Octave Exercise

Inspiration for developing new melodic exercises can come from just about anywhere. I was recently listening to the new Megadeth album, which I’ve listened to plenty of times over the past few months since it came out. In the track Post-American World, I paid extra attention to one of the middle solos, and heard a nice octave run connecting an arpeggio-based melody. I hadn’t caught that previously, so of course I had to work out the notes and devise some exercises. Wider intervals tend to have a more “modern” sound to them that can add a different flavor to your melodic playing.

The simplest way to play two notes an octave apart is with a string between the two notes, which makes alternate picking more challenging. Well, that’s why we develop exercises, right? Let’s take a look at the A minor (C major) scale in octaves:

octavescale

The octave notes are grouped together in the above example, but play them separately as well, using strict alternate picking. Try as many combinations as you can think of — start with the low note, start with the high note, with an upstroke, a downstroke. Take it slow, use a metronome, and observe carefully your picking hand motion as you cross over the B string in each direction. The real challenge is in economizing the height and distance that your picking hand moves, while not hitting the B string.

This example is very similar to the run in the Megadeth solo:

octex01

The cool thing about these sorts of exercises is that the possibilities are practically endless:  you can start from the lower note (“L”) of the octave instead of the higher note (“H”), you can start adding sharps and flats and go through the circle of fifths, go up the neck as well as down the neck, try other string pairs, etc.

Now let’s try the same exercise with melodic displacement. If the above pattern could be noted “HHLL”, then this next one would be “HLLH”, with the lower octave notes between the higher ones.

octex02

This is definitely more challenging as far as alternate picking goes, but what’s cool is the way it goes against what your ear tends to expect out of this type of melody, with the back-and-forth melodic contour.

Let’s try the run with triplet notes, in “LLH” and then “HHL” sequences:

octex03

As you get more comfortable working with all of these exercises and position shifts, start working in things such as slides, palm muting, artificial harmonics, etc.

Here’s another melodic displacement variation (LHL-HLH) for the triplet run:

octex04

Stick with the alternate picking, even though it might seem more difficult at first. Again, pay close attention to the range of motion your picking hand takes as it skips the B string.

This next one will be a little more fun, allowing for more “vocalisms” from the guitar:

octex05

Instead of alternate picking every single note, use the slides on the high E string to your advantage, so you’re only picking the first two notes of each three-note phrase as it descends the scale. Try palm-muting or artificial harmonics on some or all of the notes on the G string. This is very similar to the classic Dimebag Darrell run in the breakdown after the solo of Cowboys from Hell.

To close out this exercise, let’s try a full run down the neck, combining the first two phrases through multiple (non-adjacent) string pairs:

octex06

As always, work the patterns through as many string combinations as possible, go through the circle of fifths, etc. If you have any inconsistencies in your picking-hand motion you want to work on, this is a really useful way to do that, plus the more “modern” sound of the octave interval melodies.

Below are links for a full PDF of all the examples, plus a WAV file set at 120 bpm. Good luck!

Octave Exercise

Melodic Warm-up Exercise

Here’s a cool 16-bar run I’ve been using a lot lately for a warmup exercise. It focuses on a couple of important techniques, gets your hands moving quickly, and gives your ears something to listen to besides straight scales and chromatics. Let’s break it down into two sections.

First things first:  the entire piece is in sextuplets, in 6/8 time. As always, every note should be alternate-picked until you feel like you’ve mastered the progression at a decent tempo, at which point you can and should experiment with the usual dynamics (especially palm-muting and legato). Usually with a warmup piece you don’t really worry so much about using a metronome and keeping strict tempo, but for this piece it would probably help to use one at first, again to the point that you feel comfortable with the progression and techniques.

The piece breaks down into two main sections, six and ten bars respectively. Let’s break down the first six-bar section:

Bars 1-4

mw01

This is a six-note motif, with the root note descending chromatically against a repeated C-D-D#-D-C line, until bar 4, where the 5-note line played against the root becomes C-D-C-F#-C and the picking scheme changes substantially from having that F# note played on the D string instead of the G string. Take that 4th bar slowly at first, until the slight difference in picking sequence feels comfortable.

Bars 5-6 (see above)

One of my favorite melodic maneuvers, ascending triads using chromatic inversions. This sequence essentially functions as the melodic “bridge” between the two main sections. Check the chord implications throughout the piece, and use them for ideas for your own study pieces, progressions, or songs.

Bars 7-10

mw02

The rest of the piece is string skipping, so if you’re not comfortable with that technique, you should be fluent with it after mastering this short piece. Bars 7 and 9 are identical, and 8 and 10 are symmetrical, as diminished triads repeat every three frets, and are musically enharmonic. That’s why in bar 10 the arpeggio is shown as C#° (A#°/G°/E°), as it is technically all four of those things, because of the symmetrical nature of the diminished scale.

Bars 11-16

mw03 mw04

The string-skipping progression continues chromatically in bars 11-12, before heading into a “classical” cycle-of-fifths (E-B-D-A-C-G) progression in bars 13-15, before resolving on the B in the final bar. The stretches in bar 12 are wide, and a simple alternative to that is shown below. It can be either alternate or sweep picked; obviously, I would suggest you try both.

mw05

As always, get the progression comfortable under your fingers, increase the tempo, try various guitar dynamics, and especially throw in some melodic and harmonic changes of your own. As long as it sounds good, warms up your hands and ears, and gets you working on specific techniques, it’s good. Have fun!

Fun With Triads: Anastasia

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

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

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

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

Ana_intro

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

Ana_intro_alt

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

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

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

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

D_harm_minor

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

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

D_harm_lick

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

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

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

A_Phryg3

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

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

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

D_Phryg3

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

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

D_Phryg3_lick

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

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

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

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

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

ana-riff

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

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

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

Kreutzer Etude #5, Part 2

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

K5_01

K5_02

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

K5_03

K5_04

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

Kreutzer #5

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

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

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

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

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

K5_ex_05

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

K5_ex_05b

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

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

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

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

K5_alt_01

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

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

K5_u_01

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

K5_alt_u_01

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

Kreutzer #5

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

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

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!

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!

Kreutzer #3, Finale

Let’s finish off the Kreutzer Violin Etude #3. Section C starts from the middle of bar 12, riding a cool descending 4-note triad pattern all the way to the middle of bar 16. Check the tab below:

K3SecC

Since we know that a triad, regardless of type, is made up of stacked third intervals, and is spelled R-3-5 intervallically, this 4-note pattern is relatively simple to break down. Using the up-down arrow notation from before, the pattern goes up a third, down a fifth, then up a third, which returns to the first note of the 4-note phrase (↑3↓5↑3).

Just as intervals are the most basic building blocks of music, triads are the next logical extension of intervals. You can’t go wrong with learning and devising as many triad patterns on two and three strings (or more, for open-voiced triads, but we’ll cover that in another post) as possible.

Check out the basic descending 4-note triad pattern in the tab below. The 3rd note of each 4-note phrase is the root of each respective triad, so the 8 triads descending through the octave are: F major, E minor, D minor, C major, B diminished, A minor, G major, and F major. Even though it starts and ends with the F major triad, the sequence actually consists of the C major triads, as we’ll see in a minute.

C01

Now let’s take the above triad sequence, and re-organize the 4-note patterns into the same order as the #3 etude.

C02

It’s always useful to work melodic shapes along all possible string configurations, so for this example, make sure to map it along the other adjacent string pairs:

C03

The etude ends with an arpeggio spanning an octave and a third (C to E’down pattern and playing it over and over again until it’s smooth and clean.

Here are the neck diagrams for the sequence of triadic arpeggios through the C major sale:

chords

The corresponding tab is below. Again, try both alternate and sweep picking. The B diminished arpeggio is set up for string skipping, as it is simpler and cleaner that way.

C04

The links below are complete tabs for the entire piece. The second version contains the alternate B section shown in the Part 2 post.

Kreutzer_#3   Kreutzer #3(alt)

While the piece (like anything called an “etude”) itself is an exercise, the custom exercises designed around the sections will help you isolate associated techniques. Use the exercises to devise shapes and ideas of your own, to use as melodic phrases in your solos. Have fun!

Kreutzer #3, Part 2

While the brief intro section of Kreutzer Etude #3 probably did not take you too long to get a handle on, we loaded you up with several exercises based on the intro motif. The exercises are designed to work on melodic sequencing, and will also help a great deal with fretboard navigation, as they go up and down the neck along adjacent string pairs.

Let’s take a look at Section B of the etude, which takes up the majority of the piece, from bar 4 up through about halfway into bar 12. When you see the tab you’ll understand why that point makes an ideal spot to section off:

K3SecB

As mentioned in the previous post, Etude #3 is an interval exercise, specifically thirds. It is in Section B where most of the work on thirds is done. The entire section is essentially an ascending 6-note figure, comprised of thirds ascending stepwise through the scale, then connected by a 2-note scale-step descent, into the next climbing 6-note figure.

Let’s break down Bar 4 to see how that works. The notes for the first 6-note figure are: B-G-C-A-D-B. Each note pair is a descending third interval:  B down to G is a third, as are C down to A and D down to B respectively. (Be sure to check out the free Intervals cheat sheet on the Resources page if you need a reference or a refresher on the interval terms.) So you have three (3) third intervals grouped together, ascending one step at a time up the scale, right?

Now, after that 3rd (D-B) third interval (sorry if this is confusing), the figure goes to the next scale step, E, and then descends back to the D note, to set up for the next 6-note figure, which starts one scale step higher than the previous 6-note figure. This repeats through the following 7½ bars, a total of 17 times, more than 2 full octaves.

It makes sense to play the 3 thirds in each 6-note figure “in a row,” so to speak, and for the most part, they are tabbed as such. But there are bars where they are tabbed to minimize position shifting, which may be slightly more difficult to finger and learn. So below is an “alternate” way to play the section, where each successive trio of thirds stays on its respective string pair:

K3SecB_alt

As we’ll see with the exercises for this section, there are only a couple of fingering patterns to learn, for thirds along a given adjacent string pair. So you may find the second tab for this section simpler to learn and play. Whatever works — in fact, any tab is generally a suggestion, although one based on experience and practice. But the bottom line is that if it makes more sense to you to play a note or phrase at a different spot from what’s in the tab, go for it, as long as it doesn’t run counter to the overall goal of the technique the study is designed to address.

To reinforce the concept of thirds and their patterns, practice the exercises shown below for adjacent string pairs:

B01 B02 B03

There are two fingering patterns for the B-G string pair, and one of those is also one of the two fingerings for all the other adjacent string pairs. The fingerings themselves should be apparent; for the double-stops on the B-G pair, try using one finger and two fingers, both ways can be applied in various playing situations.

As far as picking, start with down-up alternate, try up-down, and if you’re feeling ambitious, try economy picking (down-down or up-up).

Below is the C major scale in third intervals, going up the B string:

B04

Needless to say, map out the scale on all strings, and play it in thirds as shown above. Then take it through the circle of 5ths/4ths, adding a sharp or a flat as you through the circle.

Finally, check out the melodic figure based on ascending and descending 3rd intervals, shown below:

B05

As with the exercises from the previous post, be sure to come up with your own variations on these useful intervals. Listen to how they sound, and how a major 3rd sounds different from a minor 3rd. Experiment with different combinations of patterns and intervals.

We’ll close out the etude over the weekend. See you then!

Outside the Box: 3-4N/S Major & Minor Scales

There are so many ways to play a given scale, and it’s useful to know as many as possible, in order to have something for every occasion. You’re probably familiar with the standard scale form that stays in a single position:

CMajor_fing

Three-note-per-string (which we refer to at PTG with the “3N/S” shorthand) scales are extremely handy for generating melodic sequences that are easy to play at higher tempos, and cover a greater range than position scales.

AMinor_3ns

The natural progression from 3-note-per-string scales is 4-note-per-string (or 4N/S). Here is the G major scale mapped out as such, sliding with the 4th finger as it ascends:

GMaj_4NS_int

GMaj_4NS_fing

Notice how the fingering shapes line up along the adjacent string pairs, with some position shifting — the low E and A strings have the same shape; the D and G strings have the same shape; and the B and high E strings share a shape. This makes the entire scale somewhat easier to memorize, but there’s still a fair amount there.

Now let’s look at the A minor scale in 4N/S:

AMin_4NS_int

AMin_4NS_fing

This one’s a little tougher; A and D have the same fingering shape, and B and E’ share a shape. But that’s about it. Additionally, even with the position shifting and finger sliding, these are still not easy shapes to play, especially for people whose hands are not that large.

While it’s important to learn as many scale shapes and patterns as possible, as pointed out earlier, this is really only true as long as the patterns are simple to learn, convenient to play, and actually facilitate making music. There’s no point in learning a pattern that you can’t use for melodic material.

The 4N/S shapes are still worth learning, as they do give a greater melodic range to work with, and can be used for melodic sequences the same way 3N/S scales can. And the expanded fretboard navigation is valuable in greater fretting hand control.

But there’s also a happy middle ground worth learning, in combining 3-note- and 4-note-per-string patterns. This gives you the best of both worlds — there’s still a huge range of the neck that’s covered with the pattern, but they’re more playable by guitarists of most experience levels, and they don’t require huge hands to play.

Check out the G major scale, this time alternating 3  and 4 notes per string:

GMaj_int GMaj_fing GMajor

The great thing about this pattern is that it’s just a single pattern on the first two strings, duplicated across each successive string pair. You just have to learn the one pattern, and move it up an octave, then another octave. Simple.

And it’s the same case for the minor scale, just a different single pattern to learn:

AMinor01_int

AMinor01_fing

AMinor_asc

As always, be sure to practice these patterns ascending and descending. Where the 4th finger is used to slide up in an ascending pattern, the first finger is used to slide down the descending pattern.

Let’s reverse the 3-then-4-per-string pattern, and try it descending:

AMinor02_int

AMinor02_fing

AMinor_desc

Try the 3-4 pattern ascending, and the 4-3 pattern descending, and vice versa. Use any melodic sequences you can think of through these patterns as well. Until you’re comfortable with each pattern, use strict alternate picking throughout, then work in legato, palm muting, economy picking, etc. And of course, move the patterns around the neck, in as many keys as possible. Because of the greater range covered, there may be some limitations, especially with the high E string.

Here’s a sample scale run to try out:

3-4ScaleLick

Take it slow, use a metronome once the shapes are familiar, and come up with additional ideas and sequences to try. Good luck and have fun!

Back to Basics: What is a Scale?

While we’ve had a great deal of success and positive feedback with our e-book series over this past summer, with the books there is a certain level of knowledge presumed on the part of the reader, when it comes to discussing scale and sequencing techniques, and drawing out exercises to work on those ideas. But for players who are just starting out, terms such as “scales” and “triads” may not mean much, if anything.

Especially in English, where “scale” also means several different non-musical things, it’s easy to hear the term and recognize that it means something, and still not be entirely clear exactly what it’s supposed to mean. It’s not something on the skin of a fish or a lizard, and it’s not the device on your bathroom floor that you step on to weigh yourself.

Understanding that the word is derived from the Italian word for ladder (scala) might help in visualizing what a musical scale is and does. Many musicians who are experienced and knowledgeable about general music theory use the ladder analogy to explain the concept.

Visualize the scale as a ladder where the top and bottom rungs are the same note, but the top note is an octave higher. You can have up to a total of 12 rungs (not counting the top one), but usually between 5 and 8, with each ascending “rung” being a note in between. The value of this analogy is that it quickly reinforces the concept that like a ladder, you can move the scale around and use it anywhere, and it will retain its original configuration, as far as the spacing of the notes/rungs.

Scales are octave-repeating, so a scale that runs from C to C’ (one octave above) will retain the exact same pattern going from C’ to C” (two octaves above).

The notes of a scale are called steps or degrees, and each scale’s character and “flavor” is determined by the arrangement of the steps. Steps are counted in terms of whole steps and half steps (also known respectively as tones and semitones). A half step (or semitone) is equivalent to moving one fret up or down on the neck, so a whole step (or tone) is two frets.

The chromatic scale contains all 12 notes in the octave, and so is composed entirely of half steps:

Chrom_notes

Take out every other note, leaving six notes each a whole step apart, and you have a whole tone scale. Here are two ways to play the whole tone scale in a single playing position:

WT

WT_alt

Scales such as chromatic and whole tone are part of a family of scales known as symmetrical, because the intervals between each note are exactly the same throughout the entire scale, thus dividing the octave equally. If you use every third note in an octave you have a diminished chord or arpeggio; if you use every fourth note in the octave you have an augmented chord or arpeggio. Chords and arpeggios (and triads) are derived from combining various degrees of a given scale.

ADim

AAug

Once you get down to patterns of just 3 or 4 notes, it’s difficult to classify them as “scales,” especially given the rather “rootless” quality all symmetrical scales share. The main thing with symmetrical scales is that every note is potentially a root note, because of the equally divided octave. So an A diminished scale (A, C, D#, F) can be played over a minor or diminished chord from any of the four notes in that scale, since it’s the same four notes in any case.

Don’t worry too much about learning or memorizing symmetrical scales just yet, but it doesn’t hurt to play the patterns a few times and listen to how they sound. It’s a different sound that what you may be used to, since most western music (rock, metal, country, blues, classical) is based on major and minor scales and harmonies. As this article is aimed more at beginning-level players, we’ll focus on those two types of scales for now.

Let’s use the old faithful C major scale as an example. Most rock, metal, country, and blues players will use 5- (pentatonic), 6- (hexatonic), and 7- (heptatonic) note scales in their playing. (You will frequently see the term diatonic scale used as well, to refer to 7-note scales. Technically, “diatonic” simply means “from a note to its octave note” and applies to all scales, but it is common usage to refer specifically to heptatonic scales as diatonic.)

Here is the C major scale in two octaves, played in the standard fashion in the 7th position:

CMajor_std

Play the scale one step at a time, ascending from low to high, and then all the way back down, keeping the fretting hand locked into the position, which means each finger is assigned a fret along all 6 strings. So all the notes played on the 7th fret, regardless of string, will be played by the index finger (1), everything on the 8th fret is played by the middle finger (2), and so on. Check out the tab below for reference to fingering:

CMajor_fing

Let’s look at the scale one more time, with intervals (the distances between the notes) indicated:

CMajor_std(int)

The red “R” indicates the root note of the scale (in this case, C), and the intervals indicated on the black dots are their respective distances from the root note (as opposed to the distances from each other, which is a different matter). So the D note is a major 2nd (the Δ symbol represents major) from the C root note, the E note is a major 3rd from the root, the F is a perfect 4th from the root, and so on. (For a more detailed discussion of intervals, please check out the free cheat sheet on the Resources page.)

Using “H” to refer to half steps, and “W” for whole steps, you can see that the pattern for the major scale goes:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C’

  W  W   H  W   W  W  H

So if you take that W-W-H-W-W-W-H pattern, and recreate it anywhere on the neck, starting from any note, you have a major scale in the key of that starting note. Move the pattern one fret down, starting at 7th fret low E string, and it’s a B major scale.

BMajor_std

Start it on the A string at 7th fret, and it’s now an E major scale.

EMajor_std

Use the tuning of the guitar to find same notes on adjacent strings to create more advantageous fingerings for the same patterns. Here is the above E major scale reconfigured for 3 notes per string, which allows for quick navigation across multiple positionsand greater range, as well as better speed and precision for melodic sequencing patterns derived from scales.

EMajor_3ns

There are many entire books about scale theory, and right now we want to keep it at a basic level, so we’ll leave you with just one other important type of scale (and pattern) to check out. The natural minor scale (actually a mode derived from the major scale, but we’ll save modes for another post) is a vital melodic basis for rock, metal, and blues guitar soloing.

In order to keep all natural notes (no sharps or flats) for our minor scale, let’s move down to A minor to show that scale pattern. Because they use the exact same notes in the same order, just from different starting points, C major and A minor are considered relative keys, and can be played over progressions in either key. So A minor is the relative minor of C major, and C major is the relative major of A minor. (This is true of all keys associated three frets (1½ steps) apart:  D minor is the relative minor of F major; E major is the relative major of C# minor; and so on.)

For now, let’s stick with C major and A minor. Let’s break down the pattern of whole and half steps for A minor, as we did with C major:

[recreate C major / A minor text patterns in GIMP]

A – B – C  –  D – E –  F –   G  –  A’

  W – H – W – W – H – W – W

Right away, you can see and hear the difference made by re-organizing the pattern of half and whole steps. Notice how if you start from the third note (C) in the above sequence, the pattern of half and whole steps is that of the major scale. That illustrates the concept of relative major and minor keys, and serves as an introductory visual to how modes are derived (again, we’ll cover those soon).

Here is the A minor scale, in 5th position, using all 6 strings:

AMinor

Here’s another way to play the scale, again using 3 notes per string:

AMinor_3ns

A great exercise to get familiar with the scales, as well as general fretboard navigation, is to take a sheet of paper, and map out as many different ways as you can think of to show these scale patterns. Printable sheets of blank tab or neck diagrams (free) can be found on the Resources page.

Use different positions, different strings, different numbers of strings — instead of using five or all six strings to play a scale, use two, or just one. As long as the WWHWWWH pattern of half and whole steps is being observed, it’s a major scale; as long as the WHWWHWW pattern is being used, that’s a minor scale.

AMinor_ss

We’ll cover some more ground on different types of scales, and how to derive modes from them, in future posts. A lot of beginning (and even experienced) players are unwilling to learn much in the way of how scales work. That’s unfortunate, because a little bit of effort in that direction will save you countless hours of trial and error, and potential frustration. It can look intimidating at first, but with a modest amount of attention and patience, it is not that difficult, especially for people who are mathematically inclined. It’s also pretty cool to see, as you dig deeper into this area, how the pieces of the musical puzzle fit together.

So start simple, learn the basic major and minor patterns, and map out as many variations as you can think of. As you get more familiar with the sounds of the patterns, and not just the sequence of half and whole steps, refer back to the above diagrams to get familiar with the names of the notes, and more importantly, the intervals they represent within the scale patterns.

When it comes to learning the “secret language” of scales, modes, triads, chords, etc., intervals are really the Rosetta Stone of that entire discipline. Once you understand intervals, all those other concepts start falling right into place. Just take it a piece at a time.