Monthly Archives: October 2013

Guitar Block System: Block 1-3

This week’s block is a weird yet fun one. It may not be the most used, but it’s still worthwhile to look at for two reasons. For one thing, the minor third between the second and third notes of the block forces the average player to either really stretch their hands or use their pinky finger on the fretboard (unless you have freakishly big hands). The other fun thing is this block gives us the foundational sound for a really weird scale that seems to have a hundred names – you may have heard it called “Spanish Phrygian”, “Phrygian Major”, or “Phrygian Dominant”, depending on what you were reading at the time. Either way, that scale – which I’ll certainly talk about later – is used in music ranging from traditional Jewish songs (“Hava Nagila”, for instance) to rock (Dick Dale’s classic instrumental “Misirlou” is a great example).

There are four ways to play this block as a simple exercise, all of which are written to start on fret 5 (side note: there are more than 4 ways to play the three-note blocks. I quickly mentioned one at the end of the the post for Block 1-2 and I have provided another at the end of this post). If you need a bit of direction on how to read these, see the Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide at the end of this post.

First, go from string 6 (low E) to string 1 (high E):

Block 1-3 Example 1

Next, start at the string 1 (high E) and return to string 6 (low E):

Block 1-3 Example 2

Now, head back up to string 1, but this time start on the block’s higher note:

Block 1-3 Example 3

Finally, return to string 6 while playing the higher note first in each block.

Block 1-3 Example 4

There are three ways to pick these exercises, if you so choose. First, down-pick every note. After that, try alternate picking – down then up (a little trickier now, since every other string will start with a note picked up, but still highly worthwhile). Lastly, as a real test of your fretting abilities, only pick the first note of each block then either hammer-on (first two examples) or pull-off (last two) to the other notes.

As mentioned before, there are other ways to play these three-note blocks. If you REALLY want to test your fretting hand, play these exercises again, switching the first and second note in each block (6-5-9 for the first two examples, 6-9-5 for the last two).

Exercises are great, but feel free to have some fun with these, too. Experimentation is highly encouraged. And above all, pay attention to what you’re doing – Your next mistake could easily turn into your next riff. See you next week for THE FINAL BLOCK.

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.

Weird Scales: The Whole Tone Scale

This week, we begin a series of Weird Scales. Major and minor scales are pretty normal, but those are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Reaching out from major and minor is where the fun can really begin. During this series, we’ll talk about modes, diminished, and even some exotic scales. The first scale: Whole Tone.

The Whole Tone scale is nothing but whole steps. No half steps, no other intervals, just whole steps. Major and minor scales contain two conveniently placed half-steps, so when we take them out of the equation, we get this fun little guy. BONUS FACT: There are technically only two whole tone scales. If you start example 1 at fret 7, you play the same notes as the starting-on-fret-5 example itself – you’re just beginning and ending in a different spot.

There are two ways to play this scale. First one is a combination of Block 2 and Block 2-2.

Whole Tone 1

The second one almost exclusively uses Block 2. It’s a little easier, but it involves a lot of position changes.

Whole Tone 2

Have fun! Use as an exercise, try to use it in a solo or a riff, and above all enjoy the weird sounds. See you next time.

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.

Guitar Block System: Block 2-2

Well, we’ve had enough with minor for now, haven’t we? This week, we turn to the “major” sounding block. No half-steps within the block here – just a whole step followed by another whole step. And, for those of you keeping score, two whole steps put together gives you a major third. So, there we have it – the major block. Other fun thing: if you shift up one fret when changing strings, you get my favorite weird scale – the Whole Tone Scale. In fact, I just might talk about that next week…

There are four ways to play this block as a simple exercise, all of which are written to start on fret 5 (side note: there are more than 4 ways to play the three-note blocks. I quickly mentioned one at the end of the last block post). If you need a bit of direction on how to read these, see the Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide at the end of this post.

First, go from string 6 (low E) to string 1 (high E):

Block 2-2 Example 1

Next, start at the string 1 (high E) and return to string 6 (low E):

Block 2-2 Example 2

Now, head back up to string 1, but this time start on the block’s higher note:

Block 2-2 Example 3

Finally, return to string 6 while playing the higher note first in each block.

Block 2-2 Example 4

There are three ways to pick these exercises, if you so choose. First, down-pick every note. After that, try alternate picking – down then up (a little trickier now, since every other string will start with a note picked up, but still highly worthwhile). Lastly, as a real test of your fretting abilities, only pick the first note of each block then either hammer-on (first two examples) or pull-off (last two) to the other notes.

Exercises are great, but have some fun with these, too. Experimentation is highly encouraged. And above all, pay attention to what you’re doing and don’t be afraid of messing up – Your next mistake could easily turn into a good riff. Until next time…

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.

The Rock Drummer Boot Camp

Allright, let’s talk hypotheticals for a minute. Let’s say, hypothetically, that you played drums for quite a while in an uptempo band. And let’s say that the band broke up and you moved to a situation where you couldn’t play the drums at all. NOW, let’s say, hypothetically, that the band was getting back together for one night and you had to get your chops back in short order. What do you do? Well, fear not. This “hypothetical” scenario happened to me and today I’m sharing what I did to get back into playing shape. I call it “The Rock Drummer Boot Camp”.

What’s that? You still can’t play your drums without people being angry? No problem. For this exercise, all you need is a pair of sticks, a metronome, and a practice pad. If you don’t have a practice pad, then find some sort of surface that can act as one (a cushion-y chair works great for this). Once you get that together, we’re ready to go.

First, pick a mid-tempo place to start. I always start at 140 bpm, but you can adjust for your comfort. The sticking pattern is simple – since rock drumming is  almost all single strokes, that’s all we’ll be doing here. First note is played with your dominant hand – R L R L for the righties, L R L R for the lefties. Of course, feel free to switch it up if you want a challenge. Here you go (click to make big):

Rock Drummer Boot Camp

To clarify some notations: Play the first measure four times, then the other measures eight times each (except for measure five – that’s only played once). Don’t stop between measures – just keep moving. After you play the full example, bump up the speed (add 5 bpm or go up to the next “click”, depending on what type of metronome you have) and start over. Stop when either the notes become uneven or sixteenth notes start to go missing.

One final note: While you are playing, make sure your hands are relaxed and your grip is loose. Ideally, you should have as little tension as possible, especially in your hands and wrists. See you next week!