Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ditones chronicle: guitar practice and my mistakes

It's always good to review your practice and see whether it's matching your goals.
Let's see what I did in August and plans for September.

In the previous month I was getting acquainted with the Ditones book. Basically I went through the first 3 lessons which constitute the foundamentals of the book: 2 digits ditones, 3 digits ditones, 4 digits ditones respectively. I was confident with the material but it was not perfect, so I tried to consolidate it.

I focused on the last 3 exercises of lesson 2 (kapott, keelbert and the super sayan level) and on the last four of lesson 3 (skip, add, pelota and the super sayan level). I start every session with some nice and slow arpeggio I alternate picked, as a warm up, then I moved to a slow 40 bpm kapott to get the picking right and then start with keelbert and the string skipping super sayan of level (ex. 2.6). I played both exercises at a speed that for me was slow (40 bpm), mid (60) and fast (75 or slightly more).

After an hour of these stuff, I moved to lesson 3. In particular I spent most of the time on 3.4 which features 4 digits legato.

ditones book cover

I then add something more musical to it before closing the session. I played some riff from she's my sin (Nightwish), far beyond the sun (Malmsteen), crazy train (Ozzy Osbourne), losfer words (Iron Maiden). Nothing more than 3/4 minutes per riff.

That went on for at least 10 days. I improved some metronomes a bit, adjusting and figuring out where I needed to practice more and where I might try to get a +5 on the bpm.

Then I realized I was doing some mistakes:
1) I needed far better keelbert and legato to even attempt the sayan levels: they were fun to be attempted at first, but I did not gain that much out of them and especially the skips of 2.6 are terribly hard for now to be done properly;
2) in practicing 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 I chose a finger per day: all ditones starting with II, then all the chart for III. For me that was a problem. I overfocused on a small amount of combinations, did far too many repetitions and got stuck into speed barriers;
3) I practiced too much with the metronome forgetting about the backing tracks. You might think that's not so bad, but with an exercise as pelota that raises its bpm as it goes on I got sloppy when playing the exercise for real.

I then shift the focus on fewer exercises (keelbert and 3.4) playing them on a smaller amount of the fretboard but practicing the whole ditones set each day. I also reduced the repetitions at different bpms focusing on rhythm and trying to play the exercise at a single slow tempo (40-50 for 16-th notes; 60-75 for triples). To get the faster tempo I used the burst technique used in some Ditones exercises: I "just" played 32-th notes rather than 16-notes and 16-th notes triplets instead of 8th-notes triplets.

It was a mess at first! Rhythm and groove came to be a problem as well. I learnt that a fingering or lick or exercise is not yours until you can play it confortably at different metric divisions. This double time study also allowed me to appreciate small increasements: I dared to play 3.4 at 65, getting it at speed at what would be 130 bpm (16-notes). That was something I even feared to try!
Of course, when that ways of studying prevents you from trying an exercise at a certain speed, you spend some extra time practicing it at the speed you want.

My Ditones improved a lot.

Mh, what about songs and more musical things?
I made progresses on losfer words and I now I want to go through it all, solo included. That's gonna be quite a challenge!
I kept only far beyond the sun riff and add blinded by fear (At the Gates) three riffs - starting really slow - and also some power metal 16-notes (Knights of the cross - Grave Digger). My idea is to use them to build aggressive groove, be accurate and improve my right hand.

These were another 10 days of intense practice.
Then I had to stop for a while but I'm still thinking about ditones and guitar, despite the fact that at present I can't practice. I rethought my schedule and goals and had some more ditones-related ideas. More on that soon!

Related Posts
How to Practice guitar: overview
Guitar practice tips: Overcoming speed limits and breaking speed barriers
Ditones how to: what are ditones and how to use them part I

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Guitar Exercises Ditones Variations on Keelbert

The importance of creating some variations on your exercises has never been stressed enough in talking about how to practice the guitar (link vecchio post).

Here is my take on Keelbert, DITONES book ex. 2.6.

It is a classic three-notes per string ascending sextuplets pattern which repeat on every two strings:


[you got the idea].

Paul Gilbert rocks

As both Paul Gilbert and Kee Marcello used to do, rather than picking through all the notes you can give your picking hand some rest by way of playing half of the sextuplet with legato. Thus, you have this (legato is by way of hammer on (h), I further put it in bold:


This is the patter Keelbert wants you to practice.

After a month and more practicing the exercise I realized that in order to have the legato working in a smoother way it was usefull to play the Keelbert mixed picking and legato pattern and then play the whole sequence with alternate picking.
This gave me confidence and suggested me to play also the second half of the sextuplets with legato, as follows:


I now practice my pick & legato variation of Keelbert with the following picking patterns: standard Keelbert; sextuplet-legato; strict alternate picking




For each pattern I ascend, switch up position, descend, switch up a position, ascend again, switch up another posititon, descend again.

Of course you could have much more variation: what about doing it with a different number of ascending/descending? What about inserting a fourth picking hand patter (say, economy picking?), or a fifth (pick the first half of the sextuplet and use legato on the second)?
Come up with your own variations and share them!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How to practice guitar: overview

The issue of how to practice guitar is one of the most important if you want to bring get something out of your guitar playing. That's an overview of the problems involved with guitar practice.

1. You have to be aware of your approach to guitar practice;
2. You need to know what to practice (and what not or practice);
3. You need to know what might go wrong when practicing the guitar.

Let's start bottom up.

Guitar practicing: the wrong way
The idea of having to practice might make you quit guitar playing :(
You feel you are doing guitar exercises but you are going nowhere, and your musical skills are not improving. Practicing has to be fun, after all we are playing guitar which is an endless joy as Steve Vai put's it.

Further, there are different ways in which you can hurt both yourself and your playing while playing practing in a bad way (always playing slow, always playing fast, playing in a wrong position). [If you want to know more than this quick overview mention just google the topic.]

Guitar practice: the 3 big areas
Roughly there are three sort of things worth knowing BEFORE planning your guitar practice routine.
In order to produce music you have to deal with:

(i) technical things (alternate picking, sweep picking, tapping... and DITONES of course!);
(ii) practical things (playing rhythm, finding the right groove and feeling, be comfortable while jamming, getting the right tune);
(iii) theory things (music theory, sight reading, harmony, study of improvisation, ear training, making transcription).

You first need two different plans: (1) a short term one (e.g.: I want to play song X) and (2) a long term one (e.g.: I want to be confortable with the techniques of song X, I want to play in a cover band; I want to know what's going on in the music I play).

Then, according to what your plans are, you choose on what to focus in your practicing sessions.
The idea is that you should focus on all the aspects of playing music you are interesting into for every: (i) single practice session; (ii) mid term practice session (say, a week); (iii) long term practice session (a month).
You need to be able to track your progress and goals.

Guitar practice: your approach
Practicing is music in another way.
Find your balance between technique strictly speaking (in my routine, ditones exercises) but don't limit to them. Edit them constantly, practice as a support to the song you are studying and learn to see the exercise you are focusing come out in real playing situation (as happened here with Yngwie Malmsteen's Far Beyond the sun)

guitar practice schedule

Monday, August 11, 2014

Far beyond the sun: Malmsteen with ditones (Guitar practice)

As I said many times, ditones are a state of mind. Here I'll demonstrate this taking a small fragment from the "rhythm" of Yngwie Malmsteen most famous "Far Beyond the Sun", that opens his Rising Force (1984) album.

Let's consider the last two bars before the Yngwie's presentation lick. We have a little dimineshed arpeggio (2 notes per string from D to low E) and a small scalar fragment that crashes on a power chords.

Now think ditones: the arpeggio is nothing but the tremendous 1.5 exercise in which we had 3 groups of 2 notes per string, resulting in a sextuplet (here we have two triplets). The fingers are 4 and 1.
Go back to that exercise and repeat it.

To get the Yngwie phrase, mix that with pelota (3.6), i.e. add a position shift everytime you change string. Here you obtain:


Now for the scale sequence you'll have a burst section. The notes are twice as faster (8-th triplets, no more quarter notes!) and you have something you are used to in Keelbert (ditones 134)


you than seal going back as follows:


Beware of the position shift between 2-1-power chords.
And remember that Yngwie's tune is a half step down (Eb).

Still worried there's no exercise here?
You can obtain a nice arpeggio version of 1.5 and pelota, extending this idea and having something musical. Go and figure it out youself and comment with the exercise below, if you wish.

Remember to subscribe and share your ditones journey!

diminished arpeggio scheme

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Guitar practice tips: Overcoming speed limits and breaking speed barriers

Have you ever got stuck into an exercise or passage or song you cannot play?
For me that's the situation with lesson 3 ex 5 of the ditones book which is call "add".
The exercise is a 115 bpm one, going vertical with 4 digits ditones (see the ditones how to), each time adding a string (5th and 4th; 5th, 4th, 3rd; etc). I'm stuck at around 100-108, dipending on the days, even if I am able to play the next exercise "pelota" - 3.6 - that features some speed bursts at 120).

I play it slow everyday, practice with care but, no matter what, I won't get it at 115.
There's some psychological trick involved here.

So, what can we do about that?

There's no bpm you can't beat.
The hard part is reaching a certain bpm with your hands doing a certain exercise. Here's how the psychology goes. Take an easy example: 200 bpm. A pretty fast thing, though.

1) You can "beat" 200 bpm playing quarter notes.
2) You can play eight notes with some practice.

With some practice you can

3) Get stright 16th notes on time is more tricky, but you can still do it...


4) Nailing down a 1234 exercise rather than a simple empty low E string can still seem impossible...

But, wait! There is always a way to play a certain bpm. Steps 1-3 proved you that. It is not that 200 bpm is too fast for you, there's no tempo you have to fear. 200 bpm is now too complicated for you to get 16 notes 1234 in an accurate and coordinated way.

So you can start working on 1234 at 100 bpm or 120. You may then reach 140 bpm with is something that allows you to play the theme from this video...

Turning to practical things, this mean that in order to avoid the "here I am again at the bpm I can't play" panic or psychological breakdown, you have to start feeling confortable at that bpm or even higher. That's a list of the things to do:

1) Just play a simple 8-th notes rhythm, then try a few licks on that beat, play quarter notes, eight notes and 16-notes and get confortable.
2) Then play some easier ditones, such as that on a single string and one on two strings.
3) Now go back to your exercise and you'll be surprised how much more confortable and more relaxed you feel. The beat won't seem to fast and no good for you.

So you only have to coordinate you picking and fretting hand at that beat. Good luck!

Remember to coordinate with that blog and subscribe. And please comment telling how your ditones journey is going!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Speed is the product of lazyness: Guitar techniques, shredding and rhythm (Guitar practice)

Is speed the product of lazyness?

This may sounds controversial or paradoxical, but it’s true indeed. Watch your favourite guitarist (here in the vid there’s Guthrie Govan with his wonderful Waves) and look carefully at his hands.
It seems they are not moving as they should: there are way to many notes coming out from such a few movements. Accuracy which is the base of speed - that's why we practice slow - somehow incorporates lazyness. In particular:

picking hand: there’s almost no motion, even when alternate picking gets really intense;
fretting hand: all the fingers are close to the strings and the frets.

It takes time to recognize which fret is fretting and how the picking hand is moving. I remember watching a video by Michael Romeo of Symphony X in which it was hard to figure out which fingers were fretting and which were not.

Unfortunately, this laziness is something you need to train. Here are two tips on what to focus.

picking hand: limit the motion, keep it short, do not wave the pick, move on a stright line (sweep picking helps you a lot to build this perpendicular to the strings approach, which does not imply that your picking angle has to be flat);

fretting hand: to not throw away your fingers once you fret a note. Keep them down close to the neck.

Concerning the picking hand, here is a practical list to start working on the perpendicular lazy approach:

1. grab your guitar and assume your picking position;
2. determine the area of the guitar in which you spend most of the time picking (if you have troubles, play a lick or exercise or song and find out). Consider this as a useful occasion to record yourself playing;
3. draw a line perpendicular to the strings on the body of your guitar, so that you can visualize your picking line (you can use some tape or refer to some line between the pickups. Mind your guitar body if you have some good guitar or if you are a Strat-purist);
4. to track your progresses, take a marker or highlighter and draw the same line, this time on your strings. The more you pick there the more it should go away (I've been told violin and viola players have to erase the marks while learning the fretting positions;
5. enjoy your practice and try to concentrate on your picking line. This shall also help to focus on making shorter movements, improving your lazyness and accuracy.

Ron Thal / Bumblefoot / Buckethead
[image source:]

Take a look at this wonderfull guitar lesson by Bumblefoot / Ron Thal on in which he stress how important it is to play with the beat at... 40 bpm.
Get ready to get really lazy, but don't forget to subscribe and share: join the ditones journey!

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