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WORMHOLE GUITAR | Compound Arpeggios No. 1

Posted in columns, wormhole guitar with tags , on October 16, 2014 by dukewisdom
Compound Arpeggios No. 1

Compound Arpeggios No. 1

What about it?

“Compound Arpeggios No. 1,” as the name suggests, comprises a series of arpeggios glued together, a confluence of patterns which yields distinctive results, both melodically and in terms of fretboard execution. The chords outlined here are linked up based on neck geography: The last note of the first shape (Gm) is a half step away from the first note of the next shape (B) and so on. This mechanical closeness is what adjacent chords have in common, as opposed to being unified by key. Taken as a whole, then, the pattern is tonally ambiguous, lacking a gravitational center. If you dig in, however, you’ll notice that alternating chords go together: Gm, F and Am (chords 1, 3, 5 in the sequence) all belong to the key of F major; B, F# and G#m (chords 2, 4, 6) belong to F# major. This internal logic keeps the thing from sounding entirely chaotic.

Why bother?

First of all, these two measures function as an exercise. If you’re one who practices arpeggios, chances are that you’ve worked with straightforward major or minor triad-based patterns. Those sound great and are easy to apply. But here we have material with peculiar twists and turns which melds chords in various inversions. The unfamiliarity of the structures will make the music more challenging to perform at first. And honing dexterity never hurt any guitarist. Next—and more importantly—compounding arpeggios as a concept is meant to make you think outside the confines of standard guitar procedure. We’ve all heard those guitarists who out of habit—though dazzlingly—trot out the same old sweep patterns in solo after solo, which is ultimately as interesting as wallpaper. The idea is to get creative and fashion new patterns that work inside the music you’re playing. What’s more, the concept can be applied to composing ear-twisting riffs or unearthly melodies. This theory, by the way, was inspired by Nicolas Slonimsky’s mammoth Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns

A note on picking: There are multiple ways to approach this example; the indicated pattern employs a combination of alternate and directional (sweep) picking.

Click here to download a PDF of “Compound Arpeggios No. 1.”

Wormhole Guitar is a journey through time and/or space. Maybe. 

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ARCHIVE | Black Ops Guitar No. 5: Skeletons

Posted in archive, columns with tags , , on May 31, 2013 by dukewisdom

Black Ops Guitar was a column that appeared on Hardenedmagazine.com starting in 2009. It disappeared in a mysterious site crash. Or maybe the feds got to it.

Figure 1

Figure 1

skeletons_figure2

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 3

What about it?

Whereas Black Ops Guitar Nos. 1 – 4 are expressly devoted to making your fingers move in unfamiliar ways—even at the sacrifice of melodic/musical value—B.O.G. No. 5: Skeletons aims mostly to flex the brain. What’s displayed here is not a physical exercise, per se, but a mental one, designed to make you examine familiar material in a new light. There aren’t even any microscopically detailed picking/fingering instructions, if you can believe that. As is often the case, this subject presupposes that you know and understand how the diatonic modes work and fit together on the neck.

The gist of the Skeletons concept is to create new scale shapes by placing arbitrary spatial restrictions on existing forms. Huh? Take a look at Figures 1 & 2. By capitalizing on the guitar neck’s inherent geometric nature, you can derive some unusual sounding patterns by playing only the scale notes in, for example, a three-fret radius. So, while the base Ionian fingering (1.1) spans four positions (II-V), playing only the notes on the third through fifth frets yields a “skeleton” of the original (1.2).  The same goes for the Dorian mode (2.1 resulting in the very boxy 2.2) and all the rest.

Technical note: These forms are only “skeletal” insofar as they are mutations of guitar-based fingerings. There is nothing melodically “outside”: All of the scale tones are represented, just not in the normal order. For instance, in the case of G major, you’ll notice that G, A, B, C, D, E, F# are all accounted for, just juggled.

Why bother?

One of the goals of the Black Ops series is to inspire new guitar habits. These are often in the form of new physical gestures that come from practicing uncommon patterns, but also manifest themselves in new ways of thinking about the guitar neck. Because they cause the scale tones to appear in a peculiar order, these “synthetic” fingerings have unexpected intervallic jumps—which is entirely the point. By building wider leaps into the source material of the fingerings, you’ll likely play phrases unlike anything you’ve previously conceived. Figure 3 is an example of a line improvised using this method. Not exactly typical rock and roll licks, right?

Use this approach when improvising, creating melodic themes or riffs. As with most of the ideas laid out in this series, the present concept is merely a catalyst: While taking this essentially visual approach to playing, be sure not to miss the sound of what you come up with. Internalize the atmosphere of these new, alien phrases and how they resonate against a chord progression. Then call on these boxy shapes to help, uhh, break out of a box.

 

ARCHIVE | Black Ops Guitar No. 4: Bizarpeggios 1

Posted in archive, columns, writings with tags , , on May 30, 2013 by dukewisdom

Black Ops Guitar was a column that appeared on Hardenedmagazine.com starting in 2009. It disappeared in a mysterious site crash. Or maybe the feds got to it.

Black Ops No. 4

Black Ops No. 4

What about it?

Only four little measures, you may be thinking. Right—four measures of eyebrow-raising, finger-contorting mayhem! Alright … that might be overstating it a bit. Bizarpeggios 1 is a logical extension of the previous Black Ops Guitar entry, Arpeggio Exchange 23. At first glance, it may appear that there isn’t anything logical about it—but bear with me. The piece at hand continues with the concept of fluid sweeping across six strings and, as such, the same performance tips will apply: 1. Pick with a smooth, continuous motion while maintaining a consistent pick angle for the ascending and descending sequences. 2. When fretting the notes, roll through the chord shapes with minimal movement, keeping your wrist dropped and thumb toward the middle of the neck.

Regarding those shapes: The succession of names may look more like chemical nomenclature than a chord progression. Without going too far into the vortex of music theory, as chords have more notes heaped upon them, their names can become increasingly ambiguous, sometimes to the point of confusion or uselessness. A three note chord has fewer naming permutations than one with five as with those here; these chords are simply given their least tedious names regardless of original conception (more on that later). One other point is that three of the four chords are inversions, which is to say some other note than the root or namesake is the lowest of the set; just because the chord implied in measure 1 starts with an A, does not necessarily mean that it’s most logically characterized by an A root.

Why bother?

As ever with Black Ops, the point is to teach your hand new gestures and your ear new possibilities. The fingerings here are rather awkward and the sonorities unusual. But practice the four measures for the next 15 minutes and, like learning a C chord for the first time (uh, you do know a C, don’t you?), the moves will become easier. More importantly, work on Bizarpeggios 1 for the next week and the shapes and sounds will become natural and internalized. To lift the shroud, this pocket etude is based around a D minor tonality; play the arpeggios over a D pedal tone and hear how they make musical sense. Then, once digested, apply them in everyday life and become approximately 2% more snazzy than the run-of-the-mill guitarist next door.

ARCHIVE | Black Ops Guitar No. 1: Cross Section

Posted in archive, columns, writings with tags , , on May 30, 2013 by dukewisdom

Black Ops Guitar was a column that appeared on Hardenedmagazine.com starting in 2009. It disappeared in a mysterious site crash. Or maybe the feds got to it.

Black Ops Guitar No. 1 - 2009

Black Ops Guitar No. 1 – 2009

 

What about it?

Cross Section is ugly. You shouldn’t listen to it. You should use it to drive away vermin or relatives. At any rate it’s still beneficial  for your hands. There are two key points of focus when working out this fragment. First, the fingers of your fretting hand should move smoothly through the formations as opposed to being locked down on some grotesque four-string shapes; each finger frets a note as it is picked and then moves on to its next assignment. This will ensure that single notes are being played, not sustained, ringing tones. It will also ingrain independence, strength and dexterity in finger gestures. Second, your picking motion should be even and fluid, the pick gliding across the plain of the strings in one movement. Attempting to pick each note with an individual motion will yield a choppy mess that goes entirely against the point. Watch those picking instructions closely, particularly on the descending section in measure four.

Why bother?

Independent fingers save lives. Independent fingers repair the economy. Yeah, ok—independent fingers are simply a big plus for your playing. The ability to move easily across the strings with both hands will boost speed and precision in any type of playing. This exercise is essentially one of sweep picking, but that doesn’t mean you have to aspire to being a “shredder.” Good technique is just good technique. Melodically, the thing is an atonal pile of junk, unusable in any diatonic context. And that’s alright—the idea is to dig into the method itself, practically divorcing yourself from the thought that this particular set of notes has any musical application.  
Black Ops Guitar is a nasty little series of exercises. Use them to your advantage, then deny they ever existed.

ARCHIVE | Grace & Fury #4: Take Five

Posted in archive, columns, writings with tags , on May 30, 2013 by dukewisdom

“Grace & Fury” was the name of my teaching studio from about 1994 through 2000. It was also the name of an online guitar magazine I operated. In late 2007 I resurrected the name for a column I was contributing to Heavy Frequency magazine. I had planned for a series of six articles, but before I could complete them the HF staff decided to cease operation (uhh … purely coincidental, I’m sure). For posterity and the sake of archiving I’ll repost them here.

Intro

Hello there. Ready for some jargon-infested musical minutiae, trifling details, and technical nitpicking? Then by all means, step right in! Ok, it won’t be all that bad. In reality, if you’ve been following Grace & Fury (or would like to jump back to Grace & Fury #1 and catch up) hopefully you are noticing that the attention to such details as are always presented is adding up to a different touch and approach to aspects of your playing. Alert! Incoming pomposity: the great Andres Segovia said, grandiosely, “It is always about discovering what, hidden, does not lie on the paper.” Huh? He was referring to the importance of the interpretation of a piece of music, the value of not just rotely playing notes, but making something great out of what is essentially a set of instructions. But the same could be applied to these exercises: to internalize the principles that repeatedly appear in these pieces – not to simply play the notes – is to grow as a musician. And that’s what we’re talking about.

Principles

I know what you’re thinking: what does a Paul Desmond jazz standard have to do with anything? We’re not talking about that Take Five. The “five” in question here refers to the pentatonic minor scale, that warhorse of a musical building block which has served so many a guitarist well. Whereas we’ve previously explored and exploited somewhat more melodically complicated fodder (fancy scales, weirdo arpeggios, if you’ll permit my theory talk) the workout here is based around, of course, five notes. Take Five is so far the shortest piece presented in this series in terms of number of measures, number of notes. The intervallic formula for this scale is root – minor 3rd – fourth – fifth – minor 7th; compared with previously used diatonic scales, pentatonic minor is sort of an exoskeleton. The holes in the scale (the missing 2nd and 6th) give it a less strict definition. This simplicity is part of its universal appeal.

Short and simple though this bit may be, the piece still covers some ground. The structure of Take Five is based around the concept of “pedal point.” This is a term borrowed from the pipe organ discipline where an organist may sustain a constant note by holding down a foot pedal – and I don’t mean a Crybaby wah-wah. This held note serves as an anchor of sorts, atop which various musical ideas unfold. In our example, the pedal tones (E ascending, A descending) function as pivots to which the other notes of the scale bounce back. You’ve likely heard such sequences many times; now to play one.

Fretting

While a pentatonic scale is certainly very simple to play, its use here is stretched to the extreme – literally and figuratively. While the pattern starts with the ring finger on the pedal point, before measure one is even out a subtle shift takes place with the index finger assuming that position. There are multiple points where consecutive notes on different strings (adjacent and non-adjacent) are fretted by the same finger. This is not to say that the fingertip actually jumps about. Instead, pressure must be rocked back and forth. Notes should not ring out; even in the case of measure two where the G and E notes are both played on the 12th fret by the index finger, the strings should not be held down as with a barre chord.

On the descending half of the exercise (measures three through six) the pinky serves as the pivot with the other fingers passing down through the scale. Generally, picking is the most difficult aspect of string skipping, but here the fingering gets demanding too, as the rocking gesture combines with some wide stretches, culminating in a seven fret, six string reach over the interval of a 20th.

Picking

Take Five is a strict alternate picking workout – down, up, down, up all the way. However, those downs and up (bi-polar picking?) cover up to six strings. I’m always preaching economy of motion, but a certain amount of movement is necessary to simply pick the low E followed by the high E. Try to keep the pick moving smoothly through the plane just above the strings. As mentioned previously, strings are, in reality, very small – there is no need to get bogged down by digging in deeply with the pick. Use only the very point of the plectrum to play the pedal points.

Conclusion

Should you throw this lick in the next time you’re jamming on Johnny B. Goode? I’m not sure that’s advisable. Again, it’s not the notes themselves, but the principles and gestures introduced to the brain and hands that are important. Spending some time with this (or any) exercise will give your fingers new habits that will spice up your playing and increase your vocabulary. And that, friends, is how you incorporate Segovia, Paul Desmond and pipe organs into one article on guitar playing.

Take 5 - 2008 Van Horn

Take 5 – 2008 Van Horn

ARCHIVE | Grace & Fury #3: Infinite Diminished Labyrinth

Posted in archive, columns, writings with tags , on May 30, 2013 by dukewisdom

“Grace & Fury” was the name of my teaching studio from about 1994 through 2000. It was also the name of an online guitar magazine I operated. In late 2007 I resurrected the name for a column I was contributing to Heavy Frequency magazine. I had planned for a series of six articles, but before I could complete them the HF staff decided to cease operation (uhh … purely coincidental, I’m sure). For posterity and the sake of archiving I’ll repost them here.

Intro

Welcome back to Grace and Fury – thanks for clicking in. In this edition we will continue to build on ideas from previous columns, incorporating such techniques as directional picking and string skipping. Whereas preceding musical examples derived digital difficulty through somewhat standard sounds, the ten measures below will twist the ear and the hands with the dissonant dementia of the diminished scale. This installment’s title may sound like a medieval torture chamber, but hopefully it won’t feel that way. It may sound a bit ugly – or maybe you’ll love it. In the end you’ll assimilate yet another new set of moves into your bag of tricks.

Principles

As mentioned, this piece exists entirely within the diminished scale. In prior articles, musical examples have been derived from seven note diatonic scales. See HF February 2008 for more. The diminished scale, on the other hand, is octatonic, containing eight notes per octave. While diatonic scales are made up of a combination of whole and half steps (a half step being a distance of one fret), the diminished scale has a symmetrical construction. Its formula is a repeating sequence of whole step – half step. In the included exercise the notes are, accordingly, A – B – C – D – Eb – F – F# – G#. In a sense, the diminished scale (like its white bread cousin the whole tone scale – six notes per octave a whole step at a time) is something of a “stunt scale.” It sounds slightly exotic and unusual. Also, owing to its symmetry, it can be moved three frets (the interval of a minor third) up or down and still be the same set of notes. It can be easy to get lost in the infinite diminished labyrinth. But once you understand how it fits together with other scales the applications themselves can be infinite.

By the way, now that the diminished scale has been described, it won’t actually be played in the accompanying piece. Why did I waste your time? That’s just how I get down. Actually, the patterns contained are derived from and based on the diminished scale. The basic building block of the Diminished Labyrinth is (note-to-note) root – minor third – flat fifth, or with respect to the scale, first note, third note, seventh note. This pattern repeats, moves and mutates around the noted three fret distance.

Fretting

This piece contains wide stretches and angular intervallic leaps. As such, the middle finger is never used (unless perhaps directed at the author). Stretches of three frets which would normally be assigned to the index and pinky fingers now often use an index-ring combination in context. As ever, keep the wrist dropped and thumb planted loosely at the middle of the back of the neck. While transitioning between positions make sure to keep fingers close to the fretboard, paying special attention to the vestigial middle finger. Even though it isn’t being used it should not be flailing about and wasting energy.

Picking

If you’ve been slaving away over previous entries such picking as directed here may be becoming second nature. Looking at just the series of down- and up-strokes may may be a baffling proposition. However, once the concept of directional picking (the economic and logical choice of stroke) is absorbed, the picking instructions won’t even be necessary. One pitfall of sweeping across adjacent strings with a single swipe, of course, is the tendency to become rhythmically lax. Make sure to pay special attention to keeping steady. Try to practice with a consistent source such as a metronome or grandfather clock. The metronome will be adjustable and portable, of course, so you might want to lean in that direction. Use compact picking motions for precision always and speed when necessary.

Conclusion

It was mentioned above that diminished patterns fit with diatonic patterns. Try superimposing the Labyrinth where you might normally use a minor scale. This example has several notes in common with the minor scale, notes which can be seen as points of departure and return. Even if you don’t necessarily grasp all of the theoretical hoopla, working in such patterns can lend an air of sophistication to your playing. For a completely mind boggling discourse on similar musical ideas hunt down a copy of Nicolas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns.

Infinite Diminished Labyrinth - 2009 Van Horn

Infinite Diminished Labyrinth – 2009 Van Horn

ARCHIVE | Grace & Fury #2: (not) Rocket Science

Posted in archive, columns, writings with tags , on May 30, 2013 by dukewisdom

“Grace & Fury” was the name of my teaching studio from about 1994 through 2000. It was also the name of an online guitar magazine I operated. In late 2007 I resurrected the name for a column I was contributing to Heavy Frequency magazine. I had planned for a series of six articles, but before I could complete them the HF staff decided to cease operation (uhh … purely coincidental, I’m sure). For posterity and the sake of archiving I’ll repost them here.

Intro

Welcome again to Grace and Fury where we attempt to synchronize six strings, twenty-odd frets, two hands, ten fingers and one brain over space and time with a high degree of accuracy. Sounds pretty challenging, doesn’t it? Though our purpose here is to address challenging and technical topics, it’s not rocket science, after all–it’s just guitar. This month’s installment will approach the ever confounding technique of string skipping. Mind you, this is discussion is not about difficulty for difficulty’s sake. The ability to apply this concept is musically valid and creatively inspirational. The 12 measures below will serve as a primer to get the hands in the habit of hopping across the neck with grace (and fury, of course).

Principles

This piece is based in the key of C major. A key signature (that little Rorschach Test of flats or sharps next to the clef) indicates the key of a piece of music. The absence flats or sharps, as in our example, equals C major (the set of notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B). Changes to this series are shown by flats or sharps – known as accidentals – within the music (as in measure 11). The first eight measures basically walk a pattern through fingerings of the diatonic modes of C. Don’t let the m word frighten you; modes are very easily understood. If you picture the notes of any major scale in a circle, those same notes in the same order but starting at some other point than the root (first) note can be called a mode. It is plain to see that D, E, F, G, A, B, C – aka D Dorian – is the same set of notes above called C major. By barely altering the same basic stuff, we get a new name, a new sound and, as it applies to (not) Rocket Science, new fingerings.

Deep breath. With me? Good.

The remaining measures imply the chord progression Am7, C, D, and G7. An implied chord is one that can be assumed in context without literally being spelled out in full, as introduced in the add 9 ad nauseam column.

Fretting

Those familiar with such things will recognize the fingerings of the Ionian, Dorian and Phrygian modes. Sound Greek to you? They are. As a matter of fact, Plato and Aristotle made references to said musical topics as early as 350 B.C. (No charge for the Western Civ lesson …) Knowledge of these scale forms is useful but not essential to playing the piece at hand in specific and navigating the entire neck in general.

Keep finger movement to a minimum by using compact motions. Having digits flying around will slow you down in the long run by introducing wasted energy into the system. As always, it is helpful to let fingers and forearm be relaxed when running through shapes and moving between positions. Also, keeping the wrist dropped will help with fretting accuracy by allowing fingertip access to all notes. Once the geography of the whole piece is familiar to you it will be easier to play smoothly as the fingers will, in a sense, know where they are going next.

Picking

This is the most difficult aspect of string skipping. It’s one thing to execute the fingerings here, but the simple fact that strings get in the way as you try to attack other non-adjacent strings can cause frustration and bog you down. With regard to picking the single most important tip is about the tip: use only the very point of your pick. At the very largest, your heaviest string is probably in the neighborhood of .056 of an inch thick. It doesn’t take much more than that depth to sound the string. In other words, there is no need to be digging into the strings half a plectrum deep to pick a note. This applies to all single note playing, really; it’s all about eliminating friction and unneeded motion. It stands to reason that if you are barely breaking the plane of the strings it will be easier to jump from one to another.

Technique aside, the picking directions will also be helpful in making things smooth. Play as written to discover the and ingrain the directional logic. (Hey, it sounds better than “do as I say, it’s for your own good, man!”) Keep your wrist loose and use small motions – remember the string is also only .056 of an inch across.

Conclusion

Once you digest the concepts of (not) Rocket Science you’ll be able to develop your own variations and personal mutations. If you spend enough time working up the ideas, skipping strings will be a natural, subliminal addition to your bag of techniques, a colorful element that will spring up in your writing and performing.

(not) rocket science - 2008 Van Horn

(not) rocket science – 2008 Van Horn