You can find tons of stuff on modes right here on the blog, but I’d like to share this quick exercise which tests whether you’re really hearing them or not. One of the major drawbacks of using patterns to navigate the fretboard is that your ear gets left out of the equation. If you can memorize a pattern, you don’t actually need to know what it sounds like to play it. For example, if I asked you to play the melodic minor scale, you’d most likely fire off a couple of patterns you know, which is fair enough but if I asked you to sing the scale and gave you a starting note, it would be another story. In this lesson, we’ll look at a way to bridge this gap and really internalize the sound of a mode, or any scale, beyond mechanically playing patterns.
Let’s face it, most free guitar courses are aimed at absolute beginners or those in their first year of playing. If you’re reading this blog (thank you), you’re probably not a beginner because I don’t do a lot of beginner stuff –the internet has that pretty much covered—and you’re looking to advance your playing, get past the intermediate plateau or perhaps get out of a rut. The following courses could be just what you need to make some much-needed progress. You can find these courses, and a ton of others, on the Udemy platform, which works great on any device and saves you trawling YouTube in the hopes of finding something halfway decent and probably getting distracted in the process.
Legato is a great skill for guitar players to incorporate into their arsenal and comes in many forms; the word translates to “tied together” meaning the player is linking a sequence or series of notes without any gaps between them. For this lesson, we’ll be using 3 different techniques to achieve legato: hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. Most guitarists will see legato in various song transcriptions but may run into issues early on with stamina or finger strength. The following exercises are designed to target the strength and stamina in your left hand. They will increase your ability to perform some wide stretches, ensure your legato note volumes are consistent and boost your overall left-hand strength.
It’s been a while since we’ve looked at blues soloing, so I thought I’d add to the Blues Soloing Tricks series of posts with a quick lesson on using the upper chord extensions to get a jazzier sound in standard blues progressions. This is a great way to make jazz-blues accessible by using a couple of things you most likely already know without having to wade through a ton of theory just to get a jazz-blues sound going.
What do Steve Morse, bluegrass and 10-year-old Japanese guitar prodigy Li-Sa-X have in common? The answer is that they’ve all mastered crosspicking, the most versatile picking technique available, yet one that’s barely used outside of the realms of bluegrass guitar playing. For the uninitiated, crosspicking is a form of alternate picking where the path of pick curves in and out of every string, thereby avoiding any unnecessary string-changing mechanics or issues when moving in either direction with the picking hand. It seems like the perfect solution for executing fast alternate picking licks, or even for leaving your picking hand on autopilot while your fretting hand wanders freely around the fretboard, so why isn’t everyone using it?
A common problem among guitarists is getting lost while improvising. There are many reasons for this, the most notorious one being an over-reliance on patterns. Patterns are a double-edged sword on guitar as they lend themselves well to getting you improvising in a relatively short period of time with a ‘paint-by-numbers’ approach but which in the long run will stifle your creativity, have you running out of ideas, as well as feeling lost on the fretboard. I’m not a fan of improvisation as an intellectual pursuit, so what I’d like to do in this lesson is give you a method for to find the happy medium between improvising freely and having a roadmap to guide you that doesn’t stifle your creativity.
Sometimes all it takes is a suggestion or a new perspective to jump-start your improvisation skills or give your solos a new lease of life, especially if you’re stuck in a rut. As guitarists we tend to fixate on scales, technique and chops when there are far more important areas to pursue when it comes to improvisation. In this article we get into some of the subtleties of improvisation and how to apply it to your playing to get better results.
Here’s an interesting concept for you to try out. I remember playing around with it unintentionally when I first began to look at major scale patterns and their modes across the whole neck to see how they laid out. I thought that I could play them 2 notes per string like pentatonic scales but then saw that I was missing out notes. Years later I realized that this is actually a pretty good phrasing exercise for modes and that purposely leaving notes out of the scale forces you to be more creative, among other benefits.
You hear this phrase a lot in guitar-related media, learning material and sales-type rhetoric – it’s the idea, or the promise that some kind of insight in the form of a lesson, course, or book will provide you with the tools to take your guitar playing to the next level. The ‘next level’ is somewhat of a vague concept and most guitarists probably take it to mean that after completing said lesson, course or book, their playing will be noticeably better. This is no bad thing, and I probably use the phrase myself from time to time but in this post, I’d like to go into the actual thing that made my playing undeniably better and did indeed take me to that ‘next level’.
In Part 1 we looked at the basic theory behind the harmonized major scale and how to learn four sets of root position chords that will give you over 300 if you include all 12 keys. These chords, and a solid understanding how and why they go together, will give you a firm basis to tackle pretty much any chord progression that’s thrown at you. In Part 2 we’re going to build on these basic chords by learning plenty of inversions that will give you even more options when comping, coming up with parts, or arranging with other instruments.
A great way to learn chords and chord progressions is to learn them in context, whether it be a song or the chord chart for a backing track (yes, don’t just wail over them, learn the chord progression). Chords are more easily understood and absorbed when you hear how they function in a progression as oppose to learning them in isolation from a chord book. In this quick lesson, we’ll look at an exercise to learn the harmonized major scale in a variety of keys.
Knowing what scales to use over a given chord progression was always shrouded in mystery for me until I understood diatonic and non-diatonic harmony. Don't worry though, this isn't a full-on theory lesson because what I want you to come away with is how to analyze a chord progression and have a solid idea of what scales you’re going to play so that you’ll be able to instinctively find the information on the fretboard, rather than just blowing over it with a pentatonic scale and hoping for the best. This kind of knowledge is incredibly useful in any band situation where you have either more than one guitarist, or you're trying to come up with guitar parts based on yours or someone else's ideas.
While the pentatonic scale is an incredibly useful tool for guitar players of the rock and blues variety, the standard method of learning the scale in five box shapes doesn’t do a lot to distinguish you from the next guy. So, what can you do to make your pentatonic playing stand out from the crowd? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that this isn’t another of those breaking out of scale boxes lessons; in fact, in this lesson I’m going to encourage you to stay well-within the confines of those beloved boxes.
You’ll find a lot of stuff on the internet about breaking out of scale patterns; some players suggest learning the modes (more boxes?) or throwing other intervals into the mix (still a box), playing horizontally up and down one string (not practical), and even learning arpeggios (yet more patterns). These approaches are all well and good, but don’t really get to the crux of why it’s so hard for guitarists to break away from those incredibly comfortable box positions, especially those of the minor pentatonic variety. Let me just say that there’s nothing wrong with playing in boxes; many guitarists have made lifelong careers out of it, and it might just be that you’re not melodic enough, and you need a more melodic approach to scales such as this one. If that doesn’t do it for you, you might want to consider the following…
We’ve been talking a lot on the blog lately about improvisation methods and systems. The guitar is a double-edged sword in this regard as a solo can be approached in many ways depending on the player and the desired result. Whatever your style or genre is, and if you’re going the scales over chords route, you’ll want to consider these two golden rules to make the most of your moment of glory.
In Part 8, we look at the last of the upper chord extensions: the 13, and we'll also be walking you through the process of analyzing a set of changes in order to approach soloing over them using everything we've covered so far. If you still feel unsure about locating intervals on the fretboard, check out 'Melodic Soloing in 10 Days', which is a 10-day program to help you learn every interval all over the fretboard.
You might be feeling somewhat overwhelmed at this point, so it would be a good idea to take a breather and take stock of what we’ve learned so far.
Nowadays, I play in fourths tuning (EADGCF) around 75% of the time because I love it, and the rest of the time I use standard (covers gigs, teaching, etc.) because it’s just more practical. However, one of the things I miss about standard tuning when I’m in fourths is the sheer variation of scale patterns available on a non-symmetrical fretboard. Ironically, this was one of the things that used to annoy me about standard tuning, but I’ve come to see it in a different light. If you’ve ever learned those clunky 3NPS or CAGED patterns and not felt you were really able to make music with them, read on…
So far, we’ve looked at our core intervals, the 1, 3, and 7 (plus the b3 and b7), the 5 and the natural 6. Let’s turn our attention to the 9; the 9 is the same as the 2 but it’s almost always referred to as the 9, b9 or #9 when we talk about chords. This is not true when it comes to scales, which are mostly spelt in number order when referring to their interval structure. Hook your looper pedal up and let's check it out...