Diminished Clusters

I’ve always liked the sound of diminished arpeggios. Just by themselves, they have a cool ‘out’ sound that can quickly add some flavor to a melody.

For this example, I will show how I organize the diminished arpeggios into neat little modular ‘clusters’ that can be easily moved around the neck.

There are 4 clusters in all, and they lie on 3 string groups. Linearly, they each move in minor third intervals, so you can shift positions pretty easily once you get the patterns down.

To get started, here are the patterns:

Diminished Clusters


As I mentioned before, these shapes can all be moved up and down the neck in minor thirds, and you’re always easily within reach of the next pattern, so it’s hard to get lost once you can visualize the shapes! Practice each shape separately, then add another, practicing them as a pair, then add the next, etc… Once you have all 4 down, it becomes pretty simple to go anywhere on the fretboard, intertwining with other scales/chords/arpeggio shapes.

Here are some lines over an A7 sound, adding the diminished arps here and there. You can shift between bluesy/jazzy dom7 lines and the diminished stuff to create color and tension. I tried to make it pretty obvious where the dim. stuff is. These are just examples of the sounds, not really great licks to memorize.


For more ideas on using these patterns while playing changes, check this article out.

And if the aliens DO come, tell them I said hello.

6ths Sense

A good way to spice up your rhythm and lead playing is to use 6th intervals as double stops, or 2 notes played at the same time.
The most common guitar riff with 6ths is probably this:

common 6th's

To get some interesting finger exercise and train your hand to find the whole major scale in 6ths, try this example. This is the A major scale harmonized in 6ths. Pay attention to the fingerings on this one…to get the smooth transitions between notes, use the fingerings noted in the tab. Also keep your fingers really close to the strings – don’t lift them too high off the fretboard.

A major 6ths

Try this in all keys, all over the neck. Just knowing where the different 6th intervals are in each position will spark some cool ideas.

Ok, here’s another variation of the 6th, this time mixing the octave or unison in with it. The example is in G major, descending. This kind of thinking opens a ton of possibilities for mixing intervals in rhythm and solos, and also coming up with little counterpoint phrases where two notes are working in different directions, but in the same chord or scale family.

G major 6ths and octaves

Here’s an example of how I might work 6ths into a rhythm phrase – I am also using 3rds in this one.
The key is D major.

6ths rhythm

And finally, a little lick using the 6ths in a bit of a finger twister. I really like sneaking this kind of stuff into solos to get a more harmonic sound…not just single notes all the time. Try this one in different keys and figure out how to do the same thing over a minor and dominant 7th chord sound.

D 6ths lick

Develop that ‘6ths sense’! In a future article I will go into using intervals in partial chords and getting away from the barre chord way of thinking.

Hybrid Picking Rhythm

Since most of your time is spent playing rhythm in a band situation, it’s good to have a few different techniques at hand (sorry for the pun…) when it comes to country/blues rock stuff.

In this example I am just going to show you a basic country-rock type of rhythm, using the pick and fingers technique. I play pretty hard when I pluck the strings with my fingers, so I really have to keep my right hand loose, just barely holding onto the pick. If you tense up your right hand, your wrist will cramp up and your endurance will suffer. Keep it loose!

When you practice this, use a metronome to keep good time and get your picked notes and plucked notes equally loud. The difference in tone that your fingers will make gives the technique a cool funky sound, very aggressive and percussive. Ok, that may have been one too many adjectives! Let’s dig in, shall we?

Here’s a tab of each pattern – it just loops the same pattern for each chord. Notice the picking — flatpick the bass notes, fingerpick the set of strings below. Nice and simple.

Hybrid Rhythm

Once you get comfortable with the basic pattern, add ornaments or accents to make it your own. Just keep in mind the more solid, the better. Too much variation or ornamentation and suddenly you are not groovin anymore. Focus on locking onto the beat.

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Single-String Modes

A great way to learn the characteristic sounds of the major scale modes, and a good way to discourage ‘pattern’ playing, or relying on memorized licks, is to play each mode on a single string. I think I first ran across this idea in the old Mick Goodrick ‘Advancing Guitarist’ book. The important thing is to STAY on the same string…do no play adjacent strings. Easier said than done!

I covered the modes in a previous article if you need a primer. This will be more focused on training your ear.

As I mentioned in the other article, each mode is basically one of three types:

MAJOR: (Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian)
MINOR: (Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian)

My examples use the root note E. You should try this all different keys, on all strings.
I am doing each one in E so you can hear the sound and color of each mode distinctly. My choice of key has nothing to do with the name of the string I am using for my example, it’s just a coincidence. You could just as easily do the exercise on the B, G or any other string.

Okay, Here is a little recap of the modes as compared to their parent major, minor, or half-diminished scale. The bold notes are the ones that really define the characteristic sound of each mode.

Ionian: (Parent Major)
Dorian: Minor w/ SHARP 6
Phrygian: Minor w/ FLAT 2
Lydian: Major w/ SHARP 4
Mixolydian: Major w/ FLAT 7
Aeolian: (Natural Minor)
Locrian: Minor w/ FLAT 2 AND FLAT 5

Here are some sound examples to get you started. I don’t recommend just learning the licks I played here. The whole idea of this exercise is to help develop your ear and ability to use the modes musically, without relying on rote patterns and mechanical functions. To really improvise, you have to break away from the licks and patterns your hands are comfortable with and rely solely on your ears. (Scary huh!)

So, lay down a simple rhythm track with the appropriate chords for each mode, then play over it.
If you have a fancy recording setup, great. If not, a keyboard with loops is fine, a tape recorder or digital recorder, it doesn’t matter. If you’ve gotten this far and don’t have a way to lay down a backing for yourself, back up and get one!

The backing vamp for each of these sounds similar, but I modified the chords for each accordingly. The bassline does have a B natural note, which isn’t part of E locrian (should be a Bb), but we’ll let that slide for now!

Also, you will notice I skipped the parent Major and Relative Minor modes (Ionian, Aeolian.) You should do them as well, but I just wanted to touch on the other modes for these examples. Listen closely for the notes that really define the character of each mode.






Note: At the end of the Locrian example, I started using the half-whole diminished scale, which is a more common (and much better sounding scale) than the locrian mode. The pattern for that scale is simply H-W-H-W-H-W-H-W etc…

Economy Picking Fun

A great tool to add to your arsenal is economy picking.

Economy picking only applies when you’re crossing strings, so it’s really all about reducing right-hand motion as you go from string to string.

At first, it’s a pretty easy concept to get a handle on. Mastering it takes a bit more time.

First, some basics:

The simplest example of economy picking is this:

Economy Example 1

The thing to notice here is that I’m playing two downstrokes in a row when I change strings.

Normally you would alternate pick this, playing D – U – D – U. The repeated DOWN stroke allows you to save the motion required to go below the next string and then pick UP.

Here is a video example showing a whole major scale across 6 strings. (slow)

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And here is the tab for the entire scale:

Economy Example 2

I did use a bit of alternate picking on the high strings to change direction, but you could do the math and figure out patterns that use strict economy picking. I suck at math.

A key point to remember is DON’T BOUNCE YOUR HAND WHEN MOVING ACROSS STRINGS. This blows the whole ‘economy’ concept. Keep your hand moving in the direction of the string change.

Here is a video showing the same pattern up to speed.

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Don’t let the initial benefits of this technique convince you to abandon alternate picking altogether though! There are many situations where this method will not work, such as a simple pentatonic ‘box’ scale, where you play 2 notes per string. Gotcha! You could certainly use some other pentatonic scale patterns to facilitate the technique though.

The most useful patterns for this picking style use odd numbers of notes per string, or combinations of odd on one string and even on the adjacent string(s). It’s all about the repeated stroke when crossing strings, hence the ‘economy’ term.

The hardest part about the technique is making it sound as even and rhythmically locked down as alternate picking. It will take some serious metronome practice to get your pickstrokes nice and even, and not sound like you’re just raking the pick over the strings. Try to make your notes loud, clear and fat, not scratchy and uneven.

Don’t practice with a bunch of distortion…use a straight clean tone and really concentrate on getting nice even notes.

Hybrid Picking 101

The technique I get asked about the most is hybrid picking. I use it all the time, for rhythm as well as lead playing.

I prefer to use a flatpick over a thumbpick, so my technique is to use a flatpick and the middle and ring fingers, occasionally the pinky.

Switching back & forth between the flatpick and finger/flatpick combo becomes second nature once you get the basics.

There are 2 basic ‘rolls’ to start with, the Forward and Reverse rolls, like on a banjo.

Pk = Pick M = Middle R = Ring

hybrid rolls

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Be mindful of your picking hand’s posture and keep it loose. Don’t squeeze the pick too hard. If there’s ANY tension in your right hand, you’re doing something wrong. Relax, shake it out, start again.

Make sure each note is equal in volume and dynamic level.

Here’s a tricky little lick that uses 2 main shapes, over an E9 chord. It can be used over any E7(dominant) type chord.

You could pick each note of this separately, but when you speed it up the hammer-ons smooth it out a bit, so it isn’t quite so staccato sounding.

hybrid lick

Video, complete with clams!

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Experiment with using the pick & finger technique with chords, double-stops, single-note solos, anything where you want to get that snappy attack and freedom of movement in the right hand.

Start each exercise very slowly with a metronome or drum machine, working up the tempo gradually. Keep that hand loose!

Microphone Placement

Microphone placement is an important piece of the tone puzzle, so it’s good to know how your tone can be changed by simply moving the mic a little bit.

The basic thing to remember is that generally, the closer to the center of the speaker, the brighter your sound. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but in my experience that’s the scoop.

Another factor is distance – the closer the mic to the speaker, the more bottom end and low midrange you get. The examples below should shed some light on the matter…

The gear used for the test is a Les Paul w/BurstBucker Pro bridge pkp into a Fender 65 Reissue Deluxe Reverb, Eminence Red White & Blues spkr. Volume on 2.5, Treble 3, Bass 3. SM57 microphone straight into an Aphex mic pre into protools.

No effects or extra EQ, compression, etc… And no volume adjustments between mic placements.

The first example is the sm57 at 4 common positions, 1/4 inch from the grillcloth. Click the red dots to listen. Notice how the sound gets a little darker and lower as you move away from the center.

The next example is with the sm57 3 inches away from the grill, same positions. Notice how the sound is thinner, with less low-end and quieter volume.

The next example is another variation you see a lot of people do, with the mic off-axis. I included 2 positions here. Tone is darker, a bit queiter, and has a slight midrange coloration happening.

(Click the microphones to hear)

20 Tips for Gigging Guitarists

  1. Show up on time. Guitarists are irritating enough already. Late ones are unbearable.
  2. Know the material. You might think you ‘smoothed over’ that clam…you didn’t. When in doubt, don’t play.
  3. Mind your volume. Playing softly is no fun, but if you can’t hear the rest of the band, you’re too loud.
  4. Less than 5% of most songs is a guitar solo.
  5. Re-read #4
  6. Use the least amount of distortion you are comfy with. Everything you play will be easier to hear.
  7. When the sound guy mics the dead-center of your speaker, wait till he leaves and move it close to the edge.
  8. Be nice to the sound crew. They can make your life MUCH more miserable than you can make theirs.
  9. Re-read #4 again.
  10. In the studio, play half of what you ‘can’ play. Simple works.
  11. On a gig, make sure your tuner is on your pedalboard or otherwise ‘in-line’ with your guitar for instant access.
  12. Always carry business cards…even after you blatantly violate #2 and #4, someone may still want your number.
  13. Learn the proper way to wind cables. Nobody wants to play jump rope on stage.
  14. Get your setup/teardown routine down pat. Speed is key when you’re sharing the stage with other bands. And NEVER pack stuff up on stage – take it offstage first.
  15. Always carry extra fuses. If your amp has tubes, carry them too. Tape the fuses in the back of the amp.
  16. Warm up backstage. You’re not going to generate a lot of crowd excitement or anticipation if you’ve been standing there noodling for half an hour.
  17. Room acoustics have every bit to do with your sound as the rest of your gear.
  18. Plug your gear into the same electrical circuit as the PA. If you don’t, your mic can become a taser.
  19. Plug your amp and pedalboard into a circuit that shares the same ground as the P.A.
  20. Re-read #4 and #16