Articulations, pt.2

Students often ask how can i sound like player x, or what can I do with these scales, or where do i go from here, or how do i create melodies?

When we first learn scales, we learn the physical aspects (where to place our fingers, righ t and left hand coordination, etc.) and patterns on the fretboard. If we're singing every note we play then scales help to strengthen the mind-ear-hand connection.

None of these things actually tell us what to do with the scales we learn. We should think of scales as being a set (a subset really) of possible tones, like a set of letters or a set of paints (a pallette).
Given a set of letters, we could start combining them to form strings of letters (words) and consider the worth or effect of those words, maybe then try to create poetry and prose out of those words from those letters.
Give many students the same assignment, and they will return radically different works. Using the same words even, different writters will create different compositions.
Likewise, though 2 painters may both use the exact same palette, they will create different paintings, based on their intentions, medium, subject, and skill.
Simply painting with the same palette or using the same words will not cause you to write the same as someone else.

Likewise using the same scale as someone else will not cause you to sound like someone else.
The scale we use is like the painters palette. Using the same scale that player x uses will not make you sound like player x. (it may be part of the sound though). So the scale becomes only a small part of our sound.

What then are the other parts of the sound? What else can we do? What do we do with these scales?

We will look at some beginning strategies of dealing with melodic structures.

We will start with a single note.
Are you flatpicking, fingerpicking, or some combination?
Each has their techniques that affect the sound of a single note.

This is not a lesson on technique (and indeed many of the coming techniques discussed deserve lessons themselves), but it's useful to allude to various techniques in the discussion.

Starting with the flatpick:
Downstroke or upstroke?
A trained ear can hear the difference, there is a difference in pressure between the two.

practice playing a note using only downstrokes, only upstrokes, and alternating up and downstrokes.

as a technique excercise, alt pick the note and strive for an eveness of tone between up and down strokes.

A normal upstroke goes through the string horizontally. A popped note; however, starts from under the string (most often heard on the bass and in funk music).
* note: popping creates a sharper attack on the string than regular picking.

Left hand finger pressure:
The tone produced from the guitar is tremendously affected by left hand pressure. With the minimal amount of pressure, you produce harmonics. With an extreme amount of pressure the strings will scream. Applying and releasing pressure will affect duaration as well.

Staccato notes
Written in standard notation with a dot over the note. The staccato note is produced by quickly stopping the note afterwards (it has a short, sharp decay). This can be done with a fretted note by releasing the pressure without removing the finger. For an open note, stop the string by placing a finger on the string.

A straight horizontal line is written over the note in standard notation. Play the note for its full duration . The portato affects the one note is is written over (contrast with legato below).

Notes that are tied together so that there is no silence between them. On the guitar this is often achieved by using hammer-ons and pull-offs. In standard notation a curved line is drawn above the passage to be performed legato. the word legato can also be placed at the beginning of the music or section to suggest its use throughout.

Right-Hand String Attack:
Back to the picking hand, the angle and force with which you attack the string as well as where on the neck you pick the string will affect the sound.

Picking at different parts of the neck.
Pick a note (fretted), and a chord in the lower frets and practice picking directly above the soundhole (or pickups), 1/2 inch away from the bridge, at the end of the neck, on top of the neck (around 12th fret). Notice how the same note changes with where you pick the string.

Pick velocity/pressure.
Pick a soft picking technique, a medium and a hard picking technique. pick a slow, medium, and fast speed of picking. Use the same note and pick right over the soundhole throughout. play combinations of speed and pressure and notice how it affects the sound.

Pick Angle.
The direction you pick in, and the angle of attack of the pick on the string affect the sound of the note. try the following and note the differences in sound.
* pick down, pick up.
* push pick through the string (allowing the string to violently slide off the pick - caution, string might break).
* pull string up with pick (popping).
* pick with the tip of the pick.
* Pick with the broad side of the pick.
* pick with the rounded corner of pick.

A small greater than sign > over a note means that note should be accented, or played louder (with more force) than the other notes around it.

Bending speed and eveness:
Breaking up the bend into the parts: bend (or prebend), hold, and release (or reverse bend), we can look more conciously at the bend. When looking at the bend and reverse bend we should consider how quickly, and how evenly we bend . It should be a concious decision. Do we go for the slow bend or quick? Is it even throughout or is it punched at one point or drawn out at another?

Alt vs. Econ picking
Alternate picking - strict switching between up and down strokes. Economy picking - Alt. picking but when changing strings always pick in the direction of the string you are changing to. Economy picking makes it more efficient but a constant alt pick has a tonal consistency that econ picking is missing.

Tremelo picking
A technique commonly heard in mandolin playing. In standard notation three lines are drawn through the stem of the notes. tremelo picking involves rapid alt picking of the notes (intervals, chords). A common mistake is to hold the pick too tightly. Loosen the grip on the pick as much as possible without the pick flying out of your hand.

Palm Muting
Palm muting is usually notated with the initials p.m. above the staff or tab. gently place the picking hand (side of the hand) across all 6 strings. Can be done with pick or fingerpicking. Place "palm" close to the bridge, be sure not to press too hard so as to completely dampen the strings.

"let ring"
When "let ring" is written above a piece of music, the durations should not be stopped merely because the duration is over. Let the string ringout until another note is played on the string, the finger moves off the string, or the note dies.

Along with popping, often heard on bass in funk music. Place thumb in parallel with the strings and attack/hammer/bang strings with thumb. Small controlled slaps are advised over large movements. The sound is more consistent, and there's less chance of splitting your thumb open (or having to tape it up). If you choose to slpa you might consider wearing something to cover the thumb (such as a cut-off thumb pick).

While there are plenty of other techniques, the lesson for today follows:

Consider the following single-string scale fragments. These fragments are found in multiple scales. By practicing various articulations with these scale fragments, we improve our ability to fluidly play the scales that they relate to.

Chromatic (m3)

1/2 step

W step
















starting with the m3 chromatic fragment:


we consider 4 quarter notes say on the 6th string starting 5th fret with say alternate picking. Play and repeat.


We consider accenting. Place the accent on one of the beats and repeat for half-a-minute. Consider the feeling created by the accent. Change which note gets accented and repeat. Go through all 4 notes playing one of them accented. Then play the combinations of two notes accented. Continue 3 notes, how does this feel compared to 1 or 2. Is there any point in accenting all four? Think about it.

Staccato vs. legato exercises:

Using the string pattern:

  1       3       4   (fingers used)

and a 4 quarter-note per bar pattern:
with the TAB of

//: |--------------| ://

Strict Staccato:
a.) All 4 notes staccato, no accent (pluck with index finger)
b.) All 4 notes staccato, no accent (pluck alternating 1st+2nd fingers)
c.) All 4 notes staccato, no accent (pick - all downstrokes)
d.) All 4 notes staccato, no accent (pick - up downstrokes)
e.) All 4 notes staccato, no accent (pick - alt. up+down downstrokes)
t.) All 4 notes staccato, accent 1st note (pluck with index finger)

Strict legato (1 bar phrase)
f.) Pluck 1st note, all other ascending notes are hammer-ons, all descending notes are pull-offs (including going to the next bar). All notes receive full duration.
g.) Pluck 1st note, hammer-on 2nd+3rd notes, repluck 4th note.
h.) Pluck the 1st +2nd notes, hammer-on 3rd, and pull-off 4th note.
k.) Downstroke 1st note, hammer-on 2nd, downstroke 3rd, and pull-off 4th note.
l.) Downstroke 1st note, hammer-on 2nd, upstroke 3rd, and pull-off 4th note.
m.) Pluck 1st,3rd,and 4th notes hammer-on to 2nd note.
n.) Pluck 1st,2nd,and 4th notes hammer-on to 3rd note.
o.) Pluck 1st,2nd,and 3rd notes pull-off to 4th note.
s.) Pluck 1st note, 2nd+3rd notes are hammer-ons, 4th note is pull-off, accent 1st note.
u.) Pluck 1st,2nd,and 4th notes hammer-on to 3rd note, accent 2nd note.

Mixed staccato and legato
i.) Pluck 1st note, hammer-on 2nd+3rd notes, 4th note staccato.
j.) Pluck the 1st +2nd notes, hammer-on 3rd, and pull-off 4th note, 1st note staccato.
p.) Pluck 1st,hammer-on to 2nd note, 3rd and 4th notes staccato.
q.) Pluck 1st,2nd,and 4th notes hammer-on to 3rd note, 1st and 4th notes staccato.
r.) Pluck 1st and 2nd notes staccato, pluck 3rd note, pull-off to 4th note.

Mixed staccato and portato
v.) 1st, 2nd, and 4th notes staccato, 3rd note portato.
w.) 2nd, 3rd, and 4th notes staccato, 1st note portato.
x.) 1st, 3rd, and 4th notes staccato, 2nd note portato.
y.) 1st, 2nd, and 3rd notes staccato, 4th note portato.
z.) 1st and 2nd portato, 3rd and 4th notes staccato.
aa.) 1st and 3rd portato, 2nd and 4th notes staccato.
ab.) 1st and 4th portato, 2nd and 3rd notes staccato.
ac.) 2nd and 3rd portato, 1st and 4th notes staccato.
ad.) 2nd and 4th portato, 1st and 3rd notes staccato.
ae.) 3rd and 4th portato, 1st and 2nd notes staccato.

af.)Pluck all 4 notes with inceasing intensity each note.

ag.)Pluck all 4 notes with lessening intensity each note.

Phrasing is a skill that we will look at more deeply in future lessons, but it is what the above examples are heading towords.

You may have seen an episode of "seinfeld" where the characters ared iscussing the best way to say the line "these pretzels are making me thirsty!" What they are discussing is phrasing. they all use the same words in the same order but with slightly different timing, emphasis, tone, etc. That's what phrasing is about. You could line up 10 different guitarists give them the exact same notes in the same order over a 4-bar phrase (with the same equiptment), and still get 10 different performances due to differences in phrasing.

Next lesson is on the major scale.

Christopher Roberts
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Last updated August 1, 2002
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