Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Chromatics Day 3

The previous exercise used rhythmic displacement to add interest. For this installment we'll be using octave displacement. 

Simply put this is just a chromatic scale but every note is in a different octave from the previous one. Obviously this results in some technical challenges and obscures the sound of the chromatic scale. 
 What you end up with is actually a tone row of sorts as described by serialist music theory. Here's a link if you're interested in finding out more.

To deal with the large intervallic leaps I used hybrid picking technique. I found myself using all my right hand fingers to pull it off. It makes for an excellent right hand exercise. 

In the spirit of serialist compositional technique you could also play it in retrograde. In other words, backwards. 

There many other possible configurations of this exercise so it's worth spending time working them out. It will develop your fretboard awareness and open things up when improvising. Guitarist's tend to play few wide intervals and this is a good way to start think 'bigger'. You could also apply the same concept to 7 note scale within a diatonic framework.

Chromatics Day 2

Here's another little finger twister for you. Not only will this get your fingers in a tangle but it'll mess with your mind a little bit too!

In this particular slice of Digital Hell you'll be playing an odd note grouping of 5 descending along a single string. The first finger must stay very low and reach back to anticipate the next position whilst the other fingers are playing.

This could be played two different ways rhymically:

As a pentuplet so you're playing the entire 5 note pattern in the space of one beat or alternatively over a 4/4 pulse. 

Played at any kind of speed this becomes confusing to the ear as the mind tries to resolve a constantly shifting 1. This is a useful device for creating rhythmic interest with relatively simple figures but requires greater rhythmic control to keep in time. 
 Many players use this technique in their improvisation. 

For ease of reading the example is notated in 5/16 but in the video I'm playing it over a 4 pulse. The tempo is 140bpm but as always build up to faster tempos slowly ensuring clarity at all times.

Chromatics Day 1

  I always like to practice chromatic patterns. Not only are they a good way of maintaining your technique but it's also very useful to have a large repetoire of them when improvising.

So to kick of the new year I'll try and post a new one each day. Some of these will be taken from my Digital Hell series whilst others will be new.

As ever the golden rules are:

Practice these slowly and cleanly at first
Build up the speed gradually using a metronome for much of the time
If you can't sing these patterns as you play them then learn to

As usual I'm playing in P4 tuning in the video but for you unfortunate souls still in standard tuning I've tabbed it that way.

Here's the dots....

Friday, 14 November 2014

Guitar Tone Secrets of the Pharaohs.

OK I fess up. That title is entirely misleading and designed to lure the unsuspecting guitarist into reading this blog and watching the video. The clue was the use of the word SECRET. It's a bit like when it says 'Rare unseen footage of player X' in a Youtube description. If it's on YouTube it's no longer rare or unseen! But I digress...

 Guitarist's are suckers for anything that promises to aid them in that endless quest for tone and the guitar mags are full of it.

'10 things you must do to sound like Eddie Van Halen'
1: Huff Schwinn cycle paint (it's what Eddie used)
2: Rewire your guitar only on a full moon and don't forget to bypass the tone pot.
3. Get some authentic Marlboro burns on your headstock etc....

And on it goes.....

Whilst a lot of this stuff us usefull and valid advice the fact of the matter is these mags are there to sell product whether it be the artists (their latest CD) or the manufacturers (their latest amp).
 Often I find the latest offering from Blackmarstarshall or whoever to be completely unusable but these products are aimed at a mass market and the key thing here is finding something that works for you.

So here's the real meat of this article - after this you can go back to watching Ukrainian midget tossing, pictures of donkeys wearing fedoras or whatever else you do with your internet time.

Okay so the tone secret of the Pharaohs is.......

It's at either end of the tone chain that the major changes can be achieved. The bit in the middle...well.....meh!

The beginning.
The player's ears, hands and heart.
They make the single biggest difference but you can't buy those.

Great strings are the heart of your sound and anyone that says they don't make a difference is frankly an idiot. For years I used Ernie Balls and thought they were the best you could get. Until I tried Newtones that is. They sound and feel better last far longer and because they're wound for YOU the gauges and core can tailored to your instrument and requirements. Over the years either through necessity or curiosity I've tried others but they just don't cut it. A big shout out to Kurt Mangan strings by the way who've come the closest!
Getting the right pickup for the guitar is crucial and handwound pickups are always better. More articulation and detail. In terms of bang for you buck it's hard get more for less. Amps only do just that...amplify. Feed crap in at one end and they'll throw crap out at the other end. Loud, distorted crap!
This is why I pay more attention (and money) to this stage than any other. I think that without the right pickup you're fighting a losing battle.

The end.

Finding a speaker you like sound of is critical and can transform the sound of an amp for better or worse in 5 mins. This is easily controlled by you and doesn't cost a fortune to experiment with.

Finally the listeners ears. People do hear things differently and there's nowt you can do about it.
Some have golden ears whilst some are made of cloth. my video and check out Catwhiskers Pickups.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Chromatic Harmonisation

A lot of people get confused when it comes to understanding to the difference between diatonic and chromatic harmony but it's actually pretty simple. 
   Diatonic harmony is any chord that belongs to the home key - chromatic harmony is any chord that comes from elsewhere. So for instance in the key of C major an A major chord is chromatic as it contains a C# and that's a note that isn't part of C major naturally.

The trick is seeing the wood for the trees so to speak. To that end we're going to experiment with a very simple melody line in the key of G major.

B - C - D - E 

A simple harmonisation of that top line would be 

I - IV - V - IV or 

 G major - C major - D major - C  major

Into this we're going to introduce a chromatic note so our melody line is now:

B - C - D - D# - E

The D# is non diatonic (does not belong to the key of G major) so any chord we use to harmonise it will be chromatic. There are obviously a lot of possibilities but the chords that will work best are the ones that have connections with the chords before and after it. This is where the idea of false relations come in but first we need to be clear about.....

Diatonic chord movement

Take for instance the idea of a diatonic relationship of two chords a 3rd apart:

C major moving to A minor

C major is C E G 
A minor is A C E

One sounds like an extension of the other as they share two notes and the one note that changes is only moving one scale step. Obviously they're going to sound well together - they are connected by common notes. 

This can be done in the opposite direction also:

C major moving to E minor

C major is C E G 
E minor is E G B

The same logic applies. Two notes 'stick' - the E and the G. One note moves one scale step in this case the C moving to B.

False Relations

A false relation subverts this idea.

                                                          C major moving to Ab major

C major is C E G 
Ab major is Ab C Eb

Here they share one note and the two notes that move each move a semitone (chromatically) - one up and one down nicely following the rules of counterpoint. 

We hear a connection between the two chords but it's more ear catching, dramatic or 'coloured'. Have a think about the root of the word chromatic at this point and it's appropriateness in this context.

Most of the examples below use this technique. Where dominant 7ths are used this heightens the sense of tension and resolution. 

Note that the approach chord to the chromatic chord varies. The D can be harmonised with either a D or G major chord. The choices were made to maintain a 3rds relationship and to avoid stepwise movement. 

All the examples are notated and were done of the top of my head in a lesson so are by no means exhaustive. Dissect each one and look at the individual notes as they move from chord to chord. i.e voice leading. No tab here by the way! That's for losers!

To explore this concept further you could replace the D# topline note with another chromatic note elsewhere. A C# between the C & D notes would be a good choice. 

Note also that I've limited myself to major chords only. Minor, diminished and augmented chords can all be used successfully. The underlying factors that determine whether it'll sound good are the root movement and the voice leading.  

Here's video of me playing through the examples.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Monday, 9 June 2014

Learning Songs

   Well if you viewed my post entitled "Getting your playing out there"  you'll no doubt have scored yourself the gig you've been looking for. Brilliant! The only thing is that now you've got another problem. Learning all the tunes they want you to play on the gig - next week! 
 Although I have a repetoire of hundreds of songs I still have to learn tunes at short notice all the time. After all, nobody knows all the thousands of songs there are out there. 

So here's how I approach learning sets quickly and efficiently. 

I create A5 sheets for each song containing just the critical information required to get through the song. A5 is more manageable on a gig but big enough to get most songs onto.

Roughly these are the steps I go through to distill the song down.

  • Identify the key center and the main chord progressions for each section of the song
  • Label these sections - Verse, Chorus middle 8 etc. It's actually not that important that your labels coincide with anyone else's as long as you know what they mean. 
  • Work your way through the tune getting the structure clear in your mind and down on paper. 
  • From there it'll be a matter of notating the exceptions to the likely Verse-Chorus repeat format. 
  • I include rhythmic notation and simple melodic directions - just note letters and a contour.
  • Stops are very important to get right. If you're playing when everyone else stops they're gonna notice! 
  • Include vocal cues and reminders of extended sections

Here's an example sheet and a line by line breakdown. The song is the soul classic 'Hold back the Night'

Normally I write the title at the top but forgot on this occasion!

From top to bottom, line by line:

Intro chord sequence which also happens to be the Chorus sequence (not uncommon).

A triplet ascending chord pattern (a major feature of the song) 

A reminder of a specific arpeggiated verse pattern (again - an important detail)

From there it's just structure and any exceptions to the regular verse - chorus repetitions.

By the time I've prepared this I'll already know the song but I'll practice with it front of me for a while and quickly start to ignore it. Chances are I won't need it by the time comes to play it with the band but if I do it'll be clear to read from and will guide me through - even with my hand writing! 

If there are sets that you don't play often it's good to keep these sheets as they'll serve as an excellent memory aid and you'll be back up to speed more or less straight away.
 Over time you'll find your own ways of representing the important information.