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An approach to soloing in country

The scale of choice for the country guitarist is usually the Pentatonic scale. It’s a 5 note scale derived from its parent scale, the Major Scale:

This is the key of C Major

1 2 3 4 5 6 7


The Pentatonic scale is 5 notes from this – less notes, easier to solo with, right?

1 2 3 5 6


So if a Country Song had the chords C to F to G (all major chords) they would want to play C Pentatonic against the C, F Pentatonic against the F, and G Pentatonic against the G.

This can be tricky switching between scales while staying in the same key!

The trick to learning this is to start off by taking your favorite lick or idea in C Pentatonic and moving to the same lick to F Pentatonic, then to G Pentatonic. If any chord has more time in it – say 2 bars while the other chords have 1 bar each, then play a bit more in that scale with some interesting fills.

Once comfortable in moving around like this, try staying in one space. The Pentatonic scale can be played in a sliding fashion or straight vertical patterns. Try going up one Pattern in C, coming down a pattern in F, then up a pattern in G.

Remember to use a backing track when you start feeling comfortable with it so you can work on your ideas.

Keep Picking –


Just What Do I Offer in My Lessons?

With my Ibanez at the Mountain House

Hey folks,

I was asked recently what exactly do I teach.  My teaching approach has changed over the years and it’s more suited towards what a student wants, plus what I feel they should know.

My styles include Rock, Metal, Blues, Country, Classical and Jazz.  I am currently playing with a Country/Country Rock/Classic Rock band called the Turbo Fuegos and we are expanding outside the Livermore club circuit to San Mateo, San Jose, Fremont, and Gilroy.

I have developed my own system for learning music. Here is some of what I offer:

  • Songs (I will learn and transcribe your chosen song for you)
  • Scales (Major/minor, Major Pentatonic/Minor Pentatonic, Blues scales, Diminished, whole tone)
  • Chord Construction (just what goes into a G Major chord?) and to be able to find chords all over the neck
  • Music reading
  • Chord Progressions and Song analysis
  • Arpeggios
  • Picking – alternate, country plucking, and finger picking
  • Heavy Metal techniques including legato and two handed tapping)
  • Vibrato bar techniques (also known as Tremolo or whammy bar)
  • 6 and 7 String guitar playing (7th String being a low B)
  • Alternate tunings
  • Finger Vibrato

It’s always nice to use whatever I’m doing in a band situation to include in my lessons.  Lately I’ve been working on my “country pluckin’ hybrid style of picking.  It’s called “hybrid” because some times you use your pick, some time you use your middle finger to “pluck” the string.  I’ve also been using my 7 String a bit so if you’re  a 7 string guitar owner, contact me for lessons.

That’s it for now!

Happy 2014

Hey Fellow Shredders….

2014 is off to a fast start around here.  I’m in the process of finding a new place to live (always fun!) as my landlord wants to sell his house that I’m renting (but still wants guitar lessons from me 🙂  It’s all good).

The Turbo Fuegos just added a 2nd guitar player.  This is the third guy in 11 months.  The first guy lasted 2 weeks.  The second lasted 5 weeks.  Let’s hope Steve sticks around a while.  He has a different style than me which is great – I don’t need another “me” up on stage but someone with a contrasting style.

We are playing the Sports Page in Mountain View right by the Shoreline Ampitheater on January 18th.  Admission free – come check us out.

It’s been a while since I’ve given a real “lesson” blog – quite a while in fact.  My next blog will be on the difference between Blues and Country soloing.  It will be useful info.

So I’m not even halfway through January yet and I have to box, move, work in a new guitarist, and my day job has me handling two big clients.  I worked back-to-back 15 hour days last week.  Looking forward to sleeping in on Sunday!

See you next time….


Happy Thanksgiving!!

To the Faithful Shredders,

It has been crazy busy in Fast Fingers land, but it is time to pause and give thanks to the wonderful things that have happened to me this year:

1) My girlfriend and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary this year.  That’s no easy feat when you’re dating me 🙂

2) I repaired an important family tie.

3) I quit my dead end day job and began working for a small but profitable startup.  Not a lot of sleep but getting a fast education in Jquery, Jquery Mobile and Project Management.

4) My band – The Turbo Fuegos – has gained momentum throughout the year.  Ok, well we lost 1 bassist and two guitarist but the current line up feels committed and we are only geting more busy for 2014.

5) My teaching schedule is bursting at the seams.  I cannot take any more students at this time.

All five of the above for me have been important priorities in my life.  All of the above came with challenges – nothing is really free in this world.  You have to work at it.

I’ve been going back to the gym a lot more recently and hope to get an early jump on that New Years Resolution that always seems to come up.  While I’m doing resistance training, I pretty much focus on what I’m doing, but when I get on the elliptical, I have more time to people watch.

I’m going to dump these people into two very broad categories: The Workers and The Loungers.  When you go to the gym, any gym, you’ll see guys and girls, completely focused.  I don’t go to any classes so I normally see them in the free weight section.  They watch themselves carefully in the mirror as they do their reps.  The guys will sometimes grimace as they get to the last 2 reps – sweat breaks out and a look of determination appears on their face as they squeeeeze out that last rep, and with a tired sigh of relief, they put the weight down.

That’s the Worker.  He or she is in there to make the session count.  They went to the trouble of packing clothes, getting water, grabbing a towel, and driving down there and so, doggone-it, they are going to get something out of it.  The same can be true of the person running hard on the treadmill or bike or elliptical.  Or trembling to hold that yoga position.

Then you got the Lounger.  You don’t see them in the free weight section.  I’m doing machines right now since I’m coming back from a long layoff and some old injuries require that I ease into it.  But other people will saunter through their workout, and many of them are on their cell phone.  What?  This is a time for focus.  I once was on the elliptical machine and the woman next to me was talking so loud on her phone (and I was listening to my iPhone music!) that I had to move away from her.

And we all know the guy who won’t get out of the abdominal machine.  You’ve just burned through 3 sets of two different exercises and this joker is still sitting there.  He should be paying rent to stay in that machine.

The same goes for guitar practicing.  Be a Worker, not a Lounger.  If your cell phone keeps buzzing (and who’s doesn’t?) turn it off for 30 min and get your uninterrupted practice time in.  If people support you, they will understand.  If my girlfriend texts me when I’m at the gym, I text back “at gym ttyl” and she gets it – “ok have a good workout”.  That’s support.

So enjoy today, eat, drink and be merry, enjoy your families, be grateful for the good things in  your life, and tomorrow get back on it.  And one day someone will look at you playing your instrument and comment “Wow, you make it look easy”.  Which should make you smile.

Shred on.



“Stand by……….Rolling!” Pt 1

Happy May to all my fellow jammers,

As I have been writing about, since February I have been in a country rock band called The Turbo Feugos.  We’re based out of Livermore, California.  We’ve solidified our line up (although we’d like to add another guitar player).

The previous lineup of the band has 3 demo songs out there, which are pretty good.  We decided we needed 3 more to make a complete marketing package of the band.  We picked the songs, much like the previous 3 – one ballad, one country, one country rock classic.

Those previous songs, like the last demo I did with my last band, we all recorded separately on computer, each instrument being added individually.  There are pros and cons with this method.

The first and obvious advantage is money, provided you have decent software and a high performing computer already.  The second pro is you can take your time.  Don’t like that take?  Back it up and do it again until you’re happy.

The first con with this approach is the sound quality.  You’re just not going to make a hit record with your Dell laptop.  The second is unless you have a lot of computer power and a lot of inputs, you’re stuck recording instruments one at a time.  What that does is it tends to remove the live feel and excitement of the band.

In “My Life” by Keith Richards, he was adamant about capturing that excitement, saying “You don’t need 16 mics on the drums, you need to mic the room!”

It’s something that I agree with.  One of our bassists that was with us briefly recommended a recording studio out in Emeryville – about 40 minutes from Livermore.  The two sound engineers actually came by our practice and introduced themselves, and told us what we could expect.

Their number 1 point was “Be prepared”.

Whenever the tape is rolling or the hard drive spinning or the recording gear is on, you get the jitters.  We all tense up.  Can you walk across a 4″ beam that’s on the floor?  Probably.  How about 20 feet up?  It’s the same width but suddenly you’re scared you’re going to fall.  In recording you’re scared you’re going to mess up.

So our three tunes were “A Woman Like You” by Lee Brice, “Fake ID” by Big & Rich that’s on the Footloose remake album, and “They Call Me The Breeze” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Of all three songs, I feared “A Woman Like You” most.  It’s a ballad and you can’t hide mistakes easily, plus the fact that there is an intro solo guitar part and a solo middle section and a solo outro.  The pressure is on!

The guitar work is done on an acoustic.  I don’t own a decent acoustic.  Plus, as I figured out the parts, one eluded me until I figured out it was played on the 12, 13, and 14th frets – which are very high for acoustic.

I decided to go with my warmest and thickest sounding guitar – My 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom.  That guitar has been through the trenches with me, played with many bands on many stages and weddings.  I pulled it out and in practice when I started the solo intro, our lead singer immediately remarked “I like that!”.

Now the Les Paul isn’t that easy to play high on either compared to my Ibanez but it’s a lot easier than acoustic.  I made up my mind I was going to sit to play it, using my foot rest for my left foot to get a better angle on the high end of the neck.  The song came together well that way.

Fake ID was more of a challenge on a band level.  There are 5 breaks in that song: one after each of the first two choruses, one after the 8 bar guitar solo, one after the next chorus, and then the ending chorus.  The ending chorus has a slightly extended verse so it doesn’t go like all the others.

As we ran through this, our drummer and bassist were running through the breaks, and even I wasn’t sure where they all were.  Our singer probably knew them best because he had to key off them.  Singers oftentimes know the form of a song better than most of the band when first working on a song.

I took my iPad and plugged it into my PA and said “Everybody stop playing – listen”.  We listened to it from beginning to end and noted where the breaks were.  One by one we smoothed them out.

“Breeze” is a classic and I love Lynyrd Skynyrd but they have three guitar players in that band.  Even though I know the opening lead, I can’t play it with the band live now because I have no rhythm behind me.  So I couldn’t practice the lead with the band – I had to do that on my own.  I’d been working on the lead with one of my students so I was aware of a lot of it.

This is where my philosophy of copying leads comes in.  Some leads I have to have down note for note, like “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by the Eagels or if we do “Hotel Calfornia” – could you imagine someone playing that song and NOT doing those leads?

On the other hand, when we do “Jonny B Goode”, I do what I want.  I’m not interested in doing that original solo.

Then there are times when I want to get the essence of the solo without killing myself to do the thing note for note.  Fake ID has an OK solo on it, it’s 8 bars. I copy some of it but really, as long as I get the essence of it and hit the breaks right coming out of it, I’m good with that.

Breeze is kind of in between those two examples.  It has signature “parts” to it which I wanted to capture, but beyond that, I wanted it to be me.  That is probably my ego talking but I take pride in my solo work and I think I do a good job (on most days).  So I got the parts down that I thought were needed and filled in the rest with my own ideas.

Our recording day was Sunday, May 12, so we practiced Friday, May 10 focusing on those three songs only.  And played them. And played them.  Fixed some things and played them again.

When we broke for the night, we felt we were reasonably prepared for our session.

I made a list of the things I wanted to have.  I’d never been to this studio, so I didn’t know what to expect.

I brought:

My amp and effects

My Les Paul and my Ibanez Prestige, both restrung on the Saturday before.

At least 2 sets of extra strings for both guitars..  Once I put on new strings and one string broke right away.  Take 2 extra.

Extra picks. You know how those fall, and take odd bounces and end up blending in with the carpet or under a couch.  I think guitar players spend 9% of their lives looking for their picks.

Extra guitar cords.  My crate contains nearly every redundant thing I can think of.  (Actually, in writing this, I only have one speaker cord for the connection between my amp head and amp cabinet.  I will fix that!).  I even now have 2 digital mic cables that connect my Pod HD to my Amp. (I don’t sky dive, but if I did, I’d probably want 3 chutes if they would let me.)

Footrest as mentioned above.

Folding Chair.  I thought they should have some but just in case…..

Food!  I reminded everybody that we have 8 hours to do 3 songs.  We don’t want to be boppin’ off to In n’ Out burger in the middle of it when we’re paying for studio time and I don’t want to be in the middle of a guitar solo thinking about how hungry or thirsty I am.

My list done, the stuff purchased, the guitars restrung, I was up Saturday night until 12 midnight trying to get tired.  I had to be up at 6:00am as the recording session started at 8:00am.  Yes, AM.  We got a crappy time because we weren’t able to coordinate with some band members (and some now ex-band members) on the time.  But, like anything, there was a good side to it and that was going to be light traffic getting into a bustling little town like Emeryville.

On the negative side, if I needed strings or a pick or a cable, who’s open on Sundays?  Another good reason to take a fail safe approach and have 2-3 of everything.

Next post – The Recording Session.

Happy Shredding!





Tunings and the 6 and 7 String Guitar

Happy New Year!!

[Note, as of 1/3/13 I have openings on Wednesday and Thursday night at 7:00pm.  Contact me if you want to start the new years off right!]

I’m currently reading the Keith Richards autobiography.  If you’ve ever struggled with playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women or Brown Sugar, don’t feel alone.  Keith discovered open G tuning in 1968 and even tossed his 6 string away for this new method of playing he adopted.

What the heck is open G tuning?  Well, to start let’s look at the way a guitar is tuned normally:

The notes E, A, D, G, B, E don’t really fit nicely into any one chord.  The top three (E, G, B) make an e minor and the top four (E, B, G, D) make an E minor 7th but that’s about it.

At some point, slide guitar players got into the act.  A slide is made up of either glass, plastic, or metal and lays vertically across the neck, but of course in a straight line.  Not happy with the standard tuning above, they changed the tuning so that all the notes, when lined up vertically along one fret, will make a major chord.  In other words, the notes in the G Major chord are G, B, and D, so if an open string note isn’t one of those notes already, we tune up or down to the nearest in the chord.  See line two of the chart below:

It requires the 6h, the 5th, and the 1st string to be changed.

Keith took it one more step – he tossed the 6th string, making his tuning:

G D  G  B  D

And then those licks became easy for Start Me Up, etc.

If you’ve read my posts, you know I bought a new 7 String guitar.  For those in the heavy metal world, “drop” tuning is common, even when you have a 7 string guitar.

I used my 7 String in “Standard Tuning” which is:

7   6  5  4   3   2  1

B  E  A  D  G  B  E

The most common thing played on the 7th string are the “power chords” which are typically Root and Fifth of the chord, played most commonly with first finger and third finger.  For example, with Standard tuning, I could play a C power chord with my first finger on 7th string 1st fret (C) and 3rd finger on 6th string, third fred (G).

Many metal heads prefer more “gonk” or bottom end and they do what is called “Drop A” tuning.  If you only have a 6 string, you can do virtually the same thing with “Drop D” tuning.

On the 6th string,  your bottom E on the 6th string becomes a D.  Your fifth for the power chord will now line up on the same fret.  In other words, open 6th and open 5th are now D and A and that make a D power chord.  as you go up the neck,  you only need to bar 6th and 5th strings with one finger.

On the 7th String, the 7th string itself is dropped to A instead of B.  This has the same effect as with the 6th stringer but in a lower range.  open 7th and 6th string is now a power A chord (A and E).

One of the issues facing the working musician is how to keep these tunings straight?  It wouldn’t be practical to be tuning back and forth throughout the night on the same guitar.  What most guitarists do is have a guitar dedicated to each tuning they want to use.  One guitar might be standard tuning, another might be Drop D tuning or something else.

Another alternative, although more costly up front, are the “virtual” guitars made by Line 6 and Roland.  I don’t own one myself, but Line 6 makes a “Variax” guitar line where without turning a tuning peg, you can change your tunings on the fly.  Of course nothing comes perfect and what you gain in flexibility you lose in other areas.

So this has been an introduction to various tunings on 6 and 7 string guitars.  Use a tuner if you don’t trust your ear yet and experiment about. Remember to not tune your strings the wrong way – in other words too tight – or they break!

Happy Strumming!




News for November, 2012

Hey all –

Well, I moved!!  I finally found a nice home and stocked it full of guitars, amps, basses, drums and a PA.  Had a nice party weekend before Halloween where we jammed late into the evening and no cops were called (thankfully).

We’re also working on marketing our band Sound Advice – we have a demo, photos, and a promo kit. Our video is up on Youtube – I need to find the URL.

I’ve upgraded my gear again – I have a Dean RC7X 7 stringer so I’ve been working on my metal chops.  If any of you guys are looking to learn 7 string, I’m your teacher.

I finally got my dream amp – it’s a Line 6 DT50 half stack.  The head was designed by Reinhold Bogner. I love the sound of his amps and he designed this one with 4 different “topographies” – just think of it as an amp with 4 different personalities.  It will choose the circuitry on the head based on the selection with the Line 6 Pod HD.  I have a lot more exploring to do.

Well I hope everyone had a great Halloween.  My posts this year have been a lot about my band and gear – my next post will be on learning 7 string guitar.

Peace out


What’s going on?

Hey –

My last blog series chronicled my joining my band, Sound Advice, and playing my first gig.  So much has happened that this is sort of a “catch-up” blog.

As of 9/8/2012:

1) The band – well, we’re looking for work.  Bases Loaded, the club we played up in Antioch when through an ownership change, and the new owner is on the fence about having any live music at all and just make it a restaurant.  So for now, we’re looking for booking agents.  More on that in another blog.

2) Gear – I hinted that I got the Line 6 Flextone III.  Then I got Line 6 wireless for guitar.  Then I got Line 6 POD HD500 effects board.  I am not backed by Line 6 but I should be.  I also recently picked up (used) a Line 6 DT50 25/50w head and 4×12 cabinet.  I have to blog more on this later. So my amp setup is small (Spider II), medium (Flextone III) and large (DT50).

3) Lessons – I’m expanding my lessons to include 7 string guitars as well.  I need to blog about this too.  7 strings can be tuned many ways, but mine is the standard:


So just an extra B string on bottom.  I love the guitar.  It is a Dean RC7X import. All my students are still 6 strings, so I’d love to sign a 7 stringer.  Wednesday evenings still has openings.

4) I’m moving!!  Yes, I’m getting out of my apartment and into a house (thus the half stack DT50).

More to come.  Leave a comment or an email with any request about things you want me to talk more about…



Sound Advice, Part VI (The Gig)

This entry will terminate “series” on joining this band, but rest assured, I’ll have more blog entries on what new things we’re up to.

The day had arrived.  The only thing was my amp, the Flextone III was ready at the shop, and the shop was in San Mateo (about 1 hour from me, on the other side of the bay).  I didn’t have to go get it that day, but I wanted it so I did.

I took the day off from work, ran across the bay and picked it up.  Gone was the crackling and volume drops – it played like it was brand new.  Bill: $288.  These guys even have a couple of gold records on the wall.  Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.

Back home, I printed out my checklist of what I would need.  The gig was up in Antioch, at least 45 minutes from me, and on a Friday evening, more like an hour.  If I forgot anything, I’d be hosed.

I believe in redundancy when playing out.  And yes, it means many more trips in loading and unloading.  Two guitars and a dual guitar stand to hold them.  Extra strings, picks, and batteries as well as  the tools (wrenches, screw drives, wire cutters, and flashlight) to make use of them.  Music stand plus light.  Extra guitar cord.  Extension cord and power strip.  Duct tape, plus colored electrical tape for marking my stuff (all these music stands look alike!).

I had about 10 friends going to see me that night, but no one was riding with me.  I loaded up the car and headed out.  I’d been to this bar once before, but my handy Droid Bionic gave me turn by turn directions so I wouldn’t miss an exit (I don’t know how I got by before without a navigation system).

I was the first one at the gig.  There is a small alley behind the bar that can hold 2 cars length-wise (meaning if you’re first, you’re blocked in).  I walked into the place and asked the busy waitress if I can use that service door to bring in my gear.  She gave me a quick and disinterested “Yeah” and so I began my trips to the car, holding the service door open with a chair.

About this time, the sound man Adam showed up.  He introduced himself and we continued are unloading of gear.

This is my first time in a band that used a sound man and his gear.  All my other bands owned a PA and we all carried it in, and we all carried it out, so I felt a bit of pressure to go help him once my stuff was on stage, even though it wasn’t necessary.

I found an outlet, pulled out the cords, got my guitars out and tuned (like most footboards, mine contains a tuner), during which other members of the band showed up.

I’ll tell ya, singers have it easy.  They show up with their microphone.  It’s always been this way but in just about every band, the girl singer sits in a booth chatting with friends while the men go back and forth.  (For the record, the girlfriends I’ve had have always helped me with my gear 🙂  This applies to male singers too.  All the glory and none of the grunting :).

By now, people are arriving.  My girlfriend and her daughter arrived, my friend and his wife from work, one of my previous band mates and friend along with her boyfriend, and an old friend of mine, Dave.  I’ll post more about him in a later blog.

Like a lot of jobs, this is like hurry up and wait.  I got there first, and seriously, even rusty at this, I was set up in 20 minutes.  The drummer has to make a lot of trips, and the PA guy is all over the place, mic’ing this, placing monitors around the stage, and setting up the mains.  And here I am, plugged in and tuned up and waiting.

Finally, around 8:45pm we called a sound check song.  I think it was Long Train Running, but I can’t be sure.  We played the song, while the sound man fixed the feedback and dealt with various complaints like “I can’t hear myself in the monitor” or “I can’t hear the bass”.

Off to the restroom where I changed clothes.  Unless it’s a barbeque or something casual, I prefer to dress up while playing – dockers, nice shoes, nice shirt.  After all, we’re putting on a show and people might consider your band for their wedding.  Then again, we’re a top 40 dance band, NOT a grunge/metal/blues/etc band with those respective images.

Finally, we kicked off the first set.  I had the set list on my music stand, plus what presets I should be using (remember, this is my smaller amp and I only had 4), trying desperately to remember how some of these songs started.  This band likes to go from one song to the next for about the first 6 songs.  This is a very good technique for getting people out on the dance floor and keeping them there.

This was the first day on the job, in every sense of the word.  Trying to remember the beginnings of songs, the breaks (I stepped on many), and which preset to use.  I’m sure I looked about as much fun as a neurosurgeon on his first operation.  I barely cracked a smile, so intent was I to make a good impression on the band.  Then the bar owner comes over and takes a picture of me while playing – huh?  I found out later she does that with every band that plays there, and posts them on facebook.  Still, it was a distraction.

The first set is long – about an hour.  Then it was break time.  By now everybody had shown up that was here to support me, including people I hadn’t seen in a while.  Complaints started popping up like “We can’t hear you!” and “You need to tell the sound guy to turn you up!”.  I have no idea how loud I am while up on stage.  I can hear me.  If I can’t, I turn up.  So I went to the sound guy and said people can’t hear me and he told me he was trying not to turn anybody up so the vocals could be heard. Not wanting to rock the boat, first gig and all, I just decided I would turn up loader on my amp.  It would increase the volume being picked up by the mic.  Of course, he could always adjust my pa volume down, but beyond that I was pretty much out of options.

The material in the first set was what I was most familiar with.  The second set was a bit shaky.  While I played well for my solos, I played on some breaks, and didn’t play where I should have.  Of course the audience doesn’t notice much of that.  I felt like I was being evaluated the whole night by the band, which I was, and so that was extra pressure I was putting on myself.

Second set done, it was time for more socializing with my friends.  Everybody loved the music we played and thought the band was great in general.  We had a very full dance floor most of the night.

The third set lasted about 4 or 5 songs.  To this date, we’ve never played through the 3rd set.  We called it, about 10 minutes before 1:00am.  My first gig in 25 years was now in the books.  I was tired.  I wasn’t used to this and the stress and excitement of the evening wore me out.

But of course now comes tear down.  Tear down is faster than set up because there’s no tuning, no sound check, just roll the cords, put them in the crate, break down what needs to be broken down and start trekking out to the car again.

Our Keyboardist approached me with $80 in cash.  It was official – I was a working musician again.

I got nothing but positive feedback from the band.  I was expecting something of a report card after all the constant correction on my playing in practice but no, nothing but praise.

I got home about 3:00am (this is why I don’t like to gig so far from home) and unloaded my stuff (6 trips out to the car up 3 flights of stairs).  The next morning I would be teaching so I had to sleep fast.

But I couldn’t wait to use my new amp.  I’ll blog more on my current rig next time.

Until then….


"Protect yourself at all times…."

Anybody who has watched a boxing or MMA match has heard those words given by the referee at the beginning of a fight in the ring or cage. But they apply to aspiring shredder guitar players too.

I remember reading an article about Yngwie Malmsteen who complained about tendonitis in his left hand (I cannot find the article now). As I remember he said something like “I never warmed up, I just picked up the guitar everyday and played as fast as I could. I’m proud of this album because I was in a lot of pain during it”.
Recently I’ve been watching killer shredder Rusty Cooley play pentatonic scales, which are traditionally played with two notes per string, stretching out to playing 3 notes per string. Now I’m hearing that other players are playing the major scales, traditionally 3 notes per string, at 4 notes per string. Or 5.
The result is a dramatic change in the texture of the melodic line you’re playing, as well as very quickly traversing the guitar neck from low to high and back again (almost like sweeping arpeggios).
I’ve been working on these techniques myself too and noticed a few things:
The hand is just like any other physical part of your body. Every athlete warms up – especially before exercises of great speed (sprints for example) or strength (bench press with a barbell). EVERY single piece of documentation about exercise mentions to warm the body up before stressing it to reduce injury. In fact, even for low or moderate exercise.
The major scales for me pose no real stretching issues for me, so I practice those on a metronome for a couple of minutes at a very safe, borderline “boring” tempo. Then I bump it up 10 beats/min. Then another. Then another. You can feel your hand warming up – there’s more blood circulating to it. This is extremely important to keep your hand healthy.
With regards to stretching out on these 3/4/5 note per string scales – START SLOWLY! The beginning of the neck is where the frets are wider and pose the biggest challenge. One way to give yourself the optimum angle is to play the guitar on your left leg (not the right) and elevate your left foot. This is what classical guitarists do and so does Rusty Cooley.
When I first started working on my stretch, I did a whole note scale exercises – using my 1st, 2nd, and 4th finger on my left hand:
String Fret Finger
6 1 1
6 5 4
6 3 2
6 5 4
Shifting to the 5th string, the fingering remains the same:
4th string:
3rd string:
2nd string (notice there is no change in frets from the 3rd string due to how the guitar is tuned)
and 1st string
Then reverse the pattern 1st string down to 6th.
Master this pattern before attempting to go a wider stretch. The pentatonic pattern will require the stretch of 6 frets, as each string will require some combination of a whole step and a minor 3rd (3 half steps).
Additionally, don’t work these intensely at first. Take frequent breaks – go play something easy – it keeps your hand warmed up so then you can go back to the more challenging pattern. You should feel NO PAIN. I don’t mean the finger tips – your calluses will get built up, I mean no pain in the hand. If you do, rest it. Don’t get frustrated and push through it. Your hand will unfortunately reward you with pain, swelling, and a forced vacation from playing.
I did a general search for guitarists with tendonitis and I got an interesting list (Note, this list is in no way exhaustive and I have no way of verifying this):
Leo Kotke
Steve Vai (he admited in an interview I read he switches to .09 strings in the studio to go easier on his hand, but plays with .10 live).
Robben Ford
Alex DeGrassi
Yngwie Malmsteen
So if these guys can get it, any player can get it.
So to recap:
1) Warm up for at least 5 minutes, gradually increasing your speed (use a metronome)
2) Practice your stretching exercises (like the whole tone scale above) first – master it before trying to stretch one more fret
3) Guitar on left knee and elevate left foot for best hand angle
4) Take frequent breaks as you work on your new skills
5) NEVER push past pain if you feel it – take a break. If the new technique just hurts, give it a rest for a few days then go back to it.
6) If you get chronic pain, see the doctor. You’re likely going to have a take several weeks off from the instrument (hopefully steps 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 keep you from getting to this point).
Protect yourself at all times!!