Category Archives: Guitar

Guitar Block System: Block 3-1

This week, we’ve reached the end of the blocks. Finally! We end this system with the “really stretch your hand out” block. This one, like Block 2-2, stretches out over the major 3rd, but the half-step between the second and third notes tends to make things more complicated. From a mechanical standpoint, this block is great for working your pinky finger onto the fretboard – something most guitar players need.

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 Block 1-3). 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 3-1 Example 1

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

Block 3-1 Example 2

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

Block 3-1 Example 3

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

Block 3-1 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, 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 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…uh…something else.

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 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.

Guitar Block System: Block 1-2

Hey, did you like last week’s block? Did you like the “minor” sound to it, but wished you could have something that sounds even more “minor” than that? Well, you’re in luck. This week, we move the half-step earlier in the block, giving us a shift from minor to Phrygian mode (natural minor with the second degree lowered). I’ll talk about modes in depth later, but I must mention that I like to call Phrygian mode “The Heavy Metal Mode”. For a quick example to show what I’m talking about, check out the opening riff to Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction”.

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. We’ll talk about the others later). 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 1-2 Example 1

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

Block 1-2 Example 2

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

Block 1-2 Example 3

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

Block 1-2 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.

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 second and third note in each block (5-8-6 for the first two examples, 8-5-6 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. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

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 2-1

This week, I’m going to talk about a common  guitar fingering pattern: Block 2-1. So common that it already showed up last week, this block simply starts on a note, moves up a whole step, then up a half step. If you want your line to have a “minor” sound/feel, then this is a fantastic tool. In fact, if you play this block on consecutive strings (provided not on strings 2 and 3), then you get the first six notes of the natural and harmonic minor scales (we’ll get to those later).

As before, 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. We’ll talk about the others later). 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 2-1 Example 1

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

Block 2-1 Example 2

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

Block 2-1 Example 3

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

Block 2-1 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 feel free to have some fun with these, too. Experimentation is highly encouraged. And above all, pay attention to what you’re doing – sometimes the best ideas emerge from mistakes and accidents. This block, in particular, can be quite fruitful for new ideas. See you next week!

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 Guitarist’s Best Buddy: The Blues Scale

Last week, I teased a scale with the 1-1 Block. I’ve decided not to keep you waiting, so here it is: The Blues Scale! Based on the minor pentatonic, it adds a note a tritone away from the root to make things interesting (This is also one of the “blue notes” in the context of the major scale. See? Jazz Theory really is a thing!). It’s easy to understand, simple to use, and acts as a good confidence builder by helping you make some “cool” sounds early on in your playing career. Worked for a 12-year-old me, that’s for sure…

The blues scale consists of four blocks. I have already taught three of them (Block 2, Block 3, and Block 1-1) and the fourth is an essential one I’ll get to next week. Every block starts on fret 5 here (That’s another nice thing about the blues scale – no position changes required), so you’ll easily figure where that fourth block is. Here you go!

Blues Scale Example

Usually, in guitar scale books, an extra note is added on the top string for the sake of uniformity. If you wish to add it, then move on from that last note in measure two to Fret 8 – completing Block 3.

So there you have it. It’s a scale that, despite its name, winds up in all sorts of contemporary music from… well… Blues to most Rock sub-genres. As an example of the latter, check out the middle of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” – specifically, the riff going into and out of the first guitar solo. Also, to go back a little further, most (if not all) of the King Crimson classic “21st Century Schizoid Man” is based on the blues scale. I could name more, but then I’d be typing all day. So… get searchin’ and you’ll find plenty of examples on your own. Have fun and I’ll see you next week!

Guitar Block System: Block 1-1

This week, we start the second group – the three-note blocks! What better way than to start simple. This one is basically a Block 1 and another Block 1 mashed together. On your journey through Block 1-1, you play completely chromatically and only cover one whole step.

Now, is this block useful? Oh yeah. It’s the focal point of the next scale I’m going to talk about, for one thing. The other thing is a lot of people like to use short chromatic runs in their riffs and solos… generally only about three or four notes. Well, here you go! Have fun and experiment away.

As with the preceding blocks, 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. We’ll talk about the others later). 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 1-1 Example 1

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

Block 1-1 Example 2

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

Block 1-1 Example 3

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

Block 1-1 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 feel free to have some fun with these, too. Experimentation is highly encouraged. And above all, pay attention to what you’re doing – sometimes the best ideas emerge from mistakes and accidents. See you next week!

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 4

This week, we reach the final two-note Block of the system: Block 4. This block also covers the most ground, spanning a major third (HINT: concerning “major” and “minor” intervals, “minor” is closer to your starting point). OR, if you’d rather, the second note is four half-steps away. For instance, if you were to start on fret 6, you would go up to fret 10 or down to fret 2.

As an aside, there is another way to hear the interval without using the block. Strings 2 (B) and 3 (G) are tuned a major third apart, so play those two strings open or fretted at the same spot. Elsewhere on the neck: Make sure the higher string is one fret behind the lower one (Are you on fret 5, string 5 (A)? Then go to fret 4, string 4 (D)!) and you’ll achieve that major third sound.

Block 4 doesn’t seem to have as much use as the last two blocks, but it’s still worthwhile. Its greatest asset as a technical exercise is the fact that it forces the player to use his pinky finger on the fretboard. Let’s face it – we all could use a little help with that, couldn’t we?

As with the preceding blocks, there are four ways to play this block as a simple exercise, all of which are written to start on fret 5. 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 4 Example 1

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

Block 4 Example 2

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

Block 4 Example 3

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

Block 4 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. 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 note.

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 – sometimes the best ideas emerge from mistakes and accidents. See you next week for the first three-note 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.

Penta-what?!

Before we move on to the next block, I want to stop and talk about pentatonic scales for a second. I touched on them last time, telling you which blocks are used to play them. I’ll get to that, but first: What in the world does “pentatonic” mean?! Let’s break it down. “Penta-” means “five” – like, say, a pentagon. Or perhaps The Pentagon, if you prefer. SO: “Penta-” is “five”, “-tonic” is “tone” (sorry, not like “gin and tonic” this time. Go to the bar for that). Therefore, a pentatonic scale consists of five tones. The sixth note you play on one of these scales is the octave.

Today, I’ll give you both pentatonic scales and a melodic example based solely on Block 2. First, the minor pentatonic scale. Why the minor first? Because it’s ridiculously easy to play and practically a rock guitarist’s best buddy. It’s played entirely with blocks 2 and 3 and no position changes are required. Observe:

Minor Pentatonic

Now, the major pentatonic. Like the minor, this one uses just blocks 2 and 3, but two position changes are required. Note how strings 2-4 all start on fret 4 while the other three strings start on fret 5.

Major Pentatonic

As promised, the melodic example. Heavily inspired by the great Tony Iommi, this example is based off of the minor pentatonic and strictly uses Block 2. Click to big-ify:

Minor Pentatonic Example

Wait, what are those curve and line thingies? Glad you asked. The curve thingy is a slur, meaning the note on the other side of that mark is not picked. The line thingy denotes a slide – meaning you play and pick that note, then take your hand and slide it up two frets. IMPORTANT: leave your finger pressed down on the fretboard in order to get that second note.

And there you have it. Have fun with these and I’ll see you next time for Block 4.

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.