this is the original version from years ago. I am not doing any formatting on it, since I am now working on the new version, entitled
JAY DANCING BEAR GUIDE TO GUITAR
FOR BEGINNING TO INTERMEDIATE
copyright 1998 jay dancing bear
Part I Feelings, emotions, notes, scales, rhythms 2
Tune, tone, rhythm, clarity 2
Tuning and Ears 3
A note on this work 3
Part II Jay’s Simplified 3 Step Music Theory 3
Step 1: The musical alphabet 4
Step 2: Scales 5
Step 3: Chords 6
Part III Roles of the Left and Right Hands 7
Your Whole Body 8
The Fretting Hand 8
Playing Chords 9
Using the Pick 12
Rhythm and Dynamics 14
Playing with other people 17
Mixing lead and rhythm 17
Singing the notes 18
a final note 18
about jay dancing bear 19
circle of energy 19
FEELINGS, EMOTIONS, NOTES, SCALES, RHYTHMS
The bottom line of music is that it gives you a feeling. Play a note on your guitar, for instance a B. Close your eyes and feel how that feels inside. Check your mood. Now play a different note, perhaps a C. Does that feel any different. This is not super dramatic stuff on the surface, but get in touch with your subtle levels. Most people I know who have tried this have found that the different notes create different emotional resonances inside themselves.
Sequence. Scale. Do different sequences of notes (also known as scales) create different moods? The usual example given is the difference between major and minor. Play ABC on your guitar. Now play ABC#. There is a world of different scales. Do they all create some subtle variation of feeling? Minor scale in B, how does that feel different from minor scale in E. Rhythms. Slow. Fast. Waltz. Punk rock. Salsa.
Experienced musicians say that one of the most important skills is playing the right song at the right time for the right audience. Are certain keys, scales, rhythms more suited to different times of day, etc. These questions you have to answer for yourself, but this is the INNER GUITAR.
TUNE, TONE, RHYTHM, CLARITY
Whatever style of music you want to play, the fundamentals are the same. If your guitar is in tune, and you’re getting a good tone out of each note, with rhythm, you sound good and you’re a good player. The key to all of this is clarity. Whether you are playing chords or lead, everything boils down to the sound of each individual note. Get a good sound out of each note. In a chord what you are hearing is the clarity, tone and beauty of each note, and even if it’s going by fast it is still perceived on the unconscious level, which is where the decision is made whether or not we like something. Give each note it’s due respect. In the immortal words of Johnny Winter, which I read in an interview in Guitar Player magazine a long time ago (at least that’s who I remember said this):” DON’T BULLSHIT YOUR NOTES”.
“SLOW IS FAST”-Carlos Santana. I also read that in an interview in GP magazine. What that means is that the slower you practice the more new learning has a chance to sink in. There are a lot of micro adjustments that your fingers and your whole body and brain make in playing, even though you are not aware of it. Subtle muscular shifts, rememberings, etc. Practicing as slow as possible is the way to let all the little kinks in the chain iron themselves out. You will get a lot smoother and a lot faster a lot quicker if you go slow. Effortless speed is the goal. When you practice fast often you are lucky just to get through it one time: little learning takes place. To get the full value from your practice it is necessary to give your full attention and consciousness to what you are doing. One of my favorite expressions is “the mills of God grind slow, but they grind exceedingly fine”. Have the patience to do it right. You won’t regret it. Technique is a means, not an end. The reason to learn technique is so that you can forget technique. The paradox is that if you really want to forget it you really need to practice it.
DEDICATE YOURSELF TO THE MUSIC. Is the music coming from your ego, or a higher source. Why has Spirit given you this talent, and what are you doing with it. Inspiration is the life of music. To inspire means to breath in, and in many languages the word for breath and the word for Spirit are the same word. Play the raunchiest music you want. Just make sure that it feels true for you in some way that I can’t explain.
There really are no right or wrong sounds in music, despite my comments above. Play what you like. If it’s an audience you want you can be sure that there are people out there who will like what you do. After all, look at all the different music out there. Be true to yourself because your integrity underlies everything you do in this world.
TUNING AND EARS
Your ears are your wealth. Some people are born with perfect pitch and an inherent ability to tune, but for most of us, including this writer, we need to develop our ears and the best way I know to do this is to practice tuning your guitar at least ten minutes each day. Get it in tune, then detune it, then tune again. Listen very carefully to the waves. The sound starts soft, peaks, then declines. Listen carefully and you will hear it. That’s it. Just listen and you will hear.
A NOTE ON THIS WORK
I am not attempting to write a comprehensive text. What I am trying to do is to present certain material which I believe is easier to grasp the way I explain it and which you may not otherwise encounter. Therefore I am not, for example, drawing chord diagrams or mentioning other basic concepts because I am assuming that you are getting that information from some other source. I want to encourage you not to take my word on any of the playing suggestions in here. Try them out for yourself and see how they work for you. In addition, if you are interested in theory I suggest getting a real theory book which will go far more in depth than I have.
SIMPLIFIED 3-STEP MUSIC THEORY
To be honest, for the most part I don’t care very much about theory. My personal path of learning has been more blues-rock, playing to records and jamming with other people. I know just as much theory as helps me play on the guitar. This little bit of theory which I am writing down is what I have found useful for myself and my students. I have found that knowing the names of the notes, what a scale is and how to create chords gives you the confidence of knowing what you are doing and not just fumbling around, and you really can use this stuff right now, today, to help you sound better.
Frequency. Sound. Cycles per second. Play the low A string on your guitar, now play the A note on the second fret of the G (third) string. If your guitar is properly in tune they should ring together. There is something the same about these two notes, yet clearly they are different; one is higher than the other. Mathematics. There is a lot of mathematics in music. Sound waves vibrate at a certain number of cycles per second, for example 440 cycles per second. A tone that vibrates at double that number, 880, or 12 that number, 220, has a similar sound in the way the two A notes did. How many different possible sounds are there between the tones that sound the same. Think of a pie. How many pieces can you cut that pie into. Well, really as many as you want. It’s like fractions. There is an infinite number of fractions between any two numbers. In some countries they divide that pie into 36 slices, or 48 (Turkey or India I believe). In western music we divide the pie into 12 slices, and we assign 440 cps the letter A, which brings us to:
STEP ONE: THE MUSICAL ALPHABET
A / B C / D / E F / G / A
12 notes, but only 7 letters. You would think whoever put this together would have used the first twelve letters of the alphabet, but that would have been too easy, so: notice that in the pattern above there is a slash between every two letters, except BC and EF. The slash stands for a note. 7 letters + 5 slashes =12 notes. (The slashes are the black keys on a piano). The way to remember the exceptions is BeCause Exception For..
So, what do we call these notes (slashes). Well, actually we give each slash two names; Sharp = # =the note above, or Flat =b=the note below. Example: between A and B there is a note. We can call it either the note above A or the note below B. It’s the same note, just two names. If we read or write music this becomes useful, but for now just memorize it. A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A, A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A.
Pick up your guitar. Standard tuning, low to high , is EADGBE. (Each additional day goes by easily, Eat A Dead Goat By Evening) That means that if your guitar is tuned properly each string played open (unfretted, no fingers holding strings down) will be EADGBE. Some more definitions. The distance from any note to the next note is 12 step.Two half steps = 1 step, or whole step. Half step = 1 fret on a guitar, whole step = 2 frets.. A to A# is 12 step. B to C is 12 step, C to D =1 step,D to E=1 step, E to F =1/2 step. Let’s put this knowledge on the guitar. Play the open 6th strings, E. Put your finger on the first fret. That’s F. Move your finger to the second fret. That’s F# (Gb, same note, two names). Keep going up the string naming the notes. Notice that when you get to the 12th fret the name of the note is the same as the open string. Now do the same thing on the A string, and then the D string, etc. Keep the paper with the Alphabet in front of you, don’t try to remember this all at once. Go over it a few times each day and it will sink in quickly.
Let’s relate this to tuning. Go up the low E (6th)string to the fifth fret, E,F,F#,G,G#,A. The note on the fifth fret is A, and interestingly enough the next (5th) string is the A string . These two notes should sound the same. The same principle applies to the fifth and fourth string. Fifth string, fifth fret = D, fourth string open = D.. Check it out. Which string pair is the exception.. Play the open A string again. Now play the 12 fret of the A string. Now play the 3rd string second fret.
Now you know how to figure out and find the name of any note on the guitar, a very useful skill. Later we’ll use this to create chords.
STEP TWO: SCALES
A scale is just a series of notes arranged according to a pattern. There are an infinite number of possibilities, but in western music we tend to stick with the major scale and its’ modes, and even that is a lot to work with.
From the infinity of sound we derived a set of twelve notes. From those twelve notes we will now extract seven using the following pattern: we will start on any one of the twelve and we will call this the root. That is our first note. We then go up one step and that is our next note, the second. The pattern is R 1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2. Let’s start with a C note as our root. Up 1 gives us D, etc. This is known as:
THE MAJOR SCALE
R 1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2
C D E F G A B C
D E F# G A B C# D
F G A Bb C D E F
R 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th octave (eight)
(oct means 8 in latin)
The second note we call 2nd, third is the third, etc. Simple.
Notice that in the F scale we called it Bb, not A#. For technical reasons having to do with writing music the rule is no two notes of the same letter, always one of each letter.
Let’s put this on the guitar. Play any string open. This is our root. Now go up one step=2 frets. Now go up another whole step, etc. Even without knowing names of notes the pattern holds true. If you want to go across the strings you will have to do some figuring out, either by ear or brain.
So that’s the major scale. The other patterns,sometimes called modes, come from the major scale by a process which I call go to the end of the line. Watch this;
R 1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2 Ionian =major
R 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2 1 dorian
R 1/2 1 1 1 1/2 1 1 phyrgian
R 1 1 1 1/2 1 1 1/2 lydian
R 1 1 1/2 1 1 1/2 1 mixolydian
R 1 1/2 1 1 1/2 1 1 aeolian=minor
R 1/2 1 1 1/2 1 1 1 locrian
R 1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2 major
When we speak of a C major or a D dorian scale there are two pieces of information being given, the root and the pattern. Think of it this way (C)(major), (C)(dorian}, etc. There are 12 different possible roots and starting from any of them you can do any of the patterns above, or you can feel free to make up patterns of your own and see how those work out. Scales can have a similar sets of notes, but if the pattern (of half and whole steps) is different the sound and net effect of the scale is different. Compare CDEFGAB to ABCDEFG. Very different.
Now let’s put this on the guitar in the same way as before, going up one string.The scales are named after the Greek tribes with which they were associated several thousand years ago. Pretty cool, eh. Play the different scales and see what feeling you get from them, which you like best at first hearing. So far we’ve been starting on open strings, but now start two or more frets up the string, but still follow the pattern of half and whole steps going straight up the string, so, for example, if you start on the 2nd fret of the 6th string that is your root. Using a Dorian scale your second note would be two steps up from there (4th fret),third note will be 1/2 step=1 fret up from there (5th fret),etc. Being in key, for instance in the key of C Major, means that you are playing those notes that fall in the major pattern which has C as its’ root.
The best way to hear the sound of these modes is to put your guitar in a Drone tuning. This is a tuning with only two notes, Root and fifth. The sound is majestic, beautiful, and perfect for playing modes up and down one string. This really brings out the sound of the scale.
The easiest drone to get into is DADDAD. This was first shown to me in the Fern kitchen at Harbin Hot Springs. DADDAD is basically the open D tuning DADF#AD with the third string dropped to D.
The next tuning is one I came up with myself, CGCCCC. I was playing my guitar at a Kirtan (Indian devotional singing) led by Bhagavan Das, an American devotee of the Indian goddess KALI MA. Bhagavan was playing a two string Indian instrument called an ectara with both strings tuned to C, so I had to come up with something. This tuning is difficult to get into and out of but I love the sound, so it’s worth it.
The last drone I’ll mention is the tuning used in Dances of Universal Peace, a/k/a Sufi dancing. This tuning, low to high, is GGDGGD. The sixth string goes up. Usually this is capoed on the 5th fret, which brings it up to the key of C also. All the drones and open tunings in general respond very well to capoing. It does seem that the drone is a sacred tuning, particularly open C.
In closing, scales have gotten a bad name because people were forced to do rote practice, but really, scales are beautiful.
From the infinity of sound we named twelve notes. From twelve we selected seven for a scale. Now from the seven notes of a scale we will pick three to form our basic chords, and our formula will be very simple: we will pick every other note,i.e.135. Write out some major scales, let’s start with A and E.
R 1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2
A B C# D E F# G# A
E F# G# A B C# D# E
2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th octave
The pattern for a major chord is R35,for a minor chord Rb35. MINOR ALWAYS REFERS TO THE 3rd. In a minor chord you flat the third 1/2 step. A Major=AC#E Aminor=ACE. E Major=EG#B, E minor=EGB. If you already know some chords pick up your guitar now and play A and Am. Notice that even though your fingers have to reposition in order to physically play the strings, really there is only one note changing. The C# on the 2nd string is dropping to a C, flatting 1/2 step=1 fret. Now play E and Em. G# drops to G on the 3rd string. Also notice that while you are playing 6 strings in the E chords and 5 in the A chords, really there are only 3 notes. Let’s analyze the E chord ,using the musical alphabet to figure out the notes.Remember, open the strings are EADGBE. Here we go: 6th string=E,5th string=B, 4th string=E,3rd string=G#,2nd string=B,1st string=E. Try doing this with Em, A and Am, also D and Dm.
Using the musical alphabet to figure out the names of notes, and using the scale and chord formulas to know which notes to play, we can go anywhere on the guitar and create chord, for example, go up the neck somewhere above the 5th fret and find an E, a G# and a B. No matter how you stack the notes it’s still an E chord because it has the 135 notes in the key of E. There are E chords, and every other chord, all over the neck, usually in at least three or four places. This ties in with the concept of shapes which is discussed later
So what about chords with names like seventh, ninth, thirteenth, sixth. Well, it’s a formula, like H2O. Write your scale again, but this time when you get to the octave keep going. The scale will repeat:
A B C# D E F# G# A B C# D E F# G# A
R 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Notice that the B note which is the second also shows up as the ninth, 6=13, etc.
What about a chord like C7b9b5. Again, just a formula.In the same way a scale name gives you two pieces of information, the root and the pattern, (C)(Dorian), so does the chord name (C) (7b9b5), give you the starting note and the pattern.
A word about sevenths. The major seventh chord , for example Cmaj7, has a very mellow sound which does not fit the mood of a lot of rock, blues and folk tunes, so what has become common practice is that the flat7 note is used, i.e. AC#EG instead of AC#EG#, and we call that the seventh chord, so if you hear somebody say play C7 they want to hear CEGBb, not CEGB.The technical name is dominant 7th.
Minor sevenths. Remember, minor always refers to the 3rd. Rb35b7. Am7 = ACEG.
Chords in a key, for instance key of C. The formula is take every other note. Our first chord was 135. Our second chord is 246 (DFA) third chord is 357 (EGB) 4th chord is 468 (FAC), etc. There is a pattern, which is the 1st chord is major, 2nd minor, 3rd minor-it’s written like this I ii m iii m IV V vi m vii diminished. In the key of C the chords are C,Dm, Em,F,G, Am,Bdim (just play Bm). This is very useful in figuring out songs.
ROLES OF LEFT AND RIGHT HANDS
For most folks the left hand is the fretting hand, the one that holds the strings down and has to learn to make chords. In the beginning this is what gets most of our attention, but for the most part TONE, RHYTHM, CLARITY AND DYNAMICS come from the picking hand. You can hold down six notes of a chord, with perfect technique, but if you only pick one string, or if your strum is weak or unclear, that’s what you will hear. Think of someone who has great ideas, but mumbles so that you can’t understand a thing they say. Of course fretting the strings properly is necessary, but in guitar playing the big secret is that your pick (or your fingers if you are fingerpicking) is your tongue, and mastering the subtleties of how to use your pick or fingers is the difference between sounding like a hack and sounding great.
YOUR WHOLE BODY
Most of us tend to think of playing guitar as something we do with our fingers and maybe our wrists and arms, but really your whole body is involved. If your back or whatever is hurting it’s probably going to be more difficult to play well. There is a two way circuit of nerve impulses that goes from your brain to your fingers, but your brain is receiving input from your whole body.
Harmony in your body makes it easier to create harmonious music. Here are some simple suggestions. Be aware of your posture, try not to crane your neck over looking down at the
guitar, and close your eyes and do an internal body scan every once in a while looking for where you might be tensing any muscles or holding tension in some other way. I have to tell you, from personal experience, that it was a real eye opener for me when I discovered that an hour of yoga and an hour of practice did my playing more good than 3 hours of practicing, because my body was functioning more cleanly and efficiently.
THE FRETTING HAND
2) Fingers straight down
3) Thumb back of neck
4) Economy of pressure
6) Press and release
The guitar must be supported by a strap or leg. NEVER, EVER should your fretting hand be holding up the guitar. The way to check this is by pulling your hand away and seeing if the neck drops.
Using your hands properly is very important. For the fretting hand the it is usually best to be pressing the strings with the tips of the fingers, with the fingers as straight down as possible, because from the standpoint of mechanical efficiency you want your force to press the strings down into the fretboard, not across to the next string, Also, the most common cause of a buzzing note in a chord is that the finger on the next string is leaning over and touching it, deadening the sound.
Key to all of this is the position of the thumb Your thumb should be more or less in the middle of the back of the neck Try this exercise: wrap your hand around the neck, just grab it, and now try to put your fingers down on the sixth string, one finger per fret, leaving your fingers down as you , for example, put your first finger on the 5th fret, 2nd finger on the 6th, 3rd finger on the 7th, pinky on the 8th (if you can make it). If you’re like most of us your fingers can’t stretch far with the hand in this position. Now pull your thumb around to the middle of the back of the neck and let it rest there easily. Now try this same exercise. Your fingers should be able to move a lot more easily and be able to stretch much farther down the neck.This is a very simple exercise, but a very useful one which trains your hand . The exercise is called 1234, one finger per fret on the same string leaving the fingers down as you go up the frets. This is the main exercise. Once you get comfortable with this you can do 1235, meaning that with the pinky you will play the note on the 5th fret up from where you started.
Remember that on a guitar the farther you go up the neck the smaller the frets get, so start practicing this exercise up around the 8th or 10th fret and gradually move back down the neck as your fingers get more stretch in them.
The third major factor for the fretting hand is how much force you use to press the strings down. Remember that the best place to finger a note is just above the metal fretwire, not on it and not too far back. Try this exercise, called press and release. Push any string down on any fret as hard as you can and pick the note as you do it. Now ease up a little bit and try it again. Keep going until you find the edge, the very minimum of force necessary to get a good sound out of the note. Any more pressure than that is counterproductive wasted effort which creates strain. Check yourself often, especially if your hand tends to cramp.
1 ESSENTIAL OPEN CHORDS
2 HOW TO CHANGE CHORDS
a) economy of motion
b) leading finger
4 BARRE CHORDS
5 THE ROCK AND ROLL A
6 SHAPES AND SOUNDS
7 MANY SOUNDS, ONE CHORD
8 WHERE TO STRUM
Speaking in physical terms, there are basically two kinds of chords. Open chords have some strings fretted and some strings played open. These chords are almost always on the first two or three frets and are the first chords one learns. Barre chords are little more difficult to play physically but once learned allow you to play in any key, whereas the open chords don’t give you any sharps or flats.
ESSENTIAL OPEN CHORDS For beginners the first 8 chords to learn are A,C,D,E,G,Am,Dm,Em. These will take you a long way. In order to play F,B or any of the sharps or flats you will need to learn at least half barre chords, but that’s nowhere near as hard as most people think After your first 8 learn sevenths, A7, B7, C7, D7, E7, G7. Next learn Am7,Dm7,Em7,Amaj7,Cmaj7 Dmaj7,Fmaj7.
HOW TO CHANGE CHORDS let’s work with the first 5 chords ACDEG, and let’s start with D and E. Play D. Notice that your first finger is on the same string as it will be for the E. 1)leave that finger down 2) pick up 2nd and 3rd fingers. 3) Slide 1st finger back one fret, still on 3rd string. 4)leading with the second finger, so that it doesn’t get in the way of the 3rd finger, put the 2nd and 3rd fingers down. One basic principle is economy of motion. It doesn’t make sense to lift your fingers a mile off the fretboard when changing chords. It becomes that much harder for them to find the proper place when they come back down. Just lift your fingers up a little bit Another principle is the leading finger. Once you are practiced the fingers seem to move all at once, but when you are learning go very slow and let the shifts happen one by one. Which finger leads is very important because it avoids your fingers getting tangled up in each other. D to G, lead with the second finger. D and A. Notice the 3rd finger on the 2nd string of the D chord is on the same string as it will be in the A chord. Also notice that the 1st finger is on the same fret in both D and A. The goal is to change chords smoothly, in an efficient, methodical way. .
. Shapes. G and C chords, notice the shape of the fingers on the low strings. When you learn the half barre F you will see the same shape on the low strings. There is a way to play the G chord with 2nd finger 5th string, 3rd finger 6th string, pinky 1st string which makes it very easy to go from C to F to G because your fingers can move as a unit.
The first two barre chords to learn are F and Bm. There are basically two types of barre chord, the full barre in which you are barring the low strings and the half barre in which you barre just the first or first and second strings. The half barre is easier and is usually what beginners learn first, but if you want to have that nice low bass note in your chord take the time to learn the full barre.
Barre chords are movable. Using the musical alphabet, moving the chord up one fret raises the sound 1/2 step, i.e. if the F chord on the first fret moves to the second it becomes an F#. Barre chords are really just open chords with the first finger replacing the nut, and you have to move your fingers around in order to get your first finger free. Barre chords have your 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers holding down strings and the first finger replacing the nut by holding down, or appearing to hold down, all six strings either one or two frets above the 234 fingers. The key point is that the first finger is in effect replacing the nut.
CHORD SHAPES: fret an open E chord. Now pick up your fingers and replace them in this manner; 2nd finger on the 3rd string, pinky on the 4th string, 3rd finger on the 5th string. Now slide the whole thing down one fret and barre the 1st fret with your 1st finger. Can you see how the F chord has the same shape as the E chord. Barre chords are movable because the relation of the strings to each other stays the same. Really there are only a few shapes, and for the most part we will just be using E and A shapes, including minor and seventh..
Let’s try it again. Fret an Am, do the process of finger replacement so that your first finger is available, so second finger 2nd string, third finger 4th string, pinky 3rd string. then slide up one fret and bar. That’s A#m/Bbm. Up one more fret is Bm, etc.
You can move any chord up the neck and have the key name go up sequentially, as long as you don’t play any open strings. Actually there are a lot of beautiful sounds when you move a D, E,Am or whatever up the neck and do play the open strings, but just remember that the open strings will change the formula of the chord.
TIPS ON BARRING Let’s work with barring an E shape, as above. Your first finger will have three strings to hold down, the 6th, 2nd and 1st. The key is getting some arch in your finger rather than just laying it flat across all six strings. Use your finger tip to hold down the 6th string. The 543 strings are held down already by the other fingers, so you really don’t need to exert pressure on them. What you will need to do is exert some force against the first and second strings. Often, however, you may just be going for the low sound of the chord ,in which case you can ease up on the 1st and 2nd strings, because if you’re not playing them why waste the energy. Conversely, you may sometimes just be playing the high strings, in which case ease up on the finger tip (6th string). Even when you are playing the whole thing, try and feel as if the pressure is moving like a wave through your first (barre) finger, so that it is not just pressed flat the whole time. This is a subtle concept, but one which I have found has served me well.
THE ROCK AND ROLL A I said earlier that for the most part we work with E and A shapes. There is a variation of the A shape which is very useful. Play an open A. Notice that you have three fingers all lined up next to each other. Pick up you fingers and now try using just your first finger to hold down all three strings. Don’t worry about the 1st string, it will be muted and that’s OK. For a barre chord we are going to need that first finger, so now pick up the first finger and replace it with your 3rd finger. Slide it down one fret to the 3rd fret and all you need to do is with the tip of your first finger hold only the 5th string on the 1st fret. The big key is getting some bend in the fingertip joint of your third finger. The way I learned to do this was A) put the 3rd finger down B) actually reach over with your other hand and press that finger down, then pull your fretting hand up gently to create some bend in the joint C) put first finger tip on 5th string. Your joint needs to physically grow a little differently so have some patience, do this each day and in a week or two you’ll get it, and it is very useful to be able to play this chord.
SHAPES AND SOUNDS Going back to our theory, remember that a chord is 135. In practice putting 3 notes on 5 or 6 strings may result in 153 or other stackings. Play a C chord and a G chord. Especially listen to the sound of the two lowest strings. Notice the shape. Now play E,A, and D. Notice the physical shape of the fingers on the two lowest strings. In C and G the 2nd and 3rd fingers, E,A, and D an open string and then the next string fretted two frets up. Play just the two lowest strings sounding in each of the chords. The C and G go R3, A, D and E go R5. Root 5 has a more solid sound, R3 a lighter sound. This is very important tonally in getting the effect you want. The E and A barre shapes we’ve played so far both go R5, but there are other shapes that go R3. The C chord can be barred, but more importantly than that, we can put any note in the bass, meaning that we can play the 3rd or 5th as the lowest note in the chord, just like Jimi Hendrix. Play that Rock and roll A on the 5th fret (D). Now replace your third finger with your 1st finger, still on the same fret (5th), and now put your third finger on the 5th string two frets below the 1st finger (7th). OK, now go back to the regular R+R A, still on the 5th fret. This time reach your 1st (barre) finger across and hold the 6th string. That’s the 5th of the chord and playing it gives a heavier sound which is heard a lot in grunge.
MANY SOUNDS, ONE CHORD Finger an E chord. Now play 1) all six strings, 2)just the low strings 3) just the high strings 4) just the 1st and 2nd 5) 3rd and 4th 6) 5th and 6th 7) 2nd and 3rd 8) 4th and 5th. And that’s just playing the strings that are next to each other. If you fingerpick there are more possibilities. Now try a different tone, muting, attack, etc. Unless you are a jazz player, in actual practice there are perhaps 20-25 chords you will use on a regular basis, yet these same chords will be used om hundreds of songs. Being able to get many sounds from one chord is one of the most important skills you can acquire.
WHERE YOU STRUM on the strings makes a difference, i.e. whether you are hitting the strings back towards the bridge, or up by the neck, or over the soundhole, or whatever. There is no right or wrong. Try a variety of spots and see which has the tone you like.
MUTING is a technique which is used a lot in blues, rock and folk, especially blues. As you play rest the heel of your picking hand on the strings, muting them as you play. Play with this and look for the edge between totally deadening the string and letting it ring freely. There are a number of tones available and actually this is quite an easy technique to learn, although it does take a few hours.
USING THE PICK
A THE PICK ITSELF
5) Filing the edge
The choice of pick is very important. Different materials such as plastic, nylon, tortex, etc., all have different tones, very different. Ditto for thickness, Thin, medium, heavy, etc.
Size and shape are more about what is comfortable for you to hold. Try a variety of picks and see what you like, don’t just stick with the first thing that comes into your hands. Filing the edge-New picks are usually very smooth, which tends to have a mellow tone. After it’s been played a lot the edge of the pick gets sharpened, giving a sharper tone. If you like that tone, like I do, and you don’t want to wait ,it is very easy to take an emory board and file down the edges.
B HOLDING THE PICK
1) How firmly
2) How much pick is showing
There seem to be a lot of good ways to hold a pick so I am deliberately not covering this topic, also because it is something that is best shown in person. Ask somebody who you think plays well to show you how they do it.
What I will say is that it is necessary to hold the pick firmly, but not too tight. In addition how much pick is poking out from in between your fingers is very important. Less is usually better because too much causes the pick to get hung up in the strings. Generally speaking we show more pick for strumming and less pick for lead.
C ANGLE OF THE PICK
a) front edge up
b) flat on strings
c) back edge up
see the gravity exercise below
D WHERE IS THE MOTION COMING FROM
1 micromotions of thumb and finger joint, circular picking
3 forearm, elbow
4 whole arm, shoulder
If you’ve ever had a shortwave radio you know that there is a tuning knob and a fine tuning knob. There are a number of places your motion can come from and often it’s a combination. Strumming and picking motions are different. Strumming as taught below in the gravity exercise is primarily motion of the elbow and forearm. Power chords, where the pick flies in from a mile off and whams the strings, have shoulder motion along with elbow. For single notes often your hand is resting on the guitar and your wrist is moving.
What I particularly want to talk about here is the fine tuning for playing single notes, which is the micromotions of the thumb and finger joints. Hold the pick, probably it will be between thumb and first finger. Do this without guitar for a moment. Keeping your hand still pull your fingers back. Just your thumb and forefinger are moving. Now get your guitar. Put your hand over the strings and try playing some notes this way, your hand, wrist, etc. stay still, all the motion comes from your thumb and forefinger joints pulling the pick across the strings. In actual practice this motion is combined with hand and wrist motion, but for right now let’s isolate just to see what it’s like. Good. Now try picking in a circle on one string. The thumb and forefinger are moving the pick in a circle around one string. Do this in conjunction with angling the edge of the pick as described in the next section. These micromotions give a lot of control, especially tonal control, which you might not otherwise get from the larger motions. This especially gives you a great control over how much pick is showing. Learn how to do this, experiment with it and see how it fits in with your personal playing style.
E THE GRAVITY EXERCISE
For flatpickers the pick serves the same function as your tongue, communicating your ideas clearly and with beauty. The pick controls which strings are voiced, in which combinations, rhythm, volume, and tone. The single best exercise I know is what I call THE GRAVITY EXERCISE, which teaches the most important technical fundamental, getting a good sound from each note. To do it properly takes great attention to detail. It goes like this.
Lay your pick flat on the 6th string. Now let gravity pull the pick down across the strings. To repeat, let gravity do the work. Now angle the pick so that the front edge is up. Again let gravity pull the pick down. You can also try angling the back edge up instead. See how this works for you. Notice the difference between flat and angled .Your job is to control the rate of descent by providing resistance, which comes from how firmly you hold the pick and how flat or angled the pick is to the strings. The idea is a controlled descent, not free fall.
There is a third factor, the tilt of the pick. Again lay the pick flat on the sixth string. This time, with the pick flat, lean the top of the pick down . You’ll know you’re doing it right because the pick will move across the strings more easily, especially when you angle the front edge up at the same time. For an upstroke start with your pick on the first string and imagine that gravity has reversed. Tilt the top of the pick upwards, also angling the edge up. Feel the smooth flow of your upstroke as gravity pulls your arm up.
Go very slowly string by string .Be meticulous about getting a good sound from each note. Don’t let junk notes slide by. Accept only excellence. Notice the difference between letting gravity do the work and making it happen. When playing chords you are much better served by having a smooth, flowing stroke. For picking individual notes you will probably need to be more in the making it happen mode, although I am still learning more about this topic myself
The gravity exercise is a great way to check your chords because you will be able to hear just how well you are fretting each note. You can and should try it with every chord you know. Just go slowly and carefully.
RHYTHM AND DYNAMICS
Beats without spaces are meaningless. Spaces give shape to the notes as much as notes give shape to spaces.
There is duration to how long a note or space lasts, and there is how loudly or softly, how emphasized or accented that note or strum is. Beats come in groups, twos, threes, fours, whatever. Fret a chord and strum two downstrokes on your guitar of about equal volume. Now two downstrokes but accent the first, make it louder. Now accent the second. Three downstrokes, no accent, accent 1st, 2nd, 3rd. Four downstrokes, same process. Now with the four downstrokes try two accents, a strong one and a weak one. Shift them around.
Now duration. Two strums, let them ring about an equal time. Now make the first one longer. Now the second. Now let them both be longer. Do the same process with3,4,5 etc.
Now start dropping beats. Four downstrokes, but now leave a space where the 3rd one was, no strings ringing. Move that space around. Drop 2 out of 4 beats. Now just play one of the beats but count the others to yourself so that the one comes in right on the money. That’s how you know you’ve got it.
Now upstrokes. Play two downstrokes. Now two up strokes, Down up, up down. Mirror. Down up down, Up down up. DUUD, UDDU. 5 strokes,6,7,9, take it as far as you can, and always be able to mirror starting with an upstroke everything you can do starting with a downstroke. Too many people have trouble with rhythms with upstrokes, but with this and the gravity exercise you will be strong.
DYNAMICS Simply put, have some flow to your playing. Build the intensity and let it down. Vary tempos, tones, etc., but do it with regard to bringing out the highest beauty of the music. Flow is the keyword.
a) side to side
b) up and down
c) how fast
b)down-side of fingertip
6 HAMMER ON
7 PULL OFF
10 SCALE ACROSS STRINGS
11 SCALE UP ONE STRING
12 ARTIFICIAL HARMONICS
13 PINKY EXERCISE
The most important element of playing lead is working with and off the rhythm, being in tune not only with the strings but also with the rhythm and feel of the other players. Lead creates a series of contrasts, harmonies, melodies and countermelodies. Relationship is the key word.
One note in the right place is worth all the notes on the fretboard if they don’t fit. More is not better. PHRASING, how you put the notes together, what groupings, rhythms, accents you use is so important. Look inside yourself and find your style. You may be a player like Joe Walsh who is not flash but is great. Playing fast is fine, but if all you do is shred it gets boring . Play some slow notes, some medium. Taste is the word. I’ve got nothing against fast playing, I like to do it myself, but I do consider taste and quality of the notes to be the primary values. Also, try to pace your leads. Set yourself up for the climax by gradually building your solo, but don’t do that the whole night. Go for it all at the beginning once in a while. Enough said.
Technically the best thing you can do for your notes is to give them some VIBRATO, which makes them sound fuller, richer, more soulful. I read that in an interview with Eric Clapton in Guitar Player magazine. Actually what he said was that one should give every note you play a little vibrato, and through the years I have found that to be really excellent advice. There are two kinds of vibrato, side to side and up and down, and they both have their uses. Side to side is really a BEND and a vibrato at once, so let’s talk about bends first.
Strings can be bent up or down and there is a slight difference in where the strings sits on your fingertip. Try the following with your first finger on the G string on the 5th fret. For an upward bend the string is almost right under the nail and you push the string up. Your nail is almost at a 90 degree angle to the fretwire. Downward your finger will be a bit sideways, the nail will look almost parallel to the fretwire and the string will sit under the side of your fingertip and you pull down. It is important to keep the pressure on the string as you bend, don’t let up, but go back to the press and release exercise to find how much pressure is enough.
How far the string is bent makes a huge difference. You can bend a string a lot or a little, 1/4 inch or off the fretboard and once you start bending strings you have access to all the MICROTONES that fall in between the 12 western notes. This is not something to think about or calculate so much as feel. Play with it.
Now for vibrato. Starting from the string at rest bend up and come back. Up and back. Now try down and back. Try vibrato at different speeds, slow, medium, fast, but to be honest this takes practice. Vibrato is best learned at hyper slow speed on a guitar with decent action (strings not too high off the fretboard). Again up and back one time. Now up, back, up again. Now up, back, up, back. Same for down. Build it up to 3x up and back,4, etc. You can also try a vibrato without much bend by pushing or pulling the string just enough to create a little bit of tension between fingertip and string, then going down (or up) and back just a fraction of inch, just enough to change the tone of the note. This is actually a good way to learn, bending just a tiny bit and then gradually increasing the bend and speed.
There is another kind of vibrato, more used in classical music, but excellent for all music and that is the up and down vibrato. Again fingertip on the string, but this time rock your finger up and down on the string. The string will not move much, your finger will move. Done properly the note will get a fuller, rounder sound without changing pitch. Both ways have their uses.
HAMMER ON Put your 1st finger on the G string 3rd fret. Now with your 3rd finger hammer on the G string 5th fret. It has to have some snap in it, hit it quick, not slow.
PULL OFF Stay there. Now pull your 3rd finger straight across the fretboard towards the 1st string until the string snaps out from under. Use the edge of your fingertip closest to the nut. Hammer ons and pull offs can be put together in a series for “awesome” results. Also, any finger can hammer on or pull off to any other finger, so try it,
SLIDING a/k/a GLISSANDO 3rd finger 3rd string 5th fret. Keeping your pressure into the fretboard slide down to the next note. Now slide back
ATTACK How strongly is the pick contacting the strings? Are you coming in from an inch above, six inches, etc.? How much force is in your hand? Is your motion quick or slow, curveball or sinker?
SCALES Are you playing them across the strings in one of the box patterns, or are you going up and down one string, which lends itself well to a series of slides, hammer ons and pull offs, or are you doing a combination of both. I want to recommend here a little booklet of scales by Andres Segovia, which is excellent for developing the third method. There is a big difference in the sound and net effect of these three methods and you would be wise to learn them all. While I am recommending Segovia let me also recommend any book by Leon White, whom I want to thank for all that I learned from his writings, which I am sure are still available..
ARTIFICIAL HARMONICS Pick the string really hard, mostly with a micromotion of your thumb and forefinger, but also some wrist action, Hold the pick very firmly, and as the string comes off the edge of the pick let it catch a little bit of your flesh. There are other ways to do artificial harmonics, this is only one. Artificial harmonics combine very well with hammer ons, pull offs and slides for a really flash lead, especially if you’re going up and down one or two strings.
PINKY EXERCISE You have four fingers, you might as well use them. Here is an exercise to develop pinky strength and coordination. Put 1st finger down anywhere. Each finger takes responsibility for one fret, just like the 1234,1235 exercise. Play 1,4 (1st finger, pinky), now 24,34,24,14,24,34,etc. Now try this with hammer ons and pulloffs. Start on the treble strings, which are thinner, high up the neck, where the frets are closer together, and gradually work your way down. Remember, SLOW IS FAST.
PLAYING WITH OTHER PEOPLE
1 TUNE UP.
2 BREAK THE ICE Start with something simple. Most players know some blues, Beatles or Stones.
3 Play WITH the other person(s), not just in the same room .Try to establish rapport, glance at each other for signals. Communicate. Exchange ideas
4 Cover different parts of the TONAL SPECTRUM. The lead is usually on the high notes, so keep the rhythm on the low or middle strings. Avoid stepping on the other person’s toes musically.
5 Be CONSIDERATE Keep your leads under an hour, give the other person a chance, trade back and forth.
6 Don’t be afraid to ASK the other person how something goes if you’re having difficulty. They’d rather have you give them the musical backup they want.
7 Have FUN
Somewhere in this work I want to mention something I read in an interview with Albert King in Guitar Player magazine.(Does it sound like I’m trying to sell subscriptions?) He said that to get a blues band one should learn 3 progressions, in 3 keys, at 3 different speeds. 3x3x3=27 songs, a whole night’s worth of music, 3 sets. Go for it.
MIXING LEAD AND RHYTHM
Mixing lead and rhythm is very simply playing chords and using runs of single notes to transition between them. Keeping the beat, staying in time, is what it’s all about. It takes familiarity with the notes and chords and practice switching between the two. Simple transitional notes are often just as or more pleasing than displays of virtuostic technique that has nothing to do with the rhythm.
Let’s start with one of the most basic runs, Am to C. Think of your alphabet, A, B,C. We’re playing an A chord and a C chord. Let’s play a B note in between. Play open Am, now fret the B note on the 2nd fret of the 5th string with your 2nd finger, now let go of that and play a C chord. Reverse the process. Try this with Em chord, F# note, G chord, and reverse. A chord, C note, D chord. E chord, G note, A chord. Try E chord, E note, F# note, G note, A note, B note, C chord.
That’s transitioning between chords, a folk and bluegrass style. A more blues rock style is to get a beat going, stop and play a bunch of licks, which you can learn off records, and then come back to the song. The trick is to feel that rhythm so strongly inside you that you come back right on the money (see RHYTHM section).
1 OPEN TUNING
3 HOW FAR
4 HOW FAST
I just want to say few words about slide because it’s very easy to learn. Put your guitar in open tuning, either D, DADF#AD, or G, DGDGBD. The slide just touches the strings right over the metal fret, it doesn’t press them down. Finding that edge is important. The characteristic tone is gotten by putting the slide on the strings and sliding into the note from several frets above. How far you slide in from and how fast are the key elements.
SINGING THE NOTES
I am putting this section at the end of this work because I know how scared some people are to sing, but really this goes with the very first section on feelings. Play the open D string on your guitar and sing the note as you play it. Just sing any vowel you choose. Now play the E note two frets up. Sing the note. Now F or F#, your choice. Play any and all of the scales up and down the D string, and of course you can use any string and start anywhere.
The way to really feel the notes and the scales is to actually bring them into your body and make them a part of you. Your talent for singing, how good you sound to yourself or anyone else, is not important for doing this, and when you release the fear and self consciousness that is creating a hitch in your throat you will probably find that it’s a lot easier than you thought. The point is, this is valuable and is a whole other dimension, and it will do amazing things for your guitar playing.
One more thing: You may have entered into the world of making music as a guitarist, but at some point it may become important that you broaden into a musician who plays guitar. Good luck!
A final note
I have tried to make this work as helpful and accurate as I can. Please forgive me for any mistakes. I would very much appreciate your writing with any comments and suggestions for improvement.
Jay Dancing Bear
ABOUT JAY DANCING BEAR- Mr. Bear has been playing guitar since 1976, teaching since 1980. He loves teaching almost as much as he loves playing. He has played a lot of different music for a lot of different people in a lot of different places, including the East and West coasts and Europe. His main musical focus these days is playing his original songs. He’s written a lot of them, folk, instrumental, blues and especially his own blend of rock/alternative/fusion whatever you want to call it, which he plays under the band name of PRESENT.
Mr. Bear was born in Milan, Italy to American parents working overseas and raised in the Bronx, NY. Since 1979 California has been his primary residence with occasional forays to Boston, New York, Seattle, etc. From March 1990 to June 1991 Jay toured Northern Germany, Paris, Athens, Crete and a couple of other Greek islands playing as a street musician and barnstorming in bars, cafes, restaurants and concerts. His advice for any American looking for respect as an artist is to go to Europe now.
About the name. Jay is physically of Italian-German descent, but a number of years ago he was doing guided trances with a shamanic rebirther and this big bear came to him and gave him the name. Mr. Bear likes his name, it suits him, and at this point it feels more like his name than his birth name.
Jay is available for private lessons and concerts of his music. You can contact him at:
CIRCLE OF ENERGY
It is my wish to share this information with as many people as possible. My understanding of the way life the universe works is that we give our gifts and in return we receive all that we need to have a good life, a beautiful exchange of energy. In order to facilitate this exchange we use a symbol of energy which we call money, but really , when all the survival fears are stripped away, we are just exchanging our regard for each other. If you have downloaded this work from the Web, or if a friend has Xeroxed a copy for you, I am requesting an energy exchange of five dollars , or whatever you can afford. Please mail this to
Jay F. Cagnina
PO Box 1092
Pacific Grove, California
This offer applies only to individuals for personal use. I reserve all rights of commercial publication.
If you’re ever in the Monterey Bay area of California you can call me at 831-647-2299