Archive of Blog Posts


The following is a rather basic list of all the posts I've ever made on this blog. Enjoy!

"Days of Wine and Roses" Variation

Yesterday I had a Cm7 vamp in my looper (I was practicing these) and happened to glance over at the music stand, where my repertoire book was open at "The Days of Wine and Roses" (I like opening the book at random and playing through something to get warmed up). As a consequence, this happened.

Learning the Maj 7 b5 and Maj 7 #5 Arpeggios

These are two chord/arpeggio structures that come up pretty often once you stray far from the major scale. They also sound great, so they're well worth committing to memory.

Superaugmented Scale Ideas

The Superaugmented Scale is a major scale with every note raised by a semitone except the 1 and 7: 1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 7. It came up a couple of times in the lines in my recent Scriabin-inspired post so I thought it might be worth digging deeper into.

Lines from Xenakis's "Mists"

I had more fun than anticipated with the results of raiding Scriabin for vocabulary, so I did it again with another piano piece I'm very fond of: Xenakis's "Mists".

Some Random Scriabin-Derived Lines

Hit by a bout of insomnia last night I ended up listening to Scriabin's Piano Sonata No 7 and stealing bits from it to turn into jazz lines. Here are the slightly deranged results.

"Star Eyes" Harmonic Major Reharm

Yes, I'm on a reharmonization theme at the moment. Here's one using the Harmonic Major subs suggested in this post. In each case the original chord is subbed with one or two chords made from the appropriate Harmonic Major mode using the ones in the mode that aren't in the original chord.

"Have You Met Miss Jones" Reharm

All the hip cats are playing "Have You Met Miss Jones" because the B section has major third root movement very similar to "Giant Steps". That's fine but the A section is pretty vanilla. Here's my attempt to spice it up with the same kind of movement.

"What Is This Thing Called Love" Simple Reharm

I was playing this tune in the practice room today and came up with a very simple approach to it that gives the A section a more modal sound. Nothing radical but you might enjoy it.

Scale-Covering Seventh Pairs

I'm revisiting another old blog post (this one this time) to put together some more chord substitution / superimposition ideas. Of course the same concept can be applied to much more exotic scales but these should get you started.

Chromatic Tetrachord Covers

I recently revisisted this post and decided to smarten up some of the presentation. The idea is to take a common seventh chord and find all the ways to divide up the remaining 8 notes that aren't in it between another common seventh chord and some weird combination of the leftovers.

A few ii-V-I subs for the weekend

I've been messing about with various chord subs and voicings lately. Here are a few things I've been playing. They're mostly based on Coltrane changes, but they're not exactly that. I've written them out with voicings so even if you don't like the sub ideas themselves there might still be something to steal.

Picking Coordination Exercises

A long while ago I posted this hybrid picking exercise. I've recently gone back to it and extended it a bit. Here are some variations.

Vertical Polytonality

Here's something I picked up from Yusef Lateef's Repository: stacking chords where each voice is from a different scale. Interesting results -- check it out.

Scale & Arpeggio Book Errata

It's never nice to be wrong but since it's not possible to never be wrong the second best thing is having nice people to point out your mistakes so you can fix them. A few weeks ago Steven Muschalik spotted a few issues with particularly exotic scales in Scale and Arpeggio Resources and kindly took the time to email them over to me.

Uses and Abuses of Tablature

If you want to follow the fashion of the online guitar pundits, the thing to do at the moment is denounce "tab". It's an unnecessary crutch that stunts your growth as a musician, they say. Eat your greens and learn to read traditional notation instead!

Some Modal Ideas on Nefertiti

I've been working on the Wayne Shorter tune "Nefertiti" lately, and have a few ideas for scale superimpositions that sound quite interesting. What I'm presenting here isn't somethng finished; consider it ephemera from the woodshed. I find this quite a useful way to practice a tune with tricky harmony and you might, too.

Allan Holdsworth, 1946-2017

This weekend saw the passing of a giant in the world of guitar. I've no business writing an obit but here's a personal favourite track; I think it encapsulates his lyrical imagination and harmonic adventurousness as well as, of course, that famous legato:

Finding your Voice and Being Contemporary

By chance I happened across three people giving somewhat related advice about learning jazz, but from very different directions.

The TL;DR here is that every musician needs to develop a way to figure things out for themselves in their own way, and that this is a creative process rather than a chore. Formal education can be useful for some specific things but spoonfeeding leads to weak forms of learning that you can't rely on and standardised syllabi produce standardised results. You need to know the tradition but it's raw material for you to form into your own voice.

Elective Affinities: 1971

Here's my account of what was going on in the album releases of 1971, including John McLaughlin, Quincy Jones, Alice Coltrane, Terry Riley, Woody Shaw, The Last Poets, and, yes, The Moving Gelatine Plates.

Elective Affinities: Introduction

We define ourselves as musicians not so much by what we play as how we develop it, and this happens in various ways. One that everyone can agree on is listening to recordings. These come to us from the past, and our relationship with records develops into a kind of personal history: not a history of when I heard a particular record, or when it was made, but a retrospective picture of how it fits into my own (past and future) development.

DIY Effects Pedals

I wanted to let it be known I'm still alive and kicking, and still playing, just not thinking about theory / vocabulary ideas at the moment so my posts here have been scarce. I feel like I have a big backlog of stuff to work on on that front and a small amount of time available to do it, so adding to the pile isn't very productive. But also, my musical activities have been slightly taken over by a new thing: building effects.

David Stern's 12-Tone Patterns

Here's one of those 10-page PDFs that will take you several lifetimes to explore, David Stern's "12-Tone Patterns". Being a Dropbox link, I recommend downloading it in case it disappears.

A New Sound from Harmonic Minor

While noodling around in the practice room today, I discovered a new (to me) application for a Harmonic Minor mode. I'm sure I'm not absolutely the first person to spot this, but I got some good sounds out of it so I thought I'd note it here, especially as I also stumbled across an exotic scale in the process.

Modulation Staging

I think the next "big thing" in effects might be modulation stacking. At first it sounds crazy to have, say, a flanger and chorus going into each other because the overall result will probably be a big, seasickness-inducing mess. But the technique offers a way to create complex effects that can be quite subtle.

Advice for Jazz Beginners

"I'm already a competent player and I want to learn jazz" is a common position for people to find themselves in, at least if online forums are any indication. Here's my compendium of advice I wish someone had given me when I was starting out.

Minor-Major 7 Arpeggios on Dominant Chords

This is a quick note on a John Stowell video, giving a summary of the idea he describes and then extending it a bit. It's pretty much the same general approach I advocate in my Arpeggio and Scale Resources. Commenters on the video express some confusion about the presentation so I thought it might be helpful to boil it down to a summary and then couldn't resist adding my own twist.

Melodic Minor Quartal Boxes

A while ago I posted some general information about harmonizing chords in fourths. In this post I want to follow up on that, focusing on melodic minor modes in fourths as a way to create surprising voicings and give your chords some harmonic motion.

Meet the Trichords

Under certain assumptions (which I'll talk about in a moment) there are only 12 three-note chords. I'm hoping to dig into some of the more unusual ones in later posts so here's a quick survey of them.

Diatonic Stacks of Seveths

Following up on a previous post grappling with stacks of semitones, here's a quick set of related fingerings. The first two are stacks of sevenths, then we do stacks of ninths, and finally a "bonus" set made by putting a second on top of a ninth.

Unusual Extensions on Major and Minor Seventh Chords

This post collects up some chords I've found by deliberately adding "wrong" (i.e. unexpected) extensions to common seventh chords. The results are often very strange and beautiful, and are sometimes heard in jazz settings such as big band arrangements where you can get away with very crunchy harmonies.

Do you Know that Scale?

I see a lot of bogus advice on the internet about learning scales and (shudder) modes. Some of it's just plain wrong: amateurs who've got a confused idea about something and seen fit to post a "lesson" to communicate their misunderstandings to others. But some of it isn't exactly wrong but it's still massively unhelpful, because it removes theory from practice.

Chord Scales from the Maj Add b13

In my last post I talked about some ideas for using Add 11 chords, and this time I thought it'd be fun to attack another under-appreciated added note: the flat 13.

Exploring Add 11 Chords

Adding the natural 11 to a major triad is considered rather outré in the jazz world; usually a #11 is expected and 11 is considered an "avoid note". On the basis that one player's bum note is another's hip new sound, that makes these chords worth a look.

Harmonizing Scales in Fourths

We hear a lot about quartal voicings these days but apart from the diatonic ones there's very little information about them out there, so here's a bit about how to pull these harmonies out of scales and some ideas about learning and applying the results.

Voicings for Semitone Clusters

I've been experimenting with some 12-tone rows again recently and found I had to keep pausing to find voicings for stacks of semitones. The guitar isn't really designed for playing such things in close voicing, so you have to make some decisions about octave displacement just to make the things playable. I thought it might be useful to have some of these collected together, so here goes.

Building Vocabulary with Seventh Arpeggios

I revisited a past post on building vocabulary from scratch today and decided to extend it a bit. Here's what I came up with.

Advice for Guitarists from Two Magicians

Here's a video of two well-known stage magicians talking about advice for younger aspiring performers. If you can translate what they say into musical terms you'll find some useful insights here.

CAGED Considered Harmful?

Back when I was first learning guitar, it seemed like everyone who wanted to sell you a snake-oil method did it by using the mysterious "CAGED System". Today, it's the other way around: all the slick salesmen have a new "system", and CAGED is "harmful", "inefficient" and "incomplete". As someone who learned with CAGED and teaches it, am I doing something wrong?

New Free eBook: Hypermodes!

A while ago (a long while ago!) I made a post introducing what I called "hypermodes" -- scales and arpeggios that don't have root notes. I've finally managed to pull the material on hypermodes together into a PDF that's free to download. I won't repeat myself here -- head over to the link and check it out!

Building maj7b5 Vocabulary from Scratch

Say you've written (or a bandmate as written) a tune that features a sustained Maj7b5 chord. What do you play over it? Probably you don't have standard vocabulary for this type of chord, and since it's unusual it's not likely you'll find many ideas by transcribing. So how could you quickly build coherent vocabulary?

New Sounds from "Roomy" Pentatonics

This bit of analysis was prompted by an interesting question asked on the Music Theory forum on Reddit. It ended up as a question about which scales you can transpose and get a completely different set of notes from the set you started with, with no overlap.

Targeting Notes with Slonimsky Patterns

I had an interesting question by email today that I thought was worth addressing here. The question was, how do you integrate Slonimsky-style patterns into a "target note" approach to improvising? I should say up-front that I don't do much of this myself, and the solution I've come up with here is just a suggestion for your own experiments: let me know what success you have with it and whether you discover any "hacks" or alternative approaches that make it easier.

Making Exotic Scales with Familiar Arpeggios

Struck by a bout of insomnia, I decided to figure out all the 7-note scales that can be made by combining a pair of common triad or seventh arpeggios, one at the root and one somewhere else. Here are the results.

Barry Harris's Sixth Diminished Scale

Here's a great excerpt from a Barry Harris workshop where he introduces an interesting diminished concept, which he (jokingly) calls his "personal scale". It produces a very cool jazz sound by a quite unexpected means. The video is a bit piano-focussed so I thought it might help some guitar players to have a summary from our point of view of the main idea.

Root notes are for wimps: An invitation to hypermodes

There are seven major scale modes, which you can think of as major scales built on 7 different tonics suspended over a single root note. So over a C root we can play the notes from C Major (Ionian), Bb Major (Dorian), Ab Major (Phrygian), G Major (Lydian), F Major (Mixolydian), Eb Major (Aeolian) or Db Major (Locrian). But there are 12 notes in music; what happened to the other five? Step inside...

The Maj7b5 Arpeggio

The Major 7 arpeggio (1 3 5 7) has many uses; it can be superimposed over harmonies in all kinds of ways and I use it a lot. If you flatten the fifth (1 3 b5 7) you get a new sound with different applications. Here I'll talk about some of the possibilities.

Some Dissonant Scales for Minor Chords

I've been exploring some choices for minor chords that don't contain the b3, which give a rather open, not-very-minor quality to your lines. They can work over other chord types too. So if Locrian just isn't doing it for you any more, step inside.

I'm Running a UReddit "Course" on Scale Theory

I've committed to delivering a free mini-course called "Introduction to Scale Theory with Applications", starting in February 2013. The course will cover a lot of ground and if you're registered during the time it's going on I'll be running Q&A / discussion threads alongside the video lectures. If you come too late you can still watch the videos and drop me a line on Reddit if you need help. Now, I suppose I'd better get down to writing the lectures...

Graphs of Scales... a Sneak Peek

I've been experimenting with drawing graphs of scales for a while now, and have a few ideas on the subject; maybe even enough for an ebook one day. I'm particularly pleased with my latest batch, some selections of which I thought I'd share with you here. Consider them your Christmas present, valued reader.

Something to Celebrate

Just wanted to say that with the launch of Spectral Analysis of Scales, downloads of my three ebooks have whizzed past 20,000 since the first one came out nine months ago. Many thanks to everyone who read one or more of the books and helped spread the word; rest assured there's more in the pipeline for 2013!

Implementing "Deliberate Practice"

Next year the term "deliberate practice" will be twenty years old; in that time it has gradually moved out of the academic world and become a phrase uttered in hushed tones in musical, sporting and other spheres. What does it mean and how can we use it?

What is "Muscle Memory"?

If you've ever worked on developing speed on guitar you've probably heard references to "muscle memory". But what is this mysterious facility? Is it something real or just a part of musicians' folklore? Can we do anything to make our learning more efficient, or should we be suspicious of "automatic" playing as less creative?

A Special "Altered Pentatonic" Scale

I "discovered" a scale about a month ago when playing with the Ionian b2 (which is now, by the way, part of my regular improvising vocabulary). At the time I thought it was just a curiosity but I liked the sound and since then I've seen it pop up in a few other places.

New free ebook: Spectral Analysis of Scales

There's a brand new entry in my series of free eBooks: Spectral Analysis of Scales. This one's a bit more technical than the others, but I think it'll be of interest to advanced musicians looking for a way to expand their vocabulary of scale and arpeggio ideas a little more easily. It's completely free, so download it and spread the word. This is the first edition, so as always please send me any errors you find!

How Many Heptatonics Contain the Common Pentatonic?

Perhaps you've already learned the good old-fashioned "Pentatonic scale" (major or minor versions, it doesn't matter). Perhaps you know you can learn some of "the modes" (of the Major Scale) by adding two extra notes to one of the modes of this scale. If so, you know how quick and easy that is. Which other seven-note scales can we learn by adding two notes to the Common Pentatonic?

The Common Minor Pentatonic b6 & Scale Spectra

This interesting but little-known scale cropped up in the context of some exotic scale work this week. It's easy to learn, has an unusual but very usable sound and can help with learning several larger scale structures.

Periodized Practice

In my own playing I've decided it's time to focus on technique again, which I haven't really given much attention to in the last 12 months. Here's my plan for the next year.

Harmonic Major Applications

I just watched a Tom Quayle video on this topic that contains some good information but needed some translation before it made sense to me. I thought I'd provide the translation for anyone else who found it useful.

New Bandcamp site, plus modding on Reddit

Two quick bits of news. I'm now a moderator over at /r/guitarlessons, the part of reddit dedicated to learning guitar. I've also decided to set up a Bandcamp account for future solo electronic releases.

Simple Arpeggio Superimpositions

This is a quick note on two superimposition strategies that are quite common in jazz, and that enable you to use your triad and seventh arpeggios to create more sophisticated sounds without having to memorize anything new.

Ionian b2 scale: two weeks on

So it's a week since my last post on the subject and two since I started working on this scale with some seriousness. The patterns and sounds are becoming quite familiar now and my main job this week was to find modal applications over different chord qualities. This is an important step in integrating a new sound into your real-world playing rather than just noodling over drones or vamps.

Ionian b2 scale: one week on

The scale I'm focusing on first is the Superaugmented natural 3. I'd got the CAGED shapes down, meaning I could find the notes of the scale relative to the underlying augmented arpeggio. This week's task was to join these up and be able to play the scale freely all over the fingerboard in any key.

Working on the Ionian b2 Scale Group

I've spent a little of my practice time over the last two weeks looking at the Ionian b2 scale and some of its modes. I thought it might be useful to post something here about the approach I've taken so far and how I aim to continue the learning process this week.

New Edition of "Scale and Apreggio Resources" Published

Six months and more than 6,000 downloads later, I've just released a new edition of Scale and Arpeggio Resources. As well as fixing a few errata I've been collecting since the first one came out I've also added a substantial number of octatonic scales. The link is the same as the previous edition; grab your copy today!

Pentatonic Hypermodes

I've been experimenting with hypermodes for a while now and thought I'd share both the theory and a practical application here.

Performance Advice from a Bodybuilder?

Just now I'm slightly obsessed with the amount we can learn from sportspeople about practice and this article struck me as interesting. Replace "competition" with "gig" and you're most of the way there.

How To Find Chords In Scales

A very common question from students is how we can tell which chords as "in key with" a particular scale. This came up today on /r/guitarlessons so I thought it might be worth a quick post.

New Free Slonimsky Book for Guitar Now Available!

Fill your boots -- my 400-page Slonimsky book for guitarists is now available as a free download. The scale book has had over 4000 downloads in just a few months, but I suspect this one will be a little more narrow in its appeal...

Some Ornette Coleman Heads

Ornette Coleman is revered as an important and prolific composer, perhaps the only one from the free jazz tradition who's so widely-acknowledged in this field. So why aren't there big books of the hundreds of tunes he's written over the decades? Who knows, but I did manage to find some transcriptions on the web and thought I'd collect them here as a service to the next person who goes hunting for them.

CompMe: A "Metronome Plus" For Modal Practice

I've been practicing quartal voicings today and ended up knocking together a little tool to help me do so. It's a kind of "modal metronome" and I thought it might be worth sharing here.

The Guaranteed Method For Failing To Learn Modes

Most guitar students do fine until they hit one particular topic that culls them like a dose of plague hitting a too-large population of water buffalo: modes. The word alone is enough to strike fear (or guilt) into the hearts of many players, even some who've been playing a long while.

What Does It Mean To Play A Scale?

We all think we know what it means for me to play, say, the D Natural Minor scale. The scale contains the notes D, E, F, G, A Bb and C, so if I play D Natural Minor then I play all and only those notes. Simple. Or is it?

Learn Diminished Licks From A Trumpet Player

Just wanted to pass on a quick recommendation of jazztrumpetlicks.com, a trumpet site by Greg "Sweets" London. Yes, I know, it's a trumpet site; well, we can learn from players of all instruments, and there are some very cool ideas here in "lick" form.

Why I Play With A Thumbpick

I always play with a thumbpick, and have for decades. I get asked about this a lot because it's extremely unusual for someone who doesn't do a lot of acoustic fingerpicking. I believe the thumbpick can be a very good choice for electric guitarists, and here I'm going to say why.

Four WaysTo Play With Your Guitar

I see a lot of students asking how they can improve their playing, what they should be working on or which books to study. What many seem to forget is that we don't work the guitar; we play it, and we should just play with it sometimes.

Scale Book Downloaded Over 1000 Times in the First Month

I'm very pleased to report thtat since I made it freely available exactly a month ago, Scale and Arpeggio Resources has been downloaded 1046 times. If you don't already have your copy, get it here!

Hybrid Picking Exercise

Just a quick post to mention the hybrid picking exercise I've been working on for the past few days. I'm actually playing different variations on this up and down but I'm sure you can figure those out for yourself.

Taking a Modal Approach to Epistrophy

I've been revisiting some old jazz tunes lately and, yet again, remembered how hard Monk's tune Epistrophy makes you think. In this post I'm going to describe some approaches that try to avoid "running the changes" and instead find scales that "work" over whole sections of the tune.

Feed Your Ears: Piano Chords for Guitarists

Something a bit different this time -- I've collected a few instructional videos for pianists that I think guitarists could learn a lot from.

Arpeggio and Scale Book Now Available Free Online!

I've decided to make the electronic version of my book on scales and arpeggios available free to download, forever, under a Creative Commons license. The paper version is still available to buy as normal.

New YouTube Posts: Hungarian #9 and "So What"

I've put up two new audio-only tracks on YouTube demonstrating different approaches to outside playing.

First Video on YouTube

I've created a video for my piece "New Work VI" and uploaded it to YouTube. I'm hoping this will be the first of quite a few as I'm enjoying playing with the video side of things and it's inspiring me to finish some pieces that have been languising for a while.

Two New Albums on Soundcloud!

I've gathered up the electronic pieces I wrote over the last year or so and pulled them together into an album, entitled New Work. I've also put together Phi Point, a collection of archive recordings that are now unavailable and of which I'm still fond. Both are free to stream or download.

Simple Pitch Class Set Transformations

We've looked at basic definitions and set out a numbering system for pitch classes that does what we want. Now it's time to see how powerful these ideas can be from an analytical perspective, and to develop some more ideas and techniques along the way.

R.I.P. Captain Beefheart

As you probably already know, the great Don Van Vliet passed away on Friday. If you don't know his music you can and should start searching YouTube or Spotify or whatever you preferred source of such things is and check it out.

Adventures in Side-Slipping, Part 1

I first heard about a technique called "side-slipping" in David Liebman's inspirational book A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody. My recent interest in the coscale relationship led me back to it, since both involve, at least initially, working with "scales" that have no root notes.

Feed Your Ears: Second Wave American Free Jazz

A lot of people know about the first wave of American free jazz: Pharaoh Sanders, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and the rest, along with the late work of John Coltrane. We'll have future posts devoted to those guys, but this one is about the ones who came immediately after them. Many were associated with Chicago rather than New York, and they brought an awareness of contemporary classical sounds to bear on the improvisational ethic of their forebears.

Fun With Ring Modulators

As I mentioned before, I've been playing with Usine lately and doing some free VST effect processing on the guitar. This has enabled me to indulge my love of ring modulators, so I recorded a demo of two free ones you can try out.

A Stretching and String-Skipping Workout

I've had about a month of enforced lack of practice; this happens to all of us from time to time. As I often do I devised a little etude to get my hands warmed up and in synch again. I'll be practicing this for the next couple of weeks, and probably using it as a warmup after that, so I thought you might like to try it yourself.

Exploring New Material with Motifs and Patterns

This post is about one way to develop ideas for licks out of simple material almost by a kind of "free association": you play something, find a bit you like, play around with it and so on.

Free Real-Time Effects Processing Using Usine

Today I discovered Usine, a free bit of software for Windows that enables you to wire VST effects together. This is so much fun that I had to share it with you and give you a quick guide to getting it up and running. If you're a music techie already you can probably breeze through the first bit.

Feed Your Ears: Avant Folk

There was a time in the sixties when being into folk music was cool. Then there was a long, long time when it wasn't. Now, it seems, folk is back with the guitar front and centre. This post focusses on American artists; the British scene is seeing a similar resurgence but in a rather different way.

Numbering Systems for Pitch Classes

This post -- the second in our series on pitch class set theory -- looks at three different ways to number pitch classes. These numbering systems are alarmingly similar, so they can get confusing, but an understanding of them is essential for what follows, so hold onto your hat.

Harmonic Minor Modes: The Super Locrian bb7

In this final instalment of our series on the modes of the Harmonic Minor scale, we consider the scale known as the Super Locrian bb7. This is a very distinctive and dissonant scale, and is difficult to use in standard jazz and rock contexts; it makes us work hard if we're going to get something usable out of it.

Some Slonimsky Patterns and Variations

I've been doing a lot of theoretical work recently on Slonimsky's famous Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. I'll have more to say about the book's contents in some upcoming posts, but here are some phrases derived from this material that I was playing around with today.

What is a Pitch Class Set?

This is the first in a series of posts introducing pitch class set theory at a very basic level. In this post I'll say a few things about what the theory's for and why it's useful, and give some of the most basic definitions.

Feed Your Ears: Sonny Sharrock

This installment of Feed Your Ears is dedicated to the late free jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock. As usual, you might not like what you hear right away, but open your ears and see if you can learn something, or be inspired, or both.

Feed Your Ears: Remember the '80s?

If you spend some time looking at guitar videos on YouTube you can easily start to feel as if you've fallen into a wrinkle in time where it's still 1988. All those sweep-picked arpeggios! All that tapping! All those alternate-picked scales! Yes, it seems that among guitarists shred is still very much in style even if leather trousers no longer are.

Harmonic Minor Modes: The Locrian Natural 6

In previous posts we've looked at three of the less well-known modes of the harmonic Minor scale. We'll now move on to more dissonant material than we've seem previously with the Locrian Natural 6. It's a rarely-heard sound, although unlike the other scales in this group it's actually more consonant than its relative in the major scale group.

Practicing Improvisational Fluency

If, like me, a lot of your real-life playing involves improvisation then it can be tricky to know how or what to practice. Of course we can learn licks and patterns, but if we're not careful all our solos will start to sound like a collage of the same stuff played in a different order, and that's not really improvising. This lesson describes a simple practicing strategy to help you build fluency when playing off-the-cuff.

The Harmonic Minor as a Pair of Augmented and Diminished Arpeggios

In the Encyclopoedia I advocate experimenting with the arpeggios that common scales contain as a way of both understanding the scale better and making your playing more interesting. Here we look at the two symmetrical arpeggios that are embedded in the common Harmonic Minor scale.

Some Interval Map Visualizations

For the past few days I've been experimenting with circular representations of chord, scale and similar kinds of structure. Laying them out in a circle is the right thing to do because then rotation of the circle is equivalent to finding all the modes of the scale or arpeggio.

Some 3-String Ladder Patterns for Diminished Scales

Recently we looked at 2-string ladder patterns for the Whole-Half and Half-Whole Diminished scales (since they're modes of each other, the patterns work equally well for both scales). Here we'll look at some similar patterns covering three strings.

Feed Your Ears: Pat Metheny

Most guitarists have heard of Pat Metheny. This post is just an invitation to watch and hear him playing in a few different contexts. See if it inspires you to play something different.

What is a Mode?

In a recent post I mentioned some myths about modes, and promised I'd try to give my own account of this often-confusing idea. If you've read the first chapter of Scale and Arpeggio Resources then you'll know exactly what a mode is, but I thought I'd try a brief and slightly different explanation here in case either you found that chapter difficult or you don't have the book. Although it's a bit more abstract than most, I hope those of you who are confused about modes will find it enlightening.

Some 2-String Ladder Patterns for Diminished Scales

"Ladder" patters are patterns that climb up or down the neck rapidly using only a small number of strings. Since I'm posting a lot about symmetrical scales at the moment, here are some ladder patterns for the Whole-Half and Half-Whole Diminshed scales. Remember that these scales are modes of each other, so which scale you're playing will be determined by where you play these patterns on the fretboard in relation to the background tonality.

Coscale Symmetries

Continuing from the previous post about reflexive symmetries within and between scales, here we look at another kind of symmetry which I call the "coscale relationship". As with the previous post, at this stage this material is purely theoretical.

Scale Reflections

I was thinking about symmetrical scales last night and this morning I woke up with not one but two ideas for other kinds of symmetry a scale can have besides the usual one. Here I'll describe the first one, which I call "reflection".

Some Sweep Picking Patterns for the Whole Tone Scale

Playing around with the Whole-Tone scale today I came up with a few patterns that involve raking across groups of three strings and moving up or down the neck. I hadn't thought of playing the scale this way before so I thought I'd share them with you here.

Harmonic Minor Modes: The Augmented Scale

We've been examining the modes of the Harmonic Minor scale over the past few days, and we've come to the Augmented scale, which is just the same as the Major scale but with a sharpened fifth. It doesn't sound too exciting at first, but we'll look at some of the arpeggios it contains that can yield some interesting results.

Feed Your Ears: Elliott Sharp

A big part of my teaching approach is to introduce my students to music they might not know about. Sometimes that means pushing their boundaries with something they might hate, but listening closely and repeatedly can be a true revelation. This "lesson" simply consists of some videos of performances by Elliott Sharp, with a few notes and comments.

5 Myths about Modes

When I was writing the Scale and Arpeggio Resources I was aware that a lot of guitar students find the idea of modes very confusing. I spent a bit of time working out a sensible way for guitarists (and others) to think about them, and it wasn't that hard. It therefore continues to amaze me that lots of guitarists -- even experienced teachers -- often say things about modes that are either incorrect or very confusing.

Harmonic Minor Modes: The Lydian #2

We've started working on the Harmonic Minor modes, and today we'll take a look at the Lydian #2. The main application for this scale is over a major seventh type of chord. Assuming you know your Major scale modes then you already have two ways to play over this type of harmony: the Major itself and the Lydian. Neither of these, though, is all that exciting.

Fretboard Roadmaps

All guitarists need fretboard roadmaps -- ways to find their way quickly and easily around the fretboard. The word "roadmap" suggests that these should be visual; that's partly because the guitar lends itself to visual learning methods in ways that the sax, say, doesn't.

How Do I Start Learning Scales?

Most of the lessons in this blog are designed for fairly advanced guitarists, and rather a lot of them have something to do with scales. I wanted to write something for what I call the Beginning Intermediate player, who's ready to start learning scales but isn't sure what the roadmap looks like. I hope this will also give you an idea of how I ordinarily approach this subject with students, although since evrybody's different and I don't have a one-size-fits-all "programme" there's bound to be lots of room for variation.

How Music Doesn't REALLY Work

I ran across the How Music REALLY Works! site on the web today. I'm not one for knocking other people's work, and I mostly use this blog for practical lessons, but there's a myth repeated here that needs to be busted.

Harmonic Minor Modes: The Dorian #4

A lot of guitarists know the Harmonic Minor scale and one of its modes,the Phrygian Major. Yet this scale, like the major scale, has seven modes in its group and the others are less frequently talked-about. We'll run a post on each of them over the next few weeks, starting with the Dorian #4.

Some Whole Tone Scale Applications

In the past couple of posts we've looked at fingerings for the Whole Tone scale and a few examples of patterns we can use to play around with it, but perhaps you're not convinced yet. After all, plenty of guitarists know how to play this scale but not many use it because it has a pretty weird, unsettling sound.

Whole-Tone Scale Patterns

In a previous post we looked at whole-tone scale fingerings, but I didn't give you any suggestions about what order to play the notes in or how to use different techniques with the scale. This post will fill in that gap and hopefully prepare us well for thinking about how the scale can be applied. I'll miss out the most obvious ways to play the fingerings in the previous post -- straight up and down using normal picking technique, that is.

Four Notes Per String from Three-Notes-Per-String Patterns

Three-note-per-string patterns are extremely useful for playing heptatonic scales such as those in the major, harmonic minor and melodic minor modal groups. In the previous lesson we looked at some different patterns we can use to play these to break up the usual straight-up-and-down approach. In this we look at some more.

Three-Notes-Per-String Patterns and Factorials

This lesson and the ones that come after it are about working out the possible orders in which you can play patterns involving 3, 4 or more notes per string. Before we get into that, let's look at an example of what I mean.

Whole-Tone Scale Fingerings

Many guitarists know how to play a whole-tone scale, but not many use it. I've got some ideas for how to use this scale in upcoming posts, but here we'll cover some different ways to get it under your fingers.

How to Read Tab on this Site

I'm going to assume you know how to actually read "tab", aka guitar TABlature. I'll be using a lot of tab on this site, so this post is here to explain my specific notation, because unfortunately the web is still amazingly bad at representing music of all kinds, including tab.