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Warm Up Your Playing with Jazz Guitar Yoga

Every jazz guitarist needs to develop a consistent and effective practice ritual. Let’s call this guitar yoga, composed of a varied routine of roughly 30 minutes that will prepare the hands and mind to produce various scales, modes, and arpeggios with precision and ease.

The Metronome: Playing the Offbeat

In order to get the right feel for jazz, you’ll want to practice playing with the click of the metronome on the backbeat (also known as the offbeat). In other words, counting in 4/4 time, the strong beats will be 2 and 4 rather than the typical 1 and 3.The Chromatic Scale and Alternate Picking

The first scale to we’ll be using is the chromatic scale, which ascends and descends entirely in half steps and ensures that each finger receives equal use to begin the warm up. Make sure to use exclusively alternate picking (down, up, down, up) throughout the entire warmup session.

Now that we’ve loosened up with the chromatic scale, let’s take a look at the scales and modes that will make up the core of our daily fretboard workout.

Scales, Modes and the Cycle of Fourths

The major scale begins our series of scales for the left hand. Just like the chromatic scale warm up, it will feel different in each new position on the fretboard. Play every major scale, following the cycle of fourths as a guide. For example, play C major, then F major, then Bb major, etc., until you’ve completed the entire cycle.You can incorporate open strings for the scales that warrant it, such as E major and A major. Practice the major scales and all other scales in this daily workout starting at the lowest position on the neck that each can be played with a closed (fretted) string.

With your metronome set to 100 beats per minute, it will take about 5-7 minutes to complete the entire 6 position warmup in all keys. Next you’ll want move to other types of scales, beginning with minor keys. In particular, utilizing melodic minor is helpful here, because it allows us to practice the raised 6th and 7th degrees of the scale on the ascending portion, and the lowered 6th and 7th degrees on the descending portion.

Natural Minor Scales: Dorian and Aeolian

Next we explore the minor modes, including the natural and harmonic minor, beginning in the same position and on the same root note that we began the melodic minor scale. There are two types of natural minor scales; Dorian and Aeolian.

The Dorian scale begins and ends on the 2nd degree of the scale, while the Aeolian begins and ends on the 6th degree of the scale.Additional Scales to Practice

Once you’ve completed these modes, practice the harmonic minor, pentatonic and blues scales in all positions, starting with each of the four fingers in closed position in succession.

Finally, it’s time to tackle arpeggios. Recall that an arpeggio is simply a triad or larger chord in which each of the notes are played one at a time, in succession, rather than simultaneously.

Let’s take a look at how to incorporate them into your daily guitar yoga session.

Arpeggios: Triads, 7th chords & Altered Chords

The simplest form of arpeggiation involves triads, which are the three notes that make up the foundation of every larger harmonic structure. There are four types of triads that you’ll want to practice: major, minor, diminished, and augmented.

After playing the basic major, minor, diminished, and augmented triads, you’ll want to finish the session with variations of 7th chords and altered arpeggios. First, simply add a 7th to each of the major, minor, diminished and augmented triads. For example, Cmaj7: C-E-G-B; Cmin7: C-Eb-G-Bb; Cdim7: C-Eb-Gb-Bbb; Caug7: C-E-G#-B#.

Extend the arpeggios listed above to cover two octaves. Then, move to the final extended arpeggio portion. An extended arpeggio is simply any 7th chord with another note (an interval of a 3rd) added to the top of the arpeggio, creating a 9th, 11th, or 13th chord.

These notes can be altered in various ways, all of which can be included into your practice on any given day for a more intense guitar yoga session. For example, using Cmaj7 as a base, try the following extensions: Cmaj9: C-E-G-B-D; Cmaj11: C-E-G-B-D-F; Cmaj13: C-E-G-B-D-F-A.

So that’s it - your entire guitar yoga session should take about 20-25 minutes.

If you don’t have time to do all of it, at least choose one of the portions that you find challenging, making sure to play all of the notes clearly and with even tempo, as this will serve the dual purpose of warming up your hands as well as reinforcing new finger recruitment patterns that will be useful in your playing.

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