• Understand how to use the blues scale to target notes in a 12-bar progression.
• Learn how to navigate open-E tuning.
• Cop some techniques made popular by Slash, Joe Satriani, and Allan Holdsworth.
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Anyone who follows popular culture, in either music, TV and film, or sports, knows that we’re heading into awards season, and that got us thinking. Aren’t there people deserving love in our scene? In light of that, I present to you a handful of completely made-up and subjective awards. It’s worth noting that the panel of judges consists solely of myself, and I also decided on all the nominees, so take these “awards” with a huge grain of salt.
Best Scale in a Leading Role: The Blues Scale
Scales are very much the ingredients from which we create melodies, and it’s pretty important that you pick the right one for the job. Nobody wants pepper in their coffee! That said, the scales you use are often largely dictated by the chords you’re playing over. For example, if you’re playing over a long E7#9 vamp, the E major scale isn’t going to sound great.
Our winner this year is the chameleon of scales. And you can find it working in many contexts where the theory books tell you it absolutely shouldn’t. A close relative of the minor pentatonic scale, the blues scale contains the degrees 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, and b7. (In the key of A, that’s A–C–D–Eb–E–G.) Its gritty sound makes it the perfect choice for minor chords, and even major progressions where you want to add a bit of attitude.
Ex. 1 demonstrates that perfectly, working over the first eight measures of a 12-bar blues in A. To keep things interesting, I’ve moved around the neck a fair amount, covering each of the five CAGED boxes. (If you need an in-depth overview of the CAGED system, head here .)
The only real consideration here is being aware of the chord changes. Try to make sure to land on a D when the chord changes to D. This helps to make it feel like you’re playing with the band, rather than just over them.
Best Scale in a Supporting Role: The Major Scale
When it comes to supporting or harmonizing a melody, one nominee stands head and shoulders above the rest, the trusty major scale.The idea here is that as long as you can work out the key that a chord progression is in, you’ll be able to easily create a pleasing harmony to sweeten your melodies.
Ex. 2 features a Dm–Bb–C–Gm progression. Just jamming over this with the D natural minor scale (D–E–F–G–A–Bb–C) feels right—and it is. Looking at the chords though, I can see that these chords can also be visualized in the key of F major. Take a look below:
D natural minor: D–E–F–G–A–Bb–C
F major: F–G–A–Bb–C–D–E
The two scales share the same notes—in fact, D minor is the relative minor to F major. Now, let’s harmonize a melody in thirds. The concept is rather simple: Start with the melody note and harmonize it with a note that’s three scale degrees higher. For example, if the melody note is D, play an F above it. If it’s G, play a Bb. In Ex. 2 you can see the lower melody along with the higher one. Remember, you can isolate each one within Soundslice. In the higher melody, I’m thinking of three-note-per-string patterns, just two CAGED shapes higher.
Best Effect Used in a Supporting Role: Delay
While there were many candidates here, from a subtler option like compression to a more discernible sound like a wah. I’ve gone with what’s typically used most often and obviously, thus opting for delay.
Now, there are many ways that delay can be used creatively, from the vintage slapback of rockabilly players like Brian Setzer to the bold, atmospheric approach favored by U2’s The Edge. I’ve chosen the more traditional use to add organic ambience to a lead sound.
To demonstrate this, I recorded a simple Pink Floyd-inspired lead guitar part over a four-measure progression (Ex. 3), and then added delay to this part on the repeat. It really is incredible just how much life this gives to a part. When it comes to delay settings, there are lots of options, but most pedals are going to give you delay time, level, and feedback.
Delay level is self-explanatory; this is the volume of the delayed sound in relation to your dry signal. Each pedal is different, but in most cases turning this control all the way down removes the processed signal, while cranking it tends to hide your dry signal. You’re going to want to set that to taste, but I suggest dialing in a delay that’s audible, yet doesn’t overpower the main part.
Feedback is how many repeats you’ll hear before the delay becomes inaudible. Again, each pedal is different, so you’ll want to start with a median setting.
Finally, delay time controls how many milliseconds (or seconds on longer delays) exist between the original note and the first repeat. When I’m playing an ambient lead part, I find I like a 430 ms delay. If your device lets you dial in a specific time, great! If not, simply adjust to taste by ear.
Best New YouTube Discovery: Joey Landreth
This is a much harder category from which to pick a winner, as thousands of YouTube videos get uploaded daily, but one discovery I made this past year was the frontman for the Bros. Landreth, Joey Landreth. Coming out of Canada, this slide whiz works as both guitarist and singer in the band, as well as putting out some great solo material. He’s my main hope for the next coming of slide guitar in 2018, and his vocabulary and fluency—especially in open tunings—is truly astonishing.
The technique we’re going to check out involves fretting a note with the slide as normal, but instead of simply picking the note, you place your picking-hand index finger on the string exactly 12 frets higher and then pluck behind that to create an artificial harmonic. Since the note is played with a slide, it can then be slid up the neck to create a screaming tone sure to impress anyone. Instead of diving into Joey’s open-C tuning, we will use the more common open-E (E–B–E–G#–B–E).
Ex. 4 also offers moments where I’m fretting notes behind the slide. Take a look at measure four, where I hold the slide at the 5th fret. My index finger hits the notes at the 3rd fret before releasing back to the slide. A similar idea happens in the sixth measure.