Alternate Picking - 3 Notes Pattern 1
By now you might have figured out that in my guitar lessons I often try and find ways to reinforce various concepts at once. Here, you will be building alternate picking skills, but at the same time I want you to be able to relate the patterns to something applicable with your music. So as you practice this exercise, don't just think of it as a mindless drill to build speed. Speed will come quickly, but developing your phrasing ability is far more difficult. So use this exercise as well as the others in this guitar lesson to reinforce common patterns that you will always be able to use in your phrasing.
You will notice I marked this off as level 2 difficulty, but I am talking about 200 BPM 16th notes. The reason behind this is simple and will reveal a very important truth about technique: playing linear passages (meaning keeping hand in place and playing simple patterns) at very high speeds is not difficult - it is simply a matter of repetition. On my site, you will find that the level 4 and 5 exercises are not necessarily played faster, but they contain other elements that make them more challenging. For instance, playing intricate Bach passages as 16th notes at 140 BPM is often far more challenging than playing simple passages as 16th notes at 200 BPM or even higher. When you get into some of the level 4 and 5 exercises, especially the ones where I use examples from classical music, you will see what I mean :-)
Tablature for this exercise:
Note: I want you to play this exercise using the suggested fingerings above. You might be wondering about the third version - it is designed to build the dexterity that will be needed once you move on to the four note per string exercises!
As with the exercises in my other alternate picking guitar lessons, this exercise has your going through a repeatable pattern of down and up strokes and if you are playing in proper synchronization, you will always be hitting the notes with the up or down stroke shown in the tab. For instance, if you start on a downstroke on the 12th fret, and from there play frets 13, 15, 13, then back to 12, when you get back to the 12th fret you again on a downstroke. Knowing this, you can test your synchronization as follows:
Play 12-13-15-13-12-13-15-13-12. Did you end on a downstroke? Try playing this as fast as you are comfortable playing, and see if you are ending on a downstroke. Similarly, repeat the pattern by playing 12-13-15-13-12-13-15-13-12-13-15-13-12-13-15-13-12. Are you always ending on a downstroke? By doing this simple test, you can very quickly uncover synchronization problems. When playing these sorts of exercises up to tempo - say as 16th notes at 150 or higher - if you are noticing that you are sometimes ending on an upstroke, it means something went wrong with your synchronization, meaning it is time to slow it down.
Your goal should be to play accurately up to tempo, and not out of sync. By repeatedly practicing at slow enough tempos to maintain synchronization, you will then be able to gradually increase the tempo and stay in sync, and by practicing in this way, you will develop speed and accuracy to rival any great picker, whether Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, John Petrucci, Guthrie Govan, etc, etc.
If you can play the exercise as 16th notes, accurately and in sync at 150 BPM, then mark it off as mastered and move on to the next exercise! Or if you want to aim a bit higher, shoot for accuracy at 170 or higher. If your goal is to pick as fast and accurately as the best of them shoot for 200 BPM. At higher speeds it will be harder to count time with a metronome, so you might find it easier to play as 32nd notes at slower tempo where you will be able to better hone in on the down beats. Say, for instance, 32nd notes at 90 BPM. In this case, for each beat, you would play 12-13-15-13-12-13-15-13.
Criteria for Mastery: You can play the exercise accurately as 16th notes at 150 BPM or faster
This exercise has you playing a pattern that shows up in two modes of the Major Scale. Namely, both the Locrian and Phrygian modes start out with a half step followed by a whole step. Notice how just these three notes allow you to come up with dark minor sounding phrases. I think all too often, guitarists overthink how to go about soloing. In the end it is all about phrasing. Every time you are playing lead lines on guitar, you should be thinking of yourself as speaking with the guitar. Sometimes you will want to express something sad, dreary. So try this - spend about 5 minutes just playing these three notes. You will notice that with just three notes you are able to come up with many melodic phrases.
By thinking of patterns in this way, you will start to see a whole new structure in music. You will realize that various patterns are like thoughts and feelings, and that navigating through scales and modes in a musical way is about coming up with phrasing that makes sense with whatever is going on in the background, and that gets across your musical voice. So if You are in the key of C Major, and there was an E Minor chord being played (corresponds to the Phrygian mode in C), playing this pattern starting from E - so E, F, G - would help you phrase in a way that fit with the mood that an E Minor chord brings to the key of C. Of course this is simplifying things insanely since we are ignoring other notes that would sound good over an Em chord, but it is a good way to start thinking about phrasing, so that when you start getting more advanced, you will be able to better bridge theory with your ear.
In my Arpeggios Guitar Lessons and Scales Guitar Lessons I get into more detail behind the relations between scales and chords. But remember, no matter how much you know or don't know about theory - your ears always trump theory!