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The Ultimate Guitar Technique Instruction Guide
All right - yea right - reserved, Copyright C 2006 by the major "dickhead" Mike Hartford. You may freely reproduce and/or transmit this document in any shape or form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the dickhead mentioned above. If you have this file (or a printout) and didn’t pay for it, Pleae send the deprived author the major "dickhead" Mike Hartford a flash informing that he's just been ripped off - I encourage any one to fill his mailbox! Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ew instruments lend themselves to such a wide array of
techniques as the guitar. Whether it’s standard picking, hybrid picking, fingerpicking, strumming, fingertapping, sliding, or any other way you can think of to make a noise on the strings- the guitar’s possibilities for creativity are only limited by the imagination of the person playing it. If you’re anything like me, listening to an accomplished player shred away on the fretboard is a thrill you never tire of. If you’ve ever watched a really good player executing intricate lead runs and death-defying riffs and felt you’d walk through fire to acquire that ability, this guide is for you. Contained in the following pages is a collection of the best guitar technique exercises I’ve encountered over the past twenty years of playing. They range from very basic to sometimes discouragingly difficult. It is intended to be useful to all players, regardless of their level. For the beginner, the guide is quite literally a progressive method of study, advancing the level of difficulty with each exercise. For the more advanced player, even the basic exercises contained here will serve to expand on their chops; and the more difficult exercises promise to provide new frontiers in the world of guitar technique. Regardless of what level you are at, this guide will both challenge and improve your playing.
As with any program of study, the key is discipline. As you’ve no doubt discovered, the guitar has no shortcuts. You get out of it precisely what you put into it. These exercises are no different. Reading them will not make you a better player, nor will playing them once or twice. They must be played repeatedly- more times than you can count. Repetition is crucial. When you practice something such as the guitar, you are merely showing your body what you want it to get good at. In the case of the guitar, you are quite literally making pathways for electrical impulses to more effectively travel from your brain to your hands. It is a long process. It is so long, that most people become disheartened and give up the guitar before ever giving themselves a chance to accomplish anything. Make sure that is not an option for you. When practicing these exercises, don’t over-do it. As a general rule, cease playing once you start to develop a reasonable amount of pain. Although it’s important to overcome that “threshold” of pain in order to improve, there comes a point where you actually will do more harm than good if you continue playing after the pain becomes too intense. You will find that as you advance, your pain threshold will lengthen considerably. I’ve been asked many times by students, “How fast should I practice technique exercises?” The answer is simple- practice them as fast as you can without making any mistakes. If you go beyond the point of flawlessness, you are doing nothing more than teaching your nervous system that’s it’s ok to make these mistakes. It is important that every note gets played properly. If you find yourself missing notes- slow down.
The exercises in the guide are all written in TAB format. This is for two reasons. The first is that it is basically universal and accessible to those who can’t read standard musical notation. The second is that most of these exercises involve notes to be played in specific areas on the fretboard. TAB can show that exact location, whereas a musical note on the staff is open to interpretation (a “D” note can be played on the seventh fret of the “G” string, or the third fret of the “B” string, for example). The TAB diagrams are drawn to closely resemble the guitar as you are holding it and looking down on the fretboard. In other words, the TAB’s top string is the high “E”; the bottom string is the low “E”. To further clarify this, each TAB diagram has the individual strings labeled with their respective open notes written to the left of the diagram. All exercises are written in standard tuning- E, A, D, G, B, and E, low to high. The numbers on each string correspond to the fret numbers on that particular string. In terms of fingering, the TABS utilize the “one fret per finger” concept. This basically dictates that usually you will be playing in a four-fret range, and each of your four fingers is assigned to its corresponding fret. This is illustrated below, with the fingerings written in red:
Any exercises that go outside of the one fret per finger rule will have the correct fingering written above the TAB, similar to the example above.
Many of the exercises are prefaced with instructions and comments regarding how to play them, what they will do for your technique, and any other pertinent information. Ones with no instructions are designed to be either very self-explanatory, or simply a continuation or variation of the previous exercise(s). It’s also important to note that this guide is by no means a “be all-end all” of technique. Feel free to expand on any of these. Combine them, alter them, add to them, do whatever, but most importantly- play them all over the fretboard, regardless of where the TAB shows them to be. Finally, I would encourage you to periodically, if not routinely, practice these with a metronome. Use varying tempos and strive to get faster. In addition to improving rhythm, the metronome makes an excellent device to mark your progress.
There is a right and a wrong way to do everything. For those new to playing, it’s important you first learn and understand the theory behind alternate picking. It simply dictates that you pick individual notes in a down-up-down pattern. This allows you to play notes much faster than if you played, for example, all notes on a down pick; since you’d have to still bring the pick back up to get the next note. There are other picking techniques that don’t employ a strict down-up-down method, and those will be covered later on in this guide. Until we get to that point, particularly if you’re new to alternate picking, just concentrate on the down-up-down pattern. The exercise below is one of the most basic you will find, but it’s a great way to practice alternate picking. It is played on the fifth fret of the B string (the string adjacent to the high “E”). Even if you’re an accomplished player, this is still a great exercise. Never underestimate the power of practicing one note. Practice it on all strings in various areas of the fretboard. Exercise 1
D- Down Pick U- Up Pick
The next two exercises add two and three notes, respectively. Be sure to continue using alternate picking. Exercise 2
Exercise 4 begins the transition to two strings. Remember, practice these all over the fretboard, not just where they are written. Exercise 4
Exercise 5 is the well known “box pattern”. Any of the Pentatonic scale fingerings are mostly made up of box patterns. Exercise5
Exercises 6 and 7 are box patterns with different fingerings. The picking patterns are still the same, but including these in your practice routine will make sure you can play equally proficient with all of your fretting fingers. Exercise 6
Exercise 8 progresses us beyond the standard four-note box pattern and incorporates an additional note. This extra note, in addition to transforming the exercise into the first five notes of the major scale, will also begin to really challenge your picking hand in terms of alternate picking. This is one of the first exercises that really helped me develop speed and accuracy. Remember- alternate picking! Exercise 8
Here’s where things get a little tricky…
Exercises 9, 10, and 11 are simply three-note counterparts to the two-note per string exercises you did for Exercises 5, 6, and 7. However, it’s at this point where we incorporate a new picking pattern. Because there is an odd number of notes on the “B” string, the third note will be on a down pick. The fourth note is on the adjacent “E” string, and the standard down-updown pattern would call for an up pick. However, doing an up pick would involve silently going below the “E” string and then picking up- not the most efficient and quickest way of hitting that note. Therefore, play that fourth note on the “E” string with a down pick. This means you have just played two consecutive down picks. This playing of multiple consecutive down picks (or often up picks, if necessary) is referred to as sweep picking, simply because you are “sweeping” across the strings. It takes practice. If learning alternate picking wasn’t enough, good technique dictates that you now have to train your picking hand to know when to use alternate picking as well as sweep picking, and do it instantaneously. Don’t worry, you’ll get it. Also, note that after your two consecutive down picks, you then go back to the standard alternate picking pattern. This is all fine until you realize that when you end up back at the beginning of the exercise to repeat it, you are now playing that first note (fifth fret of the “B” string) on an up pick, where you originally began it as a down pick. This now means the entire picking pattern will change the next time through, including the elimination of the need to sweep pick the third and fourth notes. This will mess you all up for a while. Just keep pounding away and you’ll begin to develop an ability to play it without even thinking about it.
The next six exercises take the idea of sweep picking a little further. Sweep picking is essentially used to play arpeggios, which are chord notes played individually. Practicing these will help you become accustomed to this technique. The general theory behind sweep picking is what’s referred to as economy of motion, which basically means the quickest means of playing notes with the least amount of movement. Exercise 12
This next exercise is simply an arpeggiated Major Chord spanning two octaves. Exercise 14
This is an interesting arpeggio pattern taken out of the Lydian Mode, which is built off the fourth note of the Major Scale. Exercise 15
Exercise 16 is a Minor Seventh arpeggio pattern. Exercise 16
Exercise 17 is a Major Ninth arpeggio pattern. Exercise 17
Exercises 18 and 19 are great chop builders. They incorporate both alternate and sweep picking, sometimes referred to as alternate picking, because you are literally alternating back and forth between both kinds of picking. Exercise 18
The next eight exercises are designed to not only work out your left and rights hands, but your brain as well. You’ll find that you really have to concentrate on which note comes next. Many players use these types of exercises to warm up both physically and mentally. I have omitted the picking pattern indicators in hopes that by now you have begun to develop a feel for where to play the appropriate up picks and down picks. Exercise 20
Exercise 21 is simply Exercise 20 reversed. I use the word “simply” somewhat sarcastically, since reversing this exercise adds a whole new challenge! Exercise 21
Reversed: Exercise 23
Reversed: Exercise 26
Exercise 27 is one of my favorites. Not only is it physically challenging, it forces your mind to really concentrate. You’ll notice there is a distinct pattern involved. The entire exercise spans five frets when it’s played up and down the strings, for a total of forty-eight notes. However, when you continually advance up one fret until you reach the twelfth fret, you’ve played no less than 288 notes, making it a great work-out. Exercise 27
The object is to ascend, go up one fret, descend, go up another fret, etc.
The next six exercises deal with string-skipping. String-skipping, as you might imagine, is essentially playing notes that are not on adjacent strings. They’re great for building technique, and the wide intervals can make for some pretty intense sounds. This is a B Minor Pentatonic scale, played with a string-skipping pattern: Exercise 28
Reversed: Exercise 29
Reversed: Exercise 31
Reversed: Exercise 33
These preceding exercises are only a few of the possibilities with stringskipping. Experiment with skipping over two or more strings at a time, as well.
equences are some of the most beneficial exercises you can master. For the purposes of this guide, sequences are defined as any scale that is played in any pattern other than it’s basic octave-to-octave order. In other words, sequences are scales whose normal sequential order is altered. They are a great way to practice scales, because they really require you to know where all the notes are in advance, not just the next note in the scale pattern. In addition, they offer physical challenges that are paralleled by few other exercises. A sequence can be played in any scale, in any key- so don’t be afraid to apply these anywhere and everywhere on the fretboard. Exercise 34 is a basic “A” Pentatonic Minor scale played in a sequence of A, C, A, C, D, C, D, E, D, E, G, E, G, etc. Notice there is a distinct pattern of alternating between two sequential notes in the scale before moving up to the next note in the scale. Although the TABs only show the ascending versions, be sure to practice them in descending order, as well. Exercise 34
Exercise 35 is a C Major scale sequence played in thirds. This simply means that instead of the scale being played root, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th; it is played root, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, 5th, 4th, 6th, 5th, 7th, 6th, and root. Put another way, each note is followed by either it’s major third or it’s minor third, depending upon what note follows in the scale. Once again, it is a distinct pattern that is being played here. In order to help in learning these, I am including the correct fingering- written above the TAB in red. Exercise 35
Exercises 36, 37, 38, and 39 are C Major scale sequences in fourths, fifths, sixths, and sevenths, respectively. I am providing a different Major Scale fingering for each exercise. Exercise 36 Fourths:
Exercise 37 Fifths:
Exercise 38 Sixths:
Exercise 39 Sevenths:
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the wider the interval- the more challenging it is to play.
Exercise 40 is an A Minor scale sequence that involves playing the first five notes in the scale, playing back down three notes, starting again one note higher, and repeating the pattern all the way up and back down the scale. It may seem confusing at first, but after you begin practicing it, you will pick up on the pattern and eventually be able to play it fluidly. Exercise 40
Exercise 41 is a sequence that allows you to advance up the scale, by playing in reverse. Exercise 41
Exercise 42 is another favorite of mine. It is not a scale, but simply a three-note-per-string box pattern that can be played anywhere. Exercise 42
Needless to say, sequences are amazing technique builders. The ones I’ve included in this guide merely scratch the surface of the possible sequences that can be concocted from virtually any set of notes, whether they are a scale or any other pattern of notes. Any time you’re trying to learn a new scale pattern, make a sequence out of it and practice it that way. I guarantee you will learn it much faster and more thoroughly this way.
The next six exercises are designed to improve your ability to combine adjacent scale fingerings more fluidly. It’s one thing to be able to play a scale in any fingering on the fretboard, it’s another thing to be able to effortlessly move between those fingerings up and down the neck.
Exercise 43 is a one-octave E Flat Major scale, but it extends one note beyond the octave (the F, shown in red on the TAB) into the next higher fingering. Playing this way involves sliding up to get the F, where you will find yourself in a different position. I’ve included the correct fingering, as well as indications of where to slide. Exercise 43
Exercise 44 is an extension of Exercise 43. It just completes the scale pattern once you slide up to that second position. Exercise 44
In Exercise 49, notice that the exercise has a different ascending pattern than the descending one. Exercise 49
Fretting Technique T
his section includes a few exercises dealing primarily with
fretting technique. A lot of attention is given to the picking hand due to it’s function of mastering all the picking techniques required to hit all the notes in an effective manner. However, it’s equally important that the fretting hand develop strength and agility. After all, four of it’s fingers will all need to work independently and cooperatively to fret all the notes on all areas of the neck. With these exercises, we incorporate the techniques of hammerons and pull-offs. A hammer-on simply means you are bringing a fretting hand finger down onto a note with such a force as to make the note sound without picking it. A pull-off is sort of the opposite- you are fretting note and using that same finger to pull the string as you would with your picking hand, thus allowing another lower fretted (or open) note on the same string to sound. Exercise 50 is a Major scale pattern with three notes per string. You will be picking the first note on each string, and then hammering-on the second and third notes. Exercise 50
Exercise 52 is a great exercise and a cool sounding lick. This is where we incorporate pull-offs. Played properly, this exercise has a triplet feel. Exercise 52
Exercise 53 is a pull-off exercise that utilizes the first and third fingers. However, be sure to practice all variations of fingers in order to provide a work-out for each finger. Exercise 53
In terms of an all-around general hammer-on/pull-off exercise, I’ve found that nothing beats a good old-fashioned trill. A trill is simply a rapid alternation of two notes. For Exercise 54, simply tap on the ninth fret with your third finger; pull-off to the seventh fret (fretted with your first finger), and repeat over and over as fast as you can. Once again, practice with all fingers at various note intervals, on all strings. Exercise 54
Once you become proficient at hammer-ons and pull-offs, you have another effective means of acquiring sounds from the strings. In addition, it they will open the door to another popular technique- two-handed tapping. With the incorporation of the fingers on your picking hand also performing hammer-ons and pull-offs, you will find yourself creating sounds you never thought possible.
The next few exercises cover a technique that is a bit of a contradiction of our rules of alternate picking. This technique involves a repeated note, loosely referred to as a pedal point, which is partially muted by the picking hand. This is very common in rock. Even if you have already incorporated this into your playing, there are some exercises here that are designed to provide you with some new concepts with this technique.
Exercise 55 is simply a bass note played repeatedly. However, in this context, we are going to play strictly with down picks, and consistently “pound” on the note. At the same time, we’re going to partially mute the string with the inside part of our picking hand. Before long, you will begin to get a feel for what sounds right. Exercise 55
Exercise 56 incorporates a second note on the “D” string. Experiment with muting both strings while playing it, and work on increasing speed. Exercise 56
Exercise 58 involves playing the third fret on three adjacent strings at various points. To make fretting easier, simply “bar” your first finger over all three strings. Exercise 58
This technique is also effective on higher strings: Exercise 59
to achieve a desired note. If you’ve been playing even a short amount of time, you’re more than likely familiar with this. What many players don’t fully realize is that string-bending is an art form in itself. It requires just the right amount of bend to get the exact pitch. Too little and you’re flat; too much and you’re sharp. There are also several methods to perform bends, as well as many different techniques to embellish them. Exercise 62 is a pretty simple starting point if you’re new to bending. It essentially involves hitting an “A” note on the high “E” string, letting it ring, and then hitting and bending up the “G” note on the “B” string until it is perfectly in pitch with the ringing “A”. This trains you in two ways. First, it develops the needed strength to do the bending, and second, it trains your ears to recognize pitches. When bending, it is generally a good idea to have a support finger helping to push the string up. In this case, you will be bending with your fourth finger, and using your third finger behind it to help out. Exercise 62
String Bending S
tring bending is exactly as its name implies- bending a string
Once you get proficient at bending the note to the proper pitch, begin play the exercise by releasing the bent note and continuously repeating the exercise.
With bending, you obviously have the musical freedom to bend to any pitch you desire, whether the resulting sound is perfectly in tune or very dissonant. Usually, bends are either a half step or a whole step, meaning they are either the equivalent of sliding up one fret, or two frets, respectively. With Exercise 63, it plays much better by starting on an up pick. Exercise 63
At this point, we’re going to incorporate a great effect- vibrato. As you may already know, vibrato (producing a slight wavering in pitch on the note) is accomplished on the guitar by performing short bends and releases of the note. It adds a great sound the note. These next three exercises involve the bent notes to have a vibrato. They are also pretty cool licks. Exercise 66
implement the art of doubling. Doubling, quite simply, is just playing each note in the exercise twice. This does more than just multiply the notes being played each time by a factor of two. It alters your picking pattern and really presents a new challenge. You’ll find that it’s necessary to slow down in order to correctly hit each note, and your ability to combine both alternate picking, sweep picking, and alternative picking will really be put to the test. The next five exercises are all taken from previous ones we’ve covered. Note the interesting picking patterns that arise as a result of doubling each note. Exercise 69
ne sure way to get even more out of an exercise is to
The final two exercises are both advanced arpeggio patterns. They are both mentally and physically challenging, particularly if you have limited experience with arpeggios. If we were to make seventh chords out of each diatonic note in the A Major scale, we would produce the following chords: A Major Seventh- A C# E G# B Minor Seventh- B D F# A C# Minor Seventh- C# E G# B D Major Seventh- D F# A C# E Seventh- E G# B D F# Minor Seventh- F# A C# E G# Half-Diminished- G# B D F# Exercise 74 is an A Major scale harmonized in seventh chord arpeggios. It’s perfectly all right if you aren’t familiar with music theory, this guide is strictly interested in technique development. There are tons of resources out there to provide more insight on theory than you could ever want. I am including this exercise because it’s a terrific weapon to have in your arsenal of techniques. Exercise 74
It’s important to note that Exercise 75 is only one scale pattern done with one arpeggio. This technique can be played with any scale fingering and with any kind of arpeggio. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Exercise 75 is a basic Major arpeggio sequence with an “up 2, down 1” pattern. In other words, you begin in one position, ascend the arpeggio, move up two frets, descend the arpeggio, move down one fret, ascend the arpeggio, and continue this pattern up as far as you can on the fretboard. Exercise 75
The obvious next step for both exercises 74 and 75 is to reverse them. It’s important to be able to play them in both directions fluently.
exercises that have helped me become better since I bought my first guitar and began playing on April 27, 1986. Although I’ve come a long way since then, I’m still a beginner in the vast world of music. If you ever become discouraged and feel you will never get to the level you want to be at, just remember that you’ve chosen an interest that is very much a journey, not a destination. As long as you are playing in some fashion, you will always improve. You will always find people who are better at it than you, just as much as you will always find those who are not yet as accomplished as you are. The same is true of life. In the near future, I hope to have this guide available for purchase as a CD and accompanying booklet. That process is in the works. I am also working out details for other guitar-related guides, which I hope to have available soon on Ebay under my trademark user name, tvshooter1. Please check my auction pages on Ebay for future offerings. Thank you for your purchase. It is my hope that this guide has provided you with some new tools to apply to your craft.
he preceding thirty-seven pages are merely a collection of the