Monday, November 17, 2014

The Power of 5 - Using the 5th interval to quickly power up your playing

Ever since the first time I played the riff to Ironman by Black Sabbath as a beginner, I learned that if you play a note on the any of the top 3 strings* (E, A, or D) and you add a second note (one string down, and two frets up) it sounds great together. The now famous 'power chord' became essentially the basis of the entire hard rock/metal genre. What I didn't know at that time was that I had stumbled across the strongest harmony in the wester music harmony: The root and the 5th - also known as a "perfect fifth".

I assume pretty much all of you know this interval well, as pretty much every song ever contains a chord with it present. But let me ask you this: did you ever think that what works with a single note, could also work with a chord? Or a scale? Or even a key? Let me save you a lot of time here - it does.

5ths gone wild
Let's start with a chord. I will use the key of C for these examples. The 5th above C is the note G. What happens if we play a C chord and add notes of the G chord at the same time? We essentially add the 9th and the major 7 notes to the chord. Try it - stack up every versions of a C and G chord and listen to some of the beautiful sounds.

This isn't just me right?
I was watching an Eric Johnson Hot Licks video the other day. In it, he mentioned that when he is soloing using the Cmin pentatonic scale he often likes to add and jump back and forth into the Gmin pentatonic scale. Hmmm, here it is again C & G - a.k.a. the 5th. Like Eric, I have done this myself for years and it works fantastic. So if you normally use the pentatonic scale for soloing and feel 'stuck in the box' - try switching it up to the 5th for a while! Mix and match. Your old lines may sound less tired.

Same with harmonizing lines or working with a key. If you write a melody using notes of C Major, have the second guitar/key/bass harmonize it using the key of G Major.

.. the possibilities are endless.

The Rabbit Hole
This blog post is designed to get you thinking about the concept: 'If it works for a note will it work for a chord or key'. So, .... If the 5th works... what about 3rds? Or 4ths? 7ths?? etc. I will let you do the legwork on this one, but let me assure you - this journey is time well spent. It can open up your ears, your chord playing, soloing and songwriting to places it may have never gone.

* This interval exists on all strings but the shape alters slightly as you cross the B string due to tuning.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ace of Spades guitar solo w/tabs

I wanted to start doing some more simple solos so as to include as many playing levels as I can here with this blog. So this solo is really directed at the beginning/intermediate player. This solo is attainable yet cool - a rare combination. Plus it will teach you a thing or two about following the harmony and how attitude can sometimes sell even the simplest of lines.

Motorhead is one of the great punk/thrash/rock/metal bands of all time. They represent strength, freedom, youth, all those good things as seen through the eyes of a group of 20 year old hell raisers on speed. The music was brash, bold, simple yet powerful. All of this is present in this song and guitar solo. 

This solo is a pretty all around 'in' thing. The chords go Amin > Bmin > back to Amin, ending on Emin. So the first parts are Amin pentatonic. Then Bmin pentatonic. Then Amin pentatonic. The only interesting note in it is the B natural at the end learning back to the Emin. But it's not really that interesting as it is part of the Emin pentatonic. So this sucker just follows convention for the most part.

Getting the sound
Preferably a Les Paul or a double coil guitar. Played through a Marshall heavily overdriven. Roll off lots of low end. Add some flanger to finish it off. Play aggressively - the moreso the better. This isn't a precision solo, it's an attitude solo.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.

Pat Metheny - sit in on a lesson

One of my favourite artists, giving a private lesson, shared with us all. This is an absolute gold mine of super cool insights. Pat is one of the greatest musicians of all time, so listen up!

Friday, September 26, 2014

The one thing you can do to fix ALL your playing issues

Every day, I go through numerous guitar forums to help people, learn more and generally keep up with all that ails those who play. Every day, without exception, one thought comes into my head that would fix 98% of the questions posted. Drumroll please...........

Just do it.

I am sure you are totally angry with me right now and want to send me some nasty comments. But before you do, let's look at some real world questions and explore the obviousness of it.

Q: How do I play like Tommy Emmanuel?
A: Play Tommy Emmanuel songs and the songs he learned growing up.

Q: How do I play over the iV chord in a Blues?
A: Practice playing over the iV chord with a looper or backing track. Learn solos by greats and how they approach the iV.

Q: How do I learn to play without the pick?
A: Throw out all your picks and play without.

Q: How do I learn to use my pinky?
A: Use your pinky all the time. Practice patterns that require you to do so.

I could go on and on here, but I suspect you get the point. Why I bothered to write this post was not to annoy, or belittle your quest. I wrote it to show you the obviousness of the solutions to most of your problems. One of the best skills one can have is the ability to self teach. Teaching is partly about looking for what a student is doing wrong - then creating a circumstance where that action gets used often. Seems a LOT of you already know the hard part - what you are doing wrong.

You know what you want and you know what you do, so get busy doing what you don't do: play enough. Because the one thing you CAN do that will fix them all, is more time playing.

No more shortcuts - just do it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Rock You Like a Hurricane Solo w/Tabs

Of all the legendary metal guitarists from the 80's, I'd say Matthias Jabs of the Scorpions gets the least credit. Let's be serious, this guy was a monstrous player who always wrote tasteful, memorable solos that became as integral to the song as the vocal itself. Not many players are able to accomplish a thing like that. He deserves, in my opinion, WAY more credit and mention. Which is why I am covering him here.

This solo is a real nice example of a player who is using the parent key scale (Emin - Dorian) but with a clear awareness of the chords going by underneath. At key moments of the solo, he nails the chord tones, which rely ramps up the drama of the solo. 

The very beginning is pure chord tone stuff. Strong notes all the way. Then he gets into the flashy stuff beginning with a very modern (of that time) Eddie Van Halen inspired tap slide on an Emin pentatonic scale. Followed by a fast alternate picking (sextuplets - or 2 groups of 3 notes per beat) moving up the scale. He comes smoothly out of this into a pretty classic blues pentatonic riff (adding the flat 5 in the riff and during the double stops). The fast building line is a beauty - killer stuff! Using the E Dorian scale as its base, he ascends very musically to the very top of the neck. This is a GREAT metal build to cop! I remember when I first heard this solo when the song came out. The fluidity of this line floored me.

BTW, I executed this solo on my Strat so that you can see it can be done on a standard 22 fret instrument. It's real tough playing way up there, but you can do it. My favourite part is the wrap he ends the solo with, a momentary Emin pentatonic riff (again with the added b5 blues note). Then a chromatic ascent to the final chord tone D (which can be thickened with the major 3rd above if you like). 

Getting the sound
This is really pretty basic signal chain. Strat > distortion pedal (I used a Wampler Pinnacle) > Some reverb > amp. This is a pretty classic humbucker into Marshall type tone. It's all in the hands. What really makes this work is Matthias' vibrato. He really sticks these notes and plays with 100% conviction.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Barre Chords - What am I doing wrong??

I wanted to do a quick post to help beginning players address probably their most asked question of their teachers: "How do I do a barre chord! These are impossible!!".

No they are not... they are surprisingly quite easy with some work.

Finger Placement
First up, let's talk briefly about the proper fretting hand placement. The way the guitar works is that when you press down on a string at any fret, the string makes contact with the steel fret wire at the front edge of the fret (closer to the body of the guitar not the neck). This essentially makes the string shorter and the contact point is exactly on the crest of the steel fret wire. Why this matters: no matter where in the fret you press down with your finger, the contact point remains the fret wire itself.

Take a look at this photo below, most importantly where I am fretting the note. This is bad finger placement - too far from the front fret itself. More strength is required to push the string down in this position. I have made a small red dot where the finger should be for optimal technique.

This (below) is correct placement. Notice where in the fret, the finger makes contact - right behind the fret wire itself. This placement allows you to use the least possible strength. The less strength you need to press down the faster your playing and the clearer the notes.

This (below) is what a good barre chord should look like. I have circled the finger placement so you can see how on top of the fret wires I am.

Let's talk about the thumb
The most overlooked aspect of a good barre chord is the placement of the thumb. The thumb provides the strength and counter balance for the fingers.

In this photo you can see bad thumb placement. I am using the side of my thumb and it is too far towards the headstock of the guitar to provide strength to the pinky side of my hand. The index finger is the only finger getting any assistance here.

Here is another bad example. With your palm touching the neck, the thumb is too high to properly spread your fingers. When you grab the guitar with what can be referred to as a "Baseball bat grip", the structure of your hand is such that when the thumb is in a grabbing type position, your fingers will not be free to spread apart.

Here is proper placement - Thumb behind the second finger, in the middle of the height of the neck. This position allows even strength and the ability for the fingers to spread. Which can be critical in chording.

Let's put it all together
Here is a picture of a correctly executed barre chord. With a hand position like this it gives you the best positioning to create a chord with no buzzing or fretted out notes.

Best player in the world X doesn't do it that way!
It should be said that once you get good at an instrument, often times your technique can get sloppy. I can use almost any hand placement now and still get a clean barre chord after all these years. But I sure couldn't at first! It was hell - but that was many years ago. The great players can use odd fingers and all kinds of other technically "wrong" hand positions. They can get away with it. Because all the hours of doing it right has given their hands the strength and flexibility to achieve this.

Will I ever get this?
Topics like this are odd because once you master this - you will never need to think of it again. It becomes second nature. One day these chords will be so easy you will wonder why I wasted the time writing an article about them. So stay with it, focus on your thumb and finger placement and you will have these mastered before you know it.

Best of luck!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Organizing your practice time

As musicians we all have musical goals, even if you don't think you do - you do! Maybe you just have not formalized it yet. The purpose of this post is to help get you on your way.

It's Time
With fall approaching it marks the beginning of a new calendar for me. The summer with all its splendour and busyness represents an almost full stop to my practice routine. I still play of course, but the hopes of actually getting anything done are pretty much dead. So here I am, ready to work.... now what?

Setting a goal - the roadmap
If you were travelling somewhere, and you had no idea where you were going, how would you get there? I mean, you would end up somewhere... But is it the place you wanted to be? Formalizing your goals is an absolute critical part of the journey to get you where you want to be. It allows you to keep track of your practice times, making sure the compass is always guiding you. So really spend some time thinking about this one.

I don't know what to practice?
We've all felt this at one time or another. Practice room dead ends can lead to the boredom, which is followed by putting down the instrument. So the goal here is to keep you moving forward, with always lots of options to keep yourself fresh.

At the top of this post I have shared with you my current "Goals Document". The items on this are completely personal to you, but I wanted you to see what I do to maybe generate some ideas and inspiration as to how this actually looks. Yours can be entirely different.

It is pretty self explanatory - basically, I list a longer term goal in the column on the left. Then a practice idea beside it in the right column. The idea here is not for me to do all of these things. This is a list of potential things I can work on in a practice session. I haven't listed gig requirements etc. Those ram themselves into your schedule just fine on their own! This is designed to beat the practice room doldrums and keep your fingers on the strings. Next time you are floundering in the practice room, take a peek at your sheet. Pick something and get busy on your road.

Spend some time developing your own strategy. Knowing where you want to be gives you a distinct advantage and increases one's odds of ever actually getting 'there'.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Do you really know how to use your gear?

Because I kind of don't... or didn't. Many musicians spend a good deal of money on the quest for that elusive tone. Of course there are varying degrees of this illness, but guitar players are specifically bad for it!

Take for example something I just went through. Over the years, I have acquired quite a few pedals. These are added and removed from my pedalboard with regularity. When not in use, they end up here

This is my version of a pedal 'time-out' shelf (sadly I have a good deal more than this!). This is where my pedals go to .. not die... but certainly wait - until the day they are needed once again.

One of these pedals, was a beautiful Fuzz pedal that I purchased a while back - the Fulltone SoulBender.  Fulltone makes amazing gear. This Soulbender pedal is used by many great recorded players, so it was selected to full all my Fuzz needs... Problem is... it just didn't sound good. I mean it was OK... but certainly not soulbending! So I have been on the lookout ever since for a different fuzz pedal.

Fast forward to today. In my readings, I came across a discussion of different transistor usage in fuzz pedals. The author was saying something along the lines of germanium ones being very specific about where they get placed in the signal path, how much current needed, temperature issues, all that... Then it occurred to me... Pretty sure the Soulbender is a germanium fuzz??

So off to Google I went and what followed lead me to the point of this article! Take the time to Google and research your gear before you make a decision about it! As it turned out, the Soulbender (and a couple other pedals on my board) were in the wrong place. So just simply shuffling the order they were in had a MAJOR impact on the quality of their tone. All of a sudden it sounded beautiful!!

The lesson here is: Sometimes different pieces of equipment are designed to operate in very specific conditions. A lot of this makes no sense to someone without a degree in electronics or programming! So Google is your friend. Before you pull out your wallet, take the time to read about each piece of gear you own. What you discover may give some of it a new lease on life.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Jammit - Pretty darn cool!

There are a lot of new "slow downer" type teaching apps emerging these days to assist young musicians learn their favourite songs. One of those is Jammit. Now, I am not usually one to get too caught up in these types of things (I believe working it out for yourself bears far more fruit) but I found myself intrigued enough to download this and give it a look see.

Before getting too far into this let me explain what it does: Jammit allows you to play back a song file (that you purchase from their site) that allows you to isolate the individual tracks and includes. It includes a scrolling Tab or notation of the piece being played. There are more features too, so hit the link above and check out one of the demo videos.

One real cool feature right off the bat  - this is not just a guitar app. There are vocal, bass, drums, keys versions of the same songs available. Good for a young band to get all the parts. Another thing - these tracks sound great! I am not sure if they come right off the master tapes of these recordings or not... But truly impressive tone.

To check the quality of the transcriptions I started with a tricky one: "The Attitude Song" from Steve Vai's Flexible album. Overall, a pretty accurate transcription. Some spots the fingerings in the Tab seem a bit odd, but overall a pretty solid representation. You can loop and slow down playback while the notation scrolls on screen allowing you to work out the piece line by line.

My final feeling is that this is a very solid package, one that I would recommend to any learning musician as a part of their practice routine. Head on over and check it out. Easily worth the $5 outlay that most of the songs cost.

Monday, April 21, 2014

New Pedalboard

Well, I just got my hands on a new Pedaltrain Jr. pedalboard. It is a perfect solution for any gigging player who's pedal count is around 8 - 10 pedals.

The board features: steel frame construction, a handy travel bag, and all the required velcro. The Pedaltrain Jr even comes with a handy mounting kit for a Voodoo Labs Pedal Power. This allows you to mount the power supply underneath - preserving valuable real estate up top. So if you play mostly local gigs, where a road case is not required, then this little baby is a great option.

I was able to get 8 pedals on board (including the oversized TC Nova delay) and still had room for a Wah pedal. (BTW - I powered the 9th pedal off the handy power supply out on the TC Electronics Polytune - boy those cats at TC really are thinking aren't they!).

Now I can swap out pedals at will to suit the type of music any gig would require. No muss, no fuss!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Going Deeper in a Tonality

I once heard a story of a great jazz piano player (I think it may have been Bill Evans but I am not certain). As the story goes: a visitor dropped by to visit this musician's house one morning. He found him improvising over a simple set of changes (chord progression). The visitor left for the day and returned 9 hours later and discovered him STILL playing over the exact same changes. When asked about it the response came (paraphrasing) "I like to spend the time and focus on bringing out all the tonal options". Heavy - and very very smart!

Your turn!
Now I am certainly not suggesting you do this for 9 hours! Although, if you got the desire and focus, it would be a valuable experience! The point of this entry is to challenge you to try this. Get a loop going, choose for now, a static chord and set up a simple one chord vamp. Then dig in and improvise freely within it. I do this often sometimes for 2-3 hours at a time on the same vamp (it drives my family crazy!). It is a great rhythmic exercise and really challenges your creativity and control.

The idea is to work over every idea you can muster. Be adventurous - try different scales, chromatic approach notes, bending, whammy bar, slides, sweeps, plus TONS of different rhythmic phrases -  whatever! Fail all over the place. Just go for anything you hear. This is a fantastic exercise for developing your own voice on the instrument.

Here is a sample of one I did last night to give you the idea.

Stay well people! Keep those fingers movin!