In Lesson 1, I explained and demonstrated how to hold the guitar and how to employ the proper placement of the right and left hands. We can now apply this knowledge to some technical exercises that will help us build proper technique while concurrently learning the note names and notation for the guitars entire range. But first, it is important to understand how the notes on the guitar are organized!
The six open strings on the guitar, from low pitch to high pitch, are: E, A, D, G, B, E. (Example 1a). Notice that each string is numbered with a circle around it (from low to high) in descending order: Low E = 6, A = 5, D = 4, G = 3, B = 2, High E = 1.
The open strings on the guitar are arranged (low to high pitch) in the interval order of perfect 4th, perfect 4th, perfect 4th, major 3rd, perfect 4th (more on this later!).
The guitar is a transposing instrument it sounds one octave lower than written. The piano, violin, C flute, oboes etc are non-transposing instruments. The written range for a non-transposing instrument is the same as its sounding range. For example: The middle C note on the piano looks like this: (Ex. 2). To match that same pitch on the guitar, we would need to play the C note that is written one octave higher than middle C (Ex. 3). Now, the guitar and piano are playing the same pitch (unison). Another example of the guitar as a transposing instrument occurs when one tunes the guitar to an A = 440 tuning fork. The guitars open 5th string A is actually sounding one octave lower than the A 440 tuning fork. On the piano, A 440 is the sixth white key above middle C.
Example (1a) illustrates the guitars written range in treble clef (G clef) while example (1b) illustrates the guitars sounding range, which is scored in bass clef (F clef) one octave lower than the written range. Music composed for the guitar is primarily written in treble clef (transposed up one octave from concert pitch) but some composers may choose to notate the guitars actual sounding range in bass clef and treble clef (for the higher pitches) on two staves in order to clearly illustrate contrapuntal movement.
Example (4) illustrates the written range of the first octave on each of the six strings. For example: The 6th string (low E string) is an open string (not fretted) and is marked with a small o (open string). The number underneath each of the successive notes in the example refers to the fret position (i.e. 1 = 1st fret, 2 = 2nd fret etc). The intervallic distance between the open string and first fret is one half step. The intervallic distance between each successive fret is also one half step. There are two naturally occurring half steps in music that is based upon the 12 notes of the chromatic scale: B to C and E to F (see sidebar). These naturally occurring half steps are perhaps easier to visualize on a piano keyboard. There is no black key between the white keys of notes B and C and E and F. Except for these two instances, black keys do appear between each of the white keys on a piano keyboard. (Use the letter names A through G and their corresponding accidentals -- sharps, flats, naturals -- when naming or notating pitch.) With this in mind, we can determine all the notes on the 6th string of the guitar up to the 12th fret (1st octave, E to E) being careful to observe the naturally occurring half steps. (Later on, we will examine the notes above the 12th fret on each string.)
Open 6th string = E, 1st fret = F, 2nd fret = F#, 3rd fret = G,
4th fret = G#, 5th fret = A, 6th fret = A#, 7th fret = B, 8th fret = C,
9th fret = C#, 10th fret = D, 11th fret = D#, 12th fret = E.
Notice that there is a naturally occurring half step between the 6th string open E and the F that appears on the 1st fret, 6th string. The next half step (2nd fret, 6th string) will retain the letter name of F but will now include the sharp sign (F#). The next half step (3rd fret, 6th string) will employ the next letter name in the alphabet, G. Continue in this manner to the 12th fret. Remember that there is another naturally occurring half step between B and C (7th and 8th frets, 6th string). Play, recite and write out the notes from the open E to the octave E on the 12th fret, 6th string. Once you reach the 12th fret, play, recite and write out the notes in descending order, describing the notes in terms of flats rather than sharps (i.e. E, Eb, D, Db, C, B, Bb, A, Ab, G, Gb, F, E).
Today, much (but certainly not all) of the music from around the world is based upon the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale: C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B. Each of these pitches may be named or spelled in terms of their enharmonic equivalent (essentially the same note, but a different name). For example, a C# (C sharp) may be enharmonically spelled as a Db (D flat). A Gb may be enharmonically spelled as an F#. An Fb (F flat) may be enharmonically spelled as an E. A Bbb (B double flat) may be enharmonically spelled as an A. However, singers and players of fretless instruments may evoke differences between enharmonic notes that are represented in terms of sharps or flats. For example, performer may play an F# slightly higher in pitch and a Gb slightly lower in pitch.
Technical Exercise No. 1: (Ex. 5)
First, make sure you are holding the guitar properly with both hands in their proper positions. Make sure your guitar is in tune. (If needed, use an electronic tuner. Ill explain how to tune the guitar to concert pitch A 440 in an upcoming lesson).
Place your first finger (index finger) of your left hand just behind the first fret, 6th string, note F. With your right hand, play the F note using a down stroke with your pick (or thumb) on the 6th string. Without disturbing the placement of the first finger of your left hand, add your second finger to the second fret, 6th string, and play the note F# with an up stroke. Again, without disturbing the placement of the first and second fingers, add your third finger to the third fret, 6th string, and play the note G with a down stroke. Add your fourth finger to the fourth fret, 6th string in the same manner and play the note G# with an up stroke.
Perform this exercise in descending order in terms of flats (Ab, G, Gb, F & E) by removing one finger at a time. Repeat this exercise ascending and descending on the same string (6th string) on frets 5 through 8, then frets 9 through 12 making certain that your hand position is correct and that you are reciting the name of each note and recognizing their placement on the staff. Perform the same exercise on each of the remaining 5 strings. In this way, you are learning all the notes on the guitar up to the 12th fret.
Observe both hands carefully to make sure that you are performing this exercise correctly and to instill good habits.
Left Hand Observations:
1. Make sure that you are playing with the tips of the fingers just behind each fret.
2. Make sure that the third finger joint on each of your fingers does not collapse.
3. Make sure that your wrist is straight and your palm is perpendicular to the fingerboard. Do not twist your wrist pulling your fingers away from their intended target notes.
4. Make sure that your thumb is placed on the top third of the guitar neck adjacent to the 2nd finger.
5. Make sure you do not press too hard, pulling and bending the string. Relax!
Right hand Observations:
1. Make sure that your right arm is comfortably positioned over the top lower bout.
2. Make sure that your wrist is relaxed and straight.
3. Make sure that you do not excessively clamp down on the pick.
4. For now, make sure that pick is perpendicular to the string and only the tip of the pick strikes the string. Later on, we are going to turn the pick slightly to affect different timbres.
5. Make sure that you are employing alternate picking: down/up strokes
About Stephen Salerno
STEPHEN SALERNO (guitar/composer/recording artist) is an active performer of both Jazz and Classical music. He has performed in Europe, Asia, Puerto Rico, the United States and Canada...
However, the full benefit of Technical Exercise No. 1 is only achieved through diligent practice using the metronome. Set the metronome to 40 bpm (beats per minute). Each click or beat of the metronome will indicate one quarter note pulse (quarter note = 40 bpm). Listen very carefully to the metronome and place the notes of the exercise exactly in time with the click. Then divide the metronome click (quarter note = 40 bpm) into two equal parts (eighth notes) and perform the same exercise (Ex. 5a). Then divide the metronome click into three equal parts (eighth note triplets) (Ex. 5b). Finally, divide the metronome click into four equal parts (sixteenth notes) (Ex. 5c). Once you have mastered this exercise, increase the quarter note pulse each time by 5 bpm. However, try to refrain from increasing the quarter note pulse until you can accurately play the exercise with the metronome click at the slower tempo utilizing the proper left and right hand position. There is a greater benefit attained by slow, diligent practice than there is by inaccurately playing something at a faster speed. The old axiom: Practice slowly, play fast.
There are many variations to this exercise. Try to incorporate slurs (hammer-ons, pull-offs) to each of the rhythmic groupings. Example (6) shows one possibility.