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This series of exercises will help guitarists learn the fingerboard and expand their knowledge of chord and scale theory, with handy tips on picking and fretting techniques that will improve their sound. Includes 100 workouts.
Grammy-winning guitarist Scott Nygaard is one of the most inventive and original flatpicking guitarists in the bluegrass/acoustic music scene. His solos, a seamless amalgam of bluegrass, folk, and jazz influences, shift easily from breathtaking virtuosity to soulful melodic musings and his accompaniment is always intriguing, supportive, and propulsive.
Downbeat magazine called Scott “a phenomenally talented stylist.” He has performed and/or recorded with Tim O’Brien, Joan Baez, Chris Thile, Darol Anger, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Laurie Lewis, Anonymous 4, and many others, and has released two solo albums, No Hurry and Dreamer’s Waltz, on Rounder Records as well as self-produced albums with his band Crow Molly, Roger Tallroth and Scott Nygaard, and the Websters and Scott Nygaard. Scott was the guitarist on three recordings that have proven to be extremely influential on the contemporary acoustic music scene: Chris Thile’s Leading Off, Tim O’Brien’s Red on Blonde, and Jerry Douglas’s Slide Rule.
Formerly the editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine, Scott has written hundreds of articles on music, musicians, guitars, and guitarists for Acoustic Guitar, Strings, Play Guitar!, and Guitar World Acoustic; authored two instruction books, Bluegrass Guitar Essentials and Fiddle Tunes and Folk Songs for Beginning Guitar; produced an instructional video, Bluegrass Lead Guitar for Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, and taught at most of the United States’ best-known bluegrass and/or guitar workshops. Scott is co-founder and editor of Peghead Nation. scottnygaard.com
In this workout, you'll move through a series of four-note arpeggios starting on each note of the major scale, in this case in the key of G. With Notation/Tab
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Broken thirds are a great supplement to scale practice and are common exercises among classical musicians—violinists, cellists, etc. They’re not as common as they probably should be among guitarists however. Broken-thirds patterns are created by starting on the root of a scale step, moving up a third, and then repeating the third interval on each subsequent step of a scale. You can add a little variety to the pattern by inverting the thirds. These four workouts include ascending and descending thirds patterns in the keys of G, D, A, and C.
This series of four workouts consists of four-note arpeggios based on the harmonized major scale. You’ll move through a series of arpeggios starting on each note of the G major scale. So, for example, the first arpeggio starts on G, moves up a third to B, up another third to D, and up another third to F#, creating a Gmaj7 arpeggio in the process. The second arpeggio starts on A, moves up a third to C, up another third to E, and up another third to G, for an Am7 arpeggio. Since all the notes are in the key of G, you’ll get the four-note arpeggios that correspond to the harmonized G major scale: Gmaj7, Am7, Bm7, Cmaj7, D7, Em7, and F#m7b5. Once you get to the top string, you’ll move downward in thirds once again, but this time the arpeggios start on the seventh of the chord formed by the arpeggio. You’ll learn arpeggios for the harmonized major scale in five different positions.
Pentatonic scales are often thought of by guitarists as easy fall-back scales for jamming. But the pentatonic scale has some interesting qualities that you’ll explore in these four workouts, primarily through melodic patterns. You’ll learn to look at the pentatonic scale as having five degrees, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, not as being either the 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 of the major scale (as in the major pentatonic scale), or the 1, b3, 4, 5, b7 (as in the minor pentatonic scale). You’ll also learn to use different pentatonic scales to match the chord you’re playing. So instead of just using the C major pentatonic to play in C regardless of the chord being played, you can play, for example, the F major pentatonic scale over an F chord, an A minor pentatonic scale over an Am chord, etc.
Slur exercises are great fretting-hand strength builders, and they also help you focus on your fretting-hand technique. The hammer-on exercises in these four workouts can be used not only as daily strength exercises, but also to help you align your fingers to the frets and make sure your hand is not moving more than it needs to. Make sure as you play these hammer-ons that you keep the finger that is fretting the picked note down until you need to move it to the next picked note. By learning to leave the finger down on the fingerboard as you hammer-on to the next note, you will be able to play more fluidly, with no gaps between notes. This technique helps you play fluidly whether you’re using hammer-ons or picking each note.
DIATONIC SCALE POSITIONS
In this series of eight workouts you’ll learn major scale positions on the top four strings that correspond to the steps of the major scale, with the first finger on the top E string as the anchor or guide for each position. Most guitarists tend to spend more time on the top four strings when playing solos, but they often begin their scale work on the bass strings. These workouts and scale exercises will concentrate on the four strings that usually get the most attention. You’ll work in G, so, for example, the first scale position begins with the index finger on the G note at the third fret of the high E string, and the ring finger an octave lower on the fifth fret of the D (fourth) string. When working in these positions, it’s good to know where to find all the notes of the diatonic chords of the key you’re in. So, in addition to a basic scale exercise to get you familiar with the position, each workout includes a melodic line that moves through all the most commonly used diatonic chords in G: G, C, D, Em, Am, and Bm, outlining the chord tones with a scale line and an arpeggio.
DOMINANT SEVEN SWING/JAZZ LINES
In these four workouts you’ll learn some swing/jazz lines over dominant seven chords in the style of Charlie Christian, Lester Young, and other American swing greats. The dominant seven scale, also called the Mixolydian scale or mode, is a major scale with a flatted seventh. It can also be thought of as the scale you'd get if you started a major scale on the fifth step of the scale, so it works great over V or V7 chords. Jazz is often played in flat keys—F, Bb, Eb, etc.—so you’ll play these lines in the key of Bb, with lines that will work over Bb7, Eb7, and F7 chords, the I, IV, and V chords in the key of Bb. You’ll get four different positions, two each for Bb7, one for Eb7, and one for F7. These are all movable positions, so you’ll really be learning four positions for each of the three chords that are easily moved to other keys.
PATTERNS IN THREES
These four workouts consist of exercises that emphasize three-note patterns while playing in 4/4, as well as a couple exercises in 6/8. From ragtime to bluegrass banjo rolls, there are a lot of syncopated rhythms that use a three-against-four feel. Some kinds of music have rhythmic feels based on three-eighth-note patterns—the 6/8 of Celtic jigs or the 12/8 of blues shuffles, for example. So it’s good to get some three-note patterns in your fingers. You’ll learn some simple scale patterns in G, triadic patterns on diatonic chords, diminished arpeggio patterns, and more.
TRIADS UP THE NECK
To acquire a thorough knowledge of the fingerboard, in addition to learning scales and single-note lines, you’ll need to start finding chords and chord voicings in different parts of the neck. In these four workouts, you’ll learn three-note close-voiced diatonic triads in the key of G on each set of three strings. In some exercises, you’ll move up the neck from chord to chord, changing just one note at a time, which can help you see how the individual voices move as the chords change. For example, you’ll see that raising the fifth of the major chord to the sixth creates its relative minor.
NINTH CHORD ARPEGGIOS
Dominant ninth chords (usually just called “ninth chords”) are common in blues, jazz, and popular music. Made up of the root, third, fifth, flatted seventh, and ninth, these five notes, if played sequentially, create the dominant pentatonic scale. In these four workouts, you’ll learn dominant ninth arpeggios and runs using the dominant pentatonic scale, which are very useful for playing over dominant chords. You’ll also learn that if you start the ninth arpeggio on the third you get a m7b5 arpeggio, and if start it on the fifth you get a m6 arpeggio.
CIRCLE OF FIFTHS PATTERNS
Circle of fifths progressions occur in many different kinds of songs, and are good for practicing any kind of V7–I chord movement. In these four workouts you’ll learn some lines for playing over a four-bar circle of fifths progression, mostly with dominant chords (E7–A7–D7–G7) but also a couple of progressions that substitute a minor seven chords for some of the dominants (Em7–A7–Dm7–G7). You’ll learn lines that start on different degrees of the dominant seven chords, how to create riffs that just change a note or two as the chord changes, and how the underlying scale changes by just one note as you move from chord to chord.
EXPANDED MELODIC PATTERNS IN OPEN POSITION
By incorporating larger melodic leaps in your playing you can add variety to scalar or arpeggiated lines that mostly use second and third intervals. In these four workouts, you’ll learn melodic patterns that include fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, octaves, and even ninths in open position using the A Dorian scale, including a melodic pattern that ascends a fifth and then descends two scale steps, one that starts with two rising scale steps and then jumps a sixth. a triadic arpeggio pattern that uses fourth intervals to move to the next pattern in the sequence, and a couple of six-note patterns in 6/8.
DORIAN PATTERNS IN CLOSED POSITION
The Dorian mode is the same as the major scale starting on the second step of the major scale. So, if you know the major scale, you know the Dorian mode. But there are reasons to practice the Dorian mode in ways that accent the strong notes of the mode: root, third, fifth, and (sometimes), seventh. The Dorian mode is used for playing over the ii chord in a key and you can also use it to play over a dominant chord a fourth above the root of the Dorian mode. In these eight workouts you’ll play some closed-position Dorian patterns that emphasize the root, third, fifth, and seventh of the mode (which correspond to the root, third, fifth, and seventh of a ii7 chord).
HARMONIC MINOR SCALES AND DIMINISHED CHORDS
This series of four workouts focuses on the harmonic minor scale, and how it can be combined with diminished-seven arpeggios to play over V7 chords in minor keys, in Gypsy jazz and other styles. You’ll learn patterns using the harmonic minor scale in a couple of positions as well as two convenient diminished arpeggio shapes on the top four strings.
You’ve worked on harmonic-minor and Dorian sounds. This series of four workouts explores another kind of minor scale: melodic minor, for which there are number of uses in jazz and popular music. The melodic minor scale can be thought of as a natural minor scale with a raised sixth and seventh or as a major scale with a flatted third. You’ll get started with a couple of simple melodic minor scale patterns and then learn the arpeggios contained in the melodic minor scale, some of which are a bit unusual. You’ll also learn how to use the melodic minor scale over a minor four (iv) chord (common in pop songs) as well as over the kinds of altered dominant chords used in contemporary jazz.
CHROMATIC APPROACH NOTES
Approach notes are used to frame or lead into target notes, which are usually the notes of a melody or arpeggio. Using approach notes a half step below the notes of an arpeggio is a common technique in jazz and swing music, and is a good way to outline arpeggios in a way that doesn’t sound stiff or academic. Chromatic approach notes are the notes a half step below the target notes and can either be in the underlying scale or not. This series of four workouts shows you how to use approach notes with a variety of chords and scales.
In this series of four workouts, you’ll learn some pentatonic scale exercises using wider intervals and string skipping in multiple positions. These will help you really start to visualize the pentatonic scale on the entire fingerboard, not just in one position but up and down the fingerboard as well. You’ll start with some string-skipping exercises and learn some “pentatonic chords” as well as some patterns played on just two strings, using a variety of minor pentatonic scales and scale positions to move up and down the neck.
DIATONIC CHORD TRANSITIONS
Most of the workouts so far have worked on one tonality at a time: pentatonic, diminished, harmonic minor scales, various kinds of arpeggios, etc. But, of course, it’s important to know how to get from one chord or tonality to another. In this series of eight workouts you’ll work on transitional phrases that move from chord to chord. The idea is to be able to find chord tones in the next chord you’re moving to, no matter where you are on the neck. You’ll learn “cells” for each chord (four-note phrases that begin and end on different chord tones, three of which move upward and three of which move downward) and then combine them in a systematic way to move through a variety of different chord changes.
Turnarounds are used in many styles of music to go from a I chord to a V chord and back to a I, usually at the end of a verse or chorus. In these next four workouts, you’ll use the transitional “cells” you learned in the Diatonic Chord Transitions workouts to move through the I–VI7–ii7–V7 turnaround common in swing, jazz, and popular music in a variety of different ways.
The great jazz guitarist Joe Pass said “turnarounds are the two bars at the end of a verse when there’s no melody, so the harmony is not fixed.” Which means that people have used all sorts of chord progressions in turnarounds. You’ll learn lines for a couple more turnarounds in this next series of four workouts, including a turnaround that uses a diminished chord built on the root as the second chord in the progression, a turnaround that substitutes a dominant seventh chord for the ii7, and a turnaround using a 7b9 as the second chord.
COMBINING CHORD POSITIONS AND SCALES
In these eight workouts you’ll work on combining arpeggios based on common chord voicings with scale fragments around those voicings. These workouts will allow you to more easily find melodies when you’re playing chords and vice versa. You’ll learn drop-two arpeggios for the harmonized major scale and then add scalar lines to those arpeggios. You’ll also combine scalar melodies with other common dominant, major, and minor chord positions.
TWO- AND THREE-OCTAVE SCALES
In these final four workouts, you’ll learn two-and three-octave scales in every key, starting with C and then moving around the circle of fifths. You’ll learn how to shift positions, often using four notes per string, to make your way up the neck and back down. For each key, you’ll start on the lowest root note and go up the neck to the highest root, third, or fifth of the scale at or below the 14th fret.