Doing Something Versus Getting Something Done

Has this happened to you?

One thing I run into with students very often is a common sense that while they’re playing a lot or have played for years that their playing never got any better.  Perhaps some of you have come across the same thing.

Generally they’ve confused doing something with getting something done.

Here’s the difference:

Buying a gym membership is doing something.

Going to the gym and getting a good work out accomplished is getting something done.

A golf story:

I’ve only been to a golf course once and I didn’t like it so feel free to take the following observations with a grain of salt.

One thing I noticed on the course was that most players weren’t very good. (I’m being kind in my description here – awful would be a more appropriate term for what I saw.)  We’re talking about players that couldn’t approach par – but – and this was the part that was shocking to me – some of these guys had been playing for 20-30 years!

It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but eventually I figured out that they were following Einstein’s model of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  For example, let’s say one player learned a basic stroke from another player.  Well, what had happened was this player never examined what they were doing.  He simply learned the stroke and then repeated it over and over with the assumption that since the stroke must be “right” that it was simply a matter of mastering it.  So he went out and hit thousands of balls for hours on end over the course of years using the same poor stroke over and over again and then wondered why he wasn’t getting any better.  A lot of these guys there talked about new clubs and more expensive gear – but the issue wasn’t the gear – it was poor muscle memory that came about from ingraining a bad practice model!

There are a number of things that separate professional and amateur players – but here’s a big one that I’ve noticed in a lot of pro (and pro level) players that isn’t intuitive:

Pro players don’t tend to operate on some of the assumptions that amatuer players have.

For example – Many times when I’m teaching a lesson to a beginning or intermediate player who wants to get into lead playing I’ll bring up the major scale and nine times out of ten, they’re completely dismissive and say, “Oh I already know that.” and proceed to play it in one octave in position.  I’ll start taking the student through the paces of the scale, “just humor me…” and within 5 minutes or so most of them realize that they don’t know the scale as well as they thought they did.

“The tyranny of the shoulds”

One related lesson I had to teach myself involved getting rid of the “shoulds” in my thinking.  Should is an amateur concept.  “I’ve been playing arpeggios for the last day, I should be able to play this other form ( even though I haven’t practiced it before) because it’s also an arpeggio – and I know those!”  “I can play sextuplets at 120 so I should be able to play this sextuplet at the same speed.”  Pro players move away from should and focus on can.

Can I play this?
If not, why not?
What do I have to do to play it better?

Pro players examine WHY something isn’t working and then address it.

The dojo story

I saw a Karate demonstration once.  While the young guys were showing off the flashiest moves they had, the master was in back doing Kata – which (in a reprehensible over simplification) are the basic starting points for the style.  in other words, fundamentals.

Guess what happened to the flashy kids in the demonstration?  Strewn all over the place.

Everything you do on guitar is based on cumulative development.  The better you can execute basic techniques, the better you’ll be able to adapt to new techniques as they’re thrown at you.

That means really being present in practicing.  Really focusing on hand tension, timing and tone and using the “Do – Observe – Correct” model to make sure you’re practicing it the right way.  Pro players do what it takes to make things better.  Sometimes that’s practicing something at a VERY rudimentary level to make sure that it’s  fundamentally sound before trying to get it up to tempo.  In other words, they’re willing to humble themselves and do some (often) unglamorous work that other people aren’t willing to do.

A lot of players who play guitar have been playing the same tunes the same ways for the last 30 years and then never wonder why they don’t get better.  If you’re one of those people, don’t assume that a new guitar will make it better.  It might be as simple as taking a lesson and getting a handle on what you’re doing wrong and developing a proper methodology and practice schedule to get something done towards achieving your playing goals.  It may require getting out of a comfort zone – but that’s where the rewards are!.

That’s it for now!  I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

-SC

Practicing With Intent Or You Play What You Know

Hi Everyone!

I’ve been doing a lot of research for the book on practicing I’ve been threatening to release.  As part of that process, I’ve been examining various routines, rituals and regrets in my own regimen (and non-regimens) that I’ve adopted over the years and come back to the following conclusions.

  • People listen to music because they like it, but they go to see music or seek out music because they want to experience something and they want to feel something.
  • As musicians our job then is to communicate something.  The easiest way to do that is to do so with intent.  The easiest way to communicate with intent is to do so with authority and conviction.  Conviction comes from conveying what we know.
  • Practicing then is the process of transforming material from exposure to conception and then from conception to knowledge.

The (Please get me out of this) Blues Jam Example

For example, let’s say you’re sitting in with some musicians that you’ve never played with before.  What’s the first thing that you all try to do?  Find some common ground to play on.  For most rock player’s this will involve a rock standard (like a Led Zeppelin track) or a blues.  For the purposes of this argument, let’s say it’s a blues.

You learn a lot about people from how they play a blues.  How they comp and solo, how they utilize the form, how they support and drive other players.

Now, in this situation – how many times has the following happened to you?

It comes for your time to comp and all the hip voicings and cool comping ideas you have have gone out the window and you play the same chord voicings you always play.

It comes time to solo and all those cool things you’ve been shedding make a single (or no) appearance and you play the same licks you always do.

And you reflect on it later and think what happened there?

What happened was, you generally play what you know.

Let’s say you go to a job interview and you’re meeting with a prospective employer.

  • Are you going to launch into a free form association of how the color of the walls remind you of  when you would lay on your back in the fields on a warm summer’s day and gaze at the sky from your early days growing up on the farm or
  • are you going to talk about your skill sets and how they fit the position, answer the answers you’ve practiced for the questions that you know they’re going to ask and use all of your language skills to answer any questions you weren’t prepared for in a way that didn’t blow your chances at getting the position out of the water?

In stressful positions, we look for the familiar to help guide us through the unfamiliar.  In a performance situation, it’s very difficult to really be in the moment (i.e. setting the stage for an emotional connection with the audience) and have the presence of mind to think, “Hey maybe that symmetrical diminished thing would fit here.”

Practicing With Intent

What got me thinking about all of this was a lesson with a student where his playing was always quiet and reserved – even when he was trying to play aggressively.  It turned out that he practiced quietly at home and never practiced playing aggressively.  Where I end up seeing a lot of students is in making the distinction that playing loudly does not have to mean playing with excessive hand tension.

If you don’t practice being able to play at various degrees of emotional intensity, then you probably won’t be able to summon it on the stage.  There are scads of metal players who play a lot of notes, and there’s nothing behind them.  In contrast, I go back to this video:

of a 21 year old Yngwie Malmsteen just killing it with a live set of Alcatrazz.  The interesting change in perception for me came after reading his memoir and discovering just how deliberate his practicing was.  He practiced everything with the intent of playing it live.  It was all played with maximum intent, and that came across in every solo that he did.

There’s so much to experience, so much to learn and so little we will ever comparatively know.  Try to be mindful of both how and why you are practicing everything and make sure you bring it to the stage when you’re playing.  If you practice with intent, you’re more likely to play that way as well.

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes – Part 14 Not-peggios – Melodic Minor Version

Hey everyone,

As promised, here’s a follow-up lesson that takes the approach I explored in Part 13 and applies it to the Melodic Minor scale.

I’ll use C Melodic Minor in this case – but this idea will work on any root.

Chords

Before we get too far into the lick side of this let’s look at the chords to see what we can play this over.

Here are the diatonic triads and 7th chords.

 

Try playing any of the following C Melodic Minor shapes over any of these chords..

Some Melodic Minor Notes:

  • Melodic Minor is an old scale.  Originally it was played as melodic minor when ascending but natural minor when descending.  Not a whole lot of people perform it that way in Jazz circles but mixing and matching the two can have some interesting sounds (i.e. it’s something you should consider experimenting with if this area interests you and you haven’t already).
  • Melodic Minor is a Dominant machine.  If you check out the harmonization above you’ll see that Melodic Minor has two 7th chords in it’s harmonization.  As Jazz standards use a LOT of dominant devices – this is a scale you’ll want to investigate if you have an even remote interest in Jazz.
  • Melodic Minor is a weird sound.  Yes it is.  The I chord is a minor (maj7) chord and that whole b3 mixed with the natural 6th and 7th makes for some interesting moments.  The only metal guy I knew who was really into that sound was David Chastain and he was doing instrumental stuff that didn’t really sound like anyone else. (Hint – this is worth exploring if you’re a rock or metal guy)
  • Hip trick alert:  since the ii chord is a minor chord -try playing C Melodic Minor lines over Bb Minor as well!

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Now let’s talk about visualizing the scale.

“You take the good you take the bad – you flat the third and there you have…”

Melodic Minor

I’ve talked about my approach to Melodic Minor briefly in part 9 of this series – but as a brief review:

Major Scale/Modal Visualization Review

  • The guitar fingerboard can be divided into 3 sets of two strings. Any 2-string fingering pattern that starts on the B string can be moved to the same starting pitch on the D or the low E string and keep the same fingering.
  • The major scale can be broken down into seven two-string modes that follow a specific order based on its scale degree from the parent scale (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian). The two-string patterns are modular and can be adapted to positional playing.
  • Instead of thinking of individual modes when playing,  I tend to think of larger tonal systems (i.e. I think of C Major all over the fingerboard instead of D Dorian or A Aeolian.)
  • By thinking of the fingerboard in a larger scale – it makes it easier for me to navigate Melodic and Harmonic Minor as – solely from a fingering/sonic visualization standpoint – I just see it as variations of the Major scale patterns.

To visualize Melodic Minor patterns – simply flat the 3rd of the Parent Major scale. (i.e. to visualize C Melodic Minor just play C major but change every E  to Eb).

It’s important to note that all of the fingering conventions mentioned here are solely to assist with visualization as Melodic and Harmonic Minor really aren’t directly related to the Major scale sonically.

Here’s C Major

Here’s the audio.

Note:

In all the audio examples, I’ve played the example first as sextuplets – then at a slower tempo (i.e. 16ths) – then as sextuplets again.

Here’s C Melodic Minor

(the only difference is that the E has been changed to Eb)

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Melodic Minor short cuts:

Using the Parent Major patterns above here’s a list of short cut’s to help you visualize the patterns.

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Note: in the F Lydian shape – there’s no change from the major shape since there’s no Eb in the 2-string pattern.

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Not-Peggios

Now let’s take this not-peggio idea from the last lesson and apply it to C melodic minor starting from G.

In each of the following I’ll show the 2-string pattern followed by the 4-note “notpeggio” extraction from that fingering and then show the multi octave form.

Note:  The extraction always starts from the second note of the 6-note pattern – so while the first example is extracted from the F Lydian fingering – it’s viewed as a G based pattern.

From G

G based pattern

Note: this G pattern is the same as the C major G shape.

From A

A based pattern

Note: this is a new shape from the Major patterns. The R-b3-4th-b5 shape may remind you of the A blues scale.

From B

B based pattern

Note: this is also a new shape from the Major patterns. The R-b3-b4th-b5 shape is something you may want to explore over diminished chords.

From C

C based pattern

Note: this C pattern shape is the same as the A minor form from C major.

From D

D based pattern

Note: this D pattern shape is also the same as the A minor form from C major.  This shape and the C minor shape above on their own really won’t give you much of the Melodic Minor flavor on their own – but alternating between the two of them will.  More on that in a future lesson.

From Eb

Eb based pattern

Note: this is a new shape from the Major patterns. The Eb Maj7 (#5) based pattern has been deconstructed into almost a whole-tone idea.  This is one of my favorite “outside” sounds in this scale.

From F

F based pattern

Finally,  this F pattern shape is the same as the F Lydian form from C major.

Here’s an audio sample of the 3/4 measures in ascending order from G

Next TIme?

In the next lesson I’ll look at applying this to Harmonic Minor and then I’ll look at working through these ideas positionally (Spoiler Alert – this is where this approach gets really cool!!).
As always, focus on the 3 T’s (Timing, Tone and hand Tension) when playing through these and make sure to have the timing locked in as you increase the metronome speed.  This approach is just a short cut to getting the patterns under your fingers.  By practicing them slowly and increasing the performance tempo gradually, you’re also getting the sound of them in your head – which is critical if they’re something you want to integrate in your playing!
As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading!
– SC
PS – One plug here.  If you like this idea – I go MUCH deeper into similar concepts in my Guide to Chord Scales book – which covers every unique melodic combination from 3 notes to 12-note scales!!
Print editions of this book are available  on lulu.com or on Amazon (amazon.comamazon.co.uk, or amazon.fr).
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Two Black and Bluegrass Licks To Get You Out Of A Session

Hey Everyone!

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This lesson is a continuation of the same technical concept behind the sweep picking Pentatonic Minor/Blues scale lesson I posted earlier.  If you like this approach, you may like that lesson as well (links at the bottom of the page).

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Today I have not one but TWO licks that go together like peanut butter and an ashtray.  Both of these are transitional licks leading back into key of G (The bluegrassiest of all keys) and while they probably won’t get you beat up (hence the black and bluegrass) or kicked out of a session – they might turn a head or two!

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Here’s the first lick (in the video it’s played at 120 bpm – first as triplets then sextuplets):

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(Note: fingerstyle players can play the 3-note groups as p-i-m)

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[vimeo https://vimeo.com/44120906]

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And here it is in notation and tab:

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Lick #1

Now, let me explain a little about what going on here.  This is a transitional lick that resolves to G that uses different G-based chords starting from G, Bb and Db (aka G diminished).

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The first chord is a G7 (add 13).  Originally, I was going to use a straight descending 1 note-per string scale version of G Mixolydian (i.e. G, F, E, D, C, B, A) but – while the first three notes sounded great:

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The spread wasn’t an easy one to get in to or out of cleanly.  So I cheated it and used the D instead, grabbing the E on the B string keeping the D and adding a B on the D-string.

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If you remove the E, you have a nice voicing for a G7 chord starting from the 3rd, but for melodic playing it’s easier to arpeggiate the chord as 3 note groups.

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The next chord is a G min 7 starting from the b3rd.  It uses the same picking pattern as the first arpeggio:

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Then the lick jumps from the D to Db to start the G min7b5 (add11) arpeggio.  That might sound exotic – but it’s just 4 notes from the G Blues scale (G, Bb, C, Db and F).

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Finally, it ends up with a G major triad with an added b3rd (a useful bluegrass cliché.  For even more of a bluegrass sound, add the E on the 12th fret E string between the D and the G).

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Technical Considerations 

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1.  As with the sweep picking blues pentatonic lesson, keeping the notes staccato (i.e. taking the finger pressure off the string after each note is played) will help with articulation. 

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2.  The biggest challenge with this lick will probably be taming the open D string when you switch from the 3-string D-G-B pattern back to the top three strings.  Use pick hand muting to mute the D string once you play the first note on the high E string – and try practicing the lick as 9-note groupings to work that transition.

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or

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Lick #2

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Lick #2 is just silly – but it’s a fun idea and it’s a great way to work on the 3-string picking pattern.  

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[vimeo https://vimeo.com/44120906]

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The lick is based on this idea:

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This lick is just the first notes of lick #1 with a chromatically descending pattern based on the last three notes.  All I’ve done in lick #2 is chromatically ascend and then descend again like so:

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Just use the same techniques that you used in getting the first lick down and pay attention to the 3 T’s (timing, (hand) tension and (quality of) tone and you’ll be fine.  (and remember – slow and steady wins the race here with regards to practice gains!)

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This one-note per string scale idea is taken from the last section of my Melodic Patterns book so if this area interest you, you may want to check that book out.  You can find out more about it here.

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As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading!

-SC

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If you like this approach, I have 2 books you may be interested in:

 

 

My Pentatonic Visualization Book

 

Minor Pent Front

 

is 100 + pages of licks and instruction and includes demonstrations and breakdowns of two-string fingerings, diagonal pentatonics, sweep picking pentatonics, pentatonic harmony and much more!  It’s available here.

 

My Melodic Patterns Book:

 

melodic-patterns

 

(available on Lulu or on Amazon) has a complete break down of all note-per-string scale variations which include the 2 above.  In the meantime, give this approach a try with other scales as well.  In the next sweep picking acoustic lesson – I’ll adapt this to a bluegrass lick that you might find cool.

 

Sweep Away Those Blues Or Some Useful Ways To Sweep Pick A Blues Scale

Right Lane?  Left Lane?  Shawn Lane.

I read an interview once with Shawn Lane where he talked about how he did very little taping and that the majority of really fast playing that he was doing was one-note per string fingerings.  It’s a cool idea, and here’s how I’ve adapted it to a C Blues/C Pentatonic Minor scale.

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First, here’s the lick on acoustic.  FYI – I slide into the 1st note on the video 1st time through the lick.  (ps- it’s much easier to play cleanly on electric):

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Note:  

I’m using C minor as a key signature here – but the key signature doesn’t show up in all the following notation.  In every example below, all notated B’s and E’s are Bb and Eb respectively as seen in the tab.

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I explain each step of this in the video – but here’s the step by step process for how I came up with this:  

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Let’s look at a standard C blues shape:

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I’m going to use the descending portion of the lick starting from Bb.

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Now I’m going to move the Bb from the B string back to the high E string.

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Before                            and                      After

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I’m using the 1st, 2nd and 4th fingers for the first three notes of the “After” section above.

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Technical Note:

If you hold the notes down, you’ll loose definition on the individual notes because it’ll sound like you’re playing a chord.  So make each note staccato by lifting the finger off each note after playing it.  Try practicing just these 3 notes at first and work on getting the picking and the articulation down! Fingerstyle players can play the 3-string groupings as m-i-p (middle, index thumb).

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Now I’ll move the F from the G string to the B string this gives us 2 three string shapes that can be swept pretty easily (fingering it is another issue entirely though!!)

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Original Version                                    Bb moved to E string                      F moved to B string

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I’m playing the C on the D string with the 3rd finger so the pinky can grab the F#/Gb on the G string for the Paul Gilbert repeated note idea in the second sextuplet.

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The last sextuplet has a swept pentatonic idea that works in reverse from the initial lick.  Looking at that box blues shape again:

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I’m starting from Bb on the D string and moving the Eb from the 8th fret of the G string to the 13th fret of the D string.  I’ve also taken the C from the 8th fret of the High E string and moved it to the 13th fret of the B string for a symmetrical shape.  Finally I’ve added the D to get a nice “9th” sound on the sweep. (Check the video for a full explanation).

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“Shapes of things…”

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Here’s something that isn’t covered in the video. This lick starts on the b7, but you can adapt the idea to any scale degree.  Moving down to the G, produces the following pattern.  It’s not really useful on the top 3 strings but the D, G, B shape is feasible.

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C Blues from the 5th (G)

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Here it is from the root (useful fingering #2):

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C Blues from the root

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Here it is from the b3rd.

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C Blues from b3rd (Eb)

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You can try it from the tritone as well.  The key thing is to find a shape that works for you, find a chord you like the sound of it over and monkey around with it until you get something you like out of it.

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If you like this approach, I have 2 books you may be interested in

My Pentatonic Visualization Book

Minor Pent Front

is 100 + pages of licks and instruction and includes demonstrations and breakdowns of two-string fingerings, diagonal pentatonics, sweep picking pentatonics, pentatonic harmony and much more!  It’s available here.

My Melodic Patterns Book:

melodic-patterns

(available on Lulu or on Amazon) has a complete break down of all note-per-string scale variations which include the 2 above.  In the meantime, give this approach a try with other scales as well.  In the next sweep picking acoustic lesson – I’ll adapt this to a bluegrass lick that you might find cool.

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As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading!

-SC

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If you like this post, you may also like:

TWO BLACK AND BLUEGRASS LICKS TO GET YOU OUT OF A SESSION (or sweep away those blues – Part 2)

 

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The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 12 – Getting Into Modal Arpeggios – Superimpostion

Hello everyone!

Greetings from NYC!  While I’m still unpacking and waiting for instruments and boxes to make it here from South Pasadena I thought I’d mix and match a few ideas from my GuitArchitect’s Guide to Chord Scales book and modal arpeggios and talk about more ways to recycle things you already know!

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2-string or not 2-string

(is that really the question?)

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I’ve been talking a lot about 2 string arpeggios.  They’re really useful things in soloing because you can take a figure like this:

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and move it in octaves while keeping the same fingering.

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It’s a really useful visualization tool, and a relatively easy way to cover a lot of range on the instrument.

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The real secret behind this approach is how you use the arpeggio or:

“So what about this superimposition thing?”

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Superimposition is simply playing one thing on top of something that’s related but not in an immediately direct way.   Logic would dictate that you would play a C major 7 arpeggio over a C major chord.  That’s certainly one valid use, but it’s really not superimposing the chord because their directly related (i.e. Cmaj7 and C major).  Playing a C major 7 arpeggio over say a d minor or an e minor chord is getting more into what we’re talking about here.

In the examples below, I’ll be using a bass note to indicate tonality.  If you have a recording of a chord (or a bass note) to play over – just play the c major 7 arpeggio over one of those – otherwise you can use your fretting hand to tap each of the notes of the arpeggio (see the glass noodles post if you’re unfamiliar with the technique) and use your picking hand to tap the bass notes in the figure (and to help mute the strings)!

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If the C major 7 chord is created by stacking ascending 3rds (C, E, G, B) then we should be able to go the reverse direction using descending 3rds from the root.  Going a 3rd below C gives us A which creates A, C, E, G, B or an A minor 9 arpeggio (no root):

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Going a 3rd below A gives us F which implies: F (root), A (3rd), C (5th), E (7th), G (9th) and  B (#4 or #11)  or a F major 9 #11 arpeggio (no root, no 3rd):

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(Note: This concept is explored in much more depth in the Harmonic Combinatorics book but you can get some information about the approach from the slash chords post or the recycling triads posts as well.)

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You could continue on with this approach, and each time figuring out how the arpeggio functions over different chords, but there is an easier way!

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The Chromatic Root Interval Chart

In The GuitArchitect’s Guide to Chord Scales, I devised a chart that would tell the reader how any chord scale would function over any root.  I’ve adapted that chart and utilized it for arpeggios in this lesson.  Here’s the full chart:

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At first glance, this can look confusing but it’s REALLY useful for determining how scales and arpeggios (or chords) function over different tonal centers.  

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In the steps below, I’m going to outline every step that could be taken to visualize this, but once you understand the process, you can skip a lot of the steps and understand what’s happening almost immediately.

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Let’s go back to the C maj 7 arpeggio.  The formula for the arpeggio is Root (or R) 3rd, 5th and 7th.  Here’s what it looks like superimposed into the chart.  

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I’ve taken the extra step of removing all of the information in the other columns of the chart to solely show how the Root, 3rd, and 5th of a particular chord functions over other tonal centers. It’s also important to note that this chart accommodates all possible root notes.  So while sharped roots (#R) or flat roots (bR) are really heard as b2 (b9) or 7ths respectively, they’re listed here to show the functions of specific notes over tonal centers (e.g. C maj 7 arpeggio played over a C# tonality).

Okay – now let’s move the information in the chart to the key of C:

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Presented this way,  we can see how things function.  Played over D for example – the C, E, G, B functions as a b7th, 9th, 4th (or 11th) and a 6th.  As a D Dorian sound (C major over D implies D Dorian) you lose the minor 3rd but get the natural 6th flavor of the mode.

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I’ll simplify the chart a little more:

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Again, it’s also important to note that this chart accommodates all possible root notes.  So while sharped roots (#R) or flat roots (bR) are really heard as b2 (b9) or 7ths respectively, they’re listed here to show the functions of specific notes over tonal centers (e.g. C maj 7 arpeggio played over a C# tonality).  This also counts for b4 (which will be heard as a 3rd), and double flats (like bb7 which will be heard as a 6th or bb3 which will be heard as a 2nd).

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From intervals to chord tones

Since this chart was initially created for chord scales, the intervals all exist within an octave.  For the purposes of chords and arpeggios it’s more beneficial to think of:

  • 2nds as 9ths
  • 4ths as 11ths and 
  • 6ths as 13ths 

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I’ve converted these intervals to chord tones in the chart below:

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One sound I get out of this immediately is the Ab which gives a Ab maj 7 (#5, #9 no root) sound.  I’ve resolved it to Ab in the example below – but give it a shot – it takes a generic C major 7 arpeggio and gives it a shot glass of tabasco.

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When I went to Berklee and got knee-deep into analysis, my teacher gave me this pearl of insight, 

“Actually the whole point of harmony 1-4 [classes] is to show you how any chord can follow any other chord”.

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The reality behind all of the charts and theory is, if you understand how an arpeggio functions then you’re more likely to be able to resolve it – regardless of what chord you play it over.  

That’s a big picture concept – you may want to give it a second to let it sink in.

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The thing to start to focus on is how things sound to you – specifically how various chord tones and intervals sound over various chords you’re using.  How do you like the sound of a #4 over a major chord?  Or a b9 on a minor chord?  As you start to find chord tones that you like over those areas, you’ll start to find that you’ll seek those sounds out.   The chart is just a shortcut for seeing how things function – but it’s reliant on what you hear.

My recommendation is take this arpeggio, play it (slowly at first) over all the tonal centers and really be aware of how the notes are functioning.  And (here’s the step most people skip) if it sounds “bad” to you – find a way to resolve it (like going to the Ab in the example above).  I call this the Van Halen approach, there are plenty of times that Eddie hits clams – but he finds cool ways to work them around so that you say, “wow what a cool idea” rather than “oh he botched that one”.

I’ll talk more about the importance of knowing how to “fix” things in a future post, but trust me – it’s worth spending some time on.

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In the next lesson post, I’ll get into arpeggio modification slash chord stylie.  It’ll be really cool and if I have my audio converters delivered in time I can even go back to posting audio clips again!

ah the joys of moving….

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I hope this helps and thanks for reading!

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The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 5 – Making The Most Of One Pattern

Welcome to the fifth installment of the GuitArcitecture Mode Visualization lesson series.

If you see anything unfamiliar here, you may want to check out:

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About The Modal Exchange Example

Since describing how interchanging modes work doesn’t really get you any closer to hearing how they work – I’m going to present a simple exercise first and then explain the process of what’s going on theoretically in the post following this one.

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Using one pattern to get all the sounds of the major scale modes:

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As I’ve discussed before the modes of the C major scale are all related.  Each individual mode has a different root but all belong to the same parent scale.

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That being said, if I use any C major pattern (like this one with C played with the first finger on the 8th fret of the low E string):

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C Ionian

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and move the note C to different scale degrees – I’ll have all of the parallel modes  (or modes have the same root notes  – but belong to different parent scales) based on the pitch C.

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So if, for example,  I take the same pattern and move C to the 2nd scale degree (with C played with the second finger on the 8th fret of the low E string) I’ll have C Dorian.

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C Dorian

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Moving it to the 3rd scale degree (with C played with the 4th finger on the 8th fret of the low E string) produces C Phrygian.

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c-phrygian.

On the 4th scale degree (with C played with the first finger on the 3rd fret of the A string) – I’ll have C Lydian.

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C Lydian

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The 5th scale degree (with C played with the second finger on the 3rd fret of the A string) – produces C Mixolydian.

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C Mixolydian

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On the 6th scale degree (with C played with the fourth finger on the 15th fret of the A string) – I’ll have C Aeolian.

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C Aeolian

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And finally, if I move it to the 7th scale degree (with C played with the first finger on the 10th fret of the D string) – I’ll have C Locrian.

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C Locrian

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Taking stock of the exchange:

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Now I’ll show a musical example that uses this one shape to play all of the parent major scale/natural minor scale modes.

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Note:

This is not the most efficient way to get around the fingerboard but it can help with 3 things.

  1. Hearing the difference in how modes sound
  2. Seeing the modes as they relate to parent scale and
  3. Gaining fluidity in getting around the fretboard.

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What you’ll need

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  • You’ll need a time keeping device (like a metronome, or a drum loop) and
  • A drone of the note C (You can create this by looping the pitch C in your DAW or just recording a note C)

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The drone is very important because the drone and the combination of notes will be what helps you hear the change in modes (and tonality).

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Playing the Example

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I’ve created a simple one bar phrase for each mode.

All you have to do is play them over the C drone, in the order I’ve listed below and in time.

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That being said, here are some additional things to keep in mind:

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  • The primary goal of this is not physical technique  – but developing your ear.  Playing through it at slower tempos will probably be more beneficial to you in really being able to hear the transitions.

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Note:

If you really want to get something more out of it – try singing along with the pitches as you’re playing them.  This sounds goofy to most people but singing really is the way to get the sounds into your ear.

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Take this as a piece of advice learned by many people who take four terms of ear training at the collegiate level. If you look at those 4 terms as 3 units each  that’s 12 units or a full term load (at most for-profit colleges at $18-19,000 a term).

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In other words, people spend a lot of money to sing things to train their ear, doing it for free on your own is a good idea.

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  • Focus on the 3 T’s in performance (Tone, Timing and hand Tension).  From a technical standpoint, the goal is to play though the whole cycle without stopping.
  • Get the patterns and the timing under your fingers first – and then worry about making music out of it.  The important thing here is connecting the sound with the pattern visualization.  (I’ve tabbed all the examples as well – but try to be aware of the change in key signatures in each bar).

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First, here are the individual measures.

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C Lydian

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C Ionian

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C Mixolydian

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C Dorian

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C Aeolian

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C Phrygian

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C Locrian Option 1

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If you want to keep a low register pattern – you can try starting the Db Major pattern from the 7th putting 4 notes on the low E string).

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C Locrian Option 2

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and here’s the whole thing:

(Just click to see full size)

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Going Further

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  • Once you can get through the example at various tempos cleanly and really hear the transitions, take a short phrase and try moving it through the different modes.  It will be easier initially if you think about scale degrees.  Here – I’m thinking 5-4-5-6-7-2-1.
  • Also: try playing it swung in double time (ala Jazz 001)

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C Lydian Lick

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Note:  The scale degrees stay the same when I move to C Ionian but the F# becomes F natural.

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C Ionian Lick

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The same phrase changes the B to Bb when moved to C Mixolydian:

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C Mixolydian

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The lack of an Eb in the phrase means that the notes are the same between Mixolydian and Dorian in this case – just played in different position.

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Moving it to Aeolian, the A natural becomes Ab.

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C Aeolian Lick

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The D becomes Db in C Phrygian.

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C Phrygian Lick

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And finally, changes the G to Gb for C Locrian:

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C Locrian Lick

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From the light to the Dark.:

I’ll be talking about how I derived the order I’m using for the mode progression in the next lesson post on the circle of 5ths, the tonal circle of 5ths and talk about how these relate to modal interchange.  For now here’s a shortcut to consider until next time.

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In general the more flats a mode has in its scale formula – the darker its sound.

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Note:

This is a tricky area for intermediate students.  While I use a parent scale approach to visualize how I solo over chords, I am aware of the chord tones (and tensions) and tend to focus on those melodically.

When soloing, Just running up and down a scale isn’t going to help you really nail changes – it’s just going to fill space that often doesn’t need filling sonically.

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For beginning or intermediate players new to this – like I said before, for now just worry about associating the modes, fingerings and sounds.

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I’ll be talking about each of the modes in-depth in future posts, but for now understand that each mode of Major, Melodic Minor or Harmonic Minor has its own unique characteristics that are worth exploring.

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As before, just go through the lesson at your own pace and return to it as you need to and please feel free to post any questions you might have (or pm me at guitar.blueprint@gmail.com).

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I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

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-SC

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P.S. If you like this post – you may also like:

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The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 4 – Modes and Chords

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 3B – SEEING THE SIX-STRING MAJOR SCALE

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 3A – SEEING THE SIX-STRING MAJOR SCALE

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 2 – SEEING THE TWO STRING MAJOR SCALE

The GuitArchitecture Guide To Modes Part 1 – Seeing The Single String Major Scale

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Making Music Out Of Scales

A BRIEF THOUGHT ABOUT MUSIC THEORY

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PRACTICE MAKES BETTER AKA PRACTICING PART I

PROPER POSTURE IS REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE – PRACTICING PART II

TENSION AND THE SODA CAN OR PRACTICING PART III

DEFINITIONS AND DOCUMENTS OR PRACTICING PART IV

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY OR PRACTICING PART V

TESTING YOUR VOCABULARY OR PRACTICING PART VI

POSSESSION IS 9/10S OF THE LAW BUT PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING OR PRACTICING PART VII

SOME USEFUL ONLINE PRACTICE TOOLS

.

GETTING HIPNESS FROM A MAJOR TRIAD OR MORE CHORD RECYCLING PART 3

Getting Hipness From A Major Triad Or More Chord Recycling Part 2

GETTING HIPNESS FROM A MAJOR TRIAD OR MORE CHORD RECYCLING PART 1

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Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 3

Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 2

GETTING THROUGH THE GIG – NEGOTIATING A CHORD CHART PART 1

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WARMING UP: FINGER EXERCISES, THE 3 T’S AND THE NECESSITY OF MISTAKES.

The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 1 – Seeing The Single String Major Scale

Welcome to part one of a lesson series that’s been adapted from the forthcoming, GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes book!  Over the next several months, I’m going to post related lessons on modes, scales, chords and 12-tone guitar from my GuitArchitecture book series.

This first posting is an entry-level post for the beginning or intermediate guitarist who may have heard some music theory terms but weren’t really clear about what they meant.

If you’re already familiar with basic musical terminology and single string scales, you may still find some useful tips and observations below and use this post as a useful primer and/or review.

Note:

If you’re new to this, there’s a lot of initial ground work to cover, but once we get past it the applications are really useful (read: cool) !

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So you want to know about Modes?

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I have some good news and some bad news about learning modes.

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I’ll start with the good news. 

The Major, Melodic Minor and Harmonic Minor scales (and their associated modes) make up a lot of the melodic and harmonic material used in western pop and jazz music in the 20th (and 21st century).

If you’re an intermediate player with a basic understanding of intervals, chords and scales, I can show you a way to adapt a positional fingering pattern for all of the above scales or mode that can be modulated to any key in about 10 minutes – 20 minutes depending on your skill level.

Given a 1/2 hour or more, I can show you an integrated way do the same thing anywhere on the fingerboard using seven core fingerings and a simple visualization method that can be applied to any scale.

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The Bad News:

Making music from those fingerings will take a lot longer.

To paraphrase W.A. Mathieu, “There are only a few notes and learning them takes forever.”

I can’t teach you to be musical in an hour-long lesson – but I can certainly try to guide you towards being more musical when you leave the lesson than when you walked in.  One way to do that is to bring your attention to some benefits associated with sonic visualization.

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Sonic Visualization?

Here are a few notes to clarify what I’m talking about:

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  • The GuitArchitecture concept, in broad strokes, is that the nature of the guitar’s fretboard and tuning lends itself to visualizing fingering patterns.
  • While patterns performed mindlessly can be a bad thing, they can allow people to realize ideas more readily.
  • More importantly, patterns can be associated with sounds and visualizing how to realize a sound by seeing its shape on the fretboard makes performing it easier.  Hence the term Sonic Visualization.

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If I hear a sound in my head, and know how to finger it on the fretboard before I play it, that not only allows me to create the sound but also offers me more flexibility when improvising.

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Likewise, if I stumble across a sound I’ve never heard before, and understand the fingering behind it – it makes it easier for me to remember that sound for future use.

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The GuitArchitecture Process

While GuitArchitecture utilizes sonic visualization as it’s core foundation, the process behind developing and utilizing that process can be adapted to any musical context.  The process itself is fairly straightforward:

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Understand the approach (harmonic or melodic)

Develop a fingering pattern to use with that approach

Associate the pattern with a sound

Manipulate the patterns to make music

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Now let’s start to apply this to Major Scale Modes.  In order to understand modes, we need to have a grasp of the Parent Major scale.

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Understand the Approach or

Parent Scales and Painless Theory

A parent scale is a sequential collection of notes within an octave that define a tonality. An example of a parent scale would be the C Major scale which has no sharps or flats and is spelled, C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C.  The easiest way to visualize this on the fingerboard initially is on a single string.

Played on the B string it looks like this in standard notation.

Note:

Instead of speaking about notes (which are tied to specific scales), when speaking about scales in general, musicians sometimes refer to their location in the scale as scale degrees and use numbering based on the Roman numeral system to indicate their position (this will come much more into play when we get to chords).   In this specific case:

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C=I : D=II : E=III : F=IV : G=V : A=VI and : B=VII

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Building Blocks:

The smallest unit of measurements on the fingerboard are the 1/2 step (1 fret) or the whole step (2 frets).

If you look at the tablature above, you’ll see that the Major Scale is made up of a series of whole steps with 1/2 steps between the IIIrd and IVth degrees (E and F in this case) and the VIIth and VIIIth degrees (B and C).

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This general formula applies to any Major Scale.

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All major scales are made up of whole steps 7 scale degrees with a 1/2 step between the 3rd and 4th scale degree and the 7th and 8th.  The distances between these notes are constant.  If we move the C major scale to the E string:

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Since C is still the root of the scale (also refered to as the tonic), the 1/2 steps still occur between the IIIrd/IVth and the VIIth/VIIIth degrees.  Since this is true of any major scale, any major scale can be visualized this way, but the number of components makes it cumbersome to get around.  So let’s look at positional shapes.

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Positional Playing

Or developing a fingering pattern to use with that approach

A position is usually defined as a four-fret section of the fingerboard.  If the scale is broken down into positional components, we end up with a series of three-note shapes.  We’ll number each one from the scale degree for now:

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A Brief Interruption

When practicing anything on the guitar, you should pay attention to what I call the 3 T’s (Tension, Timing and Tone).   If you are unfamiliar with practicing methodology, you may want to read through my practicing posts (you can find them under the lessons heading on the Blueprints page).

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First here’s the tab:

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And a generic 3 note shape.  The numbers indicate recommended fret hand fingers to use.

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II

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III

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IV

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V

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VI

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VII

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Putting it all together

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If you combine all of the patterns together.  You’ll get something that looks like this:

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Notice that the fingering patterns move in sequential  order (I, II, III… etc) up the B string.  If we play the C Major scale on the E string:

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The fingering pattern now starts with pattern #3, but continues in sequential order.

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Next steps:

I’ve covered a lot of groundwork here, so this is a good place to stop for now.  In the meantime, here are some things to consider:

1. Theoretical:

  • The important things here are learning the initial pattern fingering sequence, and associating each of them with a sound.
  • In addition to using a time keeping device of some kind (like a metronome, drum loop, etc) playing along to a chord or a bass note will help establish tonality and help associate each pattern with a sound).  For now try playing the patterns over the related major chord (C Major / C Major 7) or the relative minor chord (A minor/A minor 7 chord).
  • Sing.  The most tried and true method to attach the sounds made with your hands to your ears is to sing what you’re playing.  This isn’t an American Idol audition, so you don’t have to worry about how good you are as a vocalist.  Instead, just work paying attention to the tuning and timing between your voice and your guitar (and check out some George Benson guitar solos to hear at least one place where this approach can take you.)

2.  Technical:

  • While it’s natural to want to progress quickly, trying to play too quickly too soon results in excess hand tension which will increase the difficulty of what you’re trying to play.
  • Fluidity comes from focused, relaxed repetition.  From a technical standpoint, this observation is really important.  (As in: you may want to write that down on a piece of paper and tape it to your guitar level of important).
  • Even many intermediate to advanced players can gain something by really focusing on making clean transitions between the fingering shapes.

3.  Musical:

  • Making music from the patterns is a whole other skill set, but you need to know where to put your fingers on the strings while you  bend, slide and phrase your way into making music.  Having said that, since the visualization process doesn’t take that long,  as soon as you get the patterns down I’d recommend to start manipulating the patterns to try to make them more musical to your ear.   There are a number of different ways to do this:
  1. Try changing up the ascending note order.  While the example here is presented as 1-2-3 (C, D, E) , you can try other note orders such as: 1-3-2 (C, E, D), 2-1-3 (D, E, C), 2-3-1 (D, E, C), 3-1-2 (E, C, D) or 3-2-1 (E, D, C) as variations.
  2. Try using different rhythms (16th notes, etc).
  3. Try integrating rests in the patterns.
  4. Try sliding between pitches instead of using different fingers.  Like-wise try bending to notes (Example play C, D and then bend it up to E )

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In the next lesson, I’m going to cover how to exploit standard tuning in visualization, expand on the single string fingerings for these forms and continue to move towards making modes (and music) out of them.


The next posts in the series will hopefully be a little shorter (and have more examples) but in the meantime, I recommend that you just go through the lesson at your own pace and return as you need to.  Please feel free to post any questions you might have (or pm me at guitar.blueprint@gmail.com).

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I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

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-SC

P.S. If you like this post – you may also like:

.

A BRIEF THOUGHT ABOUT MUSIC THEORY

PRACTICE MAKES BETTER AKA PRACTICING PART I

PROPER POSTURE IS REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE – PRACTICING PART II

TENSION AND THE SODA CAN OR PRACTICING PART III

DEFINITIONS AND DOCUMENTS OR PRACTICING PART IV

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY OR PRACTICING PART V

TESTING YOUR VOCABULARY OR PRACTICING PART VI

POSSESSION IS 9/10S OF THE LAW BUT PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING OR PRACTICING PART VII

SOME USEFUL ONLINE PRACTICE TOOLS

WARMING UP: FINGER EXERCISES, THE 3 T’S AND THE NECESSITY OF MISTAKES

MAKING MUSIC OUT OF SCALES

Making Music Out Of Scales

Hello everyone, and welcome to the largest GuitArchitecture lesson I’ve ever put up online!

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In this lesson (an excerpt of some ideas from my forthcoming GuitArchitect’s Guide to Modes book), I’m going to talk about the difference between scales and music and show some concrete ways to adapt scales into unique phrases.

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When I first started playing guitar, I listened to a lot of metal and the players I was into were fond of working ascending and descending scales into their solos.   (I also listened to a lot of Al DiMeola on Friday Night in San Francisco as well).  So I initially focused a great deal on scales and got to the point where I could play them quickly (but not really cleanly).  The flash of this got me noticed by other players in my area, but I always felt like something was missing.

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At best, scales are only ½ of the equation

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Seeing where my fingers needed to go was important but phrasing is where the real music is happening.

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Note:

There’s a lot of information below.  Just take your time and go at your own pace.  It’ll still be there later.

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Here’s another way to think of it.  Scales are like basic vocabulary.  They’re your nouns and verbs and no matter how you speak (with arpeggios, intervals or chords), they all have a basis in scales.

Your phrases are your sentences.  Guys with great phrasing can play a scale and make sentence out of it.  But a scale is, in and of itself, largely just a tool in making music and not music itself.

First Steps: Music is a language.  

So approach it the way you approach your native language

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The way we learn language is by listening to other people speak and then emulating their speech.  Initially it’s nonsensical.  Then some disjointed vocabulary emerges which eventually gives way to sentences.  There is typically a period of formal study where reading is taught, and students are required to write ideas down.  Eventually, we take on unique characteristics that make our voices distinct.  With daily exposure language, and our understanding of it is constantly evolving.

Learning music is the same thing.  It first requires active listening.  You need to find music that you’re passionate about and really work on learning it by ear.  Music theory is also important, because it can help you make shortcuts to understanding a sound (for example, “that Phrygian pattern” gives the informed listener an idea of what a sound is before he or she even hears it), but really getting into phrasing requires an aural understanding.   Initially, this will take a long time and you probably won’t have all of the technical skills that you’ll need to get it at 100% accuracy.  That’s fine.  Get what you can – but really pay attention to phrasing details like pitch (vibrato, slides, bends, etc) and rhythm.  If at all possible – try to sing along with what you’re trying to learn.   If you get to the point that you’re not enjoying it – move on and come back to it.  The more you actively enjoy what you’re doing, then more you will get out of it.

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Step 2 involves listening out of your comfort zone.

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Try checking out music from other (non-guitar playing) musicians and cultures as well.  A lot of my pointillist rhythm ideas were copped directly from Japanese Koto approaches.  I stole a lot of things from Arabic music (specifically Turkish folk and classical music, the Iranian Radif and various maqams), Hindustani music, and vocal music from around the world.  I copped gypsy violin and accordion licks and Klezmer clarinet lines.   Lately I’ve been super into the insanely wide vibrato and pitch bends in Vietnamese Dan Bau music.   The important thing is searching out for other sounds, getting inspired by them and taking something from them.

For me a lot of this has been the nonsense portion of trying to speak other musical languages.   Not everything I do translates in multiple musical situations.  It’s not always correct or accurate, and sometimes that’s even better because then it’s my own spin on it.

Really importantly  – not all of it sticks.  I spent a lot of time learning things that didn’t directly work its way into my playing.  That’s fine.  The important things are the things that will ultimately stick with you.  What it’s given me are some things that are distinctly mine now.  A distinct accent if you will, that immediately identifies a handful of things that I say as me.

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Next Steps:

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In addition to learning things by ear, having a few different approaches to using scales in your bag can help give you the flexibility to express some really musical things.  I’ve already posted on the area of limiting options, and with that in mind I think it’s more important to go deep with a few ideas, rather than just scatter-shot a number of approaches and deal with them all superficially.  So I’ll cover some of them here

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Starting point: The Scale

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For an initial starting point, I’m going to look at a 3-note-per-string C Aeolian scale.  Try running this scale a few times with the fingering and picking patterns I’ve provided to make sure it’s under your fingers.

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In the mp3 above, I’ve played the scale in 16th’s, a C minor 7 chord (to hear a harmonic context) and then as sextuplets.

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Note:

In some textbooks you’ll see the b6 as an avoid tone against a minor 7 chord (i.e. the Ab as an avoid tone for C minor 7).  You can always just play a minor triad or a 5th for a similar effect.  I’ve included the minor 7th here because – aesthetically – it doesn’t bother me and I like the sound of a minor 7th better than the triad.

Picking this as I have above results in a smoother (almost legato) sound than I could get using alternate picking, even though I’m still picking every note.  For the initial fingering, I’m playing the first 2 notes of each grouping with my 1st and 2nd fingers to facilitate the slight positional shift on the B and E strings.

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Note:  When practicing any musical idea, it helps to have a melodic and rhythmic context.  A time keeping device can certainly help, but I’ve included a short C note for a drone and a drum loop for your convenience below:

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Approach #1:  Skipping notes and using patterns

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The only time I use straight ascending/descending scales is if I have a target note that I’m specifically trying to get to.  In those cases, having some velocity to get there can build tension and make it exciting to hear.  Otherwise when you hear one note after another in straight ascending or descending scalar patters, it gets very predictable pretty quickly.

Here’s a sample phrase I improvised based on the scale above.  I’ve added some notes below.

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  1. On the first part of the phrase on the A and G strings, I’m only playing the notes C, D and Eb.  Adding a string skip and doubling the C at the octave creates more excitement in the phrase.  I’ve provided an optional notation indicating picking the octave C with the pick hand middle finger to give it a little snap – but you can certainly flatpick it as well.
  2. Starting on the Bb on the G string,  I’ve rhythmically copied the same phrase as on the A and G strings.  By playing it as a pattern, it creates some consistency in the phrase.  While the rhythm is sextuplets – the phrasing is alternating groups of 4 and 6.
  3. The last 6 notes break out of the pattern by just playing a straight ascending scale.

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Here’s another track variation.  I’m picking every note on this one:

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Approach #1a:  Skipping notes part 2 (Pentatonics)

Another way to work scalar ideas into a musical context is to reduce scales to pentatonics.  For example:  Here is my initial scale again:

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And now I’m going to remove the F and the Bb from the scale.   This leaves a five-note pentatonic (C, D, Eb, G, Ab) – sometimes called Hirajoshi.

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The term, “Hirajoshi”,  actually refers to a Koto tuning.  In the Japanese scale system, this collection of intervals would be recognized as belonging to the In scale.  But since so many guitarists refer to this as Hirajoshi, I’ll use that nomenclature here.

Regardless of what you call it, sonically it’s a very cool scale.  The skips between the Eb/G and Ab/C really open the scale up sonically.

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Here’s a variation on the lick above using this pentatonic idea in the second ½ of the phrase.

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Technically, in addition to some of the challenges of the first lick, another tricky thing here is the skip from the C to the Eb on the G and B strings because the D, C, Bb pull off wants to go back up to D.  Sonically though it adds a really nice contour to the phrase.

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Approach #2:  Sequences

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Sequences are a cool way to use scales in a way that generate melodic momentum but contain an internal logic.  Here’s an example of using the pentatonic in descending groups of 3s.

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This is a very Marty Friedman-esque idea.  A little goes a long ways with this type of approach, but these sequences are great devices to work into phrases as a way to get more mileage out of a scale.

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Approach #3:  Octave displacement

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Playing notes in order can be boring, but as we saw with the octave C jump in the first lick, alternating scale notes in different registers can be much more interesting melodically.  Since the A and B string are a 9th apart, playing an ascending melody between the strings works well positionally.

The first step in this process involves being able to visualize the scale on each individual string:

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Here’s a melodic idea that works off of this ascending/descending idea.  It works without a trem as well, but adding the trem gives it more of a slidish feel.  The important thing is to let it all ring together in a controlled way.  I’ve recorded this at full tempo and then in 1/2 time and I think it works a lot better at 1/2 speed .

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If you look at the notes in the phrases (C, D, Eb), (D, Eb, G), (Ab, Bb, Ab), (G, F, Eb).  They’re all based on short simple melodic ideas that sound more complex when broken up over octaves.

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Approach #4:  Modal Arpeggios

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Previously, I removed two notes to create a pentatonic scale but if I play every other note of a mode, I can create an extended arpeggio called a modal arpeggio.

For example, here’s the scale again:

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Taking every other note:

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And putting it into a phase gives me this:

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Note#1:

It’s interesting because while the scale and tonality is rooted in C, sliding the last note of the arpeggio up to D gave it a whole other texture.

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Note #2:

A lot of phrasing is really about minute details.  Here’s the same arpeggio but I sit on the first note just a little longer.  It makes the phrase more musical to me:

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Here’s another arpeggio idea with a repeated phrase in the middle.

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Playing arpeggios on smaller string sets allows me to sequence ideas more easily (Like the first 5 notes).  The jump to the Eb is probably the biggest surprise in the phrase.  Short but sweet.

This modal arpeggio approach can be applied to any mode or scale and offers a great way to add some additional textures into your soloing.

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Some Concluding Thoughts

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Normally, I would have broken this up into multiple posts, but I though it was important to get the aural learning component and the melodic variations on the same page.I didn’t even get into rhythmic variations, double stops, chromatics, chordal applications, superimpositions or any of the literally dozens of other approaches that can be used to extract music from scales.  It really all comes back to how much music you’ve absorbed because the most used tools in your melodic toolbelt are going to be your ears and your aesthetic and those are both guided by what you’ve been exposed to.

For those of you using GuitarPro, you can download the .gpx file of this lesson (with an extra arpeggio thrown in for good measure) here.

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The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Chord Scales

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Chord Scales Cover Front And Back

I’ve mentioned before, that (for me) the biggest advantage of investigating harmony and theory is to expose people to sounds that they didn’t know where there.  This is the entire purpose behind the  GuitArchitecture series.  One of the GuitArchitecture books in that series, The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Chord Scales utilizes and expands on this idea by exploring all unique scales from 3-12 notes!!!   The above material is expanded on substantially in that book so if you like this lessons you’ll really like the book.

More info on the book here.

Lulu Link

Amazon link

If you like this book you might want to check out the other books in this series here.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Circumnavigating The Wall You Just Hit

It’s easy to get so caught up in the how, or the technical process of what you’re doing, that you forget the why

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Every once in a while someone will send me a You Tube clip of some wunderkind playing a million notes and I often think, “Wow it’s impressive to spend so much time getting that down.   I wonder how they’re going to use that when they’re playing Brown Eyed Girl at the local bar?”  The answer, of course, is that they’re not going to play that or maybe even any song.  The point of the video generally isn’t to develop something interesting in a larger musical context (like a song) but instead to promote their efforts by performing something technically difficult to get people impressed.

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I don’t fault players for this, they’re simply trying to make a connection and that’s the point of music in general.  Sometimes that means playing a million notes and sometimes that happens in the silences of the music you’re playing.   It’s an easy path to go down because making a connection is really hard. In addition to a lot of work, it requires experience, sincerity and no small amount of guts to leave yourself exposed.  In contrast, sitting down with a metronome and getting a lick up to a quick tempo is substantially easier and the result is quantifiable.  Even if people aren’t impressed, you’ll know that you got it up to speed and take some comfort in advancing your technical ability.

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But the flash of something fast will fade quickly, and what’s left is the content of what’s being said and the sincerity behind it.
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I like video game licks in certain contexts, but they’re probably not going to work on a ballad very well (even if it is a fusion track 😉 ).  If you’re saying a lot of words without much meaning it’s not going to have a lot of impact.

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I’ve had gigs where everything involving making a connection turns off on the stage and while it’s not a defining moment in human history, for someone who’s being used to being connected to music it’s a pretty awful feeling.  I’d even argue that this was the case for 90% of the gigs I’ve played in LA.  There can be any number of reasons for this.  There might be technical issues that completely pull you out of your mindset.  The audience might not be there to make a connection.  Things may not be jelling with the band.  But most importantly,  it may be your disconnect, and it’s the most important, because it’s the only performance factor that you really have control over.

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Those of you familiar with the Aesop’s fable regarding the fox and the lion will probably remember the final adage, “Familiarity Breeds Contempt “.  You can put so much time into the same thing on guitar that it loses all musical meaning.  The bad news is it’s probably not going to gain additional meaning on the bandstand.  In all likelihood you’re going to disconnect from it further.

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The more you work with specific things the easier it is to auto pilot your way through them, and the less likely you’ll be able to connect with it.  Taking that a step further, it’s going to be hard to connect to audiences if you’re disconnected from your own playing.   It’s more common than you might think, and a lot of musicians go through small (or large) periods where they “weren’t feeling it”.  They hit a wall.

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By it’s nature, any wall is usually made of pretty hard material so meeting it head on and trying going through it is not the best approach.  I can tell you from personal experience that taking the approach of saying, “suck it up” isn’t going to get your groove back.  Playing through it is exactly what you probably shouldn’t be doing because it’s just going to distance you further from the actual music when you play.  It’s like when a relationship is on the rocks and you’re convinced that spending more time together will make it better when the time you spend now is stinted and awkward.  The better approach in both cases is to step back and get some perspective…to go over the wall if you will…

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One man’s recommendation for dealing with the wall

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If you’re facing this right now, here are some strategies that may help.

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  • Acknowledge that you’ve hit a wall.  You can’t fix something you don’t recognize as a problem.
  • Once you acknowledge that you’ve hit a wall, realize that while it might be big and imposing, it’s still only a wall.
  • If the wall you’ve hit is from playing in general, take a break from playing for a couple of days.  Spend that time trying to connect with friends or family.  What you do isn’t really as important as the fact that you’re engaged and connected while you do it.
  • Learn some new songs.  Learn things that are very non guitaristic like vocal melodies or horn lines.  Take those ideas and write something new with them.
  • Go back and listen to music that inspired you.  Try to find out what it was that inspired you about the music.  Don’t over think or over analyze it, just try to connect with it.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.  Listen to music from other cultures.  Read a book by an unfamiliar (but recommended author).  Play with different musicians.  Take a short trip somewhere you’ve never been with a friend and see some new surroundings.  When I was in Phoenix, I checked out the Musical Instrument Museum and had my head turned around in a dozen different directions both by the instruments and the multimedia presentations of field recordings.  I left that place with a lot of new musical ideas buzzing around my head.
  • Practice playing in front of other people.  Learn a new song and play it at an open mic.  Make notes of when you’re connecting and when other people are connecting and make mental notes of how they’re doing it.
  • When you come back to practicing, take a measured breath before you begin playing.  Mark the fact that you’re about to start something to get into the zone.
  • Try being mindful of what you’re practicing.  Set limits on time and only practice one thing as long as you can be engaged in practicing it.
  • When you play a solo – try only playing what you can sing.

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There are a lot of other things you can try, but the real goal here is to get re-engaged and bring that to your playing.  As corny as it may sound, playing is an expression of who you are and where you’ve been.  If you don’t have anything to say in your playing, it may be time to live a little more so you’ll have a story to tell next time you sit down…For me, it was about realizing what was wrong, taking ownership of that and moving past it to get back to making music instead of just sound again.

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Good luck to you and thanks for reading!

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