Here’s a different way to unleash the beast within your tracks.
Welcome to another Dojo. Last month I explained in detail how to set up and use sidechain compression techniques to get that classic pop/EDM pumping sound on your rhythm guitar parts and other instruments in your mix. This time, we’ll use the same setup techniques but, instead of sidechaining a compressor, I’m going to show you the benefits of using a gate.
What is a gate? It’s an audio circuit design (hardware or software) that operates relative to a set threshold, much like a compressor. The key difference is that while a compressor reduces the dynamic range (volume) when the audio signal goes above the threshold, a gate reduces the volume of an audio signal when it goes below the threshold and cuts it off completely.
For those of you who play rock, prog, extreme metal, or anything that uses massive gain, you most likely use a noise gate to tame the excessive pedal/amp noise (and possibly even feedback) that would otherwise run harum-scarum over every second of silence—in between each palm mute, pick stroke, etc. The net result is super tight and punchy guitars that can stop on a dime.
The net result of using a gate instead of a compressor is that the guitar solo track will open up instead of closing down.
Let’s get crazy from the start. Take a song you’ve recorded that has multiple instruments (full band with vocals or similar). Next, create a new guitar track and record yourself playing a wicked solo for the entire song. (I was guilty of this when I first learned the pentatonic scale.) Make it as wild as you want and add lots of signal processing as well. Unleash your inner guitar demon.
Once you’ve accepted your award for “longest guitar solo,” place a gate plug-in on the track. I’m going to use FabFilter Pro-G ($179 Street), but another great choice is Waves C1 Compressor/Gate ($29 Street).
Now, we can get into some uncharted waters. Choose a track (like the snare drum, chorus BGV parts, or a cool rhythm part) and route the output of that track to the gate’s input on your new guitar-solo-from-hell track. Every DAW has slightly different ways to do sidechaining, so like last month (see August’s column “Try Sidechaining for Greater Expression”), I’m going to use Pro Tools and follow the exact same procedure—the only difference is that this time it’s a gate and not a compressor. I’m also reposting the same link as well, with instructions for non-Pro Tools users courtesy of the Fab Filter website support page that gives directions for Studio One, Logic, Cubase, and Ableton.
The net result of using a gate instead of a compressor is that the guitar solo track will open up instead of closing down. For example, every time the snare drum hits, you will briefly hear wherever you were in your new solo track. You then can fine-tune how little or long it stays audible before being forced back into submission.
In Pro Tools, open up the gate plug-in you placed on your guitar solo track [Fig. 1] and set sidechain from internal (In) to external (Ext). Next, in the “key input” menu of the plug-in interface, which is just above the FabFilter logo [Fig. 2], choose Bus 1 instead of the default “no key input.” The gate is now looking for an external source to trigger it open.
Now, let’s bus-route the snare drum track to the gate on the guitar track. In the “sends” slot of the snare drum track, select Bus 1. The Bus view window for Bus 1 will pop up [Fig. 3]. Set its level to 0.0 dB (so it will send audio signal to the gate) and select “PRE” (pre-fader) [Fig. 4]. You’ve now routed the audio (using Bus 1) from the drum track to the gate’s sidechain input on the guitar track.
If you mute the snare drum track, you’ll be able to hear how it is affecting the guitar track. Now you can play with the threshold, attack, ratio, and release. Start with a quick attack (.010-.025 ms), a high threshold, and a medium release time (150-200 ms), then adjust to taste.
I love doing things like this because every time the snare drum hits, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You can take this farther and add some reverb and delay to the guitar track to further play with how long the solo “blip” will last. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so keep experimenting and let me know if you find something really cool by emailing me here. Keep sharing your musical passion with the world and, until next time, namaste.
A compact pedal format preamp designed to offer classic, natural bass tone with increased tonal control and extended headroom.
The BX1 begins with a boutique flat response, then Carvin added extensive tone control allowing you to carve out your signature sound. Harmonic content increases as you turn up the INPUT GAIN control, producing the rich harmonics you desire from your preamp. Lightweight, compact design, bullet-proof construction and a list of indispensable features assure the BX1 will be the heart of your tone for years to come. Now shipping worldwide.
- Preamp GAIN and master VOLUME controls
- BLEND control adjusts the EQ/dry mix
- Mid sweep semi-parametric EQ
- COMPRESSOR: Threshold and Strength controls
- Effects Loop
- True Bypass
- 9-volt power – can use external power supply or internal battery
- Switchable MUTE
- -12dB Attenuation switch
- DIRECT OUT balanced XLR and 1/4-inch
Carvin BX1 Bass Preamp Pedal
The BX1 is available on the Carvin website for a $239 street price. Order now at www.carvinaudio.com.
In the debut episode of our Helmer’s How-Tos DIY series, guitar-guru Dave Helmer shows you how to dial-in whammy-bar action with a few everyday tools, a set of precision-milled blocks, and a little help from gravity.
It’s all about subtle but powerful choices.
- Learn about appoggiaturas.
- Develop ways to highlighting dissonance.
- Transform your playing with pitch-led dynamics.
We’ll be looking at the first eight measures. The Sarabande is a slow piece in triple meter. A metronome set between 40-50 bpm could help in feeling the space in between the notes but playing metronomically correct is not the point. It’s all about looking for elements of interpretation in the notation, relying on your ears, and allowing the internal energy of the music to guide you.
Jason Vieaux performs the Sarabande from Bach's Lute Suite BWV 995. This video was recorded live on March 9, 2008
In Ex. 1, you can hear me play the first eight measures in order to simply hear the character of the music and to get it under your fingers. At this stage on the electric guitar, I’ll make sure the notes are not ringing into each other. To do this, I dampen open-string notes with my fretting hand and quickly lift my fingers off of fretted notes to avoid sustaining them. Don’t worry, we will revisit the sustaining quality of the electric guitar as we make more personal choices with the interpretation later.
Now that we have the basics of the piece in our hands, let’s dig into the harmony (Ex. 2). On first look we have Am in the first measure, Dm in the second measure, Bdim in the third measure, and Am in the fourth measure. But there’s a harmonic twist on beat 3 of the first three measures. Each of these bass notes could suggest a different way to interpret the harmony.
For example, in measure 1, the F on beat three could suggest an Fmaj7 chord. However, the function of the bass note on beat 3 foreshadows the harmony of the next measure. Meaning, the F is suggesting that we’re moving to the D minor tonality. Imagine there’s no barline that separates the measures. Think of the music being written as a conversation between measures. Understanding these small details of the music will inform your interpretation.
Now, let’s talk appoggiaturas. An appoggiatura is a musical ornament. It’s technically defined as a dissonant note that is outside of the outlined harmony and is resolved into a consonant note by half-step or whole-step. For example, the dissonant G# in measure 1 resolves to the note A (Ex. 3).
An appoggiatura is executed with a slur, also known as a hammer-on. Try this on the G# to the A in measure 1. Now continue slurring the appoggiaturas in the rest of the example. Take a listen to how I emphasize the starting dissonant note of each appoggiatura by stretching it a little longer than the written value, I then resolve softly into the next note with a slur. In Baroque music, this is common practice: highlighting dissonance and resolving consonances softly. This gives the appoggiatura a sighing quality, like the human voice.
The next aspect we will discuss is pitch-led dynamics, meaning when there’s an ascending melodic line you rise the dynamic and when there’s a descending melodic line you lower the dynamic. In Bach’s music there are no dynamic markings, so much of your interpretation is dependent on your understanding of the melodic line.
Look at the notes on beat 1 of the first three measures in Ex. 4. Can you see the climb to the high B? Listen to how I gradually build the dynamics so that it peaks in measure 3 and I then proceed to lower the dynamic in measure 4. It’s the subtlety in dynamics that brings out the music.
Moving onto the next section, the first two harmonies are F major and G major (Ex. 5). In measure 7 Bach touches on three different tonal centers: C, F, and G. Then, there is a final resolution to a C bass note. Follow the dynamics implied by the descending shape of the melodic line by allowing the dynamics to diminish.
Now let’s work on the appoggiaturas in this section. In measures 5 and 6 there are descending appoggiaturas. Descending appoggiaturas are executed with a pull-off. Remember to highlight the dissonance and resolve the consonance softly. In measure 7 there’s both a descending appoggiatura on beat 1 and an ascending appoggiatura on beat 2. Take time to refine the appoggiaturas in this section of the piece (Ex. 6).
Play down this section again with your new understanding of the harmony, appoggiaturas, and pitch-led dynamics (Ex. 7). Are you starting to feel your own unique interpretation developing by applying these techniques? Remember, every player and every interpretation is unique. That is the beauty of playing this music.
Now, let’s consider the character of the electric guitar. The electric guitar tends to produce lots of sustain, so I often choose to let notes ring a little longer and into each other, which gives a more impressionistic quality to the music.
We can also add to the fun by using a reverb effect with a hall setting, which helps in recreating a cathedral-like space found in many Baroque lute recordings (Ex. 8). By setting the decay time on the reverb to around 2.5 seconds, the notes ring out even further creating interesting harmonic colors.
In measure 1, listen to how I let the very first note ring, and I hold on to the A note right before the F bass note on beat 3. This gives the effect of turning the measure into the Fmaj7 chord that I referred to earlier. While uncharacteristic of Baroque music, this brings out the sustain of the electric guitar and creates new harmonic pathways.
Listen to how I also let the last B note in measure 7 ring through into measure 8. This implies a Cmaj7 tonality. While a bit dissonant, I find it makes for an exciting resolution.
Bach’s music can be intimidating. But we can make this music personal by applying some simple Baroque performance practices. When we add the electric guitar’s sustain and some reverb to the creative mix, we can take Bach’s music into the present and create our own unique interpretations.