Chops: Advanced Beginner
• Understand the basics of
working with a metronome.
• Learn a two-step process
for expanding your musical
• Create more cohesive phrases
by repeating rhythmic motifs.
Click here to download the sound clips from this lesson.
It amazes me how much incredible music
has been and will be created using a pentatonic
scale. You can get a ton of mileage
out of just those five notes. Throw in a few
variables like tone, technique, and rhythm
and the musical possibilities are infinite.
Let’s focus on rhythm.
One of the things I love most about my
favorite improvisers is their ability to develop
musical ideas. I’m drawn to a solo when
a player weaves through idea after idea,
rather than playing a slew of random licks.
Play fast, slow, high, low, legato, staccato
… as long as you stick with one concept
for a little while, you can give the listener’s
ear something to latch on to and create an
exciting solo with depth and direction.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re always
playing the same thing, or you don’t know
what to play next, one of the best remedies
for getting out of this improvisational rut
is to incorporate rhythmic motifs into
your arsenal of tricks. Whether it’s Wes
Montgomery’s epic performance of “No
Blues” (from Smokin’ at the Half Note),
where he stretches out on over twenty choruses
of a blues, or Jimi Hendrix’s wailing
guitar solo in the instrumental masterpiece,
“Driving South,” these players are using
rhythmic motifs left, right, and center.
They are taking small rhythms, usually one
or two measures long, and repeating them
with various note choices. This approach is
an awesome way to inspire new ideas and
expand your musical vocabulary.
Let’s jump right in.
Step #1: Be able to effortlessly
execute strong rhythms using
In order to play any rhythm in a musical
way, on the fly, it’s essential to have the
technical facility to rock through a number
of exercises with the click. Remember, the
metronome never lies. Using one correctly
is a sure-fire way of tracking your improvement,
efficiently increasing your speed, and
knowing that you can deliver a guitar part
with precision. Listen to it more than to
yourself to ensure you’re playing in time.
Here are a few examples of how I like to
“woodshed” a scale. Let’s use an A minor
pentatonic scale (A–C–D–E–G) as an
example. Set your metronome to 80 bpm
and work on playing the scale in quarternotes,
eighth-notes, triplets, and 16thnotes.
In Fig. 1 you can see an example
of this. If the tempo is challenging, find a
tempo that feels super comfortable to you.
Keep practicing the exercise until you can
play it perfectly, and then increase the click
very gradually until you get to 80. If I’m
struggling with a tempo, I like to use this
approach, then surpass the desired tempo
by a good five to 10 clicks so that when I
go back to the original, it feels like a breeze.
I also like to play scales in all possible
intervals within an octave—in this case, in
intervals of fourths, fifths and sevenths. It’s
a technical workout to say the least, and it
forces you to visualize the notes in a different
way. In Fig. 2 you can see how I take
this scale first through fourths, then fifths,
and finally sevenths.
Now it’s time for the fun part—this is
where creativity takes over. Experiment with
improvising each of these rhythms exclusively
for an extended length of time. I find
when you limit yourself to specific parameters,
many more musical possibilities reveal
themselves that you wouldn’t have otherwise
discovered. Remember, the metronome
is acting like your personal drummer, so
keep it clicking!
Next, let’s explore how to use the metronome
to create different feels and further
challenge your rhythmic sensibility. When
most guitarists work with a metronome,
they either think of it as a quarter-note
pulse or on beats 1 and 3. Try setting your
click to around 40 bpm and imagining it
on beats 2 and 4. In Fig. 3 you can hear
how this adds some extra swing to your
phrasing. You’ll need to subdivide the bar
to really get a feel for where the beats fall.
Internalize this by jamming along with
recordings and always be aware of where
the downbeat is. Continue with this idea
by shifting your perception of the click
so that it falls only on beat 2, then 3, and
finally beat 4.
Step #2: Create rhythmic motifs.
Now that you have the scale under your
fingers with rhythmic precision, it’s time to
jam out some motifs. Start off by making
up one- or two-bar rhythms and see if you
can weave the motif through the scale in a
musical way. Keep it going and stretch out
for several minutes, hours, or days! This is
such a great way to bring out new lines in
In Fig. 4 I begin with a two-measure
rhythm that I repeat in different areas of
the neck throughout the example. Don’t
be afraid to add bends, slides, and doublestops
to keep things interesting. I move to
a triplet-based pattern in Fig. 5 that works
well over either an F chord or D minor. In
performance, after a few repetitions, you
can springboard off the idea to lead into
your next phrase.
This approach to expanding your musical
vocabulary is so practical because it
leaves a lot of room for creativity—come
up with a simple rhythm and then explore
the vast possibilities of how to express the
rhythm within familiar scales. The motifs
will inspire new ideas and help to create
thoughtful, dynamic solos.
is a Toronto-based guitarist,
composer, musical director, and educator.
Her jazz-rock trio, the Donna Grantis Electric
Band, recently released their debut album,
Suites. As a session musician, she has
performed with award-winning artists and
tours internationally. For more information,
check out donnagrantis.com