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!

Tales from the Practice Monkey

Let’s talk about “practice” versus “jamming”, and how each is important to your development as a player. After several years of playing drums and then bass guitar, I picked up the six-string, motivated in no small part by lunch-hour excursions home from high school with my friends to crank up the first couple Van Halen albums, and ask “how’d he do that?” over and over again.

That was a great time to get started, to see the ongoing development of rock guitar, from giants such as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck (and so many more), to the fertile post-EVH boom of proto-shredders. Once I had mastered most of the Van Halen and Randy Rhoads material, I turned my attention to what at the time was unheard-of speeds of playing.

Players such as Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt, and Yngwie Malmsteen (and again, literally dozens of others) gave me an appreciation of where impeccable technique could be matched by real musicality. There was room for both, and players were experimenting with all sorts of unusual techniques and scales, and (just as important to me, as a learner trying to take in all these new sounds and styles) sharing tips and tricks with one another.

Tab was still in its infancy at the time, and things we take for granted now — such as, you know, home computing, websites, YouTube, software that enables you to create awesome neck diagrams and tabs with a few mouse clicks — were not even a dream. I still have a huge notebook, spiral-bound binder paper, full of handwritten tabs that I either copied out of magazines or created painstakingly, hunched over the guitar, working out one sweep-picked arpeggio at a time.

Also, we walked to school in the snow, uphill both ways, barefoot.

Anyway, it quickly became apparent that, having average manual dexterity, a systematic approach to learning all these great new tricks would be the best way to go. Many players (also, by definition, being in the middle of the bell curve) figured out the same thing, and started really taking practice seriously, and breaking down mechanical techniques into their most fundamental forms. It was still cool to blast Buck’s Boogie or Cat Scratch Fever with your older cousins when they were around and felt like playing, but it was clear that if you wanted to compete with guys like Paul Gilbert, it would take some time and preparation.

And when it came to breaking everything down to its mechanical basics, and providing some clues as to how much time you should really spend on acquiring a high level of technique, the great Steve Vai came along and threw down the gauntlet, hard, with his infamous 10-Hour Guitar Workout. The title alone tells you he’s not screwing around, right? (In fact, Vai later expanded upon the original for Guitar World magazine, creating an even more comprehensive article called The 30-Hour Path to Virtuoso Enlightenment, comprised of three 10-hour-per-day sessions.)

Such a level of commitment and dedication was nothing short of a challenge, and many players (including yours truly) wanted to see if we were up to it. There were days I would call in sick to work, and spend 10-12 hours with a stack of books and my Ibanez, going over scales and patterns and arpeggios and solos. It was a lot of fun, and a tremendous amount of work.

Even with that sort of lopsided, time-intensive commitment to anything, it’s important to leave at least some time for other things, for some sort of life balance. For probably 3-4 years, I probably never took a full day off, unless I was sick. There was always at least an hour or three, after work, on lunch break, watching football on the weekends, for practice. Where there’s a will there’s a way, as they say. But there was also time for riding motorcycles, for dating, for recreation, for reading, etc. Even so, most weeks were in the 30-40 hours of practice range, so it was basically like having a second full-time job.

After a few years of that, I became accustomed to referring to myself as a “practice monkey” — that is, someone obsessed with the mechanical minutiae of playing things that required very little active intelligence, merely rote memorization and pattern recognition. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, I still routinely use many of the pieces I learned at that time as practice material. But in retrospect, it may not have been the most balanced approach to things.

Don’t get me wrong; if there’s been one consistent theme here since day one, it’s that practice is vital, and it is defined distinctly from jamming (which is also important). Things like goal setting, tracking progress, closely observing fundamental motion in both hands, learning music theory, are all crucial to effective practice that will really accelerate your learning curve.

Or you can learn a few patterns and boxes you’re comfortable with, develop your ear to the point that you can hear where and how they fit, and write songs based around that. Which is a perfectly valid approach to the instrument. But there’s a lot more you can get out of real practice, with time and attention, and that sort of thing is not really “practice” anyway, but jamming. And again, that’s fine.

If you’re one of those players who, once you pick up the guitar and start learning, you know that you’ll never stop learning or playing, then you know what I’m getting at here. The old bit about it being a journey and not a destination holds true. The thing to recognize is that over such a course of many years of playing, your focus will (and should) shift from one to the other, from an emphasis on practicing mechanics and technique, to spending the majority of your playing time on improvising and composing.

Back in the 30-40 hours of practice per week days, probably 80% of that time was spent on mapping various patterns all over the neck — scales, modes, arpeggios, chords, etc. Included in that would be time spent on learning classical pieces like we frequently tab here, and solos from songs I liked. The remaining 20% would be left for more jamming-oriented playing. Included in that would be composing riffs and progressions, writing and arranging songs.

As time has passed, that ratio has shifted, probably to almost the opposite — while my weekly playing time is closer to the 10-12 hour range these days, probably 75-80% is spent jamming and noodling around. The patterns have been long ago internalized, and putting them together, running through them randomly, and finding progressions over which to apply them, is the whole point of learning them in the first place.

So while we spend most of our time here going over scales and patterns and classical pieces and exercises to memorize, please keep in mind that these things are just a means to an end, not an end in themselves. The object is not to hone your mechanical dexterity until you can play a C major scale pattern at a thousand beats per minute, it’s to help you attain a solid level of mechanical ability and musical understanding in a shorter length of time, so that you then have the ability to play whatever you come up with, whether it’s composition or improvisation. It’s a matter of getting your hands, ears, eyes, and brain all on the same page, working together effortlessly.

Think of it as a continuum, starting with a ton of practice and some jamming, to eventually the other way around. And again, jamming is the arena where you apply the patterns you’ve drilled on for so many hours. If you’ve played organized sports, you know the dynamic right away — you work out with weights and cardio (basic motion) to get physically conditioned to execute without too much strain, then you drill on specific movements that you will need in a playing situation. Then comes the game; then you play. That’s the difference between practice and jamming.

Realize that it takes time to learn all the patterns and pieces that we’re going over on this site, and even more time to put them all together in some sort of coherent context (which is music theory). Understand that all that material gets learned a piece at a time, and will take repeated visits to learn and internalize and commit to memory. Keep it all in perspective; no matter who your favorite player is, no matter how brilliant they are, it took them years of patience and dedication — and yes, practice — to get their playing to the level that you’re hearing.

In the meantime, be persistent and consistent in learning the patterns, and take advantage of the tools at your disposal. If you can’t afford recording software, go grab a free copy of Audacity, and record some basic grooves to improvise over. Don’t feel like you need to write songs right away, unless that’s your focus; if you’re a lead guitarist by nature, record some simple progressions that have a clear key, then move on to more complex progressions and songwriting as your ear becomes more attuned.

Above all, if you find yourself in “practice monkey” mode, make sure that the time you put in is matched up to concrete goals, short- and long-term. Take at least some time during the week to apply the things you’ve been working on.

And when you hit the inevitable wall or rut, don’t be afraid to put the guitar down and take a walk, hang out with friends, just get away from it for a while.

Learning to Read Tab and Notation

A very common question among players is whether they really need to learn to read music. Some will just dive right into reading tab and standard notation, and figure it out, while for others, it seems too much like work, time taken away from actually playing. It is mostly that latter group that asks if knowing how to read music is necessary.

And the answer is both yes and no, which can be frustrating for most people. Which is it, yes or no? As with many things, it depends. Look, if you just want to learn a few songs, a couple of pentatonic boxes, keep it real and play completely by ear, you can definitely do that. There are countless musicians who have had legendary careers, who cannot read music and do not know theory. If you can navigate your way around to where your ear can hear what you like, and you know the patterns to create those sounds, you can write plenty of songs in that style.

When talking about “reading,” especially for guitar, it helps to make a distinction between standard notation and tablature. Unless you’re learning jazz or classical guitar, learning standard notation is not as critical a skill. (But it certainly doesn’t hurt.) Tab, on the other hand, is essential to getting anywhere beyond the absolute basics. Almost any song or exercise that will further your development is going to at least be in tab.

The best analogy I can think of as to why it’s worthwhile to at minimum learn to read tab has to do with reading in general. You want to be able to read any book or magazine or publication you might pick up, so you learn what sounds letters make, separately and in combination, how to put words and phrases together, etc. It’s the same with music — you can figure out by ear how to play this or that song, but to grab a tab book or a piece of sheet music and make it sound like something, that takes an understanding of the basics of reading tab.

And reading tab really isn’t that difficult, for the most part. Aside from seeing the fret/string combination and being able to play it as you read it, the other major feature that needs some study and attention is note values and rhythm. This means understanding the difference between a quarter note and a 16th note, or a triplet or odd grouping, which is mostly being able to tap your foot to a beat and count it out.

Learning to read notation is somewhat trickier, because the guitar is considered a transposing instrument, and so is written in standard notation one octave lower than it actually sounds. This can be confusing at first.

Also, unlike other instruments, the guitar has more than one location to play most notes. Take a middle C note for example — there’s only one place to play that note on a piano, but five locations on guitar (1st fret, 2nd string; 5th fret, 3rd string; 10th fret, 4th string; 15th fret, 5th string; 20th fret, 6th string). The context of the music and the practicality of the location (most people are not going to play that note on the 20th fret of the low E string) will help determine where to play the note. But it still can be difficult to properly sight-read (that is, read the music while playing it, in real time) standard notation, where with a little bit of practice, sight-reading tab is fairly simple and straightforward.

Some players have a fear that learning to read music, or learning theory, will affect the way in which they approach and play their music. This is not entirely unfounded — since there are only so many hours in the day or week available to practice and study, it’s reasonable to believe that excessive amounts of time spent on learning theoretical concepts will take away from learning the practical applications — that is, songs — of those concepts.

But with practice time that is properly segmented and prioritized, you can do both — learn useful concepts that will advance your understanding of music in general and guitar in particular, and more importantly, how to apply those ideas. It doesn’t take that much time, either — a 15-minute segment of your practice routine, over the course of several weeks or months, should be sufficient to internalize your ability to read tab, and use it to apply your own musical ideas.

Learning to sight-read standard notation is a worthwhile effort, because it will make a wider variety of music (again, primarily jazz and classical) available to learn. But it should be noted that it will take substantially more time and effort than learning to read tab. If you’re “starting from scratch” and don’t know how to read tab or notation, but would like to learn both, I would suggest starting with tab and progressing to notation once tab has been mastered (in other words, you can sight-read and play an unfamiliar page of tab in real time).

In the next few weeks, we’ll do a “quick and dirty” rundown on the basics of reading tab, and put that into a 1-2 page cheat sheet for the Resources page.

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!

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Presto and Climbing the K2 will be available for free downloads on May 25th and 26th, while Practice Power, Pentatonic Licks & Sequences, and Hanon for Guitar: Inside Out will be on a Kindle Countdown from May 24th through the 26th. For the Countdown deals, prices start at just 99¢ on the 24th, then go to $1.99 on the 25th, and $2.99 on the 26th.

Get loaded and ready for a summer of great guitar playing, for less than a cup of coffee!

5 Basic Warm-ups

Just as it takes solid practice habits to develop good technique and improvisational style, it takes a solid warm-up routine to get your hands ready to practice effectively. There are virtually countless exercises you can do to prepare both hands, but let’s go over a few basic warm-up patterns that emphasize mechanics, that you can easily tweak and incorporate your own ideas into.

Keep It Simple

While the amount of time and experience playing will tend to dictate the kinds of things you use to warm up, the one thing to remember is to keep the whole thing as simple as possible. All you want to do with a warm-up routine is exactly that — warm your hands up, prepare the muscles to do a little heavy lifting. Just as an athlete stretches out and does a few light exercises before running serious practice drills, you need to get all the muscles in your hands and fingers ready to exert themselves.

So make sure, right from the start, that your hands are actually warm, or at least not cold. Cold temperatures will cause muscles and nerves to contract, and if you attempt to practice or play with truly cold hands, you will run a greater risk of pain or injury to those muscles. Take a minute and stretch and flex each hand by itself, isometrically. Make a fist, squeeze a little, unclench and stretch out the fingers as much as you can without pain, and repeat a few times. Rub the large muscle in each palm (at the base of the thumb) with your other hand for 30 seconds or so. The idea is to get your joints and muscles warm and loose.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a bunch of quick, melodic classical etudes and pieces that I like to use for short warm-up routines. As your experience and style develop, you’ll add these sorts of things into your warm-ups:  pieces of songs, melodic patterns, blues licks, a few bars of playing advanced techniques (string skipping, sweep picking, etc). But it’s generally best to start out with a few quick “mechanical” patterns that use all four fingers, in various sequences.

Most players will find that the 3-4 (ring-pinky) and 4-3 fingering sequences to be the most problematic. Like anything else, take it slow and work it up to whatever speed you can, making sure it’s smooth and precise. Keep an eye out for any other patterns or combinations that present a challenge, and devise your own short exercises to address those issues.

3 Things to Work On

Let’s break this down to mechanical basics. Just about any exercise addresses one (or more) of three simple concepts:

  1. Fretting — This includes all fingering sequences and combinations, first on a single string, then incorporating more strings.
  2. Picking — This includes alternate picking (usually starting with a downstroke, but also practice beginning phrases with an upstroke), as well as legato, palm muting, sweep picking, and string skipping.
  3. Position Shifting — Just what it sounds like:  moving up and down the neck, ideally with the same level of effort as playing in a single position.

We’ll take a look at five warm-up routines that should address foundational technique for any style of player. The reason they are referred to as “basic” is because they focus totally on mechanical (as opposed to melodic or musical) ideas, getting all the fingers involved in as many ways as possible.

To the extent that there are ground rules for warming up, they go more or less as follows:

  • You should spend no more than 10-15 minutes max warming up. In fact, five minutes can frequently be enough. Just go until your hands feel loose and ready to practice hard.
  • Don’t worry about using a metronome. You can do so if you want to make sure you’re playing in time, but unlike practice, warming up does not need to be tracked or optimized for mechanical efficiency. However, all of these exercises can and should be incorporated here and there into your regular practice routine, where (hopefully) you’re using a metronome, and tracking progress.
  • While there are only five basic exercises here, you’ll see that we also provide you with a lot of patterns, sequences, and variations to “plug into” each of them. There is no way (or need) to play all of them in any one sitting. The idea is to give you plenty of material to rotate in and out of your warm-up routines as you choose, and hopefully serve as starters for ideas to develop on your own.

Because the exercises are “chromatic” in nature, they are tabbed as if starting at the 1st fret, and working all the way up the neck (at least to the 12th fret) and back. This is ideal for navigating the fretboard. However, if you have smaller hands, you may prefer to start further up the neck, around the 7th fret or so, and working from there. In fact, there are more advanced warm-up exercises (which we’ll look at in a future post) that should be started up at the 12th or 15th fret, and worked down the neck, and you may not be able to work them all the way down to the 1st position. That’s okay, that’s what practice is for, right?

Here’s the first pattern, a simple triplet figure that uses all four fingers, 1-2-3 up and 4-3-2 back down:

BW_1-01

Naturally, warming up with strict alternate picking gets both hands going pretty quickly. Make sure also to try these patterns legato, to get each fretting finger up to speed, maintaining even tempo and dynamics:

BW_1-02

With any pattern, but especially purely mechanical ones, you want to work them across the neck on all six strings, and up and down the neck in as many positions as possible:

BW_1-03

The above tab is a great example of combining the “horizontal” and “vertical” aspects of a pattern. Below is an example of working the pattern up and down the neck along a single string, which is a fantastic way to work on position shifting.

For warming up, it’s probably enough to go back and forth between two positions, maybe four positions at the most; for an actual practice exercise, I would recommend covering at least 8 to 12 positions.

Observe the slight (but important) differences between shifting up and shifting down, you may even want to isolate these and practice each “direction” separately.

BW_1-04

Those of you who are mathematically inclined have probably already figured out how many different fingering combinations are possible (using each finger just once). The second pattern is a small but crucial switch in fingering — instead of 1-2-3 ascending, 4-3-2 descending, let’s switch the 2nd and 3rd fingers in both ascending and descending sequences:

BW_2-01

Just plugging in the few variations from the first pattern (alternate picking; legato; across the neck; up and down the neck) provides tons of possibilities.

BW_2-02

The third pattern changes from triplet rhythm to straight fours, another minor but important change.

BW_3-01

Remember that the triplet and straight-four rhythms can be played “against” each other; that is, playing a triplet pattern in straight-four rhythm (or vice versa) creates a “3 on 4” (or “4 on 3”) effect, That’s probably more ideal for practice than warming up, but it’s something to keep in mind, as those polyrhythmic effects can add a ton of flavor to your playing — and has the added benefit of sounding more complicated than it actually is!

You can also start these patterns descending, rather than ascending (you can also start your alternate picking with an upstroke).

BW_3-02

Adjacent string pairs are ideal for quickly bringing both hands up to speed, as the picking hand is forced to go from one string to the next, and back again. Again, working in repetitive “cells” of two positions (no more than four) really allows you to focus and observe what both hands are doing, and where any mechanical issues might need attention.

BW_3-03

As always, combining the horizontal and vertical is where both hands achieve maximum efficiency, and technique starts improving:

BW_3-04

The next pattern is a classic exercise known far and wide as the “Trill Drill”. The idea is to take all six possible two-finger combinations (1-2; 1-3; 1-4; 2-3; 2-4; 3-4), and do a minute of each, just trilling (hammer-ons and pull-offs). Just pick the first note (or don’t).

Don’t worry about speed, you can practice or warm up at any tempo with this. The purpose of the Trill Drill is to achieve a smooth, even sound. The “lower” finger serves as an anchor, and is usually the stronger of any given fingering pair, but the idea is to get the “weaker” finger to a comparable level of ease and smoothness.

The first three should be fairly simple, using the index finger as the anchor:

BW_4-01

As with all of these warm-up patterns, you can (and should) try them at as many positions and on as many strings as possible. The main reason for tabbing them in the 1st position is because it shows the fingering as well, making the pattern easier to internalize. But definitely try these out anywhere and everywhere on the fretboard.

The Trill Drill gets progressively more difficult, as we move along the hand to the next anchor finger (middle finger):

BW_4-02

For warming up, a few bars of each should suffice. For an actual practice situation, make sure to use a metronome, so that you stay in tempo, and go for a full minute for each trill. One minute doesn’t sound like much, does it? But you’ll find out pretty quickly that trying to keep a smooth, dynamically consistent sound at a single tempo for that long will test your stamina, especially on the weaker fingers.

The last one is a bear, even for advanced players:

BW_4-03

Again, for warm-up purposes, just burn through a few bars of each to get the fingers moving. But this is a valuable exercise to practice, and will give you excellent legato technique.

The final pattern is designed to stretch your fretting hand out a bit, and should be started up the neck somewhere. We’ve tabbed it at the 7th position, but if your hands are small or you don’t have much experience with these types of patterns, try it further up the neck. If you feel any acute pain at any point, stop. You don’t want to risk any sprain or muscle injury.

This pattern uses the 1st (index) and 4th (pinky) fingers only.

BW_5-01

Play the pattern as a repeated, single position “cell,” not too fast. If you’ve seen some of our past posts on sequencing, this is a cool pattern to try out some sequencing as well:

BW_5-02

Again, because of the stretch, don’t worry about working the pattern up and down the neck, just across the strings and back. Come up with other sequencing patterns on your own.

Finally (and again, you may want to move this up the neck to a more comfortable position), try incorporating the 2nd and 3rd finger into the stretch pattern.

BW_5-03

The one-fret gap between the 1st and 2nd fingers, and the 3rd and 4th fingers, will be challenging. Notice that there is no such gap between the 2nd (middle) and 3rd (ring) fingers — the muscles in the hand that allow for finger stretching and flexibility are generally not as strong or well-developed between those two fingers. If you do attempt the stretch between those two fingers, try it way up the neck (like around the 17th fret or so), take it slow, and be careful.

These five basic warm-up patterns should give you plenty of ideas for patterns and variations to try out. The link below is a PDF containing all the material covered here, suitable for printing. Please feel free to share it, as long as it’s for free and properly attributed.

5 Basic Warm-ups

We’ll cover intermediate and advanced warm-up patterns in future posts. 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!

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.