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Di Meola onstage with his Conde Hermano classical guitar. Photo by PhotoMafia
Talk a little about recording Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody, which sounds so naturally flowing. Was it done live?
Before we even went in the studio, the ensemble spent almost a year rehearsing the tunes on the road. Everyone developed a comfort level with the compositions and began to take more liberties with their own embellishments, which lent character to everything, along with a good feel and groove. In other words, the rehearsals were kind of part of the writing process. Another good thing is that rehearsing the songs so thoroughly for so long afforded me the chance to take away ideas or add them to a piece—to remove an unnecessary part that was weighing things down or to add a cool chord change. So by the time we got to the studio, everybody was very comfortable with the material and we were able to record the album mostly live.
We used overdubbing sparingly for the occasional extra drum part or guitar solo. That’s pretty much the opposite of the way things are normally done these days. Musicians go into the studio after a quick rehearsal to record, which means their compositions haven’t gotten the chance to live, breathe, and develop. Most people actually don’t even record with bands anymore— they just layer tracks one instrument at a time, and it definitely shows.
The record is filled with uncommonly complex chord progressions. Do you have any pointers for someone who’s just learning to play over changes?
First, arm yourself with a knowledge of theory, which will help you identify which scales apply to a given chord. Then make sure you’ve got those scales under your fingers. When you’re faced with a new progression, a good basic rule to make it all work is this: Use the appropriate scales and play things very slowly while you think about the smoothest way to get from one chord to the next. For example, one new track, “Siberiana,” has a bunch of chord changes. One of the sections starts off on an F#m chord and then moves to Am. So if you’re playing a C# over the F#m chord, you can move down a half-step to C to land smoothly on the Am and make the change.
You can also look for a common tone— one note that can be played over different chords. The note E will work on both an F#m and Am chords. That way you can focus on doing a lot of really cool things with rhythm and syncopation. That’s something that’s never really talked about—the importance of rhythmic improvisation.
What would you recommend to a player who’s struggling with rhythm?
You first have to connect physically to whatever it is you’re practicing. If you’re having problems, it’s best to start with something simple in 4/4. Before you even play a note or strum a chord, tap your foot in quarter-notes, making sure that the foot is very steady. Then, try adding the guitar playing, making absolutely sure the foot maintains a consistent beat. If the foot is doing what it should be, then you’ll be able to add the upper rhythms—the ones you play against the beat on the guitar. But if your foot sways even a hair, it’s all over. At that point, you’re going to have to take things down to a ridiculously slow tempo and tap along with a metronome until your foot gets its act together, because if it’s not doing what it should then you won’t be able to hold things together, rhythmically. In the end, rhythm is the most important thing—and it all comes from the foot.
Al Di Meola’s Gearbox
Ovation Al Di Meola signature model, 1948 Martin D-18, Conde Hermanos nylon-string, PRS Al Di Meola Prism, Gibson Al Di Meola Les Paul, Gibson Al Di Meola hollowbody
Roland VG-88 Guitar System, Roland GR-1 Guitar Synthesizer
1979 50-watt Dumble Overdrive Special driving a Mesa/Boogie 2x12 cab with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers
Strings and Picks
D’Addario EXL110 electric sets, D’Addario EJ16 steel-string acoustic sets, Savarez nylon-string acoustic sets, extraheavy D’Andrea picks