The blues note is of course the b5, and if you’ve been following this series of blog posts, you’ll find it just after the 4, which we looked at in Blues Soloing Tricks: What to Do with the 4. I remember discovering the b5 through learning the blues scale (1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7), which is the minor pentatonic scale with the added ‘blue note’. I found it hard to use at first because it sounded so out, as if I were repeatedly hitting the wrong note. further down the line I discovered that perhaps scales weren’t the best way to get used to this striking sound, and had better luck with the following method.
This lesson follows on from the approach we looked at in Blues Soloing Tricks: How to Blend Major and Minor Sounds, so be sure to check that one out if you haven’t already as it contains the building blocks for where we’re headed next. The 4 is an interesting interval in a blues, yet a lot of teachers will tell you to almost avoid it altogether, use it as a passing tone, and not to stay on it for any length of time. They’re right to a certain extent but I think if you approach it with this kind of thinking, you’re never going to sound convincing.
In my opinion, the hallmark of good blues soloing is the ability to seamlessly blend major and minor scales/licks/runs to exploit that minor/major third ambiguity in the blues. If you feel that your blues soloing isn’t sounding authentic enough, this is probably what’s missing. Most people’s approach to this seems to be either some kind of hybrid major/minor pentatonic scale, or learning a bunch of licks from players that have already mastered the art of blending major and minor. While there’s nothing wrong with either of these approaches, they don’t get to the nuts and bolts of it, which is what I’d like to show you in this blog post.
This is a common problem among guitar players: they get very good at getting some great licks and runs from major and minor pentatonic scales, then decide to learn modes and it all goes to shit. This is mainly because guitarists believe that to learn modes you need to adopt some other method such as the CAGED or 3NPS patterns. In doing this, their chops go back to zero because the plethora of new patterns bear no relation to the pentatonic ones they know and love, are very clunky, and harder to get under control. So, what if there was a way to keep playing pentatonics but have them sound like modes instead? Read on…
In this series, we’re taking a look at what I like to call, ‘fretboard motion’, which is ways of moving around the fretboard that create musical motion and avoid obvious sounding scale patterns, licks and runs. In Part 1, we looked at horizontal scale patterns and their numerous advantage; while in Part 2, we combined 3NPS and 4NPS scale patterns for moving across and up the neck in a symmetrical way. In Part 3, we return to those horizontal patterns and enter the warp zone—that major third bump in the road between the G and B strings in standard tuning…
In Part 1, we looked at dividing the fretboard up into string pairs in order play horizontally up and down the neck. In Part 2, we take the symmetry idea a little further by creating diagonal patterns across the string sets which combine 3NPS and 4NPS scales. If you haven’t looked into 4NPS scales, check out the introductory tutorial here, and if you want a more efficient way to learn 3NPS scales, grab our free eBook here. We’ll be working up at the 12th fret to make the initial stretches easier on your hands.
If you take a closer look at John Scofield’s playing, you’ll see him play lines up and down the fretboard using scales based on pairs of strings. I’ve also seen him explain this in various workshops and instructional videos. It’s a very useful technique as it helps you a) join up different scale shapes you may have learned; b) it doesn’t confine you to one box position on the fretboard, and c) it allows you to play in a more symmetrical way. It could be a personal thing, but I also find it a more comfortable way to move around the fretboard, as well as generate more speed. Let’s check it out.
I’m a huge fan of pentatonic scales, but not just the major and minor ones; there’s so much more you can do with pentatonics. After all, pentatonic means 5 tones—any 5 tones—and there are literally thousands of combinations available, if you just take the time to permutate them all. If you don’t have the time, read on because I’ve permutated a bunch of them below for you to wail away on. As guitarists, we’re so used to pentatonics and they feel reassuringly comfortable under our fingers, so why stop at just the major and minor?
Following on from the ideas we looked at in How to Crack Your Picking Code and An Alternative Route to Playing Fast, and from watching a lot of Troy Grady videos, it seems there are two distinct kinds of player when it comes to shred guitar and generally playing at warp speed. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll group them into orthodox and unorthodox players. Orthodox players, such as John Petrucci or Paul Gilbert, are those that have an all-encompassing, very disciplined technique designed to handle pretty much anything that’s thrown at it, while unorthodox players are those that, mainly driven by the sound they wanted to create, arrived at their own picking techniques and ways to play fast—these are the players featured in many of Troy’s videos.
One of the fastest expanding areas of guitar and music education is of course the online variety, taking advantage of video, PDFs, backing tracks, apps and all that good technical stuff to provide learning tools that weren’t available when yours truly first picked up a guitar. As with all new ideas, the market soon gets flooded with its fair share of crap, which is why we’ve put together this selection of really useful online courses aimed at guitarists which you can take advantage of to learn some very valuable skills.
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Following on the from the lesson on Parallel Thinking, I thought it would be useful to take a deeper look at the role of scale patterns in learning to improvise. According to various sources, patterns and boxes have been around since the early sixties, perhaps even before, and especially for jazz guitar as instructors felt that standard notation wasn’t able to convey the complexity of jazz guitar chords and scales as regards locating them on the fretboard. On the other hand, if you’ve ever studied classical guitar, you’ll know that it is mostly taught through standard notation with little reliance on scale patterns and chord boxes, so why isn’t this prevalent in almost every other style of guitar playing?
The way Allan Holdsworth thought about chords as being groups of (usually 4) notes from a scale blew my mind when I first saw him explain it on his REH instructional DVD. Holdsworth was never interested in the standard diatonic chords which come neatly stacked in thirds. This was a concept that I also found to be very limiting, so his idea of finding a set of notes you liked the sound of and moving up and down the fretboard was a breath of fresh air. Let’s venture into Holdsworth territory…
Parallel thinking is a great weapon to have in your improvisational arsenal, not least because it allows you to get out of your own way and go straight to what you want to play, rather than fishing around for modes and scales. By parallel thinking I mean treating any mode as a scale in its own right, as oppose to indulging in theory-inducing calculations to find the right major (parent) scale to play starting on a different note. As you get into more complex music that doesn’t fit nicely into a pentatonic box, or one key, you’ll want to have quick access to a variety of scales without tripping over yourself to get to them. Parallel thinking could be the added dimension your playing needs.
In honor of the passing of one of my most influential guitar heroes, Allan Holdsworth, and perhaps one of the most innovative guitarists of all time, I’d like to look at his use of diminished scales; in particular, the half-whole and the whole-half diminished scales. While you might be frightened off by the uses Allan gave to these scales, rest assured that the essence of his approach is as easy to grasp as it is to implement in your own playing. Let’s dive in…
I have a lot to thank my first guitar teacher for; in particular, the day he introduced me to the music of Allan Holdsworth. Around the same time, he’d also turned me on to Jeff Beck and John Scofield—both of whom shape and influence my playing to this day—but there was something about Holdsworth’s music that connected with me on a deeper level. It was both creatively outrageous, liltingly beautiful, and deeply intriguing. The next time I found myself in a music store, I picked up a copy of, ‘The Sixteen Men of Tain’, which had just come out, and coincidentally was Allan’s first album release in a number of years. To this day, it’s still my favorite Allan Holdsworth album and a constant inspiration. My intrigue was then heightened when I discovered Allan’s REH video, and so began the quest to understand how Allan perceived music and absorb his approach to chords, scales and improvisation.
It’s no secret that the guitar lends itself well to creating visual information such as chord shapes, scale boxes and arpeggio patterns, and even riffs. In fact, pretty much anything on the guitar can be reduced to a shape, box or pattern which creates a ‘learning’ system akin to painting by numbers, sidesteps music theory, and as long as you build up a certain amount of technique, you can play extremely complex guitar parts without actually knowing how or even why they work. This is also why you shouldn’t get depressed about all those 9-years-old ‘virtuosos’ on YouTube reproducing the works of Steve Vai et al. What might depress/elate you though, is the following realization regarding boxes, shapes and patterns.
If you’ve ever seen any of Troy Grady’s Cracking the Code videos, which dissect and reverse engineer (mainly) shred guitarists’ speed picking techniques, you may have been left wondering how to incorporate it into your own playing, or even what to do with so much valuable information on picking, downward and upward pick-slanting, two-way pick-slanting, string-hopping, and many other terms for techniques you may not have known even existed. So, having watched, analyzed and put into practice many of the techniques in Troy’s videos, I ended up coming to a different conclusion.
Transitioning from blowing up and down pentatonic scales to purposely crafting your solos by taking the chord changes into account can be frustrating for guitarists. It’s also a blow to the ego as you basically have to suck it up, slow down, and really pay attention to the notes you’re playing. The blues is a great starting point for playing over changes as, although you may not realize, you’re already doing it from day one; so, what I’d like to do here is make it more explicit and try to avoid some of that early frustration. If you’ve tried playing over changes without too much success, read on because you may be missing the point.
Guitarists tend to shy away from really exploring chordal possibilities on the guitar, being able to get by just by learning the necessary shapes for a tune or a chord chart. However, if you want to take your chordal abilities to the next level, you need another approach. The challenge here is realizing what you need to learn to be able to (seemingly) pull chords out of thin air. The following skills in isolation will probably leave you wondering what the point is, but together they are a powerful set of skills for learning how to play chords anywhere on the fretboard.
Triads are incredibly useful on guitar, not only for building chords and arpeggios, but for soloing too, and especially soloing over chord changes. If you know your triads inside-out on the fretboard, you’ve laid the foundations for mapping out the fretboard when creating chord progressions or improvising melodically. The tedious part is actually learning triads to start with, so here’s a quick guitar hack to reduce the time it takes to get those triads down so that you can get to the good stuff.