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You can't plough a field by turning it over in your mind.
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Ben Higgins
Instructor
30 years old
Male
England
Born Feb-26-1985
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Guitar (surprise!), Karate, cars (American and European), reading, weightlifting (sometimes), horses.
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Joined: 11-March 10
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Local Time: May 22 2015, 08:39 PM
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Ben Higgins

GMC Instructor


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21 May 2015
We're often told that the best kind of practise regimen is a balanced one. I think most of us would agree with that.

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Balanced because guitar playing involves a lot of different elements. Physical dexterity, putting expression into things like bending, vibrato and phrasing. Improving tone. Learning new ideas. Learning songs. Sometimes just picking it up to play it for fun.

There's always something more to be done, more to discover and we can always improve that which we've already learned. It really depends on what you want to get out of it.

When most of us start playing, we don't have any clearly defined goals other than a vague notion of just being able to do cool stuff that we hear other people doing. That's the way it should be too. But the better we get, we eventually start needing to keep things fresh so we always keep moving forward. So, we will usually be working on a number of things in order to keep learning progress going and also to stop getting burnt out on the same kind of licks.

Somebody who practises only speedy technique will find their phrasing and emotive expression lacking. Somebody who only practises the soulful stuff will, at some point, have to push their technical ability a bit more in order to express themselves over anything other than a slow blues. Others need to work more on vibrato, others on composing, others on eliminating string noise, muting and controlling tone.

Sometimes, if we're learning something very new then we might need to work on several of those things at once!

So what is a balanced practise schedule? Most people advocate packing in several different areas of focus in one practise session. It might look something like:

5-10 mins warm up (whatever that involves for you)
15 mins picking exercises
15 mins bending
10 mins vibrato
20 mins jamming

That tackles several areas in concise chunks which ensures you're working on more than one aspect of your guitar playing. A lot of people use this approach.

But how do we define balance in the context of time? One could say that balance can occur over a longer period of time. Let's say that you discover some new lick ideas and decide to immerse yourself in those ideas for 2 weeks. During those 2 weeks you only practise those things but you're really enjoying it and are not getting burnt out or uninspired. After 2 weeks you feel you've got a good handle on these ideas and can actually work them into your own phrasing now.

After those 2 weeks you start focusing on other things again. So, rather than having a balanced practise session every time you pick up the guitar, your practise focus occurs during more of an ongoing cycle. So you might be immersed in one thing for a particular time, then it will be another thing, then another thing, then another. So, although you're not mixing it up every time you play, the overall cycle of your practise interests balances out your playing ability over time.

What do you think? Do you identify with either of those approaches or maybe you veer between both? Or maybe it's neither. Maybe you absorb your practise skills through osmosis if you stand close enough to another player?

"Hey Guthrie, do you mind if we come and stand near you for a while......?"
17 May 2015
I've done a few speed / technique related posts lately and it kind of plays into the hands of all those who have the impression that guitarists are obsessed with speed and ability.

This post is going to do our reputation no favours in that regard but who cares? Whether you admit it or not, we all want to get better at playing the plank of wood and building technique is a major part of that. Speed, for better or worse, plays a part as well.

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So, whether you're chasing Rusty Cooley levels of hyper speed or whether you just want to add a bit of extra chilli to your guitar sauce, here's a couple of things you may not have thought of that can help give you a boost... and help conjure up some of your own ideas.

1. Use linear speed to your advantage. What the heck does this mean? Ok. I think we can all be in agreement when we say that any person will always be able to pick at their highest potential whilst they are on one string. The reason for this is simple and we all know it...... changing strings uses energy and disrupts motion.

It's like a car braking for a corner versus a car that's accelerating down a 1/4 mile.

Obviously, the idea is that we develop our technique so that changing strings doesn't make us stop or slow down. But the undeniable fact is that once you've got the pick melting away the metal, introducing a slightly more complex string changing movement is asking your brain and body to do something else so it's always going to have at least some affect on your speed.

This doesn't mean we should avoid string changes. That would be ludicrous. But we could play more notes on one string before moving on to another. The easiest way is just to repeat the same pattern again but that gets a bit predictable and can sound a bit naive if overused. What people like Rusty Cooley and Shawn Lane have done is play higher groupings of notes like 7 or more which means they're getting more bang for their buck and having to do less string changing.

Look at this bad boy for an example.

Attached File  7_Note_Picking.gp5 ( 1.81K ) Number of downloads: 47


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Playing odd note groupings like this will feel very weird at first but just concentrate on how the 7 note pattern works. Regardless of the actual notes being played it always starts at the highest note and works its way to the lowest before going back up and down again. The pick stroke that you end up on at the start of each new group of 7 will change as well. This can be used to your advantage, as you will find out next......

2. Plan your licks around your easiest string crossing pick stroke. Depending on how you hold your hand when you play you will either prefer to cross strings after playing a downstroke or an upstroke. It's perfectly natural to prefer one way over the other and even the picking greats will have their preference. And here's the secret. All the picking greats have worked their licks to favour their strengths, not their weaknesses and if you asked one guy to try and use the exact same finger positions and pick stroke patterns as another guy, chances are he'll struggle. So, you don't have to be a master of every single pick configuration. You just have to work out the best way for you to navigate the neck and stick to it. Work with it. You'll make greater progress that way.

If you play a 7 note sequence and it ends on a pick stroke that makes string changing awkward then you can do 2 things. 1. You can add another group of 7 on the same string, shifting it down the scale. This will put you in the opposite pick position when it ends. Look at the example above. On the E string you see the 7 note pattern on its own. On the B string I move the 7 pattern down through two more scale positions. You can move it as many times as you like on one string before deciding to change. 2. The second thing you can do is play the sequence using the opposite pick stroke to start.

It will make more sense if you physically try it.. reading it can be confusing. The basic idea, though, is start looking at your picking runs and thinking of ways in which you can optimise them so that they take advantage of your strengths. If you find that a lick has an awkward string change then you will find that adding an odd (at least 1 or 3) number of notes onto the same string will put your pick in the opposite direction. So, if you hate trying to move from an upstroke on the E string to a downstroke on the A string (what we know as inside picking) then rearrange the lick either by repeating or adding an ODD number of notes so that the pick direction will be the desirable one. Or just begin the lick using the opposite pick stroke.

So, to recap. Have a look at doing more stuff on one string before changing. This will save energy. Optimise the licks for your favoured string crossing pick strokes. Both of these things will help you tap into more speed. Speed that you already possess but haven't been able to put into use!

Enjoy!
14 May 2015
Do you always fall back to the same tired licks? Have you found yourself confronted with an opportunity to create a solo over a piece of music and not knowing what to play? Are you always stuck on the root note (naming no names)? To sum it up, do you feel like you just don't know how to create guitar melodies?

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All of us, at some point, have been at the stage in our guitar playing where we don't know how to really do this. It's a transition that we automatically have to face. Some people who devote themselves to being great rhythm players may not go down that route anyway and that's cool but I'm betting most of you, who are on a site called Guitar Master Class, have always wanted to get into lead playing.

So if you do struggle with creating solos that sound good then it's not that you can't do it, you're just still in that transition stage. You're still learning it. But before you think "Oh that must mean I suck double the amount" because you're still in that stage, it doesn't mean you're dumb it just means you haven't stumbled across, or been shown, how to do it. None of us have ever gotten anywhere without the right bit of inspiration at the right time. No one can be creative in a vacuum. We are only creative in relation to the world around us. So you just haven't encountered the right stuff to spark your creativity yet.

Disclaimer: The above does have to coincide with a genuine desire to want to get better at said thing too. Sometimes we say we want something when in fact, after a closer look, we're not quite to willing to endure the necessary graft and frustrations that go hand in hand. That's ok too. It doesn't mean anything negative either. It's just that you're quite comfortable with what you've got in truth. You don't really want it, you just think you did.

There have been quite a few things in my life that I thought I wanted but it took me years to realise why I never achieved them. After brutal honesty with myself, I realised I either wanted them for the wrong reasons or didn't want them at all. It's no wonder we never find the spirit to put in the work when subconsciously, we don't truly desire it anyway. It's the idea of it that we want, not the reality.

Terms & Conditions: By reading this thread you agree to allow B. Higgins to regularly remove money from your account by standing order.

After that little detour, which could be an entire new thread in itself, let's look at 2 small but useful limitations you can impose on yourself to spark creativity.

-Use 1 string only. Let's say you've got a backing track. If you haven't, then put down a series of chords in your DAW. (You have got a DAW haven't you?) You're only allowed to use 1 string. Choose what string it is and keep to it. You'll have at least 21 notes at your disposal so that's 21 different sounds right away. Now, because you can't move strings to reach notes, you'll have to be more inventive with techniques. You might reach a higher note with a finger tap. Slides will also come into their own here. But just because you're on one string it doesn't mean you have to use wide intervals. It's just a possible option that usually becomes more obvious due to the self imposed constraints. One result of this is that you'll not revert to favourite shapes and instead start thinking about sound.

-Use only 2 or 3 notes to start with. You can do this on one string again or you can play those notes using whatever strings you like but the idea is to start with 2. Having only 2 intervals means that you'll want to start thinking about how you can time things differently. You may hold onto one note longer before hitting the other. Do a mirror image of that and reverse which note is held longest. You'll think of percussive pick attacks that can add variety. Try to start hearing possible rhythm variations in your head just before you play them and see if you can transfer them into the physical. You'll think of how you can apply subtle vibrato to give flavour to one note or both. You may add a subtle micro tonal bend just before you move to the other note via a slide. Bends, taps, slides, hammers and pulls will again offer themselves as options for variation. When you feel you've got the hang of things, then add a 3rd note. Ooh, the possibilities have just multiplied!

Just two self imposed limitations like the above can help you start breaking out of your usual 'repeat offender' licks. Rather than being a frustration you'll probably actually enjoy the freshness of the approach. smile.gif
12 May 2015
I'm not making it up... Senor Vai joins the band from 40:19 onwards and even whacks out a version of Bad Horsie and Roots.



Do you think that whole 30 Misplaced Shredders video has given these guys ideas??

Are we gonna see Yngwie with Morbid Angel next? biggrin.gif
10 May 2015
Generally, when learning a scale we focus on a box position. We'll repeat it up and down, invariably hitting the wrong notes and adjusting our finger a fret at a time until we've memorised the pattern. Until the next day where we find ourselves having to repeat the process again and again.

Generally, during these stages, we end up learning a pattern but when we try to apply the scale or move it elsewhere along the neck we suddenly can't figure out where we are at all. I think a big part of this is because when we start learning a new scale we forget to actually absorb the sound of it. It's not your fault or mine. We're always presented with scale diagrams so that's what we use to figure out the new mode. But one thing I've found the most helpful is learning the sound of a scale, not just concentrating on the finger positions. So, how do we do that?

Back in my early days I started trying to figure out the minor scale. I don't remember if it was a conscious decision or what. I don't know why I chose E minor either but for some reason I focused on that scale and I used the top E string to do it with. It could be my memory playing tricks with me because our memory does condense time into brief, poignant moments enabling us to forget how long things took or how hard they were but, bearing that in mind, it really didn't take that long. In no time I had the sound fully in my head. I could distinguish between that and the major scale quite comfortably, even if I couldn't play through the major scale as easily. The key was distinguishing the difference between the sounds in my head.

The mind is always the starting point for whatever we do. If we have something to start from like sound recognition, then it's only a case of giving our hands time to put it into practise.

So, how did I do it? I combined the audio recognition of the scale with the finger positions of my fingers. Starting on the root note, I'd move down (or up) and figure out the physical distance between that note and the next and store it according to the sound I was hearing. Association. After a while of doing that I knew that I'd have to move a whole tone or semitone from whatever position to get the correct interval. After long enough of doing that, you can hear intervals and see their position in your head before you need to play them. This comes in handy during phrasing, even in another scale position. You just get used to knowing the difference between a whole tone, semitone or whole tone and a half. Eventually you can start figuring out the distance of 5ths and so on.

But it all starts with distinguishing the aural difference between tones and semitones and then associating them with needing to place your finger 1 fret away or two frets away.

Another way I've used to learn more exotic modes is by hitting them from different sides. WTF? Let's pretend we're learning a new mode in A. Use the open A string as your start point. First learn the first 3 intervals up to the 3rd. Then find the octave of A at the 12th fret. Does the mode have a dominant 7th or a major 7th? Use this moment to move down from the octave of A to find your 7th, then your 6th.

Also, find the 5th. From the 5th, move either way. Move from the 5th down to the 4th and 3rd, back down to the root. Then try it the other way, moving back up to the octave at the 12th fret.

Essentially the idea is that you use one string to get to know the key chord tones like the 3rd, 5th and 7th. If you can find them using such reference points as the open string and the octave then you can start to link them up. Also, using just one string makes your realise that it really doesn't take that long to get through the intervals. It can seem a lot less confusing and intimidating than running the scale over multiple strings.

All of this, hopefully, can help you to start hearing the scale and then when you fully hear the scale you can start to see the scale. Seeing notes before you need them is an essential skill to improvisation. Sure, some of what we do relies on already learned licks but there will always be times where we need to reach strong target notes on the fly and that will require us to know the difference between moving up a whole tone or skipping that next scale interval and moving up 2 whole tone.

I've bombarded you with a lot of info and no pictures or sound clips, which can be difficult to take in. But even if you don't understand everything I've written, just try to approach your next scale learning session with the mind of learning how it sounds.

Also, please share with us how you have learned scales. Are there any particular methods that work for you?
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Todd Simpson
Welcome! :) Great to have ya!
9 Jun 2010 - 2:11
Ben Higgins
Thank you man !! :-)
5 Jun 2010 - 15:24
thefireball
Welcome to GMC!!!!!!! I hope you enjoy your stay and I look forward to cool lessons! :)
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