** As featured in issue 20 **
Hi there guys and welcome back to my guitar lesson column for Guitar Interactive. Continuing on from the previous three lessons, we'll be dealing with changes based improvisation, expanding our fretboard knowledge to encompass scale/arpeggio shapes within a limited area of the neck. The ideas for this tutorial will be based around 'limitation exercises' designed to force your brain to seek out new patterns and shapes instead of relying on the information you already use. Effective practice requires that you constantly challenge your knowledge of the instrument and limitation based guitar improvisation exercises give us a superb way to achieve this goal.
The basic principle of the limitation we’ll be using is very simple in that we’ll be restricting the number of frets available to us to only five. There are an almost unlimited number of limitations that you could place on your practice in order to work on a specific idea, such as limiting the number of strings you can play, the number of notes, the octave of notes, which intervals you are allowed to play and many, many others. I recommend that you start to think in this manner in order to really hone your skills on your instrument and help to identify weaknesses in your playing or visualisation approach.
By limiting ourselves to only five adjacent frets we can still play and visualise all scales and arpeggios that are available to us, but the shapes that we can play and see will be restricted, meaning that we can’t always go for our favourite patterns and must seek out new ways to perform the same information. This constant engagement between your brain, eyes and fingers means that you will learn much more effectively and quickly and assures that each time you sit down you are definitely going to learn something new and useful about the guitar. If you can make all of your practice this effective you will notice a huge improvement in both your playing skills and ability to ‘see’ the fretboard. I’ll be coming back to the topic of effective practice in a future issue so stay tuned for more information soon!
Let’s look at an example of how this limitation exercise can be effective using a simple major triad within frets one to five. The idea behind this practice session will be to find all twelve major triads within this five fret zone and perform them in a number of different ways, building our knowledge of their intervallic construction and where the notes lie in relation to one another. Remember, by using this small, five-fret zone we will be forced to really think about where the notes are and learn some new information about the construction of these triads on the neck. In order to work on each triad in turn we will be using the cycle of 5ths to determine which triad to play next. I’ve included a cycle of 5ths chart below – if you’ve never seen this chart before, don’t worry, just follow the root notes round like a clock face playing the triad based on that root note. Here it is: -
Starting at the top (12 o’clock position), work your way through each triad clockwise and try to play the root, 3rd, 5th and octave root within the 5 fret zone. You’ll find that for a C major triad, there is only one octave in which you can play all four notes within this zone on the neck ascending. Other triads will yield more octaves and will require different shapes to complete. To develop your practice you could try the following method: -
Play each triad from the root note ascending through one octave
Play each triad from the root note ascending as high as the zone will allow
Play each triad descending from the root note through one octave
Play each triad descending from the root note as low as the zone will allow
Play each triad from the lowest to highest note in the zone
Play each triad from the highest to lowest note in the zone
The key to being successful at this method is to learn not the larger, more complex shapes that the triads make but the smaller relationships between the root note and the other intervals. For example, learn what the 3rd looks like against the root for each triad both ascending and descending, followed by the 5th. By learning these smaller chunks of information you are less likely to suffer from information overload and become frustrated. You can now repeat these exercises for any given arpeggio or scale. Once you feel comfortable with a particular zone you can simply move to another one and the shapes required for each arpeggio/scale will alter again. In time you will learn to visualise any given scale or arpeggio within any zone on the neck. For your convenience and peace of mind I have written out all twelve major triads within the first five frets of the guitar in the accompanying TAB for this lesson. I’ve also written out the scales that we used in the last issue within the same zone so that you can try the same method out with a scale based idea over the II-V-I progression.
Good luck and see you in the next issue!