All posts by Ben

Practicing When You Can’t Practice

One frustrating thing about being a guitarist or just a musician in general is that we aren’t always near our instruments. Few of us are fortunate to be a guitarist full time and work and school tend to consume large amounts of our time. We want to be back at home practicing, but we’re not. We can either get pissed about it or try to use our time to the best of our ability.

So what can we do to improve or make some progress musically?

Finger Exercises

If you are going to be playing when you get home why not get your fingers warmed up for playing? One thing I like to do is to place my hand down on my leg or the surface of a table with my fingers bent 90 degrees with my fingertips touching the surface. Then I will lift and drop each of my four fingers one at a time until they touch the surface. I’ll start off slow and build up speed.

The great thing about this is that you can sit and do this during a boring class or unproductive meeting and no one is wiser. As far as your fretting hand can tell you are running 1-2-3-4 chromatic exercises. Everyone around you just thinks you have a nervous tick or have had too much coffee. Just try and stay semi-alert if you are called on to respond to something.

This may seem silly, but try it for 20 minutes and tell me your fret hand isn’t ready to shred.

If you want to kick it up a notch, visualize some scale patterns and start tapping those from low to high. You can even move your hand up to compensate for switching strings if you feel so inclined. You see the muscle memory part of your brain and your fingers don’t know there is no guitar in your hands. Tap out your scale practice routine. I mean what do you really have to lose?

Practice Planning

Everyone has a smart phone these days. You can type the next great American Novel out in a device that fits in your pocket. Hell, I’m writing this post while waiting for my car inspection. What I’m getting at is get a nice note-taking app installed and when you are stuck somewhere else start writing a new practice routine. You’ll only have so much time to play when you get home so you might as well be prepared. I know when I was in high school I really wanted to go home and practice, but when I got home I would noodle around for a while, mess with some songs I was learning, and then put it down after a while. If you are prepared for what you are going to play when you get home you can simply get started.

If you have never had a practice routine you should try it. For example, build a list of categories you are working on and come up with at least one exercise for each. Then, depending on how much time you have to play each day set a certain amount of time that you are going to do that exercise. Maybe it will look something like this.

  1. Legato
  2. Alternate Picking
  3. Tapping
  4. Sweep Picking
  5. Finger-picking
  6. Song Parts
  7. Scale Sequences
  8. Improve to Backing Track

If you focused 5 minutes per exercise you would have a 40 minute routine. This is a tried and true method to becoming well-rounded. Pretty simple, right?

Here is the thing. You are going to get bored really fast when you master those things so you need more. Spend some of your isolated time looking up new potential exercises for your routine. Look them up and take a screen shot with your phone. Everyone is probably on Facebook or looking up sports scores. Why not actually do something productive with this time?

Take online lessons apart and pull some of the exercises from them out and try them when you get home.

You can also look up scale patterns for new scales are try and memorize them. There are several useful guitar apps out there that have tons of info you can look at. Just make sure your volume is down on your phone.

There are a lot of things you can do when you are away from your instrument. Don’t let life get in your way.

Happy Shredding!

The Art of Warming Up

One of the most important aspects of guitar playing is the one that is often overlooked by most players. When we start playing guitar we think about songs we want to learn, tones, gear, and even theory sometimes. Warming up usually falls at the wayside. When we pick up a guitar and start noodling around we will tend to just warm up naturally. This is ok, but is usually not the most efficient way, especially when we have a limited time to practice. There are several different warm-up methodologies and I’m going to thru a few of them today. Mix, match, and create a routine that works for you. Use the different methods differently day by day to create a warm up that works for you.

Stretching

I would recommend some simple hand stretches before starting on the guitar for the day. Nothing major. You can thread your fingers through each other and lightly bend all of your fingers back.

Bend each of your hands back for a few seconds to stretch out your wrists also.

Keeping it simple

One of the more plain warm up patterns that you will see all over the internet is the classic 1-2-3-4 pattern warm-up as shown below.

E——————————————1-2-3-4——————————–
B———————————-1-2-3-4—————————————
G————————–1-2-3-4———————————————–
D——————1-2-3-4——————————————————-
A———-1-2-3-4—————————————————————
E–1-2-3-4————————————————————————

You can do this one with alternate picking or legato. I recommend you do either or both depending on what you are working on. Once you get the end of the pattern, shift everything up one fret and repeat the exercise. Do this pattern all the way up the fretboard and back down again as long as you feel is necessary. The good thing about this shape is that it is balanced and warms up each finger evenly. The bad thing is it not very musical (unless you really enjoy chromatic patterns) and doesn’t really put anything in muscle memory that you would really want to deploy in an improvisation situation.

I would recommend working this pattern with a metronome and starting at a comfortable pace and bringing it up as you go.

Trilling

E–1h2p1h2p1h2p1 (using the index and middle finger hammering)

Then…

E–2h3p2h3p2h3p2 (using the middle and ring finger hammering)

And Finally…

E–3h4p3h4p3h4p3 (using the ring and pinkie finger hammering)

This is another simple warm-up that can really wake up your fingers on your fretting hand. If you do half step trills for about 30 seconds each it can be a small finger workout. If 30 seconds is too long (or short), change it. This is your warm-up. Do what works for you, but don’t hurt yourself.

The good thing about this one is it warms up the fretting hand pretty quickly. However, this isn’t something you want to do more than a few times per position, but it will build strength in your fretting hand fingers.

3NPS (Note per string) Scaling

If you like to review your scale patterns from time to time then your warm-up will benefit from this too. I try and focus on the three notes per string patterns that repeat in higher octaves further down the fretboard. Plus, if you used to playing linear modal shapes, warming up with these patterns might help break you out of the box (or at least start tying the boxes together).

Here is an example I like to use with the E Minor (Aeolian) scale.

E———————————7-8-10——————————————
B————————–7-8-10————————————————
G——————–4-5-7——————————————————–
D————–4-5-7————————————————————–
A——–2-3-5——————————————————————–
E–2-3-5————————————————————————–

E———————————-8-10-12—————————————
B————————–8-10-12———————————————–
G——————–5-7-9——————————————————–
D————–5-7-9————————————————————–
A——–3-5-7——————————————————————–
E–3-5-7————————————————————————–

E————————————-10-12-14———————————-
B—————————-10-12-13——————————————-
G———————7-9-11—————————————————–
D————–7-9-10————————————————————
A——–5-7-9——————————————————————–
E–5-7-8————————————————————————–

E———————————————14-15-17————————–
B————————————13-15-17———————————–
G—————————11-12-14——————————————–
D——————10-12-14—————————————————–
A———-9-10-12—————————————————————
E–8-10-12———————————————————————–

E———————————————–17-19-20————————
B————————————–17-19-20———————————
G—————————–14-16-17——————————————
D——————–14-16-17—————————————————
A———–12-14-15————————————————————
E–12-14-15———————————————————————

Patterns repeat until you run out of frets…

Then, when you get bored with that and you really want to stretch your hands out try some 4NPS.

E———————————————8-10-12-13————————
B———————————-8-10-12-13———————————-
G————————–4-5-7-9———————————————–
D——————4-5-7-9——————————————————-
A———-2-3-5-7—————————————————————
E–2-3-5-7————————————————————————

E—————————————————-10-12-14-15—————
B—————————————-10-12-13-15—————————
G——————————7-9-11-12—————————————-
D——————–7-9-10-12————————————————–
A———–5-7-9-10————————————————————-
E–5-7-8-10———————————————————————-

These runs are less satisfying due the occasional repeating note in the pattern, but is good for warming up and breaking out of the box. If you need some inspiration for this one just go watch Joe Satriani play legato on YouTube for a few minutes and you’ll really want to get these shapes under your fingers.

That’s basically it. You can warm up with basically anything, but I hope these ideas are useful to you.

If you liked this lesson, check out the rest of my stuff at bensatterwhite.com

Happy Shredding!

My Take on the Google Nexus Player and Other Things

Tech

I picked a Google Nexus player last week for our TV in the bedroom. We typically use an Amazon Fire TV in the living room for all of our streaming and stuff. The Nexus player is pretty good with only two downsides. First, the remote that comes with it is lacking a menu button. You may not realize how useful this button is unless you have had one like on the Fire TV. When using Kodi you can’t add things to favorites or mark them as watched like you can do with the Fire TV remote. The good news is that I can buy another of the old Fire TV remotes off eBay and use it with the Nexus player and solve that issue.

The other problem is that there is no support for Amazon Instant Video on the Nexus Player. This caught me by surprise. I’ve had a lot of streaming stuff over the last few years and no one doesn’t support Amazon. Until now. I did some reading about it and Amazon were being some little bitches that decided to take their ball and go home. They got mad because Google runs Android and Amazon doesn’t want Instant Video in the Play Store. This is bad for business. This irritates me enough that I’m reconsidering whether we will renewing our Prime subscription. If I wanted to support self righteous assholes I would buy Apple products.

The original Fire Tv was great though and that can’t be ignored. Everything I’m reading says that Amazon screwed up the latest version of the Fire Tv so I avoided it and got the Nexus box instead.

 

Games

I picked up Counterstrike Global Offensive on Steam a few days back and have been playing that regularly. Its good to have a good FPS again since my switch to PC gaming. I enjoy it more than all of the Call of Duty games I used to play. All of the killstreak bonuses and grenade use really clutter up those games.

I tried out Team Fortress 2, but couldn’t get into it. That game has too much of the character bouncing off the walls for me.

Hearthstone has me entertained lately too, but I’m on a massive losing streak and am starting to realize I really suck at this game.

Music

I’ve been listening to Scar Symmetry’s 2008 album Holographic Universe this week. This is a solid melodic death metal band. They remind me a lot of the great Soilwork tunes I’ve enjoyed throughout the years.

I listened to Tool’s Lateralus album in its entirety the other day too. It’s been several years I’ve done that. When the hell are they going to put out something new? It’s been over 10 years now. I’ve heard rumors and reports aboht a new album, but haven’t see anything about a release date. Also, where is Seventh Wonder’s new album? Last year that single “Inner Enemy” came out and I thought for sure a new album would be coming shortly after. I can’t find any news on when we might get to hear that one. They at least need to release that single on Spotify so I can jam it in my car. Myrath is recording a new one that I’ve been looking forward to also. Always looking to hear some new music.

I’m planning on writing up some more guitar lessons for this site for those of you who are interested in that. Hopefully, I’ll have some time to work on that this weekend.

I would like to start doing YouTube videos again soon. This time with some guitar lesson content. I think that might be coming after the holidays.

Other than that I have just been doing normal everyday things. The Christmas tree is already up early as hell. I usually don’t do this until after Thanksgiving, but the wife insisted. Since, its still hot outside everyday we have to just pretend its the holiday season.

I’ve been reading the first Acacia book still. I’m digging that, but it is going to take a while for me go finish up. It is a trilogy so there is plenty of content there left for me to consume.

That really all I’ve got to say for now. Until next time…

Talking about random stuff

I’m going to start doing a regular blog entry probably weekly. This will just be a compilation of my thoughts and whats going on in my world. I finished a fourth song this weekend called Saturn’s Hexagon. This one came together fairly quickly. You can check that one out here on my site soon. Its a very simple track with some nice synth in the track. It’s kind of spacey so it got a space related name. This is a little different from what I’ve done so far. Probably go further in that direction in the future and just mix it up with some heavier songs.

I did some work on the website this weekend too. I working on transitioning it from the prior technology blog form to the current music showcase and whatever form it is going to be in the future. I got my songs created as videos and on my personal YouTube page. More work to come on YouTube. I want to write more guitar lesson posts and eventually jump into some guitar lesson videos. I think those would get more attention to the rest of the content.

I caught a handful of Grand Theft Auto games for dirt cheap on a steam sale last week and picked them up. I tried to install GTA4 last weekend, but ran into all kinds of problems with the Games for Windows crap and got an infinite loading screen too. Still working through all of that, but kind of stopped trying. I installed GTA3 for the nostalgia and am playing that. Did a few missions and it takes me back. I also picked up the original Splinter Cell and am enjoying that one too.

I picked up the first of the Acacia series of books on audible this month too. I bought this one on ebook last year, but didn’t get very far. Earlier this year, I came to the realization that I’m too distracted to read unless I do audiobooks. I have been buying them ever since. Its going to take a while to listen to the whole series. Especially since I’m sure each one is over 30 hours each. I’m sure it will be February before I finish this one up. Its nice though. I like it.

Other than that, it has just been work and gearing up for the holidays. I’m almost certain the Christmas tree will make an appearance later today in our place.

I’m going to start working on a song soon. I have some basic ideas of what I want to do with a chord progression, but haven’t started work on anything yet. I want to play around with some pitch axis parallel mode stuff. I want to put together some chord progressions that will introduce as many modal progressions in the same key as possible and keep the song musical. This will probably be interesting to play around with and we will see what becomes of it.

That is really about it. We have been re-watching Psych on Netflix because it is one of the best shows ever and have been catching up on new episodes of Supernatural.

Later