Studies for Electric Guitar – Etude 1

This etude, inspired by the SongSquad tune “Seven” by Justus West, is a hip tool to review a couple of general aspects of guitar technique as well as how to reconcile music theory with the fretboard.

1. Start out by repeating the first two bars with the indicated ,strict ‘n’ classical’ picking-hand pattern:

In case you’re not yet familiar with these first two chord voicings, the etude is designed in a way that you can form the chord shapes slowly by first starting to fret the melody note, then subsequently adding the accompanying notes from low to high.

2. If you’re already familiar with these voicings, focus on changing from ‘grip to grip’ with as little movement as necessary to develop more technical headroom to play clean and ‘in time’.

3. When you’re comfortable with the basic picking pattern – you don’t have to think too much about which fingers to use, the dynamics are relatively even – try to play the melody notes slightly louder and incorporate the hammer-on / slide legato-technique instead of plucking every note. This shows you how much your picking and fretting hands are ‘in sync’, rhythmically and dynamically.

4. Listen back to the sound quality of the played notes: although different fingers and techniques are being used, the tone and the dynamics should be as consistent as possible. A variety of factors plays into the overall sound, e.g. how each finger attacks the string (substance, angle, speed): try ‘easier’ picking patterns, e.g. only use thumb and index finger to play all the notes. Justus West does this in the initial tune to achieve a more consistent tone.

5. Some music theory for your fretboard fluency: the first two harmonies constitute a simple I – IV, a I – iV that is. How does knowing that help?

Here, the listener recognizes a clear tonal center (major) during the first harmony and ‘something sweet and different’ during the next bar. Now, that’s a quite vague and subjective description for the occurrence of a minor iV-chord but the majority is likely to simply perceive it as a contrasting sound.

Being consciously aware of this structure, established tonal center – contrasting sound, as an interpret, one can either chose how to emphasize or bury it dynamically.

Applying music theory helps to make more conscious musical decisions.

This very common – and therefor practical to be familiar with – shift in tonality also happens in one position of the fretboard: you can work on being able to hear and see which notes make the sonic difference, familiarize yourself with where they are in relation to the ‘home’ tonality (also: develop muscle memory) so the next time you hear a musician opt for a spontaneous minor iV, you’ll know where the crucial notes are on the fretboard.