Category Archives: Sleek Technique

My rambles regarding disparate elements of guitar technique are found here.

Developing Melodic Scale Sequences, Part II : Pattern Variations

Pattern Variations

In Developing Melodic Sequences, Part I, I explained some of the basic concepts regarding sequencing any type of scale into numeric patterns. Click here to read that post FIRST and make sure that you fully understand those concepts before jumping into this post.

ANY type of scale or mode (Major, Minor, Pentatonic, Chromatic, etc.) can be sequenced and ANY number of notes from that scale can be grouped within the sequence. In my last post I explained a simple sequence based on four-note groupings, ascending and descending through the C Major Scale.

Another common sequence pattern organizes the scale into groupings of THREE. Using the same ideas as in the previous post, the ascending pattern for this would be: (1,2,3) (2,3,4) (3,4,5) (4,5,6) (5,6,7) (6,7,8) (7,8,9) (8) or “up three, down one”. The descending pattern (down three, up one) is: (8,7,6) (7,6,5) (6,5,4) (5,4,3) (4,3,2) (3,2,1) (2,1,-7) (1). See Example A below, which uses the A Minor Scale in the V Position.

Ascending Sequence of “Threes” using A Minor Scale in V pos.
Descending Sequence of “Threes” using A Minor Scale in V pos.

Example B applies this same idea to the five-note A Minor Pentatonic Scale, again in V position. The ascending sequence is: (1,2,3) (2,3,4) (3,4,5) (4,5,6) (5). Descending: (5,4,3) (4,3,2) (3,2,1) (2,1,-7) (1).

Ascending Sequence of “Threes”, A Minor Pentatonic Scale in V pos.
Descending Sequence of “Threes”, A Minor Pentatonic Scale in V pos.

Reversal of Fortune

Next, for a different sequence “shape”,the movement of both the ascending and descending sequences of threes and fours can be given a direction change. Try these patterns using groups of three: (1,-7,-6) (2,1,-7) (3,2,1) (4,3,2) (5,4,3) (6,5,4) (7,6,5) (8) and (8,9,10) (7,8,9) (6,7,8) (5,6,7) (4,5,6) (3,4,5) (2,3,4) (1).

You should also try this idea with fours, ascending: (1,-7,-6,-5) (2,1,-7,-6) (3,2,1,-7) (4,3,2,1) (5,4,3,2) (6,5,4,3) (7,6,5,4) (8). Also descending: (8,9,10,11) (7,8,9,10) (6,7,8,9) (5,6,7,8) (4,5,6,7) (3,4,5,6) (2,3,4,5) (1). See Examples C and D, which use the I Position C Major Scale, below.

Direction change applied to sequence of threes, C Major Scale, I pos.
Direction change applied to descending sequence of threes, C Major Scale, I pos.
Direction change applied to ascending sequence of fours, C Major Scale in I pos.
Direction change applied to descending sequence of fours, C Major Scale in I pos.

Interval Jumping

Playing a scale “in thirds”, where each note of a scale is followed by the note a third above it, is very common. Here’s the ascending pattern: (1,3) (2,4) (3,5) (4,6) (5,7) (6,8) (7,9) (8). Descending: (8,6) (7,5) (6,4) (5,3) (4,2) (3,1) (2,-7) (1). See Examples E and F, which use the G Major Scale in the II position, below.

Running the G Major Scale in “Thirds”. G Major Scale, II pos.
Direction change applied to sequence of threes, C Major Scale, I pos.
Direction change applied to descending sequence of threes, C Major Scale, I pos.

Now, let’s sequence an ascending sequence of fours, in thirds: (1,2,3,4) (3,4,5,6)|(2,3,4,5) (4,5,6,7)| (3,4,5,6) (5,6,7,8)|(4,5,6,7) (6,7,8,9)|(5,6,7,8) (7,8,9,10)|(6,7,8,9) (8,9,10,11)|(7,8,9,10) (9,10,11,12)|(8).

Here is the descending version: (8,7,6,5) (6,5,4,3)|(7,6,5,4)(5,4,3,2)|(6,5,4,3) (4,3,2,1)|(5,4,3,2) (3,2,1,-7)|(4,3,2,1) (2,1,-7,-6)|(3,2,1,-7)(1,-7,-6,-5)|(2,1,-7,-6) (-7,-6,-5,-4)|(1).

Both of the above ideas are shown below in Example G, which uses the E Major Scale in the IX Position.

Sequence of Fours further Sequenced in Thirds. E Major Scale, XII pos.
Descending Sequence of Fours further Sequenced in Thirds. E Major Scale, XII pos.

Finally, for homework, I’ll leave you with the beginning of a sequence that is not finished. Your assignment is to determine the pattern it uses, complete the sequence and be able to play it. See Example H, below.

Mystery Sequence, D Major, II pos.

The upcoming final post of this trilogy will discuss how sequences can be hidden or disguised within a melody by applying rhythmic variations to the groupings. This final aspect adds another element of musicality to the sequences we’ve used thus far. I will also include a summary of the patterns I have used in all three posts.

Let that be a lesson to you. 😉

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others using the social media links below. I won’t mind one bit. I only ask that you respect my personally-created, copyrighted material by mentioning where you got it from. 🙂

Your comments, corrections or suggestions for future posts are also ALWAYS most welcome.

 © 2014 Matthew Woodward

Melodic Scale Sequences, Part I : Developing A Simple Sequence

It’s likely that many of you are already familiar with playing scale sequences…without knowing it.

Scale sequences figure prominently in many exercise texts, often to improve a student’s reading skills or to simply offer them a method with which to practice their scales melodically and with structure. However, the student is usually not given much insight regarding how the musical piece they are playing was designed.

With this post (and those soon to follow) I hope to help you understand how sequences work, and to give you some ideas for how to make up your own.

How They Work

Sequences are quite mathematical by nature and can be applied to ANY scale. For this example I’ll be using the C Major scale.

If we give each note of the scale a number (using the number 8 to represent the Octave of the scale), we can begin to play around with different groupings or patterns that we can apply back to the notes of the scale. (Please note that you can click on ANY image within this post to enlarge it.)

C Major Scale, Numbered
Tab Example A, C major in I pos, one octave.

Here’s the basic idea of how we can play a sequence of “fours” through the scale. Begin by playing the first four notes of the scale. Next, leap down to the 2nd note which is, of course, one note higher than where you began. Now play four notes, ascending from the 2nd note to the 5th note. You should now see the pattern we are building. Next, leap back to the 3rd note and climb to the 6th; then from the 4th to the 7th; and finally the 5th to the Octave.

Incomplete Ascending Sequence
Tab Example B : Beginning The Sequence.

At this point you have made it to the top of the scale. Play the entire sequence as it is and consider its merits as a piece of music. You will probably agree that its melody sounds incomplete – as though one is “left hanging”.

Why? Although we have reached the top note of the scale, the sequence itself is not completed yet. When we listen to a sequence such as this, our brain does its best to quickly process the form or pattern of the notes we hear to help us understand what we are listening to.

We organize musical patterns by listening for when things change. For example, when listening to a motorcycle taking off at a traffic light, our ears notice the moment when the rider changes gear and the motors RPM’s drop and then begin to climb again. It’s the same with our pattern, which is quite easy to understand if you know where to listen for those “gear changes”. 🙂

When you play the first group 1, 2, 3, 4, followed by the leap down to the 2nd note, we hear this as a new beginning, ie. the gear change. Moving up four notes from the 2nd and then leaping down to note 3 establishes a pattern that our brain can grasp easily, and we can can “predict” that the next notes we’ll hear are 3, 4, 5, 6, followed by a leap down to the 4th and so on.

Try playing and singing only the circled notes 1 through 5 of our sequence, which are the first five notes of the melody of the C Major scale. Keep them in your mind. Now try singing the ENTIRE pattern, but focus on the movement of the pattern as it climbs from level to level. Accent (shown as > in Tablature Example C) the beginning note of each new group of four and you should still be able to hear the C scale melody ascending through its first five notes. However, the moment when you reach the octave is when you should feel the pattern ending abruptly musically – and it feels like the melody needs to keep going somewhere.

C Major Scale, Incomplete Ascending Sequence
Tab Example C, Accenting for Definition

The sequence sounds incomplete because, although there are 8 notes in our scale, we have started our groups of four on only the first five notes of the scale. To complete the pattern we must extend the scale a couple of notes beyond the octave (and later below the root), as shown below.

C Major Scale, Extended and Numbered
Tablature Example D, Extended C Major Scale Pattern, I pos.

In the previous example, when the octave was reached our mind expected another leap down, this time to the 6th. The next run of four notes from there predicts a leap to the 7th. Climbing from there to the 10th, when the final leap down to the Octave happens we feel a resolution (ending) of our melody. We end the pattern here, on the Octave, and do not climb four notes beyond it, because that would also leave the listener hanging, expecting a leap down to the 9th as though we were going to continue the sequence into the second octave of the scale. Below is the completed sequence. Listen to how the last drop to the Octave feels “right”.

Completed Ascending Sequence of Fours in C Major

The overall movement of this completed sequence of fours is ascending, following a pattern of moving up four notes and then dropping down three to begin again.

You should also try the descending version of this sequence, where we descend four notes from the Octave and leap up three. Now that you understand the numbering concept, I can give the pattern to you using numbers only: (8,7,6,5) (7,6,5,4) (6,5,4,3) (5,4,3,2) (4,3,2,1) (3,2,1,-7) (2,1,-7,-6) (1). Example E shows this sequence using tablature.

Example E, Descending Sequence of Fours in C Major Scale.

In my next post we’ll look at how to develop sequences that are more complex, by manipulating the simple patterns described in this post – applying directional and rhythmic variations…even sequencing the sequence!

Let that be a lesson to you. 😉

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others using the social media links below. I won’t mind one bit. 🙂

Your comments, corrections or suggestions for future posts are also ALWAYS most welcome.

 © 2014 Matthew Woodward

Pentatonic Scale Exercise : Checking Out Your New Neighborhood

More than anything else, it takes practice to become accurate and speedy within any form of scale.

If you are new to the 5-note Pentatonic Scale, the following exercises will not only help you get better at cleanly picking fast runs, but will also help you gain a better sense of the tonal center of the scale and how far away from it you are. As the title said, I call this approach “Checking Out Your New Neighborhood”. First we’ll begin by exploring the C Major Pentatonic Scale. After that, more examples follow, using the A Minor Pentatonic Scale.

Think of the root of the scale as your “home” (in this case, the tonic or root note C), and the other notes of the scale as destinations both up and down the street from where you live. When you first move to a new home, it’s normal to begin exploring your neighborhood by going just a short distance away from home. As you become familiar with your area you gain the confidence to venture further away.

The exercises below use the C Major Pentatonic Scale in the V (5th fret) position to take you a certain number of notes away from your home, first above, then below, then in both directions. Once you’ve gone the specified distance, you turn around and head for home. By the final exercise you will have learned to play an important pattern for two octaves of the entire scale, both ascending and descending.

The note groupings are circled. Repeat each example many times until you feel comfortable with it, then move on to the next one. Do your best to play these exercises at a constant, unvarying tempo (speed). Alternate picking (down and up) is essential.

As promised, the following exercises use the A Minor Pentatonic Scale, the Relative Minor scale to the C Major Pentatonic Scale. Scales that are relative to one another share the same notes in the same order, but have different starting notes (more on this in a later post).  You will see how the overall patterns for both scales are indeed the same. The examples proceed in the same fashion. Good luck!Later posts will dig a little deeper into the theory and discuss the nature of these scales and where it is appropriate to use them. For now, this post lets you get your feet wet, learning the patterns you’ll need to play lead with speed.

Let that be a lesson to you. 😉

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. If you did, please feel free to share it with others…I won’t mind.

© 2014 Matthew Woodward

Music Teachers In Ontario

It Pays To Be Lazy.

When changing between chords always look for the laziest way. Never lift your fingers too far above or away from the fretboard. Take a moment to think about it, and find the shortest path each finger needs to follow to get where it needs to be in the next chord.

All of your fingers should arrive in the new chord at the same time. If one finger is lagging behind the others, try focusing on that finger by making it move first to the new chord. Usually the other fingers have learned where they must go, and with a little practice the entire change comes together.

The hardest lesson for some folks to learn is: when a finger doesn’t have to move, don’t move it! Why move if you don’t have to? Be lazy. Your chord changes will get faster, and notes can also remain ringing.

For example, if you are changing between G and Em, your 2nd finger should remain in place as an anchor while your other fingers pivot into their new positions. Don’t lift it!

The same is true when changing between F and Dm, where the 2nd finger can again remain in place as an anchor while fingers 1 and 3 pivot into position. Again, don’t lift them!

When changing between C and Am, both the 2nd finger AND the 1st finger can remain in place as anchors while the 3rd finger pivots into position. Again, don’t lift those anchors!

There are many examples of chord changes where it pays to be lazy. Watch your hands and see where you can economize on finger movement. Always try to move your fingers together as a group, lifting them from one chord and landing in the next chord all at the same time. You may be surprised by how much extra work you have been needlessly doing!

Let that be a lesson to you. 😉

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I won’t mind.

© 2014 Matthew Woodward

The Bends!

The Bends

One of the most valuable techniques to learn as a lead guitarist is how to bend a string. Bending a string, by pushing or stretching it from one side of the fretboard to the other, increases the tension on that string, and results in the pitch of that string going higher.

String bends always raise the pitch of a note, with the distance of rise being determined by the amount of force applied to the string by the player. Generally speaking, we cannot raise the pitch of a string much beyond 2 ½ tones, because the fretboard doesn’t allow enough space for more than that.

Glossary of Terms:

The push of the string is called the bend, and the return of the string to its starting point is called the release of the bend.

String bends require a lot of left hand finger strength, and the best way to develop that strength is by…bending strings. Bending is easiest in the 12th fret area – at the middle of a string – and hardest in the 1st fret area where the strings are stiffest. Whenever possible, a player should use the fingers that are behind the one that is on the note being bent to help with the push. This is called reinforcing a bend. This can’t be done when bending with the 1st finger, so bending with it is not easy.

I find it easiest to describe the various types of string bends to my students by having them imagine the shape of the curved line that would result if we were to plot the rise or fall of pitch caused by the bend on a graph, shown over the amount of time elapsed.

Let me explain myself. If a note is played and held for a moment, then bent slowly upwards to a desired pitch, the line would begin flat for however long the beginning note was held; as the bend begins it would curve upwards until arriving at the desired pitch. If, after reaching the top of the bend, the player allows the bend to release slowly back to the original pitch, the curve would also drop down. What results looks almost like a little hill and shows the pitch climbing up one side to the peak and then lowering back down on the other side. See below. The speed of the bend would determine the angle or slope of the curve. A fast bend and release would look like this: We might also choose to extend the time spent at the peak of the bend: This time, after the release of a fast bend, we immediately bend the string back up again without picking it, then release it: Bends, of course, do not need to be released – if you bend a string up to reach a desired pitch, then dampen (silence) the string with your right hand fingers or pick, all the listener will hear is the upward curve of the bend. By silently releasing the string and re-bending you could make a group of upward-bent notes.

One can also silently bend a string up to a point at which they hope it will be at the desired pitch, then pick the string and release it back at whatever speed they wish. This is how you make your guitar cry.  🙁 This technique is officially called pre-bending, but I’ve also heard it referred to as ghost bending. Prebends can also be silently released.Bends can have more than one component to them. A bend may rise a whole tone, sustain a while and then rise some more up to an even higher pitch. This makes the curve a little more complicated. With a slow release from the peak of the second bend added, here’s what this would appear as:So, as demonstrated, bends and releases can take many different forms, and there are more beyond what I’ve shown here. By combining these ideas in interesting ways you can come up with some pretty cool ways of expressing yourself as a soloist.

Let that be a lesson to you.  😉

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I won’t mind.

Going On A Bender!

For this post I thought I’d share a set of exercises that I came up with to help my students develop finger strength and fine-tune their string bending. It’s fun, challenging and might just open your mind to new possibilities in how to approach a solo melody. If anything, it will definitely help toughen up your calluses!

All of my examples make use of the A “Natural” Minor Scale in the 12th fret position. Feel free to move the entire pattern to wherever you feel most comfy on the neck, but less strength is required to bend in the 12th fret area. Try to use all of your fingers, assigning each one to its own fret. Your 4th finger should be used to play the notes on the 15th fret.

(Just a note: You can zoom your screen to make the examples larger, or right-click and choose “Open Image In New Tab” if you like.)

Time to grab that guitar. Begin by playing the scale ascending and descending as many times as it takes for you to become very familiar with the melody of the A Minor Scale, shown in Example A (below), which is very commonly used. Don’t stress over how to pick this – use whatever works. The most important thing  you can do is LISTEN.

In Example B you first play a “target note” to give you the sound of the pitch you must bend to. After playing the target pitch, bend the string to that pitch from the scale note below it. If you can, use your
other fingers that are behind the one that is doing the bend to add some strength and help with the push – this is called reinforcing a bend. For example, if you are bending with your 2nd finger, your 1st finger should also be pushing the string. As a general rule, I bend strings toward the side of the fretboard where I have the most room, so all of the bends in these examples should be toward the 6th string.

Example C is a lot of fun. Here you will play the entire scale using only bends from the scale note below, and without the target pitch to guide your ear. Play the exercise both ascending and descending.

Example C

Example D shows another approach to playing the scale. Here, every other note of the scale is sounded by bending up to it from its lower neighbor. Be sure to give the note you begin on one beat of time
before bending up to the next note. Play the first note, wait a beat, then bend it to the second note and hold that for one beat; next play the 3rd note (wait), then bend it to the 4th (wait), and so on. 

Example D

In Example E you get to show off your bending skills, using a pre-bent note first and then releasing that pre-bend to the note below it. You should NOT hear the sound of the string bending up to the first note! With a pre-bend you must silently bend the string to what you think will sound the correct pitch, and hope for the best. Tricky.

Example E

Finally, Example F requires you to pre-bend to every note of the scale from the note below it. Play the scale ascending and descending.

Example F

If you’ve made it this far, congratulate yourself. Bending accurately is NOT easy, but it must be mastered if you wish to be an expressive soloist.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post – if you did, please share it with others.

Let that be a lesson to you. ;)

© 2014 Matthew Woodward


Why We Use “Thumb F”

“Thumb F” vs. F Barre Chord

Okay, we all agree that playing an F major chord “thumb-style” is difficult. Students ask me, “Why not use a full barre chord instead?”

My answer is YES, you can if you like. BUT, if you don’t learn this fingering you’ll be cheating yourself out of some other great chords.

Fadd9 is a very lush, beautiful sounding chord that commonly is substituted for F. You need only take off your 2nd finger. Make sure the open G note is sounding – that note is the 9th that’s being added to the chord. You can’t play this if you start with the barre chord.Fmaj7

Fmaj7 is another pretty chord that is commonly used in place of F, and which tends to make a progression sound a bit atmospheric and dreamy. To play it, simply tip your 1st finger up onto just the 2nd string. Again, you can’t play this if you start with the barre chord.Fmaj9

Fmaj9 is a combination of both the above chords, sounding even dreamier, more complex and sophisticated. Very nice!Fm

Fm can also be played as a barre chord, but if you’ve mastered playing the thumb-style F and you are playing a progression that uses Fm along with other non-barred chords, this baby comes in real handy. A little harder perhaps, because your 1st finger has to hold down three notes, but well worth the effort in the long run. This chord, just like the barre version, is movable to other fret locations.

It’s my understanding that classical guitar is the only discipline that discourages players from using their thumbs to fret notes.

I say, “Hey, it’s like having one more finger!

So there you have it.

No pain, no gain.

Let that be a lesson to you.  ;)

© 2014 Matthew Woodward