It All Stars Somewhere
So I’ve been farting around with a left-handed guitar now for all of two days and I’m getting a solid reminder of what it’s like to be a beginner again. The difference between now and when I actually did begin playing the guitar is now I know stuff… I think. I have a number of scales under my belt and a pallet of chords and arpeggios to choose from on a whim. I’ve got the feel for a variety of techniques to colorize my style. I have a developed perspective on what it is to be a guitarist.
This is an interesting mentality to have while still being a beginner. Being a beginner at something you’re not a beginner at is… weird to say the least.
As I tried every last trick I know how to do with my right hand from pinches that came out as fret buzzing pops to sweeps that morphed into a clunky slapping across the strings I began seeking something more focused to expedite improvements.
I’ve since isolated the primary places for improvement into two categories. The left hand (picking) and the right hand (fretting). In this issue of Guitar-Muse Awesomely I’ll be focusing on my picking hand.
My left hand is now in charge of picking. In its novice state of undeveloped muscles it tires quickly and lacks the muscle memory to hit the strings, or at least the strings I want to hit.
May the Funk Be With You
One of the most profound impacts on my sense of rhythm comes from the time I’ve spent working with funk guitar. The style is based around 1/16 notes so it’s already a handy way to build stamina. Past that all you need to do is bust out your metronome so you know when you’re off time, start slowly, and keep it steady until you get it perfect, then increase the speed.
Now the thing about funk is that while it’s based around 1/16 notes it’s an excellent way to introduce a variety of rhythms to keep your muscles guessing and prevent getting stuck in habits.
Take Fig. 1 for example. It’s a 1/16 note pattern that alternates down strokes and up strokes while alternating between the top three strings and the bottom three. So far this has prevailed as the best way to jump start my muscles into a consistent and strong rhythm (though my sense of rhythm is still about as stable as a radionuclide).
After that the next step becomes controlling when you hit the strings you want. The hand motion will be the same down/up pattern, as is shown in Fig. 2, but you’ll pick and choose when you actually hit the strings and when you bypass them for either a rest or a sustained chord.
And a Moment of Metal
While funk so far has been getting me through more effectively metal has been a good runner up in styles that have helped as well. Most of the metal I listen to is both speed and rhythmically driven so a lot of the principles from the funk section remain the same. They’re just applied a bit differently.
Fig. 3 shows a similar 1/16 note rhythm, but instead of playing chords or dead notes you’re chugging away at one string in the same alternating down/up pattern, or alternate picking as it’s commonly called. Since this is all focused on the picking hand my examples are void of anything past dead notes. As you get the feel for things you can worry about what your fretting hand is doing along the way.
Fig. 4 takes the same rhythm from Fig. 2, but applies it in the same manner as Fig. 3. The picking hand makes the same down/up 1/16 note pattern, but not you’re picking and choosing when to actually hit the strings. Like before it comes down to getting the metronome out and starting slowly. No real surprise there by now.
That’s it for now. These are just a small selection of the many alternatives that can be taken to get your arm kick started into shape. When focusing on your picking hand it’s best to consider many different rhythm exercises. It will help to keep you from getting stuck in a rut and help you find something that works for you. Just because this has been working for me doesn’t mean it will for you. It’s all in the name of not plucking around randomly and hoping for the best.
Happy playing, everyone.