Monday, April 29, 2013

Chico's Instrumental 3

This "Chico's Instrumental" feels quite different that the first two.  While 1 and 2 are seriously metal influenced, this one is more blues-rock and improvisatory.  There's a clear reason for that.  Guthrie Govan.

I tend to wear my influences on my sleeve.  "Chico's Instrumental 2" had quite the Steve Lukather vibe.  I get called out quickly on the John Petrucci influence on the "Doctrine of Ethos" EP.  I don't have a problem with this - I'm proud of my inspirations, and I look for them all over.  I'm a huge metal-head, but my music collection is like a record store gone mad.

My latest obsession has been Guthrie Govan.  If you haven't heard of him, go check out that link.  He's a genius.  A musical chameleon, he's clearly most at home improving over blues-rock, and it is that which inspired "Chico's Instrumental 3."  Every Chico's Instrumental thus far has been meticulously written out.  This time I left vast spaces to just "go for it" (like the entire B section).

The A section has a melody, which was the germ of the whole piece.  I sat down intentionally to write a melody in Dorian.  Then I had to come up with a chord progression to fit it!

The B section is all improved, with no clear melodic motive.  The harmony in this section is something I'd like to cover in a Theory of Ethos lesson soon.  Lately I've been working on improvising through chord progressions that change modes, and that's exactly what the B section does.  There are only two chords - Em9 and D#maj7#11.  Over the Em9 I play E Dorian, and over the D# chord I play D# Lydian.  I love trying to link the two together, and if you pick your lead notes just right each chord changes feels resolved - as if both are tonic, and landing on them feels like "home."  I tried to get that feeling here.  Hope you enjoy "Chico's Instrumental 3."

Doctrine of Ethos - EP - Doctrine of Ethos    

Monday, April 22, 2013

Doctrine of Woodshed 9: Two Tapping Licks

"Chico's Instrumental 2" features two separate two handed tapping licks that I have been working on recently.  I'm going to spend the next two Doctrine of Woodshed segments discussing these licks.  First up is the four finger tapping lick that happens around 1:10 in the video.

Doing four finger tapping is a little different from the typical tapping a'la Eddie van Halen, especially moving between as many strings as this lick requires.  The biggest issues is muting.  With a lick all on one string, like the tapping lick in "Eruption," you can pretty easily mute any unwanted strings.  One of the most common ways is to position the index finger of your left hand such that it touches the strings on either side, preventing them from sounding when you flick your other fingers for pull-offs.

In the video for "Chico's Instrumental 2" I was essentially using a variation on this technique.  Every time I changed strings, I had to carefully position my index finger to mute the adjacent strings.  However, it took me several takes to get that lick right on the video, so I do not recommend this.  I have since changed my technique for this type of lick.

Now I lay my index finger of my left hand across all the strings and do the tapping with my middle and pinky fingers.  This eliminates the noise problem, but creates a new one.  Luckily, this one is easier to fix.

Your middle and pinky fingers will likely be a weaker fingers that are not as used to working together compared to your index and middle.  The simple solution is to practice doing exactly that.  Here is an etude I wrote to prepare you for the lick proper.

Once you can play this up to speed, then we have to take a look at the right hand.  Typical tapping licks involve one finger on the right hand.  But this lick requires two fingers, and thus some thought.  You could stash your pick in your palm or on a stand, freeing your index and middle fingers for the job.  But I don't like the idea of not having my pick at the ready.  It makes me feel like tapping licks must be separated form the rest of the solo, and I want to be able to immediately transition to and from tapping.

So I keep my pick between my thumb and index fingers and do the tapping with my middle and ringer fingers.  Again, these fingers won't be as used to doing this, so try playing the above etude with your right hand.

Then the only hurdle left is coordination between the hands.  You know the drill by now - break out a metronome, start slow and make sure the notes are even.  You you may find a tendency rush the notes on each string and then leave a gap to line up with the next beat.  Make sure every note is the same length.  I'll leave you with a video of me playing the lick now, using my current technique.

Next week we'll tackle the lick that follows it.  It's a fun lick that sounds a lot harder than it really is.

Doctrine of Ethos - EP - Doctrine of Ethos    

Friday, April 19, 2013

Theory of Ethos: Introduction to Ear Training

"I really liked using music theory because it gave names to a lot of things I already knew [...] and also introduced me to things I didn't know."
-Paul Gilbert

I'm a huge theory head.  We've talked about how theory doesn't matter in the end - it's description and tools.  What matters is the sound.  But what we haven't talked about is how to understand what we hear better.  Our ears need training.  So that's what we're going to do.

So many musicians - and guitarists may be the worst offenders - rely on their hands to make the sounds.  I'm much more interested in having my hands produce the sounds.  Before you write me off as splitting hairs, the important difference is in where the ideas on what to play comes from - and that is in your head.  If you are at the point as a guitarists where you can do cool things, but they are a surprise to you when they happen, then this lesson is especially for you.  This will get you one step closer to knowing what you're going to play before you play it, so you can do cool things all the time instead of just by accident.

When I say "ear training" I mean making you more sensitive to musical changes.  Your ear really doesn't "get stronger" - your brain gets better and processing what your ear picks up.  There's a ton of ways to go about improving your ear, but one of the best is singing.

Yes.  Singing.

I know, if you're reading this you're probably a guitar player.  Singing can help make you a better musician in so many ways, but the biggest reason it helps your ear training is that singing is a direct connection to your brain.  You think a pitch, you sing it - no middle man, no technique, no hands.  It doesn't matter how you sound - trust me, I'm a terrible singer - only that you sing correct pitches.

I could have you play some scales and sing along - which is great practice - but that's kind of boring.  Instead, let's play some music.

Here are two great exercises for improving your ear.  One - take your favorite song, and sing the melody.  Then pick up your instrument of choice and figure it out.  No using tab, and it has to be in the same key you sang it - doesn't matter if that's the key on the recording or not.  The point is to play back what you sang.

Once you can do that, then sing it again.  Really listen to yourself while you sing.  Listen to the way you approach notes.  How some are louder than others - some are longer than others - some have vibrato and others might not.  Then, in as much as your instrument is capable, recreate that when you play.  If you're on a piano, think about note length and volume (or "dynamics" in music-speak).  If you're on a guitar, you can also think about sliding into pitches and vibrato.  If you are on a wind instrument you can even think about articulation and warm, open tone vs bright, cold tone.

This is fantastic for your ear because it gets you thinking and listening in a musical way.  You are not just mechanically singing a scale or arpeggio (again, great exercises.  We might come back to something like that.  They're just boring).  Instead, you're focusing more on expressive elements of music right from the start.

The second exercise make something up and then play it back.  Start by making up a short melody and then imitate it on your instrument.  The goal is to be able to do this on the first try, without having to hunt around your instrument until you pick the right notes.

At first, that's not going to happen.  You'll sing something, try to play it and fail miserably.  This is perfectly acceptable.  Figure out that melody, and then try another one.  The more you practice this, the more you will find that it comes quicker and quicker each time.  You get better and translating the sound into physically playing the instrument.  What's happening is that you are making connections in your brain about how certain intervals feel on your instrument - without even knowing what they're called.  Then, when you learn the music theory names for those intervals, you'll simply be putting a name on what you already know.

Doctrine of Ethos - EP - Doctrine of Ethos    

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chico's Instrumental 2

Here's the second instrumental I wrote just for you guys, the readers of Chico's World.

My main goal with this one was to showcase a couple two handed licks that I've been working on.  One involves four finger tapping, and the other has way more string changes than a typical tapping lick a'la Eddie van Halen.  In keeping with my goal of cranking out material quickly, there's definitely a few bugs, though.  The main one is that I'm not satisfied with the transitions.  The solo in the B section sounds like two different guitarists trading licks instead of a cohesive solo.  But I ultimately decided to just run with it - the goal was to showcase the tapping licks, and I did that.  

This one also showcases some of my more melodic playing.  There's a serious Steve Lukather influence going on at the beginning of the B section (starts around :39).  I wanted to create some contrast between shredding and soaring melodies.

I also wanted to do some soloing over odd time in this piece - though there's some trickery involved here.  The A section is "5/8 7/8 7/8 5/8 6/8 6/8".  But, all of that adds up to three measures of 12/8, which is how I thought about the solo.  So the astute among you will notice some push and pull between the guitar and the drums in the A section.  

I intend to take a few Doctrine of Woodshed lessons (my guitar lesson column here) and cover some of the more interesting licks from this solo.

Doctrine of Ethos - EP - Doctrine of Ethos    

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Boot Camp Part 5: Scale Fragments

This week in Doctrine of Woodshed we're diving deep into scale fragments.  We've touched on them before and used them in context of other lessons.  See: here, here, and here

This week, we're going to go through a scale fragment workout.  We'll cover left hand endurance, right and left hand coordination, fretboard knowledge and speed.  Scale fragments can become a vital part of your practice regimin, allowing you to improve several aspects of your playing.

So, what is a scale fragment?  Easy. Part of a scale.  Simple as that.  As a guitar player, I mean small parts of the boxes we typically use for scales.  We then loop them and play the fragment repeatedly.  Here are several different examples.

In the video, I'm playing them all with alternate picking.  This is an excellent way to work on coordination between your right and left hand.  At first, this may be a bigger challenge than you realize.  I picked the above examples because each one has a different picking pattern.  Avoiding consecutive downstrokes, "inside the string" picking, and odd-numbered note groupings can all make a scale fragment unexpectedly challenging.  Just follow our usual procedure - start ridiculously slow, pay attention to all the little details. Then, when you have it perfect, pick up the tempo in small increments.

But what if we didn't pick every note?  Well, that's a horse of a different color, and the beginnings of a gnarly exercise.  Play each one of the above examples again, but this time only pick the very first note.  After that, when you continue to loop the fragment, you sound each note with just your left hand.  Use a combination of hammer ons and pull offs (when staying on the same string) and left hand tapping (when moving to a new string).  Here are a few written out. You should be able to figure out the other examples.

This alone makes a great legato exercise.  Same as always - break out a metronome and start slow.  But what if we take it a step further?  Take one of the above examples, and see just how long you can loop it.  10 seconds? 20 seconds?  You may gain a new appreciation for just how long 1 minute is by trying to loop an exercise for a solid minute.  Don't forget the metronome!  No slowing down when you get tired - make sure you maintain a consistent tempo.

If you can handle that, what about doing each one for a minute - back to back!  Here's a video of me going through the first one to show you what I mean.  (Caution: listening to this can get a little tedious. Try playing along once you understand the process)

The above examples are intentionally different patterns.  But you can use similar fragments to work on your fretboard knowledge and practice scales.  Let's take a look at the A minor scale to see what I mean.  I'm using the pattern from fragment number 1, all on the E and A strings.

You could do something similar in one position as well, and on various string combinations.  You'll find that there are only 3 different patterns you'll ever come across in major scales and their modes.

This is something I'll come back to in a future lesson to talk about fretboard knowledge.  Being able to know exactly what note you are playing and how it relates to the key you are in is an invaluable skill that doesn't necessarily come intuitively to guitarists.  Once I finish the Boot Camp series, I'll take an in-depth look at how to improve knowledge of the fretboard.

Doctrine of Ethos - EP - Doctrine of Ethos    

Monday, April 1, 2013


A huge congratulation to Natalie Bennett, the lovely vocalist for both Tripod and Doctrine of Ethos.  Her wedding was beautiful.

While she's been off on her honeymoon, Joe and Corey and I have been hard at work writing new material for Doctrine.  We have several songs in the works, and we should be premiering a new song very soon!  Doctrine has also had a few potentially awesome offers recently.  Stay tuned for details.

Doctrine of Ethos's next performance will be in Fayetteville, NC at the Rock Shop.  If you're in the area come out and rock with us!

There's more guitar and theory lessons coming.  Also working on a new Chico's Instrumental, but some personal obligations may delay that for a week or so.

Chico's Instrumental is freely available on YouTube. Doctrine's self titled EP is available at all your favorite music stores.

Doctrine of Ethos - EP - Doctrine of Ethos