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.
As you may know, I’m a big fan of the online guitar courses on the Udemy platform. If you’re looking for a guitar course, or indeed a course on virtually anything, Udemy most likely has one, or two. The interface is smooth and very user-friendly, and you take your chosen course(s) on any device. This definitely beats trying to read, download or transfer PDFs on your phone, or wasting time looking for the good stuff on YouTube, avoids distractions and allows you to get on with racking up some new skills in your chosen craft. As you would expect, Udemy is choc-full of courses for musicians and guitar in particular, so here are five more guitar-related Udemy courses worth checking out.
There are some very generous discounts on these courses for a limited time only - up to over 90% off the asking price!
There’s no unwritten rule that says you have to use the entire fretboard when soloing, but if the music you play, or want to play, involves a great deal of improvisation, you’ll want to at least have the option of exploring other parts of the neck. Bear in mind that this is my way of seeing the fretboard, and while it may not be relevant to anyone else, I hope it will provide some insight into how to get around the fretboard, or at least how to put into practice all those scales and arpeggios you’ve been woodshedding.
Eric Clapton spearheaded the British blues explosion back in the sixties during what many believe to be his best playing. I personally love all of Clapton’s eras, and can only admire his evolution as a guitarist, songwriter and musician over the years while remaining a bluesman at heart. I’m sure Hendrix would have done the same, and I’m also sure it wouldn’t have been to everyone’s liking either but there you go. In this quick post, we look at a little trick to get that Clapton soloing sound going which you can learn in about five minutes.
If you look at the fretboard of a fairly well-worn guitar like the one in the picture, you’ll notice that the majority of the wear is under the top four strings. If you watch a lot of players when they’re improvising, you’ll also see that they use the top four strings almost exclusively. So, to make your scale practicing more efficient, and above all, more manageable, why not concentrate it exclusively on the top four strings? Crazy idea? Probably… but that’s what I’m here for…
I did most my learning in the pre-internet era of guitar material availability which meant either a lot of listening to CDs (I’m not that old), buying the TAB book or score, getting someone with a better ear to teach you, or developing your own ear; also, remember that you couldn’t see how a lot of stuff was being done. Thanks to the internet, you can now learn any song or style you wish, and see exactly how it’s being done. My first port of call if I want to learn something new is not YouTube, but the Udemy platform, which has a ton of high-quality courses on pretty much any subject, and luckily for us, guitar. So, here’s a quick rundown of the best courses for learning a particular style or technique on Udemy.
Heads-up: Use the coupon code APRUDEMY17 at checkout to get huge discounts on these courses - limited time only!
Every once in a while, it’s good to look at things from a different perspective, especially if you’re stuck in a rut. In this post, we look at the mathematics of melody, or rather we’ll be using math to uncover the melodic possibilities of a set of intervals. As we shall see, and before you run for the hills, this is going to be somewhat reassuring, especially if you’d ever thought there was nothing new under the sun. A while ago we looked at a system for creating melodic guitar solos, which turned into the book, ‘Melodic Soloing in 10 Days’. What we’re going to cover here would be a great extension to the ground covered in this book. Let’s check it out.
As you would expect, Level 2 of Guitar Super System picks up right where Level 1 left off; you can check out our review of Level 1 here. As you may know, Guitar Super System follows the structure of the guitar curriculum at the Berklee School of Music, which means that what you get is the nuts and bolts of a tried and tested guitar course with many famous graduates such as Steve Vai, John Scofield, Mike Stern, John Petrucci and many others. Having enjoyed Guitar Super System Level 1, I was expecting good things from Level 2, so let’s see if it lives up to expectations.
Back when I started playing guitar there weren’t that many places you could look for guitar resources. You could either find a local teacher, teach yourself from books and magazines, work it all out by ear, or get together with friends and put your heads together. The beginning guitarist in digital age, however, is truly overwhelmed with options and resources. This is a double-edged sword as on the one hand you have all the resources you could dream of at your fingertips, and on the other hand, there are so many options that you really don’t know where to start. Don’t worry though, there are some great beginner guitar courses on the Udemy platform, and best of all they’re free! Let’s check them out.
Not enough to buy a guitar (or is it?) … But if you’ve got $50 bucks burning a hole in your pocket and you want to spend it on something guitar or music-related, we’ve compiled a list of eight things that will give you a great bang for those fifty bucks.
I like to throw a little shred guitar into the mix now and again to freshen things up, as well as learning some interesting techniques that I can apply to other genres. I noticed this the other day while watching an old Shawn Lane video, and it was something that really struck me as I’ve always incorporated this kind of thing into my practice routine, but more out of instinct than anything else. If you’ve hit a wall with your speed-picking, or can’t seem to get those fast runs flowing, this might be why. Let’s check it out.
If you haven’t heard of Udemy, it’s an online learning platform aimed at adults who want to gain or improve their skills, or explore their passions in pretty much any discipline you can imagine. The good news is that there are a ton of quality guitar courses on Udemy that you probably haven’t heard of, and the even better news is that the quality of most Udemy courses is far higher than your average YouTube trawling session. The platform itself incorporates video, audio and PDF downloads seamlessly into structured courses that you can go through at your own pace. So, if you’re tired of trawling YouTube for hours on end and want to go straight to the good stuff, let’s see what Udemy has to offer in the way of guitar courses.
Heads-up: Use the coupon code APRUDEMY17 at check out to get up to 90% off these courses - this month only!
I’m sure you’ve read or heard plenty of clichés when it comes to the subject of playing guitar fast, or learning to shred. When something is regurgitated and repeated so often, I begin to question its validity. Ask any guitarist (preferably one that can play fast) how to play fast and you’ll get the inevitable responses such as, ‘practice slow with a metronome’, ‘perfect practice makes perfect’, ‘don’t practice your mistakes’, and so on. While there’s some truth to every cliché, I think there’s a little more to it than meets the eye…
With the advent of the internet, and especially YouTube, there are now a plethora of backing tracks available for pretty much any tune, scale, chord progression or solo. While this is all well and good, especially for trying things out, there’s a kind of backing track that I think has a far more useful real world application than 10 minutes of going at it with A minor pentatonic. See what you think.