Up until last week things were progressing nicely. I put down more drum tracks and bass for a few more songs. Then I found out that my cherished partner had been diagnosed with cancer… We are hoping for the best but until she is back to good health, the foot will be taken off the gas regarding anything guitar related.
So I swapped the pickups in my violet PRS from covered 59/09s to uncovered 85/15s. The syrupy/wah-type quack I get from the 57/08s isn’t quite there but the sound is less muffled, harmonics ring out more easily, I can hear every note in a chord (very articulate) – it’s been a good decision. Here are some pictures!
Shiver me timbers, we’ve got to navigate this fretboard!
I’m not going to go into all the basic theory because there are a “bazillion” references out there. I’ll try to keep this concise.
The core musical constructs I use are the (major scale) modes (I actually learned these first!), the pentatonic shapes and arpeggios. I dabble in others but those are the core elements.
Here’s the main tip. Learn how to play in any key starting both from the root note starting on the A string and the E string. So say you have to play in E minor. You can go up to the 12 fret on the E string(s) and play the shapes you’d like. Let’s take E dorian, as an example. If you want to play E dorian around the 7th fret area, I (personally) remember that E dorian in the 7th fret area is super-imposed over the B Aeolian shape (referencing B on the low/high-E string at 7th fret).
Similarly, if I wanted to play E lydian in the 7th fret area I know it is super-imposed over B major in the 7th fret area.
This covers a LOT of fretboard ground when you know the shapes to either side, as well. You can then progress to find the root note anywhere on the fretboard and know which shape to play for any given mode or pentatonic etc you want.
Remember the two main points which will vastly accelerate your technique:
– wherever you feel tension, hone in on it and eradicate it.
– always “follow through” with motions (which in turn makes things feel natural and less tense). Think about a golfer – full swing back and follow-through once the ball is hit (no, I don’t play or watch golf).
These two above points will force your technique into something very natural feeling, where you barely have to think about it. Makes sense, right? Why would you want your playing to feel unnatural?
If you practised for 10, 000 hours you’d be a monster player. You have it in you, already! Why not get there sooner? Every one of you is already a guitar legend – you just have to work smart in order to get there. There are certain ways to do things and when you do it’s like a light-bulb has gone off. Follow the above two points in general and you should advance faster than normal.
A lot of people have trouble with their pinkies when it comes to legato. I see their hands look so cramped! They think that if a passage is fast it’s difficult – their brains go into overdrive and it all turns into a disaster. Let me tell you, when you can do it, it’s not so difficult (duh!). It should almost be like walking on air… smooth and free-flowing with no tension. But to get there don’t be afraid to DIG IN and make mistakes. If you are scared of hitting wrong notes, tensing your hand up and not following through with motions, you’ll never improve. So, to the pinky. When you play up at the high frets, what does it do? I bet all your fingers try to squeeze together, right? So your pinky moves toward your forefinger? Don’t do that! Keep your pinky such that it naturally pushes out to the right of your hand. You want natural feelings (not sexual healing – get practising, instead!!), not to be forcing your fingers into positions you think they ought to go. Feel free to ask questions on this.
Now, picking… Focus on the STRONG muscle motions. This usually means your DOWN PICKS! For an age I focused so much on my up picks that I neglected my down picks, they became weak. I do not advise this. You want to keep the strong motions strong and everything else will follow from that. Try to pick as much as you can from the wrist – that’s the bit that is capable of the widest motion and has the most strength. For so long I focused on how it felt for the thumb to push through the string during a down stroke and yet for the upstroke it was like the thumb had to drag itself back. Not good enough – follow the thumb back to the biggest muscle or motion mover or whatever you want to call it – and that’s the wrist. That doesn’t mean follow it back to the forearm – forearm movement isn’t really desired. Why? Because of upward and downward pick slanting and how you have to change the slant depending on where your pick is relative to the strings and what lines you are playing (inside / outside picking etc) – the best way to change the slant is to change your wrist so I say do it all in the wrist. Yes, this “pick-slanting” might sound like an alien language but it’s true. I may elaborate in future but in the meantime I highly recommend you check out Troy Grady’s video series which explains this in length (and is very entertaining). And note I am not talking about angling the pick at 45 degrees in order to dig into the strings and provide less resistance when picking – that is something entirely different.
Lastly, don’t take anything anybody else says as gospel as players are always developing. Try things out and see if they work for you…
Next up? A little theory (fretboard navigation and my unique way of doing it). Until then…!