Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Getting your playing out there

  If you're a guitarist looking for gigs it really helps if you've a quick way of showing people what you can do. A calling card if you will. This is even more important if you play numerous styles like I do. Generally people are resistant to the idea that a guitarist can be accomplished in more than one idiom.  To combat this it helps to have the different styles back to back as they are in the video below. This way you're on to the next thing before they've got time to think, 'I don't like/am not looking for rock'. You also benefit from a sense impact as one style bumps up against another.

 Making a video is a good idea even if there's no real visuals as sharing video on social media is a lot easier than just audio alone.
 Enjoy and yes, I'm looking for gigs, so please share around!

Chromatic 3rds - Putting exercises into practice

  At some point or another every guitarist will practice sequences. Usually the focus of these is the development of technique but there's a bit more to it than that. Or rather there should be...

    Playing with intervallic patterns can give you the raw material for improvisation. Short phrases that can be recombined in many ways to form longer musical statements that have their own internal logic and flow. At that point what started out as a dry, technical exercise becomes a creative act which is what all practice should ideally be. 

The genesis of this idea was hearing chromatic 3rds in the playing of Scott Henderson. He was clearly using them as a way of introducing an 'outside' kind of falling motion into his playing. I then set out to catalogue all the different chromatic 3rds patterns I could and notate them as part of my 'digital hell' series. The 3rd is a harmonically defining interval so it's good for creating 'outside' lines.

Here's some of the patterns I used in the video.

Here's a summary of the concept I explain in the video.

  • Start any of these 3rds patterns within the chord tones. i.e. Over Bm7 you could start the pattern on D and F# (the 3rd and 5th of the chord) 

  • Move it chromatically in either direction until you 'hook' back into the chord and resolve the tension created by the chromaticism. IN - OUT - IN again. 

It's a really simple concept and not the only way of applying these by a long chalk but it is very effective. The improvisation at the end is a little more repetive than I would have liked but I was really focusing on this one concept and as such it's a little unbalanced. Enjoy!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Digital Hell # 1

  Over 30 years of teaching guitar I've created many exercises for developing technique. These have turned into a whole series I've dubbed 'Digital Hell'. 

Here's an extract from number 1 in the series. This particular one focuses on 'squeeze-release', left-right synchronisation and economy picking all packed into nutritious bite sized exercises.

Here's the extract 

and here's the video. Skip to 0.45 to see the examples notated above.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Hybrid Picking and tempo delays

Hybrid picking is all the rage these days and why not?! It's great for developing patterns and rhythms that you might not play otherwise.
 Here's an example of it I used whilst composing the riff for the Dirty Fakirs tune, Highs and Lows. It was played with a stereo tempo delay which fills out the sound and gives it extra rhythmic energy but it works just as well without. 

 The Sound Here's a screenshot of the cubase arrange page showing the two plugins I used for this guitar sound. The guitar was recorded via DI and then I used Cubase's own Chorus plugin going into the wonderful Nasty DLA by Boosty. If you're not familiar with his work you're missing out big time. 
The tempo is 116bpm and you can see from the screen shot that I used quaver notes on one side and dotted crochets on the other. Any half decent processor should be able to replicate this sound for you.

  The Technique
I've annotated the picking/fingering that I used but don't feel compelled to follow them if something else works better for you. It's just that my ring finger falls nicely over the higher notes. Your index finger might work better if your hands are bigger!
 The riff works nicely because of the contrary motion and parallel 6ths. Note also that this is played and tabbed in P4 tuning although it's playable in standard. It'll just be slightly stretchy! 

You can hear the full track and a minus guitar version at the bottom of the page. Once you've got the riff up to speed try it with the delay and then play along with the backing track version.

Let me know how you get on and if you're feeling brave maybe I'll transcribe the solo!
Here's a video showing the riff in close up at various speeds.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Getting the most from your Capo.

  Virtually every acoustic guitarist has a capo. You know, that clampy thing that lives in your guitar case. 
  Every once in a while you'll get it out when your singer's complaining that the Oasis song he wants to sing "Isn't in his key". And let's face it, the poor lamb's only got one to chose from!
   So you slap it on at the 2nd fret and transpose up a tone and suddenly Wonderwall is in F# minor - a key the Gallagher brothers haven't even heard of let alone written in! 
 Well that's only a part of what you can do with a capo. We studio hounds know a few tricks for creating those lush acoustic textures you hear on the records - Here's one of them. 

It's all down to how the guitar is tuned. Here's the theory in short.

How it works:

Capoing at the 5th fret use the open chord shape found one string down from where you are. 

So D major is now an A major shape.

Capoing at the 7th fret use the open chord shape found one string up from where you are. 

So D major is now an G major shape.

The only thing to remember is the tuning break between the G and B strings. You need to add one note in that case.
Capoed at the 7 fret a G chord would be C shape not a B shape. 

It doesn't take a lot of practice to get used to doing this quickly. After all there's a finite number of possibilities. 

This trick is a great way of creating arrangements and variety when playing with another guitarist. There's rarely any point you both playing the same open chord shapes and if anything it'll cause problems.

Enjoy! For more free lessons subscribe to this blog or visit:

Monday, 14 April 2014


 I must confess to spending a lot of time on arpeggios. I've several 'systems' for them that I use in my own playing and much of that effort goes into disguising them, recombining them and generally trying to make them more interesting and melodic. All that stuff would fill a book so occasionally it's a good idea to go back to basics and look at simple, major key, diatonic arpeggios played in 'situ'. That just means that each arpeggio is played within it's corresponding modal scale shape without any position movement. 


I            G Ionian - G major

ii           A Dorian - A minor

iii          B Phrygian - B minor

IV         C Lydian - C major

V          D Mixolydian - D major

vi          E Aeolian - E minor

viidim  F# Locrian - F# diminished

Technical notes
These are technically very straightforward and the only difficulty you might find is my habit of using separate fingers the cross from the 5th to the Octave. It's trickier but gives proper control over note length and articulation so well worth working on. You could just use alternate picking as I did here or a combination of sweeps and alternate. You could even hybrid pick these, particularly if you require a specific repeating pattern involving a pedal tone. Go nuts!

 Here's the video

and here's the dots and complete with the devils own work - Tab :(

Practice advice.
Transpose this to every key, break into different groupings, string together top and bottom, change the rhythm and generally get creative with them. 
Also, as ever, sing everything you're playing. If you can hear it you can play it! 
This is so important!

I didn't do this in the video but it's a good idea to play the mode, then the arpeggio and finally the corresponding chord for each position. The chord can be a full barre chord or a simple triad. 

 Just because they're simple it doesn't they can't be cool!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

There's backing tracks and then there's BACKING TRACKS!

One of the advantages of running a commercial studio is that you end up with some great sounding versions of pop songs in all styles. One of the bands I play in is called the Mojo Party Band. We do a lot of ska and funk covers plus one or two unusual TV theme tunes. Obviously we use the to record website examples and that means that it's a moments work to create 'minus guitar' versions.
    This is great for Leeds Guitar Studio students as I teach them a song and then provide a cracking backing track for them to practice with. 
 Erstwhile LGS student Eamonn had been focusing on his rhythm and rhythm playing in general. Ska is great for developing an awareness of the off beat because that's all you ever play in a skank, the 'ands'! Knowing that we had a great version of Baggy Trousers by Madness that's the tune we chose. 

Here's the full version
Mojo Party Band - Baggy Trousers

and the minus guitar version
Mojo Party Band - Baggy Trousers minus guitar

and the original of course......