Guitar Fitness The Key To Great Tone And Flency

author: chris flatley date: 11/06/2008 category: guitar techniques

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Have you ever wondered why good musicians can make a simple major scale sound great, yet when you do it yourself it sounds unmusical even though your guitar is in-tune and you're keeping reasonable time? Do you find that your muscles start to ache within no time at all when you adopt a good hand position in order to play a scale using the three-notes-per string method? Do you find yourself abandoning difficult, mentally and physically exhausting technical practice in favour of familiar, easy-come old tunes? If so, then you may need to put music to one side for a while and concentrate solely on fitness, i.e. a daily routine that will get you in shape ready to tackle those awkward scales and arpeggios. The following exercises use fragmented chromatic and diatonic scale patterns and fingering permutations which are designed to developed the muscles needed for fluent movement around the freeboard. With strength comes flexibility; with flexibility comes relaxed movement. Only when you have acquired strength and agility will your phrases start to sound musical. This is because you will have better control over dynamics and tone production. True musicians can make almost anything sound great because they have a good command of these elements.

Chromatic Permutation Exercise

You're probably familiar with the chromatic warm-up at the 5th fret. But have you considered playing all the fingering permutations? There are 24 permutations using the first, second, third and fourth fingers playing the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th frets respectively. Remember to maintain the same fingering for ascending and descending. Keep correct hand position throughout.
|----------------5-6-7-8- and so on up to the high E string
Descend using the same fingering:
|---------------- and so on down to the low E string.
Using the same principle demonstrated for Perm.1, go through all of the following perms. P1. 5678 P2. 5687 P3. 5768 P4. 5786 P5. 5867 P6. 5876 P7. 6578 P8. 6587 P9. 6758 P10. 6785 P11. 6857 P12. 6875 I'm sure you can work out the remaining 12 perms.

Diatonic Permutation Exercises

Remember that this isn't about memorizing scales. It's about developing muscles. So instead of practicing scales in all positions, just practice the basic elements. If you analyze a three-notes-per-string major scale, you'll find there are only three essential fragments; 1. Tone tone 2. Semitone tone 3. Tone semitone
A Major Scale:
|---------------Tone semitone>--7-9-10-|
|---------Tone semitone>-7-9-10--------|
This rule applies to ALL major scales in ALL positions (provided it's three notes at a time).

Tone Permutation Exercise

(use first second and fourth fingers to cover the 5th, 7th and 9th frets)
|------------------ and so on up to the high e string.
Use same fingering when descending:
|------------5-7-9- and so on down to the low E string.
Now apply the fingering permutation principle. P1. 579 P2. 597 P3. 759 P4. 795 P5. 957 P6. 975

Semitone Tone Permutation Exercise

(use first, second and fourth finger to cover 5th, 6th and 8th frets respectively) Do the same as the above exercise with the following permutations. P1. 568 P2. 586 P3. 658 P4. 685 P5. 856 P6. 865

Tone Semitone Permutation Exercise

(use first, third and fourth fingers to cover 5th, 7th and 8th frets respectively) P1. 578 P2. 587 P3. 758 P4. 785 P5. 857 P6. 875 The tone semitone exercise can also be played using first, second and third fingers to cover 5th, 7th, and 8th frets respectively. This is a useful stretching exercise.

Arpegiated Exercises

The above chromatic and diatonic scale exercises can be spread across adjacent string to create arpegiated exercises. As with the major scale, most arpeggios contain basic elements which appear in the following examples.

Arpegiated Tone Exercise

(use same fingering as scale exercise)
P1. Ascending

P1. Descending
Now apply the arpegiated principle to ALL the previously described scale exercises.

Why This Is A Very Useful Exercise

If we arpegiate P6 of the tone semitone scale fragment (note the bracketed section)
Now arpegiate P6 of the semitone tone scale fragment (note the bracketed section)
Now put them together and we get a C shaped major arpeggio (F major triad):
Now let's take out the bracketed section of the P6 semitone tone arpeggio:
And the bracketed section of P6 of the tone tone arpeggio:
Now put them together and we get the C shaped minor arpeggio (F minor triad): Note: the second fragment has been moved down a semitone but it's the same pattern.
There are thousands of arpeggios all over the freeboard but they all use a lot of the same shapes that are found in these exercises. That's the beauty of boiling everything down into it's basic elements and then just practicing those elements at the mid-point of the freeboard. It will stand you in great stead when you come to play scales and arpeggios anywhere on the guitar. Again, this is about getting shape! You can of course arpegiate the chromatic fragments using the same system as described for the diatonic scale. But be aware that doing so will create a much longer and more challenging set of exercises.

Rolling Technique

Some arpeggios will contain elements that wont appear in any of the previously described exercises.
Example of E shaped arpeggio at 5th fret (A major triad)
The bracketed elements are not covered by either the chromatic or diatonic exercises as they have two notes played consecutively on the same fret. To play these sections at speed requires a technique known as rolling. Justin Sandercoe explains this technique far better than I could on a well-known video site. After you've found out how to roll, here's an exercise designed to develop the technique:
Example 1:
|-------------------------------- and so on up to high e string.
Descending use same fingering:
|--------5-6-7-8----------------- and so on down to low E string.

Example 2:
|-------------------------------- and so on up to high e string.

|--------6-5-8-7----------------- and so on down to low E string.


Don't expect too much too soon. Stay focused. Will you still be playing guitar in 10 years time? If so then why not set yourself a goal of 10,000 hours of disciplined technical development. That way if you have done 2 hours a day for a few weeks and you don't see any notable results you can remind yourself that you have only covered about 50 or so hours out of 10.000! Stick at it. Work real hard to get through that initial pain barrier. Go to bed with a dull ache in your arm. But if you experience any bright, sharp shooting pain then STOP and rest up for a day or two. Use stretching and massaging before during and after exercising. If you don't feel the benefit of stretching then you're not pushing yourself hard enough! You should have a day off now and again anyway just to recuperate. If after a month or so you try some old tunes and you haven't improved at all (in fact you may feel you've gone backwards) don't panic! This is because these old tunes used old weak technique. A technique that you wont have been using for these exercises. Namely playing at an angle with your thumb resting on the top of the neck comfortable but it wont developed true strength half as well as correct hand position over a prolonged period of time. Create your own exercises. When you find a weakness, analyze it and developed an exercise that homes in on it and turns it into a strength. Work hard! Work smart!
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