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Shredding is easier than you think

There’s nothing magic about it. All it takes is work and consistency. If you do the following every day (not every third day, not every other day. Every day), if you keep working even when you’re pretty sure that you won’t succeed, then success will be yours.

Not everyone wants it badly enough to do this.

Procedure #1

  1. Get a metronome. There are plenty of free apps. Or you can buy one at your local music store.
  2. Choose a scale
  3. Put the metronome on a really slow speed, slow enough that you will be able to play the scale perfectly at least 10 times in row. The game most people play is that you make any sort of mistake along the way, you have to go back to the beginning. So if you make a mistake on the 9th repeat, you go back to number 1.
  4. When you can play it perfectly 10 times in a row, bump the metronome up 5 clicks. Some people say 1 click. That might be necessary at higher speeds, but at the beginning – with the metronome between 60 beats per minute and 120 – progress by 5 clicks.
  5. Keep raising the tempo until you can’t go any faster. Go back to the last speed you could play perfectly, and play the scale 10 times. Stop once you’ve done that.
  6. Do this every single day.

This procedure works for a lot of people. It takes a lot of self-discipline and honesty. It’s common to convince yourself that the mistake you just made isn’t a big deal. If you want to do this right, every mistake needs to be counted.

Procedure #2

This procedure is a lot more detailed. I use it with students who need to work on efficiency in their fretting and picking hands.

The left hand

The point of this exercise is to train the fingers to move as efficiently, as independently, and in as relaxed a manner as possible. Keeping the fingers relaxed and as close to the strings as possible ensures maximum speed. They don’t need to travel as far, and they maintain stamina longer.

The exercise

Place your fingers lightly on the sixth string at frets 5, 6, 7, 8. Don’t push the string down. Concentrate on relaxing.

Move your index finger to the fifth string without taking your other fingers off the sixth string. Don’t lift the index finger any higher than you need to. Just let it kind of fall to the fifth string.

Again, without moving any other fingers, move the middle finger to the fifth string in the same way you moved the index: efficient and relaxed.

Do the same with the ring finger and the pinky.

Moving up

Continue until you reach the first string. Then, starting with the pinky, move to the second string, again not pressing down. Leave the pinky in place and move the ring finger up to the second string. That’s the most difficult move for most people. Continue with the middle and the index.

You won’t have gravity working for you on the way up. Pay attention to how different it feels. Stay as relaxed as possible, and go all the way to the sixth string. Be aware of the difference in how it feels at the top of the neck, as opposed to the bottom.

Depressing the strings

Now do the same exercise, but depress the string just enough to make a tone. Don’t press any harder than you need to. Very slowly press into the fretboard while plucking the string. Stop pressing as soon as you get a tone. People are often surprised at how little they actually need to press.

Let each finger relax as the next finger depresses the string (i.e. Press with the index, pluck the string, then press with the middle while relaxing the index finger. Relax the index finger just enough to leave it resting on the string.) Pluck the string with the middle finger down. Continue this process with ring finger and pinky. Be patient. This is extremely detailed work.

When you start on the way back up from the first to the sixth string, you’ll need to lift each finger off the string so you don’t mute the tone. The best (and most difficult) way to do this is as follows: starting with the pinky depressing the string and the other fingers resting lightly on the strings….

  1. Play the note that the pinky is covering
  2. Lift the pinky and place it lightly on the second string while at the same time depressing and playing the note under the ring finger. This is a difficult move. Go really slowly. Remember, you’re training your fingers, not making music.
  3. Lift the ring finger and place it lightly on the second string, while at the same time depressing and playing the note under the middle finger on the first string.
  4. Lift the middle finger and place it lightly on the second string, while at the same time depressing and playing the note under the index finger on the first string.
  5. Lift the index finger and place it lightly on the second string.
  6. Continue up to the sixth string.

This exercise produces extreme finger independence and efficiency. It will drive you crazy at first. Be patient.

Throughout this exercise, try to eliminate tension as much as possible.

The right hand – alternate picking

Alternate picking is arguably the most common and effective picking technique. It basically consists of moving down and up with the pick.

Hold the pick between the thumb and index finger as shown here. The pick is held on the edge of the index finger, not on the pad.

You can pick from the wrist or the arm. The wrist motion is the one you use when turning a key in a lock. The faster you play, the smaller the movement. At a certain point you will start moving the forearm up and down, using the elbow as a hinge.

Always start slowly, and concentrate on staying relaxed.

One string

Use the following exercise to start. As you can see, the whole thing is on the high E string.

After the downstroke, try to get the pick back to the string quickly enough to stop the string vibration, and create a staccato effect. You’re not plucking it again; you’re just resting against the string. Same with the upstroke: get the pick back on the string quickly. No tension!

Move from stroke to stroke slowly. Make the stroke, get the pick back on the string quickly, and rest there for a second. Then continue. Then gradually speed up using the metronome. At a certain point, you won’t be resting the pick on the string.

The point here is to eliminate extraneous pick movement, and getting to the next pick stroke as quickly as possible. This is fundamental to shredding.

Two strings

Same idea, but go from the E string to the B string and back.

Getting from one string to another is where the majority of mistakes happen. This is because you need to make a larger movement with the pick than the one you make playing on one string. This inconsistency in distance initially confuses the picking hand. 

Scale

And finally, the scale, circling back to beginning of this post. You can choose any scale, but I like to go with aeolian, otherwise known as the natural minor scale.

I like aeolian because you have to shift when you go from the fourth string to the third, and again from the third to the second.

And like all of the modes, one of the strings has only two notes. All of the others have three. This is a common asymmetry that you need to get used to.

And yes, you can learn three-note-per-string scales and eliminate this asymmetry. Do that too, but allow your hands the training that enables it to switch gears from string to string.

If you want more information, this is an excellent post.

http://totalguitarist.com/lessons/technique/picking/alternate/intro/

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Guitar preparations and digital effects

Here’s one of the preparations that I use to get unconventional sounds from the guitar.

 

guitar prep

Guitar preparation allows me to create sound that doesn’t suggest the sound of the guitar. Eliminating the associations that the guitar brings to mind allows listeners to experience the sound itself.

The plastic stencil muffles the sound to a certain extent when the strings are activated; the knife produces a sustained ringing sound when struck with wood or metal; the stone cube with the metal stems muffles the sound, but in a different way than the stencil. It can also be used to scrape the strings.

 

Digital processing 

The great thing about digital effects software (I’m using Guitar Rig 5) is that you can experiment with effects by “piling on.” This means using multiple iterations of the same effect just to see what happens.

Here’s one of my favourites.

guitar rig reso

 

Resochord is a pitch modifier and harmonizer. It uses single pitches or chords and can pitch shift them and sustain them. Stacking a number of them like this creates a preset with a ton of harmonic possibilities. I’ve added a pitch pedal for more control, and a fuzz pedal when I want a grittier sound.

 

Preparation and effects

With the recipe of preparations and effects preset that I’ve outlined here, I’m able to produce the following sounds:

 

  • Scraping the strings with stone

This reminds me of an animal sound (a roar of some kind?) slowed down. It’s difficult to hear it as a guitar sound.

 

  • Knife strike (weaving a knife between the strings and striking it with metal)

A bell-like sound with something that sounds like a distorted organ.

 

  • Flicking stencil (weaving a plastic stencil between the strings, pulling it upwards and letting it go)

Similiar to the knife strike, but with a different attack sound.

 

Playing straight (no preparations)

In this example, you can clearly hear the guitar.

 

These are examples of what can be done with one preset and guitar preparations. Preset creation is not limitless, but it’s extremely extensive. Mixed with the huge variety of guitar preparations, the guitar becomes an instrument capable of tremendous sonic possibility.

 

Songwriting…

And it can be used this way for songwriting. More on that in the next post…

 

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Guitar machine

I described a connection in my last post between myself and the guitar. This connection doesn’t by itself differ from connection between humans and other musical instruments. All instruments are pieces of technology that communicate thoughts and feelings originating in their players’ bodies.

But the electric guitar is the first musical instrument designed specifically to create sound by connecting to electronic technology outside of itself. Orchestral instruments are able use electronic technology, but doing so isn’t their normal way of operating.

For the electric guitarist, electronic technology (on-board electronics, amplifiers) is integral to its origin story, and that story has evolved over decades to include effects pedals and digitization.

The electric guitar doesn’t exist without this technology, a technology that represents a basic otherness, a machine-ness outside of human experience.

 

Blurred boundaries

The electric guitar blurs the boundaries between human and nonhuman, and expands the concept of what it can mean to be human. This can be said about any instrument, but the electric guitar foregrounds this idea in its extreme and varied use of technology.

And this extreme is normal for the guitar. Not so for orchestral instruments.

Given this normality of extremes, the electric guitar is more obviously a machine than other instruments. It becomes the standard-bearer for human-machine collaboration in a musical context.

With the guitar, a machineness outside of human experience changes to become a natural part of what it means to be human. This given the the fact that it is the machine that allows us to demonstrate our humanness by allowing us the possibility of emotional and intellectual expression.

 

Guitar-machine

If we connect to a machine (the guitar) in the way I describe here, then it makes sense that we change how we think about ourselves.

Essentially, when we play the guitar, we become part machine. We forget ourselves. Sometimes we forget the guitar. Our experience is reduced to sound, and that sound is what’s left in the fusion of human and machine.

Which is kind of cool. And kind of scary. And kind of what musicians have always done.

 

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Posthumanism and the guitar

Is the electric guitar posthuman? Is that a weird question?

Ten years ago it might have been. Now I’m not so sure…

 

Posthuman, transhuman

Bear with me here. I have to lay a little groundwork.

Unlike transhumanism – the desire to augment humans physically and intellectually – the posthuman (related to posthumanism) is a human that has gone beyond humanism. And humanism approaches the world by emphasizing human interests over the interests of non-humans.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t recognize a connection between human and non-human. We’re up here, they’re down there. And if we think that way, we close down different ways of thinking that might lead to useful insights.

After all, we learn to know ourselves through daily interactions not just with other people, but with animals and with things. Things like the guitar. By trying to get better at it, we test our limits and learn about ourselves.

 

Talking to the guitar

A posthumanist attitude places humans and machines in a relationship that recognizes connection. So how does this connection change how you approach that machine we call the electric guitar?

Think of it this way:

 

Question: How do you connect to (or communicate with) the guitar?

Answer: With your thoughts and feelings communicated through your fingers.

 

How does the guitar connect/communicate with you? Through the sound it makes; this sound is its feedback that you use to learn about yourself.

That feedback could be…

 

  1. That sounds great.
  2. That doesn’t sound great. Which leads to…
  3. You need to work on whatever doesn’t sound great.

 

The guitar is almost like a mentor, taking input from you and giving information that enables you to get better.

Try it. Play something, and see what thoughts arise in your mind. Think of those thoughts as the guitar communicating with you.

Am I insane? Deluded? No, I’m a guitar player totally engaged with the instrument.

There are reasons I do things like this.

 

Openness

When I think of playing the guitar as creating a connection, I feel a sense of openness and possibility. The guitar is no longer just a thing; it actually feels like an extension of me, integrating information it receives from my body, coordinating it and organizing it into a stream of non-verbal communication.

Because of this, I feel more connected to the sound I’m making. And because of that, the expression of that sound feels deeper, more meaningful. When I pick up the guitar, it becomes a collaborative venture instead of a human manipulating a tool.

This change in perspective has changed the quality of my time with the guitar. It feels more positive, and the things that I make feel more like what I want to make, instead of what I think other people want me to make.

I find a bit more of myself every time.

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Inventing scales

There are so many scales. Many are useful. But at some point you’ll want sounds that those scales can’t give you. What do you do?

Invent your own. You can do this by coming up with a simple algorithm. For scales you use an interval sequence.

 

Common sequences

Most scales are made of consecutive major or minor seconds. For example, the major scale is maj2, maj2, min2, maj2, maj2, min2.

The minor pentatonic uses minor 3rds and major 2nds: min3, maj2, maj2, min3, maj2.

Here’s how to make your own.

 

Interval sequences

Simply make up an interval sequence.

Choose a starting note and two intervals.

 

Starting note: A.

Interval sequence: repeat maj2, min 3 until you return to the starting note.

Scale: A B D C# E F# A

 

Play around with that, and see if you like it.

 

Starting note: C.

Interval sequence: repeat min3, maj3 until you return to the starting note.

 

C Eb G Bb D F A C

 

These are repeating scales. Some interval sequences produce non-repeating scales. This means that they don’t repeatedly return to the starting note after a certain number of notes like the scales we’ve seen here.

Try inventing scales using three intervals. Then make a few with four intervals. Or five. Whatever you want. The point is to generate melody that you can’t find in regular scales.

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Chords in scales

What matters in guitar practice? What should you be working on?

To answer that question, you need to decide what kind of musician you are. Singer-songwriter? Composer. Soloist? Rhythm player? Those are the main identities you get to choose from. You may be one of these one year and something else in another year.

But what does it mean to be these things? How is a singer-songwriter different than a composer? What does a rhythm player need to know that a soloist doesn’t?

It’s important to be clear about these things because it makes it easier to focus on the things you want to focus on. It also gives you information about other things that you may not think to work on.

For instance, rhythm players focus on chords and rhythm. But knowing chords leads at some point to learning about arpeggios, which naturally leads (usually) to learning about scales.The rhythm player moves into the world of the soloist without trying to.

Let’s take a closer look at the rhythm/solo relationship.

 

Chords in scales

Every chord exists in a scale of some sort. Here’s the ionian mode…

 

ionian diagram

 

 

…and here’s a G major triad.

gmaj triad in ionian

 

I’m sure that you can find the triad embedded in the scale, but just to make it clear:

gmaj triad embedded

 

Using this technology requires a perceptual trick: you need to be able to play the chord and see the scale simultaneously, as well as be able to play the scale and see the chord.

To get this happening, you have to practice both until they feel natural. Then put them together by playing one and then playing the other. Simple in concept, not so simple in execution.

Here’s a way to work on it.

 

Exercise 1

  1. Get a metronome
  2. Put it on a slow speed.
  3. Play the scale one note per beat
  4. When you get to first chord-tone, place your fingers, one by one, on the other chord-tones. Do this in time to the metronome.
  5. When the entire chord is down, go back to the first scale-tone you played (the G on the D string, 5th fret), and play the rest of the scale from there. Do this in time.
  6. Continue this exercise with each chord-tone, always returning to the G on the D string and playing through the rest of the scale.

 

Exercise 2

  1. Still with a metronome on slow speed, play the scale one note per beat.
  2. When you get to first chord-tone, place your fingers on the first two chord-tones simultaneously, then on the remaining two chord-tones. Always in time.
  3. When the entire chord is down, go back to the G on the D string and play through the rest of the scale. Do this in time.

 

Exercise 3

  1. Still with the metronome on slow speed, play the scale one note per beat.
  2. When you get to the first chord-tone, play the entire chord, then continue with the scale.
  3. Go back to the G on the D string and play through the rest of the scale. Do this in time.

 

Chord-tones equal scale-tones

As these exercises make obvious, the chord-tones are part of the scale. A major implication is that you can choose any three or four notes from the scale, play them together and call them a chord. Don’t worry about giving that chord a name; just write it down so you don’t forget it.

Then invent another one. Play those two invented chords as a progression.

Play one chord for two beats, then the scale for two beats. Then play the second chord for two beats, then the scale for two beats. Continue going back and forth between chords and scale in this way. Once you’re used this structure, it will start to be easy to alter it (i.e. chord for one beat, scale for three beats, chord for three beats, scale for one beat, etc).

Eventually, moving between scale and chord becomes natural.

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