Friday, February 7, 2014

Baby Steps: Clean Up Your Act

Hello again, folks.

I apologize for the delay in material - I had to adjust to life as a full time graduate student as the semester just started a couple weeks ago. As some of you are aware, I also offer private instruction in person as well as via Skype or its facsimiles and this venture has been keeping me busy as well.

On that note, one thing I've spent a lot of time with all of my students recently is muting. Muting is a very fundamental aspect of playing an electric guitar. The more gain you dial in to your amp, the more you will need good muting technique.

Important Note: As I continue in my explanations, please note that when describing notes above and below the one you are playing, I am refering to “above the string" and "below the string" in the sense of the ceiling and the floor.

Muting with your picking hand:

Your right hand is capable of muting all the strings at once by resting the side of your hand flat on all of the strings. For further clarification, by "the side of your hand," I mean the part you would hit the brick with if you were so inclined to karate chop a brick in half. Weird example, I know, but what if we only want to mute some of the strings while we play on others?

The side of your picking hand's thumb is an excellent surface to mute with. Whereas a softer surface wouldn't stop the sound completely or without significant pressure, the side of your thumb is a hard ridge formed by the bone in your thumb. It is relatively easy to use this part of your thumb to mute the strings above the one you are picking. This will only be possible if you are gripping the pick correctly.

To grip the pick correctly, hold your hand out in front of you and point straight ahead with your index finger. Now, curl your index finger so that it points at the floor, but do so by bending the second and third joint of your finger and not by bending the first joint that connects your finger to the rest of your hand. Next, use your other hand to put your index finger on the outer side of your index finger so that the pick points in the same direction as your fingertip and a little bit of the pick goes past your fingertip (1-2mm?). Finally, use your picking hand's thumb to clamp the pick to the side of your index finger. This is the correct way to hold the pick and you will notice it is much easier to mute with your thumb now.

Important Note: you will not be able to employ this technique while strumming, only when picking notes.

Okay, so far you already know that your right hand is used to mute the strings above the one you are picking. We can also use it to mute the strings below the one you are picking by using our right hand’s middle and ring fingers that have been floating around, doing nothing. This is particularly easy to apply to single string lines.

    1      +      2     +     3      +     4     +

Above is a Ritchie Blackmore-esque open string pull-off line on a single string in sixteenth note triplets. When I pull-off the notes on the B string, it’s going to be easy for my finger to accidentally hit the high E string since that’s the direction I pull-off, especially since this is kind of a fast lick.

So, how do I fix this? Aside from muting with my fretting hand, I can also let the middle finger of my right hand gently rest on top of the high E string while playing this. Very simple to apply in this example, gets dicey when you are changing strings frequently which is why I will typically only use this extra layer of muting for legato playing or single string lines like the one above.

Muting with your fretting hand:

You can also use your fretting hand to mute every note at once by lightly resting your fingers over the strings so they cannot vibrate. Picking muted strings like this in combination with a wah wah pedal is a popular effect used by many, for instance Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine uses this idea during "Killing in the Name Of", during that build-up. You know which one I'm talking about.

Again, we may not want to mute all the strings at once. There are certain cases though, where we may want to mute all of the strings below the one we are playing...

    1     +     2     +

Another fast sixteenth note sextuplet lick, this one borrowed straight from Eddie Van Halen's very famous "Eruption". Upon attempting this, you may notice that when you pull-off those notes on the G string, you accidentally flick the B string by accident and cause it to ring out. This can be avoided if you leave your index finger fretting the fourth fret of the G string, but allow the bottom of your index finger to gently touch and mute the B and high E strings. It is in this manner that your fretting hand can be used to fret the strings below the one you are playing.

You aren't limited to your index finger, either - sometimes you may end up using your middle or ring finger to mute in this manner too.

Generally speaking, whichever finger is fretting closer to the nut (that's the thing that lines up your strings near your tuning pegs) is going to be able to mute the strings below the one you are playing on without accidentally muting notes you want to play.

Now, that covers the majority of muting with your fretting hand. We now know that the bottom of your index finger can mute the strings below the one we are playing. You can also use your index finger to mute a string above the one you are fretting.

Important Note: This is handy when you are strumming chords and cannot use your right hand to mute the strings above the one you are playing.


A simple B power chord. Logically, we’d use our index finger to fret the note on the A string 2nd fret. If we want to strum this, we will have to mute that low E string or make sure we don’t hit it by mistake. An easy way to mute that low E string is to just “overfret” that note on the A string — that is to say, let your index finger hang a little bit past the A string so that the very tip of your index finger now touches the low E string and mutes it. This is a practical application of muting strings above the one you are playing with your left hand. However, this won’t always work...


What’s the difference, you ask? In this example, I would use my index finger to barre the two adjacent notes on the G and D string. I will not be able to mute the low E string in the manner described above because if I do, I will also accidentally mute the A string!

In this particular example, we wouldn’t really need to mute the E string because the note I’ve highlighted in blue is also an E — therefore we know the pitch “E” is already included in this chord so it would be OK if we added another E, even in a lower octave (i.e. Letting the low E string ring while strumming)

Now, if this were a case where we didn’t want that low E string to ring, we wouldn’t be able to mute it with our left hand’s index finger and so the only other practical way to mute that low E would be to wrap your thumb around the neck and use it to mute the low E. I am not a huge advocate of this technique as I believe that placing the thumb on the back of the neck is a good habit to develop due to the greater mobility and reach this hand position provides. I will talk more about hand positions and changing positions in the next article.

In the meantime, I would encourage you all to go plug in your guitar, turn the gain up a bit and start trying to employ some of these muting techniques to clean up your repertoire. In general, I would recommend practicing with both clean and distorted guitar tones as they can help you identify different weak points in your playing. For muting technique, you want to make sure you have some gain on there because it will emphasize any sloppy or accidental notes and make it easier for you to practice your muting.

As a parting note, it is very useful to record yourself playing at times because you can then listen back and concentrate on listening for any mistakes you might have made. Until next time folks.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Baby Steps: Declaration of Independence

Hey guys. Despite the cheeky title, this article has nothing to do with U.S. history. It does have everything to do with finger independence. This critical aspect of your left hand's development is what hinders the growth of both green-thumb and journeyman players alike.

What is finger independence? It may be easier to describe finger dependence first. Sympathetic tension is a biological phenomenon where one of your muscles will begin to tense and contract in response to another adjacent muscle's contraction. This phenomenon is to blame when you go to finger that pesky open C major chord and your fingers lock up, stiff as a board and unable to fret the chord. Sympathetic tension is not limited to the muscles in your left hand, either -- it can affect the muscles in your right hand as well as the other muscles in your playing mechanism such as your upper back, shoulders, and forearms. You should practice being aware of your entire body when you play guitar so that you can identify and eliminate tension as much as you can. This is much easier to do when you can videotape yourself playing or work with a teacher, but if you are consciously mindful of tension long enough, you will be able to effectively teach yourself correct technique by listening to your body's cues.

A major part of eliminating sympathetic tension comes from developing finger independence. A player with finger independence is capable of moving one finger without the others moving in reaction to it. Observe yourself as you play through one of your songs in the mirror. Do the fingers in your fretting hand move when they are not being used to fret a note? Is it a purposeful movement, i.e. muting unwanted strings? Or is it wasted movement? If the movement did not serve a purpose, you could probably stand to add some of these exercises to your practice routine. I'll repeat my philosophy on technical practice in case you didn't read my previous article; it is a necessary part of your practice routine but it should not be a high priority item. Technical practice is the kind of thing that pays off after consistent practice. Even as little as five minutes a day on a single exercise can drastically and permanently improve your technique after two months of diligence. Spend the first ten to fifteen minutes of practice on technical exercise to warm-up, then spend the rest of practice improvising or learning and perfecting your repertoire.

That said, it's time to show you the first exercise. This is one you have definitely seen before, but listen to me when I say that we are going to practice this one in a way that is probably different to how you have practiced it before. The notation above the tablature ("1 + t a" is short for "1-and-then-a") denotes that you're playing this in straight sixteenth notes, i.e. four notes per click. If sixteenth notes are a bit hard for you to play at your current skill, you may play this in eighth notes by taking two notes per click instead. In either case, pick a tempo that is very slow -- I usually use a metronome set for sixty beats per minute when I am warming up with technical practice and I will rarely push it past eighty beats per minute unless I am extremely comfortable with an exercise and am considering switching it out for a new one.

    1 + t a 2 + t a 3 + t a 4 + t a   

    1 + t a 2 + t a 3 + t a 4 + t a  

    1 + t a 2 + t a 3 + t a 4 + t a  

IMPORTANT: Your fretting fingers should NOT move from the note they last fretted until it is time for them to fret a new note! 

I can't tell you how many times I've seen this exercise listed in countless books and lessons on technical exercises for the guitar. Out of all the times I've seen this exercise listed, only a couple times has anybody ever imparted the all too critical advice, "Don't move each finger until it's time to fret the next note with that finger." This exercise will not impart finger independence if you do not follow this parameter. To clarify further-- once you play a note and release it, the finger that played that note will rest in place, touching the string but not pushing it down to the fret, until it is time for that finger to play its next note. 

This is probably the most important of these two exercises simply for the reason that it can also improve another important skill: synchronization. Synchronization in terms of guitar playing refers to how well your fretting hand and your picking hand work with one another. A problem faced by many intermediate players striving to reach the advanced realm is that one hand -- usually the picking hand -- can play notes a lot faster than the other hand can keep up with. This exercise (and many others) can remedy that, but yet again, we have to use a little known secret.

The "Ready-Fret-Go" protocol will teach your hands to synchronize better. You can practice any song or exercise with this protocol. It has three steps. Perform one step for every click of the metronome. 

    READY: This could be synonymous for rest. Relax. Make sure you muted the last note you played cleanly. Make sure you are not carrying over any tension in your playing mechanism from the last note you played. If need be, you can take two clicks of the metronome for this step, or you could even skip this step entirely once you are very comfortable with the passage.

    FRET: Touch your fretting hand finger to the next note you are going to play at the same time you touch your pick to the string. It's very important to try to touch the string with your fretting finger and your pick at the same time. DON'T touch the string to the fret and DON'T pick the note yet - just touch the string. 

    GO: This could be synonymous for play. Simultaneously push the string down to the fret with your fretting hand as you push through the string with your pick to sound the note. Make that you let the note ring until the next metronome click. At slow tempos it is very easy to cut the note short as there is a longer time between each note whereas at a faster speeds it is less noticeable.

This method can used to turn pretty much any picked passage into a synchronization exercise. I would recommend you use this method when learning new ideas or exercises as you will find that it builds accuracy and control very quickly relative to just simply playing through an exercise for a few minutes. I really can't reiterate this enough, but this is an extremely effective technique and I would rank it up there as one of the most valuable insights I can give new players as a guitar teacher. I would recommend practicing this first exercise in the manner I have described for five minutes every day as part of your warm-up routine if you want to develop finger independence.

Moving on to the next exercise, things will be getting a little more chordal. This is another one of those exercises I have seen floating around many an exercise book. I've seen articles by both Joe Satriani and John Petrucci advocating this type of exercise for finger independence. There are more than a couple variations of this idea that we could employ, but here is the first and simplest one so you can learn the pattern.

    1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3


I apologize in advance. Aside from, "the sound of lurv," which is the C major seventh chord this exercise starts with, these are some pretty ugly sounding chords. Upon playing them you should get the pattern; you play the chord, you swap strings with your ring and middle fingers on the next beat, then you swap strings with your index and pinky fingers on the following beat, and then you shift the new chord down a string on the beat after that. Whenever you practice chords, you should always make sure you are sounding every note in the chord cleanly. To test this, you could play each chord as an arpeggio instead, one note at a time.

No gimmicky secret tips here, although you could still apply the "Ready, Fret, Go" method here as well. There are many variations on this type of exercise which I would encourage you to explore. For instance, what if you changed the order that you switch your fingers, instead starting by switching your index and pinky fingers and then switching your ring and middle fingers after that? What if you changed the pairings to index/middle and  ring/pinky? Or better yet, what if you add a stretch?

    1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3


This simple variation adds a stretch between the index finger and the middle finger, something that would benefit those players who would like to play shred guitar using the three note per string scale fingerings made popular by players like Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen. We could even ramp up the difficulty a little more if we felt like it.

    1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3


Feel the burn, baby. Just kidding, if you feel discomfort or pain in your hands when trying these, stop. Practice the exercise further down the neck where the frets are closer together. You can shift the exercise up the neck towards the nut if you want to progressively stretch your fingers a little more each time. I would recommend approaching it in this way. You should only feel a slight stretch in your fingers though - this is not something you should over do. That said, if you really wanted to go nuts with this you could add a stretch between all four of your fingers (i.e. 12-14-16-18) and this would also be beneficial to your left hand health, but only if you do not overplay it. Once more, I recommend practicing this exercise for five minutes a day as part of your warm-up if you would like to build your left hand's flexibility and finger independence.

Alright folks, that's probably enough for one article. Those of you who have studied classical guitar may feel like I've neglected to include a particular staple exercise for finger independence and I absolutely have, but only because I'm going to give the granddaddy of all finger independence exercises its own article. Thanks for reading.

This article is the intellectual property of, but this information may be freely shared and published so long as the source is acknowledged.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Building Your Arsenal: Five Minutes For Flowing Legato

Alright folks, today's lesson is about a technical exercise I came up with and successfully used to improve my ability to play fast legato passages. It can be used by all levels of guitarists with the correct practice approach. Beginners should treat each bar of music as a seperate exercise in itself and over time, work towards trying to combine them into Voltron.

Before we get into it, a quick word on technical exercises -- while some will agree and some will disagree with me, it is my personal philosophy that technical exercises are a necessary part of your development as a guitar player but they should not be the number one priority in your practice schedule. I would recommend devoting the first five to fifteen minutes of your practice session to technical exercises each day and then spend the rest of the time learning, practicing, or writing music as these activities will have a more beneficial impact on your ability to, "just play".

That said, if you would like to develop long, flowing legato lines in the style of Randy Rhoads or Joe Satriani, consider this a crucial exercise. We'll start with the first three bars. please note that the, "1 + t a 2 + t a," line above the tablature is just another way of telling you to play this exercise in straight sixteenth notes (i.e. count it like, "one-a-noth-er two-a-noth-er... "

Remember: play this at a tempo you feel comfortable playing it at and won't make mistakes frequently.

Descending legato etude in A minor

    1 + t a 2 + t a 1 + t a 2 + t a 

    1 + t a 2 + t a 1 + t a 2 + t a

    1 + t a 2 + t a 1 + t a 2 + t a

Note: The only note you should pick in this entire passage is the first one! I excluded the "p" and "h" notation for hammer ons and pull-offs because it would have been too obnoxious. 

Holy cow, right? How are we going to change strings without picking? This exercise is designed to do two things: improve your pinky and your ability to change strings with hammer-ons. The pinky is an especially weak digit for new and seasoned players alike and so I have designed this exercise to attack the pinky above anything else. I'm going to break this exercise down bar by bar for you.

First bar: You're going to finger all of this with one finger per fret until you get to the last note. This bar in particular is very useful for teaching yourself how to switch between that 1-2-4 scale fragment and the 1-3-4 scale fragment on the adjacent string. Hammer on to that note on the 9th fret at the end of the bar with your pinky as you enter what I would call, "the stretch fingering". 

Second bar: This 1-3-5 scale fragment can be played with your index, middle, and pinky fingers. That is how I would play it, anyways. If you like, you can play it with your index, ring, and pinky fingers, but for me, it is much easier for me to place the stretch between my index and middle finger. If you took my advice and used your index, middle, and pinky fingers to play this bar, hammer on to that final note with your ring finger and continue with the stretch fingering as you go into the last bar. If you used your index, ring, and pinky to play this bar, then play the last note with your pinky. 

Third bar: This repeats the 1-3-4 scale fragment that we started the scale with. If you used your index, ring, and pinky to play the last bar, you will want to use that same combination for this bar. That's fine and dandy, but if you used my recommendation of the index, middle, and pinky finger combo for the last bar, then you will play that 1-3-4 scale fragment with your index, middle, and ring finger respectively. This has the added benefit of working out your stretch fingering in a different way from the last bar, plus you get to practice this commonly seen scale fragment with a different combination of fingers from the first bar.

Did I mention that was only the first half of the exercise?

Ascending legato etude in A minor

   1 + t a 2 + t a 1 + t a 2 + t a

   1 + t a 2 + t a 1 + t a 2 + t a

   1 + t a 2 + t a 1 + t a 2 + t a

Note: Hammer-ons have been notated with "h" and pull-offs have been notated with "p". 

Alright, so this one you can't play with a single pick stroke. Because of that, I have notated when to hammer on and pull-off. This targets the same areas as the previous exercise but adds in a new twist-- when you skip up to the next string, you come back down to the previous string for two more notes before moving on to the next string entirely. 

As for notations on each bar, they are essentially the same as the first half of the exercise. If I could add one pointer about this half of the exercise -- make sure you are hammering on to the next string with your pinky when you I notate to! You will lose a very important part of the exercise if you do not. 

Now, as far as implementing this into your practice schedule, I would recommend you work on this exercise every day for between five and ten minutes. Ten minutes would be more appropriate if you are just getting used to this type of legato technique - you can do two minutes per bar, or if it's really difficult, you can work on a single bar for a week, then move on to the next bar the following week, etc. Once you can play all six bars from start to finish in a fluid manner, you can start practicing the whole exercise for about five minutes a day. 

If you are consistent and use this exercise in the manner I have described, you will notice some improvement in your legato ability in as little as two weeks. If you keep at it for a month or more, then you will really see the difference. Remember, all I'm asking is for you to spend five minutes a day on this once you can play the whole exercise from start to finish with good technique. Five minutes a day isn't much to ask to become comfortable with a style of playing that makes it much easier to play fast passages. Don't forget that there are other scale forms for the major scale that you could also apply these ideas to in order to make fresh new exercises of your own. 

If you enjoyed this lesson, stay tuned as I will be posting a variation on it that will improve your two-handed legato within the next couple weeks.  

This article is the intellectual property of, but this information may be freely shared and published so long as the source is acknowledged.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Baby Steps: Get More From Your Power Chords

Back again.

This lesson is geared towards beginners. My approach with these students is as follows; get them making music as soon as possible. From my experience, when you bog a beginner down with tons of technical exercises and miles of music theory they will lose interest in guitar faster than an Eddie Van Halen tapped triplet. That said, today I'm going to teach you how to get more mileage out of your power chords, but before we begin...

WARNING: The chord voicings contained in this article are designed to be played at high volume & gain settings. They each contain only two or three notes and as such will sound better when distorted as opposed to an open chord or a barre chord which contains more notes that can get "muddy" when distorted.

We'll start with an introduction to the infamous power chord. The power chord is a two tone "chord," but if you want to get technical, the power chord is an interval known as the "perfect fifth." If you wanted to play an E power chord, you would notate that as, "E5". Here are three different ways to play an E5.


   Ex1  Ex2  Ex3

In the above example, the lowest note (aka. the bass note) of each power chord is the root. The root note of any chord determines what you refer to it as. For instance, if you have a major chord and the root of that chord is A, you are playing an A major chord. For example 1, the root is on the low E string. For example 2, the root is on the A string. For example 3, the root is on the D string. Keep in mind that the bass note does not always have to be the root note of the chord, but in all of the examples in this article, the bass note will be the root.

That said, fret the root note with your index finger. You can fret the second note with either your ring finger or your pinky - being able to to both will allow you to choose which fingering will most easily transition into your next chord. If you haven't learned power chords yet, start with your index and ring finger.
Moving forward from our two note examples, we are going to start adding a third note to this simple interval. We'll start with the octave, which is really just another instance of the root note.  These next chords will sound similar to the last set because while these chords may have three notes, they still only contain two tones, "E" and "B". To further explain -- when I say "note," I am referring to a specific instance of a tone in a particular octave and when I say "tone," I am referring to every instance of a note regardless of octave.

   Ex1   Ex2   Ex3

Yes, I know. The difference in sound between this three note power chord and the two note power chord is subtle. That is because both chords contain only two tones, even though the second set of chords contain an additional note. In terms of what you hear, if I could describe the difference in a word, I would call it, "fuller". It is also easier to transition from the three note voicing to the other chords I will describe. When you finger this voicing, you are going to want to play the root note with your index finger and the next note with your ring finger. Use your pinky to play the additional note in parentheses for the previous three examples. This will make it much easier to turn that power chord into something a little bit more colorful, like this major seventh, which we will denote as, "maj7".


   Ex1   Ex2   Ex3

I present to you the easiest way to play a major seventh chord, bar none (pun intended). You would finger this in a fashion similar to the previous example; use your index finger for the root note and use your ring finger for the next note, the perfect fifth. For the first two examples above, use your middle finger to play the additional note in parentheses. For the third example, you can use your pinky to finger the additional note. Hopefully you have noticed that to transition from the three note voicing of E5 into this three note voicing of Emaj7, your index finger and ring finger do not need to move; just your pinky and middle finger.

Now, this voicing is a little sparse compared to the full barre voicings of this major seventh chord. That's because we have omitted an important tone from the chord; the major third. This voicing will still function as a major seventh in a diatonic context and sounds particularly good as the I or IV chord.

Don't know what a I or IV chord is?

Key: C major
Tone:   C  -  D  -  E  -  F  -  G  -  A  -  B

Order:  1     2     3     4     5     6     7
Degree: I     ii   iii    IV    V     vi   vii

We will use the key of C major as an example. I have listed all the tones that make up the key. As you can see, there are no accidentals in the key of C major, which is why I will use it as an example more often than not.

Anyhow, the next row simply lists the order of the notes. "C" is the first tone, "D" is the second tone, etc. I list this to show you that degree (i.e. I or IV) is basically the same thing as the order of tones, except when we talk about degrees we are typically referring to a chord within that scale that is built off of that particular root note. When the degree is capitalized, it implies that the chord is major. When the degree is not capitalized, it implies that the chord is minor. For instance, the IV chord in the key of C major is F major. The vi chord in the key of C major is A minor.

As I stated before, the major 7th chord will sound good as either the I chord or the IV chord. You can experiment with using it elsewhere and try to get some outside sounds, but within the context of diatonic harmony, you would want to use it as either a I or IV chord. Moving on, we'll touch upon the minor seventh next, which we can denote as "m7".

   Ex1    Ex2    Ex3

Fingering these chords is a little bit more difficult. For those of you that took my advice earlier and learned how to finger their power chords with both the ring and pinky finger are going to have an easier time of this; in the first two examples, you will fret the first note with your index finger, second note with your pinky, and the additional note in parentheses with your middle finger. The third example looks very similar to the first two examples, but as you may or may not have noticed, the note in parentheses is one fret higher than it would be relative to the other examples. That is because the fifth fret of the G string does not tune to the open B -- the fourth fret of the G string tunes to the open B. This is different from the other strings on the guitar which are tuned in perfect fourths (i.e. 5th fret = next open string) and that is why you get the difference. Tangent aside, you would finger example three by using your index finger, ring finger, and middle finger to finger the root, second, and third note of the chord respectively.

The minor seventh chord is pretty functional in the sense that you can use it as a ii chord, a iii chord, or a vi chord. This particular voicing does not contain the minor third like the full barre voicing of a minor seventh. This does affect the sound of the chord, but it will also allow you to use this particular voicing of a minor seventh chord as the V chord of a key and still have it fit within the context of diatonic harmony. Normally, you would play the dominant seventh as the V chord because it has the minor seventh and the major third, but in the previous voicing for the minor seventh, we have omitted the major third which is the only two difference between the two chords.

I have one more example for you all today, this one is perhaps the most functional.


   Ex1    Ex2    Ex3

This is a very stripped down version of a ninth chord containing only the perfect fifth and the ninth. Since there are no thirds or sevenths, this chord is ambiguous in the sense that it does not imply a tonality. That serves our purposes as we can use it in more situations. This 5add9 can serve as any chord within a key except as the iii chord or the vii chord.

As far as how to finger this scary looking chord, it's not all that hard. For a beginner, I would recommend trying to finger it by using your index and ring finger to form the power chord (i.e. first two notes) and then use your pinky to fret the additional note in parentheses. This gets a little dicier in the third example due to that peculiarity in the tuning of a guitar I explained earlier.

Some of you may already be familiar with three note per string scales, or maybe you just find it's easier for you to stretch between your index and middle finger than it is for you to stretch between your ring and pinky. If you fall into either of these categories, you may want to try using your middle finger instead of your ring finger. I personally use my middle finger instead of my ring finger to fret these now, but when I was younger it was easier for me to use my ring finger.

Anyways, hopefully this will help you all out. Happy jamming!

This article is the intellectual property of, but this information may be freely shared and published so long as the source is acknowledged.

Friday, January 3, 2014

In the Lab: The Five Step Recording Cycle

Hello again and I hope you all are having a very happy new year. Today's lesson is going to shift away from the land of music theory and into the realm of repertoire rehearsal.

Before we get into what this is about, let me take a moment to explain when you should be using this approach. This strategy is geared towards performing and recording musicians looking to nail a part perfectly, whether the part in question is a song, solo, or just a riff. I use this cycle whether I am preparing to lay down a track, record a video, or play a show. My approach is particularly effective in the recording studio, where there is the smallest margin for error. Without further ado, here is my five step approach for rehearsal.

1. Analyze

The best way to improve anything is by attacking your weaknesses, so start by assessing your strengths and shortcomings. Record yourself playing through the song or passage at its actual tempo. If you can't quite keep up with full tempo yet, that's okay, you can use whatever tempo you've got the song up to. As we continue, I'm going to advise you to practice the song at specific tempos expressed as percentages of this original tempo you tried your first take with.

2. Isolate

Now listen to the recording you just made. It is extremely helpful to slow down the recording as you will be able to hear your mistakes a lot easier. Software such as Native Instrument's Guitar Rig or The Amazing Slow Downer can help you accomplish this feat.

As you listen through your first take, pause the track every time you hear yourself make a mistake. Every time you stop the track, isolate the specific part that messed you up -- narrow it down to a bar or less -- and then practice playing through just that part using your metronome to set a tempo that is much slower than the song normally is, i.e. half speed. Spend at least five minutes isolating just that one part that screwed you up and as it becomes comfortable, you may add in more of the notes that come before and after the specific phrase or bar that messed you up. For example, if you started with just one bar, once you get that one bar under wraps, add the preceding and following bars.

By practicing in this manner, you ensure that you spend most of your time practicing the parts that actually trip you up instead of wasting time on parts that you can already play well. Once you've ironed out that mistake, resume playback on your recording and repeat this step for every other mistake you find.

3. Unify

After you've isolated and practiced all your problem areas on their own, you are going to practice the whole passage in its entirety. While it is faster to correct mistakes by isolating them, you still need to make sure that you are also practicing the transitions between these parts, thus we will now practice the passage in its entirety.

Use a moderate tempo that is just a bit faster than you used for the previous step, say 75%-80% of the tempo you used to record with. You don't have to go crazy here - once or twice through the song at this tempo will do. This is a five step cycle, after all.

4. Intensify

Once you've played through the whole passage a couple times at a moderate tempo, we are going to ramp things up a notch. Turn your metronome up -- I would recommend somewhere between 105-110% of your original recording's tempo.

Why would we do this? Common sense says that if we play a song faster than we are capable of, we will make mistakes. The basic principles behind muscle memory would suggest that if we make mistakes while we practice a song, our muscles will remember and repeat those mistakes. This is correct, which is why we will only play through the song or passage just once at this tempo. We are doing this for the psychological effect; by playing the song faster than it's real tempo, when it comes time for you to actually hit the recording button and lay down your track, you will feel more relaxed because the real tempo will seem less difficult than what you just experienced.

5. Relax

This is the final and most important step. Have you ever spent an hour in front of your monitor trying to nail that tricky guitar solo for your demo track? Maybe a few frustrating nights in front of the mirror making the same mistakes over and over a few nights before your big show? If you reach this point during your practice session, put your guitar down.

That's right. Just put it down. I know it can be hard, but if you continue to stubbornly attempt the passage over and over without backing off the tempo and isolating your mistakes, you will do more harm than good as your technique is sabotaged by tension born from your frustration with not being able to nail the part. You must avoid this. This is why the fifth and final step of the cycle is to put your guitar down, relax, stretch out, and do something else for a few minutes before you repeat the process over again.

That wraps up the lesson. Hopefully this approach will work for you all as well as it has worked for me in the past.

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