Presto Change-o

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

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

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

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

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

Presto-Intro

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

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

Presto-ex1

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

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

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!

3N/S Patterns: Major Scale

Let’s continue our series on 3-note-per-string (referred to here as “3N/S”) by looking at the major scale. We’ll revisit the C Major scale, since it is comprised solely of natural notes (no sharps or flats). Check out the diagrams below, showing the scale spelled out in notes and then in intervals:

notes(2) intervals(2)

Notice that these aren’t “root-to-root” scales encompassing multiple full octaves, they are two octaves and a perfect fourth, roughly 2½ octaves. This is simply to make the most out of the position being played in, as there are only a couple of minor shifts involved.

For people who aren’t familiar with the concept of modes, there’s no time like the present to bring it up. A mode is just a scale sequence that starts from a given note in the scale. So if you start from C (the root), that’s the C Ionian mode (as well as the C Major scale). If you go from D to D’ (one octave up), that is called D Dorian. E to E’ is E Phrygian, and so on. The positions can be (and are) extrapolated along the neck.

We’ll go over modes in depth in a future series, in the meantime, check out the Modes cheat sheet on the Resources page for a quick overview. Modes are an incredibly useful tool in developing a melodic and truly musical style.

Check the tab and .wav file below. As always, use alternate picking (starting with a downstroke) and use a metronome. Notice that the sequence comes back down through the scale in the next position, which again would be the D Dorian mode:

Major Scale 01

Major Scale

The strength of playing scales this way is that they are useful in a huge variety of melodic sequencing patterns,  The sequence shown below is a great example of what can be done, it ascends four notes at a time through the scale. Try both ascending and descending, and listen to the accompanying .wav files for reference:

Major Seq 01

Major Seq (60bpm) Major Seq (120bpm)

Work it around in as many positions as you can think of, keeping in mind where the root note is located. We’ll review another scale and cool melodic sequence soon.

3N/S Patterns: Blues Scale

Recalling the Scales and Intervals series from a few weeks back (and we will be looking at the various intervals in the coming week), learning and memorizing scale patterns is probably the best way to build an arsenal of melodic licks.

As we’ve alluded to before, one of the most efficient ways to learn scales and cover some real estate on the neck is to use 3-note-per-string patterns. (“3N/S” seems like a convenient shorthand to use, hence the post title.) These patterns lend themselves very well to a variety of rhythmic and melodic sequences, many of which we’ll cover soon.

But first, let’s take a look at some scale patterns, starting with the blues scale. Unlike the diatonic major and minor scales, which have seven notes, or the five-note pentatonic scale, the blues scale has six notes (hexatonic). It is the pentatonic minor scale with an added flat fifth; intervallically, it’s spelled 1(R)-b3-4-b5-5-7.

Here’s the usual positional layout for the A minor blues scale, covering the first two of the five box positions:

Am Blues Scale

This is great if you want to remain in position, but if you want a convenient way to navigate, and come up with melodic sequences that are more efficient and easier to play at higher tempos, then the 3N/S style is really useful. Here’s how the blues scale looks in 3N/S:

Am Blues

It’s really just the same two-string shape, repeated three times across the neck, with position shifts. Just play the first two strings a few times at first to get the shape down; the first three notes are likely to be awkward to play at first, since about the only way to play that part is by using the third (ring) finger, a 1-3-4 fingering. Consider it a good way to get that tricky 3-4 fingering combination into shape. Play the shape ascending, and then back down, per the tab below:

Blues01

If it’s too much of a stretch to start down at the 5th position, move the whole shape a few frets up.

Practice the entire sequence in a few different keys, in various positions along the neck. The first note is the root note, so if you start the sequence at the 7th fret of the low E string, it’s in B minor, 9th fret would be C#m, and so on.

Try this melodic sequence using the 3N/S pattern in sextuplets:

Blues02

Use strict down-up alternate picking, take it slow at first and build up speed. Use a metronome to track your progress.

Stay tuned, we’ll have some other 3N/S scale and modal patterns over the coming week, as well as some sequences to try out on them!

Lick of the Week: Pedal Point and Scale Sequences

Here’s an extended lick that is really two separate melodic runs combined. The first half is a pedal point phrase based in E minor. Practice this basic phrase, utilizing strict down-up alternate picking:

LotW3(sample)

Using the suggested fingering will keep you in the 12th position, and utilize all four fingers, accenting the first note of each 4-note grouping. It’s a great-sounding phrase to play at higher tempos. The 3-note (C-B-C) pedal is a cool contrast to the usual single-note style.

So let’s take that intro phrase and add a few more notes to play against the pedal.

LotW3(1)

The first note of the third bar (F#) requires a slight shift back one fret, but you should be able to move the index finger back and forth from G to F# and back to G, while keeping everything else still in the 12th position. Slide into the final high A note from the high G (15th fret) for added emphasis.

Now let’s take a look at the second half of the phrase, which will cover most of the strings and move along several positions:

LotW3(2)

This is just a straight E minor scale, sequenced in descending groups of four. Rather than the typical 3-notes-per-string scale, note how the run alternates between three notes and four notes per string. This facilitates position shifting, with small slides at key points in the phrase. The shift to the D# (major 7th interval) to slide into the final E note suggests a shift from natural minor to harmonic minor.

A few things to consider trying with this phrase:  I like to begin this descending run by raking into the first high A note at the 17th fret. Raking is like sweeping, only much easier, since the actual notes being raked are simply muted, rather than played out. To rake that first note efficiently, just lightly mute the two (or three) strings above the “target” note (in this case, again, the high A at the 17th fret) with your index finger, while your 4th finger is set up on the target note. Once you hit the lower notes, perhaps midway through the third bar, try palm muting the rest of the way through. As always, these little variances add dynamic contrast, and keep it from sounding like just another quick scalar run.

Here’s the entire lick, combining both parts:

LotW3(full)

The entire melodic run has a baroque classical feel to it, and usually these types of scale sequences sound better at higher tempos when strict alternate picking is maintained. But there’s always room to throw in some improvised legato phrasing as well.

You know the drill — take it slowly at first, definitely use a metronome, build up some speed and precision and change a few notes here and there. For example, try playing the descending run as E Dorian, rather than Aeolian, which means all the C notes would be C#. Chromatic passing tones are also fun to use here and there. Experiment, play hard, and have fun!

5 Basic Pentatonic Licks Every Rock Guitarist Should Know

Many classic rock solos tend to be built up from various combinations and sequences of easy-to-play pentatonic licks. Let’s take a look at five powerful “stock” phrases, all based around the standard A minor pentatonic box. Each tab is accompanied by a .wav file, at two speeds (92 beats per minute and 160bpm), so you can hear how it should sound.

Here’s a two-string pull-off lick:

PentBasic01

BasicPent01(slow) BasicPent01(fast)

For many two-string legato exercises using box shapes, it helps to use your index finger as anchor, similar to barring a chord, but just for the two or three strings you might be using for the lick.

The next one uses a hammer-on instead of a pull-off:

PentBasic02

BasicPent02(slow) BasicPent02(fast)

No doubt you’ve heard similar phrases used in countless rock, metal, country, and blues lead playing. Definitely use a metronome and follow the picking suggestions until you get these licks internalized, then you can start putting more distinctive dynamics into it, and make them yours.

Let’s move to the middle two strings of the box, and try a nice four-on-the-floor alternate picking lick:

PentBasic03

BasicPent03(slow) BasicPent03(fast)

Again, while these are simple phrases, your advantage is that you’re a guitar player, so there’s all sorts of cool dynamics you can incorporate into even the simplest four-note phrase. In the above example, you can use palm muting to get a percussive “chunk” sound, you can add artificial harmonics for a nice “squeal” effect here and there, you can make some or all of it into a legato phrase, whatever.

You can also play it in reverse, or with a different section of the box, or any of the other four boxes, or transpose it to another key.

Are we having fun yet?

This next lick is a fun and easy one, that will work out both your legato and picking chops. Zeppelin fans will probably note its similarity to the final phrase Jimmy Page plays in the middle (main) Rock and Roll solo:

PentBasic04

BasicPent04(slow) BasicPent04(fast)

Don’t be afraid of the triplet-16th/eighth note phrasing; once you get it down you’ll appreciate the polyrhythmic quality. It’s a huge element of developing your own phrasing as a lead player.

All of these examples are shown as just simple repetitions, because that’s the easiest way to get it under your fingers. The idea is to build a nice arsenal of these “stock” licks and take a piece here and there to combine and sequence into a great solo.

The guitar is your voice. Everyone has something to say, what’s on your mind?

The fifth lick involves the use of the blues scale. The blues scale is the pentatonic scale, with a flatted fifth (the tritone or “blue note”) thrown in. Here’s the blues scale as it lays along the first two boxes of the A minor pentatonic sequence:

Am Blues Scale

Take a close look at the above diagram; there are only six notes in the scale, repeated throughout two full octaves: A-C-D-Eb-E-G. See where Box #1 and Box #2 border each other and overlap.

So we’re going to throw that blue note in the mix with this last lick. The first bar of the phrase will just take you through the first octave of the scale, with a little back-and-forth phrasing. The second bar features some easy bending, before moving up to the 2nd box for another bend (but this time no release) with a nice chromatic passing tone (the C#, E’ string 9th fret), before ending on the high root note A (B string, 10th fret), by sliding into it from the G note (8th fret) below.

Check it out, and listen to the .wav files to hear the phrasing and nuances. This is more of a “voicing” lick, in that you don’t need (or even want) to crank it up to too high of a speed; dynamics such as bends and slides really don’t sound all that great at Mach 1:

PentBasic05

BasicPent05(slow) BasicPent05(fast)

While all of these licks are fairly simple to play and easy to master, the challenge is to make them sound unique. Use all of those dynamics (palm muting, harmonics, slides, legato, etc.) available to you to infuse the phrases with your voice and personality. Since the above exercises are in A minor, they should all sound pretty good over progressions in the keys of Am, Dm, or Em.

While it’s a rule of thumb to play any exercise in every key, not just the key it’s shown in, with pentatonic exercises there are keys that are advantageous to focus on, primarily because of the way the guitar is tuned. So while it would be great if you can transpose all of these into all 12 keys, the best ones to focus on for pentatonics are: Em (open and 12th positions), F#m (2nd and 14th positions), Gm (3rd/15th), Am (5th/17th), Bm (7th), Cm (8th), Dm (10th). The positions indicate where Box #1 will start, as shown on the cheat sheet.

When thinking about musical keys, think about how the relative minor/major factors into it as well. The relative minor key is always three frets (1½ steps) below the major key. So in your five interconnected pentatonic boxes, Box #1 is minor, Box #2 is #1’s relative major. That means the A minor boxes can also be played in the key of C major. The reverse is true as well; you will find some rock songs in the key of E major whose solos are played mostly in the C#m box at the 9th position.

The concepts are more important than rote memorization of every position and every box; once you learn the boxes in one position and get the hang of transposing, you’re most of the way there.

Stay tuned, we’ll have more intermediate and advanced pentatonic licks coming soon! Please feel free to drop a line in comments if there are any issues with playing the sound files.

If you’re ready for an in-depth exploration of the pentatonic/blues scales and boxes, and want to learn how to develop tasty, memorable licks and melodic runs with them, check out Pentatonic Licks & Sequences. Dozens of fresh licks, along with valuable tips and tricks to construct your own! Get some blues you can use with Pentatonic Licks & Sequences!

Climbing the K2: Finale

I hope you’ve been having fun with the first two-thirds of the Kreutzer #2 so far. It’s a great demonstration of how a variety of melodic techniques can be integrated into a very musical effort, and not sound too “technique-y”.

So here’s the final part of the K2, basically eight bars with a closing bar. We’ll break it down following the tab below:

Picking up where we left off last time:  Bar 17 continues the cool melodic shape started in the previous bar. The shape spells out intervallically as 5-6-7-R’-R-R’-7-6 (still continuing with the one-note displacement begun back in bar 9, so the shape really starts with the 2nd note of the bar). This shape can be worked diatonically down the neck for some cool results. Bar 18 is mostly a short G Mixolydian run, with a couple of thirds thrown in, to transition to the next shape.

The next three bars (19-21) utilizes the pedal point technique to great musical effect. Melodic development begins with a G-Em-A-F-B (harmonic minor)- G run, then a couple quick out-of-key nods (A major and B harm. minor) to build additional melodic tension, leading into the finale.

Heading into the homestretch, the first two beats of bar 22 are D Dorian, transitioning from G back to the home key of C. The key gets emphasized for the finale with some cool arpeggios working in the major 7th (B) to add some musical urgency and resolution. Bars 23 and 24 are identical, reworking the arpeggio as a back-and-forth grouping of 4ths and 3rds, rather than straight up-and-down. The final bar (25) is a quick ascending CM7 arpeggio resolving on a final C note.

Hopefully the K2 has provided you with some ideas for skill-building and melodic development. Once you get it up to speed, it’s a really fun piece to play, and should inspire you for a long time to come. To start off 2013, the entire piece will be offered as a PDF e-book, with additional analysis and relevant exercises to work on. Till then, play hard and have fun!

Killer Chromatic Warm-ups

A good warm-up routine should get both hands going quickly and effectively. It’s the same idea as stretching before a workout, to not only get the muscles up to speed, but to loosen them up, to prevent stiffness and soreness.

Chromatic warm-ups are ideal for getting all the fingers on the fretting hand limbered up. While this is best accomplished with routine exercises that you’ve internalized over the course of many practice sessions, it’s also good to shake things up a bit, and bring in some new ideas to keep your brain and fingers fresh.

Here’s the basic chromatic position run utilizing all four fingers:

There are two main types of variations on this standard pattern that we’ll look at in this post. The first type of variation utilizes displacement along the strings, which forces both hands to synchronize along more complicated patterns. The next example shows the basic run with every other note displaced to the next adjacent string:

Take this one nice and slow at first, keeping a strict down-up alternate picking pattern as indicated. Since this is a very fundamental mechanical exercise, really take the time at slower tempos to observe the motion and mechanics of each hand; they should be economized as much as possible.

Now let’s take the displacement idea, and run it across four strings at a time, one for each finger:

Stick with alternate picking at first, but the really cool thing about this particular exercise is that it also works great for sweep picking:

 If you’re unfamiliar with sweep picking, this is a great way to get more comfortable with that technique. Work just the basic pattern first, without changing string sets or positions at all, just the first two beats of the first bar, back and forth. Take it slow, and concentrate on keeping the notes smooth and even. They should not ring together, you’re not strumming a chord. That’s one of the biggest challenges with learning sweep picking, getting each note to play fully and evenly, yet keeping it from running into the next note.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, this variation will either keep you busy or give you nightmares:

Although we’re tabbing these patterns starting from the first fret, it may be easier to start from a higher position, such as the fifth or seventh fret, and keep working up the neck, or to start further up at the 12th or 15th fret, and work your way down the neck. Don’t be shy about moving these around for more comfort and ease of play. If at any point you start feeling actual pain in either hand, stop immediately and rest your hands for a few.

The other main variation of chromatic exercises involves multiply picked notes, instead of just doing each note singly up through the pattern. Each successive note grouping requires the hands to synchronize just a little differently than you might be used to. Here’s the double pattern:

The triple pattern can be played either as regular triplets/sextuplets, or as a “3-on-4” pattern as regular 16th notes. Check out each variation, definitely play each one, and note how each affects alternate picking.

Chances are that the 3-on-4 pattern will present some difficulty at first, but it’s a very cool-sounding technique at higher tempos. Take it slow at first and use a metronome, and you should be able to get a feel for it before too long..

Finally, the quad pattern:

Collectively, this is a ton of stuff to work with, so as always, take it a piece at a time, work the patterns in as many areas of the neck as possible, and benchmark your maximum tempo on each pattern, to determine appropriate warm-up speeds. Devise variations of your own and work them into your warm-up routines. Have fun!

Climbing the K2, Part 2

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to work with the first eight bars of the Kreutzer Etude #2 posted last week. That first section introduces a deceptively simple but very effective melodic line which descends and then builds back up diatonically along the key of A minor, transitioning in the next eight-bar section, tabbed below:

.

Remember to stick with strict down-up alternate picking until the patterns are smooth and comfortable, and then you may start to spot opportunities where some legato phrasing or economy picking might be useful. Definitely experiment with palm-muting to accentuate beats and phrases.

The first two beats of bar 9 begin with the triad melodic figure from the first eight bars, but here it extends one 16th note into the next beat, which affects the next musical motif. This little bit of rhythmic displacement is an effective tool to make simple ideas sound more intricate, and not like a dry scale. For the rest of this section (and on to bar 22), the first 16th note for every beat will be the final note of the bar preceding it. So there’s that high A note starting the third beat of bar 9, then the eight-note descending melody, ending on the first beat of the next bar, and so on.

The melody for this section is simply the first six notes of the scale at the respective mode position, then back to the 4th, then up to the 7th (a jump of a third, major or minor depending on mode and position). The intervals spell out 1-2-3-4-5-6-4-7, and descend Am-G-F-Em-D. A simple and effective exercise to internalize this section would be to run the modes all the way up the neck on the A-D-G strings. The rhythmic displacement will probably present the greatest challenge to practice, but once the transition from Section A is smooth, it should be easier to lock in with the displaced melody.

You can see in the final bar of this section (bar 16) how the ascending scales resolve  (with a pretty wide intervallic leap, which can be mastered starting at slower tempos) into a new melodic shape,which continues into the final section of the piece. Next week we’ll post the final nine bars of the K2, and show a simple and effective exercise to get this seemingly complicated (but very cool sounding) melodic shape under your fingers, and move it around with ease. For now, concentrate on learning this section, and combining it with the section from last week, making a smooth, musical 16 bars (so far). More fun to come, so stay tuned!