Improve Your Skills in Just One Weekend

It's a new year so we might as well start it off with a BANG!

John McCarthy is sharing a very special article to start your year out. The big question is.....do you have the stamina and the kahunas to give it a try. If you're looking for some inspiration to truly become a better player your going to need drive, determination and grit. John has set this article up to do just that, it's an exercise that he uses with his students. So go ahead lock yourself down this weekend and Improve your skills.

Improve Your Skills in Just One Weekend
By: John McCarthy

Ok, now I’m not going to promise you that I can make you turn from a beginner to master shredder over night but I’m going to give you a cool series of steps to follow to see some real improvement in a weekend practice lock down. Get excited because this really works, I know because I’ve seen the results from many students!

Wake up! It’s Saturday morning, the time is ticking and there’s no time for sleeping in. This weekend we are on a guitar mission. The routine I’m going to give you will cover exercises in technique, creativity, visualization and performance. Let’s go through each section and then I’ll put it all together as a working lesson plan for you.

Let’s start with technique I’m going to give you a three part routine that we will be going back to throughout the weekend to warm up with and build coordination. The three sections will focus on left hand, right hand and combining both hands. Let’s get into it!

This left hand exercise is a one hand roll technique that involves no picking just a series of hammer on and pull offs. Play the example in example 1 until you start to feel hand fatigue. Remember, no picking here, just use your picking hand for muting strings you are not playing.

For the right hand let’s go through a series of coordinations to challenge your pick. Follow the exercise in example 2 and build up speed only with accuracy, don’t go faster without total cleanness…I’m watching you! You should work with a metronome or drum track to gauge your progress and work on this for 10 minutes at a time.

Now you should be warmed up and feeling the burn lets jump into a two hand coordination exercise. In example 3 the “Piston Fingers” exercise will make you really pay attention to lining both hands up perfectly. Guitar unlike many instruments takes coordinating two hands together to sound notes and takes a bit more discipline. Practice this exercise repetitively for 5 minutes or until you feel discomfort in your hands.

Now you should have a good feel for this exercise routine and it should take about 20 minutes to go through. We will be going back to this routine throughout the weekend so learn to love it shredder!

One of the hardest things to do is take all the scales, chords and techniques and make something original with them. This exercise is going to help you create a rhythm and lead using some basic components that you should already have in the memory bank.

First we will create a rhythm and for this lets use the key of “A” minor. “A” minor is a simple key because it’s the relative minor to “C” Major which has no sharps or flats so “A” minor also has no sharps or flats. To create a rhythm in any certain key you need to know which chords fall within the chord scale and for the key of “A” minor here is the chord scale to use: Am – Bdim – CM – Dm – Em – FM – G7.

The rhythm should be focused around Am because this is the key and you can combine any combination of chords within this chord scale to create a rhythm. As you go through the weekend workout you will put together three different progressions in “A” minor. Let your ears be the deciding factor for which chords sound best together and have some fun.

In example 5, I have put together a rhythm in “A” minor for you to use as a starting point, play through this progression following the tab. I have also included a backing track download for to you hear how this progression sounds; you will also use this in the next section where you are going to create a lead/melody over this track.

Leads…better known as the holy grail of guitar playing. Today you are going to create a lead yea! We are going to use the first two positions of the minor pentatonic scale in A to create this lead and you will be playing the lead over the progression I showed you in the last section so make sure you have it downloaded and ready to play.

In case you don’t have these scales memorized yet example 6 has them for you to review. Play through these two positions and make sure to have them fresh in your mind.

A lead is created by just taking the notes of a scale and using variations in phrasing and pattern combinations. While the rhythm is playing try to play through the scale and make variations to start creating a melody. In example 7, I have created a few examples to give you a head start, play through these over the same rhythm and you will start to get the feel for it. The audio tracks I’ve included here have the leads played by them selves slowly and at regular speed as well as played over the backing track. This is where you have to dig deep into your inner creativity…you can do it!!!!

Melody #1

Melody #2

Melody #3

Melody #4

You may be saying to yourself what the heck is this? I don’t need an eye test to play guitar, this guy is wacked! Well to get to the next level of guitar playing you have to start to have the Zen where you see the things you are going to play even before you play them.

We’re going to use a series of simple melodies from the minor pentatonic scales in “A” to start you on the way. Above in example 7 there are three melodies that you have played through and should be comfortable with. We will be using these to do exercises in visualization.

Now as you play these melodies again I want you to hum each note as you play it with a basic “la” sound. I know you may not be a lead singer so don’t worry I won’t make you howl any power screams I promise. By singing or humming your notes you will start to visualize the tones while playing them and eventually you will start to see the notes before you even play them (this is when you will be able to improvise freely).

The next visualization exercise is a tricky one and will require some real concentration. In example 8, I have outlined 6 notes from the first minor pentatonic scale play through these notes now and get the pitches in your mind. Next I want you to mix the notes up and play them in different patterns and while you do this hum the la’s with each note again. So you are making up patterns from the scale and humming along with each one. This may take some time and practice but after a while you will start to be right on pitch with each melody you create.

Exercises like this get you to see the notes in a perspective like you are looking at them coming at you instead of chasing after notes you have played already. May the Zen be with you!

Here is where we will have some fun! If you do all work with no play your head might explode! First I want to tell you that you need to invite some of your close friends or family over for Sunday night, were going to throw a mini concert and guess what….you are the star.

The first step to preparing for this is to slap a strap on your guitar and stand up! When you are practicing all the exercises we previously went through I want you standing up and shakin’ your thang. I remember once I went a long period of time where I wasn’t performing with my band and I practiced a lot but always sitting down. When I got back to playing with the band it took some time to readjust to playing standing up. My point here is if you stand up when you practice you are preparing yourself to perform.

I used to walk around my house with my guitar strapped on and play songs and leads making it part of my daily routines, like in between getting a glass of milk out of the fridge I would jam a little Van Halen, my hands got a bit chilled but it worked to make it more natural to play standing up.

The performance piece is going to be fun, I’ve recorded a few A minor progressions and you are going to create leads and melodies to play over both. One is the same as the progression we used earlier to create leads so you have a good jump and the other is a common A minor progression. As you read my Weekend practice routine you will see there will be sections where you will have time to work on creating the leads.

Here’s what you will need to do, find a nice room with some space for you and your friends. Designate an area for you and your amp; also remember you will need a player to play the backing tracks that you are playing over. Set some chairs up for everyone to sit down get some lights set up to create the concert mood and then you are ready to jam, my friend.

Ok, here is your schedule of events for your “Weekend Guitar Makeover”. The one section I did not address that you will see several times is the “Free Play” segment, this is where you are free to play songs, leads, or anything you already have mastered to have a little fun!

  • Breakfast - Wake up and have your Wheaties because you will need all the energy you can get!
  • 10:00 – 10:30 - Guitar technique routine (this is really a warm up period)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 - Free play
  • 11:30 – 12:15 – Creativity Rhythm– using the “A” minor chord scale create a rhythm and record it using any means you have available. We will use this in the future.
  • Lunch time – carb up baby you don’t want your fingers to get weak!
  • 2:00 – 2:30 - Guitar technique routine
  • 2:30 – 3:15 – Creativity Lead – Either using your rhythm you created above or the one I have supplied in “A” minor create a melody and lead over this progression. Remember a melody is more melodic something you can hum while a lead can be more free and unbridled. Record each of these because this will be part of your performance tomorrow.
  • 3:15 – 4:30 – Visualization – Start by taking melody 1 & 2 from above visualization list and hum each along as you play it. Next take the six notes I have outlined above from the minor pentatonic scales and make your own melodies to hum along to. Be creative and listen close!
  • 4:30 – 5:30 - Free play
  • Dinner time – remember to eat your veggies!
  • 6:30 – 7:00 - Guitar technique routine
  • 7:00 – 8:00 – Creativity Lead – Using the same rhythm as above create some more lead and melodies over the progression. Again remember to record these to use tomorrow.
  • 8:00 – Free play now don’t play too late because you have a big day tomorrow!

  • Breakfast – Fill that belly!
  • 10:00 – 10:30 - Guitar technique routine (this is really a warm up period)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 - Free play
  • 11:30 – 12:15 – Creativity Rhythm– using the “A” minor chord scale create another rhythm and again record it. We will use this in our performance tonight..
  • Lunch time – Juices and your favorite lunch for you today!
  • 2:00 – 2:30 - Guitar technique routine
  • 2:30 – 3:30 – Creativity lead – Using either that rhythm from yesterday or the new one that you created today let’s get some real cool leads and melodies written. This is our last part of our performance material for tonight….get pumped up!
  • 3:15 – 4:30 – Visualization – take melodies 3 &4 from the visualization list above and hum each along as you play it. Next take the six notes I have outlined above from the minor pentatonic scales and make your own melodies to hum along to. Be sure to listen close!
  • 4:30 – 5:30 – Performance prep – take the recording of your rhythms, leads and melodies and structure them together in preparation for your performance. You should have two rhythms with leads and melodies that correspond to each recorded now. Review all the components now.
  • Dinner time – this is the last supper! Be calm and focused, you will ROCK!
  • 7:00 – Your friends arrive, your amp, backing tracks and guitar are set up and you are ready to start the show. Make sure to stand up and play and feel your leads and melodies.
I’m sure you are signing autographs now and getting ready for your next performance, save me a seat at your next performance Rock Star!


Stormy Maverick said...

OK, John... this is just down-right SCARY! It's cramming for your first concert! It's on the verge of insanity, but pure genius! I think I can adapt this for us bass players as well (substituting a bass line and solo line for the rhythm and lead). I'm definitely going to start working on the changes and try this one as soon as I have my new practice amp so I can play that long without causing the neighbors to go postal on me.

konewt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
konewt said...

Thanks for the post John! I already have plans for this weekend with family but I am scheduling next weekend for this workout! One thing, I am not able to find the links for the audio downloads. Can you direct me where on this page those are? Great post!