Guitar Scales Exercises

How to build precision, accuracy and right-left hands coordination

In this series, JamPlay’s Metal-Guru, Kris Norris is going to show you some exercises to help get your left and right hands coordinated, as well as increasing your speed. Mr. Norris was heavily influenced bySwedish Metal bands like In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and Edge of Sanity. Kris is a graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Music. After graduating, Kris spent some time as an instructor for Mars Music, then went on to form, a locally successful band called Darkest Hour. He has since moved on to other projects, and is sponsored by Digitech, Morley, EMG, ESP, InTune, and Peavey.

One of the first things you may notice, if you remember the minor pentatonic video lesson, is that Kris is using the ‘box’ hand positions. This has a lot of advantages, one being that most of the notes are going to be right under where your fingers naturally hit the neck, so you don’t have to move your left-hand much. The other advantage is that you don’t have to know the names of each note. The position works all up and down the neck, so all you have to know is the numbers, or the song key. It goes a long way towards helping you to not become confused, or get lost in the middle of a riff. Mixing up the notes in the chromatic like he is doing really helps to develop finger dexterity.

Different Tuning

The next thing you may pick up on is that his guitar is tuned down one whole step (E string tuned down to D, etc….) This is not uncommon, especially among professional musicians. I keep several of my guitars tuned a half-step down, to make it easier to sing in some keys, and to play some acoustic and jazz licks in odd keys and still get nice resonant open-string sounds. I also play in a lot of alternate tunings. Just remember, when he is playing a F scale on his guitar, it will be an Eb (E to F is a natural half-step) for you, unless you tune down a step.

You have to know your scales

If you ever decide to be a lead player, then an excellent command of scales is a critical skill. It needs to be automatic, and that takes practice, practice, practice, and then…you guessed it….more practice. It has to be automatic because when you are playing with a band, or on stage, you need to be concentrating on the whole sound, the audience, the drummer, the bass player, and anticipating what may happen, so you can react to it, and not be worrying about what note comes next on your guitar. Another advantage to using the ‘box’ pattern on scales is that even if you do hit a wrong note, chances are it will still fit in the scale, and no one but you (and maybe the bass player, who is probably giving you real nasty looks right about now…) will ever know…..

Always use a metronome

For just exercising, Kris’s suggestion to practice the scales at a higher speed than you will be normally playing them is OK. But from experience, I will caution you that when you are leaning actual riffs to a song, you should play them at the right speed, because otherwise, when you learn them fast, then the band starts playing them at the right speed, it will be hard for you to stay with the music because you will have an unconscious tendency to run away with it, and get ahead of the beat. Or, maybe it’s just me…only you can decide for sure….. Also, playing with a metronome, at least while you are learning, is a real good idea. It helps you to develop an automatic internal timing, and soon, you won’t need a metronome any more to stay in-time. Again, it’s all in how much you practice.

From scales to riffs

In the next section, Kris is mixing up the notes in the scale to show how riffs can be easily created just by variations on the scale notes. If you practice these enough (although I have never personally experienced ‘enough’ practice), it will become automatic, and then anytime you want to take a ‘ride’, whatever pops into your brain will automatically flow to your fingers without any conscious thought. That’s when playing guitar really becomes satisfying. You have become one with your axe. You have reached guitar Nirvana.

Push yourself to the limit

When Kris is mixing these up, especially with the ‘string-skipping’ technique, remember, this is just arpeggios and flat-picking…nothing to get stressed about. This is righteous stuff. Go slow, take your time, and practice. You’ll develop speed when it’s time. It’s not a race, or contest, and winning is just being able to play…at whatever level you can reach. Everyone is different, and no one is a complete master of the guitar. We all have our strong and weak points. A case in point: When Kris tries to play the scale at 173 beats-per-minute, he is not even close to being in-time. But there are some players that could play that scale at that speed. At 196, he is in outer-space somewhere, or in an alternate dimension. I’m guessing he hit the wall at around 165, but, the point is that he is trying. Never stop trying to push the envelope.

Practice without distorsion

I have to agree with Kris about practicing without distortion when you are trying to learn new licks. I am not a big fan of distortion, anyway. In my opinion, it just destroys the beautiful sound of your guitar, but that’s just me. One of my electric guitars is a 1957 Gibson ES-135. Playing it with distortion would be like using an Arabian show-horse to pull a plow (IMHO). Anyway, distortion can mask mistakes that you need to be able to hear while you are learning. Save the Shredder for when you have learned the licks.

Now, you have enough tools to work on to keep you busy for quite some time. Learn them, then conquer the musical world with your brilliance…….

Keep on rocking….

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