Theory: Advanced Beginner
• Discover the secrets of the
• Experiment with different articulations
such as hammer-ons,
pull-offs, and slides.
• Learn about the beautiful dissonance
that is Shostakovich.
Click here to download the audio clips from this lesson.
If Bach is the Beatles, then Mozart is the
Rolling Stones, and Beethoven is the
Who. And maybe Shostakovich is Metallica.
These sorts of statements are sure to ruffle
the feathers of anyone with an opinion
about these legendary artists. But my real
goal is just to make you curious enough
about Shostakovich that you’ll listen to his
If any composer was hired to write a
piece of music with the ferocious drama
of heavy metal combined with the erudite
firepower of classical music, you could
not expect better results than the first 12
seconds of this piece and all that follows. I
especially like the chords in the third movement.
They are utterly beyond my knowledge
of music theory and shocking in their
beauty and occasional dissonance.
Shostakovich lived in a dramatic time
and was threatened with arrest and worse
if he didn’t write something that met the
approval of the state. In modern times,
you can sometimes hear rock musicians
complaining about the unfairness of record
companies or music downloading … ha!
We’re not sent off to Siberia if we don’t
write a hit. I’d say that the rockers of today
have it pretty good, and I appreciate that,
being one myself.
I appreciate Shostakovich’s fiery intros
and chords, and I appreciate living in a
culture that allows just about any form of
art, but if I could turn all this appreciation
into currency, how would I spend it?
I’d buy guitar lessons and enough free
time to practice and enjoy what I learn.
That is true luxury to me—to be able to
tinker and experiment with the guitar. What
sort of things would I experiment with?
Why, the blues scale of course. And then I’d
share my results with you. Here they are.
This first example in Fig. 1 takes the
notes of the A blues scale (A–C–D–Eb–
E–G), divides them into five-note patterns,
and spreads them out over two strings. The
rhythm is interesting to me because each
phrase anticipates and then ends on the
downbeat. This makes it easier for your fingers
(to jump to the next position), for your
brain (to remember the shape of the next
position), and your listeners’ ears (to not be
overwhelmed by relentless notes).
We use the same idea in Fig. 2, but the
notes descend. Going up and down the
neck using these patterns is a great way to
learn where those all-important notes in
the blues scale are—in all the positions of
the fretboard. I’m not going to be picky
about how you pick it, other than to suggest
that you experiment with hammer-ons,
pull-offs, and the occasional finger slide, to
make the phrases smooth and the last note
of each phrase (the downbeat) strong.
1 + 2 = 3. Here (Fig. 3), I combine the
first two examples to make a new pattern.
Even though this one might sound a little
trickier, it’s actually easier to play because it
stays in each position a little longer before
jumping to the next. Fig. 4 is an example
of how I might play these patterns in the
context of a solo. I should point out that
the high G note can be played in two different
locations. I chose to play it on the 1st
string (3rd fret.) This requires a quick lefthand
position shift and string skip as well.
If you’re not in the mood for those acrobatics,
the other place to play the note would
be on the 2nd string (8th fret.) At first
glance, this seems like a much easier way to
play the note. So why do I take the trouble
to jump all the way to the high E string in
a different position? It allows me to give
the note it’s own finger and it’s own fret.
The other location would force me to use
a barre when I continue to the next note.
And when notes are played with a barre,
they can easily start ringing together. So in
the interest of nice clean, separate notes, I’m
willing to make that big jump. I encourage
you to try both positions and choose your
favorite. They are both absolutely valid, but
each has a distinct feel.
All these examples will fit over a shuffle
groove. I hope you enjoy them, and even
though Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is
very different from the blues, I hope you’ll
listen to it.
I’d appreciate it.
purposefully began playing guitar
at age 9, formed the guitar-driven bands Racer
X and Mr. Big, and then accidentally had a No.
1 hit with an acoustic song called “To Be with
You.” Paul began teaching at GIT at the age of
18, has released countless albums and guitar
instructional DVDs, and will be remembered as
“the guy who got the drill stuck in his hair.” For
more information, visit paulgilbert.com