The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 3a – Seeing The Six-String Major Scale

Welcome to Part 3 of the GuitArcitecture Mode visualization lesson series!

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In this lesson, I’m going to show how to utilize the 2-string patterns from part two of this series in a positional way.  Since this post was pretty lengthy,  I’ve split it in half:

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If you want to get right into the patterns – just click here!

If you want to see how these patterns work – just keep reading!!

(Either way, if you go back and forth between the two posts the concept will become clearer for you)

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If you see anything unfamiliar here, you may want to check out part one or part two of the series, but in the meantime, here’s a quick recap:

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To Review:

  • Any major scale can be broken down into seven 2-string modal shapes that are derived from their scale degree (i.e. position in the scale)
  1. Ionian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian
  7. Locrian
  • The order of the modes is always the same.
  • The fact that the 7th note of each mode is missing from the initial fingering pattern is irrelevant because it will be played in the pattern that follows it.
  • A logical fingering pattern can be established by playing the modal fingerings up and down the fingerboard, because they move in an ascending modal order.

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A Pedagogical note:

I’ve had extensive debate with myself on the best sequence to present this information.  Conveying it effectively is something that’s much easier to suss out with an individual student, and much harder to get across in the digital version of a one room schoolhouse.

Since the initial emphasis of this lesson series is on sonic visualization and making sense out of 2-string and positional fingerings, I am only dealing with visualizing the parent major scale as a whole here.

While modes are always associated with a chord or a chord progression, I’m limiting harmonic options only to C Major/A minor for now.

Extremely important elements in this process, such as harmony, modal interchange, arpeggios, individual modes and actual music making will all be dealt with in future posts.  Having said that, it is important to state again, that modes (or any scale), in and of themselves, are not music but are only a tool in making music.   Anything I post here should always be filtered through your own aesthetic and utilized, adapted or even ignored accordingly (i.e. take what works for you).

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Establishing A Logical Positional Modal Fingering

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Let’s look at a sample scale shape.  In this case I’ll use an 8th position C Ionian 3-note-per-string scale:

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A Picking note:

On 3-note-per-string scale shapes, I often use the semi-sweep picking approach detailed below as it allows me to use a single picking pattern for each string.  If I’m using this as part of a pattern, I’ll often alternate pick it.  The picking patterns below then, should be viewed as a suggestion.

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Broken down into the six-note shapes discussed earlier, this C Ionian fingering can be seen as containing three distinct patterns:

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 Two-string sets of C Ionian

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As the fingering pattern ascends across the strings, the six note modal fingerings descend to the next modal pattern.   This is true of any modal pattern.

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HOW THIS WORKS:

By using an initial six-note pattern on two strings, the continuation of the mode will always require starting the next pattern on the 7th note of the mode.

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Six-note C Ionian Pattern On The E and A Strings

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The next note in the scale is B.  In the key of C, this implies a Locrian pattern.

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Six-note B Locrian Pattern On The D and G Strings

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Now that we have a way to connect these two string patterns across the finger board, the next questions you might have are probably:

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  •  What fret on the fingerboard do the patterns on the D and G strings start?  and
  •  What fret on the fingerboard do the patterns on the B and high E  strings start?

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Let’s start with the D and G Strings.

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Determining The Fret Position On The D And G Strings

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The good news is there are only three rules:

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Rule 1: 

When starting from the Ionian mode on the E and A strings, the Locrian mode on the D and G string set will start one fret higher.

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C Ionian To B Locrian

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Rule 2: 

If Lydian is the pattern played on the E and A strings, the Phrygian pattern on the D and G Strings will start on the same fret as the first note on the A string not the E string.

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F Lydian To E Phrygian

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Rule 3: 

Aside from the two exceptions above, the first note of the mode on the D string set always starts on the same fret as first note of the mode on the E string.

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Determining The Fret Position On The B And E Strings

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Rule 1: 

The  strings of the guitar are tuned in 4ths except between the G and B strings.  Since the distance between the G and B String is a 3rd apart instead of a 4th, patterns on the B and E strings will start 1 fret higher.

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Rule 2: 

The only exception to the above rule occurs when Ionian is the pattern on the D and G strings.  In that case, since Locrian would move up 1 fret anyway, and the G/B 3rd tuning would require moving any pattern up 1 fret, the first note of the Locrian pattern would start 2 frets higher.

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C Ionian To B Locrian

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If you made it this far, you might be ready for the second 1/2 of this post!  

You can find all the examples, technical notes and overview here:.

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If you’re ending it here for now, I recommend 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.   As always, thanks for reading!

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-SC

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

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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

MAKING MUSIC OUT OF SCALES

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

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The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 2 – Seeing The Two String Major Scale

Welcome to part two of modal/parent major scale lesson series that’s been adapted from the forthcoming, GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes book.  In the last post, I showed how to visualize a major scale on a single string using seven connecting patterns. (Note: you can see that lesson here).  In this lesson, I’m going to expand on those fingerings to include 2-string patterns and start to get into the actual modes themselves.

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The power of 2 (strings)

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In the first lesson, I discussed how to visualize a pattern on a single string.  The advantage to this type of visualization is that it’s applicable to any fretted string instrument.  Whether its a bass or a banjo or a mandolin – the fingering pattern applies to a single string scale.  If you ever see guys at a music store pick up 3-4 different stringed instruments and be able to get around on them, this is the type of visualization that they’re typically using.

Now it’s time to expand on that visualization process.  Let’s look at the standard guitar tuning.  Here’s a blank fingerboard with the string numbers on the top and the tuning below.

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You may have missed an important observation; namely that the open strings are tuned in 4ths except for the second string, B, which is tuned a 3rd above the G string.

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This means that the six-string guitar can be viewed as three sets of two strings that are tuned in 4ths

(i.e. the E and A strings, D and G strings and B and high E strings).

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This also means that any fingering pattern contained on those two strings will be the same fingering pattern on the other two-string sets.

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First Steps

In a future lesson post, I’m going to show how these modular patterns connect, but the first step is visualizing the initial 2 string patterns and then associating them with a related mode.

So if, for example, we combine the C major scale on the B string:

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with the C major scale on the E string:

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We get a series of interconnecting patterns that can played as a melodic sequence like this:

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Note:  

Don’t worry about the odd time signature.  It’s included here to show all seven 2-string patterns, but this can easily be adapted to any time signature.

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I’m going to talk about each pattern – but first I need to talk about modes.

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Modes

mode is a type a scale that starts from a note in a parent scale and is tied to a specific chord type.

For example:  C major has seven unique notes.  The scale degree of each note in the parent scale determines the name of the associated mode.  Here are the modes in sequential order.

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Note:

While this has been applied to the key of C major, the modal order is the same for any parent major scale.

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Each mode then, can be viewed as just playing the parent major scale starting from a different note and played over a related chord.

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Modes = notes + chords 

While these modes all share the same notes of the parent major scale, they all have different sounds based on the harmony that they are played against – provided that harmony is not the first chord of the parent major scale.  

For example:  if I play any of the modes above over a C major or a C major 7 chord, it’s all going to sound like C major.  I’ll get into the associated chords for each mode in next week’s lesson, for now understand that a mode is:

  • derived from a parent scale
  • always follows a specific order and
  • is associated with a specific chord.

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The two-string/6 note modal fingerings

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As a first step, let’s go back and visit that initial 2-string pattern:

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Here the same pattern broken down into seven individual shapes.

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Note:

while the fingering pattern only includes 6 of the seven notes of the scale, since the patterns are interconnecting, you’ll pick the missing up note in the next pattern in the sequence.

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I – Ionian

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II – Dorian

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III – Phrygian

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IV – Lydian

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V – Mixolydian

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VI – Aeolian

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VII – Locrian

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Don’t worry about how these fingerings relate yet or how to use them outside the initial 2 string patterns – that will all be covered in the next lessons.

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Here are the important things to focus on for now:

(It may seem like a long list – but really it’s only a few key points presented in multiple ways)

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1. Theoretical:

  • 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 7 two-string modes that follow a specific order based on its scale degree from the parent scale (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian).  While the fingering pattern only includes 6 of the seven notes of the scale, since the patterns are interconnecting, you’ll pick the missing up note in the next pattern in the sequence.
  • Combining these 2 ideas:

The 2 string modal fingerings on the B and High E strings

(C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, B Locrian then back to the C Ionian and D Dorian).

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A technical note and a tech note:

I played the examples as 16ths then sextuplets.  I changed the ending a bit for the sextuplets on this example to fit the 4/4 phrase better (it’s just the last sextuplet descending and ascending on the B and high E strings).

The drums are the same raga drum file I’ve used before – but I sped the drums up with an AU plug in – AU Varispeed:

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It’s a cool plug in to use for sonic mangling – or in this case when I needed to track something quickly.

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Follow the same fingering pattern and order on the other string sets, but start from a different mode.

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D and G Strings

(E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, B Locrian, C Ionian and D Dorian)

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and the Low E and A strings:

(F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, B Locrian, C Ionian, and D Dorian)

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Sorry!!  

I thought I recorded at least versions of this but the one I tracked was recorded too hot and in distorted (in a very unpleasant way).  

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  • The sound of the mode is based as much on the notes of the mode as it’s related chord.

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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.  
  • Fretting hand: When playing these patterns on 2 strings, practice using just the fingertip to fret the notes and use the minimum amount of tension needed for the note to sound cleanly.  Additionally, try to keep the fingers down on the strings when playing and remove them from the string only when necessary.
  • Picking Hand:  Try using the following picking pattern on the top two strings.  By starting on an upstroke and using alternate picking, the pattern ends on a downstroke on the E string and sets you up to start on an upstroke again.

  • Practice the scale ascending and descending and really focus on clarity of notes, hand tension and timing.  Even many intermediate to advanced players can gain something by really focusing on making clean transitions between the fingering shapes.
  • Isolate problem areas and work out.  You’re not going to be able to play the sequence cleanly if any of the individual components aren’t 100%.  This isn’t a bad thing.  Things you develop over time are more likely to stay with you (and thus be accessible when you’re improvising).
  • 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).
  • For those of you looking to skip ahead, try playing the root of each 6 note pattern as a bass note and then playing the pattern over it. (i.e. D Dorian over D, E Phrygian over E etc.) one you get the initial patterns in your ears as C Major.

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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 1-2-3-4-5-6 (C, D, E, F, G and A) , you can try other note orders such as: 1-3-2-4-5-6 (C, E, D, F, G and A), 2-1-3-4-5-6 (D, E, C, F, G and A) or 2-3-1-4-5-6 (D, E, C, F, G and A) as starting 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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Obligatory book plug:

The GuitArchitect’s Guide to Modes: Melodic Patterns takes all possible permutations and variations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 note groups of these 2 string shapes and then shows how to build them up into extended melodic sequences.   As a 300+ page book, it is a substantial reference/informational text, and goes into further depth than any other known book on the subject.  You can find out more about it here.

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In the next lesson, I’m going to cover how to make positional sense of these forms and start to move towards making modes (and music) out of them.

The next posts in the series will be substantially 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:

.

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 GUITARCHITECTURE GUIDE TO MODES PART 1 – SEEING THE SINGLE STRING MAJOR SCALE

MAKING MUSIC OUT OF SCALES

MAKING SENSE OF THE PENTATONIC SCALE – DIAGONAL FORMS – PART TWO

MAKING SENSE OF THE PENTATONIC SCALE – DIAGONAL FORMS – PART ONE

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

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!

.

-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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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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