moving from the G to B and B to E strings, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. Check out the Modes cheat sheet on the Resources page for diagrams that are useful for visualization.

Here’s a cool melodic sequence to use on 3N/S scale patterns. It ascends through the scale pattern with a four-note sequence that goes (numbers indicate scale steps) 1-2-3-1, 2-3-4-2, 3-4-5-3, etc. Descending the pattern goes in reverse, 3-2-1-3.

Take it slow, use alternate picking (starting with a downstroke) and a metronome, and pay attention to those shifts on the upper strings. Use the .wav files for reference:

Minor_Seq

Minor Seq (60bpm) Minor Seq (120bpm)

Stay tuned, there’s another 3N/S pattern to cover, as well as more melodic sequences to use, and we’ll also be covering some ideas to improve your acoustic fingerstyle playing!