LessonFace with Duane Denison: Build Technique and Confidence with Diatonic Exercises

Duane Denison, long-time educator and guitarist (the Jesus Lizard, Tomahawk and the Unsemble, among others) is scheduling live online one-on-one and group lessons at LessonFace.

In today’s lesson, we focus on a couple of exercises to help you develop and maintain technique. Once you're familiar with them, exercises like these also can serve as good warmup drills before recording or performing. And it’s worth noting that mastering exercises like these can go a long way toward enhancing your general musicality and confidence.

We start off with a fairly basic arpeggio exercise based on two superimposed triads, the C major triad and the A minor triad:

You’ll notice the exercise is basically two octaves of the same six notes. And then we retrace our steps and come back down the exercise:

And once you put those two together, it should sound like this:

After you get comfortable playing this exercise, start experimenting with it. For instance, you can start experimenting with your phrasing by including hammer-ons and pull-offs instead of picking every single note.

A guitarist’s playing should be comfortable, similar to speech. Think about this: When you speak, do you carefully pronounce each and every word? Of course not; that would sound ridiculous. Well, it’s the same with your playing. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about (Remember, the idea is for you to continue experimenting by yourself), here’s the same exercise played with intermittent hammer-ons and pull-offs:

The next exercise I want to show you is a similar arpeggio exercise that uses the same pattern but with three octaves. When tabbed out it looks like this:

And when coming back down, we’re going to switch things up slightly by playing the same notes in different positions from the second octave onwards:

So once you put them together, it should sound like this:

After you master this exercise, go ahead and start adding those hammer-ons and pull-offs and experimenting with things like you did with the last exercise.

Of course, you should play these slowly and cleanly at first and only bring up the speed as you feel comfortable doing so. Once comfortable with these exercises, you can experiment with different ways of picking them. For instance, try doubling up on the notes or playing triplets. When doing this, you’ll notice that adhering to strict alternate picking can be difficult at first, especially with the triplets.

And if you really want to push yourself, try starting your triplets on an up-stroke instead of a down-stroke. Pushing yourself in this way, by doing things that are significantly harder than what you regularly play can sometimes be a great way to build your technique.

And, of course, you shouldn’t stop at just playing these two exercises. The goal is to be able to play these exercises in any key using as much of the fretboard as you can. You might have to start off slow, but keep at it and work on increasing your speed while playing cleanly and fluidly.

Duane Denison is one of Spin magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and a long-time educator who is now teaching live lessons over high-performance video conference via LessonFace. Denison first came to public notice through his work with Chicago-based alternative rock band the Jesus Lizard, whose albums Goat and Liar made Rolling Stone's "Top 100 Albums of the '90s" list. He has gone on to perform and record with a variety of bands and artists, including Tomahawk, the Unsemble, Hank Williams III, Beverley Knight and others. He holds a bachelor's degree in music from Eastern Michigan University and has studied guitar with Juan Serrano and Paul Warren, among others.

Enrollment is open for live online group guitar class with Duane Denison on March 11. Learn more here. Duane also is available for a limited schedule of private sessions, which can be accessed through his LessonFace profile.

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