Quick Practice Tips – Daily Blog – Day 5

Welcome to part 5, Friday’s final instalment in our daily blog series offering you a professional practice tip each day.

Tip 5:  Don’t Always Play With Songs

For some guitarists, this advice should be “Start Playing With Songs” but for most of us, it’s don’t always play with songs!

Especially if you’re preparing for a gig/performance/exam etc.  you need to know the song you’re learning inside out, and that means not coming to rely on cues in the vocals or production which you can’t necessarily trust to be present when you perform.

Practising material to a metronome or backing track can help you solidify and deepen your knowledge and understanding of the piece, and have you ready for anything.

So do it!

Good Luck

-Alex

Guitar Lessons London

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Lead Guitar Phrasing – Part 3 – Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

Welcome to Part 3 in our series on Lead Guitar Phrasing.  The subject of today’s study is the Mark Knopfler‘s playing on Brothers In Arms.  First, here’s the track:

So here are 5 key points we can take from this, to apply to our own Phrasing when soloing:

1) Leaving Space.  
We’ve discussed leaving spaces between phrases before, and referenced Miles Davis’ quote “It’s the notes you don’t play”.  However, on this track, and many others, Mark Knopfler takes this concept from a necessary technique to an art form.  During these spaces in the verses is arguably when his Guitar carries most weight and power, as when listening to the song, you can feel yourself urging and pre-empting the Guitar’s re-entry.  This combined with the Guitar being “high in the mix” (ie. noticeably louder than the other instruments), and a collection of concise, sparse and perfectly executed fills, makes for a brilliantly evocative Guitar part.

2) Minimalism 
This is a selection of short and medium length fills, there are no long fills at all.  This is an effective, controlled approach.  Rather like how you might stop listening to someone who’s been going on and on for 10 minutes, but take serious note when a silent type finally speaks up.  On a couple of occasions, there is no fill at all, and once the first verse, there’s a fill of just one note.  Even in the solos, there is absolutely no playing to excess whatsoever.  If you told any guitarist to solo over the Brothers In Arms Backing Track, you can be sure they wouldn’t play so little, or be anywhere near as effective, unless they’d already learned this lesson

3) Volume Swells 
Knopfler’s volume pedal is a big part of his sound.  Essentially a volume pedal is a foot pedal which sweeps from silent to full volume, and you can create similar effects using the volume knob on your guitar.  Using this he creates violin-like swells, notes that creep and fade in and out.  Essentially he’s hereby deepening the use and potential of dynamics in his playing.  Try it out with whatever you have at your disposal!

4) Pushing 
Pushing is coming in just before the beat, usually a quaver (or 8th note) before.  Knopfler does this a lot, coming in early with something emphatic, that sounds momentarily out of place, then soars as the music falls into place around his guitar part.  This adds expression, dynamics and the illusion of pace, and is exemplified by the solo-opening bend at 4:13

5) Fingerstyle 
The central, best-known aspect of Mark Knopfler’s technique is the fact that he nearly always plays with his fingers, rather than a plectrum.  Whilst this arguably has more influence over his rhythm playing, it does affect his lead playing in one major way.  The scope and range of expression provided by the fingers is much wider than with a pick.  This range extends at one end of the spectrum to a hard, plucked twang, and at the other to the lightest, feather-touch flick of the strings.  In general, there’s a soft, rounded quality to his tone that comes from his fingerstyle soloing.  Try it out!

Coming soon, the 4th and final (for now) part in this series.

Happy Knopfler-ing!

– Alex

Piano Lessons London

Guitar Lessons London

Music Theory Part 9 – Minor Scale 4 Note Chords

Welcome to Part 9 in our series on Music Theory.  This time it’s about Forming 4 note chords in a minor key.

This is where we refer back to the post about Relative Major/minor scales and keys, and 3 note chord formation: Major and minor.

In exactly the same way that we would jump to degree 6 of the Major scale to begin the minor scale,

eg.  Major  C   D   E   F   G   A   B
minor  A   B   C   D   E   F   G

We can do the same when extracting 4 note chords.

ie.  The formula for 4 note chord types in a minor key is the same as in the major key starting from step 6

Therefore,  Major Key –     Imaj7     IImin7     IIImin7     IVmaj7     V7     VImin7     VIImin7b5

minor key –     Imin7    IImin7b5  IIImaj7     IVmin7    Vmin7  VImaj7    VII7

 

It is important to learn and know these formulas from memory and independently of each other.  Their relativity is purely something to fall back on if you forget something about them, and something to understand of their origin.

Next time in the Music Theory Series – What are Sus chords?

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Music Theory Part 8 – Major Key 4 Note Chords

We learned in parts 1-6 about Major Scales, Minor scales, Chord formation, Keys and Relative Keys.  Revisit these earlier posts if you need to, as from now on in our Music Theory series we’ll be presuming these things to be known.

Today’s post is about the 4-note chords that can be formed from the Major and Minor Scales.  These are very often called “7th chords” as, whereas basic triads are made of root, third and fifth, 4-note chords are formed of root, third, fifth and seventh.

Again though, this “root, third, fifth and seventh” is relative.  What we mean by this is that when you’re building a chord from the D note in a C major scale (ie. from step 2 of the C major scale).  Effectively you’re using notes 2, 4, 6, and 8 from the C major scale.  However, when discussing the chord, we would still always call the notes the 1, 3, 5 and 7.  ie.  Relative the the root of the chord and not the parent scale.

 

4-Note Chord Formulas
I,  III,  V,  VII  =  Major7
I,  III,  V,  bVII  =  7
I,  bIII,  V,  bVII =  minor7
I,  bIII,  bV,  bVII  =  min7b5  (aka  1/2 diminished)


C Major Scale  

C  D  E  F  G  A  B

CEGB =  Cmaj7
DFAC  =  Dmin7
EGBD =  Emin7
FACE  =  Fmaj7
GBDF  =  G7
ACEG  =  Amin7
BDFA   =  Bm7b5 / 1/2dim

Above, see the 4 note chords are extracted from the Major scale in the same way as the 3 note chords, (ie. using every other note).
Again, as with all the previously studied chord formation, scales, etc, this is general and formulaic.  So we can expand this to:

Major Scale 4-note Formulas
Imaj7           IImin7          IIImin7           IVmaj7          V7          VImin7          VII m7b5

Coming Next Time – Minor Scale 4-note Formulas.

-Guitar Lessons London-

Using Technology To Your Guitar-playing Advantage

I’m going to tell you about a few ways to practice, progress, and be creative by recording yourself play

Firstly, “Recording” here means just about anything – whether it’s recording software, a loop pedal, your phone’s voice record function, or a dodgy old relative’s dodgy old twin cassette deck.  Anything

1) Testing Out A Multi-Part Idea
So you’re writing a song for your band, you’ve got some chords, and now you want a lead guitar part.  You can very quickly test out how the parts work together by recording the chord progression into a little dictaphone or voice recorder on your phone, then playing it back while you play the lead part.
It’s very rough and ready, the tuning might not be 100%, but you’ll know whether you’re on the right lines or not straight away.

2) Measuring Your Progress Over Time
If you’re serious about improving as a guitarist you’re going to be playing as much as you possibly can.  But this means that you’re probably not going to realise how much you’ve improved.  (In the same way as when you see someone every day you don’t notice their hair has grown or they’ve lost weight etc)  So you should record yourself playing for a few minutes and keep hold of the clip.  Do this once a month, once every 2 or 3 months, whatever you like.  Then listen back and you’ll soon see how you’ve improved in those intervening periods.  You’ll feel great, and keep your motivation to practise hard.

3) For When You Keep Making The Same Mistake!
Maybe you’re trying to learn a really tricky riff or solo.  You’re just about getting it, but you’re always making the same mistake in the same place, every single time.  It can become like a curse, and you start to go wrong in the lead up to the difficult phrase as it plays on your mind.  Record your attempts.  Record yourself trying to play it, slow, medium and fast.  Then listen back and analyse what’s happening.  You should find you can figure out what’s going wrong and why so much easier when you’re not focusing so hard on trying to play it!

4) Remembering Things You Write
Nothing is more frustrating for a songwriter than writing something you think is brilliant, then forgetting it in the time it takes to make a cup of tea or take a phone call.  Just record a quick clip of you playing and singing the song into any device you have, just enough to trigger your memory later on as to how the song goes. Problem solved.

More coming soon on how to use technology to your advantage as a guitarist!

-Alex

Lead Guitar Improvisation – Part 4

This is the 4th and final part in Bruce Music‘s Improvisation mini-series.  It’s about Listening.  

“‎Listening is the key to everything good in music”
– Pat Metheny

Listening is a huge part of your improvising process as a Guitarist.  Listening to recorded and live music, and listening to the rest of your band while you play.  Here’s how to use your listening skills to your advantage as an improviser.

1) Copying phrases by ear.
Listen to your favourite guitarists’ solos and try to repeat some phrases by ear.  There are two benefits to this.  One, you’ll improve your musical ear and soon be able to do learn songs quite quickly by ear, especially as you get more familiar with all the chord and scale patterns and shapes most commonly used.  And two, you can apply the skills learned to real life improvisation, as described in the next point.

2) Responding to your band.
This can be very subtle or very obvious.  Your Bass player just played a certain run of notes from a pentatonic scale.  Your listening and aural skills can allow you to respond by playing the same run yourself, or even a response or “answer” to it.  You hear your Drummer placing cymbal hits on a certain beat in every bar.  You can then adapt your playing to suit this.  Strumming more emphatically on this beat, or resting and playing nothing.  Whatever it may be, if you listen and keep conscious of the other musicians, you can compliment and adapt to their playing

3) Apply rules when jamming.
If you’re jamming with a friend or your band,  trading rhythm and lead every so often, you should determine that you will switch after a certain number of bars, or certain number of times around the chord pattern.  This is great practice at soloing while keeping the awareness of what else is going on.  It teaches you a stronger rhythmic feel, and an instinct for how different sections of a cycle “feel”.

4) Recognising styles/patterns
An extension of point 2 is recognising wider things, as a whole, when playing with a band.  If you’ve made yourself get used to certain familiar chord progressions, time signatures, styles etc. you’ll be able to recognise increasing numbers of things about the music your band’s playing.  You might not yet be able to recognise instantly what the specific chord progression is, but you should find things like, you can recognise major or minor chords, a rough idea of the beat, what style the music is in, and find the key you should be in.  You’ll be ready to go a lot quicker than had you not practised listening skills.

Other parts in the Improvisation series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Thanks for reading.

-Alex

Lead Guitar Improvisation – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of Bruce Music‘s mini series on improvisation.  (Click here for part 1)

Today’s topic is Improvisation Exercises.  The exercises are designed to stop you getting stuck in a rut with your playing.  (Or help you out of a rut you’re already in!)  They’re also good for general practice, and you should learn lots along the way.

1) Improvise over the same chord progression, in different styles
This ensures the style you’re best at doesn’t take over, which is a very common bad habit when you’re improvising.  If you have recording software/a loop pedal/a willing friend, then record/have your friend play a chord progression in a funk style, while you improvise.  Then transfer the same progression to a jazz style for a little while, then rock, then country, and so on.  This approach forces you to consider the style you’re playing in.  You’re less likely to be repeating your soloing phrases because the chords have stayed the same, so the stylistic difference becomes more apparent. 

2) Restrict Yourself  
If you feel like your phrasing is becoming repetitive or stale, apply a restriction.  Only the first 5 frets, only the top 2 strings, even down to only using 3 or 4 notes.  This forces you to use all your techniques, expression and creativity to get the most out of what you have at your disposal.  It sounds like it should make your playing even more repetitive, but you’ll be surprised what you can come up with.  Better still, when you lift the restriction, the whole fretboard will seem full of even more possibilities than before.

3) Play Like Someone Else  
For example:  Take a blues/rock backing track and improvise over it 5 times.  The first time you’re Jimmy Page, the second Jimi Hendrix, the third Slash, the fourth Dave Gilmour and the fifth Eric Clapton.  (Examples only, of course you should change up your list and include your favourites.)
play as if you are the guitarist you have in mind, their style, their approach, their attitude.  You’ll get to grips with their different styles and learn all sorts of new things to add to your own soloing repertoire.
A twist on this is to make the guitarists you’re copying ones from a completely different style to the backing track.  How would they respond to a different style and how would they play?

4) Play In An Unfamiliar Position  
If you know your fretboard inside out, then great.  The chances are though that there’ll be somewhere on the neck that you’re not very comfortable improvising.  (Especially if you’re in an ‘unusual key’ ie. not E, A, etc)
This is a chance to use that unfamiliarity to your advantage.
You are now improvising in the truest sense.  Your bank of phrases and licks is gone and your ear is guiding you.  Play confidently and without worrying about mistakes and you’ll discover new licks, avoiding familiar scale patterns and improve your ear.  All the while gradually getting to grips with another area of the fretboard.

More to come in Part 3 later in the week.

Want Improvisation help in person?  Guitar Lessons In London

-Alex