Category Archives: Master Classes

Guitar Player Etiquette 101

It is always amazing how many people have inflated egos and have to prove to the world that they think they are better than everyone else. This exists in all aspects of life. For some reason, musicians are famous for this. However, no musician is more notorious for having huge egos than lead guitar players (well, lead singers too). This is especially apparent on the Internet message boards. When people have a computer to hide their faces, the most diabolical nature comes out of them.

I wanted to dedicate a chapter in this book teaching people how to act and behave in life. This will probably anger some people, but there are valuable lessons to be learned here. I really do think this topic is something that needs to be brought up because after a current review of the guitar community, I am sickened by it. Every time I think that it is starting to get better, I am often humbled by how nasty guitarists can be to each other.

This chapter is written as more of an editorial (all opinions and personal experience, so no hard feelings) based on generalizations that I have gathered over many years of hanging out with the “guitar-head” community. I am going to use a lot of first hand experience in this chapter to help teach what I want to get across.

I would also like to say that I am not perfect and I struggle daily to abide by what I am about to say. We are all human and everyone makes mistakes. I will be the first to admit I violated what I am about to preach in the past, especially, when I was younger. But, I try my best to abide by what I say now. So, with that being said, let us learn from each other and improve all of our attitudes!

 

The Ego

Let us face it: every single person on this planet has some sort of ego. It is a person’s self-conscience. Some people are always going to have bigger egos than others. This is a given. Ego can be a good or a bad thing. But, it is a natural human internal mechanism to look out for one’s own self-interest. Example: If you starve a pet dog, eventually, it will attack its own master to get food. No one likes to feel inferior or not as good as someone else. So, let us review the good uses and bad uses of ego.

 

The Good Ego

The positive ego is the one that compels a person to succeed and achieve great things! This is the part in you that makes you want to be competitive. This is one of the reasons why you practice guitar every day, to get good and accomplish your personal goals. This is the reason why people practice guitar really hard, buy nice cars, try to push up more weight than a friend in the gym, or try and get the highest score on a test. This is your competitive natural instinct. There is nothing wrong with it. In nature, the strongest survives. Ego can be a very good source of drive and motivation. If you learn how to properly use it, it will make you tremendously successful.

The trick to keeping good ego from going bad is not to let success go to your head and become overly confident. If you are good at something, do not brag or act arrogant. Do not put down other people and make them feel bad either. Use your talents in a positive way to help and inspire other people. You will earn a lot more respect from people if you are humble and honest instead of being arrogant.

 

The Bad Ego

This is the type of ego where people lash out at others and turn their competitive drive into a bad attitude. Let us face it, no one likes a jerk! Even a small display of bad ego can rub a person the wrong way and leave them with a bad impression of you, no matter how nice you are to them afterwards. People use this kind of ego out of jealousy, anger, and self-centeredness.

Mediocrity always tends to attack excellence. People who are lesser than you will always try to bring you down to their level. Do not fall into this trap. Don’t try to bring down others. Few things are more pathetic than disrespecting someone because they are better than you, more successful than you, or have something that you want. Do not ever let your bad ego control you. The last thing we need in this world is another rude, arrogant, and manipulative person.

 

Confident vs. Cocky

There is a fine line between being confident and being cocky. You should be confident of yourself, your abilities, and who you are. Having high self-esteem is a great thing! However, sometimes people who display bad ego get jealous easily and portray confidence as cockiness. Confidence can also intimidate people who are unsure of themselves. You shouldn’t prejudge people. At the same token, a person shouldn’t be overly confident to the point where bad ego comes out of them. Make sure you pay close attention to this and you are always self-conscious of what impression you are making on others.

 

Controlling the ego

In reality, everyone has both kinds of ego. It is natural. Human beings are not perfect. Some people are naturally good at everything they do. Success can really send your ego through the roof. This is especially true if someone was always picked on, left out, or neglected as a child by their peers. You should not make it a personal vendetta against the rest of the world if this is you. It will not solve your problems but will only make them worse. We all have our own obstacles that we must overcome in life. Blaming others for your problems and dwelling on your problems will only attract more problems into your life.

With control, ego is a problem that can be minimized. The first step to control is realizing that your skill as a guitarist will always be topped by someone else somewhere. No matter how good you think you are at guitar, there are thousands of guitarists out there who you have never heard, which would make you want to quit if you heard them.

The key to control is to be always modest and polite! Use your talents to inspire and create, not attack others. It is not hard to do! For example, if someone compliments you, do not take it to your head and be a jerk. Instead, say “thank you” and deep inside respect the fact that that person is giving you their time! There are too many guitarists who do not do this, when they should! If people acted more like Neil Zaza and John Petrucci (both amazing guitarists and class acts), guitar players would be considered the nicest people on earth!

Another important thing to realize is that having a major ego is extremely detrimental to your progress as a guitarist. If you get off stage and your fans come to meet you, you had better be nice to them. If you blow them off or display attitude towards others, they will tell many other people that you are a total jerk. Word of mouth can be very helpful as well as very dangerous. This is why it is so important to respect other people and learn what you can from everyone!

 

Walk vs. Talk

If there is one thing that drives me absolutely crazy, it is when people criticize everything and everyone, yet can do no better themselves! I have met a lot of guitarists who do nothing else but criticize everything and talk themselves up. Yet, none of them ever released any material or have anything to show for themselves!

Often guitarists say things like “oh you just wait; my CD is going to be so awesome.” Excuse me!? Your CD is “going to be” so awesome? I will believe it when I see it! These people drive me nuts talking because they can never walk to back up there talk.

I find it hilarious when I see a guitarist ripping apart a really good player’s playing like they suck. I think to myself, “Wow, if this guy is such an amazing guitarist, how come he is not respected as a great guitarist and no one has ever heard of him?” It just baffles me. Actions speak much louder than words, and like I stated earlier, mediocrity always attacks excellence.

It comes down to this: do not criticize other’s music unless it is constructive criticism! If you do not like it, then do not listen. It is that simple. There are a million other bands out there for anyone to listen to. If you do not like someone’s music, let them be. If you enjoy a particular genre like jazz, metal, emo, or whatever, then do not criticize guitarists in these genres only because they don’t specialize in the one you like. There is no such thing as better. It is all perspective, and it is completely pointless to even debate or waste time thinking about it. Spend that time doing something productive like practicing.

 

Hate eMAIL

Ever since e-mail was invented, people realized that they could directly criticize everyone and anything they do not like without having to be held accountable for their own words. I laugh at these people because they are such egotistical and such insecure people that for some reason they take their aggression out on others.

I am guessing that the reason why people take the time out of there day to tell someone that their playing “sucks” is as simple as this: an over inflated ego combined with nothing to show for themselves makes them mad at the world. It is an obvious inferiority complex.
Jealousy is a terrible emotion that destroys everything in its path! Do not let yourself get jealous by another guitarist’s playing! It is easier to respect a player and learn from them than it is to deal with hating them because you wish you were as good.

If you hear someone who is much more talented than yourself, don’t go off saying that they suck to everyone on earth. It is better to approach that person and show respect. How would you feel if a whole bunch of people constantly told you that you suck? You should learn from these people instead. I bet that you would be surprised how nice some people really are when you get to know them! You also never know what you can learn from someone, or they could be a future contact that can help your own musical career. Don’t burn bridges, build them!

 

Online Message Board Usage

I dislike going to guitar forums and websites like Youtube.com for one reason, a lot of people are just downright ignorant! There are so many public guitar forums out there that are nothing but a bunch of ego maniacs in a competition. At least, that is what it sounds like if you ever read some of these message boards or comments. I have seen every great guitar player I can think of bashed at one point. All I can say is why and what for? What does it accomplish? People get out of hand with this when in reality none of them could do any better than the person they criticize. This goes back to walking versus talking. People need not to take things so close to heart in public forums. Bashing great guitarists accomplishes nothing and just makes you look like a fool.

You should use forums to ask questions, network, and meet people, and not to cause trouble and be a jerk! Is that too much to ask from the guitar head community? Guitar is not a competition. It is a form of musical expression! Guitar is not a race. There is no prize for getting good faster than someone else. These places exist for people to share knowledge and their passion for music, not to degrade others.

 

Some Final Thoughts

If everyone would lighten up and stop criticizing each other, maybe guitar players could ditch the bad reputation. Behave people! We are all in this together! Why do we squabble over table scraps? If we work together and support each other, we could all accomplish great things. Go now, heed my words and try and be a better person (or continue to go around and be a jerk if you are one, because what goes around comes around!). Do not bring others down, help raise them up. Anyone can be a loser and be negative, but it is something much more worthwhile to set a good example for others.

Breaking Out of Ruts

Playing ruts can be very frustrating! You can go weeks and months without feeling like you have progressed. This can lead to discouragement and kill your enthusiasm for playing the guitar. The goal of this article is to help you break playing ruts fast and efficiently so that you can continue progressing on the guitar.

There are many types of playing ruts. Here are some common problems and solutions for them:

  • ​I can play a lot of songs, but not much else
  • My technical skill/speed is not increasing no matter how much I practice
  • I keep playing the same licks when I improvise
  • I can’t write any good songs/solos anymore and I feel creatively tapped out

 

I can play a lot of songs, but not much else

A very common playing rut that a lot of guitarists experience is that they can play any song they like, but they are not getting any better technically or musically on the guitar. They want to expand in their playing but don’t know how or where to start. This is a very common problem for beginners especially. Most people who play guitar just want to learn their favorite songs for their own enjoyment. Taking that next step can be intimidating!

The answer to breaking this rut is simple. It is time for you to sit down and spend the time to learn some serious guitar technique, theory, and all of that good stuff. Before you as a player can move on to the next level of playing, you must first ask yourself how serious you want to be.

If you aren’t willing to spend the tedious time it takes to learn advanced techniques, you won’t progress far past where you currently are. I ran into this problem when I was a sophomore in high school. I could play a lot of songs, but that’s all I could do.

As soon as I went out and got some guitar lessons and started to work on technique, things changed pretty quickly. Over the next few months, my playing exploded to levels I couldn’t have ever imagined. The only true way to break a rut like this is to get serious! You can learn all the four chord songs in the world, but you will eventually have to really learn how to play the instrument.

 

My technical skill/speed is not increasing no matter how much I practice

This is the most difficult and annoying type of rut to break. It happens to all of us many times in our careers. You can practice until your fingers bleed everyday and not make any progress. It sucks! Breaking out of this kind of rut is really hard and not fun. There are two ways to break a rut like this.

First off, you need to challenge yourself with something new! Stop doing the same exercises over and over again. If you keep playing the same stuff, you will get bored of it. Maybe you should take the time to learn some different styles of music. You could try to learn a few walking bass lines or some funk vamps. Be open to new ideas. Did you ever realize that you can learn something from everyone? No matter how much more skilled you are than them or vice verse. If you take the time to be creative and try out different things, you will break the rut.

Another great way to break a technical rut is to learn a new technique. Maybe you are the fastest picker and your sweeping is flawless, but did you ever think that maybe you legato and taping are not that great? Or maybe you are a beastly legato player and your sweeping is great, but you can’t alternate pick to save your life.

That’s how I used to be. As soon as I finally sat down for a month and tackled alternate picking, I finally got it. As soon as you take the time to rigorously learn a technique that gives you a lot of problems, you will break the rut. It is paramount to constantly be challenging your fingers to play difficult things. It is that struggle that will bring the results.

In the rare case that you are just some sort of technical god and can own anything conceivable on guitar and there is nothing left to conquer technically, maybe you need to work on something like song writing or phrasing? Maybe your style or vibrato is not very good? The point is that there is always something new to challenge yourself with. The more you challenge yourself, the faster you will break a technical rut!

 

I keep playing the same licks when I improvise

Stylistic ruts can also be very frustrating. Having a style can definitely be an asset. Many of the greatest virtuosos are masters of only one style. Having an identifiable style is what separates one guitarist from the next. However, if you feel like you need to expand your style, there are several things you can do.

First of you need to spend a lot of time practicing your improvisation. I recommend using jam tracks of various styles. Try to force yourself to be creative through limitation. By constraining yourself, for example, to only playing a solo with 2 notes can really help you spur your rhythmic creativity. Force yourself to only use one scale, or play at a consistent note value like straight 16th notes.

Try doing a whole solo with only slides on one string. The more ridiculous the constraint that you place on yourself, the more wild and creative ideas you will probably come up with.

Another great way to break this kind of rut is to listen to music totally different than you normally would. For example, if you are a metal guy, you could probably learn a thing or two about melody writing from listening to pop music. Maybe you want to try some cool chords in your solos, so then listen to some funk of jazz. The point is that by listening to music that you may not really like or that maybe weird in your opinion, you may find that you come up with some cool licks.

Finally, you can also learn guitar solos off of records and try to borrow a few licks from other players. Learn a few cool licks and then try to make some of your own variations. Turn on a jam track and then try them out. See what is cool. You never know until you try it!

 

I can’t write any good songs/solos anymore and I feel creatively tapped out

Creative ruts are also very difficult. These are of particular annoyance when you make part of your living by writing music and you have deadlines to fulfill. In my personal experience, nothing beats this faster than getting yourself excited. You have to find something that motivates you, whether it is something like fear, time pressure, a big payday, or getting a chance to live a dream.

There are many things that can motivate. You need to get inside your own head and find something that excites you! This can be hard to do, but if you can get yourself psyched up, you will probably find, like I have, that creativity can really flow from within pretty quickly!

Another idea you can try if you are creatively tapped out is to listen to lots of different music. Like I stated in the previous example, by listening to something out of your box, you can often find unique influences that will inspire creativity in you. On the opposite side of this is to go completely without listening to music or playing guitar for a while. Give yourself time to refresh and renew!

 

Conclusion

Playing ruts maybe difficult, but the good thing is that they are all temporary. Even more exciting is that the ability to break them is entirely within your head. Hopefully this column has given you some ideas or inspiration. I wish you the best of luck breaking them in the future!

 

Guitar Amps

Well, at some point you’ll want to learn about your amp and you’ll have plenty of questions. So lets take a look at amps from a technical point of view.

Usually you’ll have two major divisions – Tube/Valve or Solid State.

The first type uses vacuum tubes/valves to house the old style transistors. The real up side of Class A/B operation is its inherent efficiency. The simple fact that each tube has a res Tube amps were later replaced by Solid-state transistors, and the need for tubes were gone. tube amps still exist, and are made day in and day out. The difference in how the amps work is pretty much a function of application. Both will provide ample distortion, and can sound remarkably similar.

Tube amps generally have a warmer sound and a more punchy attack than solid-state amps and pickup the players personal style a little better than solid-state ones because the vacuum pressure directly effects how well a tube will perform, thus the harder you push your amp with your playing style, the more dynamic it’ll sound, where as a solid state amp won’t pick up as much of that same articulation.

Most amps, be they combo or head style will have two or 3 channels, an fx loop, a gain control, a 3 band parametric EQ and reverb. Most of them will come with a foot switch but not always.

As for the specifics on how amps work and such – the information below was found on the official VHT amplification site.

 

What’s the difference between tube and solid state rectifiers?

The rectifier circuit in an amplifier converts the Alternating Current (AC) from the wall outlet to Direct Current (DC) required for operating the various circuits inside the amp. Originally, this conversion or “rectification” was accomplished using a vacuum tube rectifier, also known as a dual diode. Later with the advent of solid state technology, the rectification process was accomplished much more efficiently and less costly with silicon diodes.

Besides the cost, one of the primary advantages of the silicon diode is its low voltage drop. Because of this characteristic, the solid state rectifier supply responds much more quickly to the increased current demand created when the amplifier is driven to full output. This gives the amplifier a tight , crisp and dynamic response. The tube rectifier exhibits a much higher internal voltage drop, which in turn causes the power supply voltage to sag when the amplifier is driven hard. We experience this sag as a natural sounding compression, which seems to give the amp a breathing, bouncy quality. In addition the tone will appear to sound softer or more rounded with increased sustain.

Today we find that both the tube and solid state rectifiers have a valid application in helping to enhance the personality of a given amplifier design.

 

What’s the difference between Class A and Class A/B operation?

There are from a technical standpoint, many things that distinguish Class A operation from Class A/B. For our purposes we’ll be discussing only those characteristics which pertain to guitar amps in general and VHT amps in particular.

Generally speaking, the power tubes in a Class A amp are operating at pretty close to full power whether or not a signal is being amplified. As long as the tubes are being operated at reasonable voltage and bias range we’re OK. The beauty of this type of operation is that there is no significant difference between the tubes work interval and its rest interval. The distortion products created by this method of operation are very musical sounding and the overall tone has a pure quality.

When combined with the right output transformer, the harmonic blend created by the tube distortion characteristic and transformer saturation ( that is to say, just past the point of maximum linear operation), is rich, full and fat sounding. It sounds pretty much like an amp turned up loud even when it isn’t because it’s operating nearly full out in a sense.

In class A/B operation the tubes are getting a big break. When no signal is present the tube is essentially at rest. When you begin to play, there occurs a transition from “off” state to “on” state between the push-pull pairs of tubes. This transition, known as the crossover region, produces a noticeably different type of behavior typically referred to as crossover distortion. Crossover distortion contributes a harshness to the sound which can give the amp an aggressive personality. This can be interpreted as a good thing depending on what you are trying to accomplish musically.

The real up side of Class A/B operation is its inherent efficiency. The simple fact that each tube has a rest interval in its duty cycle allows the tube to operate at higher output during its work interval or “on” state. Thus, a power amp operating in Class A/B will typically produce about 30% more power than a comparable Class A amp. Since the typical output transformer in a Class A/B amp will not be required to operate at high continuous current, it will spend less time in saturation mode. This contributes to the clarity and detail of the power amp sound. An additional advantage of Class A/B is that because they tend to run cooler, tube life can be extended somewhat. For strictly comparative purposes however, the essence of the debate is sound quality.

We are attracted to the Class A sound because of its warmth, sonic complexity and rich harmonic content. The Class A/B sound is more articulate, dynamic and gives us the sensation of immediacy.

 

What’s the difference between Series and Parallel effects processing?

The effects loop design in all current VHT Heads and Combos, allow either Series or Parallel operation. In the Series mode 100% of the signal from the preamp section of the amp is routed through the send jack to be modified through the effects device. The modified signal is then returned to the effects return jack and sent to the power amp section for final amplification. Effects such as equalizers, compressors and multi-effects processors with fixed or programmable mix controls are typically operated in Series mode.

In Parallel mode only a portion of the preamp signal is routed to the effects send jack for processing. In this case the original signal path inside the amp is protected from the sometimes undesirable side effects of external devices such as signal loss, impedance mis-matching, coloration of the sound and distortion. Effects such as reverbs, delays, and pitch shifting devices which can be set for 100% “wet” output are typically operated in Parallel mode. The processed signal is returned to the amp to be blended with the internal dry signal and then sent to the power amp section for final amplification.

 

What is Gain Stacking?

Gain Stacking is a new feature on our high gain preamp channels that allows you to pre-select the number of gain stages utilized in a selected channel to achieve the desired amount and type of gain you are looking for. You may set up a crunch sound with 3 stages of gain and a solo sound with 4 stages. Or vice versa. Or you may want 2 high gain lead sounds or 2 medium gain rhythm modes with slightly different tonal balance or volume. This can all be accomplished easily and quickly with Gain Stacking.

The Gain Stacking circuit utilizes a “flying” 4th stage that can be assigned wherever it is needed without the waste of unused or over-compensated tube stages in the preamp section of the amp. This is one of the reasons the Pit Bull preamp design produces as much or more gain than other designs with a lot less noise, hum and microphonics.

 

What are the advantages of printed circuit technology over point to point wiring?

For the record, all VHT amplifiers are primarily hand built PCB assemblies. No automated board stuffing or flow solder processes are used. Honestly, if we felt that the sound quality or execution of our products would be improved by the exclusive use of point to point assembly, we’d be doing it. On the other hand, hard wired assemblies are utilized wherever it is determined that sound quality, reliability and consumer safety is best achieved.

AC mains, main power supply, board to board interface, long, high impedance audio signals and rectifier tube sockets are areas where hand wiring is clearly the superior method. All other components such as resistors, capacitors, pots, switches, tube sockets (that’s right…Tube sockets…pre and power) and various other items are properly and confidently PCB mounted.

We use top quality double-sided glass epoxy boards with heavy copper plating and plated through holes for maximum reliability and signal integrity. Boards are mounted on heavy-duty tubular aluminum supports attached to the chassis with machine screws. You won’t find any floating preamp boards or pop rivets here. Small tube sockets have large diameter solder pads and a center support pin, also soldered to a large plated through pad.

Large tube sockets are attached to the board with heavy tubular aluminum supports and chassis mounted with machine screws to form a solid and bulletproof board to chassis assembly. We know of no other amplifier manufacturer that uses this rugged and costly method of construction. In fact, most other PCB mounted preamp tube sockets we’ve seen don’t even have a center support pin!

There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation surrounding the debate over printed circuit board versus point to point assembly. The problem we see is that many times information gets taken out of context, leading to the creation of fresh manure.

We will discuss the issues as they relate specifically to the manufacture of our products. Sure, we’re probably going to hit a nerve or two somewhere along the way, “but” as Stuart Smalley reminds us, “that’s…sigh, OK”.

Since we’re all pretty much in agreement about the origin of point to point wiring and PCB’s, we’ll skip the history lesson and get right to the pros and cons.

 

Sound Quality

Contrary to what you may have heard, great tone is not the exclusive domain of point to point wired amps. Even the use of top quality components and meticulous assembly methods do not guarantee good tone.

There are plenty of examples of great and lousy sounding products in both point to point and PCB categories.

There are well built, mediocre sounding amps and sloppily thrown together, great sounding amps. In fact, undesirable sonic characteristics frequently attributed to circuit boards are much more likely to occur in point to point wired amps. Stray capacitance, phase cancellation, signal degradation, and cross talk between stages are common problems in point to point designs. Most of these conditions are easily minimized or eliminated in a well executed PCB design.

One interesting and often overlooked side benefit of PCB design is the ability to precisely control the way the board will “sound” by experimenting with placement of sensitive components. We frequently use this technique of “tuning the board” to tweak various parameters of a circuit which might normally be accomplished with the relatively “brute force” use of added capacitance or tone robbing bundled wire harnesses.

 

Consistency

One of the most attractive benefits of PCB construction is the inherent consistency of the process. Once the design is complete, it can be easily reproduced with a very high degree of accuracy. In our particular case, the object is to produce an amplifier that meets a set of predefined sonic and functional criteria. These criteria are built into the board design and are not subject to the wide variations in tolerances normally found in the point to point assembly process.

In the late fifties, state of the art point to point construction ( i.e. military and recording/broadcast electronics) incorporated “turret boards” that supported most of the small components on Nickel/Silver plated posts staked into thick Fiber or Glass/Epoxy strips. The bulky components (pots, jacks, switches, filter caps, meters and transformers) were chassis mounted and meticulously hand wired to these boards. Some of today’s more popular (and more expensive) point to point amps utilize low cost phenolic “terminal strips” with thin Tin plated lugs instead of the much more rugged turret boards (and while we’re at it…get real with those filter caps bundled together with electrical tape!!!).

The terminal strip method usually requires much more extensive use of wire, solder and wiring harnesses, resulting in a circuit layout that is subject to wide variations in circuit behavior. Two identical amplifiers built this way are very likely to, and often do sound completely different!

 

Reliability and Serviceability

Needless to say, there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. We could be a little bit more generous and say that there are an infinite number of interpretations of the term “cost effective”. I have to admit that there are legitimate reasons for peoples seemingly genetic aversion to printed circuit boards. Every time I look into the guts of a PCB amp that falls into the “cheaper to replace than repair” category, I think “here’s another one I’m going to have to defend myself against”.

It’s a fact however, that circuit boards dominate the electronics industry. Therefore it is important to remember that for every department store consumer electronics product that’s on sale this week, there’s an Internet connection bouncing off of a satellite orbiting our fair planet that will probably operate flawlessly far into the next century…utilizing printed circuit boards.

How do we account for this large technology gap? Simply stated, printed circuit boards pretty much do exactly what the designer intended for them to do. Nothing more, nothing less. If top notch performance and long term reliability are the design objectives, then the end product will perform and last provided that it is correctly engineered.

In this context then, it is logical to conclude that a well designed, high quality PCB based amplifier is more than likely to perform as well or better and last easily as long or longer than a point to point wired amp.

 

Cost

All things considered, we feel that the point to point method of amplifier construction is unnecessarily time consuming and excessively costly. When you pay a premium price for a quality point to point amplifier, it is pretty much understood and taken for granted that you’re not necessarily paying for performance and flexibility.

A fat price tag on a boutique amplifier frequently indicates nothing more than what the builder thinks the market will bear. On the other hand, if you understand that you are literally paying homage to the idea of Old World Craftsmanship and appreciate the time and effort that goes into a nicely made piece of modern nostalgia, then you are probably making a justifiable purchase.

A well designed, PCB based amplifier sacrifices nothing to sound quality, construction quality or long term reliability and value merely as an automatic consequence of the use of printed circuit boards. The labor saving aspect of PCB amplifier construction makes it possible to offer a wide variety of features and functions which translate to a higher “Bang for the Buck” ratio. It is important to understand this important distinction before plunking down your hard earned plastic.

 

What is slaving?

This is a method for using amp heads or combos as a signal source in amp/power amp systems or multiple amp systems. The term simply refers to the practice of using one amp (typically a head or combo) as the “Master” amp or primary tone source, and another (typically a power amp) as the “Slave” amp which does the work of driving the speakers. Slaving allows you to generate just the right blend of preamp and power amp distortion in your Master amp.

The resulting output is then attenuated down to a practical signal or line level which can then be routed to a switching system, mixer, effects processor, stereo power amp, recording console or any combination of the above. These kinds of applications are especially useful in live situations where it is desirable to reproduce a variety of different amplifier and distortion characteristics that may have been originally produced in a studio environment with multiple amps and speakers.

It usually involves running the Master amplifier “full out” into an enclosed speaker or “Dummy Load” such as a high power resistor or power attenuator. A low level signal is then taken from the Master amp output using the “line output”, an external signal attenuator (pad), or some type of speaker emulation device, which is then sent to an effects system, power amp and then to a pair of speaker cabinets.

This is not generally considered to be the most practical of systems, but when done right, it’s pretty hard to beat. Anyway, who cares about practical when your main objective is ultimate sonic satisfaction?

 

When should I have my amp biased?

Generally we recommend having the amp biased whenever the power tubes are being replaced. Even if you stay with a particular brand or type, the transconductance of tubes vary even within similarly matched sets. Biasing at replacement time is the best insurance for consistency and reliability.

 

What’s the difference between KT88, 6550, EL34, 6L6, EL84 tube types?

In order to keep the subject matter concise and relevant to VHT amplifier models, we’ll break these tube types down into 3 basic categories:

High power output: KT88, KT90, 6550

Although not widely used in the guitar amp industry, we find them to be ideally suited to players who want power punch and articulation. They are used in a variety of configurations, mostly in pairs and quartets and in some cases, sextets.

They are capable of delivering 100 watts per pair and this is the typical application in which they are applied at VHT in the Two/Ninety/Two and Twenty One Fifty power amps. Quartets of 6550’s are used in the Pittbull Ultra-Lead and are more conservatively operated at about 60 watts per pair. Because of the high output capability and efficiency of these tubes, amplifiers that use them exhibit a wide dynamic range, lots of low end power, crisp attack and to quote Guitar Player Magazine “miles of headroom”.

 

Medium power output: EL34, 6L6

These are the standard bearers of the majority of the tube guitar amp industry for the last 30 years or so. Typical output for a pair is 50 watts. We use EL34’s in the Twenty One Hundred power amp, Two/Fifty/Two power amp, Hundred CLX head, Hundred/CL head, Fifty/CL head, Fifty/ST head and Fifty/Twelve combo. EL34’s are harmonically rich sounding tubes with a strong upper midrange which complements guitar voicing very nicely. When driven hard they exhibit a smooth transition into distortion while maintaining clarity and good tone quality.

All VHT amps that use EL34’s can be switched over to 6L6 operation. 6L6’s generally sound a little cleaner than EL34’s and tend to have a bit more beef in the low end as well as more bite on the top. Some players prefer the extra clarity and punch of these tubes. Others just like them because they are used to the 6L6 sound. We will ship any of the above models with 6L6’s installed by special request.

However, we prefer the sound of EL34’s in our amps and these are what the above models are shipped with as standard equipment.

 

Low power output: EL84

This great sounding and economical tube, has had quite resurgence in popularity in recent years due to its increased availability. Typically used in quartets and run in Class A mode, they are good for about 30 watts or 40 to 45 watts in Class A/B. They basically sound like a small screaming EL34 with a rich fat midrange voice and great distortion tone. We use this tube in the Pit Bull Forty-Five series heads and combos.

 

Do you plan to make a simple plug & play type amp?

For months I have been pondering the debate over whether or not to develop a simple straight ahead amp model that is stripped of the bells and whistles normally found on VHT amplifiers. After recently exploring the concept, I believe we have been on the right track all along. I have owned feature laden guitars and I discovered that all of the knobs and switches that you can throw on it won’t enhance the essence of the instrument one iota.

There are those who feel the same way about amplifiers. I’m not one of them. I believe that an amplifier is an integral part of the instrument. An amplifier extends and fleshes out the boundaries of the instruments capability. A well conceived amplifier accomplishes this task in a variety of ways that are constantly subject to experimentation and new settings possibilities.

Is it possible to go overboard with this idea? Like anything, there is always a point of diminishing returns. The trick is to keep a firm grip on the object. The object being “Make the dog gone thing scream!”

Given that amount of information you should have a good background from which to make decisions on your future amp needs and purchases.

Major Scales 101

Being able to connect major scales is the building block of knowing your way around the neck when soloing. Learning your scales is a simple process that only takes a few days to learn and will benefit you for the rest of your guitar playing life. First you need to learn each of the major scale patterns. Once you’ve memorized the scales you must learn how to stack them. When you learn to stack them and see how they overlap, finding your way around the fret-board will be simple!

First a little theory. For something more in depth, I recommend visiting the music theory master class. I am going to try my best to explain this to all of the beginners out there. There are 12 chromatic notes in modern day western music. Each note is separated by a half step interval, just like the frets of a guitar (the distance between 2 adjacent frets is a half step). Each major scale is composed to 7 notes. A major scale is composed with this formula:

  • whole step
  • whole step
  • half step
  • whole step
  • whole step
  • whole step
  • half step

 

Keep in mind that a whole step = 2 half steps. So in C major (no sharps of flats in this key), the notes would be:

  • ​C (whole step to)
  • D (whole step to)
  • E (half step to)
  • F (whole step to)
  • G (whole step to)
  • A (whole step to)
  • B (and a half step back up to)
  • C

 

Whoa!~ Now, isn’t that easy?! You can now make a scale in every key now, provided that you understand how sharps and flats work. Well, now what you ask. Well, my friends, let me show you how to play a Major scale on the guitar. We are going to stay in the key of C today. It’s the easiest to start with because there are no sharps or flats. Now here is what you have to do as a player. You must memorize all of these scale forms. DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT try and memorize all of these at once. A famous violinist once told me that the trick to memorizing something and getting into your long term memory is to work on it for 10-30 minutes each day for 4 days straight. So, spend 10 minutes a day learning a scale shape for four days in a row. Memorize one scale form and then move to the next one in sequence.

Now that you understand what you have to do, here comes the next step. Each scale form has a root note. The root is simply the key the scale is in. So, if we are in C major, then the root is C. Simple. Below are all of the scale forms. The roots are RED on the charts.

 

Here is what a C major scale, in root position (pattern 1), would look like in tab from C to C:

 

Now what do I do with all of these patterns I just memorized, you are probably asking? It is easy. Stack them on top of each other using the roots. All of the patterns are in order. So, take pattern two and place it on top of pattern one. Line up the root note on the D string. And that is how easy it is! Do you see how the scale overlaps? Same notes, just a little higher in pitch. Now, pattern 3 attaches onto pattern 2 at the root. Just keep going like that. It is that easy!

What you have to do now is connect all of these scales. Just stack the roots and watch how nicely the scales over lap. This is why it is important to learn all of the patterns individually. It makes them easy to stack. Once you learn how the patterns connect, you can solo in any key, in any position. If we are in the key of D major, then just pick a D on the neck and slap down the pattern that fits around it. Then start soloing. All in all, connecting scales is really easy, just take your time and practice. Good Luck!

Chord Formulas

Chord Notes in Scale Example in Key of C
Major 1,3,5 C, E, G
Major 7 1,3,5,7 C, E, G, B
Major 9 1,3,5,7,9 C, E, G, B, D
Major 11 1,3,5,7,9,11 C, E, G, B, D, F
Major 13 1,3,5,7,9,11,13 C, E, G, B, D, F, A
Suspended 4 1, 3, 4, 5 C, E, F, G
Minor 1, b3, 5 C, Eb, G
Minor 7 1, b3, 5, b7 C, Eb, G, Bb
Minor 9 1, b3, 5, b7, 9 C, Eb, G, Bb, D
Minor 11 1, b3, 5, b7, 9, 11 C, Eb, G, Bb, D, F
Minor 13 1, b3, 5, b7, 9, 11, 13 C, Eb, G, Bb, D, F, A
Dominant 7th 1, 3, 5, b7 C, E. G, Bb
Dominant 9th 1, 3, 5, b7, 9 C, E. G, Bb, D
Dominant 11th 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11 C, E. G, Bb, D, F
Dominant 13th 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11, 13 C, E. G, Bb, D, F, A
Augmented 1, 3, #5 C, E, G#
Augmented 7th 1, 3, #5, b7 C, E, G#, Bb
Diminished 1, b3, b5 C, Eb, Gb
Diminished 7th 1, b3, b5, bb7 (bb7 = 6) C, Eb, Gb, A

Music Theory 101

Many Guitarists spend hours learning to play better. They may spend countless hours practicing advanced lead guitar techniques in hopes of someday becoming a virtuoso. While doing this is great, there is one area of musicianship that is commonly neglected by aspiring guitarists and musicians in their quest to become a better player. That area is Music Theory. That’s right, I said music theory. This subject is often avoided simply because it can be too confusing especially for beginners. And that part is true. It is possible for music theory to become an overwhelming topic IF things are presented out of order or not applied properly. In this master class I hope to teach you the fundamentals of music theory that will greatly help you in your quest to become a better musician, songwriter and improviser.

First lets answer a question: why should anyone even bother learning music theory? Why is it necessary? Well, let me answer this question with a couple of questions of my own such as: Have you ever written a really cool sounding riff, but then wondered how you could develop it into a finished song? Or have you ever tried to improvise over backing tracks (even if you know what scales you were supposed to play) but still had trouble getting your solos to sound convincing? The answer to both of these problems is to increase your understanding of how music works. By understanding the fundamentals such as intervals and how they are combined to form scales and chords you will find your musical options expanding greatly. Improvising will now become much easier because you will know exactly what notes are in what keys you are playing (and as daunting as it might sound it actually isn’t much trouble to memorize the notes in most keys once you understand a few simple tricks).

Hopefully with the points above I have convinced you to stick around and check out the rest of this master class. We will begin with the basics and build up from there. So lets get started!

The first topic we must address is intervals. The following description of Intervals is an excerpt from my book: “The Next Step: Serious Improvement for the Developing Guitarist”.

 

Intervals

Intervals are the most fundamental building blocks of ALL music. What is an interval? Simply put, it is a distance between two notes. When two notes are played separately (as you would play when playing a melody), the interval is called a melodic interval. When two notes are played together (as you would play when strumming a chord), it is called a harmonic interval.

Below you will find descriptions and names of all of the possible distances. The names might seem a little bit overwhelming right now, but you don’t need to spend a lot of time memorizing them. The most important thing is to become aware of them and apply the knowledge to your own music. Before we begin, remember that a “half step” equals one fret on the guitar and a whole step equals 2 frets.

  • When two notes are 0 half steps apart (you are playing the same note twice) this “interval” is called a Unison.
  • When two notes are a half step (one fret ) apart, the interval is called a Minor 2nd
  • When two notes are 2 half steps (one whole step or 2 frets ) the interval is called a Major 2nd
  • When two notes are 3 half steps (one and a half whole steps or 3 frets ) the interval is called a Minor 3rd
  • When two notes are 4 half steps (two whole steps or 4 frets ) the interval is called a Major 3rd
  • When two notes are 5 half steps (two and a half whole steps or 5 frets) the interval is called a Perfect 4th
  • When two notes are 6 half steps (3 whole steps or 6 frets ) the interval is called a Tritone
  • When two notes are 7 half steps (3 and a half whole steps or 7 frets ) the interval is called a Perfect 5th
  • When two notes are 8 half steps (four whole steps or 8 frets ) the interval is called a Minor 6th
  • When two notes are 9 half steps (4 and a half whole steps or 9 frets) the interval is called a Major 6th
  • When two notes are 10 half steps (5 whole steps or 10 frets ) the interval is called a Minor 7th
  • When two notes are 11 half steps (5 and a half whole steps or 5 frets ) the interval is called a Major 7th
  • When two notes are 12 half steps (6 whole steps or 12 frets ) the interval is called an Octave.

 

You don’t need to become overwhelmed with the names of each interval, however you will benefit greatly by spending a few minutes during each practice session playing each interval and getting used to its sound and trying to match up the name with the sound of it in your head. Eventually, you want to get to the point of hearing an interval and being able identify it without touching the guitar. There are several online interval ear trainers that you can use that are free.

We are going to leave the intervals alone for a moment (we will come back to them soon enough) and now its time to discuss another important topic which is the musical alphabet.

 

The Musical Alphabet

There are 7 notes in the musical alphabet. They are A B C D E F and G. They are separated by half steps and whole steps. On the guitar, the distance of one fret is equivalent to one half step and the distance of 2 frets is equal to one whole step. Notes A and B, D and E, F and G are separated by a whole step. I excluded notes B and C, and E and F because the distance between these two pairs of notes is a half step. In other words, they are one fret apart on the guitar fret board. In the illustration below you can see the notes on the fret board. Notice that as I’ve described notes A and B, D and E, F and G are a whole step (distance of 2 frets on the guitar) and notes B and C as well as E and F are a half step apart (distance of 1 fret on the guitar)

You may be wondering why some of the frets are not filled in with note names. For example, what is the name of the note on the 5th string first fret? This note can actually have two different names. Remember that it is a half step lower than the note on the second fret and half step higher than the note of the open string (or zero fret). It can have two names depending on the context. If we look at the note at the first fret as being a half step lower than the note on the second fret (which is a B). This means that we should have a name that describes the note at the first fret as being “a half step lower than B”. We use a flat sign (b) after a note name to mean “a half step lower than that note. In our example, one possible name for a note at the 5th string first fret is a Bb (pronounced “B flat”)

However this note (Bb) is also a half step higher than the note of the open string A. So another name for the note at the first fret of the A string is something that says “a note that is a half step higher than A” We use a sharp sign (#) after a note to mean “a half step higher than that note” In our example, another possible name for a note at the 5th string first fret is an A# (pronounced “A sharp”).

This principle for naming notes applies to the other pairs of notes that are a whole step apart (F and G, and D and E). So a note between F and G can be called F# or Gb, and a note between D and E can be called D# or Eb. These different names for the same note are called enharmonic. In other words, even though a D# and Eb sounds the same pitch, the names for the same note may be different depending on the musical context. For now, simply remember that both names (using sharps or flats) can be used. So the whole fret board can look either like this (with flats used).

So now the question is: how should you go about memorizing all of these notes on the guitar? And is this even necessary? The answer to the second question depends on how good of a musician you aspire to become. If you want to learn to write original music and/or learn to improvise, then knowing the fret board is essential. If your goals are more modest, then this will not be as much of a priority but you can still ONLY BENEFIT from taking the time to learn the notes. So no matter what your goals are, there are only good things to be gained by investing the time into learning your way around the fret board.

There are many ways of going about learning this skill. The first step is to memorize the names of the open strings and the tuning reference notes on each string! This is important to do anyway so that you are able to tune properly if you don’t have a tuner handy. So first you need to remember the open strings (EADGBE) and remember also that the E string at the fifth fret is the same note as the A string open and that the A string at the fifth fret is the same as the D string open and so on. Memorizing that alone will give you great reference points on each string. Since you know that the note on the fifth fret of the E string is an A you can also quickly figure out that the 6th fret is a B flat followed by B on the 7th fret and C on the 8th fret and so on.

Another good thing to do is to ask yourself anytime you play a passage on the guitar: “What notes did I just play?” The more you do this, the faster you’ll be able to figure out the notes.

You can also tackle groups of notes one position at a time. One position spans four frets (one finger per fret stretch). So if you position your index finger on fret 5, your middle on fret 6, ring finger on fret 7 and pinkie on fret 8, you would be playing in the fifth position. If you moved your hand up so that your index was on the 6th fret, you would be in the sixth position and so on.

You can also practice testing yourself by randomly thinking in your head things like: “What note is the G string 5th fret?” Since you already know (think back to the tuning reference notes) that the note on the fourth fret is a B, the fifth fret has to be a C. Also the note on the fifth fret of the G string is the same as the note on the B string first fret. (note C) Likewise note Bb on the E string 6th fret is the same as the note on the A string 1st fret and so on.

The important thing to remember is that learning the note on the fret board takes TIME. Feel free to experiment with creating your own methods for memorizing the notes. Just do not forget that the MOST important thing when it comes to a skill like this is consistency. With practice and experience you will eventually get to the point where you can look at any note on the guitar and think of its name on the spot. Just do not forget to practice this skill on a daily basis even when you are away from the guitar.

Now lets introduce the subject of keys. When a song is said to be in a particular key (for example: A major, E minor, C# minor etc…)it is meant that the notes of a particular scale are used to in the song. So if a song uses the notes and the chords of the F major scale (for example) it is said to be in the key of F major.

There are two main types of scales that 99% of music is based on and they are Major and Minor. While many other scales exist, they are simply variations of Major and Minor (with some notes removed or altered). The major scale is built by relying on a specific formula of intervals. This formula is Whole step, Whole step, Half step, Whole step, Whole step, Whole step, Half step. We will abbreviate Whole steps with a “W” and Half steps with an “H” So again the formula for the major scale is  WWHWWWH.

 

WWHWWWH

Below you can see an illustration of a C major scale on one string. Notice that the intervals between the notes follow the WWHWWWH formula.

So if you started on note C and went up a whole step you would get note D, another whole step would give you E, a half step up will get you to note F, a whole step up will arrive to G, another whole step A, another whole step will get you note B and finally going up by a half step you will return to C again. By following the above major scale formula starting from any note, you have derived a major scale (in this case C major) Here are the notes again:

C D E F G A B C
​W W H W W W H

This pattern works for any scale. For example, here is a G major scale:

G A B C D E F# G
W W H W W W H

 

So if you want to figure out any major scale starting from any Root ( a “Root” is the first note you start the scale on; this word is the same as the word “Tonic” and these terms can be used interchangeably), you simply have to apply the WWHWWWH formula to obtain the rest of the notes.

The notes within the scale are often referred to as scale degrees. Very simply, they are labeled with Arabic numerals 1 through 7. This is done to give a more general system of labeling to notes within scales (much like the Roman numerals for chords). Scale degrees in EVERY major key function in the same way, its only the notes that change depending on the particular scale (again just like the Roman numerals). So the formula for the major scale using scale degrees is very simply: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. This concept will become more important, more relevant (and more clear) later on.

Now lets go back to the subject of keys. Consider the scales below:

The “Sharp” Major Scales:

C D E F G A B C
G A B C D E F# G
D E F# G A B C# D
A B C# D E F# G# A
E F# G# A B C# D# E
B C# D# E F# G# A# B
F# G# A# B C# D# E# F#

 

The “Flat” Major Scales:

C D E F G A B C
F G A Bb C D E F
Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db
Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb

 

If you look down through each column, you will notice that with each new scale the number of sharps (or the number of flats) seems to increase by one. For example: G major has one more sharp than C major(which actually has none) and D major has 1 sharp more than G major etc… Likewise the F major scale has one more flat (again, C major has no sharps or flats) and Bb major has one more sharp than F major etc…

Notice another thing: the roots of each scale (the note that each scale begins on) are related to each other by an interval of a perfect fifth. The result is what is called a “Circle of Fifths” and it looks like this:

You might be wondering what the deal is with the minor keys that are written in lower case letters below the major keys. Do not worry about them at the moment. We will explore the minor scales soon enough and everything will make sense then.

Now its time to talk about how the chords within the scale (and chords in general) are built. We will be dealing with 3 types of chords in this section: Major, minor and diminished (technically there is another type of triad called the “augmented” triad but we won’t get into it here). A major chord is built by taking scale degrees 1 3 and 5 from the major scale that begins on the same root. This means that if you want to build a C major chord (for example), you have to look at the C major scale. So using our WWHWWWH formula we get notes C D E F G A B C. Next, we will use the labeling system of scale degrees to label each of the notes of the scale.

C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

So if we take scale degrees 1 3 and 5 of the C major scale, we get notes C E G. These are the notes that make up a C major chord.

 

C major chord

Important note: Most of the time (especially in guitar based music) you will be playing more than the 3 notes themselves. If you simply strum chords on the guitar, it seems natural to use all 6 strings. Therefore some of the notes in a chord (in our example in C major the notes again are C E and G) can be doubled. That means you can have more than one C, and/or more than one E and/or more than one G

Lets do another example to find the notes of an E major chord. The E major scale contains notes: E F# G# A B C# D# E. Labeled with scale degrees the scale would look like this:

E F# G# A B C# D#
​1 2 3 4 5 6 7

So if we take scale degrees 1, 3 and 5 of the E major scale, we get notes E G# B. These are the notes making up an E major chord.

 

E major chord

Are you catching on to the pattern? So if you need to figure out how to build a major chord starting on any note (Root) simply write out a major scale starting on that note and find scale degrees 1, 3 and 5. Experiment with this on your guitar by playing some simple open position chords that you know (such as C major and E major) and ask yourself, “What notes am I playing” You will find that the notes of the C chord are C E G (as described above) and the notes of the E chord are E G# B (as described above).

Lets do another example in the key of D major. The major scale contains notes D E F# G A B C# D. Labeled with scale degrees, it would look like this:

D E F# G A B C#
​1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Taking scale degrees 1, 3 and 5 of the scale we get notes D F# A. These notes are the notes of the D major chord.

 

D major chord

If you understand how the major chords are built, then understanding the construction of minor chords will not be difficult. The difference between a major and minor chord is that in minor, scale degree 3 is lowered a half step (becoming b3). So the formula for a minor chord is 1 b3 5. In our earlier example in D major, we had the following:

D E F# G A B C#
​1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Scale degrees 1, 3 and 5 (notes D F# A) give us a D major chord. If we lowered the 3rd of the D major chord we would end up with notes D F and A.

 

D minor chord

Important note: The rule with doubling notes applies in the same way to minor chords (and any other chord). Therefore some of the notes in a chord (in our example in D minor the notes again are D F and A) can be doubled. That means you can have more than one D, and more than one F and more than one A.

Lets repeat the above process to get an E minor chord. We need to first look at the notes of the E major scale which are:

E F# G# A B C# D#
​1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Next we need to take scale degrees 1 b3 5 once again. This gives us the notes E G B, the notes of the E minor chord.

 

E minor chord

The next chord we are going to look at is the diminished chord. It is built by taking scale degrees 1 b3 and b5 of the major scale. So going back to our C major example, we already know that scale degrees 1 and b3 would be notes C and Eb. To get scale degree b5, all we need to do is take a look at the regular scale degree 5 (note G in C major) and lower it a half step to make a Gb. So the notes in a C diminished chord would be C Eb and Gb.

 

C diminished

Lets look at how we would form an E diminished chord. First, we will need the scale degrees of the major scale. We already know that scale degrees 1 and b3 would be notes E and G (refer to the previous page for detailed explanation if you need to review). In order to get scale degree b5, we need to (as we did in our C major example above) to look at the regular scale degree 5 (note B in the key of E major) and lower it a half step. So we would end up with the note Bb. So an E diminished triad has the notes E G and Bb.

 

E diminished

The last chord we will discuss is the chord that is commonly referred to as the “Power Chord”. It is very simple to build and even simpler to play and it is used all over the place in rock music. To build a power chord from any root, you have to look at the major scale starting from that note and take scale degrees 1 and 5. So using C major as an example, the notes once again are:

C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

 

C power chord (C5)

Note: in a power chord, the Root is typically doubled. So in the case of a C power chord above, you have two C notes and one G note. Also note that this position is movable so you can move it down or up the strings to get different power chords. Another word of advice is to play them with distortion using palm muting with your right hand. Power chords are rarely played using clean tone or using an acoustic guitar as they generally sound best in a rock/heavy metal context on a distorted electric guitar using the bridge pick up. Also note that power chords are also called 5 chords such as A5, E5 or C5.

Here are some more diagrams of common power chords. Again, keep in mind that they are really built using one basic shape that is movable all over the fret board (notice the fingering and the position of the shape of the G power chord and the B power chord for example).

  • E Power Chord
  • A Power Chord
  • D Power Chord
  • G Power Chord

 

B Power chord

Lets now shift our discussion to the minor scales. There are actually 3 types of minor scales (natural, harmonic and melodic). We will focus on the more common scales here which are the natural and harmonic minor. Lets begin with the natural minor scale.

You can think of the natural minor scale in several different ways. One way of thinking of it is that some of its scale degrees are different than those of the major scale starting from the same root. Here is what this means: lets say you are playing an A major scale using the notes below:

A B C# D E F# G#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Now, to get the A natural minor scale we need to lower scale degrees 3 6 and 7 making them b3 b6 and b7. In other words, we get the following notes (in the A natural minor scale).

A B C D E F G
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Notice another curious detail. Notes of the A natural minor are EXACTLY the same as those of the C major scale (C D E F G A B C) with the only difference being that the minor scale starts on scale degree 6. This unique relationship between a major scale and a natural minor scale starting on that major scale’s scale degree 6 is going to become very important later. In fact there is a special term for this relationship that is used in music theory. The A minor scale is said to be the relative minor of C major. And vice versa C major is said to be the relative major of A minor. Look back at the circle of fifths again, is it making more sense now?

Here are a couple of more examples. Lets take the B major scale. Its notes are:

B C# D# E F# G# A#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Now, to turn the above major scale into a minor scale, we need to lower scale degrees 3 6 and 7. So in other words we need to take notes D# G# and A# and lower them by a half step, turning them into notes D G and A. So the notes of the B natural minor scale become:

B C# D E F# G A
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Notice also, that this minor scale contains the EXACT same notes as the D major scale (D E F# G A B C# D) except that it is starting on scale degree 6. So you can say that B natural minor is the relative minor of D major, and that D major is the relative major of B minor.

Lets do another example using the G major scale. Here are the notes:

G A B C D E F#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

In order to form a G natural minor scale, we will need to take scale degrees 3 6 and 7 once again, and lower them by one half step. So we will need to take notes B E and F# and lower them to get notes Bb Eb and F. So the notes of the G natural minor scale become:

G A Bb C D Eb F
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Notice also, that this minor scale contains the EXACT same notes as the Bb major scale (Bb C D Eb F G A Bb) except that it is starting on scale degree 6. So you can say that G natural minor is the relative minor of Bb major, and that Bb major is the relative major of G minor.

The above process works for every scale. So from now on, if you want to find the relative minor scale from any major scale, all you have to do is look at that major scale’s scale degree 6. Go back to the circle of fifths picture again and look at how the minor scales are derived from the major scales.

Now lets turn our attention to the harmonic minor scale. There is only one note difference between natural minor and harmonic minor. The difference is scale degree 7. In natural minor, you would lower that scale degree (to make it b7) however in harmonic minor you keep the same scale degree 7 as it is in the relative major. Here is an example in the key of A.

A natural minor:

A B C D E F G
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

A harmonic minor:

A B C D E F G#
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7

The harmonic minor scale and natural minor scales have the same relative major scale. In other words, the relative major of A minor (natural, harmonic) is still C major.

Armed with all of this information, we can now explore how chords are grouped into keys. I will give you a brief summary here, if you are interested in a more in depth explanation, check out my book The Next Step: Serious Improvement for the Developing Guitarist. for a much more in depth description of chords (among many other important topics for a developing guitarist).

Anyway, here we go:

Below are the chords in the most common keys. They are given a general system of labeling using Roman Numerals. There are seven chords that belong in each major or minor key and each one is labeled with a specific Roman numeral. In other words, the first chord in the key is given a Roman numeral I, the second is labeled ii, the third iii, the fourth is labeled IV, the fifth V, the sixth vi and the seventh viio. Major and minor chords are distinguished by writing the Roman numeral for the chord either in upper or lower case respectively. In other words, all major chords (I IV V) get an upper case Roman numeral and the minor chords (ii iii vi) get a lower case Roman numeral. The diminished chord is given a lower case Roman numeral with a degree symbol (viio). You will see this type of labeling system in the future.

Try coming up with some progressions (to play a progression simply means to play several chords together with one following the other) using the chords below. For now all you need to know is that these chords belong to their respective keys and if you play a combination of chords from a specific key there is a good chance that they will sound good together. Also remember that when you play the V chord in any major key progression, the I chord most often follows. The same applies to the viio chord (the I chord often follows it). This is a very basic way to think about it but for right now I am sure you have your hands full just learning to change between the chords smoothly. Make sure you follow the technical tips, watch the video examples (as many times as you need to) and keep practicing! Also try to memorize these chord fingerings so that playing them will become automatic (you will find that these chords are used A LOT in guitar based music).

 

Key of C Major:

  • C major I
  • D minor ii
  • E minor iii
  • F Major V
  • G Major V
  • A minor vi
  • B diminished viio

 

Key of G Major:

  • G major I
  • A minor ii
  • B minor iii
  • C Major V
  • D Major V
  • E minor vi
  • F# diminished viio

 

Key of D Major:

  • D major I
  • E minor ii
  • F# minor iii
  • G Major V
  • A Major V
  • B minor vi
  • C# diminished viio

 

Key of A Major:

  • A major I
  • B minor ii
  • C# minor iii
  • D Major V
  • E Major V
  • F# minor vi

 

Key of E Major:

  • E major I
  • F# minor ii
  • G# minor iii
  • A Major V
  • B Major V
  • C# minor vi
  • D# diminished viio

 

F Major:

  • F major I
  • G minor ii
  • A minor iii
  • Bb Major V
  • C Major V
  • D minor vi
  • E diminished viio

 

Here are some very common chord progressions you can try:

In the key of C major:

  • Progression 1 – C major(I) F major(IV) G major(V) C major(I)
  • Progression 2 – C major(I) F major(IV) D minor(ii) G major(V) B diminished(viio) C major(I)
  • Progression 3 – C major(I) D minor(ii) E minor(iii)G major(V) C major(I)

In the key of D major:

  • Progression 1 – D major(I) G major(IV) A major(V) D major(I)
  • Progression 2 – D major(I) G major(IV) E minor(ii) A major(V) C# diminished(viio) D major (I)
  • Progression 3 – D major (I) E minor (ii)F# minor (iii) A major (V) D major (I)

In the key of E major:

  • Progression 1 – E major(I) A major(IV) B major(V) E major(I)
  • Progression 2 – E major(I) A major(IV) F# minor(ii) B major(V) D# diminished(viio) E major(I)
  • Progression 3 – E major(I) F# minor(ii) G# minor(iii) B major(V) E major(I)

Okay, wasn’t that fun? I hope you enjoyed this introduction to music theory and have learned some things in the process. Remember that the more you apply theory the more you assimilate it.

Phrasing 101

How to Stop Being a Guitar Player and Start Being a Musician?

This master class will outline the following:

  • Why you absolutely NEED to be aware of phrasing
  • Repetition and creating memorable phrases
  • The role of breath in creating effective phrases
  • Implementation strategies for improving phrasing and musicality

 

I would like to preface this article by saying that I am not intending to act as the “taste police” by advocating one style of playing over another. My goal is to enhance the awareness and understanding of the reader’s ability to communicate artistically. In learning to communicate more effectively as an artist, debates regarding shred versus blues, slow versus fast, and X- genre versus Y- genre all become erroneous (although each of these debates will live on through online forums and YouTube I am sure). The system that I am proposing for developing phrasing is vital because it focuses on listener expectations. Even those looking to create the most Avant-garde music will have to consider how to confound or subvert listener expectations, thus making an understanding of such expectations important. As many teachers have argued about theory, “you must first learn the rules in order to break them.”

Phrasing is a word that is often thrown around incorrectly. Regardless of genre or style, all great guitarists exhibit great phrasing. Many players, when asked why they consider one player to be superior to another often state “His/Her phrasing is better!!” Or, alternatively, when a proud young shredder posts his latest work on a guitar forum many will say something to the effect of “good chops, but bad phrasing.”

Do these players really understand what phrasing is, though?
I would contend that they usually do not. For many people, “good phrasing” simply means “not shredding.” In other cases “good phrasing” will be confused with “playing the blues, and only the blues.” While blues is perhaps the most ubiquitous form of phrasing for guitar players, this type of dogmatism is artistically limiting.

Now, as you are aware, the word good is completely subjective. Just ask any dedicated guitarist what a good guitar brand is. You will hear many different answers to this question.

So why learn to create more effective musical phrases in such a subjective art form? Is there even a standard by which the artistry of phrasing is judged? There absolutely is!

Music is communication. All musical arts presuppose a listener, without exception. Therefore music which cannot communicate automatically becomes irrelevant.

When we approach phrasing on the guitar it is important to be mindful of this relationship between musician and audience (listener).

 

So what is phrasing, exactly?

A musical phrase refers to a segment of music which can function on its own, as a single unit. A phrase could span many bars, or few. Essentially, the only requirement for a segment of music to be considered a phrase is that it exhibits a sense of completeness.

The act of phrasing refers to the art of linking musical phrases together in either composed or improvised melody.

For the purpose of this master class, good phrasing will refer to phrasing that establishes memorability while demonstrating artistry through the tasteful use of repetition, variation, and breath. In other words, good phrasing is about effective artistic communication.

  • Breath – The oldest instrument in the world is the human voice, and all music uses vocal music as a pretext. Therefore, phrases must PAUSE in order to be effective, because the human ear has been conditioned to listen to music which pauses for breath since the beginning of vocal music! Listeners will not find an unrelenting flurry of notes memorable (in most cases).
  • Repetition – Like anything else, repetition can be overdone. Repetition is, however, a vital part of the communication process. Anyone who has done public speaking or lectures can attest to the fact that information must be repeated to be understood by an audience.
  • Variation – A phrase can only repeat so many times before it becomes stale.

I have compiled some very simple and familiar examples to outline these concepts. Let’s take a closer look at how Breath, Repetition, and Variation work in phrasing.

 

Breath

For a musical phrase to feel memorable, it must end at some point. Phrases usually (though not always) exist in the space between two melodic pauses.

Here is a familiar and simple example:

 

Notice how there is two pauses in this phrase. The first pause acts as a small disruption to draw you into the 2nd half of the phrase. At this point there is another pause, marking the end of the phrase which is repeated verbatim. As an interesting side note, Hendrix ends many phrases in “Purple Haze” with double-stop slide down the E and A strings.

Another example:

 

Similar to “Purple Haze,” this lick pauses mid-phrase before ending.

Many amateur guitar players (and some professionals) use phrasing that sounds like a giant run-on sentence. Much like 90% of YouTube comments, these guitarists sound as if they are typing in all caps and have lost their period and comma keys. You know how when you read a couple pages of YouTube comments, your head starts to hurt? The same can be said of the listener’s ears when listening to melodic phrases that are not punctuated with pauses.

 

Repetition and Variation

I believe that many amateur musicians fear repetition. A 16 year old bassist once told me that good bass players must not repeat the same lick twice. This is obviously untrue as both popular and critically acclaimed music often feature repetitive bass figures. Even many walking bass lines in traditional jazz utilize a repeated rhythm throughout. Typically, however, repeated elements should be paired with elements of variation. The key is to use repetition in such a way that it does not become tiresome to the listener, and repeat elements in such a way that they sound fresh. The artistry of improvisation lies mainly in an artist’s ability to use both varied and repeated elements in an effective way.

Repetition is important in improvising melodies, much like inserting breaths or pauses, because the listener has been conditioned to understand repetitive phrases. It should be the goal of all soloists to communicate more clearly to the listener. Again, after all, music that does not have a listener in mind is narcissistic and useless. For the guitar, we can look to the Call and Response melodic form to aid in understanding how to use repetition and variation. The historical basis for modern guitar soloing clearly comes from the blues, so we will examine how Call and Response (C+R) worked in this genre.

The C+R form comes from old African American work chants, wherein one worker would call out a phrase and the other workers would call back a response phrase. C+R chanting eventually naturalized itself as part of the blues tradition and can work different ways within the genre. For example, a singer might sing a call phrase which is answered by guitar or harmonica. Another common example would be two guitarists trading licks where one player “calls” and the other “responds”. Instruments and voice, however, can both call and answer themselves. A soloist can “call” a melody and then “respond” to it themselves. Call and Response can work in other ways as well, though. If one was to play an initial phrase (A), repeat it (A), and then introduce a new phrase (B), this would still be considered C+R. This type of phrasing can be structured in many different ways, as long there is both repeated and new material (AAB, ABA, ABB, ABAC, and ABAB are common examples).

Here is an example of this type of phrasing in its most basic form:

 

 

Techniques for Repetition and Variation

There are four fundamental techniques for applying repetition and variation in solos.

 

Repeat the phrase verbatim

It is acceptable to repeat a phrase or lick note-for-note. This is especially effective at an emotional climax, or for a long phrase. Here are two examples

 

 

Repeat the rhythm of the phrase

Repeating a rhythm with different notes can be a very effective melodic tool.

 

Repeat the notes of the phrase

Using the same notes with a different rhythm can have a very interesting effect. Some people call this rhythmic displacement. There are many ways to achieve this.

 

 

In this example the first note of the lick always occurs on a different beat by using a 5-note repeated pattern.

 

Play an entirely new phrase

Quite often, when following an introductory phrase with a completely new phrase there is a longer pause.

 

Once the fundamental techniques are mastered, it can be useful to consider some of the following approaches:

 

Repeat a phrase backwards

Phrases played backwards can make a passage very interesting.

 

Play a sequence

This technique is similar to repeating a melodic rhythm with different notes. The difference lies in the fact that a sequence also repeats intervocalic relationships. For example, a lick that used scale degrees 1, 2, and 3 could be repeated using scale degrees 5, 6, and 7.

The song “Scarified” by Racer X demonstrates melodic sequencing in this example through repeating an initial melody on various beginning notes. A sequence is like an algorithm made up of intervals that can be applied to different starting notes.

 

 

Repeat a phrase with new dynamics

Try playing a phrase with a soft touch, and then loudly (or the other way around). Changing dynamics can also combine well with any of the techniques mentioned

 

Repeat a phrase and truncate part of it

This works well with longer phrases. Play a phrase once, and then only repeat part of the phrase.

There are many more ways of manipulating phrases. Try to come up with more and be sure to write your ideas down.

 

Implementation

Being aware of how to use breath, repetition, and variation in your solos is only part of the battle. I have prepared some strategies for implementing these techniques which are useful for beginner through advanced players. First, we will examine a series of what I call restrictive techniques, which are designed to focus on single fundamental aspects of phrasing.

 

One-Note Soloing

One-note soloing is used for building improvisation rhythm chops, which most guitar players lack. The ability to manipulate rhythmic phrases is crucial to all guitar players, however most instructors neglect rhythmic studies with their students. Time that should be spent focusing on rhythm is more often spent learning scales. Scales have historically been assigned over importance to the guitar. While learning scales is vitally important, it is more important to learn to make listenable music than to know how to play the Bulgarian scale. Guitarists who over emphasize scalar knowledge often tend to phrase poorly (ie. no repetitive/variational devices, no pauses).

In a video, Scott Henderson once demonstrated how listeners tend to privilege rhythm over melody. Many people might disagree at first, but Henderson’s case is compelling. He plays the familiar tune “Jingle Bells” by performing the song’s rhythmic content with incorrect notes with oblique interval relationships. This altered version of the song is still easily identifiable as “Jingle Bells,” and exemplifies how rhythmic content is given priority to the listener.

Performing a one-note solo is very simple. Choose a backing track of some type (blues tracks tend to work really well) and attempt to create interesting phrases using a single note. You will be tempted to bend, slide, and perform all types of manoeuvres but try to resist at first. As you become more adept at one note solos, allow yourself to use bends and creative vibrato. This implementation technique is incredibly powerful.

As well as building rhythmic ability, this technique is also useful for examining how harmonic tensions are structured across a series of chords. In other words, you can learn how one note works together with chords in a series. An accidental note, C#, over a I IV V progression in C would generate tension with each chord, whereas a B note would establish tension over the I and IV but not the V.

 

Restricted Pattern Soloing

With a backing track, choose 2-4 notes of the pentatonic scale, major scale, or natural minor scale. Use these notes to create interesting phrases while being mindful of the repetition/variation techniques mentioned above.

Here is one particularly effective scale fragment:

 

I have seen this example referred to as the “BB King Blues Box” elsewhere, because many of BB King’s licks work within this scale fragment. This type of practicing is extremely effective because it forces the player to create rhythmically interesting patterns. The audio file above an example of a solo using a 4-note pentatonic scale over a 12 bar blues progression.

 

Single String Soloing

Playing melodies on a single string has two major benefits: (1) it is easy to break out of scale based ruts and (2) interval relationships are far clearer on a single string. Single string soloing is a litmus test for whether or not a guitarist uses muscle memory to form phrases, or tries to phrase by using an internal sense of melody. Of course, it is better to be consciously trying to form tasteful melodies than rehashing old material when soloing.

 

Singing

On many recordings, the late jazz great Oscar Peterson can be heard singing along with his improvised lines. As one of the greatest jazz musicians of his time, Oscar’s habit of singing while he improvised presents a useful lesson for all soloists. When a guitarist sings while improvising his/her melodic ideas seem more focused and less inhibited by erroneous notes or automatic patterns. I believe this is due to the phenomenon of muscle memory.

Quite often, when one improvises, the majority of his/her playing consists of old familiar patterns. This same muscle memory that helps us memorize long complex passages can also be a hindrance when trying to spontaneously create new melodies. Therefore, by trying to conceive of melodies from a fresh perspective (vocally), old patterns should be less restrictive.

 

Write down good ideas and build etudes

Whether they are your own ideas or another guitar player’s ideas, write down all and any captivating melodies and licks. Be sure to build etudes/studies from any licks you find particularly captivating. It is best if you can use standard notation to capture these melodies and etudes as this practice will help internalize new rhythmic material.

Also, transcription is a very old and effective practice for developing one’s phrasing. While jazz musicians have been using transcription as a learning tool for years, the practice can also be applied to any genre. For most people, the difficulty in transcription lies in the rhythms rather than the melody notes. Developing the ability to transcribe rhythms effectively will help soloists build a deeper sense of timing and a broader vocabulary of fundamental rhythmic content.

 

Trade licks with another good player

Find another guitar player and trade licks back and forth. Some common ways to do this are trading leads every two bars, trading leads every four bars, or trading choruses on a 12 bar blues pattern. Do not let these options limit you though. One approach I have used with my students is to set up a backing track and trade leads from verse to chorus. Also, if you cannot find another advanced lead player, find a beginner or intermediate. As a teacher I constantly find inspiration in my student’s fresh melodic ideas.

 

Wrapping Up

To wrap up, I have presented a number of qualities of effective phrases, ways of structuring/restructuring phrases, and some techniques for implementation. My goal for each player who reads this master class is that he/she will apply this set of guidelines to a diverse range of musical styles. These are, however, a set of guidelines based on how phrasing is typically communicated through most styles. It is important to note that even the most avant garde music is in dialog with these guidelines in some way. In order to oppose or refute a system you must first acknowledge it. Finally, the techniques presented in this article are not exhaustive. Each technique can provide many hours of practice material, but I encourage readers to search for new personalized approaches to implementing effective phrasing.

Alternate Picking 101

Introduction

So you would like to learn how to alternate pick? Or, maybe your having trouble getting your picking sounding like a machine gun? Well, you have come to the right person. I understand what it is like to have good chops, but not be able to alternate pick fast. It bothered me for years! But, then one day I figured out the secret to super fast picking… the metronome and playing faster than I could cleanly! If you do not have a metronome, go out and buy one NOW! This is a must and you will NOT be able to pick fast and metrical if you don’t practice with a metronome. A metronome will smooth out your timing between pick strokes at any tempo.

I remember being super frustrated with alternate picking. I was in a slump. Couldn’t pick fast, no matter how hard I tried. One day a revelation occurred to me. I was sitting down at my computer listening to some Imperialist. Then, the song “17th Century Clicking Picking” came on. I was floored. My jaw hit the ground and then I said, “I WILL ALTERNATE PICK LIKE THAT.” That was the point that I realized my faults.

I wasn’t practicing on a consistent basis with perfect technique at slow speeds. So, you know what I did? I grabbed my metronome, and sat down every day, 4 to 16 hours, in my dorm room, and practiced to that metronome. Everyday for a month, without a miss. You can guess what happened! It was after I learned to pick really fast that I truly learned what my faults were. What amazed me was that my progress happened in just a few days after a long period of intense practicing. Not everyone has that sort of practice time available. But, by consistently practicing with perfect technique, anyone can avail at speed picking.

Let me reiterate how important it is to practice at a slow tempos and master licks for long periods of time at a slow speeds with perfect technique. Never make the mistake of trying to play to fast than you can cleanly. If you do this, you will not sound clean at high speeds. Also be sure to not over-train yourself. Just like you can over-train your muscles in weight lifting, you can wear out your joints and tendons in insane technical practice over long periods of time. If you start feeling any pain, stop! Enough preaching, let us now go over the rules of thumb before we dig into picking.

 

Rules of Thumb

Be Loose

The less tension you have when you pick, the faster you will be able to play and the less muscle strain you will suffer. Never dig in when picking really fast. Lay back and be loose.Make sure there is NO TENSION anywhere in your body. Think about your shoulders, back, arms, legs, toes, and head when you practice. Tension = INJURY. Tension = SLOW.

 

Think Economy

Economy motion is the key here. This means try to eliminate as much motion between pick strokes as possible. The less that you have to move your hand, the faster you can get back to the string. When practicing slowly with perfect economy, make sure you minimize your motion between strokes.

 

Never Pick from Your Elbow

If you speed pick from your elbow, stop and relearn! I’ve you can really mess up your elbow by doing this. It also takes a lot more energy to move your whole arm than it does your wrist of fingers. You can use your wrist (e.g. Paul Gilbert) to pick or your fingers (e.g. Michael Angelo). What is important is that you pick a style and stick to it. Consistency is key.

 

Warm Up

Always stretch out your tendons and massage your elbows. We don’t want you getting CTS or Tendinitis! If the blood is not flowing through your hands well, you will not pick fast and accurately.

 

Slow Before Fast

You can not play fast unless you can play slow. Do not ever attempt to play something faster than you can if you are going to sacrifice cleanness for speed. This is a big NO in alternate picking and it held me up for a long time. Learn it slow, practice it slow, and drive it into your subconscious! Get comfortable with the lick, and then develop the speed. As they say in football, “you have to catch the ball before you can run with it.” Developing speed is all about perfect practice at slow tempos for long periods of time to ingrain the movements into your subconscious. It is then when you gain the speed that your brain regurgitates what you practiced on autopilot.

 

How to Build Speed

Take a few patterns on or 2 strings like e–5-7-8– or e–8-5-7-8-7-5 and drill them into the ground at slow tempos. Practice them at a moderate speed with perfect technique for long periods of time. You want to ingrain that picking movement into your skull to the point where you are so sick of these simple licks that you would rather die than keep practicing them! That is the trick, drilling a few simple licks intensely and building your speed with them. Once you start getting the speed under your hands, you should then expand into the harder stuff like string crossing and combining fragments into longer licks.

 

Part 1 – The Basics

So, what is alternate picking? Simple, it is the process of playing a series of notes while using consecutive alternating motion between picking strokes. This means you never repeat the same picking stroke twice. e.g down, up, down, up, etc… Now, with this in mind, let us apply this idea. play the following example. Remember our rules of thumb! (Note that the V indicates an upstroke and the 3/4 of a square marking indicates a down stroke)

Congratulations, you have just alternate picked! Pretty easy hey? Well here is a classic picking exercise to help you develop those picking chops.

I’m sure you’ve seen that exercise 100 times by now hey? I know, I’ve seen it probably a thousand, and I’ve played it way more than that. But, this exercise is a classic for a reason, IT WORKS! Remember to do it in a descending fashion too! You should also try different variations of finger combinations. It is great for building finger interdependence.

Moving onward, one of the most difficult parts of picking super fast is crossing strings. Whether it be fumbling up the consecutive motion, or making noise while crossing strings, crossing strings while picking fast can get ugly! How do we prevent that. Simple, start SLOWLY and isolate the problem. Try this exercise on for size. Be careful not to make noise when crossing strings. This is a great Paul Gilbert lick for practicing string crossings:

Remember us talking about economy motion? It is really really important when crossing strings. The less motion you use when you cross, the faster that you will be able to burn. Here is another great Paul Gilbert lick with a different feel of a string crossing.

Playing those exercises daily will really help you clean up your string crossings.

 

Part 2 – 3 Note Per String Picking

Playing 3 note per sting patterns is probably the easiest thing to do at super insane speeds. 3 Note per string patterns tend to have a more natural feel compared to other picking patterns. With this in mind, let us try some ascending runs. I hope you know all your major scales, if not, read my master class on it. On a side note, personally I always palm mute all of my picking runs because they sound more articulate and they tend to be cleaner. Experiment and find out what you like the most.

How about we try isolating those weaker fingers to strengthen them.

*Yawn* I’m falling asleep, too easy right? Then, let us add some string skipping to see if you can hold up.

OK hotshot, I get the point, you want something challenging? Try this bad boy out for size.

Well, as they say, what goes up, must come down. In light of that, we shall do some descending picking patterns.

Combo platter anyone?

 

Part 3 – One String Picking

For some reason, this can be a total nightmare, but, with enough SLOW practice, oh yes my friends, you too can blaze these killer licks. Just remember the rules of thumb! One sting picking is not made for the impatient. Here we go. This is a lick using the harmonic minor scale.

(Finger it: 4 3 1 \ 1 2 4 / . The trick is getting the shift fast with out making it sound like your sliding!)

OK, here is the classic Yngwie one note per string picking lick.

Here is one of my favorites. The faster you play this, the better it sounds.

 

Part 4 – 4 Note Per String Patterns

Alright shred heads, here is the next step. We shall begin by playing the simple chromatic scale.

Hopefully, you are starting to see how we approach efficient picking. I’m going to start to leave out the picking markings. By now, you should have a great idea on how to pick things. Here is a 4 note per string lick.

Here is one more lick with some cool open stringage (is that a word? haha, it is now!).

Remember that you should play all these licks in a descending fashion too!

 

Part 5 – Sequencing

There are 2 great ways to make long picking licks. The 1st is to combine short scale fragments into long licks. The next is sequencing in scales. This is where the really cool picking licks are derived from. Nothing sounds cooler in my opinion than a super fast sequenced lick. So here we go with 4’s.

Just wait until you get that beast up to speed. It sounds tight. This next lick is one of my favorite. It is a Paul Gilbert style sequence. Give her a whirl, and pay close attention to the sequencing pattern!! This one is guaranteed to hurt, so warm up and stretch out..

You can sequence in any way imaginable, just be creative and experiment! Soon you’ll be tearing it up all over the neck. You can try sequencing any scale imagine. Try taking a scale and doing groups of 3, 4, 5, 6, and anything else your brain can concoct! Once you get your hands trained to sequence fluently, you will be able to rip up and down the fret board with ease.

 

Part 5 – Insane Guitar

Now that you can tear up this whole master class up (this far), lets have some more fun. Let’s tear it up with some cool sounding licks. Only proceed to this section if you are able to rip all the previous licks on this page effortlessly. We are going to have some fun! Please remember that when learning large licks, do so in small sections.
You have to love the pentatonic scale! Pay close attention to the 2 note per string stuff. It can really mess you up if you are not careful.

Here is a cool diminished lick with some string skipping.

Now let us burn up some minor scales.

Well, I think you’ve got the idea. There are some many cool picking licks out there. Listen to some of your favorite guitarists and learn theirs. There are many great articles in the archives here with tons of cool picking licks. Always remember the principles behind good technique and I wish you the best of luck with your picking!

Fret Tapping 101

Hey everyone, its time for some fret tapping… insane guitar style. But, first, before the cool stuff we have to touch the basics. So what is fret tapping some of;you may ask? Well, take your middle finger on your picking hand (you can use your index finger too, I just find the middle easier and more efficient) and hammer it on; to the 12th fret on the high E string. I bet you never even thought that you could do that right? That was my first reaction when my guitar teacher was playing a Van Halen solo for me and all of the sudden he whips his right hand up and starts doing all this crazy stuff with both hands. I’m going… wow, this is insane, I’ll never be able to do that. WRONG. Fret tapping is one of the easiest techniques and it is a lot of fun too.

OK, now you know sort of how to do it. We will start really simple. The “T” in the tablature means tap that note with your middle finger on your picking hand. Basically hammer the 12th fret hard with that middle finger, then give it a little jerk off the string to produce a pull off. Congratulations, your on you way to becoming a tapping mad man now.

 

Ok, now were going to up the ante. Its time to incorporate a little left hand work into tapping. Try this lick now.

 

Once you get licks like that up to speed you will be on your way. Now its time to incorporate some some different strings. Here’s a more advanced variation of that last lick.

 

Now here is a really cool tapping lick. This is a great example of how to incorporate tapping over cord progressions.

 

OK, now that you have the basics, its time to increase the skill. Remember, there are a million different ways and patterns for tapping. Experiment!! Now for the hard stuff. This next lick is a good example of adding slides into tapping.

 

Here is taking sliding to the extreme. 100% max speed on one string. Execute as fast as possible….and remember the 3 C’s… CLEAN! CLEAN! CLEAN!!

 

Now lets add more than one finger. Multiple finger tapping. Use what ever fingers work best for you, and remember, the thumb is fair game. This is a tapped pentatonic scale.

 

Time for a legato lick with tapping.

 

What? Did some one say it’s time for some sweeping sequenced arpeggios and; tapping? I think so. Check it. Start slow, work up to speed. This is a killer lick. One of my favorites. I conjured it up after listening to “Intro” off Michael Angelo’s “No Boundries” CD.

 

Did you like that? I hope so. If that lick doesn’t keep you up all night practicing, this next concept will. Throw out your pick. Were going 100% two handed. This is one pain in the you know what technique. The goal is to play cord progressions ( or walking jazz guitar lines ) with your left hand, and tear it up with your right hand soloing.

Unfortunately I’m not that great at this so I can’t tab anything out for you. I can only open your mind to the possibilities. I can kind of do this, but I am no expert. In the left you want to keep a solid type of progression going. This requires an ultra strong left hand. Hammering one whole barre cords is NOT EASY!!!! Especially trying to make EVERY NOTE come out strong. You can also do fragments of cords.

When trying jazz progressions, try hammering on Dominant triads (“Kernel Cords”) with passing tones, neighboring tones, etc. to transition you between cords. With your soloing hand you can do long legato runs, do arpeggios, hit double stops… etc. The possibilities are endless. To develop a strong right hand, Practice running up and down scales and arpeggios. It is hard to get a really solid right hand. It will take a long time, but after a while, you will be tearing it up! Have fun, I hope I’ve opened you up to something you never thought of.

Legato 101

Introduction

What is legato? Well, its playing a continuous and fluid series of notes with out using much picking. Guitarists play this technique by the usage of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and right (or left if your a lefty) hand tapping. Legato provides for very fluid sounding runs and licks. Legato also serves as a great means for playing wide intervocalic licks at high speed.

 

Hand Strengthening Exercises

The first exercise that we will be getting into is called “trills.” In order you get your fingers moving, you have to spend the time developing the muscles. I like to compare hand strengthening legato exercises with body building. As you develop your muscles, you will increase your flexibility, speed, and control. Work our your hand hard, but never over work it. You want to feel the burn in your hand but then relax it. Come back 2-3 minutes later and do another set of trills.

If you do about 3 sets a day, ( make sure you take a day or 2 off to recuperate, you don’t want CTS or tendinitis! Stretch out good! ) soon you will be able to trill longer, stretch farther, and play faster. A trill is performed by playing two notes as fast as you can in repetition. You want to hammer and pull off every note with only picking the first note. Try trilling the 1st and 2nd fret of the E string. Then Move to the B string and so forth.

Make sure that you use every set of fingers that you have. This way they should all equally develop. Most importantly, TAKE THE TIME TO DEVELOP your pinky finger. That is a very crucial part of guitar playing. I can’t stress enough on how critical this is! It may seem hard at first, but remember that this is like weight lifting. At first you won’t put up much weight, but as your muscles strengthen and stabilize, you will get fast increases in gains. It will be hard at first to get that pinky moving, but before you know it, your pinky will become one of your most important playing fingers.

The next part of playing legato is getting strong pull offs. A strong left hand will take you a long way. Working on this exercise while sitting at the television, reading, etc….., will help your left hand a lot. Just make sure you can hear the note being pulled off with out an amp.

 

The next step in hand strength development is to get all 4 of your fingers working together. Here are a series of exercises that are guaranteed to give you one hell of a work out. These exercises will help smooth out your legato technique. Make sure you do these exercises to a metronome!

The whole point of legato is to have a really smooth and fluid sound. When you start hand strengthening exercises, concentrate on fluidity and smoothness. If you begin learning the technique this way, it will automatically apply to your playing when you develop ripping speed. This is of extreme importance because unlearning a bad habit is 10 times worse than learning it correctly the first time.

Memorize the first lick. Then apply the new finger patterns to it each time.

 

I guarantee that if you work on patterns like this as exercise a couple of times a week, you will have a a killer legato in a short period of time.

The last legato hand exercise that we are going to look at are what I call “flutters.” These are really cool sounding licks when played up to tempo and are great for strengthen your legato. The first 2 notes of the lick are the only ones that are picked. To execute these properly, you sweep the first 2 notes and let your fingering hand take over the rest of the lick. Palm muting the first note of the lick will help accent the note. The result is a cool sounding lick that is easy to play fast and is a good way to develop speed.

 

 

Putting Together Phrases

Now that you’ve eaten your “Wheaties,” taken your vitamins, and got some meat on your legato hand, it is time to put together some licks that you can actually use in a musical way. Putting together long legato phrases follows the exact same idea as putting together long alternate picking runs. It is best to use several small phrases and string them together. Here are some phrases and finger patterns for you to get down with your legato hand in the key of E minor (G major).

 

This is where it becomes important to have memorized the major scale positions. Connecting these scales to create long licks is the key to making continuous legato runs. Now we are going to combine some of these phrases and finger patterns into some licks. This lick starts out with a ‘flutter’ then ascends. This is in the key of A minor (C major).

 

As you can see, all we did is take a few small patterns and string them together into a longer lick. Here is another lick that uses the exact same idea in E minor.

 

Remember to pick the string at the beginning of each phrase. Basically, what this all comes down to is weather you know how to connect your scales or not. By now you should have an understanding of how to link together phrases. This leads me to my next point, sliding. Slides are a very crucial part of legato playing. Sliding allows you to fluidly move in and out of patterns as well as opens up the possibility of flying all over the neck in a legato fury. Here is a Joe Satriani lick that I used to practice a lot which helped my sliding an position changing tremendously.

 

When playing that lick, you only want to play the first note. You should not have to pick the string more than one time. This lick is also a great endurance lick for building strength.

Now that you’ve got the tools to put together long legato phrases, lets put on together using everything mentioned above. If you are having a hard time playing this lick, remember to break it down in to manageable phrases. Remember, all long licks are just the sum of a lot of smaller pieces.

 

Once you can start putting together licks like that, there is no stopping you! In the next part of this master class we are going to explore some ideas with legato that will hopefully help you create some awesome licks!

Please note: At this point in the lesson, you should already have a decent control over your legato hand and some good endurance. You should also be putting together your own phrases and licks. If you aren’t at this point in your playing, then go back to earlier parts of the lesson and work on these things.

 

Pentatonic Ideas

Using legato to implement 3 and 4 note per string licks is a great way to break out of that box. The phrase “think outside the box” is something you hear a lot in business. Legato is a great way to take something that can be very cliche, boring, and overused, like the pentatonic scale (listen to any 80’s hair band guitar solo), and do something exciting with it. From my own experiences, I can tell you that I do a lot of pentatonic speed picking, string skipping, ect… licks because I think they sound VERY catchy at high speeds. For some really cool pentatonic legato ideas, check out Shawn Lane and Rusty Cooley (especially his 4 note per string pentatonic legato string skipping licks! INSANE !!!).

We are going to start off with something simple so you get the idea. Here is a really good lick to practice getting your speed up. It is an E minor pentatonic lick and definitely one of my favorite to play.

 

Once you get that lick under your fingers, you can just rage on it at insane speeds. Let’s expand on that idea with some octaves. Here we go.

 

Now that is a cool lick. Let’s try a more advanced legato lick using the pentatonic scale that incorporates some tapping into it.

 

I’ll take a pentatonic scale with super sized legato and a side order of string skipping please! (Try that one at a McDonalds drive-thru)

 

Let’s expand on that Idea. Here is a pretty wild lick!

 

By now, you should have an idea of some of the really neat possibilities that exist when combining legato and the pentatonic scale.