Web Guitar Tutor
 
Your left hand can choose anywhere on the fretboard, from first fret up to the 22nd or 24th on your shred machine.  But, you are not always moving your hand up and down, to hit the notes you need.  

Sometimes, you want to keep your hand stationary, and have full reign across all 6 strings (or 7 or 8, you monster!)  

There is a systematic way to learn both of these movements, and every guitarist needs to figure out how.  Ultimately, your hand wants to be left alone with your right hand and your subconscious, rapidly conspiring to bring music to life.  There are exercises you can consciously practice to facilitate your left hand movements.  

In short, to get really smoking, you need to practice fundamental movements— up-down and across.

Up down means the movement from low frets to high frets.  Specifcally, to get better, you want to practice in a single key, up and down. 

On the guitar, it’s easy to play different keys by simply moving your hand up and down.  Play an A power chord.  Move it up 2 frets, now you are playing a B chord.  It’s so easy. 

It’s why many people pick up guitar an languish in the land of power chords.  Power chords rock, but there’s more worlds to explore.

What you want to be able to do, is to move your hand up and down, without changing keys.  You want to stay in the key of A, a the 1st fret, 5th fret, and the 15th fret.  Wherever your hand lands, you want to be able to play in the key of A.  Or B.  Or any key— all 12.  

The key to mastering up-down movement is to be able to stay in a single key, wherever you are on the neck.

This is opposed to across movements, where your hand stays in one place on the neck.

When your hand is in one place, say over the 5th fret, it’s easy to play one or two keys.  Guitarists can jam for years in A and D.  I know, I have enjoyed many, many hours of vamping between A and D. 

But, with your hand in that same location, you should be able to play in any key.  All 12 keys are playable right there. 

The key to mastering playing across all 6 strings in one location is to play all 12 keys in that position.  Keep your first finger hovering around the 5th fret and play a Bb Maj.  Eb Maj.  Ab maj.  

Now, you can play any key up and down the neck.  Also, you can plant your hand in one place and play all 12 keys.  This means, in reality, you can plop your hand anywhere on the neck and play any key.  Now, you need to be able to play every scale.  Major, minor, harmonic minor, pentatonic, and modes thereof.  And chords— triads, 7ths, 9ths, all extensions.  Chord scales.  Etc.

There are two ways that I believe are most efficient to gain this proficiency., CAGED shapes and the Circle of 5ths.

CAGED shapes give you a framework for learning all the shapes you need to play everywhere on the neck.  

The circle of 5ths is a systematic way to maintain harmonic progression as you choose to practice different keys.  You don’t choose a sequence of keys randomly, or even by a favorite chord progression, you use the circle of 5ths.  This gives you maximum efficiency, because the circle of 5ths is so systematic and intervalic.  

Those two topics provide a lot of study material, and with the right focus, they can really help positio

 
 
I never watched the Leno Show.  Jay Leno never appealed to me-- he has a screechy voice and looks like a potato.    But, I've always known that the Tonight Show Band was the cream of the crop.  Kevin Eubanks led that band for more than a decade, and recently left to pursue a full-time recording and touring career.  His new album-- Zen Food-- is  modern jazz, grooving with varied time signatures, and eerily celtic at times.  

This video is an interview with Kevin Eubanks, and towards the end he speaks eloquently about the role of music in a students life, and the skills required to succeed with anything, not just music.
 
 
I didn’t discover the CAGED system until later in my life, but it is so great that I regret how long it took to find it.  One particular exercise that I contrived is running through the circle of 5ths, up the neck, playing octaves.  Each octave shape corresponds to a CAGED shape, and hence the elegance of the exercise.   The CAGED system is valuable for visualization forms of chords and intervals on the neck, and octaves are the simplest of intervals.  And the circle of 5ths let’s you play every key, in a systematic order.

Here’s an example, in the key of C--
Picture
And here's another example in F:
Picture
Here, the first form is E form.  Then it goes D form, C form, A form, G form, E form again, and D form at the 15th fret.

This is a great exercise to play with a metronome, running through the circle of fifths.  In each key, start at the bottom on the neck and go up.  You’ll see a lot of finger movement and gain familiarity with the CAGED forms in a new way.  
 
 
There are two directions you can move your hand on the fretboard as you rip out your awesome licks.  Up/down & across.  A typical scale form-- let’s use the pentatonic for today-- presents a pattern that let’s your fingers play the scale across all the strings without moving your hand.  If you practice your single string exercises, then you do the opposite-- move your hand up and down the neck, along a single string. Most guitarists learn by way of scale forms, and they overcompensate their discomfort moving up and down by playing straight across.  When you examine the guitarists you love, notice how comfortably they surf all around the neck-- up, down, and across.

The pentatonic box shapes are some of the simplest to memorize, with just 2 notes per string, and thus many guitarists will end up going across the strings with a pentatonic scale.  Here’s a simple exercise to help you break out of simple patterns and start cruising up and down the fretboard-- use 3 notes per string.  

Rather than present this in the key of E, let’s use just a slightly less familiar key to promote more learning-- F.

Here’s the tab:
Picture
And a neck diagram (sorry, that top note on the 18th fret is missing):
Picture
Again, go through the circle of fifths to practice this in all keys.  F is easy, because you start on the root.  If you start on, say G, than you still begin with an F, but then it is actually a minor 7th.  


You could also play these as major pentatonic, to begin your country shredding career.  In the above example, which I have illustrated as F Minor Pentatonic, you could simply play as Ab Major pentatonic.

The coolest addition to this exercise, which you should definitely aim for, is adding the b5, what's called the blue note.  You end up making little slides here and there, which is super fun when you start cranking up the tempo.

Questions?  Comments?  
 
 
When you have a favorite guitarist, and access to the internet, you should do this-- google “[guitarist name]+lessons” or “[guitarist name]+interview”.  That’s how I found out about Kurt Rosenwinkel’s favorite warm-up.  For most normal people, this won’t be a warm-up, but rather a skill to develop with practice.

The exercise is simple-- play scales with 4 notes per string rather than the usual 3.  This very elegantly works both your knowledge of the scales and the ability to cruise up and down the neck.  

Here’s just one scale, Bb Major.  Start with the lowest available note on the 6th string, and go up and down all strings from there.  
Notes in Bb Major:  Bb C D Eb F G A
Picture
Two additional points:  Kurt always goes through the Circle of 5ths, and he always sings what he plays.  Ruminate over that last bit for a moment, and consider humming along yourself.  For the improviser, being able to vocalize what you play will open a beautiful new dynamic to your playing.

There’s a lot of good work to do here-- try all major scales, all minor scales.  Try all the modes!  Try all harmonic minor and melodic minors modes.  

Another twist-- pentatonics are usually played 2 notes per string, so in this exercise, try playing pentatonics 3 notes per string.  I might write that one up for next time, because it is so much fun to surf up and down the pentatonics, unhindered by previously memorized forms.

PS  I don't have the link to that Rosenwinkel interview handy.  It was part of an written interview with some jazz magazine.  He's a great teacher, so if you try to find info on him, you will be rewarded.
 
 
Here are a couple hip sounding arpeggios, based on Dominant 7th chords with b5.  More commonly, a Dom 7 chord might.  Both +5 and b5 are contained in the altered scale, so for some people that means ‘jazzy’.  I will show just 2 forms, both with the 1st finger playing the root, so that you can hear them and decide if you are interested in learning more forms.  Root on the 6th string:
Picture
Picture
And root on the 5th string:
Picture
Picture
Again, these are just two simple little ways to play these arpeggios.  If you know CAGED, than you'll see that:
1st example = E form
2nd example = A form

I didn't know about the CAGED system when I was a kid, so it has been wonderful to encounter it as an adult.  One great way to explore additional shapes on the fretboard is with the CAGED system.  Try to play Dom 7 b5 arpeggios with all the forms.  I'd be happy to help if anyone has questions.

pop quiz: in the first example, I didn't get the software to display a Db instead of C#.  Do you know why this is a mistake of mine?
 
 
Continuing to explore some arpeggios that have some raised or lowered 5th, here’s one in minor that sounds really cool.  Technically, it’s a minor triad with a minor 6th.  That minor 6th (in the key of A, that’s an F) is enharmonic with an augmented 5th-- meaning, it’s the same note, called by a different name.  What you hear is an arpeggio with more than a plain triad, it has a note that we intentionally chose because of it’s particular sound.  

Here’s the tab:
Picture
And here's a neck diagram:
Picture
The other cool thing about this particular form (root on the 6th string) is that it let’s you practice with the symmetry across the fretboard.  The pattern repeats, with some slight variation at the 2nd and 3rd string, where the interval between strings is a 3rd instead of a 4th.  

Let me know if you have any questions!
 
 
In this entry, we look at raising the 5.  Raising the 5th degree of a chord makes it ‘augmented’, as opposed to lowering it, which makes it ‘dminished’ (and an un-altered 5th is ‘perfect’).  An augmented 5th can sound airy and unresolved.  Throw it into some arpeggios, and you can create exotic sounding lines.  I’ll give you just a single, simple example here-- remember, there are infintie additional patterns and several ways to approach learning them.
Here’s some tab:
Picture
And here's a box diagram:
Picture
This example was Major.  Technically, we play both the perfect fifth and the augmented fifth here, and that means we could technically call it a minor 6th instead of augmented 5th...  But we can talk about that later.

In the next example, I’ll show you some examples in minor.  Then, later, I’ll post some examples based on 7th chords instead of these simple triads.
 
 
Typically, a plain sounding chord has a perfect fifth.  All the plain open guitar chords (C, A, G, E, D) all have a perfect fifth, and when you change that fifth up or down a half step, you get a significantly different sound.  When you play the notes of that chord individually, up and down, you get awesome arpeggios.  

We will look at a G Major b5 arpeggio here, using the E form for you CAGED folks.  The box diagram:
Picture
And here's the tab:
Picture
This is just one of many different ways to play this arpeggio.  To systematically explore some variations, you can:
1) play different forms using the same notes.  Try the C form, the G form, etc.
2) add or switch notes to create slightly different arpeggios.  Add a major 7th, or a dominant 7th.  Try a minor 3rd instead of a major third. 

Playing with the 5th degree is a fun way to explore how intervals sound different from each other, especially on the guitar where the b5 is crucial for a number of different rock, blues and metal sounds.  

Stay tuned, and I’ll run through this again with an augmented 5th, and show you some other forms to play it with.
 
 
Every person has their own reasons why they want to play music, and their own motivation to get results.  Some folks find their muse at an early age and pursue the very pinnacles of musical proficiency.  Other people grab momentary joy from a good old fashioned jam session, or a solitary sing-along.  some people come late in age to the instrument, and strive to make up for lost time.  Whatever your situation is, you have your goals and your available time.  The art of practicing is to use what time you have as efficiently as possible to develop your skill to play the music you enjoy most.  Good practice is fundamentally composed of 3 simple things-- time, focus and material.

 Time
Time flies like an arrow, and a guitar student needs firstly to understand how much time they will dedicate to practice.  There is no right or wrong amount of time-- some people can put in an 8 hour day and still feel as if they should have done more, whereas another person can log a solid 20 minutes every day and get pleasing results.  But you have to figure out what your goal is in terms of time, and strive to meet that goal consistently.  Practicing guitar is like exercise-- Major results are not immediate.  You make small developments with every passing moment.  You need to practice consistently to get results.  

Focus
Practice time has to be focused on specific exercises, drills or songs.  Absent-minded practice is wasted time.  Focus means, you choose a skill you want to develop, and single-mindedly practice that skill for a given duration.  

Material
Material is the actual stuff you practice. You need to pull many things together to achieve basic musicianship.  There are a gazillion different specific materials you can focus on, each of which demand some investigation and which will yield tangible results.  Consider your left hand--  Slurs, hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, slides, arpeggios.  Or your right hand-- alternate picking, sweep picking, finger picking, rhythmic practice, palm muting, pinch harmonics.  There materials that are purely in your brain-- sight reading, memorizing chord charts and melodies, studying music theory.  There's just a gazillion different things you can practice, whether you have 20 minutes or 2 hours.  You need to know which materials to practice at any given time.


Formulate some good strategies to help preserve these 3 crucial elements of productive practice.  Here's a few strategies I have come across.

Match your mood with the material
If you are bored of sight-reading, then work on something else that is more appealing  If you are super excited on a new sweep picking exercise, then keep at it, and put off other things for the moment.  When you have drilled something sufficiently, move on to some other material.  Whatever your mood, there is always some material to practice.  And regardless what your mood is, you are still need to practice.  Every day, you need to practice for some amount of time.  But, you are going to carefully select something that is most likely to inspire you to remain focused as you practice it.  Joy is in the journey, not just the destination-- strive to enjoy your practice time.

Keep a Log
Write down what material you practiced, for how long you practiced it, and the date.  Its a simple but powerful habit that keeps you focused on consistent progress.  

Make a Session Plan
Each practice session can be divided and conquered.  Let's say you decide you want to practice for 40 minutes every day.  You can divide each session into 3 parts-- For example, one person might do 20 minutes scales, 20 minutes on mastering a tune, 20 minutes on reading music.  

Sing what you play
This helps crank up your focus, especially for guitarists.  Sing the actual notes you play.  Guitarists commonly learn to rely on finger patterns and become negligent of the sounds they produce.  This adds a new dynamic to finger-centric woodshedding.  It is also good vocal practice, for those of you who want to sing and play simultaneously.

Find a teacher
This is a time honored tradition for all endeavors, from music to sports to Jedi training:  A good teacher will guide you to the right materials and inspire you to practice.  A good teacher keeps you challenged and motivated at the same time.  These days, you can find teachers at local schools, music stores, via craigslist, or even in the comfort of your own home via Skype.  You're welcome to try lessons with me!

Get Sweet Gear
Gear is important, to get the sound that your style demands.  And, the toy factor is a powerful motivator. It is easy to get lost in gear, though, so be aware of your practice to dollar ratio.  

Listen
Listening to music is of paramount importance.  Try an online streaming service for unlimited listening opportunity-- Rhapsody, Mog, Pandora, Last.Fm, etc.

Jam
Playing with other people helps in many ways.  It forces two hugely important skills-- rhythm, and awareness of where you are in a tune. 




Music is a wonderous thing-- it is both intimately personal and publicly shared at the same time.  You can choose the music you want to play.  But, musical development happens the same for all people-- through practice.  I believe all people benefit from studiously accounting for the three fundamentals of productive practice-- time, focus and material.