Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pentatonic Groupings: Give It The Middle Finger!

Learning the pentatonic positions is an imperative endeavor for any guitar player. All of the great guitar players over the past half-century have used these scales; some players, like Eric Johnson for example, are almost exclusively pentatonic users. A simple way to fatten up your pentatonic vocabulary with little effort is learning how to connect the positions effectively; in this case, we are dealing with groupings of four notes and connecting two adjacent positions.

One advantage to playing the guitar is the ability to choose where you want to play a given note. In the tablature below, we are opting to stretch into the adjacent pentatonic position when playing groups of four. For those who see things more visually, as I do, we are lessening the vertical aspect and opting for a longer horizontal approach; we are also condensing two groupings of four to two strings instead of three. Less string jumping is always desirable, and if we were to maintain one position playing groups of four, we would eventually run into a group of four which travels three strings and has the bottom and top string only carrying the burden of one note respectively. This is inefficient and can really bog down the speed in which you can express a pentatonic phrase.

There is one minor catch to employing this technique, and it's the abandon of traditional fingering. In the jazz realm, most of the players bar fourths and roll their fingers to avoid making a double stop sound. When playing pentatonics in groups you inevitably encounter fourths. With this technique every note gets an independent finger, and although this method can be awkward at first I assure you it makes barring fourths look compromising.

Let me assess the technique and fingering behind the first exercise. It is replicated in the later examples as well.

Example one deals with the minor pentatonic scale and it's adjacent position. Both scales are given, and it would be wise to start seeing pentatonic scales side by side, two at a time; even more if you can handle it. Looking closely at the first group of four exercise, we see that the fingering is immediately different. We are playing the first minor third with a 1&3 fingering as opposed to a 1&4; we are preparing ourselves for the stretch to come. The first group of four in A minor is A, C, D and E, which is played on the E and A strings. The second group of four (C, D, E and G) will be changed. The E string has only one note in the second grouping (the C on fret #8), and the G string which would normally be played on the D string is moved horizontally onto the A string and played on fret #10. This is what now constitutes two groups of four, or 8 notes. See how we are covering those 8 notes on only two strings now?

The difficulty lies in the way we are going to finger and navigate the next sections moving upwards. We are using a 1, 2 & 4 fingering for the D, E and G notes on the A string. The next group of four starts on D on the A string, we will play D and E (a major second) with the 1 & 3 fingers and then G and A with the same exact fingers on the D string. This fingering reveals itself when we fret the A note (an octave from our beginning) with the third finger and then drop our middle finger down to play the E note on the A string a fourth below. This isn't a constant, we didn't employ this method for the first two groups because our minor third fit a different fingering but when playing fourths it is favorable to use the third finger for the higher string and drop down a fourth using your second (middle) finger. This will take some getting used to and isn't the easiest thing to explain without demonstration. Take refuge in the fingerings given and you will see the benefit of the seemingly demented fingerings. Shawn Lane used this method because it increased his dexterity and speed, and we all know what a monster he was. There is also the video I've uploaded which demonstrates the examples being played at a moderate tempo. It can be found under: Keith Whalen - Groups of four and the middle finger.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Whalenarpeggiation: A naive salutation. (circa 2002)

Every aspiring guitarist or songwriter will eventually have to provide an answer to the extemporaneous questioning concerning influences. A cultivated musician will (more often than not) supply you with a profusion of names that traverse style and stumble upon one another, but I believe that a musician's primary influence is ineradicable from his/her approach and sound. In my case the culprit is none other than Jason Becker. How did you miss it?

Marty Friedman's speed-metal venture, entitled 'Cacophony', was my initial introduction to Jason's ability as a guitar player. Marty is an incredible guitar player but when I heard the newcomers opening solo in the song 'Concerto' my musical life changed forever. Never before had I been exposed to such high caliber playing; a sound that combined musical proficiency and a preposterous degree of dexterity. The duo performed on a level that rivaled Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouillet of Racer X but won my favor with their classical suggestiveness. 'Concerto', 'Speed Metal Symphony' and 'Images' were my top three songs, and all of them contain some of the wild sweep-picking I was beginning to be infatuated with.

Jason's solo records are probably the best place to examine his musical breadth. 'Perpetual Burn' was aggressive and passionate; 'Perspective' no less so, but saw his depth soar to new heights. During the recording of 'Perspective' Jason was already dealing with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (commonly named after Lou Gehrig); his physical capabilities had been diminished but his soul and compositional brilliance are apparent in every cut. 'End of the Beginning', which features Michael Lee Firkins on guitar, was my immediate favorite with its mixture of classical form and uplifting guitar melodies. We can only imagine what Jason would have sounded like playing through 'Serrana' and 'Life and Death' in their entirety. I remember the first time I saw him playing the arpeggios from the former, it was unreal; it was exultation I wasn't to experience until I saw Shawn Lane play for the first time. That experience led me to the resulting tablature you see below.

At that stage in development, as a musician and as a guitar player, I wasn't entirely familiar with sweep picking. After spending a few months learning his songs and eventually the Serrana arpeggios, I became completely obsessed with the technique. When I got my hands on a copy of Guitar Pro I began keying in arpeggio exercises that I had written down by longhand. I was never (and still not) very adept at time signatures and musical notation, so I just found ways of stringing my exercises together in a mock perpetuum mobile method. At one point I had named the file "Must Add One Arpeggio Exercise Every Day Until I die". A little excessive, perhaps. 372 bars, 17 pages and many months later I decided to stop. But I assure you that the inspiration I took from Jason has never left me dry for ideas. I continue to write in that dramatic and impetuous manner to this day, and oftentimes I will blog about it.

Thank you Jason Becker, for your gentle demeanor, your sense of humor, your unsurpassed guitar playing and for your contributions to our art. You have my own personal reservation (Marty Friedman's as well) alongside the masters of the classical realm and will always be at the zenith of my guitar heroes. Now let's sweep away!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Counterfeiting Blumenfeld

It's been quite a while folks. In fact, the longer the hiatus the more burdensome finding inspiration becomes; at times it felt like there wouldn't quite be a return to form. Considering the illuminating investigation (and musical translation) of the Slonimsky text, it has proven to be difficult to offer something as novel or singular. Working on something new - especially amidst work responsibilities, social and romantic endeavors - is sometimes near-impossible. For the delay, my sincerest apologies.

Although I haven't denuded the Holy Grail of guitar lickery, I did stumble across a beautiful slew of arpeggio ideas while digesting Felix Blumenfeld's piano Etude Op. 3 No. 1. In all sincerity, I can only attribute the first example to the etude, but with the beauty of the work resounding in my head I went on a hunt for new sounds. At new costs, too.

One thing of significant importance is to look for stimuli outside of guitars, guitar playing and guitar players. Or, at times, even outside of music! How will I tackle the arpeggio formations of Paganini or Wieniawski? Is Blumenfeld, Henselt or Alkan playable on our instrument and how? How can I duplicate piano, violin or vocal ornamentation? All of these questions are valid and will arise as you broaden your musical intake, especially if you attempt to translate the language onto the guitar.

I'll explain each example in sequence and try to simplify their hazards. They expand in length and laboriousness toward the end; the last two are 32 note patterns! Don't mind the time signatures of 22/16 and 32/16, they were implemented to force perfect repeats in GuitarPro. I implore you to make use of any information imparted here, no matter how small. Take what you need and shed what you do not.

Etude exercise:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Exotic Modes

For the sake of argument, I would consider most scales outside of the harmonic major/minor modes to be pretty exotic. I still have a hard time remembering the tensions and names of all 7 modes of the melodic and harmonic scales; it's a lot of material. Why introduce new material then, you ask? Firstly, because the sounds are nothing short of provocative. Secondly, after practicing exotic modes, you will return back to the simpler minor modes and they will seem very approachable. The honest truth is that you don't NEED to assimilate every scale and mode possible into your musical vocabulary, but becoming acquainted with the sounds and shapes of new modes is never a bad endeavor.

The format is simple: I have four scales to introduce, each containing 7 diatonic modes - except the 8-Tone Spanish - who's bebop oriented architecture has 8 notes. The tabs will show the scales ascending the fretboard in 3 note per string patterns, which is favorable to memory and practice, although it's not the standard academic approach toward scale playing. It also offers a good challenge and stretch, something I think everyone should work on. In the final bar of each mode is the corresponding chord written in symbol form.

Neopolitan Minor: The Neopolitan minor differs from the natural minor in two places, it has a flattened 2nd degree and a raised 7th; you can also view it as a harmonic minor scale with only a flattened 2nd degree.

Neopolitan Minor: 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7
Lydian #6: 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, #6, 7
Dominant Augmented: 1, 2, 3, 4, #5, 6, b7
Hungarian Gypsy: 1, 2, b3, #4, 5, b6, b6, b7
Locrian natural 3rd: 1, b2, 3, 4, b5, b6, b7
Ionian #2: 1, #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Altered bb3, bb7: 1, b2, bb3, b4, b5, b6, bb7

Neopolitan Major: This scale differs from the Ionian mode (natural major scale) by a flattened 2nd and 3rd degree. Visually, the first 3 notes resemble the Locrian scale, while the rest fits into place with our naturally occurring major scale. Its only distinction when compared against the melodic minor scale is the flattened 2nd.

Neopolitan Major: 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Lydian Augmented #6: 1, 2, 3, #4, #5, #6, 7
Lydian Dominant Augmented: 1, 2, 3, #4, #5, 6, b7
Lydian Minor: 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, b6, b7
Major Locrian: 1, 2, 3, 4, b5, b6, b7
Altered natural 2nd: 1, 2, b3, b4, b5, b6, b7
Altered bb3: 1, b2, bb3, b4, b5, b6, b7

Persian Scale: The Persian scale is very cool and offers a very distinct sound; it is heavy on chromatic (half-step) intervals. Its closest relative is the 3rd mode of the harmonic minor scale: the phrygian dominant. The Persian scale has a flattened 5th and a natural 7th by comparison. I have yet to find modal names for the scales.

Persian scale: 1, b2, 3, 4, b5, b6, 7
Mode 2: 1, #2, 3, 4, 5, #6, 7
Mode 3: 1, b2, bb3, b4, 5, b6, bb7
Mode 4: 1, b2, b3, #4, 5, b6, 7
Mode 5: 1, 2, #3, #4, 5, #6, 7
Mode 6: 1, #2, 3, 4, #5, 6, b7
Mode 7: 1, b2, bb3, 4, b5, bb6, bb7

8-Tone Spanish Scale: The addition of an extra note causes a great deal of confusion. Some people may say this scale is the 7th degree of the minor bebop scale but I visualize it as a Locrian scale with an extra chromatic note. So we can double up on the third and have both the flattened 3rd and natural 3rd. Either way, this scale is very fun to play and in the examples I went to town playing the modes in thirds.

8-Tone Spanish Scale: 1, b2, b3, 3, 4, b5, b6, b7
Mode 2: 1, 2, b3, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Mode 3: 1, b2, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7
Mode 4: 1, b2, 2, 3, #4, #5, 6, 7
Mode 5: 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, 7
Mode 6: 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7, 7
Mode 7: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, 6, b7
Mode 8: 1, 2, b3, 4, b5, 5, b6, b7

Happy woodshedding!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Some Blog Licks" tabs

Lick 1 (0:00 - 0:10) : When I first started experimenting with writing my own music and exercises I started a notebook called the "Licktionary". I've filled three notebooks so far (the newest one being quite large) and the first two augmented licks here are taken from them. Augmented exercises are great for stretching and the intervals are uncommon compared to the standard things most of us practice. The short triad burst played on the G string is alternate picked but as for the notes on the upper E string, your best bet is to play with a legato touch.

Lick 2 (0:11 - 0:24) : The motive is revealed on the high E string and you can see how I wanted to play a similar lick higher up the fretboard. Here we can opt for a sweeping approach and I like to split it in halves. See it as a sweeping attack on two sets of three strings; the first shape is on the E B and G and then you'll descend and finish off on the low E A and D strings.

Lick 3 (0:25 - 0:39) : Essentially I created the next few arpeggio licks only to double up on the triad shared on the A and D strings; each pattern descends and has a repeated motif there. Eb minor and A minor share an appearance, and being a tritone apart gives this lick a very menacing tone. By the way, if anyone is interested in hearing a great piano work relying heavily on tritones you should look into Franz Liszt's Dante Sonata.

Lick 4 (0:40 - 0:54) : Same concept but here we have B minor and F# major. I like to use an aggressive upstroke on the A and D strings to play the repeated motifs. It is important to harmonize the rigid upstroke technique with the fluidity in the right hand during the sweeping motions.

Lick 5 (0:55 - 1:08) : The crux of this lick happens on the G string, where you will be playing F and F# twice but with two different fingerings (check the tablature). Why would we want to do such a thing? The descending pattern is in groups of 4 and that always requires some weird fingerings, I actually think some of the most obscure fingerings work best in these situations. If we didn't opt to switch to the first and second fingers the second time we would be stuck playing the next note with our pinky, which is always an inferior choice when we're looking into speed playing. Freeing up the right fingers is a crucial aspect of playing fast and if you go over my tabs on the blog there are many occasions when the exact same scale sequences are played with different fingerings. Absolutism does not exist in fingerings; we should choose wisely and develop proper habits. However, unconventional matters require a fresh approach.

Lick 6 (1:09 - 1:22) : An incredibly tasteless and tedious example which may or may not impress your friends. The object here is to spread your wingspan and keep the motion consistent, which is actually pretty tough to do. Big diminished stretching going on here, with the outermost notes being tapped with the right hand - index or middle finger, the choice is yours.

Lick 7 (1:23 - 1:30) : This is similar to the tritone arpeggio mix found in lick #3, except we're moving down a whole tone (or major second) each time.

Lick 8 (1:31 - 1:42) : This is probably my favorite of the bunch because it has more musical appeal. The lick mixes the earlier doubled-up triads and it also benefits from the modal climbing approach I love so much. If you look at the modes of the Eb harmonic minor scale you will see where the notes were plucked from and why they fit well. Sweeping on the descent works best; try and aggressively play that motif on the A and D strings and the climbing is done with a mixture of raking and picking as per the instructions from the mode climbing blog.

Lick 8 (1:43 - 1:50) : Ah, my favorite major scale, the Lydian. We're off racing in groups of fours this time and we have a good stretch up on the B string. There are some weird fingerings lurking about but I guarantee that they'll work best once they become assimilated.

Lick 9 (1:51 - 2:03 : Although there are more examples in the video this is all I have for tabs. This last one can be climbed using hammer-ons or even hybrid picking if you want a good challenge.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Melodic Minor and Harmonic Minor Modes

The melodic and harmonic minor modes function exactly like their major counterpart, except the intervals vary slightly and the modal names are significantly harder to memorize. The Ionian scale, which is the modal name for our universal major scale, is the parent to 6 other scales which are considered modes. The easiest way of envisioning and understanding the way modes work would be to play the C major scale on a piano: playing C to C would be your Ionian mode (W-W-H-W-W-W-H), playing D to D while still remaining on all the white keys would be your second mode, the Dorian mode (W-H-W-W-W-H-W). Inevitably these scales (while containing the same notes) will have a different feel because the intervals have been shifted into new places; for example C Ionian has a major third and the D Dorian mode contains a minor third and is a minor scale. Also, the chords which fit underneath the scales can be found by playing the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes of the mode, the relating 7th chord. If we were to take the 1, b3, b5 and b7 of the Locrian scale we would have a m7b5 chord, which is exactly when we would opt to play the Locrian scale. Here is a list of the major modes and their tensions as reference:

I - Ionian - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (M7) *(Alterations are based on the major scale)*
II - Dorian - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7 (m7)
III - Phrygian - 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7 (m7)
IV - Lydian - 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7 (M7)
V - Mixolydian - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7 (7)
VI - Aeolian - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7 (Natural minor scale) (m7)
VII - Locrian - 1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7 (m7b5)

Now I'll write out the tensions for the Melodic and Harmonic minor modes. The tablature provided also has the chords and a few chord-melody examples for the two modes. The Melodic minor is actually just the major scale with a flatted 3rd but obviously it creates a hugely different feel over the course of 6 additional scales. The Harmonic minor is exactly like the Aeolian mode but has a raised or natural 7th.

I - Melodic Minor - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7
II - Dorian b2 - 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7
III - Lydian Augmented - 1, 2, 3, #4, #5, 6, 7
IV - Lydian Dominant - 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7
V - Hindu/Mixolydian b6 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7
VI - Locrian natural 2/Aeolian b5 - 1, 2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7
VII - Super Locrian - 1, b2, b3, b4, b5, b6, b7

I - Harmonic Minor - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7
II - Locrian #6 - 1, b2, b3, 4, b5, 6, b7
III - Ionian #5 - 1, 2, 3, 4, #5, 6, 7
IV - Dorian #4 - 1, b2, b3, #4, 5, 6, b7
V - Phrygian #3 - 1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7
VI - Lydian #2 - 1, #2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7
VII - Altered bb7 - 1, b2, b3, b4, b5, b6, bb7

There are many more scales that make great and usable modes: the Harmonic major, Neopolitan major/minor, Hungarian major/minor, etc. I'll get around to posting those ones soon enough.