Sunday, September 16, 2007

Open-Position vs Movable Chords; Open-Voiced vs Close-Voiced Chords

> writes:
> Hello,
> I bought the "guitar fretboard workbook" and am enjoying
> it.
> I am trying to learn guitar with your book and have no
> teacher.
> Working on the codes (triads), I got a question.
> What's the differences between the open movable codes
> (CAGED form) and the close voiced codes? Close voiced
> codes are also movable and partially barred, aren't they?
> Usages are different?
> I appreciate your answer in advance. Thank you!

Thank you for buying my book. I'm glad you are enjoying it.

The word "open" has two uses. This can cause confusion. The word "position" too has different uses for music in general and the guitar in particular. Semantic problems like this make it a good idea to talk to a live teacher once in a while. I'll nonetheless try to explain "open-position" versus movable chords, then open vs. closed voicings, all on the printed page.

First, "open" means unfretted strings on the guitar. "Position" means the location of the the first finger. "Open position" chords like the C, A, G, E, and D chords on page 44 have open (unfretted) strings included. These are called "open position chords" but since "position" means the location of the first finger on the fretboard for all other chords but these, they might better be called "unfretted-string chords."

The C and E chords might be called "first position chords" because when you play them, your index finger is usually at fret 1. But you could play them (especially the E chord) using only your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers. Try both ways.

C chord

E chord

In the A, G, and D chords, your first finger is usually at the 2nd-fret position. But again, you could play them without using the first finger at all. Try them both ways. When we move the chords up the neck, we'll need that first finger to be free.

A chord

G chord

D chord

Any of these chords is only movable if you replace the open-string notes with fingered ones as you move up. If there was more than one open-string note, a barred 1st finger can be used to do the job that was formerly done by the nut of the guitar. Now the position of the chord is named by the fret where the first finger is.

By moving the E chord up one fret, for example, we get an F chord in 1st position.

F, 1st position

To sum up: "position" on the guitar means the location of the first finger, or where it would be even when you decide not to use it (!), with the exception of so-called "open-position" chords, which must have at least one unfretted string.

The chiming chords that mix open strings with notes higher up the neck are named by the position of the first finger also. This is a 7th-position B(add4) over A.


Next, "open voicings" (page 51) are chords where the notes are not as close together as possible. Now we are not strictly talking about strings or fingers anymore. Open voicings can be played on a guitar, an accordion, or any other polyphonic instrument by making one of the tones an octave higher or lower.

It's still the same chord name (Ami, for example) but now the notes are spread out.
Here are two open-voiced Ami chords. Don't strum all six strings. Just pluck the notes shown fingerstyle.

For comparison, a close-voiced chord has all its notes as close together as possible. Here are two close voicings of Ami.


In all the above chords the notes are A, C, and E in some order. Musicians choose which version of a chord to use so they can:

1. create a melody on the top when moving from one chord to the next, or

2. create a bass line on the bottom when moving from one chord to the next, or

3. create an inner melody, or

4. make sure some notes stay the same or move as little as possible when the chords change, or

5. create a sound they like for any reason. An example of this might be Jimi Hendrix's open-voiced chords in "Castles Made of Sand" that he apparently chose for their "spacey" texture.

Hope this helps. Let me know.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Practicing Arpeggios

I understand that for a Major Arpeggio - we take the Notes as follows -
2. Maj 3rd
3. Perfect 5th

In other words -i.e. 1 3 5 of the Major Scale.

Now what is the best way to practice and use these
practically ? Like should I first try to figure them out
using the "5 ROOT SHAPES" ? Do I have to memorise the
Individual Patterns for each root shape - for each
Arpeggio ?

Yes, this is a good long term goal. Learning the 5 patterns
of various arpeggio types to the point where you can use
them when improvising will take a lot of practice, but it's
the kind of practice I enjoyed. It will also make you sound
like an accomplished player in the long run.

How do I practice playing arpeggio shapes? Should I practice them in the same way as I did my Scale Shapes (From Lowest to Highest note)?

For a good place to start, yes, it's easiest to begin by practicing from the lowest root, then include all the notes you can reach without shifting. Practice them in eighth notes with a metronome set at a very slow tempo.

The next exercise is to arpeggiate the chords of a short progression; for example |G |Dm |C |F |. Play steady 8th notes and switch arpeggios right on the downbeat. You will play eight chord tones for each measure of music.

When the shapes are familiar enough, start switching by the closest available tone to the last one played.

This example starts on string 6, playing all the way up and then starting down the G major triad arp with the left hand at the 2nd fret. Then it switches to Dm for measure 2. The closest note to the final D (in measure 1) on the 2nd string in the next arpeggio (while moving in the same direction - down) is A on the 3rd string.

G B D G B D G D |

A F D A D F A D |

The next measure's chord is C, and we just finished the previous measure by playing a D on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string. The closest member of a C chord we can reach while continuing to ascend is an E on the 5th fret of string 2. We continue up to G on the 1st string and then change directions on beat 2 of the measure, descending all the way down the C major arpeggio to G on the lowest string at fret 3.

E G E C G E C G|

Now it is time for the F chord in measure 4. Staying in position, we can change directions and head back up, starting with the closest member of an F chord: A on the 5th fret of string 6. We'll end up changing back to a descending line on the final note of the measure.

A C F A C F A F|

We can start the chord progression over again, and this time encounter a new series of notes because the closest one in G is now the D on string 2, fret 3. Each time we repeat the progression, the series should start on a different one of the available tones of G at this position. If you find yourself repeating a series, just move to a starting note you haven't used yet.

This type of arpeggio exercise is explained more fully (and tabbed out) in my "Chord Tone Soloing" book.



Saturday, July 7, 2007

Finding a Private Instructor

Hey Barrett,
Do you ever teach long-distance private lessons via webcam, emailing files, or anything along those lines? I've been frustrated by a few recent experiences with teachers in my area whose method or temperament didn't suit me.

This is just my opinion, but in spite of your difficulty in finding a satisfactory instructor, I still think a few one-on-one lessons are the way to go. If you live near any medium-to-large-sized city, there must be a teacher with whom you would get along. Maybe it's just a matter of looking in the right place.

Especially for working on rhythm guitar playing, as you mentioned, you need immediate feedback from the instructor---saying "No! That's not it! Stop rushing! Tap your foot, damn it!" or "Yes! That's it!"---as he watches your hands, feet, and body, and plays along with you in real time. It's hard to make that happen online.

Look for somebody who has most of these things:
-is formally educated in music with at least a year at Berklee, MI, or a university,
-is articulate and a good listener,
-is drug-free,
-has played lots of different kinds of gigs,
-is commercially published, or has some charts and/or handouts that he's accumulated for teaching purposes. This shows a commitment to teaching.
-keeps track of your lesson activities
-gives homework, especially when he sees you lack focus.

It's not really necessary that he's an astounding player, unless you're desperate for that kind of inspiration.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Major-Scale Fingering Patterns

Hello Barrett,
I just bought GFW, and since I like the workbook approach, I just ordered your other 2 books.

I'm just curious, should each exercise be repeated a certain amount of times before moving on to the next one?

Also, one thing that has always confused me about learning scales is that not every author uses the same scale system. Mark John Sternal uses a 3-note-per-string/7 position system, Uncle Tim's books use three positions for diatonic scales (and two positions for pentatonics), while you use 5 to cover the root centers like Fretboard Logic. Should all the various scale systems be learned in addition to the one in your books?

On the first question (
should each exercise be repeated a certain amount of times):

y subjective opinion is that more practice of every imaginable type is better, including written exercise beyond all the fill-it-in diagrams that are in the book as is.

You could redraw any new shapes on blank paper and then play them every day for a week or two (or three), until they are committed to memory. Visualize scale fingerings away from the instrument, verbally describe the names of the notes and what strings and frets they are on, and even try teaching them to a friend. That really helps cement the information.

The idea is similar to the Olympic luge racers who use video and visualization to mentally rehearse each section of their course rather than just sledding down the course over and over.

There is not a specific number of repetitions that I'm sure will do the trick for any particular item. Beyond a certain point, rote repetition can cause you to tune out mentally. Do a lot of practicing of course, but as soon as possible make small variations in your approach, like starting a scale from each of its possible notes, starting from the high notes and descending, using different tempos, different rhythms like triplets, applying it over chord progressions, and so on.

Now I'll take a crack at the second question: (
Should all the various scale systems be learned in addition to the one in your books?):

The short answer is that the 5-pattern system is most important, but I do also practice the popular 3-note-per-string/7-position scales that you mention are in Mr. Sternal's book, along with other patterns. They are all useful in some way.

The 5-pattern or CAGED system is easiest for relating melodies to the underlying chords, which you'll find out more about when you look at Chord Tone Soloing. You'll probably agree that melody should take precedence over physical concerns.

That said, the 3-note-per-string scales have a certain symmetry that makes them easy to learn and practice. They also let you economy-pick and use lots of hammerons and pulloffs, so they're good for playing fast.

Take your time and really learn the 5 patterns. After the 5 patterns of scales are ingrained you will know where the notes are, so then it's not so hard to connect one pattern to the next. While playing pattern 1, you have to be visualizing pattern 2 so you can move up into it without a glitch. The 3-note-per-string patterns do exactly that: cross from one root shape to the next.

I like knowing where the root is, keeping track of it when playing any pattern. Try yelling out the word "root" whenever you hit that note. Remember, the root is not the lowest note in the pattern. It's the note that is circled in the diagrams, it's the point of musical resolution, it's the "bits" in "Shave and haircut, two bits," and so on. I'm sure you knew that, but I'm playing it safe here.

It's also cool to (later) work out some 4-note-per-string scale fingering patterns. These use all 4 fingers on each string and move through most of the guitar's range. You could crudely call this "Holdsworth" fingering.

Another thing that's useful (but somewhat counterintuitive) is to start high up on the neck (say F on the 13th fret with your 2nd finger) and then play up a major scale using two notes per string only. This forces your hand to move away from the body as you ascend, moving you down from pattern 4 into pattern 3, and so on. You could crudely call this "Django" fingering.

I'm unfortunately not familiar with Uncle Tim's books, so I'm not qualified to comment on his scale presentation. On the surface I can't see how you could easily cover the entire neck with only two patterns of pentatonic scales.
I'm not accusing Uncle Tim of this, but I've seen books where some areas of the fingerboard have to be skipped over.

Maybe he uses 3-note-per-string pentatonics, which I'd consider pretty advanced. They require a lot of stretching, and sort of interfere with the standard repertoire of pentatonic blues licks, but they would cover the entire fingerboard.

It could be that he is thinking of something different from me by the word "pattern," which I suppose could mean any collection of fingerboard locations that you're trying to remember. For me, it's something you can play in one spot on the fretboard, with a minimum of position-changing.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Playing with Distortion

Hi Barrett,

Can you guide me a little regarding controlling distortion?

Actually I find it almost impossible to play with distortion, except when playing power chords. When I try to play a few lead notes (melody) the distortion just becomes uncontrollable and it sounds really very bad. It's like the notes sound bad together with each other (when they mix or sound together).

I really want to practice a few leads, scales, etc., with distortion to learn to play a bit of rock and metal, but I just can't figure out what to do. I tried to mute every note before going to the next note, but it sounds very 'broken" and non-continuous.

How do people play such beautiful and smooth solos with distortion ?

Try this experiment. On your distorted electric guitar I want you to wrap a soft hand towel or a big tube sock around the first few frets of the neck. It should be tightened just enough to completely damp the sound of the strings. If you strum this guitar, it will just go "thunk" and then stop.

Now try playing on the frets above this "damper." If your playing sounds much better than it did before, then you need to work on damping the unwanted noises with your fretting-hand fingers and your picking-hand palm. Instead of completely damping each note before moving on, you should practice an overall mentality of keeping a close grip in either hand, where you are almost muting the note that you are actually playing (or maybe even so that you are muting it, a little) so that all the other strings are definitely damped.

If, on the other hand, it still sounds pretty messy even with the cloth there, then you may have a problem with the number of strings you are pressing down at the same time, or picking accuracy. Practice slowly, making sure that you're lifting your finger off one string just as you depress another, and that you're only picking the one string at a time that you want. Eventually this will become a habit, and you'll have cleaner execution without thinking too much about it.

It is also possible that you are simply using too much distortion. Many beginning players use more than is needed. Try setting it so that a cleanly played note stays at the same apparent volume for about 3 or 4 seconds before it starts to decay; in other words, about twice the subjective amount of sustain as your clean tone.

Try turning down the tone control on the guitar itself. The more "in your face" (bright and trebly) the tone is, the more details in the guitar's sound will be heard, including finger noise, fret noise, and incidentally-sounding strings.

I often play leads with my tone control set at nearly zero when I'm forced to use a solid state amp with a built-in lead channel. There are also many possibilities for improving the tone by turning down the volume knob on the guitar itself. It does many more things than just make it quieter or louder. Depending on the pickups you are using, restricting the guitar's dynamic range by lowering the volume knob can act as a sort of compressor, again smoothing out the sound. Compensate by adding a little more gain at a later stage, like on your distortion pedal.

Finally, consider that your guitar sound is going to be eventually fit into an overall mix that includes drums, bass, and maybe another guitar or keyboard part. While I do recommend learning to play cleanly as possible, a _small_ amount of extraneous guitar noise will not stick out as much in that situation as it does when the guitar is listened to alone.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Tone Shaping

3:59 PM 3/26/2007 My first entry.

Dear Barrett,

I'm using a Guitar Effects software and just wanted to know the meaning of a few terms -

Sir, what do the following terms / Knobs mean and do -

1. Presence
2. Filter

I've read many a times that to get a heavy metal sound (like Metallica's) one should scoop the Mids, Does this mean that we keep the Treble and Bass to the fullest and Mids knob to the full ? If yes then what will the Presence knob do ? I tried to figure it out but couldnt guess very well. If you could kindly advice regarding this, I'll be very grateful to you.


Though your question is specifically about guitar effects software, the terms presence, filter, bass, mid, and treble would also apply to an amp and hardware effect units, which is how I tend to think.

A filter is a device that removes part of the audio signal. The tone knob on your guitar is a filter that removes high frequencies while allowing the low frequencies to pass through unchanged.

An equalizer (EQ) is a set of filters that control various frequency ranges. An equalizer with filters only is said to be passive. An active equalizer, on the other hand, can also boost selected frequencies using AC or battery power.

Some effects like wah wah pedals contain variable filters and/or boosters whereby you can actively control which frequencies you want to cut or boost, and the amount by which they are affected, in real time, or according to a programmed cyclical preset.

Though there is no law set by an authority, let's say any frequency below 300 Hz is bass, from 300Hz to 3kHz is midrange, and above 3Khz is treble.

Definitions for the "presence" range vary, but the idea is that it covers part of the treble range (perhaps 4 kHz to 6 kHz) that makes most instruments sound closer and more distinct. Boosting this area too much can make a sound that is irritating, especially when you start to play louder. On some amps, this knob is effectively disabled when the treble control is turned all the way up. The tone controls on many amps do not act completely independently.

The word "scoop" refers to the appearance of a graph of the audio signal. When the mid is "scooped" (like scooping ice cream out of a bucket with a spoon), there is a visible dip in the middle of the waveform. To get a scooped sound, turn down the mid.

Exaggeration of the scooped effect can result in a tone that sounds great at home or in the studio, but causes your guitar sound to disappear when you're playing with a live band.

Sculpting your tone is difficult at first because there is a natural tendency to want to use a visual numeric reference for the various knobs ("Kirk Hammett puts the treble on 7, so I will too"), but really, this won't work. All amps, guitars, microphones, rooms, PAs, and stage setups are different. Ideally you should set the knobs with your eyes closed (and your ears open!), then go stand as far away from your amp as far as your cables will permit. Play with the band, then walk back to the amp and make any adjustments; then run out into the front and repeat the process.

Often there's no time for this, so you should err on the side of caution and keep the tone and volume knobs in a conservative range, just making sure that the snare drum and vocals are louder than your guitar and that you can hear everything else clearly. Notice I did not mention that you should be able to hear yourself. If you can't hear your own playing, sometimes it's because you are standing in the wrong place or you are unaccustomed to the situation.

Avoid cranking up the amp to the annoyance of other players or the audience just so you can hear every detail of your playing as you are used to at home. If you have a sound system, practice with loud backing tracks so you can get used to hearing how your guitar contributes mostly its fundamental pitches and percussive attacks, while some of the details are (rightly) covered up by the other instruments.

Though you should try to get close to your desired sound with your amp, guitar, and fingers, you will never sound exactly like a CD that you want to emulate unless you have the same: pedals, cables, mics, preamps, compressors, equalizers, convertors, clocks, effects, plugins, mixing and mastering software, monitors, ears, experience, etc. etc. Every link in the audio chain has a drastic effect on the end result.

In some cases there is nothing you can do but experiment with different equipment and settings, but personally that is something I enjoy. With that in mind, whenever possible I try to buy only quality equipment that I can sell later if it turns out to be wrong for me. I've gotten stuck with some items like cheap guitars and effects that are impossible to get rid of. Other things, like major-brand tube amps and quality microphones, people buy instantly. These things hold value and sometimes go up. So oddly enough, buying an expensive analog hardware item (amp, guitar, pedal, mic, preamp) can sometimes save you money because a) you'll usually not have to waste time replacing it, and b) if you do, you can get most of the money back by selling it.

A last word about tone: In all cases the overall volume level of the band and the individual instrument has to be taken into consideration, as well the relative mix and the frequencies emphasized by the other instruments. A good engineer will craft an overall mix that makes all instruments heard and sound good, sometimes selectively filtering parts of one instrument's sound to make room for important parts of another. That's why band members should usually not participate in a mixing session unless they are quite experienced. They expect to hear themselves louder because they are closer to their own instrument than any other when they play. They also don't want part of their signal to be cut out, even though it is necessary to make it fit into the mix.

Sorry to ramble on about it. The short answer is, the louder you're playing, the less EQ compensation you need. When playing quietly at home by yourself, it'll probably sound good to do what you suggest: crank up the treble and bass, scoop the mids, and turn the presence up pretty high.

Thanks, Barrett

Barrett Tagliarino

Barrett Tagliarino