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.


Barrett Tagliarino

Barrett Tagliarino