Monday, 8 October 2012

The Melodic Spider

Hi folks, hope you're all well.

Today I thought I'd share a little warm up idea I've been using recently. I'm sure we've all come across the "spider" exercises in same form or another, various combinations of all four fretting fingers which are generally chromatic in nature and not particularly melodic, or of much use other than as an exercise.

I was messing about with some of these ideas recently and realised, by playing the first two notes on the G string, and the then the third and fourth finger notes on the D string, I was playing a fragment of the half whole diminished scale!

The half whole diminished scale is made up of alternating half and whole steps (or one fret and two fret intervals), so starting on A you get:

A Bb C C# D# E F# G

Another joy of the diminished scale is that patterns repeat inside it in minor thirds so you can play a pattern, move it up three frets and play it again and still be in the same scale.

So that's where this exercise comes from, simple as that. On the PDF below you'll find four exercises, all based around the A half whole diminished scale and all using all four fretting fingers. Each exercise features two patterns , one ascending and one descending but try switching them round and seeing what you like the sound of. They all make very handy diminshed licks too!

Ex 1. This was the first exercise I came up with, prtty basic two notes per string up and down.

Ex 2. As handy as I find the first exercise for fretting warm up, because it has two notes per string it means that you always start each string with the same finger/pickstroke (assuming you're alternating two fingers or up and down strokes). Yes, you could just repeat the exercise starting on the other finger/stroke but I wanted an exercise I could quickly play and get maximum benefit so this exercise uses three notes on one string and two on the other to ensure that you are swapping back and fore on each beat.
I must credit Laurence Cottle for giving me the idea of using groups of five to work on picking (he is also a master of the diminished scale and a great source of associated ideas!).

Don't be put off by the quintuplets ( 5 notes to a beat) in this exercise.This is more for conveniently outlining the groups of 5 than anything else but if you do want to play it as written, take it slow and make sure the notes are evenly spaced within the beat. To get used to the feel of five even notes, try saying "hippopotamus" on each beat (any five syllable phrase will work though, I just like that one).

Ex3. Back to groups of four, but this time skipping from the A string to the G string.

Ex4. And finally here's some string skipping quintuplets! No home is complete without them.

So there we have it, a few diminished licks which are really handy quick warmups and, to my ears anyway, a little more interesting than the standard chromatic patterns.


Sunday, 1 July 2012

Customer Service - The Reality of Freelancing

Hi all.

I'm getting more prolific - only 6 months between posts this time!

Anyway, I thought I'd write a little something on freelancing as a musician after reading this excellent post on the reality of being a mixing enginneer by Björgvin Benediktsson - Why Your Mixes Don't Really Matter.

The first lines of Björgvin's blog are really relevant to the life of a freelancing musician:

"It's a funny thing, customer service.

It doesn’t revolve around you. It’s all about the customer."

Why? Well, because it's true basically. Now, before I continue, I should stress that this is really about being a musician being hired to play a specific role in someone's music. If you're playing your own music, you are the customer so please yourself ;)

I'm lucky that I get to play with a lot of different artists, in a lot of different genres and although I'm being hired to play because I'm able to play/read/hear whatever it is they require, they are hiring me to fulfill the role they need in their music, not to play everything I know and try and steal the spotlight. I have seen many musicians try to do this - squeeze in every lick and trick they know, and guess what? They don't get called again.

When you get a call for a session or a gig, never forget you are there to play the role that bandleader needs. It might be that they want someone for their fusion gig who can play extended solos and read complex charts, it might they need someone to play whole notes all night under their country ballads. Be conscious of their needs and expectations, and play what feels right for the situation. And don't be afraid to ask if you're unsure (although some bandleaders won't need asking if they don't like it!).

So what can you do? The simple one word answer is "LISTEN". On the gig, listen to what's going on around you. Pay close attention to dynamic changes and analyse your own volume/intensity compared to what everyone else is doing. Is the drummer dropping his volume in the choruses? Is the soloist going in a certain direction? Also, if you've got written charts it's always safe to assume they might not be 100% accurate. Sometimes the band may have changed something or someone might just make a mistake. If you're not listening to what's going on, you can easily find yourself in a different place in the song to the rest of the band when the singer misses a cue or the band decide to loop the intro 4 times not the 2 on your chart.

Listening counts before the gig too, if you're playing in a genre you don't know that well do some research. With the internet, this is easy now. No more record libraries, borrowing from friends, etc just go to YouTube or Spotify (or whatever THE online resource is by the time you read this) and listen to a few tracks. Pay attention not only to the notes but also the types of tones and instruments used. Even if it's all upright bass and you only play bass guitar, you'll at least know the timbre that will be expected so might consider a more muted/dark tone than you may normally use.

So, to sum up, I'll quote Björgvin again:

"A happy customer is a repeat customer. Think about that when you’re doing your next project."

Take care

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A twist on chromatic warm ups

Last post Dec 2010??? Oops! I knew it had been a while but not that long.

Anyway, as it's January and many people are still in their "must exercise more" phase after Christmas I thought I'd share a little warm up exercise I've been fiddling with.

Many players use the one finger per fret method to play chromatic exercises, either playing a full chromatic scale or repeating the same pattern on each string eg Frets 5,6,7,8 on each string. These are great for getting your hands moving but, because they use an even number of notes per string, they only use one way of crossing strings. By that I mean if you're a 2 finger fingerstyle player you'll be starting on the E string going 1212 (or 2121) and then playing the same pattern on every string. The same applies with up and down strokes if you're using a pick.

This is fine but means that you have to repeat it all again starting on the other finger/stroke. OK, you don't have to, but I discovered a long time ago that the reason I found some passages more difficult than others was because I was trying to cross strings with my "weak" finger. As a result, I aim to practice leading and crossing strings with either finger/stroke.

So, to cover both possibilities, we need an odd number of notes per string. We could use 3, but then we lose warming up all 4 digits as much so this exercise uses 5 notes per string

Now,unless you're fortunate enough to have a spare digit lying about, one finger per fret won't be enough, we need to make little shift. Now this is where this exercise has another benefit - which finger do we shift with?

Most of us will have a preference, whether it's to slide the first finger from the 5th to the 6th fret and then play one finger per fret or play all four fingers and shift up with the 4th finger.

Your challenge for this lesson is to repeat it 4 times and each time shift with a different finger.

So, first time you play the 5th fret with your first finger, move it up to the 6th and play one finger per fret. On the way back down, play the 9,8,7,6th frets with one finger per fret and then shift the first finger down to the 5th fret.

I find first and fourth finger shifts fairly natural but shifting with the middle and ring fingers feels really weird.

At all times, ensure you are alternating with your picking hand so you take full advantage of the odd numbers of notes per string (eg E string might be 12121, the A string is 21212 and so on).

Have fun and I'll try not to leave it a year before the next post!!

PS If the four fret stretch from 5th to 8th fret is too uncomfortable, feel free to move it higher up the neck. And as always, if it starts hurting take a break.