the official website for guitarist Jason Martin

Guitar Workout

Hey Everyone,

Starting back in 1995, somewhere around September I picked up the guitar after being inspired to play by watching one of my friends play a Metallica the main riff to a song called “Seek & Destroy”. It was from there that I decided to pick up the instrument myself and within’ a good month or so I was hooked. I’ve been playing guitar now for about 15 or 16 years and as I’ve evolved as a musician, so has my practice regimen. I’m constantly learning new styles or music and developing new exercises to work on every chance I get. The following blog is based on and inspired by Steve Vai’s 30 Hour Guitar Workout and is intended to break down the guitar into sections that will not only help you take your technique to the next level, but quite possibly work your mind into discovering how music can work so that you can use it to create anything you want it to create.

I believe that if you were to take a look at yourself as a guitar player, you could probably lump yourself into one of these three catagories. 1.) A casual player who uses the guitar solely as a vehicle for writing songs 2.) A Working musician who is relatively accomplished and dedicated to a life with their instrument, and 3) A player so insanely obsessive about their instrument that at any moment are in pursuit of attaining spiritual enlightenment by discovering their own unique abilities and talents with the instrument that they are able to present their skills effortlessly, with no apparent bounds.

There is no one category that is better than the other, but odds are that you probably fit into one of them and really, no matter which category you belong you should be able to take advantage of this blog by taking from it whatever you can grab on to.

Workout Philosophy:

Ideallistically, everyone should feel as if they will be able to possess the ability to create whatever they wish on the instrument, but to do so requires not only dedication, but a knowledge of how the heck to do that. There are certain tools that musicians can use to do this to help them become well rounded individuals and ability to discover their own voice and develop their inner ear.

The workout is geared for people who love a challenge and really want to master their instrument. The concept behind doing this is relatively simple. Start by taking a riff, a scale, or a song and playing it… very slowly. If you make a mistake, start over. Repeat this until you can do it over and over flawlessly. My personal regimen or practice if I’m in a rush is 5 times perfect, but to get it really locked in the head I recommend putting in 2 or 3 hours gradually speeding up the tempo with each mastery. Once you have reached a desired speed, try it faster… and then slow it back down to that pace. You’ll notice that it suddenly became easier without having to do much.

This doesn’t necessarily help you become a better musician or songwriter though. That is something you have to be born with or have to be taught. In any case, I’m sure we all know someone who can really rock their axe like there is no tomorrow but if you heard them play a riff they wrote you might just shake your head. Discovering yourself and deciding what you really want to say is my only advise for anyone out there who wants to write music but doesn’t quite know where to start.

Before You Begin:

Tune your instrument. This should go without saying, but you would be suprised at how often even as a musician I’ll jump into a session thinking my guitar is still in tune from the last time I played it. All it takes is one note before I realize this is not gunna work until everything is lined up just perfect. You’ll see various tunings thoughout your playing career, and not all of them are in A440. Some of them (including a couple of my favorites, Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell”) are tuned to A435 or A445. My thought on this was that originally they were recorded in tune, but then due to tape to CD transfer the pitch was altered and was changed on accident.

Focus. The most important thing you can do while playing is really focus on what you are doing. Focus is often times even more important than the song or exercise that you are trying to accomplish. If you are getting ready for a lesson, gig, rehearsal, songwriting session, no matter what it is going to be your personal responsibility to commit yourself to getting done what you are about to do. Understand the attitude that you are trying to present, the frame of mind you want to be in, the intended goal you are trying to acheive, and then discovering that mental strength. You can do it, it’s all in the mind and as long as your determined and convince yourself that it’s possible, it will be possible.

Categories:

The breakdown for this blog will be divided into categories that breakdown the fundamentals of playing guitar into an approach that will give you the ability to narrow down what it’s time to focus on. These are:

1.) Exercises
2.) Scales
3.) Chords
4.) Ear Training
5.) Sight-reading
6.) Composing/Songwriting
7.) Music Theory
8.) Jamming

A lot of the descriptions that are within the workout are going to be given the amount of time that you should spend on each one before you move on to another and will be directly relected in your playing ability. The breakdown is reflected on what I feel is a good insight on what you should be doing to become more well-rounded as a guitarist, but realistically isn’t the end all be all at all. There are plenty of other resources out there in terms of internet websites, instructional DVDs, books or magazines that can help you out as well and may explain things in further detail than I can at this time. One of the things that I can say would be a good thing for any musician to do is to log their practice time. It may not work for everyone, but is a great apprach to finding out where you were at to help figure out where you want to be going.

Finger Exercises:

These should take about an hour of your time and played on a rotational basis between the other fundamentals of playing. If this were a 30 hour workout, you would play these exercises on hours 1, 11, and 21. All finger exercises are great for dexterity, control, and speeding the fingers up to match what the mind wants to do. If you would like, I would recommend playing with a drum machine, techno album, metronome, or anything that can carry a beat. Perhaps even a foot tap to keep you in time. Start off slow, and gradually speed these exercises up until you have total control over your fingers. As well as gaining speed and control, take a look at some of the other aspects of your playing such as experimenting with different picking positions and dynamics. It may take a while, but if you were alternate picking for example up down up down, once you have your exercise mastered try to push yourself but picking up down up down, or something different.

There are thousands or exercises out there for all different purposes. In this workout we’ll be taking a look at exercises in these categories:

1.) Linear
2.) Angular
3.) Hammer-On and Pull-offs
4.) Alternate Fingers
5.) Tapping
6.) Sweeping
7.) Multiple Picking

Linear Exercises:

The first one that I learned, and the first one that I often show people is the Chromatic Scale or 1234. This refers to the order that you play the frets or also which fingers you should be using. 1=index 2=middle 3=ring 4=pinkie and follow the frets that you are playing. I tend to assign a finger to each fret naturally, but this is also a great way to eliminate the hunt and peck method at a more rapid pace.

There are plenty of variations of this exercise such as 1324 1432 or any combination you could think of. One that might be interesting to try out is alternating 1234, 2341, 3412, 4123. This can be done on a single string or on each individual string. Note, this may not sound cool at all. But it’s not intended to be Mozart or Slayer anyway so don’t sweat it. Once you have the idea down you can take it up the neck by using a method called “position shifting”. 2nd position would refer to the 2nd fret, 3rd position the 3rd fret and so on. Exhaust all the patterns of the four note sequences and make sure that you work your weak spots the most. The same approach can be applied to 3 note per string patterns. As well as 2 note per string patterns.

Angular Exercises: This one really makes no musical sense unless you wanna sound like a broken piano, but it really helps get your fingers crossing along the strings so that you can soon catch the distance between strings without having to think twice about anything. The first one lays the fingers across the fretboard in a diagonal pattern and can be played using either sweep picking or economy picking. Economy picking just being alternate picking, Sweep picking being a constant up or down stroke. Follow each diagonal pattern by lowering the position and then repeating down the neck. If you run out of strings, play the remaining notes on the remaining string while imagining extra strings coming out from above or below the neck depending on which direction you are coming from. Then reverse the angle and do the same. The same idea that we used in the 1234 pattern by plaing it 2341 or similiar can be used during this excercise only on a digaonal level this time. This may take time, but try not to get frustrated. Odds are it’s not gunna sound good anyway so dig in and have fun with it. To divide your exercises into an hour of playing time, devote 30 minute to Linear Exercises and the next 30 minutes to Angular Exercises.

Hammer-ons and Pull-Offs

The Hammer-on is a technique where you pick a note (either open or fretted) and then sound a higher note on the same string using one of the fretting fingers to strike tap the string like a hammer. The Pull-off is primarily the opposite, but you actually pick the note first and release the note (sometimes by plucking off but also can be thought of as pulling the fretting finger in towards your palm) to the desired note behind it. One of the things that you can do to practice hammer-ons and pull-offs are permorming trills. A trill is a rapid continuation between two notes on the same string and using the two techniques in combination. Start these exercises by starting index to middle for one minute in a trill fashion. For the second one try index to ring for one minute, followed by index to pinkie for the same amount of time. Finally, change fingers and see if you can work the ring to the pinkie in there as well.

Alternate Fingers: See how many combinations you can come up with using the same technique until they sound smooth or legato.

Tapping:

If you’re interested in two hand tapping you can include this into your hammer-on and pull-off practice time. What I like to do is find a chord or a scale and hammer-on and pull off between the first two intervals and then throw in a third note sounded by tapping the right hand onto the next tone. Or if you wanted to modulate the chord for example from a Sus2 to a Sus2#4 you can practice alternating between these two tones as you hammer on and pull off with your left hand. Another trick would be to change the direction or variation of the hammer-on/pull-off technique. One of the things that you might want to look into as well would be string skipping. The science behind skipping strings could be described by learning how to play scales on a piano. If you were to take a linear scale on the high E string and bring it on down the neck starting on the upper register, by the time you travel down 3 tones you should be able to shift your following pitch up to the G string in remotely the same area depending on the scale and then again for the A string. Kind of like an arpeggio.

Sweep Picking:

Speaking of arpeggios, a lot of times I get questions regarding these from someone who is say interested in some of the newer metal bands such as Avenged Sevenfold, or possibly some of the great virtuosos like Joe Satriani. The technique used to get an arpeggio into a lightning fast swoop using one motion is called sweep picking. Learning how to spell chords is going to greatly enhance your outlook on how to use this technique, but I also recommend learning how to play them slower at first so that each note rings out clearly and gradually increase the speed until it becomes one fluid motion. One of the tips that I’ve been given is to try playing these with a light touch at first so that your pick doesn’t stick and in my personal sessions I tend to use the term “wing flap” quite a bit as well as a swooping pinkie motion that thinks the motion though to the last remaining hammer-on about 5 notes before it’s been put into play. Avoiding using a barre is some good advise for those who might actually see the sweep first as a chord shape that looks familiar.

Multiple Picking:

One of the ways that I first discovered how to play fast was by playing what I thought a song sounded like first with my right hand, and then bringing in the left at it’s own pace. What I was really doing here was a technique called double or tripple picking. That really just refers to how many times I was actually playing the note even though in my ear that’s how my mind wanted the piece to go. You can actually put this into practice picking each notes four and possibly even five times a piece before moving on to the next note. Develop this technique through the same methods I mentioned earlier where you alternate pick, then move to downstrokes and then reverse what you are working on to just upstrokes.

Scales:

After an hour of working on your picking technique it’s time to focus on the 2nd hour. This hour can be repeated during hour number twelve and twenty two if you want to focus on turning this into a thirty hour program. Practicing scales sounds really boring when I mention it, and if you ever wanna turn someone off just show them you know how to play a pentatonic scale or worse a major scale. This is not to say that these scales are not worth practicing though there are plenty of benefits from practicing scales and one of them is the way that you can actually memorize the sound of a scale so that you can use it later on when you would like to build a mood or atmosphere.

One of the things that you could say that I learned from Jimi hendrix by listening to Band of Gypsies or even in one of my early guitar instruction courses is to harmonize or sing the note that you are playing… as you play them. It will help you internalize the scale and your mind’s eye will see the spot your trying to hit sometimes before you even hit it. This will help you paint a mental picture of what the tone sounds like and you can reach back to this for example when you are about to imprvise a solo. With all things though this may work to a disadvantage if you go to play your solo and all you do is work the scale back and forth down the strings without any thought or imagination.

Learn to play as many scales as you can in as many positions as possible. Shoot to play them in as many octaves as possible as well. Use fret markers or octave patterns to guide you when you’re transposing if you haven’t already learned the conventional or sweeping pattern for the scale you are trying to accomplish. Keep in mind the different scale degrees that are available as well as the modes will help serve you especially well when dealing with chord progressions. Play each scale forwards and backwards (ascending and descending) until you have it mastered and are ready to move on. One of the ways that I started to pick these up was by shredding them three or four notes at a time until I could knock it back and forth no sweat. As you do this don’t just look at the finger pattern but really try to focus on the spelling pattern as well. Once you’re ready, move on to the next mode in the scale but don’t cheat yourself into thinking you’ve got something that you don’t really have. If you mess up, start over. One of the techniques I taught on of my first artists who just got signed was to train yourself by looking in the mirror. I don’t really do this as often as I used to, but watching your fingers in the mirror may possibly help you learn to play without looking down at the fretboard as well. Try to play your scales as effortlessly and gracefully as possible or in whatever way looks and feels right.

One of the things I’ve started bringing into my sessions recently is an interval exercise using the major scale in a three note per string pattern by alternating the distance between tones to create a method of understanding that also sounds melodic. The first one is an ascension in thirds. The thrids are neither major or minor, but in the key of G for example if you move from G to B to A to C to B to D to C to E down the pattern you can tell what I’m speaking of. G to B is a major third, A to C is a minor third, etc. Once you’ve mastered this in the sweeping pattern, try taking it into a conventional pattern to add a new feel for the tones. Not only will the tendens in your fingers benefit from this, but your inner ear will develop and create a sort of ear-training wisdom as well. After you’ve played the pattern in thirds, try playing them using a perfect 4th between tones and after you’re done with that, do the same thing using a perfect 5th interval between tones. To really have some fun with this, play the same exercises backwards.

After you’ve played these using the intervals, take the scale and move it up note to note starting with a triplet feel moving three notes at a time. G A B, A B C, B C D, and on and one until you finish off your sweeping or conventional pattern. From the triplets follow this by adding a sixteenth note feel by playing four notes at a time and doing the exact same thing. When you are finished with that, to get even more mileage out of your scale try playing it by using harmony as an ear-training exercise moving it up the next frist using thirds, then 4ths, and then 5th intervals. Just in case you get bored with this, think of all the different scales, modes, keys, positions, intervals, and melodic intervals that exist so you don’t run out of possiblities.

If you have the access to a recording device try to record yourself as often as possible as well. The more experience you have doing this, the easier it will be to create the sound you like or head in the direction you are aiming for as well. Since I grew up in the mid nineties I have always wanted to avoid sounding to polished. I encountered this problem on my first album on my first track “Skate, Rock, Die”. The original solo sounded so 90210 I was embarrased to play it for people and luckily I learned advanced editing that enabled me to crop that out later so that all the stuff that sounded too polished got cut. I really do follow an old school punk rock mentallity when trying to create a sound which is one of the reasons “Cryptic” or “Welcome to Hell” sounded both melodic and anarchistic at the same time. Eventually playing your scale should become second nature and you should be able to extract whichever elements you wish at any time you’d like to pull them out. You’re neighbors should thank me as well.

Pentatonic and Blues Scales:

The five-note minor pentatonic scale and hexatonic minor evil twin blues scale form the foundation for the vocabulary or most modern rock lead metal playing today. The minor pentatonic is spelled 1 b3 4 5 b7, and the blues scale is spelled the exact same way by adding the blue note or as I’ve mentioned in other blogs as the Black Sabbath tone or flat 5th sounding 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7. There are 5 “box” patterns that you should learn that are derived the same way that the modal scales were sectioned off earlier by starting on the next tone up. Minus a box pattern on the b5 tone the same 5 patterns works for the blues scale as well. One of the first things that you should notice about the minor pentatonic is the relative major that it’s based off of that is used by playing the same tones but centers around a different root tone. Really, if you are playing an E minor pentatonic scale over a G bass note you are actually playing a G major pentatonic scale. The next step you can take is to play the same box patterns you have with E minor and the hexatonic blues scale and centering them over the same spots as the G major scale and moving that up the fretboard.

Other Scales:

A scale can be as simple as two notes or as complex as 12 notes. The chromatic scale is an example of a 12 tone scale. each scale has a different tone or color and there are numerous scales to choose from to start practicing. One of the tricks that I use is to create my own scales by taking a simple scale such as the minor scale and then a more complex scale such as the hungarian minor and then combining the two to create a hybrid scale. Once again, the opportunities are limitless. Another one of my recent favorite scales is the Hirojoshi which just sounds down right sick if you can avoid the oriental influence. Pick up a book of scales if you haven’t yet learned how to spell to get you working the aura of new scales on a consistant basis.

Synthetic Scales:

How many people do you know that have no idea what the heck they are doing but sound really good on the guitar? Oddly enough what these guys are doing if they arn’t playing a rip off from a song or another persons style is making up there own scales. A lot of times I’ll do this when I wanna create a new sound. It can be something simple or complex, just use a specific interval pattern. For example 1 3 #4 5 6. I have no idea what this scale sounds like, but by looking at it I can already start to pull chords from it. Use your creativity to get the sound that you want and build the next note off the previous one. Some of the other scales that are more common are the melodic minor, harmonic minor, whole tone, augmented, and diminished scales.

Chords:

Chords will be worked into the third hour of this breakdown and once again, if you wanted to turn this into the thirty hour exercise you could repeat your chord practice on hour 13 and 23 as well. Chord breakdown areas include:

1.) Memorization
2.) Strumming techniques
3.) Improvisation

Dedicate 20 minutes to each to fill in the entire hour full of chord study.

Memorization:

Learn your chords! Buy a book, look at the chords in your song, learn to spell, learn the weird chords. Now set a goal, for example if you can commit to learning five new chords per day you’ll build up a solid vocabulary in no time. Listen closely to the sound of the chord as you play it. See if you can picture the colors that the chord is creating. Is it happy or sad, etc. and really try to memorize the sound of the chord.

Learn the type of chord quality. For example once you get beyond the major and minor chords you’ll bump into seventh, dominant seventh, 9th, 11th, 13th, sus2, and a plethera more that will add new voicings you can internalize and use at will as well. Learning how to spell chords is more theory than anything and that should also be looked at when you are focusing directly on theory, but once you got it it’s really easy to move the intervals around to create different textures that work well together or in place of each other.

Strum your chords clean, gentle, abrassive, agressive, brutal, or however to get the amount of attack that you are trying to achieve. Work your problem areas by testing any note that might not sound due to positioning.

If you don’t know a lot of chords, don’t worry… there are tons of songs out there with a simple 3 chord structure that you can take and rearrange to create your own voice as well. Some of the songs that I find I’m working on sometimes seem to have the goal of making the easiest song humanly possible and keep a solid finger down the entire time to create a pivot finger to revolve around.

Strumming:

Strumming techniques arn’t necessarily easy to teach if you don’t know in your head first what you want to do. Sometimes following someone is a great way to learn a rhythm and if they can break it down for you that might work even better. If you don’t have someone there for you to rattle off the down up patterns there are numerous books out there you can study to learn these techniques. One thing that you want to keep in mind when strumming is that you are trying to create a groove. Focus on a continuous momentum and work off that until either the left hand catches up, or slow your right hand down until your left hand can match it. You can always use a drum machine, record, or drummer to help you work your strumming patterns as well. Keep focusing on making the sound clearner with every strum and you will get better.

Try to stay locked in to your rhythm and stay in your groove until the progression becomes natural and you can do it without thinking. Keep the chords moving clean and if it makes sense, try to step outside yourself so that you are almost inside the same room looking down at yourself doing what you are doing. This is somewhat supernatural, but really I would relate this to trying to have a conversation while strumming. Not always that simple, but with practice you can get tighter and tighter.

Once you have gotten locked in with the rhythm you’ll just know. It’ll feel good and you’ll just know it. From here you can break up the rhythm by adding an alternate syncopation so that the chords don’t seem so stiff. Another idea might be to play in front or behind the beat to get the sound you are after.

If you’re playing with a metronome, one of the things that you can do is try to “bury it”. By bury it I just mean that if you hit your strum dead on you might not even be able to hear it cause you’re so locked it. by hitting the notes so dead on you’ll be rewarded with the satisfaction that only a feeling a musician can feel. Not many people can understand that, but it’s a great feeling to have. When you’ve finished you can add genres to fool around with that have unique tempos as well. Salso, flamenco, rock, ska, punk, reggae, etc. and vary the tempos to generate new ideas as well. Sometimes just working an idea faster can change the entire stucture into something that you can tweak just a hair and have something you can truely call your own.

Improvisation and Experimentation:

You have probably used a bit of creativity doing most of these exercises so far and are already experimenting with new chords. One of the ideas that you can use to help you come up with new chords is to take an easy chord that you already know and alternate one note up or down a fret. When you find a tone you like, stick it in your back pocket and use it and pull it out when you’d like to work it into a progression. Take numbers from a series (such as a telephone number or abstract numerology) and use them as scale degrees for a chord. Think of an emotion, and try to work a chord until it sounds like the feeling you are trying to evoke. Use open strings, wide finger stretches, natural harmonics, notes fretted with the fingers on the picking hand or whatever you can think of. All of these will help you come up with unique chords.

Ear Training:

This will kick off the 4th hour and well… if you are goin’ for it it can also come in on the cycle practicing this section on hours 14 and 24 as well. If you toss aside everything from this blog, ear training section is probably the most important. Training your ears is the most crucial element in making the connection between whats going on in your mind and what is coming out of your fingers. The pay offs are well worth the effort so I advise as much ear training as possible to really reap the rewards of self accomplishment on your instrument. These next few exercises takes up back to what I mentioned earlier about singing along with the notes you play.

Imporvise words over the notes you are playing. It doesn’t have to sound good, but the pitches need to be accurate. Work the notes until you can sing them with ease.

Start by singing a note, and then trying to play it using your voice as a point of reference. This might be difficult, but imagine how much your ears will imporve once you do this.

Sing a harmony over the notes you are playing. These can be exercised by starting by playing a 5th, or a 4th, major or minor 3rd, or whatever until you are able to sing on harmony perfectly to an atonal solo. Understand that if you’re not a natural, it may take a while to develop this skill. One of the times I can remember applying this in practice was during one of my first band sessions where my singer vocalized the riff to “Stone Cold Crazy” and I somehow managed to replicate it immediately on the guitar.

Memorize the sound of the intervals. This should be a little bit easier for the metal players because a lot of metal or new metal really reaches for the interval tricks off the root tone to create a unique sound. One way to do this is to record the interval on to a tape, wait a few seconds and then speak the name of the interval. Fill up an hour long tape and then while listening back to it you can test yourself by trying to name the interval before you say it during playback. do the same thing with chords.

Transcribe everything you can get your hands on. It may sound like an impossible feat to accomplish, but the more you write, the more you’ll understand. I use transcribing as a way to ground myself when I don’t have my guitar around. It’s a great way to think about music while you may not have the ability to jam right away. carry manuscript paper with you, and write melodies based on anything you might be thinking of. Name the notes in your head as you write them if you are using tablaure. Carry songbooks with you as well. These fit great into guitar cases if you don’t carry too many of them at once. Otherwise I recomment a backpack.

I don’t know if I can emphasise enough how important it is to play along with albums as well. This can be whatever you are working on, or whatever you already know. If you know how to play something already and you can jam along with it, you are putting your ear training into practice by playing along.

Reading Music:

Work these exercises as the next hour or 5th hour. Sequential the 15th and 25th as well. Some of the advantages to reading music are being able to play music that you have no clue how it goes and then picking it up immediately. Or being able to play an entire album from the first note to the last note back to back. Or just expanding your knowledge of the instrument. The more you pick up, the more you’ll get. One of the things that may help you even as you become a more advanced guitar player is to pick up a beginning guitar book that can give you a starting point that will graduate you into understanding harder melodies in the future. Continue sight reading until you can do it perfectly. Build up a reperotoire of material to play on a daily basis.

Sightread something new everyday. Really try to sketch yourself out to push the envelope a bit. If you run out of ideas try a random tab mentality and no matter what random track you land on, force yourself to learn it. Better reward if you play the song first and then realize afterwards that you actually knew the song to begin with but you just didn’t know what the name of the song was.

Be sure to slow down to a pace that you can understand. Use a metronome or a drum machine and then practice the piece the entire way through, speed up the tempo and then re work anything that you may have missed the first time around. Do this until eventually you nail all the tricky spots that you couldn’t get the previous runs.

Writing Music:

If you’ve made it to the 6th hour, you can practice wiriting music on the 16th and 26th hour as well. You may even want to put in extra hours into this as well if thats what you reall want to do. Writing music is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a musician. If you would like to build a catalog of your own original material you can get specific books on music notation and learn the right curves and intricacy involved in prodicing ties, stems, beams, etc. that will help you along the way.

Try using a recording device to bang out your idea. This is crucial to put into practice as once a moment of motivation and inspiration as come it is really easy to lose if you don’t get it down right away. Keep notes on which tones work best for the sound you are trying to accomplish as well. Especially if the moment of creativity refects the tone you “all of a sudden” dialed in that got you inspired.

Find a cowriter. This can be tough, but if you can find someone to gel with it could be a great thing. Even if you’re not on the same level musically it’s always a good idea to develop these communication skills and learn everything your friend knows to create something new and powerful.

Try to write from something that you are passionate about. If it’s death and dementia or butterfies, and rainbows, and moonbeams. No matter, good artwork comes from within and if you have a message you want to pass on I have no doubt that you can express that as you progress as a musician. Things that I’ve written about personally tend to be more on the destructive side, so that’s the music that I like to create. I agree with the thought that good music is hungry and is filled with pain, but since I’d rather nobody go through that I’ll throw out that you can write about political agendas, social media, humor, or really sick humor if you’re witty, and if you can pull it off something that may shock someone because it’s so out of it’s element. You’ll find that you gravitate towards what you’re passionate about natuarally.

Music Theory:

The next hour, hour seven, seventeen, and twenty seven will be applied to this science and I really believe that if you want to learn to play music that learning theory is the backbone for how to use your language. I came from the nineties though and although odds are you may not know the technical skills I posess, in an intentional way growing up I looked away from theory because I wanted my music to be passionate and what I thought was passion was really based out of angst. The idea of knowing what I was doing really kinda freaked me out a bit because I never wanted to put that much thought into it. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I was doing it for so long before I actually started studying that by the time I found an interest in theory it had nothing to do with learning but rather applying what I already knew.

When I study theory I try to think in 3 ways at the same time. Notes, intervals, and patterns. If you need to pick up a book on the subject there are plenty of them out there that teach the basics as well as notation, time-signatures, key signatures, the circle of fifths, chord theory, and modes. I can say that since there are probably a lot of you out there just like me that once you get into it you’ll really get into it and use it on a constant basis. Even if you’re playing three simple chords, if you can understand the breakdown of three unique chords and thoughtfully understand why the chords sounded good where they were placed and the message created you’re doing the right thing.

Jamming:

This section should be given two full hours and we can call these hours eight through ten, 18-20, and 28-30. The techniques that you use when jamming will more than likely sound well with some of the material that I’ve already mentioned, but also may have nothing to do with a logical practice regimen. Some of the things that you can you can do that have an unorthidox approach to playing are working through techniques such as vibrato, note bending, harmonics, whammy bar tricks, and overall dynamics.

Try not to turn this into a two hour session of seeing how fast you can play or woodchopping yourself into oblivian, but use this time to learn to express yourself on your instrument and use the tools that you have internalized thus far even if it has nothing to do with anything that we’ve covered. The outside influences can be channeled here and warped, fixed, and twisted, until ultimately you are in total control of the music that you are trying to create.

Some things that might help you when jamming are working out different vamps in a variety of different genres, grooves, tempos, and time signatures. By focusing on the variety of the music you are working you can really push yourself to help discover certain techniques that you may have never even thought of. It’ll help you understand who you are as a musician because you are being forced into a reactional situation where you are reacting to your own thought process and you’ll see what really gets your blood flowing.

One of the ways that you can work while you jam is to focus on the emotion that you are using while you play. Is it angry, sad, mournful, passionate, agressive, haunting, joyous, cheerful, euphoric, loving, etc. It’s important to be in control of these emotions as you play, but to also be able to emerse yourself fully into that emotion. You may find it very rewarding if you can transmit the emotion from your psyche to the fretboard successfully and maybe even learn a little about yourself while doing it. For example, you are what you play and if you tend to focus on a lot of negative emotions try to stay balanced. A lot of times the music you play becomes your self identity and you can sort of brainwash yourself into becoming that type of person. It’s almost too easy to be miserable and agressive so working different emotions can help bring you out to be the musician you want to be.

Really try to push yourself during this section to try things that you’ve never heard before and try to cultivate your own sound. This may take years to accomplish, but it’ll pay off in the long term. If you catch yourself in the middle of a cliche stop immediately and go the other direction.

Record yourself playing and then listen back to hear what you played to find the tones that you really enjoy. Is there one part where you just ended up going off on a tangent and listening back where you hit one note that really works well? Make mental notes on what works and what doesn’t work even if it was just a one time spur of the moment kind of passage. Turn that into an exercise and re-work your patterns to create something that is unique to you specifically.

Vibrato:

Vibrato is an important tool of self expression that many people use as an extension of their soul. Meaning it really shows off the amount of control you have over your instrument and takes some time to master. There are different kinds of vibrato that you can use to express yourself.

Try playing a note with your index finger and start by slowly increasing the amount of oscillation you like and then transition that into something new such as a faster, or more brutal, or sublte sound until you exhaust all emotions through your vibrato. One way you can get started is by playing these in time rather than just bending a note around. Start with quarter notes, move to triplets, and sexteenth notes, until you get the feel for how to put these in to motion. Then repeat with every other finger. From here, try doing the same thing with two notes, and the three, four, and so on.

If any of you have ever played slide before you may know that there is such a thing as wide vibrato. Wide vibrato expends the pitch back and forth around the note at a larger tension such as a whole step or two whole steps. So next, take your fretting hand and work the amount of pitch bend to introduce an extra exercise into this manner. Try a half step, then whole step, step and a half, and if you can hit two steps, go for it man. One of the techniques that you can use when bending your pitch is to give it vibrato once you bend it up. For example, bend the tone up a half or whole step and then practice the same techniques I’ve mentioned. Next try the same with every finger and feel how much extra strenth it takes to pull on the tension of the string. Odds are you’ll have a weaker finger you’ll wnt to be more attentative to. Take this same approach to different area of the fretboard. You’ll notice a direct difference between the amount of tension it takes to vibrato a not on the first fret as you will on the 6th or 12th fret.

Bending Notes:

Learning how to bend notes up to a certain pitch is a process that takes some discipline and self mastery in the ear training discipline. If you bend a note just for the sake of bending it and have no idea where you want that note to go it really sounds bad. It’s comparible to someone who sings poorly and is a visible weakness if not executed right. To me, the half step bend off the perfect 4th pull off to the minor third snap up to the root in a pentatonic fashion is one of my favorite well hidden tricks that looks common but steps outside the box a little. Bending a note creates a different attitude than just holding a pitch. It can attract emotion along with it so learn to use it with expression.

If you’re down with the mehod so far. Spend an hour bending notes and work them between any distance you want to accomplish. I like to do this pitch practice exercise where I play a note first, and then bend a pitch behind that note up to that note. You can work this in from a particular scale, or just work it however you can hit that target pitch you want to move up to.

Practice unison bends. If you wanted my personal advise I would say to spend more time on these than the previous bends because it requires more strength and since you already have a target pitch in play it will be easier to develop your ear while doing so. To give an example of a unison bend, the most common one, and the one that I can’t still believe people look at me and say “what was that?” is located on the 12th fret of the high E and the 15th fret of the B by placing your index on the E and arching your ring finger to that once it’s on the D note, strike both strings simultaniously and feel the tension of the notes bend up past the major 7th tone from an eerie minor 2nd feel into a well balanced E and E on both strings by moving that D tone up a whole step with your bend. The arch on the middle finger is or primary importance so that you don’t risk muting out the string below it and ending up with one tone. However this is not a souble stop bend, the index finger should stay rooted in place.

Another practice used quite a bit in rock and roll that requires bending happens to be double stop bending. This is just done by bending two notes at the same time. This can be exectuted a few different ways. One of the more common ones I’ve played is the perfect 4th whole step double stop bends. These are just fun and add texture to your style. Sometimes you can apply that some technique to scales for example the pentatonic scale to get extra rich tones as well.

Try bending your notes in both directions to find which one feels better for what you are trying to accomplish. Minus pulling down on the high E or up on the Low E so you don’t fall off the fretboard on accident.

One of the things you can try is to do something similiar to the unison bend where you take and bend one note and on a lower string simultaniously play another note. Some of these can sound like a train moving and is similiar to the sound of a pedal steel in some cases.

When your finished with that try bending the same notes in the upper register. Test your limitations on the lower register as well. If you can bend the F# on the low E up a step and a half to an A you have accomplished a great feat. If you can’t hit it, well… atleast you tried.

Harmonics:

Do nothing but focus on harmonics for an hour. Try finding them in all areas of the neck by lightly touching your finger to the string and then work it along the string to create new textures. This can sound like a flanger or space age sound that can be related to a ray gun.

Natural harmonics and Artificial harmonics are two different things. What you were doing in the previous exercise was finding out where the natural spots on the string were to create new frequencies. The artificial harmonics involve the right hand and use a bit of thumb to make a sqealing sound that work more on the area of the neck above the pickups. Notice that if you move over to different areas of this area you’ll find new tones as well. There are sweet spots that you should mentally note while doing so.

An advanced technique you can practice is to tap a fret after sounding a note with the left hand. This is going to be a little more effective if you aim 12, 9, 7, or 5 frets above the selected note but you’ll get the tone you want with practice on this exercise. One of the things that I’ve seen a few professionals do is take the pick in between the thumb and the middle finger and place the index lightly on top of the same string to generate this effect and then work in in a linear fashion or even across the strings in a scale.

You can also step out side of the box here by sounding harmonics with a variety of effects such as a clean tone or distortion. Sustainability reguarding the tone can relect a more crisp harmonic or an endless ray of feedback depending on what you choose to do with it.

Whammy Bar Tricks:

My first guitar that I saved up for and picked up was the Kirk Hammet KH2 model that has an original floyd rose tremolo set up so that you can take the bridge and pull on the bar to raise the pitch or push is down to get the illustirous dive bomb effect that in my opinion as not been exploited enough. If you don’t have a locking nut you are more than likely going to have to be a little more delicate with the bar or you’ll go out of tune with the slippage created at the tuning keys.

First exercise is to just play the pitch and use the bar to raise and lower it’s frequency. Throw in some dive bombs if you want or just freak yourself out a bit and see how far you can pull that thing back.

Another thing you can do and this a relative to a lot of metal are harmonic bends and squeals. Push the bar down, strike the note and then let the harmonic come up. If ya want the pitch to keep going, pull up on it once it reaches its resting state at the same tempo you let it up in. You should be able to get some really sick tones by doing this and if ya wanna work it into the ground you can get some really far out addicting tones that could probably keep ya busy for an extra hour or so.

Try to create everything from nice, sublte tones, to brutal and abrassive sounds, using single notes or chords and then go from a sheer violent catastophy into a full on warbble. The more anarchy the better in my opinion.

One of the things that my friend taught me when he borrowed my axe to record a song in the studio was to produce a “boinging” effect by sounding a note and then almost like your doing it on accident letting it your hand slip off the bar as you depress it. It seems to have made it’s way into the mainstream a couple times, but I’ll let you try it out first to see if you can catch both genres that have pulled this one off as of late.

Keep working the whammy bar for enough time without stopping to really capture some of the uniqueness of the tool. I can assure you you’ll find some secret treasure tones by doing so.

Dynamics:

One of the greateest things about the guitar is the ability to take a sound that can be tough and abrassive and agressive and then the next second be soft and melodic. One of the things that people can repect about an aritst or a song is the shift between the two ideas. Sometimes the more extreeme the cut the better.

Practice gradually going from a heavy, soft, heavy, soft sound and then repeating it by working the sound through the different extreemes.

Create different strumming patterns to reflect the mood that you are trying to produce, try moving from a light strum to a sharp attack and then everywhere in bwtween. See how the atmosphere changes when you arpeggiate the chord.

Play as loud and as heavy as you possibly can, and then take that same progression and do the exact opposite.

Solo on one string only

Solo with souble stops only and then work in three, four, up to six string chords.

Solo on two adjacent strings only, and then solo on stings that have 2 or 3 stings between them.

Record or have someone play a root tone and while that is going on work a scale that you’ve been trying to master using added texture to maintain variety.

Pick one note or chord and play it in as many different ways as you can for one hour. Make it sound like music. An example of this could be as simple as a breakdown.

Come up with atleast one new idea or riff each day.

Improvise with your left hand only using hammer-on and pull-offs. Make the notes sound crisp and clean as opposed to sloppy.

Play as fast as you possibly can without stopping.

Play as slow and soft as you can.

One things that I haven’t touched too much on is trying alternate tunings. Rather than take the open chord approach, try tuning the guitar randomly into something that you’ve never tried before and playing it that way. Just don’t do it in public for the first time with someone you don’t jam with that often.

Rest:

If you have tried and put yourself through all thirty plus hours, you’ll need a break. Don’t feel guilty, or too guilty if you have missed a practice session. Unless you should, and you have my permission if that’s the case. A lot of times there are responsibilities that occur beyond our control that take away from our time to make music. If you start these exercises at a younger age it’ll work to your benefit when you work into playing the guitar when your older because you will have already put in the time.

There are a lot of muscles in the hand that will need time to recover as well. Tendens are widening, muscles are cramping, etc, etc, so take the time to take care of your hands and they will thank you later on. If you are just starting out it will be tough to go for any amount of time without some callus on your finger tips so keep playing as often as possible to prevent these from going away. Lastly, protect your ears. If you are playing loud gigs especially, but pay attention to the decible factor of your headphones as well. You might need some ample recovery time from the loudness for example if you goto a concert and for some reason cannot hear well afterwards.

Play With Others:

Sharing music is a great experience, if all you ever do is jam with someone you’re not doing that bad. One of the things that you will learn with playing with a great musician is not only how they emote their personality through their playing style, but also how well they can interact accordingly. In order to play with someone else you need to be able to let them into your musical psyche or world that you’ve created. The same thing goes for you as a player, be sure to be intent on what the other person is doing by being respectful and keeping an open ear for their technique. You’ll get farther a lot faster by respecting that person and by being non-judgemental even if it’s not what you normally play. This will help spark chemestry and you’ll be able to make those magic moments happen almost without even trying.

They say you are the company that you keep, so if you want to be a musician you need to leave your bedroom for a while to create a circle of friends that do the same thing that you do. The world is full of musicians and most of them just want someone to jam with. Make friends with these people, these are your peers and introduce yourself in the same way. It’s not going to be easy to spot a musician in public unless they carry their guitar around in public. In which case, you may wanna steer clear of a few of those guys.

Back when I was in high school I had started playing with others during the formation of what became Atomic Bob by playing covers of songs by Metallica, Nirvana, Manson, Korn, the Smashing Pumpkins, etc. and then started creating original songs during those moments of spontinaity that was just honest and pure. Being in a band is one of the most important aspects of being a musician because it keeps you involved and sharing experiences with each other. The bands that you form early on will create the foundation for your existance as a musician later on. Enjoy those moments even if it doesn’t wind up gettin’ you on MTV in the first month.

Discovering Yourself:

This entire blog may have been a bit much for most of you and may have been looked at like “I already know that” in a few cases, but it’s not really a class on songwriting or intended to be one. There are just a lot of tools or aspects that you can use here that are fundamentally important that may help you on your path to becoming a great guitar player. It’s a guideline for a path of discovery that you may even experience subliminally if you don’t get the message directly. The amount of time you put into your instrument will greatly be reflected in your playing ability, so if you aspire to become a great guitar player, or even the greatest guitar player, you need to constantly be thinking about your craft. There is no way to become a professional baseball player or football player without letting that consume your time the same way that to be a great musician you need to eat, sleep, wake, breath every minute of your day and dedicate all of your time to your instrument. You’ll need to overcome all the hurdles that your mind creates and be able to mentally take on all of the challenges laid before you. All of your attention needs to come back to your instrument without letting what others think or feel affect you in any critical way. If anything, the times you are being called out are when you really need to step up to the plate and show off your vision.

Try to stay positive about the whole thing as well. Don’t let the intensity of being a musician turn you into being something that people can’t respect you for. Always be sure to support and compliment your fellow musicians. Be encouraging to others and bring others up around you. We’re all in this together and with enough appreciation for what others are doing now it’ll come back to you when it’s your time later.

I use the story of how I quit playing guitar for two weeks growing up because of the importance it is not to quit your instrument. What discouraged me, and it’s okay to get discouraged is the whole identity that comes with being a musician. The more I played the more I could see myself being identified with the instrument until well, nobody really knows you as you anymore. That’s a little frightening at first, but really it’s worth the rewards in the end and who you are after you are a musician is far more interesting that you you are before you are a musician… in my opinion anyway.

One of the ways that I think about music when I don’t have an instrument around is by not only thinking about it in my head, but also moving my fingers around almost as an air guitarist would. I tend to drink a lot of Rockstars and coffee so although it’s not an invaulentary twitch most of the time if I’m even just walking down the street my fingers will be moving or I’ll be stretching out my forearms just so that I can stay pumped for when I do pick up my guitar later on. Odd enough I’ll do the same thing with my right forearm, but instead of moving my fingers about I’ll just bend the pick back and forth between my fingers kind of like a tension reliever. Thinking about music when your instrument isn’t there is great for focus and by the time you have the instrument in your hand you should be able to lay it out simply by willing it onto the fretboard. Idealistically that is… a lot of times I know what I want to say before I say it because of my vocabulary so when I’m ready to rock some minor 3rds and flat fifths I can throw down a squeal, trill, and sweep without hesitation.

Disclaimer:

With great mental power and focus you can accomplish whatever you are trying to do no matter if it’s becoming a rockstar, business executive, college graduate, fire fighter, or whatever. The amount of energy you need to put in to get the results you are after take a lot of hard work and dedication. Not everone has the natural talent to play the guitar and so you have to learn to work hard to develop your chops on every level. It’s not just about becoming the best shredder on the planet. Although, that may be the most fun there are plenty of other things you can say without having to pick lightning fast to say so. In some cases it’s important that you don’t play fast, this is why it’s important to take each task and master it effectively. There are some players that can’t seem to play anything accurate but when it comes to attitude they come across with their message apropriately and that’s what gets heard. Then again some players just have it all.

In my opinion, being a musician is one of the most cool things that you can do and I’m really lucky to be able to continue on this path creating music and constantly working my craft. Everyone should be passionate about something. My passion just so happens to be that I play the guitar and love to create music.

Whatever message you get from reading this, I hope that you end up learning that you get out of something what you put into it and that is reflected in your art. Being able to come out on the other end it’ll help you discover a lot about yourself and your dedication, so as long as you keep playing you should keep coming out learning a bit more about yourself each time you play.

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  1. Heidi Cruse

    Oooh, you’re such an inspiration. I love this blog!

    Dec 21, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

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