Category Archives: Practice

Practicing Without an Instrument

It’s not always possible to have your instrument with you when you travel, so these are times that you’ll have to find creative ways to practice and keep your mind focused on music. Here are a few tips to help you make it through the dark times.

1. Get a good ear training system.

Statue of Fellow Scratching His Ear With a Stick
Nagasena, at Pahang Buddhist Association Temple, Kuantan

I invented my own, to help me identify notes after a C Major Triad is played. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, send an email to to get week one of my note naming system at no cost to you. There are also other kinds of ear training systems available, such as the ear training app functional ear trainer and others that basically do the same kinds of things: help you develop a great sense of relative pitch. Ear training is super important. It helps you translate what you hear into what you play, and all these courses are graduated systems for shortening the time between hearing something and being able to play it on your instrument.

2. Try transcribing (and in this case, I do actually mean listening to something and writing it down) with no instrument.

Even if you can’t tell exactly what key something is in, you can probably get pretty close in determining relative positions of notes. And even if you can’t do that all that well, you can definitely use this as an opportunity to concentrate on getting all the rhythmic notation exactly right.

3. Take a piece you’ve been working and “air guitar” the piece .

Play the piece and actually move your fingers and picking hand trying as much as possible to approximate actual guitar playing. You can also try using some kind of “surrogate guitar” (I’ve used my arm, a random cut off piece of 2 x 4, or you could try one of the two or three “guitar trainers” on the market), if you find fingering in the air too difficult.

4. Try a complete visualization.

Meditation Hand Position

As a kind of meditation, visualize yourself in as much detail as possible, using as many senses as possible, you playing through a particular tune you’ve been working on. Visualize the sound, obviously, but also how the instrument feels in your hands, how the strap feels across your shoulder, how the pick feels in between your thumb and forefinger. Then visualize playing through the whole tune flawlessly, effortlessly.

5. Write out a lead sheet for a tune you think you know.

If that’s too easy, write a lead sheet in a completely different key. If that’s too hard, you can at least try to write out a chord chart.

All of these things can be ways you can try to practice without having to be in close proximity to your instrument. These are just good things you can use to exercise your internal musical abilities anywhere: on the bus, on the train, in an airplane, or any time you find that you have free time and can devote a few minutes of attention to music. I mean, what else are you gonna do? Listen to a podcast? 😉

Bi-Triadic Hexatonic Scales

Take two triads, any two triads. Preferably, two triads that don’t have any notes in common. When you arrange them so that they form a scale, that scale is a Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale.  As an example, let’s take A Minor and G Major.

First, in Example 1, I write the triads out as chords. Then, in Example 2, I write the notes out as arpeggios. Next, in Example 3, I arrange them in a way that combines them to form a scale with 6 tones, a “hexatonic” scale.

Am G Bi Triadic Hexatonic Construction

I especially like this one, because it’s a minor scale with no sixth degree, which makes it ultra useful, since you can use it in place of natural minor or Dorian.

Let’s try an A minor triad with a G minor triad. When combined into a scale, it yields a minor pentatonic scale with the addition of the b2. See examples 3 – 6.

1 b2 b3 4 5 b7 (Pentatonic With b2)
Building a Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale with an Am triad and a Gm triad

So far, these have been fairly “normal” sounding: kind of diatonic or modal, not really that exotic or “outside” sounding. Let’s try one that starts to move in the “outside” direction. Examples 7-9 take the A Minor triad and combine it with the Eb Major triad.

1 b2 b3 #4 5 b7
How to Construct a Hexatonic scale from an Am and an Eb Triad

So far, we’ve just been building Minor Hexatonics, so let’s see what we get when we start with an A Major Triad.

In examples 10-12, we start by combining an A Major triad with a G# Minor triad. When it all shakes out, we get a pretty “inside” sounding ALMOST Lydian scale. In fact, it’s a Lydian scale without a 6th degree: 1 2 3 #4 5 7.

1 2 3 #4 5 7
Constructing a scale from an A triad and a G#m triad

We can also combine triads to get another kind of altered dominant sound. In this case, let’s look at Examples 13-16, which use the  A major and G minor triads.  It becomes a kind of “Phyrigian Dominant” or “Mixolydian b9” without the 6th degree, so: 1 b2 3 4 5 b7.

1 b2 3 4 5 b7
Constructing a Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale from A Major and G minor

The triads from which we build these hexatonic scales don’t have to be limited to major or minor, we can also use augmented, diminished and sus4 triads.

In examples 14 – 16, we combine A Major and the G Augmented Triads. This particular combination yields a “Not Quite Lydian Dominant” scale. Or a Lydian Dominant without the 6th degree: 1 2 3 #4 5 b7.

A Major and G Aug Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale
Bi Triadic Hexatonic Scale From A Major and G Aug

Now that you’ve got the gist, you can try building your own. Some to try: A major combined with G# Diminshed, Am combined with Bb Sus4, A major with C minor.  Let me know through the comments what you come up with.

Have fun.



Practicing Reading

Lately, I have started to get up early in the morning,  and before doing anything else, I take out a classical music piece and read it down as a musical warm up for the ears, eyes and fingers. One per day. When I was going to school, my teacher, Bruce Bartlett, told me to get the Bach Violin Sonatas and Partitas Book, which I’m sure was recommended to him by Mike Stern or Charlie Banacos. For the last little while (a month maybe?) I have been choosing one of the less daunting selections from this book and reading it down. My focus is accuracy of reading, not really warp speed…that, and to get the SOUND of Bach’s LINES in my head.

When I get through all the Bach that isn’t completely impossible, I move on to either a violin technique book, like Hrimaly, or Wohlfahrt. I also use Hanon for this purpose, though I really need to give Hanon, and more to the point, HOW TO USE Hanon, its own post in the future.

There are also other Bach Sonatas, the ones for treble clef non-transposing instruments (flute, oboe) that could be useful for this kind of thing. So you may want to check out Bach’s Sonatas for Flute and Piano.

Just wake up, open the book, read one section down…no matter how long it takes, then move on to your normal practice. The next day, wake up, read the next section down. It’s a bit like meditation, and you’ll notice yourself getting stronger and faster and the strange open voicing and scalar sequences will start to become no big deal.

Good Luck.

If you need suggestions about which sections of the sonatas that work well on the guitar, and which absolutely do NOT, just use the  contact page to send a note along with your email, and I’ll send you a PDF