General Practice Tips

author: chris flatley date: 02/27/2012 category: correct practice
rating: 9.5 / votes: 12 
USING THE SPIDER EXERCISE The Spider is kind of like an arpeggiated chromatic finger exercise. The first finger plays all the notes on the 5th fret, the second covers the 6th, third the 7th, and fourth the 8th. The result is that the fingers crawl vertically up and down the fret board a bit like a spider.
|5-6---7-----8---------------------------------------------------|
|----5---6-----7-----8---------------------------------------------|
|----------5-----6-----7-----8-----------------------------------8-|
|------------------5-----6-----7-----8-------------------8-----7---|
|--------------------------5-----6-----7---8-------8---7-----6-----|
|----------------------------------5-----6---7-8-7---6-----5-------|
 
|--------------8-----7---6-5-|
|------8-----7-----6---5-----|
|----7-----6-----5-----------|
|--6-----5-------------------|
|5---------------------------|
|----------------------------|
How tricky you find it is very much dependant on where you are with your picking and fretting comfort and dexterity. It's almost like a general test of one's ability, and so can be a very useful exercise for developing fundamental skills. With persistent practice, the fingerings of this exercise aren't too difficult to master, but what it's really good for is trying to maintain rhythmic flow with the picking hand while 'under fire' from the fretboard. What is meant by 'under fire' from the fretboard? Well, certain repeating patterns of tones seem to influence the pattern of stresses (dynamics) played by the picking hand. This can be a very bad thing indeed, and can go completely unnoticed if you're not REALLY listening for it. As all rhythm owes everything to the pattern of stressed and unstressed notes, then any disruption to this pattern will kill the music, no matter how sweet the melody/harmony. Look at the following pattern.
E|5-6-7-8-5-6-7-8-5-6-7-8-5-6-7-8-| etc
The above pattern repeats every four notes. If you play this over and over, the picking hand will naturally fall into a rhythmic pattern that is based in some way on the number four. Either a simple quarter note 1, 2, 3, 4, or a 1 & 2 &, or a 1 e & a, 2 e & a, etc. So any rhythmic pattern of quarters, straight eights, sixteenths played with a 4/4 type time will always mean that the greatest stress - that of the 1 - will always land conveniently on the A note at the 5th fret, which is always played by the first finger. This is very easy to maintain, and is a classic example of the fretting pattern of tones having its way with the rhythmic pattern of stresses. This is NEVER a good thing, and needs to be actively overrode. Try playing the same four note pattern with a rhythmic pattern that divides into threes rather than fours. For example 3/4: 1 & 2 & 3 ., See how the greatest stress of the 1 shifts from the 5th fret to the 7th and back again, and how if you're not careful, you can easily be pulled into a rhythm based on four.
E|5-6-7-8-5-6-|7-8-5-6-7-8-|5-6-7-8-5-6-|| etc
  1 & 2 & 3 & |1 & 2 & 3 & |1 & 2 & 3 & |
So you can imagine what merry hell The Spider can have with rhythmic patterns. And that's the thing, it's relatively easy, once you've memorized the fingerings, to play the spider in a in time' but plodding mechanical way, but playing it fluently while maintaining a rhythmic pattern that conflicts with the fingering pattern of tones is where the spider proves its worth as an exercise, particularly when you start introducing syncopation into the mix. TIPS ON HOW TO APPROACH THE EXERCISE First thing is to get the fingerings well memorized. Don't worry if it feels really awkward at first, it will come eventually. Once you've got past the need to think too much about where you're putting your fingers then it's time to start working to a drum track. I wouldn't use a metronome for the following reason. When I first started playing this exercise, I was using one of those tock tock tock metronomes. The sort that just tick out the pulse, but don't denote any particular time sig. The trouble I had with this is that without me realising it, I was switching time sigs in order to match whatever bit of the fretting pattern I happened to be playing at the time. I'd play something like: the first six notes in , then the next 4 in 2/4, and so on. It sounds ridiculous, but that's exactly what can happen if you focus all your attention on the fretboard pattern at the expense of your rhythmic playing. I much prefer drum tracks these days because they not only denote time sigs much better than metronomes, but they can hint at beat subdivisions without having to play every one, and they're much more dynamic and less mechanical. I find it much easier to create little groove patterns over a drum track than with a met. Also, you can create a different track every morning to keep things fresh, interesting, and varied. PHRASE/BAR SEPARATION If you have trouble maintaining a particular time/groove pattern, try separating things. If you're playing eighth notes in , and you keep losing it, try taking it a bar at a time, leaving gaps between, and replaying the section several times in isolation, always with a bit of breathing space between the repetitions. It looks like this:
|5-6---7-----|
|----5---6---|
|----------5-| rest for a bar
|------------|
|------------|
|------------|
 
|8-----------|
|--7-----8---|
|----6-----7-|
|------5-----| rest
|------------|
|------------|
 
|------------|
|------------|
|----8-------|
|6-----7-----| rest
|--5-----6---|
|----------5-|
I won't write out the whole thing, but you can see how the pattern is broken up in an odd way, and this is what makes it a challenge to play fluently, and why it can be useful to divide the phrasing up in this way to really hear how they should sound in isolation. Being able to go from rest to playing an isolated phrase with perfect timing and dynamics is one of the cornerstones of good musicianship. BUILDING SPEED When developing speed, it can be useful to break things down even further. Say you wanted to play the exercise using 16ths at 120 and you're having trouble. First thing is to make sure you're definitely comfortable at a lower tempo. If so, then a more effective technique than just gradually increasing the speed until you reach your goal, can be to set the tempo at 120, and try playing it in 16ths two notes at a time leaving plenty of thinking space in between. If you have trouble, instead of lowering the tempo, simply play the part several times in eighths, then switch back to sixteenths. If you're comfortable with two notes at a time, try four, switching between eighths and sixteenths to ensure that accuracy doesn't suffer. Within a reasonable time you should be able to play the whole phrase at speed, and then you've just got to employ the same methods for stringing the phrases together. Whenever you encounter difficulties, back up and simplify by halving the time or breaking things down. GOOD HAND POSITION A good hand position is essential for playing this exercise with effortless fluency. The only things on the fretting hand that should touch the guitar are the fingertips and the pad of the thumb, which should be placed in the centre of the back of the neck. So no wrapping the thumb over the top, no pressing the palm against the neck, and no touching the inside of the first finger knuckle against the underside of the neck to stabilise the hand All of these things appear to give anchorage to the hand, but they ultimately restrict fluid movement and so cause unnecessary stress. Allow the wrist to hang loosely beneath the neck. With your arm hanging by your side, place the thumb on the back of the neck, fret the 6th string at the 5th fret, and with the neck pinched in this way, allow the wrist to hang loosely. Do not hold it up behind the neck. This is a waste of energy Avoid twisting the hand when fingering all those diagonal arpeggios. Keep the hand still and straight, and let the fingers make all the shapes on their own. Twisting the hand on an angle is one of the biggest causes of inaccuracy. Keeping the hand and arm still and just moving the fingers means much less muscle memory information to be stored, and much less potential for inconsistency between repetitions. Watch out for twisting particularly during this section:
|--------------------
|--------------------
|------------------8-
|----------8-----7---
|----8---7-----6-----
|8-7---6-----5-------
While the fourth finger is playing the 8th fret of the 6th string, it naturally encourages a straight hand position, but as it progresses to the 5th, 4th, and then 3rd, the tendency is to twist the hand rather than move the finger vertically straight down. So you can end up keeping the fingers in line while angling the hand, instead of keeping the hand in line and angling the fingers. Even though when playing guitar, the latter is much more efficient, it's pretty unnatural to use the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers in this way and that's why the body tends to command the hand rather than the individual fingers. , but guitar playing is all about overwriting these kinds of behaviours. You'll probably find the section above is the bit that requires the most attention to pass through fluently, so whenever it gives you grief, you should play through it several times from just before to just after rather than starting the whole exercise from the start. Watch out for any increase in stress on the hand during the passage through this section. If you experience any increase in tension in the hand, then you need to work on easing it. There should be no achy stresses in the hand while playing this exercise. WRISTS OF RUBBER Let's do a quick test of just how easy it is to play a note on guitar. Use the description above to position the hand correctly. Place the first finger on the first string at the 5th fret, and gently tap it to the fretboard with the minimum amount of effort. Tap, release, tap release. Now tap it, hold it an gently pick the string to play the note. How easy was that? EVERY NOTE YOU PLAY ON GUITAR CAN AND SHOULD BE LIKE THIS! Any time you have to use more effort than this, it's because you're over trying and this is stressing the hand unnecessarily. There are exceptions to this, string bending being one, but for this exercise, and most guitar playing, it should be easy. To go off on a tangent for a minute, there was a goalkeeper called Bruce Grobbelaar who played for Liverpool FC in the 80s. During penalty shootouts, he used to do something called 'spaghetti legs'. It was thought that this was a tactic to put off the guy taking the penalty, but what was much more likely is that he was removing all the unnecessary tension from his body. Go and watch a video of it, and then try it. If you do it right, you should notice that not only does it loosen up the legs, but seems to remove all the tension from the upper body too. You have to loosen your whole body to get the legs to do that, so you're removing all the tension except that necessary tension which is keeping you on your feet. You can do a similar thing with your arms to release unnecessary tension while playing. Hold your hands up in front of your face and flop them around at the wrist as if they're made of rubber, and then play guitar while trying to retain this rubbery feeling. It's not easy because somewhere in our minds we've decided guitar is difficult, and difficulties require us to set ourselves in readiness. The idea of being all limp and rubbery for these challenges seems to freak us out and we don't trust ourselves. Trust me, it's the only way to play guitar!
More chris flatley lessons:
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+ Relieving Fretting Hand Tension Correct Practice 08/01/2012
+ Useful Exercises For Chicago Blues And Old School Rock Soloing 07/30/2012
+ Picking And Fretting Fundamentals Correct Practice 07/17/2012
+ How Well Do You Know Your Stuff? Correct Practice 06/29/2012
+ A Simple Blues Lesson Soloing 05/04/2012
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