Tag Archives for " Improvising "

Climbing with Thirds

In Secrets of Tasty Riffs & Solos, one of the tricks I taught was how to use two strings and climb up or down the fretboard in patterns of thirds. This is a great way to move between scale patterns, it sounds really cool and melodic, and it can quickly get you from one end of the fretboard to the other.

What’s not to like?

Anyhow I was just watching some Albert Cummings (do it!) and I saw him pull the exact same trick, and thought I’d post the video to give you another practical example of how this sort of thing can be used in a song.

Right around 4:06, you’ll see he starts using these patterns on the 1st and 2nd strings to rip down the fretboard, from right near the top to the bottom, then he uses different strings and different patterns (looks like inverted thirds on 1st and 3rd strings to me) to begin his climb back up.

Check it out!

How to Run Up the Fretboard In A Single Lick

Ever wanted to find a way to zip all the way up (or down) the fretboard and make it look like you really mean business with that thing?

There are a lot of different ways to do that, but in today’s video, we’ll look at one in particular works off of thirds. It’s kind of a two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of thing, so it has a bit of that slinky effect. Call it what you like – it sounds good and that’s the main thing.

We’re going to be working in the key of A minor here, with a jam track that you can get free here.

One of the nice things about this particular run is that it can be easily adapted to as long or as short as you want. In fact, if you wanted, you could use it as a framework and riff around in the vicinity of each stage of it, and really take your time with things. Alternatively, you could toss everything on the table all at once, and go for broke.

If you like the style of playing you see in this video, I encourage you to check this out for more of the same.





Thirds in D – Advanced Guitar Lesson

In my opinion, if you can fully understand how to use thirds on your guitar, you’ve come a long way… Thirds are one of the best sounding harmonies to the human ear, and there are many, many different ways in which they can be applied on the guitar.

In these guitar lessons I try to bring out elements of that, but to really understand it you’re going to have to dig into this on your own too. I’ve posted videos on thirds in the G major scale, and inverted thirds in G, and today’s guitar lesson looks at some thirds off the second and third strings in D major.

If you can’t see my hand very well, the only two patterns I’m using are the minor third (0-0-0-4-3-0) and the major third (0-0-0-5-5-0). Take those two patterns, and move them up the fretboard, and you’ll find what I’m working with.

If that’s all completely Greek to you, I highly recommend checking out my course on Guitar Scale Patterns, which will really open up the fretboard for you.

The big takeaway from this lesson is recognizing the two different thirds patterns, major and minor, and then recognizing how those relate to the various scale patterns up and down the fretboard. Once you tie them all together in your mind, the whole fretboard is your oyster…

Thirds in D

Watch on Youtube


Guitar Fills in D Major

I love improvising – just noodling around in a given key and having a generally good time jamming away on the guitar. A big part of that is in creating fills or riffs in between chords… So today’s lesson is purely to give you a few ideas that you can use to get started creating your own fills. In this video I’ve only looked at D major, and even as is, it’s a bit on the longer side.

Remember, the chords in D major are D, G, A (the I IV V major chords), and the relative minor chords: Bm, Em, F#m.

If you don’t understand where this came from, I’d recommend checking out my Unlocking I IV V lesson as in that lesson I explain how and why chords work together, which is a critical foundation for doing stuff like the improvising and fills we’re talking about today.

So once you’ve got your chords down for the key you’re working in, take one of them and have a look at the scale that it comes out of. In this case, the relative minor of D major is B, and because we’re using open chords, the B minor scale with its root on the 5th string (2nd fret) is ideal. Again – I go over this in a lot more detail in my Guitar Scale Patterns lesson.

Now that you know what chords you’ve got, and what scale is nearby, simply start trying notes or interval combinations from within that scale, and see what you come up with!

Here are a few that I enjoy using:

Watch Guitar Fills in D Major on Youtube

For More Riffs Like This One, Click Here


Introducing the Riff Ninja!

Riff Ninja GuitarToday the curtain is starting to get pulled back on my latest project… and it might be a little different than you might expect! (video below)

Let me back up, oh… say about 15 years. I met Colin Daniel when I was in high school looking for a guitar teacher. He’s the guy that really got me started on the guitar, and taught me most of what I know about the instrument. In the years that I took lessons with him, I was amazed at his skill on the guitar, his depth of experience as a musician, and his skill as a teacher. I’ve seen Colin quite literally take the students that other guitar teachers had completely written off as being unteachable, and turn them into great musicians. It seems the harder the case, the harder Colin tries to find a way to connect with that student. Tone deaf? Not a problem; he’s fixed that too.

Colin had a unique way of approaching the guitar that I’d not seen before, despite having learned music theory for several years in school. Colin’s lessons made it ‘click’ with me; turning theory into incredibly practical and useful applied knowledge – and I trust I’ve been able to pass that on to some of you as well, through my Unlocking The Guitar series of guitar lessons.

Over his 40+ years as a musician, Colin has personally trained well over 5000 musicians, some purely for their own personal pleasure, some like me have gone on to teach others, and some that have literally ‘gone pro’ and now live off their skill on the guitar.

Anyways, in recent years I’ve been back jamming with Colin on a regular basis, and I really wanted to find a way to bring him to you… thus the Riff Ninja project was born.

In the following video, I’ve interviewed Colin to introduce him to you a bit. We go back a long ways, and I can assure you he is a absolute treasure trove of musical knowledge, not to mention the craziest guy I’ve ever met. (I say that in a good way!)

As you’ll hear in the interview, Colin and I have put together a course on improvising, which is going to be our first offering under the Riff Ninja name. If you’d like to keep up with what’s happening with Riff Ninja (and I can assure you, there’s going to be a LOT happening there!), or if you’d advanced notice about the details on the improvising lesson, I encourage you to enter your name and email in the form directly below to join the Riff Ninja newsletter.

Watch the Riff Ninja interview on Youtube

I Made A Mistake Today… Did You?

So what mistake did I make? Well, I make plenty every time I play my guitar… do you?

Fact is, when you’re playing guitar, bass, or any other instrument…

For that matter, with nearly anything in life…

If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not progressing.

Sound harsh?

Well, that’s my take on it, and I’m sticking to it.

Neils Bohr once famously said:

“An expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

Nobody pops into this world perfect, and anything you try to learn takes time and hard work, right?

So the faster you make mistakes trying new things, the faster you’re going to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Don’t expect yourself to be perfect the first time you try something… whether it be playing a new chord, or improvising a solo, or trying a completely hair brained idea.

Now, as you get better at what you do, ie playing guitar, the real secret to success here is to recover very quickly from your mistakes, or even better, make something new and unique from them.

Some musicians have perfect, or near perfect performances.

One place you see this type of performance is from orchestras: they practice the exact same thing over and over until it literally is perfect note for note.

With playing guitar, by and large we’re in a much more fluid environment… in fact, improvising is often the name of the game.

So that means you’re going to make mistakes; however some simple tricks can help you mask your mistakes so nobody else notices.

One trick I use if I hit a wrong note is to simply turn that note into a ‘passing’ note… ie keep going right on past through the mistake note until you get where you need to be.

Perhaps that destination note is the root note, or one of the perfect harmonies (a fourth or a fifth).

Practice makes that transition smoother, and mistakes less frequent. Remember, we’re aiming at perfection, not at mistakes, but the only way to get there is to embrace mistakes along the way.

Thankfully, some things help hugely in reducing the number of mistakes you need to make. Learning your scale, and the relevant chords in the key that you’re playing in is a great place to start.

Understanding the basic theory that is going on in the song is also valuable, as it provides a framework for you to work from when you’re improvising.

Knowing the scale and the various harmonic intervals tells you what notes will work in a solo, and gives you “safe” notes to resolve on.

In my Unlocking I IV V guitar lesson, I go through these concepts. If you’ve already got a copy of that lesson, you’ll know what I’m talking about – if you haven’t yet, you can grab a copy of my Unlocking I IV V lesson here.

Whatever you do, please DON’T sell yourself short by telling yourself you can’t play guitar well.

Henry Ford once famously said:

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”

Chew on that one for a few minutes…


Here’s a short success story about Unlocking I IV V:

“Hi Jonathan,

I have indeed watched your DVD’s and I found them very helpful. I’m almost 65 years old and have been strumming the guitar since I was about 14 years old.

I’m mostly self taught with a few instructions from family members who play, but never any formal training. Your lessons have helped me understand exactly what is going on with the fret board and  where to find my notes. Although my fingers don’t work as well as they did when I was young, I still enjoy trying to play my favorite tunes.

Keep up the good work.  Wish I would have had you around 50 years ago.  Thanks again.”

Jerry Matney

Click here to get the Unlocking I IV V Guitar Lesson