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Tom Quayle Modern Guitar Part 13: Sub-Divisions

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 38 **

Hi guys and welcome to my column for Issue 38. For this issue we are going to be shifting gears again and moving our focus onto rhythmic issues once more. Specifically we are going to be looking at sub-divisions and how as guitar players we tend to tie them to a specific number of notes per string. Stringed instruments are interesting from the perspective of rhythmic subdivisions since we tend to arrange scales, arpeggios and phrases to a certain number of notes per string in order that they can be executed efficiently.

If we think about 16th notes for example, we usually hear these in groups of four but, if our scale shape has three notes per string we can very quickly lose our place within these even note groupings, especially when using legato techniques where we can’t place accents on the first note of each four note grouping. This occurs because we tend to feel the first note on each new string as an accent or important point within in the phrase, artificially accenting the string change due to a lack of technical control.

To give you an example check out the first exercise on the video where I play the 4th, 5th and 7th frets on the D and G strings. Playing this with a 16th note feel, guitar players tend to see this in two groups of three or as a group of six notes where the 4th fret on the D string is the first note of each grouping. This means that we are not feeling the groupings of 16th notes correctly as groups of four and, as mentioned before this problem is compounded even further with legato playing, where we can’t accent the first note of each four note grouping. This issue can be illustrated very simply by asking someone to play these six notes with a 16th note subdivision for two full bars using legato. Generally guitar players become lost very quickly within the time and are so focussed on the first note on the D string being the first note of the phrase that they can’t keep track of where they are in the 2 bar structure.

This is a big problem, especially from an improvisational perspective when you are creating longer phrases or lines as the number of notes you place on each string will determine where you feel the beginning or end of the phrase, rather than your position within the bar. What we want to achieve with the exercises for this column is to ‘break’ the link between notes per string and the groupings you feel, giving you the ability to really hear and know where you are in the bar no matter how many notes you play on each string. We also need to be able to hear any note within a phrase as the starting point of that phrase in order to develop flexibility within our phrasing.

The exercises I have presented here will have you playing the same phrase for two bars, switching between different sub-divisions. In this way you will have to switch to the new sub-division at different points within the phrase in order that you retain the two bar structure for each sub-division. This will really help to unlock this reliance on always hearing the first note of your three note per string phrase as the beginning of the phrase and start to hear the sub-division groupings correctly, rather than the number of notes per string.

The first exercise is a simple three note per string phrase using the 4th, 5th, and 7th frets on the D and G strings. You start with 8th notes and proceed through 8th note triplets and then 16th notes, shifting gears every two bars. Once you’ve mastered the exercise starting on the 4th fret of the D string you should then repeat the exercise starting on the 5th fret, then the 7th essentially making each of the six notes the starting point in order to get the most from your practice. The second exercise takes an arpeggiated 7 note phrase with three notes on the E string, one on the A and three on the D that crosses over the bar line each time you play it. Again we are going to shift sub-divisions every two bars and this will really help you to feel the correct groupings for each subdivision you play, groups of two or four for the 8th notes, groups of three for the 8th note triplets and groups of four for the 16th notes in this phrase that is constructed from seven notes.

In a manner these exercises are really based on listening or aural skills, developing the ability to hear a two bar phrase regardless of how many notes we are playing on each string. Once you have this skill in your playing you will feel far more rhythmically free and your improvisational skills will be much more accurate.

Good luck with these exercises guys and I will see you next time!


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