What does Shostakovich have to do with Metallica? Why, the blues scale of course.
Theory: Advanced Beginner
• Discover the secrets of the blues scale.
• Experiment with different articulations such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides.
• Learn about the beautiful dissonance that is Shostakovich.
If Bach is the Beatles, then Mozart is the Rolling Stones, and Beethoven is the Who. And maybe Shostakovich is Metallica. These sorts of statements are sure to ruffle the feathers of anyone with an opinion about these legendary artists. But my real goal is just to make you curious enough about Shostakovich that you’ll listen to his Fifth Symphony.
If any composer was hired to write a piece of music with the ferocious drama of heavy metal combined with the erudite firepower of classical music, you could not expect better results than the first 12 seconds of this piece and all that follows. I especially like the chords in the third movement. They are utterly beyond my knowledge of music theory and shocking in their beauty and occasional dissonance.
Shostakovich lived in a dramatic time and was threatened with arrest and worse if he didn’t write something that met the approval of the state. In modern times, you can sometimes hear rock musicians complaining about the unfairness of record companies or music downloading … ha! We’re not sent off to Siberia if we don’t write a hit. I’d say that the rockers of today have it pretty good, and I appreciate that, being one myself.
I appreciate Shostakovich’s fiery intros and chords, and I appreciate living in a culture that allows just about any form of art, but if I could turn all this appreciation into currency, how would I spend it?
I’d buy guitar lessons and enough free time to practice and enjoy what I learn. That is true luxury to me—to be able to tinker and experiment with the guitar. What sort of things would I experiment with? Why, the blues scale of course. And then I’d share my results with you. Here they are.
This first example in Fig. 1 takes the notes of the A blues scale (A–C–D–Eb– E–G), divides them into five-note patterns, and spreads them out over two strings. The rhythm is interesting to me because each phrase anticipates and then ends on the downbeat. This makes it easier for your fingers (to jump to the next position), for your brain (to remember the shape of the next position), and your listeners’ ears (to not be overwhelmed by relentless notes).
We use the same idea in Fig. 2, but the notes descend. Going up and down the neck using these patterns is a great way to learn where those all-important notes in the blues scale are—in all the positions of the fretboard. I’m not going to be picky about how you pick it, other than to suggest that you experiment with hammer-ons, pull-offs, and the occasional finger slide, to make the phrases smooth and the last note of each phrase (the downbeat) strong.
1 + 2 = 3. Here (Fig. 3), I combine the first two examples to make a new pattern. Even though this one might sound a little trickier, it’s actually easier to play because it stays in each position a little longer before jumping to the next. Fig. 4 is an example of how I might play these patterns in the context of a solo. I should point out that the high G note can be played in two different locations. I chose to play it on the 1st string (3rd fret.) This requires a quick lefthand position shift and string skip as well. If you’re not in the mood for those acrobatics, the other place to play the note would be on the 2nd string (8th fret.) At first glance, this seems like a much easier way to play the note. So why do I take the trouble to jump all the way to the high E string in a different position? It allows me to give the note it’s own finger and it’s own fret. The other location would force me to use a barre when I continue to the next note. And when notes are played with a barre, they can easily start ringing together. So in the interest of nice clean, separate notes, I’m willing to make that big jump. I encourage you to try both positions and choose your favorite. They are both absolutely valid, but each has a distinct feel.
All these examples will fit over a shuffle groove. I hope you enjoy them, and even though Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is very different from the blues, I hope you’ll listen to it.
I’d appreciate it.