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

Kreutzer Etude #3

We’ve gotten lots of great response and feedback since publishing Climbing the K2 last year, so we’re going to cover more technical studies from Kreutzer, as well as other collections for violin and piano.

At first glance, it might seem a bit odd to practice material specifically written for other instruments, especially studies written to address technical issues on those instruments. And some of that is true; studies that addresses bowing technique for the violin, or two-hand techniques for piano, are not readily applicable for those technical issues.

But many of them are very musical, and address musical issues in addition to the technical aspects. Many of the 42 Kreutzer Etudes fall into that category, as so many of them are interval studies, in addition to whatever proprietary technical issues they are written for.

Etude #3 is a study in thirds, probably the most commonly used interval in single-note (melodic) playing, and the foundation for musical structures such as triads and chords. It’s short, just 16 bars plus a final “landing” note, and relatively easy to play and learn. To make it even simpler to learn and discuss the concepts covered in the etude, we’ve broken it into three easy chunks. This post will cover the introductory measures, with the other two sections to follow over the next couple days.

The piece is in the key of C major (no sharps or flats), and we’ve tabbed it to lay along the general area shown below:

CMajor_notes CMajor_intervals

The majority of the etude is in this area, and of course C major is probably the single most important scale to learn and internalize, in as many positions as possible. There is one section (covered in the next post) which takes you up the fretboard along the E’-B string pair, so it will be useful to know the scale as shown here as well:

CMajor_spec

Check the tab shown below to play both scale forms:

A09-

Use strict alternate picking (starting with down-up, but try up-down as well) and a metronome to internalize these scale patterns. The first one should be pretty straightforward. The second one, with its four-note-per-string (4N/S) fingering at first, followed by the shift to a sextuplet at the end, will be challenging at first, but that’s because it’s supposed to be. Once you get the shift from straight-four to sextuplet cleanly and in time with the metronome, you’ll have a pretty cool sound that’s easy to work into a lot of melodic situations.

Make sure to work both patterns in as many keys as you can think of, chromatically or (better yet) through the circle of 5ths.

So we’ve set the scene, now let’s take a look at the intro section of the etude:

K3_SecA

For our purposes, let’s consider the first three bars as Section A. Looking closely at these measures, we can see that it consists of a four-note melodic figure that repeats and descends mostly through the C major scale form we looked at above.

Especially with short, repeated melodic figures (motifs), it helps to break them down intervallically, to show the relationship of the notes to each other. So the first four notes are G-E-A-G. The distance from G to E is down a third. (In this case, it’s a minor third, but since we are moving diatonically through the scale, that will change to a major third in some instances.) The distance from E up to A is a (perfect) fourth. Finally, the distance from A down to G is a (major) second. So we’ll notate that intervallically as ↓3↑4↓2.

So as you can see, that ↓3↑4↓2 pattern continues right down through the scale, mostly in the 3rd position, to transition into Section B starting on the 4th bar. Throughout the entire piece, we’ve tabbed it so as to provide a variety of patterns and shifting, but we’ll also provide you with some exercises to focus on specific patterns, and how to apply them.

Practice Section A as tabbed, using strict alternate picking, and get the shifts and twists down. Start slow and build speed and accuracy at the same time; in other words, don’t bump up the metronome until you can play the passage perfectly.

Once you have that down, take a look at some bonus exercises that revolve around our ↓3↑4↓2 intervallic shape. Work the shape up and down various adjacent string pairs, as shown below:

A01 A02 A03

Once you isolate each 4-note grouping, you see that there are only 6 shapes total to learn:  3 for the B-G pair, and 3 for all the other adjacent string pairs.

Now let’s try a couple of ways to “invert” the shape. First let’s run it upside-down and reversed — instead of ↓3↑4↓2, we’ll go ↑2↓4↑3. See tab below:

A04

Another cool way to invert is to keep the intervals in the original order, but reverse their directions. So now instead of ↓3↑4↓2, it’s ↑3↓4↑2, as shown below:

A09-A05

You know the drill by now with exercises of this nature — work them through other keys, positions, string pairs, etc. Think of other ways this particular interval sequence could be permuted or inverted. And perhaps most importantly, mix them all up, use pieces from all of them in various combinations. This is a really quick and effective way to build up a powerful musical vocabulary.

We’ll work on Section B in the next post, stay tuned!