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.
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.
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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.
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.