Guitar Technique Workshop: Pivotal Influence
We explain how to improve your playing using the ‘pivot’ note method in this Guitar Technique Workshop
In this guitar technique workshop we’re looking at a ‘pivot’ method that makes an excellent coordination exercise for the fretting hand (it also sounds very effective musically). The idea of the pivot technique is that the notes of a melody are constantly alternated with a fixed note – once you’ve tried it, you’ll understand exactly how it works. The pivot note can be at the top of the phrase, at the bottom or even in the middle. In the following exercises, however, the pivot note is always at the top.
This pivot technique is common in classical music and can also be heard in many classical guitar pieces, such as JS Bach’s Prelude in E Major from his fourth lute suite and Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Prelude Number 3 in A Minor. Neo-classical heavy metal shredder Yngwie Malmsteen is also rather fond of pivot licks, but try not to let that put you off. Next month, we’ll have another couple of excellent pivot licks and I’ll provide a nice chord progression you can use to join them together
1: Pivoting Around The First Fret – 4/4 Time
This exercise starts with the pivot note – the top string at the 12th fret – fingered with the pinky. This note is returned to every second note, alternating with a descending then ascending chromatic series of notes on the top string (chromatic, of course, means moving one fret at a time).
Try to keep the fingers of the fretting hand spread out one-finger-per-fret. Placement of the thumb is important, and since this exercise involves one-finger-per-fret fingering with a bit of stretching with the fretting hand’s index finger, the blues-style position of wrapping the thumb over the back of the fretboard is distinctly inappropriate. Everyone’s hand and fingers are slightly different, but in general for this exercise keep the thumb roughly in the middle of the fretboard and roughly behind the first finger – that is, behind the ninth fret. Correct placement of the thumb will enable you to play this exercise with no hand movement.
The fretting hand fingers to use are indicated beside the appropriate note head in the music notation; use the same fingers to fret the notes on the way up as on the way down. The picking is strict alternate picking, starting with an upstroke. If in doubt, check the picking indications above the note heads. Try to keep the fingers poised above the fretboard as closely as possible so the fingers have as short a distance to travel when they’re needed; this general rule will help you play faster, and will lessen the chance of making a mistake since the finger is moving less distance, minimising the required effort.
Practice slowly and accurately, then gradually build up speed. It’s a good idea to practice to a metronome to encourage you to play the exercise exactly in time and then as a measure of your progress as you gradually increase the speed.
2: Pivoting In A Minor – 4/4 Time
This second exercise is actually a pivot lick in the key of A minor. Like Exercise 1, it starts with the top string played at the 12th fret with the pinky, but this time the non-pivot notes consist of D#, D, C, B and A – the first four notes of the A natural minor scale plus the sharpened fourth degree of the scale, which adds some pretty cool-sounding chromaticism at the top of the lick.
Basically, the lick works down these notes, then back up, then back down, then up the first three notes of the scale pattern (A, B and C) and ends on the lowest note of A on the second string at the 10th fret. The lick is written with a repeat sign, meaning that it’s supposed to be played continuously in a loop. When finishing, stop at the ‘Fine’ indication on the second last note of the second full bar.
As in Exercise 1, the fingering is generally one-finger-per-fret, although again the first finger has a bit of a stretch to cope with, in this case reaching down to the seventh fret. Again, try your best to keep the thumb roughly in the middle of the neck and more or less behind the ninth fret (note: unlike in the previous exercise, though, the ninth fret note is not played). The main thing is not to be tempted to move the fretting hand.
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