Climbing the K2

One of the most enduring and fundamental sets in the classical violin pedagogy is the classic folio of 42 etudes by 18th century violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, who to this day is considered one of the founding pillars of French Romantic-era violin. Kreutzer was a contemporary of Beethoven, and the latter’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9 was dedicated to Kreutzer.

Of the 42 etudes, the signature piece is Etude #2. Centuries after it was written, it remains an essential part of the instructional canon for classical violinists. The opening phrases of Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption are based on #2’s opening melodic phrase.

Since many violin exercises fall very well on the guitar neck, this is an ideal piece to take a look at. While just 25 bars long, the “K2” goes through a variety of cool techniques and melodic ideas, and is sure to provide challenges along the way, even for experienced players.

The first eight bars of the piece are shown below:

The guitar sounds one octave lower than written in standard notation, so pieces transcribed from other instruments should typically be transposed an octave up. However, leaving the piece in the lower octave, as we’ve done in the excerpt above, provides an opportunity to work in areas of the neck that may not frequently get much melodic attention. Note also how, with strict down-up alternate picking, the string changes take a bit of practice to internalize, as there are frequently odd numbers of notes per string, and the changes often occur on a downbeat.

The melody is pretty simple and straightforward, an intervallic line based on the C major scale, working down and back up the neck through the key diatonically. The first two bars the melody repeats through C, then shifts to Am (relative minor) for the next two bars. Bars 5-8 ascend the pattern diatonically using this intervallically displaced triad pattern. (We’ll explain the concept of displaced intervals in more detail in a future post. For now, “displaced” simply means that instead of a straight up-and-down scale, the notes are moved around for more melodic possibilities.) The triads ascend: F-G-Am-B diminished. These triad patterns should be simple to replicate on any pair of adjacent strings, just about anywhere on the neck.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the next eight bars of the piece. Till then, keep climbing!

Mechanical to Musical

At first, getting the hang of shredding seems to be mostly an athletic process — drills, exercises, repetition, gradual expansion of depth and breadth of technique and repertoire. Practicing against a metronome, benchmarking tempos to challenge against, tends to solidify that outlook. Players have been debating this one back and forth since Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads — hell, since Hendrix and Blackmore, whether a focus on perfecting and accelerating the technical aspects can do a disservice to the “feel” side of becoming a well-rounded player.

Whether or not the debate is valid just depends on what your personal outlook toward music in general, and your own playing in particular, happens to be. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being drawn in by hearing someone uncork some “how’d they do that” speed runs, and figuring out the basics, and impressing the neighbors with your high-speed shredding. It’s fun, which is what this should be all about, of course.

At some point, you want to put that virtuosity to the service of some sort of goal, whether it’s learning your favorite song, writing your own song, playing something from the classical canon, whatever. Some of the things we’ll cover here at PTG in the near future are designed to bridge that gap, to impart musicality as early on as possible, along with the mechanical expertise needed to tear it up in the first place.

It took about five or six years of playing for me to really start making the connection in a useful way. And in learning more and more classical pieces and adapting them to the guitar, it became clear that if there is a “shortcut” in this world to learning to burn faster and better, it was through playing and analyzing those classical pieces. Concepts of theory and technique that might take months or even years to learn in music school are contained within many classical pieces, including many designed for solo pieces. And just in learning to play the pieces themselves, musicality is infused into the inherent virtuosity of the works.

Stay tuned, in the weeks to come we’ll be looking at many such pieces that will get you where you want to go as a player — more quickly, more effectively, and more musically.

Economy Legato, Mr. Roboto

One of the really cool things about the guitar, as opposed to, for example, the trombone or the piano, is that the guitar has options in how to produce notes — you don’t have to pick every single note. Smooth legato phrasing is a great complement to a solid picking attack, and helps make a soloist’s overall style more multi-dimensional.

Here’s a cool run that works on legato phrasing as well as economy picking. It’s a basic four-note A minor diatonic run, descending from the 5th fret on the high E string, and ascending back up:

Try it first with straight down-up alternate picking, just to get the patterns down. Once you feel comfortable with it, it’s time to work some hammer-ons and pull-offs in.

It’s okay to have a little bit of emphasis on the first note of each beat, but the way to get a good legato sound is to make sure that all the unpicked notes sound at about the same level, and are in time. Use a metronome and take it slow at first.

So far, we’re still alternate picking from string to string, which may make the first two notes of each beat somewhat challenging to keep in time at higher tempos. But economy picking might make things a bit simpler and smoother:

Playing the phrase with economy picking pairs up the pick strokes for the descending and then ascending parts of the phrase. At first, you may want to break the phrase down to just four notes at a time, first the descending part, then the ascending part. Beginning a phrase with an upstroke — much less two upstrokes — may seem awkward at first.

If you’re unfamiliar with economy picking, it can be challenging at first to get the simultaneous pick strokes to sound smooth and even. As with sweep picking, you’re not quite “dragging” the pick across the strings like a strum, but the pick strokes aren’t completely independent, either. Strive for a smooth, even sound and feel, and the proper picking motion will become more comfortable.

Once you’re able to clock it smoothly at about 120 or so on your metronome, expand the run to an entire octave:

When you hit the turnaround, transitioning from the second beat to the third and ascending back up the scale, you could play it without picking the G at all, but it may be easier to maintain a strict rhythm by picking the first note of each beat, plus it will set up the consecutive downstrokes.

Since this exercise is designed to simultaneously work on elements of picking and fretting, it helps to work on one aspect at a time. Getting the legato down first, making sure the notes are fretted smoothly and evenly, will make learning the economy picking side of it easier.

Saturday Shredder: Paul Gilbert

This one is from a couple years ago, but it’s a great one. Nothing like taking a classic early-’90s power ballad and infusing it with classic Van Halen riffage. Extra points for the double-neck guitar, as well as for Gilbert tapping up the neck while singing the chorus. Fun stuff.

Pentatonic Power: Unwrapping the Boxes

The five pentatonic boxes are usually one of the first things most players learn. Like many things, while they’re simple to get the hang of, you can spend a great deal of time mining cool licks and ideas from those five simple boxes.

A classic basic picking exercise that has great practical application uses the “two-finger” boxes on the 1-2 (E’-B) string pair. Chances are you can play this pattern at a fair amount of speed:

Basic 2-string pentatonic box pattern

Single-string and two-string exercises are ideal for isolating any picking-hand issues and working on them before they develop into habits that might limit speed or accuracy. Start with down-up alternate picking, then work in hammer-ons and pull-offs to build legato technique, Once it sounds smooth and clear, it’s time to move it up and down the neck. Here’s the standard A minor pentatonic, all five boxes, starting at the fifth fret:

A minor pentatonic box pattern

The above exercise is a great one for synchronizing both hands, between the string-crossing and the frequent position shifts. If you drill the pattern repeatedly, it’s more rhythmic to hit the turnaround at the first beat of the second bar and start descending at that point, instead of going up to the next box at the 20th fret.

Just as important as working up and down the neck, is working across the neck in a single position. So let’s try running our four-note pattern down through the entire box in position, one step at a time:

A minor pentatonic box (Box 1)

Naturally, we’ll want to work on all five boxes in this manner, ascending and descending, and string them all together in succession when comfortable with all of them.

So far, we’ve just been working with straight 16th notes (groups of 4), but triplet and sextuplet patterns, because of the odd numbers of notes picked per string, are excellent for alternate picking. This last exercise shows the entire first Am box in sextuplets, ascending and then descending back:

Pentatonic box sextuplet pattern

Again, keep it strict down-up alternate picking until you’re comfortable with the pattern and build some speed and accuracy, then start throwing in legato dynamics, observing how those affect your picking hand dynamics as well.

Outside/Inside Picking

For many players, including myself, one of the most persistent mechanical challenges is picking from one string to another. Of course, this can mean a wide variety of combinations, but let’s start with the most basic idea of getting your picking hand from one string to an adjacent string, using standard alternate picking. When learning or refining any technique, it’s important to isolate the motion to its most basic mechanical fundamentals, and build on it.

Let’s take the middle string pair, 3rd (G) and 4th (D) strings, and break down the mechanical motion of going from one string to the other. Imagine a point halfway between those two strings. If you start on the D string with a downstroke, and then play the G string with an upstroke, then you’re going from the “outside” of the strings toward that imaginary point; if you start on the G string with a downstroke followed by an upstroke on the D string, then you’re starting from the “inside” of the strings, heading “out” away from that midpoint. So for the sake of simplicity and common terminology, we’ll just refer to those as “outside” and “inside” picking combinations, respectively. See the tab below:

(*Note:  Different players and teachers have different names for concepts such as this. I’ve seen other teachers and books refer to the “outside” one as “inside”, and vice versa. That’s fine; especially when it comes to naming things, the only rule is “whatever works”. If it makes more sense to you to call them “inside” and “outside”, “A” and “B”, or “Sid” and “Nancy”, then go for it. We’ll stick with “outside” and “inside” here just for the sake of having a common terminology.)

Try it out on all five adjacent string pairs briefly. It shouldn’t take long for it to sound fairly tedious, and more like an exercise than like actual music, so let’s come up with something. Here’s a quick progression to run through on the 3-4 string pair, that sounds more musical:

Since we’re just working with two-note figures (diads), the tonalities indicated above are just the most obvious ones within the key of A minor. For example, the first diad of A-C could also be a C6 inversion.

Fret-hand fingering should be pretty self-evident throughout; the final A-D diad can be either barred or played to set up the ending power chord. Mainly we want to focus on how the picking hand is situated throughout, maintaining a steady back-and-forth. Start with down-up picking at first, then try up-down. Also try reversing the note sequence for the diads with each picking configuration; for example, the first A-C diad would be C-A, exact same fingering, just different order.

Diads are pretty easy to develop and move around, so be sure to try out your own ideas, on as many adjacent string pairs as possible. The minor third interval tuning of the 2-3 (B-G) string pair should present some useful fingering ideas. These ideas apply to non-adjacent string groups as well, of course, but stick to adjacent string pairs until you feel like you have mastered these sequences, and you can play them smoothly and cleanly at a minimum of 120 bpm straight 16th notes. Again, focus on economizing the motion in your picking hand before bumping up your metronome.

Finally, here’s a fun and musical alternative to our diad sequence — since the overall key is Am, working in the open A string builds on the mechanical concept. Work both ideas on other string groups, further up the neck, etc.

Welcome!

Hello, and welcome to Purple Tiger Guitar! I’ve played guitar for about 20 years now, with bands and as a hobbyist. As I’ve accumulated lots of practice material and other cool musical ideas over the years, I’ve been updating them, replacing the old “practice binders” with newer and better tabs and diagrams to work from.

PTG was created with the goal of sharing these ideas with the guitar community around the world, things that guitarists of all levels can benefit from. Most of it is oriented toward shred and technical playing, but we’ll cover many of the essential building blocks that are part of all types of music, and hopefully show you ways you can improve your technique and musicality faster and more effectively.

I hope you find PTG enjoyable and informative. Please visit the Contact page if you’d like to drop me a line, all comments and suggestions are welcome. Thanks again. Play hard!