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Technique Rules! - December 2000
Rules! - Part I
Welcome to the second episode of “Technique Rules!”
Before trying any of this please read the complete text and if you feel a need consult with your doctor before beginning this exercise routine. I do not assume liability for injury or loss in connection with the instructions herein!
This time “Technique Rules!” is divided into 2 separate sections. The first part is for the ones among you who are just starting to play and the second part is for the more advanced ones. I decided to do this because I’ve received letters from guitarists of different levels of playing – ones asking to simplify things and others wanting something more adventurous. So I hope there’s something for everybody now…
I would like to start off with some VERY basic stuff – but ultimately crucial for developing a decent technique and playing well! The subject of today’s talk is – “How to hold the electric guitar, how to hold a pick and how to pluck the strings”!
Let’s start assuming that you are in a sitting position while practicing. Choose a comfortable chair that is not to high, that doesn’t have armrests and has a back. Actually an office chair could do nicely – it has all the mentioned qualities and has an adjustable height. So when you sit on it to play put the guitar on your right leg (thigh) - this is something typical for electric guitar playing (where as far acoustic classical guitar it would be the opposite leg) try not to bend your back and neck to much forward over the guitar. Start playing something!
Now make sure that the elbow of your left arm is not too far away from your side (ribs). This is very important! Keep the left elbow “in” and tilt your left forearm a little to the left. Make sure that the elbow doesn’t “move away” from the side of your body while you play.
Now here is a tip how to “grab” the neck of the guitar. The side of your left hand palm should be a little bit tilted in the “floor direction”. This means that the only part of your palm that touches the neck is the inside part between your index finger and your thumb. Now the angle between your left hand wrist and your forearm should be almost flat (or wrist slightly tilted backwards). If you bend (stick) your left hand wrist forward too much it will stiffen your fingers hence making it harder to play (but there are some moments which require this position too).
When playing lead lines and melodies the fingers of your left hand should be almost in a claw-like position – this meaning knuckles bent inwards towards the inside of your palm. Try to use all your 4 left hand fingers when you play across the fingerboard (index, middle, ring and pinky). I say this because there are a lot of players who neglect “the pinky” and use only 3 fingers while they solo. It’s true that this is also a way to do it but why not use 2 fingers only in that case or only 1?!? I suggest that you use all 4 as much as you can. The thumb is of course behind the neck (yes some Blues players sometimes use it over the neck but that’s a completely different story!) and here are some suggestions where exactly.
The strings on your guitar are named E, B, G, D, A, E (in the direction from your feet to your head). And sometimes referred to as first (E), second (B), third (G), fourth (D), fifth (A) and sixth (E). When you are playing on first second and third string the thumb is usually “on top” of the neck (just behind the sixth string). When you get to play on the fourth, fifth and sixth string the thumb should “slide” to the “upper middle” section of the back of the neck. The thumb stays “straight” 90% of the time.
The contact between strings and fingers should be done by the very finger tips of course (remember the “claw” configuration of your left hand knuckles!).
Now let’s talk about your right (picking) hand. First of all you should hold the pick with the thumb and index finger of your right hand (I prefer “extra heavy” picks). The pick should be “lying” on the side (more or less) of your index with the thumb coming “on top” of it. It’s very important where you place your hand and where and how you pick the strings! The side of your right hand should be on the bridge, just on the place where the strings are crossing over (this is to enhance your control over the strings allowing you to successfully mute or muffle them eradicating any undesired noise from the strings you are not playing). Your right hand should be a little bit closed – almost as if you were “writing” with it, or holding a cigarette lighter (I don’t smoke by the way!).
The picking motion should come from the wrist of your right hand in 90% of the cases. As I already mentioned your palm should be “fixed” to the bridge so take care that it does not move “up and down” the bridge (from the sixth string to the first string) while you play.
The ideal place to pluck the strings is in the area of the middle pick-up (in the case that you have 3 pickups of course… If you have only 2 then it’s somewhere just “in-between”). The way the pick contacts the string is also an important detail. I suggest that you make the string ”contact” with the pointy end of the pick, while the pick itself should be angled downwards a little with its left side (“closest to the neck”). In this way you are ALMOST playing with the edges and the tip of the pick only. But take care not to exaggerate the angle! This is the most proficient way to pick fast and achieve the best tone as far as I know!
I would also encourage you to practice playing in a standing position because it’s a little different than sitting and playing. While playing live on stage you will mostly be standing so be prepared! Dedicate one fourth of your practice time to playing in a standing position. Adjust the length of your strap so that the guitar is in the area of your stomach (not too low and not too high). You will notice that it’s little harder to play standing. Try bending slightly backwards instead of leaning over your guitar – it helps!
In the end I have to say that all these suggestions and tips are coming from my experience and it’s also the most common “positioning” as far as I can tell used by most guitarists whose playing I appreciate. But remember there are no definite rules and no “one way” to do it! Just take a look at Angus (AC/DC)… I am still trying to figure that one out!
I emphasize that I am a right hand player (as opposed to Jimi Hendrix for example!) and my advices here are intended for right hand players (to avoid confusion).
Now here is something to continue and connect with the previous “Technique Rules!” (November 2000) where I gave you a “map” of the C major scale/A minor. The next important step is to have an “orientation system” while changing keys you are playing the scale patterns in. Knowing the notes on the sixth (E) string is crucial here (example 1). I wrote out all the names of notes from the first fret till the twelfth on 6-string. After the twelfth fret all the notes are repeating in the same consecutive order like from the first fret. I also have to emphasize (for those who might be confused) that F# is same as G Flat, G# is same as A Flat, A# is same as B Flat and C# is same as D Flat.
You also need one “basic minor” and one “basic major” scale pattern to remember attached to a corresponding basic chord shape. Example 2 is a basic minor scale pattern and a minor chord shape. Example 3 is a basic major scale pattern and a major chord shape. Both examples are starting from the “root note” of the scale (tonality). “Root note” in A minor scale (or chord) is A, root in G minor scale (or chord) is G, etc…
So now you can use all (or any of) the notes on the sixth E string as root notes of a tonality and build on adequate “basic” scale (chord) upon it. Example 4 G minor scale, example 5 C minor scale, example 6 A minor scale, example 7 B major scale.
As you can see with “basic scale pattern” plus “sixth string root note” – system you can easily learn to play any scale! But to be able to play “all over the neck” and not stay “boxed” only in one place on the neck you need to go back to previous “Technique Rules!” (November 2000) and check out the “map” again, locate these “basic scale patterns” in the “map” and just “add” those other patterns (in the given order) to these “basic ones” and you will be able to play scales all over the fretboard in any tonality! You will see that the patterns for all the minor and major scales are same – just starting from different place (root note) on the neck.
This is really a simple “easy way around” to learn this without getting too much into the theory (which will eventually step in later).
Feel free to send me any questions about any of this (firstname.lastname@example.org). I hope that all what I said will be of help to you. So explore it! And remember to be persistent and patient.