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 #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.

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!