Rolly's Guitar Tips Page

NOTE: the most recent tips will appear at the top of the page. For previous weeks' tips, start at the bottom of the page and work your way up.

Pre-tip Tip:

This is important; if you're going to use written materials like those available here on the web, it'll be very useful to know where the notes are on your guitar. I'm not talking about reading music here, as valuable as that may be. I'm talking about having names that help you find where you're going.
Basically, the notes alway go in alphabetical order: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#. (A# and Bb are the same note, halfway between the A and B notes. "#" means "higher than", "b" means "lower than".) Note that there's no B# or E#. That's just the way it is....
If you know the info above, and the names of the open strings in standard tuning, (EADGBE from thickest to thinnest) then you have all the info you need to find every note on the neck. Try locating a C note on each of the 6 strings. Then try a couple others. If you can do this, you have the hang of it, and we shouldn't need to have this conversation again.
Now, on to tips:

Here's a YouTube video demonstrating the very first chord exercise from the bottom of this page:

And here are the two subsequent YouTube videos, completing my chord trilogy:

The ii-V-I

1200 Chords

And here are my four videos on soloing:

Here's the tip for this week:


This week we'll discuss some great jazzy arpeggios; the Harmonized Scale of extended (13th) arpeggios.
Let's define an arpeggio as the notes of a chord played in order. For a major 7th chord, you'd play the "1-3-5-7".
For a major 13th chord, you'd play "1-3-5-7-9-11-13".
The arpeggios we're using for this exercise are based on the diatonic (major scale) harmonized chord scale. In other words, there's a chord for each step of the scale, and each chord is made up only of notes from that scale. So, to make a C major chord scale, you'd have these chords:

Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, Gdom7, Am7, Bm7b5, Cmaj7.

Now, let's extend these into "13th" arpeggios. When you play these, start in the 7th position (index finger based at the 7th fret), and move higher only when necessary. If you have trouble finding the notes, refer to the "Pre-tip" above. I'd practice by playing up and down the argeggio (even though these are only written going up, for clarity's sake.):

  1. Cmaj7 extends into C-E-G-B-D-F-A
  2. Dm7 extends into D-F-A-C-E-G-B
  3. Em7 extends into E-G-B-D-F-A-C
  4. Fmaj7 extends into F-A-C-E-G-B-D
  5. G7 extends into G-B-D-F-A-C-E
  6. Am7 extends into A-C-E-G-B-D-F
  7. Bm7b5 extends into B-D-F-A-C-E-G
  8. Cmaj7 is the 8th step, identical to the first step.

Now, there's an easy trick to remembering these arpeggios. Each arpeggio includes its four note chord, plus the 3 note triad of the following chord. For example:

And on it goes, all the way through. The actual chords become quite complex, with sharped or flatted 9ths, 11ths, or 13ths, but you don't need to mess with that at first. Just know that it's all based on the C major scale.
For now, try playing these out of the 7th position. (I'll come back with a more organized approach to practice as a later tip, and you can experiment with your own ideas in the meantime.) You'll need to reach above there on the last couple, but it'll get you started.
One other side note: When I first learned these, I was taught, only on the first step (the C arpeggio in our exercise) to use an F# rather than an F. This avoids the tri-tone, a sound which would create tension on an otherwise resolved sounding arpeggio. Have Fun!


This week, we'll go to the 2nd stage of the chord exercise we started in the tip from 11/9/01, which appears at the bottom of this tip page. This week's tip gives you four more stringsets to add to the stringset we did on 11/9.

That first exercise gives you the potential for composing 240 chords. With these four additional stringsets, the potential is there for a total of 1200 chords at your fingertips, without using a chord dictionary. These chords can be used for rhythm, chord melody, or a combination of the two.

If you haven't done the 11/9 exercise, learn it first. You should be thoroughly familiar with the first exercise before you proceed to this one. Have fun! And remember; the 11/29/01 tip, about ii-V-I's, can also be recycled, using these new stringsets.

You can download the jpeg of the chordsets and print it for easy reference. (Use "landscape" print setting.)


Happy New Year!

We'll start off 2002 with a fingerpicking tip.
Once you have the basics of "alternate bass" picking down, and can throw in a note with your finger here or there without losing the constant pulse of the alternate bass (provided by the right thumb), one of the next challenges is the "off-beat hammer-on". This involves playing a treble note on the off-beat and then hammering on the on-beat. The trick is to hammer the treble note with the left hand while simultaneously playing the bass note with the right thumb. It's a little bit like patting your belly and rubbing your head at the same time.
In the example below, played with a basic E chord, all notes on the lower three strings are played with the right thumb. Notes on the upper three strings are played with the index or middle fingers of the right hand, except for the "1"s on the G string (they're G#, actually). On these notes, the sound is produced totally by the hammering of the left index finger. The first hammer is an off-beat one, the second is on the beat (easier to perform), and the third is another off-beat one.
Isolated, the mechanics of the off-beat hammer include two steps:

  1. Strike the G string with the right index finger.
  2. Hammer the G string with the left index finger while striking the D string with the right thumb.

The rhythm of these two strokes is like the rhythm of the word, "Ka-boom", with the "boom" being on the beat, and the "Ka" preceding the beat. Make sure that you don't stop the G string note with your thumb when you swing through on the D string. By the way, the phrase below makes a nice little turn-around measure at the end of Deep River Blues if you play that tune.
After you master it, try inserting some off-beat hammers into "alternate bass" style tunes that you already play in other keys.




This week's tip is about the technique called floating. Floating uses a combination of open and closed strings to play sequential melodies or scales in a non-sequential manner. The result allows a harp-like sustain to melodic passages.
Here's a simple floating scale fragment in the key of C:



Play with this sequence for awhile, getting comfortable with the strangeness of playing higher notes on lower strings. Then take a simple melody and try to play it out of this position. If it doesn't all fit, either alter the melody slightly, or try to locate some lower notes without moving out of the 3rd position. If you need higher notes, experiment with finding some floating sequences in the 5th position. Remember to try and let the strings ring whenever possible.
Later, in the key of G, you can try to figure out floating melodies (or G major scales) using the 3rd and 7th positions, both of which are ripe with opportunity.


This week's tip refers back to the chord exercise from 11/9/01. (See below). We're going to put these chords together into little groups now. The sequence is called a "ii-V-I". In keeping with diatonic (major scale) harmony:

Our C7 chord will be the "V" chord. That means we are in the key of F, and the "I" chord will be F major 7 or F major 6, and the "ii" chord will be Gm7. (Note that minor chords use lower case numerals, major chords use upper case.)
Your job is to find a

Gm7, C7, Fmaj7

sequence in which these three chord fingerings are located in the same area of the neck, using only fingerings from the 11/9 exercise.
Here's how you might find a Gm7:

  1. Find your C7 in the first position.
  2. Convert it to a Cm7 using the 11/9 exercise.
  3. Move it up the neck a fret at a time (Cm7, C#m7, Dm7, D#m7, Em7, Fm7, etc.) till you arrive at Gm7. (Remember, there's no E# or B#.)

Likewise, you could find the Cm7 at the 8th fret and count back downward.
When you're done, you should have four "Gm7, C7, Fmaj7" sequences; one for each of the original C7 chords from the 11/9 exercise.
Now try the same exercise in the key of C; "Dm7, G7, Cmaj7".
For variety, learn the major 6 chord as a substitute for the maj 7.
The "ii-V-I" is a very important and commonly used chord sequence in jazz and swing. Once you have a vocabulary of "ii-V-I" sequences, these styles become much more comprehensible.


Trying to get a better command of the fingerboard? Try this:
Take a simple fiddle tune, maybe Whiskey Before Breakfast in the key of D. Start out with just the first line. Make sure you know it clearly in the open position, where the melody starts on the open D string. Now we're going to use the D note at the fifth fret of the A string as our starting point.
Teach yourself the melody these four ways:

  1. Start with your index finger on the D note. This is the "fifth position" (i.e., four fingers covering the 5th thru 8th frets, one finger per fret, with the potential to stretch to the 4th or 9th fret).
  2. Start with your 2nd finger on the D note. This is the "fourth position".
  3. Start with your 3rd finger on the D note. This is the "third position".
  4. Start with your 4th finger on the D note. This is the "second position".

Learning, by ear, or by the seat of your pants, to play in these four positions will enhance your organic sense of the fingerboard. Play the four fingerings one after another until you're comfortable with all the fingerings, and you can find the notes without any errors.
After you're able to play Whiskey all the way through in these positions, you can try the same exercise starting at the D note at the 10th fret of the low E string.
Some of these positions will be easy, and require no stretching. Others will be more taxing, and involve more stretching. For more difficult fingerings, try raising the headstock upward, so the neck is more diagonal, and bending the left wrist so more of your hand is in front of the plane described by the fingerboard. These two positional tips help enhance lateral mobility of the fingers of the left hand.


Learn these four closed (no open strings) chord fingerings for a C7 chord. Then, by making the alterations shown, you'll have four each of C7, Cmaj7, C6, Cm7, and Cm6 positions. Practice by playing all 4 C7's, then all 4 Cmaj7's, etc. That'll help you get comfortable moving up and down the neck.
That's twenty chords. Playable in each of the twelve keys, that gives you 240 chords. You can download the JPG below and print it for easy access. Sometime soon, we'll talk a bit about applying these chords.