Chromatic Patterns Part 2

In the last post, we looked at the 24 possible combinations for all four fingers, and paired them up as ascending and descending symmetrical patterns for easier memorization and practice. The idea with these sorts of exercises is to develop maximum independence in the fingers on the fretting hand.

So now we’ve taken the ascending and descending parts of our #1 fingering set, and worked on those pieces separately. The next logical step would be to combine the two, right? Let’s do it!
Cell/Loop:

Run:

Now reverse the combination, ascending with the descending pattern, then descending with the ascending pattern.

Another way to combine the mirrored patterns, rather than running one all the way up and the other all the way back down (or vice versa), is to alternate them one right after the other, all the way up and back. The cells and loops are the same for both sets of combinations, but the runs will change as seen below:

Let’s review the process of breaking down exercises into cells, loops, and runs:
• Practice the pattern cell a few times to get the rhythm and feel of the fingering pattern.
• Play the loop, gradually raising the tempo until you can no longer play it perfectly.
• Play the run as you did the loop, comparing maximum tempos for each to identify possible mechanical areas to work on.
• Play the full exercise, from the 1st to 12th fret and back down, on each string.

Some observations on the process:
• For the full exercise, feel free to adjust the range up the neck to a more comfortable area, if need be. The range should span an entire octave (12 frets).
• Use standard alternate picking (down-up-down-up) until you are satisfied that you have mastered the exercise. Then try reversing the picking motion (starting with an upstroke).
• Try fretting-hand techniques such as legato (hammer-ons/pull-offs).
• Try picking-hand techniques such as palm-muting.
• When working on ascending/descending fingering pairs, spend just enough time on the individual pieces to learn them, then move on to working them in combination. That’s where the greatest benefit to your technique will occur the most quickly.

Again, keep track of your maximum tempos as you work on these exercises and their component pieces. This will help you pinpoint areas in your technique to focus on, and will also allow you to track your progress.

Chromatic Patterns

This next series of posts is designed to create maximum independence in your fretting hand fingers, by getting you familiar with all the possible combinations and creating patterns. These are commonly referred to as “chromatic” but are not technically using the entire chromatic scale in most cases. Whatever you want to call them, working these patterns into your practice routine will have an effect on your technique very quickly.

The usual mathematical model of showing all possible combinations of using all four fretting fingers once each in a sequence looks like this:

1. 1-2-3-4
2. 1-2-4-3
3. 1-3-2-4
4. 1-3-4-2
5. 1-4-2-3
6. 1-4-3-2
7. 2-1-3-4
8. 2-1-4-3
9. 2-3-1-4
10. 2-3-4-1
11. 2-4-1-3
12. 2-4-3-1
13. 3-1-2-4
14. 3-1-4-2
15. 3-2-1-4
16. 3-2-4-1
17. 3-4-1-2
18. 3-4-2-1
19. 4-1-2-3
20. 4-1-3-2
21. 4-2-1-3
22. 4-2-3-1
23. 4-3-1-2
24. 4-3-2-1

The table is handy, but not very easy to memorize for practicing. As you practice fingerings across multiple strings and up and down the neck, you’ll see that half of the patterns are mirror images of each other. So you can simplify the number of patterns by pairing them up and organizing them like this:

Ascending Descending
1.    1 – 2 – 3 – 4 4 – 3 – 2 – 1
2.    1 – 2 – 4 – 3 3 – 4 – 2 – 1
3.    1 – 3 – 2 – 4 4 – 2 – 3 – 1
4.    1 – 3 – 4 – 2 2 – 4 – 3 – 1
5.    1 – 4 – 2 – 3 3 – 2 – 4 – 1
6.    1 – 4 – 3 – 2 2 – 3 – 4 – 1
7.    2 – 1 – 3 – 4 4 – 3 – 1 – 2
8.    2 – 1 – 4 – 3 3 – 4 – 1 – 2
9.    2 – 3 – 1 – 4 4 – 1 – 3 – 2
10. 2 – 4 – 1 – 3 3 – 1 – 4 – 2
11. 3 – 1 – 2 – 4 4 – 2 – 1 – 3
12. 3 – 2 – 1 – 4 4 – 1 – 2 – 3

Sample exercises and patterns corresponding to the first pair of fingerings are provided, so you can plug all the other pairs in accordingly. Run them across all strings, up and down the neck, forward and backward. Stick with standard down-up-down-up alternate picking until you get comfortable with all the pairs, then try up-down-up-down and legato (hammer-ons and pull-offs). Refer to the main chart of symmetrical ascending/descending patterns for additional practice.

Remember: the point of these chromatic-style practice patterns is to promote finger independence, and to facilitate moving patterns across strings and up and down the neck. They are not intended to be musical, but can definitely have musical uses. Use your imagination, mix and match patterns and timings, develop your own variations – and most of all, have fun with it.

To introduce ideas and patterns for exercises and how to apply them, we’ll use the following terms to describe the basic elements:

  • Cell – refers to the pattern at its most basic level, usually within a single position.
  • Loop – playing the pattern repeatedly in position.
  • Run – moving the pattern up and back several (at least 4) positions or strings, and back.

These are the building blocks for all the exercises presented in this series of posts. When learning any new piece or exercise, it’s always best to take it a segment at a time, then put it all together.

Single-String Patterns
Let’s take a look at patterns that occur on one string. We can then move them up and down the neck, and then across the neck on the other strings. We’ll start with the first pair of fingerings in the table on page 7. The cell for the ascending fingering [1-2-3-4] looks like this:

The cell itself is the 1-2-3-4 16th-note combination; the quarter note after the phrase is primarily a place-holder, but also allows you to get the hang of the fingering, and bring it up to speed. Now try moving on to the loop:

Play this one at a comfortable tempo, to where it’s a continuous, seamless flow of notes. Gradually raise the tempo until you can no longer play it perfectly. Make a note of this maximum tempo. Now we’re going to move the pattern up and back a few positions on the neck:

As with the loop, play the run at a manageable rate of speed, gradually raising the tempo until it is no longer perfect. Now take a look at that final tempo, and compare it to what you ended with for the loop. Ideally, the “maximum run tempo” should be equal to the “maximum loop tempo,” but if it is less than that, then exercises that address position-shifting should be an emphasis of your warm-up and practice routines. (This principle will also apply to string-crossing.)

For the full exercise, run the pattern from the 1st position up to the 12th and back on the low E (6th) string. Then do the same thing on the other five strings.

Now, let’s look at the descending part of our #1 fingering pair, starting with the cell:

Now the loop:

And finally the run:

As with the ascending pattern, run this up and back, from 1st to 12th frets, on each string.
Hopefully the “cell/loop/run” format outlined here serves as a useful template for you in breaking exercises and drills down into more manageable chunks, working on those chunks at comfortable tempos, and then putting them all together into one coherent piece.

In the next post, we’ll go over some ideas on combining ascending and descending patterns.

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!

Back to Basics: Pickin’ and Grinnin’

When it comes to getting the hang of alternate picking, two fundamental questions frequently come up with newer players. The answers, such as they are, may surprise you.

How Should You Hold Your Pick?
When building or improving any technique, and this is certainly true of alternate picking, efficiency and control should be your main goals. But you also have to take into consideration intangibles such as comfort and feel. As long as a motion or position isn’t inefficient or causing any discomfort, it’s worth trying out.

So the short answer is “whatever works”, but you do want to make sure that the way you hold your pick doesn’t create an unnecessary “ceiling”, a point at which further improvement is difficult or impossible.

Ideally, the pick should be gripped with the thumb and index finger, though some players will include the middle finger in tandem with the index as well. The thumb (on top of the pick) should run parallel to the strings, and the index finger (on the bottom of the pick) should be directed perpendicular to the string. The other three fingers can be curled into a loose fist, or splayed out, you can find plenty of examples of each among famous players. Again, the key is whatever’s comfortable, so long as it doesn’t affect your control and efficiency.

Keep your wrist and forearm loose; your grip on the pick should be just enough to not lose control of it or let it slip. Experiment with single-note playing as well as strumming chords across all six strings.

What Type of Pick Should You Use?
This will probably take as much experimentation and practice, if not more, than observing how to hold the pick. Most picks are made of plastic, and some have cork for easier gripping. Some players use metal picks, which are great for artificial harmonics. Players such as Brian May and Billy Gibbons famously use coins (English sixpence and Mexican peso, respectively), which again make artificial harmonics very easy, and have a built-in grip from whatever is embossed on the faces of the coin.

Aside from material, a huge consideration for what pick to use is thickness. A very thin (less than .50mm) will give you less resistance as it meets the string, thus greater speed and flexibility. But you may have to compensate more to strum full chords or get a full dynamic range (such as artificial harmonics or palm muting). Conversely, thicker picks (over 1.00 mm) will give you more control in accurately targeting notes, and getting full strums and dynamics. But you also have to train your wrist for the greater resistance from a thicker pick.

Try at least one of each along the way, until you find what works best for you. I used coins for several years early on, but most of them produce a good deal of metal dust that clings to your fingers. Thin picks give you more freedom and flexibility, but you have to work more at dynamic control. Thicker picks will dial in your wrist and give you more dynamic control, but you have to work at it.

I ended up somewhere in the middle, as I suspect most players do, and I’ve used Dunlop Tortex green .88mm picks for about 20 years or so. Once you find something that works well for you, you’ll probably stick with it for good, but definitely try a few different materials and thicknesses before settling on one particular type. Think about the style(s) of music you play, and what works best for that.

So many of these basic areas of playing boil down to a matter of personal preference, but it’s important to try a few different options before settling on one.

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.

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!

Kreutzer Etude #5, Part 1

Let’s check in on our ongoing Kreutzer Etude series, and take a look at a short yet melodic piece, the #5 Etude. It is just 24 bars (the final bar is a single ending note) of triplet 8th notes. Some of the etudes we’ve looked at so far are useful in developing specific techniques, such as alternate picking or sweep picking.

Certainly the #5 will help with alternate picking as well, but its real strength is in taking simple scale patterns and developing them melodically. It’s also an interesting exercise for practicing position playing, and we’ll show you how to play this piece in no less than four different positions (two in the lower octave, two in the upper octave).

Since this etude is in a fairly unusual key for most guitarists (C minor / Eb major), it also serves as a great way to learn how to play effectively in those keys. As always, there will be additional exercises to help in learning the piece, as well as show you some ideas in scales and fretboard navigation.

So let’s take a look at the first half of the piece, break that down into a couple of sections, and check out some exercises to go with those sections.

K5_01

K5_02

Breakdown and Analysis

You don’t really have to know too much music theory to benefit from the analysis and exercises, but the more you know, the easier it is to follow along. If some of the terms don’t make sense right away, don’t worry about it. Concentrate on learning the piece itself first, you can always come back through and check out the extra parts later.

As noted above, the key signature for this etude is C minor (relative major is Eb major). The notes in the C natural minor scale are C D Eb F G Ab Bb. It always helps to match up the notes numerically, as degrees of the scale, so C is 1 (1st degree), D is 2, and so on, right up to Bb (7th degree of the scale).

For those of you unfamiliar with reading musical notation and key signatures, take a moment and look at the three flat () markings on the left side of the notation staff, just to the right of the clef. In order from left to right, those flats are Bb, Eb, and Ab, corresponding to the flat notes indicated in the scale.

Section A (Bars 1-4):  The first four bars introduce a 12-note pattern based on the C minor scale. This 12-note pattern is basically a doubled 6-note pattern, the second one lower than the first. Starting from the 5th degree of that scale (G note), you go up 2 scale degrees (to Bb, the 7th note of the scale), then right back down the scale, five notes in a row. The pattern then starts up again from the next lower scale degree.

The first bar works this pattern down twice, so let’s look at it first as notes, then as numbers of the scale.

Notes:      G-Bb-Ab-G-F-Eb      D-F-Eb-D-C-Bb

Numbers:    5-7-6-5-4-3           2-4-3-2-1(root)-7

(Note that the Bb at the end of the second 6-note pattern is an octave lower than the one near the beginning of the first pattern.)

Practice that first bar over and over again, until the pattern feels comfortable, and you can hear how the pattern sounds. Observing how the numerals correspond to the notes can be tricky at first, but it will make it easier to extrapolate the pattern through this scale (or any scale), and develop exercises to work along the entire fretboard.

Now looking at the second bar, we can see that, rather than continuing the 6-note base pattern straight down through the scale, it jumps back up a fourth (interval) to start up the pattern again. This happens again, going from bar 2 to bar 3, and again to bar 4.

Here’s an exercise that will illustrate what we’re talking about with “extrapolating” a pattern “through a scale” or along the fretboard. This first exercise takes our 6-note base pattern, and works it down through the scale in the 3rd position.

If you break it up into 6-note chunks, you can see that each one starts one scale degree down from where the last one began. Numerically that would go 5-7-6-5-4-3, 4-6-5-4-3-2, 3-5-4-3-2-1, 2-4-3-2-1-7, and so on. Those sequences will eventually repeat as you go down (or up) through multiple octaves. Check it out:

K5_ex_01

Now, we’ll take our full 12-note pattern, and work it up the fretboard along the G-B-E’ trio of strings, ascending one scale degree at a time:

K5_ex_01b

Unless otherwise noted, stick with strict down-up alternate picking, until the patterns feel comfortable. After that, feel free to start with an upstroke, incorporate legato, palm muting, etc.

With these and any other exercises, use whatever musical knowledge you have to transfer them into as many keys as possible. For example, how would you play this exercise in C major, instead of C minor? How would you start from a given key, and work the exercise through the entire circle of fifths/fourths? Can you play these patterns on other string combinations, and map them out along the neck? Those can be tough questions for people who don’t have much theory, but if you use our free cheat sheets consistently, that knowledge comes pretty quickly, and will make it much easier to learn more complex ideas with less time and effort.

Despite the simplicity of the etude itself, the above demonstrates very clearly how many ideas can be drawn from just a simple 12-note scale pattern (composed of a doubled 6-note pattern), played for 4 bars in a single position on the guitar. Pretty cool, right? Chances are that this post alone will give you plenty of ideas to keep you busy for a long time — and we’re only covering the first half of the etude right now.

Before moving on to the next section, let’s take a quick look at the scales for this etude, in various positions. Here’s the base C minor scale in the 3rd position, starting from the 5th (A) string, played two ways, first in position and then 3-note-per-string style, with the position shift:

K5_ex_02

Usually the importance of scale patterns that use three or four notes per string is emphasized here, and those patterns are more useful in encompassing a broader musical range, as well as navigating more of the fretboard. You can cover more ground with a 3-note-per-string (3N/S)pattern than with a position scale pattern.

However, position patterns are still valuable to know and use, in that they provide yet another way of visualizing the fretboard, and that minimizing movement along the neck can help simplify the notes and patterns. Certain positions tend to be more conducive to certain keys and scales, but the fact of the matter is that every key in every scale is contained to at least some extent in every single position on the fretboard.

The relative major key/scale to C minor is Eb major. Here is that scale, first in position and then as a 3N/S pattern:

K5_ex_02b

Use the suggested picking and fingering, and be sure to run all these scales down as well as up. Observe how the descending shifts may differ from the ascending shifts, and which fingers prepare to “anchor” for those shifts in each direction.

Also practice the scales along all 6 strings:

K5_ex_03

K5_ex_03b

Section B (Bars 5-11):  Bar 5 starts out with a straight run up the scale, starting from Bb. Modally, this could be considered Bb Mixolydian. On the descent in bar 6, notice that the second-to-last note in that bar is an A, rather than an Ab, implying Bb major (G minor). Bars 7-8 shift the A note back to Ab, and feature some nice back-and-forth intervallic play.

Bars 9-11 have an ascending-descending scalar sequence that misses the 2nd degree (spelled intervallically:  1-3-4-5-6-7), moving the sequence up a scale degree at a time. The tonality shifts the Ab back to A yet again for the first two of those bars, before settling back to the original key for the time being. We’re only talking about changing a single note (Ab to A and back) in the context of the scale, but you can hear how that small change creates melodic tension. This etude plays with that melodic shift repeatedly, and it’s a powerful tool to incorporate into your soloing.

Here’s a couple simple but effective exercises based on what we’ve seen in Section B. First, let’s take a look at three different ways to play the Bb Mixolydian mode. The Mixolydian is the fifth of the seven major scale modes. It is identical to the major scale, except for the flattened seventh, and is most commonly found these days in country music, but certainly has nice melodic applications in blues and rock.

The idea here is to play the same scale, starting with a different finger each time. Here is the standard 3N/S pattern, beginning with the index finger:

K5_ex_04

Easy enough, right? The first 3 strings have the same pattern, and the subsequent shifts are small and fairly easy to learn. Now let’s take a look at starting with the middle finger, and remaining in position:

K5_ex_04b

Note the position shift heading into the B string, in order to catch the Ab (G#) note at the 9th fret. You can also play that note on the 4th fret of the high E string, and not have to shift at all, but stretch the index finger down a fret to play the note. Needless to say, it never hurts to get familiar with both of those ways.

Now let’s take a look at playing the mode starting with the 4th finger. There’s a 1-fret shift at the B string, and then we’ve added a nice 4-note descending sequence to help work on the fingering and shifts:

K5_ex_04c

Remember when learning new scale patterns, that once you learn the basic pattern itself, to move beyond just running the scale straight up and down, and to plug it into different sequencing patterns. Check out some of these past posts on scales and sequencing for some ideas:

3N/S Patterns: Major Scale

3N/S Patterns: Minor Scale

3N/S Patterns: Harmonic Minor Scale

Melodic sequencing is the key to building technique and musical knowledge at the same time, and will absolutely give you a huge advantage in understanding how to create memorable solos and melodies. Stay tuned for the second half of the Etude #5 in a few days!

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!

Intermediate Warm-ups: Using Riffs to Build Technique

Continuing from the recent post on warm-up routines, let’s take a look at some ideas that will help you connect technical ideas with musical ideas. One of the best ways to do that is by finding familiar songs and riffs that highlight particular techniques, and use them as practice pieces.

We’re going to look at three riffs in the style of classic rock/metal songs that will build your picking hand strength, stamina, and accuracy. For the most part, use down-up alternate picking, except as indicated. Definitely use a metronome. Strive not only to play the riff at its original tempo, but to exceed that tempo if possible.

The first riff is similar to Ozzy’s classic Crazy Train. Take it slow until the pattern feels comfortable. Maintain strict alternate picking throughout, and use the suggested fingering. This is a great riff to work on those tricky 1-3-4 fingering combinations.

R01

Next up is the opening riff to Guns ‘n’ Roses Sweet Child o’ Mine. Slash has mentioned in interviews over the years that it was a warm-up exercise long before it became the intro to a massively popular song.

R02

Try the suggested fingering, and definitely use alternate picking throughout. This is a fantastic riff for string skipping, and for working on the 3-4 fingering combination.

The third song we’ll look at is a true metal classic, and one of my favorite songs ever to just fire up the amp and play loud. Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell is one of those killer Dimebag Darrell riffs that, if you walk into a guitar shop and crank it out with conviction and authority, with a good crunchy tone, people will stop what they’re doing and listen. It’s a fun, deceptively simple riff, played in two octaves. Let’s take a look at the upper octave, which kicks off the song:

R03

Note the accents on each downstroke, and the palm muting through most of the riff. If you haven’t worked much with palm muting, it’s a fun technique that sounds cool with a fat distorted tone.

The main riff then descends an octave, to the open E string.

R04a

Notice the change in fingering, which takes advantage of using the open position. Here’s a different way to play the lower-octave riff, that takes advantage of the extra punch of the low E string:

R04b

Try them both, throw in palm mutes and pinch harmonics, in the Dime style. Learn all these riffs as mechanical exercises that enhance technique, and as pieces of music, that you can add flavor to as you see fit.

Chances are that the biggest challenge with playing this riff at higher speeds is crossing back and forth between strings. So let’s head back up to the 12th position, to the higher intro riff, and break it down a bit. Here’s the first two beats (each four-note group of 16th notes is a “beat” in this case) of the riff:

R05a

Just play that section over and over again, building speed only when it’s accurate. Remember, if it sounds sloppy slow, it’s going to sound really sloppy at faster tempos. Anything played clean and tight at a slower tempo will sound better and more technically proficient than something “close enough” at a faster tempo.

From the second beat to the third beat of the riff shows the transition of the riff, which is basically a sequenced blues box to begin with.

R05b

You can probably see right away where nailing this section will do wonders for your picking hand. Additionally, you should be able to come up with plenty of variations of your own, based on this sequence, that will sound cool, work the rest of the fretting hand, and possibly be useful in your own songs.

If you work those two bars up to tempo, and put them together, you should be able to nail the end of the riff pretty easily. Keep an eye throughout on the range of motion for your picking hand when going from one string to the next; this is one of the most essential keys to technical mastery.

So while these riffs (and any others you may think of) should keep you busy for a while, as a small bonus, let’s take a look at some of the techniques and tricks Dime uses throughout the Cowboys solo. After an introductory four bars of tritones, Dime uncorks a sweet pattern across the neck. Utilizing a 1-2-4 fingering, this pattern will give your hands a nice stretch and broaden your range on the fretboard.

R06a

This is a tough one to put into theoretical terms; like Eddie Van Halen, many of Dime’s solos and riffs don’t fall clearly along this or that scale. This is a great example of how, if you play something with great tone and conviction, it really doesn’t matter what scale it corresponds to — if it sounds good, it is good.

Let’s take the shape and work it up to speed on any one given string (in this case, the low E):

R06b

Notice the picking indications, try alternating between the palm-muted triplet and the legato triplet with straight down-up alternate picking, or down-stroking the first note of the legato phrase on the accented beat. Either way works, whatever sounds better and feels right.

Starting at the thirteenth bar of the solo, Dime hits a nifty little chromatic lick that falls nicely across the E5 (minor blues) key. Here’s one way to play it, which again at higher speeds will test your picking hand:

R07a

Now try playing the same lick all on the G string, which makes it a decent chromatic stretching exercise:

R07b

Finally, the rhythmic breakdown at the end of the solo contains a really nice shifting scalar lick, in two octaves:

R08

Keep the slides tight, rhythmically and dynamically, and see how many other scale forms you can map this sort of thing out on, if you’re comfortable with it.

Definitely look for more riffs you can use for technical warm-ups and exercises, and of course develop as many of your own as you can. Play hard and have fun!