Quick Tip – Staring at your fretboard

One thing almost every guitarist does at some point in their career is become attached to staring at their fretboard while they play. This is bad stage presence, but it is easy to fix. Sometimes, especially when playing something hard, it is necessary to look, but do not make it a habit. Here is a quick tip to fix your habit of staring at your fretboard.

TIP – Go into a dark room, the darker the better. You should not be able to see anything. This may work best at night in a dark room, or a room without windows. You could even consider putting a bandana over your eyes. Whatever you do, make vision impossible.

Once you have limited your vision start practicing guitar. Practice things you already know. Practice playing scales and chords without vision. You may find that you keep hitting wrong notes, but that is alright. Listen to what you play, if it sounds wrong, keep trying. Eventually you will become comfortable with the feeling and you will be able to perform these tasks without looking at the guitar. This may take some time, but keep being persistent.

Once you are able to play without looking at the guitar, it boils down to noticing when you start to stare. Keep an eye out on your behavior once you start playing. When you recognize yourself looking when you do not need to, stop it. After awhile it will become normal and subconscious.

Good luck, and sign up for the mailing list to get more lessons.

Quick Tip For Building A Guitar Solo

A guitar solo is like building a house.

A guitar solo is like building a house.

Every good guitar solo has an outline. This outline could be done in many different ways, but this outline is fundamental to building a good solo. Building a good solo is like building a house. Lets take a look at the quick tip for building a guitar solo.

  1. Foundation. The first thing you need to do in your guitar solo is to create a foundation. This can be done using motives, or using a lot of space.
  2. Frame. This is where you start to build the shape of the solo. You can start to build the solo up using more notes or embellishing the motive you used in step 1.
  3. Walls. This is where your solo is actually in place. Listeners know what you are trying to say. They will comprehend your approach to the solo.
  4. The roof. this is the apex of the solo. You will play the fastest or most embellished part here. You can accomplish this by playing the highest note of the solo here.
  5. Furniture. This is where you bring the listener into comfort again. Bring the solo back down a little bit from the apex. You can still play cool ideas, or may revert back to a previous motif.

There are many ways to follow this outline, but you will notice that every great improviser knows this outline. This outline is usually for longer solos, sometimes a guitar solo is too short to use this outline. This can be used in any genre that you play. Best of luck, and sign up for the email list.

Using intervals to build chords for your chord melody

We just covered some interesting ways you can use intervals to add harmony to your melody. You can review that lessons here. In this lesson we are going to learn how to build chords by using intervals. This may sound hard, but don’t worry, this is easier than it sounds. Let’s jump in and get started.

To refresh our memories of previously covered material that is important on this topic, the most stable interval for harmony is the third. Chords are built in thirds, this makes this interval a good candidate for making chords. This does not mean that you cannot experiment with other intervals as well. For the sake of this lesson I am going to use thirds, however you can do the same process with other intervals.

You have your melody note that you want to add harmony to. Now you added a third below it. What if you add a third note to this? If you add another third below the harmony note you get a triad. A triad is a 3 note chord. You can continue to add as many harmony notes as you desire. Once you get comfortable creating chords using thirds, you can build chords using other intervals.

The cool thing about building chords under the melody note is that often they build the same chord that is originally written in the tune. If the chord is not the same, it can most likely be labeled as an extended chord, rootless chord or substitution.

One more cool trick that can be done with this style of creating harmony is creating varied intervallic chords. If you take different intervals and apply them to the same chord you can make some interesting sounding chords. Some may be a challenge to play, some may not. It is worth experimenting with them to see what works for you. Also you can take these chords and try to harmonize the whole major scale with the same intervals. I will cover this soon in another lesson. You may be asking how you create these chords. It is easy, take different intervals and create a chord with it on the melody note. For example You can play a 6th below the melody note, second below that, then a 4th below that. (These numbers were created at random as an example.) You may find some combinations sound better to you than others. Experiment to find your sound.

Good luck on your path to chord melody playing!

Chord Melody – using intervals to harmonize your melody

Mentioned previously in the last post, there are a couple of ways to add harmony to your chord melody. One of the easiest most effective ways to do this is to use intervals to build harmony. Last lesson we discussed putting thirds below the melody note. In this lesson we are going to take this technique a little bit further.

Once you are comfortable adding a third below the melody note, you can extend this interval for different sounds. Now you can experiment with putting fourths, fifths, sixths, or sevenths under your melody note. This adds more interest to the melody and can give you more options to work with. The more tools you have in your tool box, the more options you have to do something great. This isn’t a hard step to accomplish. Once you understand the concept of adding a note below the melody note, with a certain interval, this is easy to accomplish. Now here are a few ways you can use different intervals to build interesting harmony.

1)      You can use a simple scheme of just a certain interval to harmonize your melody. For example you could use the interval of a 6th exclusively. Keep in mind that chords are typically built in thirds and the third is typically one of the strongest notes to use for harmonizing. Ultimately, use your ear to decide what sounds good.

2)      Buildings your intervals through a period of time. For example for 2 measures use the interval of thirds exclusively. The next 2 measures use the interval of fourths exclusively. The next 2 measures use the interval of fifths exclusively. This could build an interesting sound.

3)      Last, but not least. Contrary motion! This is one of the most important things for good voice leading in classical music. You may be asking how you do this, it is easy. If your melody note is going higher in pitch, harmony goes lower. If the melody is going lower, harmony is going higher.  The easiest way of thinking of this is while a melody is walking up the scale, the harmony is walking down the same scale.

This is just a few things you can do to get your toes wet with this technique. With this information you will be able to create more interesting chord melodies that have movement in them. Try playing with these ideas and see what works for your own personal style. Chord melodies are very personal and can be played many different ways, so find what you like and go with it.

Chord Melody basic techniques

If you are unfamiliar with what a chord melody is you can review the previous post about it here.

We have a good song picked out, and we have learned the melody on the top 4 strings of the guitar. You may be wondering what the next step is. The next step is what we call harmonizing the melody. This implies we will add more notes under the melody note of choice. Another word for harmonizing is called “Adding Chord”. This is where specific techniques come in for chord melody playing.

Before we jump right into playing music with lots of thick chords under the melody, I want to mention that the melody is the foundation for chord melody playing. We do not need to add harmony (or chords) to every melody note. Actually the opposite can be true. Sometimes it is better to not play any harmony on a melody note. You can think of chords as embellishments. Let me give you an example of what a chord melody is like. If you go to a burger joint and ask for a hamburger. They bring one out and you can go to the bar where they have all the condiments put out for you to choose which extra flavors you want to eat with your meat. If you decide to leave off the pickles, is it still a hamburger? If you take off the bread is it still a hamburger? Yes! If you take the meat away, but have all the bread, pickles, ketchup and onions on it, is it a hamburger? No, how do you know it’s not a chicken sandwich? A chord melody is very similar. The melody is the meat and everything else just adds flavor.

Suggestions on when to leave the melody plain:

1)      Fast melody passages.

2)      Whenever you want that particular effect

So let’s take a melody note of choice and put harmony to it. There many ways to do this. In this lesson we will cover the 2 most basic approaches to chord melody. The first approach is to harmonize the melody note by adding a third below the melody note. The second approach is to play the given chord in the tune and add the melody note to that.

 

TECHNIQUE ONE:

This is the easiest approach to learning to play chord melody. This approach makes it easy to sight-read a melody and to add harmony to it. How we do this is take the key center that the melody note is in. In the same scale, add a third lower to the melody note. In other words, skip a note in the scale and there is the note you need to add below the melody note.

It is a good idea to practice playing scales with the third below. These 2 notes together give the sound of a chord, and it will make your harmonizing faster to practice scales like this. When you come across a note in a melody you will already know which harmonized note goes with it.

Warning:

1)      Accidentals should be harmonized with a note in the diatonic key. So find a third below that is in the key. Accidentals don’t mean you can play anything.

2)      Jazz tunes often change key centers for part of the song. When this happens the scale you harmonize with will change.

 

TECHNIQUE TWO:

Approach 2 is a little different. This approach is centered around the chords of the original tune rather than the melody. How you go about doing this is you play the chords of the song and figure out how the melody can fit into it. You will need to build a good chord vocabulary for this. For convenience you will need to know how to add all the extensions on to chords, including altered note (Notes not in the scale). You will also want to know these chords in multiple areas of the fret board. When you come across a melody note you will ask yourself what chord tone it is, then play that chord with that note in the highest part of the chord.

Warning: This approach by itself can be limiting and can take a lot of practice. It is a valid approach that many people use, but it will require a lot of chord shapes under your fingers. You may not want to use the same chord shape multiple times, which means you will need variations of the same chord as well.

 

Eventually you will combine these 2 techniques and have many options to make a great chord melody. There are many ways that one can expand upon these and make them more interesting. There are also other valid approaches to playing chord melodies. Check back for up coming lessons on chord melodies.

Chord Melody Basics and Introduction

 

A chord melody is exactly what the name describes. The Chords of a song and the melody of a song played at the same time. This is a style of music all on its own, but often times it is used for jazz tunes. Almost any song can be played as a chord melody, but some make for a better arrangement than others. Let’s take a look at some things that make a song worthy of playing as a chord melody.

 

1)      Easy melodies. This typically means a slower melody with fewer notes. If a song has a melody with lots of long fast lines in it, it may not be the most friendly to this style of playing.

2)      Longer songs. I am not suggesting that a blues cannot be turned into a chord melody, but why? If a song is short, the essence of the style is missed. A lot of the beauty of a chord melody is that it doesn’t end too soon.

3)      Chord changes. Chord changes make songs typically more interesting. I am not saying that you cannot harmonize a song that is modal (1 chord), rather It is easier to start out with a song with built in interest.

4)      Any style. Any song in any style of music can be made into a chord melody.

 

Now we know what type of songs make good chord melodies. You may be wondering what rules go into making a chord melody. This is very simple. Let’s look at the rules.

1)      Play the Melody. Preferably an octave higher than written. This means that you will need to work out (or sight read) the melody on the top 4 strings. As a rule of thumb, melodies sound bad on the lowest 2 strings. (There are exceptions)

2)      Harmonize certain notes in your chord melody. Without any kind of harmony in the background, it is just called a “melody”.

 

We have covered the essence of what a chord melody is. We have talked about picking a good chord melody song, and we discussed the rules of a chord melody. If you follow on to the next lessons on chord melodies you will find specific techniques that you can use to create chord melodies. Next Lesson. Good luck!

Rhythmic Variation makes solos interesting

One of the most fundamental ways you can improve your soloing once you figure out what notes you can play is to use a wide variety of rhythms in your solo.  Just because this is fundamental does not mean this is easy beginner stuff. Some of the most challenging things in music are the rhythms. So what makes up rhythmic variety?

There are many different rhythmic groups, using rhythmic variation simply means to switch between these to create an interesting sound.  When this is done well, your solo will sound more interesting and less like rambling. Lets discuss the different rhythmic units so we can know what the possibilities are to use in our solo.

 

Silence:

Silence is music too. The musical term for silence is rest. Whenever you use silence in your solo lines you will cause rhythmic variation. Experiment with using silence, putting it in different places. Sometimes Silence says more than noise.

 

Swing, or not to swing:

What is the definition of Swing? This is a question that will give you 100 different answers if you ask 100 different people. The most universal definition of swing is a Dotted 8th note 16th note feel.  Have you ever heard great big band songs from back in the day? In The Mood is a good example of swing. It has a bouncing feel. Now, don’t be fooled, Swing can be used in any style. Its origin is in the 1930s swing era of jazz, but country, blues, rock, bluegrass and any other style you can think of uses it as well. It can create a cool rhythmic feel. Try it.

 

Note Length:

There are many different lengths of notes that you can use. Here is a list of note values in music:

Whole note

Half Note

Quarter Note

8th note

16th note

32nd note (mostly used in slow songs, otherwise it is too fast)

 

Triplet note values:

All the note values above also have triplets. If you are playing a long 8th note line in jazz, throw in triplets for interest. One note value by itself will get boring. Triplets can sound extremely awesome.

 

Don’t be boxed in by note values:

There are no rules against holding a note longer than a whole note. There are no names for these rhythmic values, but they exist.  Also there is no law against going out of time and coming back into time. (Be very careful with that option, but it can be done)

 

This wraps up the main ways to add variation. Experiment with mixing all of these together and see what you can come up with. A great way to practice this is to pick one note and try to make an interesting solo with it. Listen to a lot of musicians solo and see how they use variation in their rhythm. Listen a lot, you can even transcribe rhythms by themselves, or sing the rhythms as they play. Have fun going out there and making interesting music.

Harmonizing scales to create arpeggios

When you learn a new scale it is a good idea to learn how to harmonize it creating arpeggios over it.  You may be asking what that means. This is simply building a triad or seventh chord off of each note in the scale. Using these arpeggios gives you a wide range of arpeggios to use over your playing. When you are generalizing over a song you can pick any of these arpeggios or play the harmonized scale ascending or descending. Any scale can be harmonized.

Before you start to harmonize a Scale let me quickly go over the nerd stuff. The word harmonize comes from the word harmony. Harmony is the underlying progression of notes. Notice, I did not say chords. Harmony can be chords, but it does not always use chunks of notes. Harmony can be split up into broken chords (notes from a chord played individually.) If you want to harmonize a scale you need to build intervals of thirds. You can review intervals here.  A triad is a 3 note chord (with all thirds) and a seventh chord is a 4 note chord (in all thirds.) So in brief, you need to add a couple notes to each scale tone using thirds.

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

Now if you are not generalizing over a chord progression you may want to approach this harmonization a little differently. Take the arpeggio and figure out which arpeggio belongs over the Third of the chord, 5th of the chord or 7th of the chord. This will allow you to focus more on important tones. You will be starting arpeggios on the root position arpeggio which is very connected to the chord. Below is an example of harmonized arpeggios.

Harmonized Arpeggios

Harmonized Arpeggios. Notice if you look at all the notes of the arpeggios in each category they complete the full major scale. However they are built in thirds rather than seconds.

Once you are comfortable with these 2 approaches you can intermix them in your playing for a unique sound and more option. The more options you have, but better you can play a wide range of music and have fresh and new ideas. Spend some time working on harmonizing scales and learning to play them. Once you are comfortable with that spend some time memorizing then harmonized arpeggios.

Using this same system you can start to imply altered tones in your playing by changing your arpeggio choices. You can learn to play extended arpeggios and just be freer with your music. These are not meant to restrict your playing; rather they give you building blocks to use to make music. It is hard to be innovative without knowledge of what came before; it is also hard to be good without the knowledge of the basic building blocks of what you want to do. Arpeggios and scales make up much of the music we hear. Learning to use them to our benefit is well worth the time.

Arpeggios are important to jazz guitar

If you play a popular style of music such as rock, metal, country or blues you are probably very aware of how scales are important to soloing. A common question I hear a lot and have asked myself is “what scale is he using”. However in jazz it isn’t the question stated above it is the question “what arpeggio is he using” and “what alterations is he using” Scales are also used in jazz but a large percentage of true jazz is arpeggio based.

If you listen to jazz music early in jazz history you will see a lot of arpeggios used.  Let’s take Louis Armstrong for example. Listen to his playing and you will hear tons of arpeggios. Listen to Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. All of these musicians and many more use arpeggios extensively.  As mentioned above, scales are used in jazz as well, but they take on a different role. Everything in jazz is based around arpeggios.

Which arpeggios are important? There are only 6 that you need to know.  Only 4 are really important for starting out. The 4 most important arpeggios are Major, Minor, dominant and minor 7(b5). The 3 extra ones you need to learn are diminished and augmented. This beats memorizing a bunch of different scales. It is good to learn to play arpeggios in one octave. 1 – 3 – 5 – 7 are the important notes that make up these arpeggios.

With the knowledge of arpeggios you can add more advanced techniques to them to add more interest and have more available interesting uses.  There is lesson that you may find valuable to get some more bebop sounds using arpeggios. Adding some chromaticism to arpeggios can spice it up and create an interesting melody that sounds really hip.

Try playing around with triads and seeing what melodies you can come up with just using them. They may seem simple at first, but these are the building blocks you can use to build an awesome jazz melody with. Spend some time listening to early jazz and trying to listen to the arpeggios that they use. I also suggest transcribing some of the melodies that you hear. Good luck with your jazz journey.

Use Motive Development to Set Your Playing Apart From Others

You may be wondering what a motif is, and if you are keep reading. A motive, also known as motif, is simply a connected melody. The best way to explain this is by comparing music to language. When you are playing a melody or solo you are in essence telling a story. A motive is building the story and keeping the same theme. Take this story for example:  I bought bubble gum. Clouds are very dark. Then They danced.” This type of story is not connected and leaves people with nothing to hang on to. A good story has a theme. A good solo has a motif.

Giving listeners something to grab onto is something that can set the average garage guitarist apart from the experienced pro. Take for example the song “You are so beautiful”, The words are “you are so beautiful to me” over and over except for a small amount. These lyrics are simple, but the listener can hold on to it and sing with it. The most catchy melodies are repetitive.  Applying this concept in your playing can bring clarity and coherence to your playing to make you sound much better than you really are. All you need to do is find a simple melody you like and expand upon it.

What makes a good motif?  A motif can be any very simple lick. You can pick a nursery rhyme or make your own 3 or 4 note riff. Once you have this as your basis and you introduced it at the beginning of your solo, you can expand upon it. Adding more notes, sequencing, rhythmic variation are all things you can use to expand upon your motif.  I should clarify that the motif should not be long. It should be short and used as a guideline for building your melodies. Also I should make it clear that you can deviate from your motif whenever you want and however you want. The motif is just a great tool to connect your solo and make it sound logical and easy to grasp to the audience.

When should you use motif development? Is this for certain styles? Motif development can be used anytime and any style. If you are playing a style such as country where you may have a 4 – 8 measure solo motive development is great. Many great solos in country are based off of a theme.  An example of this is “kiss a girl” by Keith Urban. If you are playing more of the instrumental style such as jazz or progressive rock this technique is great because it can expand your ideas much further. We guitarist only have a limited amount of licks and we need a way to keep them fresh. Motif development is great for this. An example in jazz of motif development is Sonny Rollins “St. Thomas” on the record “Sonny Rollins”.

This is a fun technique you can use and it will be your best friend if you work with it. It is the easiest way to make your solo sound logical and make it interesting to listen to.  Have fun experimenting with motif development and have fun becoming a story-teller. Feel free to share your opinions below.