Some Useful Online Practice Tools

While some larger GuitArchitecture posts are in the pipeline, I wanted to post about a few online tools I use frequently when practicing that may be helpful to you as well.

In previous practice posts, I talked about keeping a practice log and using small increments of time (5-10 minutes) in multiple sessions to really focus on ideas.  (You can download a sample log here or here). The tools I mentioned to assist in this are a metronome and a stop watch.

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Seventh String

Not to be confused with the very cool sevenstring.org forum, Seventh string is the company that produces the excellent Transcribe! software.  While Transcribe! isn’t free (nor should it be – it’s an excellent piece of software that will pay for itself many times over) they have a number of useful free apps on their utilities page that may be of interest to you.  The apps all use Java so you’ll need to have that installed if they’re not working – but the great thing about each of these apps is that they can either be run online or downloaded to your computer to run if you’re somewhere without an internet connection.

Getting in tune is the first step to any practice session.  The online tuner on seventh string is functional but I find the tuning fork to be a lot more useful.  In addition to providing tones to tune to, the tuning fork also can act as a drone.  Drones can be a great tool for developing melodic ideas in a harmonic context.

The real prize here though is the metronome.  I love the old school graphic and the click sound isn’t annoying to me.  It also has tap tempo and can move incrementally.

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Stopwatch

Working hand in hand with the metronome for timed training is a stop watch.  I’ve plenty of hardware versions that are fine.  But I really like the  numerous variations on the online-stopwatch site.  The countdown version is perfect for setting 5-10 minute increments (or longer) and rings when it’s done.  There’s a metronome on this site as well – but it doesn’t allow incremental movement.

When practicing mid day – I tend to just open up my log, tune up, set the countdown timer turn on the metronome and work on the first thing on the log list.

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The simpler you make a routine – the easier it is to maintain.

Anyways, nothing Earth shattering here – but I hope it helps!

Thanks for reading!

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If you like this post you may also like:

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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

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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

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FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON

MELVILLE, MADNESS AND PRACTICING – OR FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON PART 2

INSPIRATION VS. INTIMIDATION

What’s wrong with playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” for a world speed record?

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I have linked two sample documents for logs below.  You could use word or excel, or any basic word processing or spreadsheet application to generate one of these.  I haven’t seen an online version of these I like – So I’ll stick with these for now.

PRACTICE LOG (PDF)

Weekly Practice Log (Word)

Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 3

I took the wrong weekend to sleep in!  Guitar Squid distributed a link to part one of the post and by the time I got to check my stats for the weekend I had already missed my record keeping days.

However, you got here – welcome.

In the previous posts (part 1 and part 2), I talked about deciphering chord symbols and developing shortcuts for playing them.  In this post I’m going to talk about my approach and  how I ended up reading the chart.

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One final time – here’s the 232 chart with upper extension triads written in:

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Full Triadic Substitutions / Shortcuts

Here’s an mp3 of the track.  This was recorded with an FnH Ultrasonic recorded directly into AU Lab with PodFarm 2.0 @ 44.1.  The goal was an ambient wash of sound but in retrospect, I should have gone with a longer delay time/wetter reverb to hold the sustain.

Here’s the PodFarm Patch:

Here’s Bar 1 of the chart:

232 Measure 1

Notes:

  • Simple is better.  I usually start with 3-4 note voicings and then add from there on subsequent passes.
  • I chose the F minor chord in the first position to make the C in the chart the top note of the voicing (and thus accent the melody) – this kept my initial focus on voicings primarily on the D, G and B strings.
  • I added the bass note on the E and A strings so I could get a little more of the chord texture.
  • On the B minor 11 chord, I made some alterations on the fly.  To get the melody note on top of the voicing I doubled the 11 (E on the 5th fret).  Technically this isn’t a minor 11 chord as there’s no 3rd – but in this case Chris was playing the full voicing anyway, so I’m just adding texture.  Depending on what the bass was doing on the second pass I would probably add the 3rd of the chord (D) on the 5th fret of the A string.
  • The 3rd and 4th chords follow a similar pattern so I used the same voicing.
  • I decided to drop down to 1st position for the last chord to get some low-end emphasis.  I’d probably add some harp harmonics as well.
  • The same voicings and approach are used in Bar 2.

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Bar 2

232 Measure 2

Bars 3-4


232 Measures 3-4

Notes:

  • A 9 (sus4) – This went to g,b and e strings to facilitate the melody note.  With the kind of ambient swell sounds that I used – muting the strings with the pick hand between chord changes becomes important to maintain smooth delay.
  • Bb Maj 9 – Here I was actually thinking Dm 7/Bb.  So I’m just using the top notes of the voicing.
  • E min 9 – This is a stock A string minor 9 voicing I use.  I have a couple of these for E and A strings I throw in when I need to.
  • F#9 (sus 4) – E maj/F# voicing based off of a VII position E barre chord.
  • G maj 9  – I was thinking B min but then added the A on the 10th fret for the melody and the G on the A string for the root.
  • C#min 9 – I moved the melody up an octave on the last 3 chords to amp up the arrangement.  Stock E string rooted voicing.  Sometimes I’d play the B on the D string and sometimes not.
  • D Maj 9 – Variation on the C#min9 shape – 2 useful voicings to have at your disposal.
  • E9 sus 4 – Just kept the D Maj 9 voicing, added the F# on the top string and played the low octave E.  I addition to filling out the chord the voicing puts me in a good spot space wise if we decide to repeat bars 1-4.

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This has been a long series of instruction for a pretty simple chord chart, but the purpose of it was to detail the process behind those short cuts.  It might seem long and involved – but it gets easier over time.  In reality – the voicings took about a minute to suss out.

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I hope this helps!  Please feel free to reply here or send an email to guitar.blueprint@gmail.com with any other questions you might have about this.

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Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 1

In the previous surviving the gig post, I talked about some memorization skills that can help get through gigs that require learning a lot of tunes.  In this series of posts, I want to focus on how to get through gigs that may have unfamiliar chord changes.

In this post, I’m going to be discussing how to interpret chord symbols and then developing some short cuts for how to generate chord voicings on the bandstand as it were.  If you are already familiar with how to read chord voicings – you may want to skim this and just go to part 2.

There will be a lot of detail over these posts for how I’m doing what I’m doing, but once you get the concept under your belt.  It should be something you can do on the fly if need be.

As an example, I’ll be look at part of a chart Rough Hewn touch/stick/Warr guitarist Chris Lavender sent to me, called 232

(232 © Chris Lavender 2011 used with permission)

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First Step – Know what notes the chord symbols are asking for.

It’s not that hard to figure out chords if you know what the symbols mean.  Here are some general shortcuts for chord types beyond triads.  There are only 3 basic categories that we’ll look at: Major, Minor and Dominant:

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Major

(Sometimes designated by “major”, “maj” or a triangle)

Any type of major chord always has a major triad (Root, 3rd and 5th) plus a major 7th in the full chord voicing unless it states otherwise.  If a chart has any type of C Major chord variation (C Major 7, C Major 9 or C Major 13)  –  the voicing has a C, E, G and B.

Note:

When removing notes from any voicing the 5th is usually the first to go (unless it’s altered like #5, or b5).

The initial short cut is: any major type chord starts with (1,3, 7) or (C, E, B) in the key of C.


Minor

(Sometimes designated by “minor”, “min”. or “-” )

Any type of minor chord always has a minor triad (Root, b3rd and 5th) plus a b7th in the full chord voicing unless it states otherwise.  If a chart has any type of C Major chord variation (C minor 7, C minor 9, C minor 11 or C minor 13)  –  the voicing has a C, Eb, G and Bb.

Note:

When removing notes from any voicing the 5th is usually the first to go (unless it’s altered like #5, or b5).

The initial short cut is: any minor type chord starts with (1,b3, b7) or (C, bE, bB) in the key of C.


Dominant

(Sometimes designated by “dominant”, “dom”. or no designation

i.e. “C7”, “C9” or “C13” refers to a dominant chord unless otherwise stated)

Any type of dominant chord always has a major triad (Root, 3rd and 5th) plus a b7th in the full chord voicing unless it states otherwise.  If a chart has any type of C dominant chord variation (C 7, C 9, C 11 or C 13)  –  the voicing has a C, E, G and Bb.

Note:

When removing notes from any voicing the 5th is usually the first to go (unless it’s altered like #5, or b5).

The initial short cut is: any dominant type chord starts with (1,3, b7) or (C, E, Bb) in the key of C.


Beyond this, you just need to add in additional pitches based on what the voicing indicates.

Here’s a chart that relates all of the potential chord tones that you might see to a scale degree for quick reference.

Putting the chart to use:

The first chord in the 232 chart is a C major 9 #11.  As a reminder – any extended C major chord will have C, E, G, B in the full voicing.  Since it’s a C major 9, a 9th – which in the chart above is a D – will have to be added.    The #11 means an F# will get added to the voicing as well.  This brings the full voicing to (C, E, G, B, D, and F#).

Again, the only time you would probably play a full voicing is for a solo guitar or perhaps a duet performance.  In the next post, I’ll discuss how to extract what you need to get through the chart.

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Second Step – Know some chords

When I went to Berklee, I was advised that I should learn at least 2 chord voicings for any chords that could be put on a chart in front of me.  These stock voicings are typically low E or A string rooted (as it helps with visualization) and are the default voicings that you would use if you were sight-reading a chart.  These typically include triads, Major /Minor / Dominant chord 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chords.

While this is, generally, useful advice, I should state for the record that while I did the initial memorization required for school proficiencies – I quickly forgot the majority of voicings I wasn’t using all the time. Learning every inversion of every possible 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chord on multiple string sets will take YEARS.  For some people, it’s the best method, but it never worked that well for me.

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Once I understood how chords worked, I never bothered to memorize many specific voicings above a 9th chord because I found some shortcuts to get the sounds I needed.


Note:

This is not to say that you should be lazy.If you follow through on the suggestions that I have – you should plan on learning triads and 7th chords at a very deep level (i.e. you should have the goal of being able to play any triad or 7th chord in any inversion in any position).

(more on how to do that in a future post)


I hope this helps!  In the next post – I’ll simplify the 232 chart with some harmonic shortcuts.

While digesting this – I’d recommend you take some time to work on your chord inversions.  If you’re unfamiliar with them you may want to check out the D major inversions I’ve posted below, and adapt this process to minor triads (just flat the third – F# and make it F in the examples below), and 7th chords (major, dominant and minor).

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(The following is adapted from another post (Recycling Chords Part II: Triad Transformation).

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Thanks for reading!!

 

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Note:  D major is used in the following examples instead of C major because the original post dealt with transforming triads.  Each note of a 1st position D major chord can be lowered to another note on the fingerboard, without using open strings.  In other words, each chord is a moveable voicing on the fingerboard. The following should be adapted to C major and other keys as necessary.

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The first step to adapting voicings is to make sure you can visualize triads both horizontally and vertically across the fingerboard.

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Horizontal (i.e. positional) Visualization

Here’s a series of  D major chord inversions in the 2nd position.

Helpful Tip

As you play through these voicings pay particular attention to which chord tone each finger is on (i.e. for the first D Major chord voicing – the first finger is on the 5th of the chord (A), the third finger is on the root (D) and the second finger is on the 3rd (F#). More on this later.

Here are the D major inversions in the 5th position

and in the 10th position.

Vertical Visualization

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Note:

the important thing with both the horizontal and vertical voicings is knowing where each chord tone is located in the voicing.

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One way to practice this is to play through the chords and stop at random points and ask, “where is the root?” “where is the 3rd?”  “where is the 5th ?”  This has to be full internalized to be able to realize the goal of instant chord tone identification.


Warming Up: Finger Exercises, The 3 T’s And The Necessity Of Mistakes

Pedagogical Errors Were Made

One of the first lessons that guitar students are taught is the 1 note per fret 1-2-3-4 chromatic alternate picking exercise.  While this is typically presented  as an initial exercise to gain coordination – it has a very limited long run value.  As a static exercise, it  should be discarded from your regimen immediately because

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you play what you practice

If you want to play semi-chromatic ideas at high speeds moving in 4ths – this is a great exercise to use.  But it’s a boring sound, a boring exercise and doesn’t translate well into everyday performance.

“But Scott”, you might posit, “it’s just  a warm up exercise.  It isn’t something to play at a gig.”  Then it’s a further waste of time as

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everything you play should be something that translates to live performance

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The Physicality Of Practicing or How To Lose A Gig

Here is a gig nightmare story that illustrates the point of proper technique versus strength.  Since the embarrassment here is all mine, all of the names will be on the record for my moment of shame.  Years ago when I was working at Sandy’s Music, one of my co-workers “Skinny Mike” Feudale wanted to see if I could play a gig with his rockabilly/psychobilly band – The Speed Devils. Mike is a great songwriter and the songs on the Speed Devil’s cd were really strong and lot of fun to play.  The Speed Devils had a gig come up in NY and needed a lead guitarist to sub in.  If it worked out – it could be a regular gig – but there were some rules.

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1.  I had to look the part – fortunately the drummer Judd had a vintage bowling shirt I could squeeze into

2.  I had to play a vintage amplifier.  Fortunately I had just gotten my vintage Gibson amp back from Tom at AzTech electronics (truly an amazing amp guy) – which sounded and looked great.

3.  I had to play the Speed Devils guitar.  This was a hollow body that Mike had fixed up and completely vibed out (full flames and dice for volume knobs) with heavy gauge strings and high action to push the volume a little more.

We rehearsed the set once or twice and then went to the gig a couple of days later.

On the way from Boston to NY, I didn’t have time to warm up so I was doing some finger exercises to limber up my hands.  I was experimenting with a lot of grip master type things to strengthen my hands and try to fix my pinky (which was really quiet with hammer ons).  We got to the club and  I found out that there was no mike for my amp.  The only thing going through the PA was the vocals.

This is the point of the story that I should mention that while everything was fine when we had rehearsed at low volumes; my 15 watt amplifier could not compete with the rest of the band in a club setting.  As I was inaudible I started strumming louder, and with the live adrenaline kicking it, I started fretting harder as well.   Between the heavier string gauge, the higher action, the underpowered amp and the over-tensed playing- I blew my hands out by the second tune.

My hands were so shot that chording was difficult and soloing was all but impossible.  I limped through the rest of the performance – but nothing came out the way it was supposed to.  Needless to say, I didn’t get the gig – a sound decision by the band – but I was really angry with myself because I had unknowingly sabotaged myself before I even got there and had I taken a different approach – I would have been able to play the show much better and not let the band (and myself) down.

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The Physicality Of Practicing (slight return)

Playing an instrument is a physical endeavour.  You can push your muscles too hard and hurt yourself badly playing the same things over and over. (Trust me – performance related injuries are not fun).

Having said that, this isn’t weightlifting.  You don’t need muscular hands capable of cracking walnuts to play guitar well – you need hands that can move  fingers quickly and independently –  a fast twitch muscle versus a slow twitch muscle. This leads to a little secret that students generally don’t get exposed to in rock guitar lessons

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hammer on volume comes from the speed the fingers strike the string not the force

In terms of volume, the most problematic finger is typically the pinky.  One habit that I had to fix (and that I continue to see in a number of players) was the improper attack of the fret hand pinky on the strings. (In case you’re wondering about proper form, I’ve reposted some of the information from the Glass Noodles arpeggio post below).

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Here’s a good way to visualize the fret hand finger motion you’re looking for:

Put the palms of your hands on a table.  Now without lifting the palms up, tap your fingertips one at a time on the table starting from the pinky and ending on the index.  You’ll notice that the fingers stay curved and that the large knuckle of each finger is responsible for the tapping.  This motion is what you’re looking for in this process.  Notice that you don’t need to hit the fingertips very hard against the table to get a crisp attack.

The concept of building up your hands like biceps – is just ridiculous.  The goal of guitar performance is to keep your hands relaxed so you don’t blow them out in a gig or on a session.

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How I warm up now

When I warm up now – I play scales and arpeggios, switching between chord voicings of tunes I’m working on and improvising around various patterns at low tempos and paying strict attention to

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The 3 T’s in Performance: Timing, Tone Production and Tension

(remember these – this awareness could save you untold time and pain later!)

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In general –  you just want to make sure that all of your fingers have had a little blood flowing in them before you begin to play for any length of time.  I do this with a timer for 5 minutes (more or less depending on how my hands feel).

External warm up devices are kind of goofy to me.  Have you ever seen a runner go into a gym and max themselves out on a legpress before they went for a long run?  Do you really think that putting mechanized unfocused tension on a finger is going to make it play a musical passage more efficiently?

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The necessity of making mistakes

Along with the forthcoming GuitArchitecture books, I have also put substantial time into  a general book of guitar technique.  In addition to discussing specifics of practice and performance methodology – I also took the 1-2-3-4 exercise and broke it down into every possible positional variation as a way to develop technique.  The book is currently 256 pages.  The majority of which are the 864 individual graphics that had to be created and placed in the text.

Midway through this process I started to question the mistake of basing any technical study on such an exercise – or the concept of musical exercises in general.  (Again the point isn’t to have svelte waistline or huge muscles – the point is to be able to play melodic and harmonic ideas more readily.)

I came to the conclusion that if the 1-2-3-4 example could be approached as a way to develop a systematic approach to generating both melodic ideas and melodic variation it could also benefit readers as a technical study as well.

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Mistakes are teachable moments

It’s easy to see a mistake as something to learn from in a practice room session but harder to see it at a gig. If I walked away from the Speed Devils show and just said, “That gig sucked – so I must suck as a guitarist” I would have missed a great opportunity to see there was something very wrong in what I was doing. The gig taught me in addition to making sure that I had proper preparation and the right tools for the job that tension does not equal volume – and that lesson has been more beneficial to me than any lesson I could pay for.

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I hope this is helpful to you!

Thanks for reading.

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Recycling Shapes or Modular Arpeggios for Fun and Profit

When improvising, I need to be able to access sounds immediately.  One tool that I use for this is Sonic Visualization (which is really a cornerstone of the GuitArchitetcure concept).  In Sonic Visualization – I associate shapes with sounds so that I can make changes, modify  or develop ideas in real-time.  Here’s one example of this in action and has some cool ramifications for application.

For the audio examples – I’ll be using a Line 6 variax AC 700 strung with D ‘addario .012 phosphor bronze strings – to show that this can be performed on an acoustic guitar.  I used the line 6 as I could record it direct into the laptop in AU lab and not have to use a microphone.

First:  Here’s an example of this approach played at tempo.

Now let’s start slowly and see how to get to that point.

Let’s say we were going to solo over an A5 chord.

Since there are only 2 unique notes (A and E), you could play almost any type of scale or arpeggio over it – but for a moment – let’s look at a minor tonality.

If I was playing straight up metal, I might just play an A minor arpeggio over it.  There’s nothing wrong with this sound – but I want to spice it up a little.

One thing I’ll do as a starting point is to extend the arpeggio. Instead of just playing an a minor triad (A, C and E) – I’m going to add a G and a B to the arpeggio creating an A minor 9 sound.  Here’s the form I’ll be using:


Some quick notes:

Fingering – basically I view this as a positional form so I’m using the 1st finger for notes on the 5th fret, 2nd finger for the E on the 7th fret, 3rd finger for the C on the 8th fret and the 4th finger on the B on the 9th fret.

Hand tension – As your playing through this shape – you want to keep your fretting hand as relaxed as possible.  The more tense your hand is – the more difficult this will be to play.

Picking – you could play this with alternate picking or all hammers – but I’m going to recommend a specific picking pattern for this arpeggio:

Notice that it starts on an upstroke and then uses all down strokes.  This picking pattern will become very useful as this process continues – but if you don’t have a lot of experience sweep (or rake) picking, you’ll need to keep your picking hand relaxed and work on getting the attacks all happening in time.

Timing – you’ll notice that this is a group of 5 (i.e a “Quintuplet” or “Pentuplet”) which means that you are playing 5 notes to the beat.  The  key here is to make sure that you are playing the notes in an even division – (i.e. the same length of time for each note and each space between the notes).

Here’s an audio example of just the arpeggio – first played slowly and then at tempo.

Note: in some browsers (Safari in particular)  the audio doesn’t always load properly in the new window.  If you just refresh the window it usually comes up the second time.

Obviously a metronome will help with consistency – but it you’re having trouble with hearing the division of 5 try the following.

Set up a metronome.

Set the click at a slow enough level that you can play 1 note per click.

Accent the first note and tap your foot to the first note only

Play each note of the arpeggio on a metronome click.

On the repeats – accent the first note and tap your foot to the first note only.  If you can – try to figure out the tempo of the first tones only (a tap tempo feature will help a lot here) and now try playing the arpeggio with only the first accent.  This is annoying to do for long periods of time – but can help a lot for short practicing cycles.

You may want to just start with this one arpeggio and work on synchronizing both hands – that alone could take some time if you’re unfamiliar with this technique.

From a performance perspective – you’re looking for uniformity of attack with regards to both timing and volume.

 

Recycling shapes

Here’s an interesting observation – If we play the same minor 9 shape we just used but this time move it to the 5th of the chord (In this case the pitch E or an E minor 9 arpeggio ), we get the notes E, G, B (which were also in the last arpeggio)but we get 2 added pitches D and F# which here act as the 11 and 13. This creates an over all A minor 13  or A Dorian sound.

Short cut #1 – when playing over a minor or minor 7th chord – you can play minor arpeggios from both the root and the 5th of the chord over it.

 

Short cut #2 – A minor 9 + E minor 9 = A minor 13 or an A Dorian sound.

Let’s look at this in notation and tab:

Notice that by using the same picking pattern –  the upstroke of the B in the first arpeggio leads right into an upstroke on the E of the E minor 9 arpeggio.  The fingering pattern is the same as before.  Once you get the A minor 9 form down – you may need to practice the transition between the A minor 9 and the E minor 9 forms.

Here is an mp3 of the transition played at two tempos.

Finally, we can repeat the same thing on the last A of the A5 chord (although the fingering pattern will have to be adjusted by a fret for the G-B string tuning).

Here’s the top A minor 9  arpeggio played by itself – first slowly  and then faster.

As before, the same picking pattern is utilized to add continuity between the forms.  You could end on the B or pick another pitch the end the form on depending on what chord you’re playing it over.  Here I’ve chosen E.

Here’s the full arpeggio played at tempo.

You say Tomato I say Major

So now that we’ve looked at a minor example let’s use a major example.

If I sharp the C and G notes of the A minor 9 arpeggio –I have an A Major 9 arpeggio – which also works over A5.

Here’s the A major 9  arpeggio played slowly  and then faster.

Here’s another interesting observation – If we play the same major 9 shape we just used but this time move it to the 5th of the chord (In this case the pitch E or an E major 9 arpeggio ), we get the notes E, G#, B (which were also in the last arpeggio) but we get 2 added pitches D# and F# which here act as the #11 and 13.  This creates an over all A major 13 augmented 11 or an A Lydian sound.

Short cut #1 – when playing over a major or major 7th chord – you can play major arpeggios from both the root and the 5th of the chord over it.

 

Short cut #2 – A major 9 + E major 9 = A major 13 (#11) or A Lydian tonality.


Since I’ve broken this process down a great deal with the A minor 9 process – I’ll just highlight the lick idea here.  You could end on the B or pick another pitch to end on depending on what chord you’re playing it over.

Here’s the full arpeggio played at tempo.

Here’s the A major 9  arpeggio played slowly  and then faster.

Taking it out

As a final idea – let’s apply this concept to extending the overall tonality.

Here’s a transcription of an improvisation working off of this idea – but using a B minor 9 for the third chord of the sequence.

First let’s look at the A5 chord again:

Now – let’s realize that instead of building these structures off of the Root – 5th – root of the chord – that we could use other tones – for example here I’m going to use the Root, the 5th and the 9th:

Here’s a transcription of an improvisation working off of this idea – but using a B minor 9 for the third chord of the sequence.

Here’s the full arpeggio played at tempo.

Here’s the  arpeggio played slowly  and then faster.

C# is obviously not part of an A minor tonality – but by sneaking it into the arpeggio sequence it gently nudges the overall tonality to me in a pleasing way.

The point is to not get too hung up on rules or shortcuts – but instead to have a series of modular sounds and approaches that you can use as the need comes up.

I’ll be posting more about these types of approaches in the weeks and (more likely) months ahead.  Just remember in general to keep your hands loose, your rhythm tight and your attention focused – but if this is your first time to the site I’ve posted a number of things on practicing in general which may be helpful to you.

I’m always looking for feed back on these posts!  If possible – please take a minute to comment or drop me a pm @ guitar.blueprint@gmail.com to let me know if these are useful to you.

Thanks for dropping by!


Testing Your Vocabulary Or Practicing Part VI

In the last post on practicing, I focused a great deal on the importance of listening in general and I’d like to focus and frame that importance a little more this time.

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Before I move on, you may want to read my previous posts on practicing.  If you have missed those posts, you can find them here: part 1part 2part 3 , part 4 and part 5.

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It’s important to realize that scales, arpeggios or any other kind of melodic or harmonic device is only a tool in the service of making music – and is not music in and of itself.

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One way to get to making music with these devices is to learn other people’s music and phrasing, either by transcribing or learning by ear.

As a guitar teacher, I occasionally to run into students who are resistant to this idea as they only want to learn “their music”.

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Learning other people’s music is learning your music because it’s part of a process in developing your voice.

The point of music is to communicate and to communicate with people you must have something to say.  This is done not only with vocabulary, but with a familiarity of language that comes from constant exposure and interaction.

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When you learn other people’s music, or licks or chord progressions you learn vocabulary.  You learn phrases that work their way into your being and begin to form your aesthetic.  When you talk about “your writing style” for something you’re writing – do you make up all of the words you are going to use?  In reality, you use words that you’ve used before.  You use phrases that you’ve seen other people use that have now become part of “your writing style”.

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If you’ve ever been around a child that’s learning to verbalize their thoughts – you’ve heard a lot of sounds coming out that are not recognizable as words (much less sentences).  It can be a real struggle to determine what it is that the child is attempting to do (or perhaps wants).  If you were to isolate that child at a certain point of development and refuse to interact verbally, the child would eventually develop his or her own language – but it would be completely inaccessible to you.  You would be unable to communicate verbally with the child and have to do things visually to convey ideas.

I’ve heard some singer/songwriter music that was done with this mindset.  The lyrics represent things that are so personal that it is impossible to gain any meaning from them without an intimate knowledge of the person.  Harmonically (because the performers use sounds that “are theirs” and nothing more),  the approach is severely limited and the chord progressions tend to all sound the same.  If you’ve ever had this experience you may find that you tend to tune out after a song or two as I do.

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Learning vocabulary

When learning vocabulary, there are several steps (this is a profoundly oversimplified list):

  1. Exposure (or more likely multiple exposures) to a word (usually in a context)
  2. Use of the word
  3. Integration of the word into conversation/writing etc.

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This means that there is a lot of word use to get to the point of integration.  In musical terms, you may have to shed a lick or phrase a lot not only from a technical standpoint (use of the phrase), but also to have it be “available” when you’re improvising (integration).  And this is a real test of your vocabulary.

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You might think you have something down – but no matter how much you shed something,

if you can’t access it when you’re improvising – it’s not fully integrated into your playing.

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It’s important to realize that integrating vocabulary is a conscious decision.  It isn’t passive at all.  Just because I hear a sound – doesn’t mean I know what it is or how to react to it. This is the real difference between hearing and listening.

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Hearing is biological, listening is mental.

You can get a lot from working with transcription software (like transcribe) and using it as a phrase trainer (i.e. taking an advanced technical or shred lick and slowing it down to such a slow speed that it becomes playable).

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Don’t be afraid of working on complex solos or phrases!

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All you have to do is:

slow it down and

break it into small components that you can play and

try to increase the speed a little every day.

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In this way you’re actually getting more complex patterns under your fingers and gaining some refined ideas to draw upon.  By working in this manner, you can develop phrases so that you have something that you can use at a variety of tempos. Having ideas that work in a number of contexts  makes it easier to integrate into your playing..

If this is an area of interest, you may also want to read this post on music as language.  You can also find some posts that may help with practice/motivation stating with one on focus here, a thought on music theory in performance here, or the importance of deadlines here.

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I hope this helps!  Thanks for dropping by!

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If you like this post you may also like:

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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

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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

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FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON

MELVILLE, MADNESS AND PRACTICING – OR FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON PART 2

INSPIRATION VS. INTIMIDATION

What’s wrong with playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” for a world speed record?

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