april 2012

Chops: Intermediate Theory: Intermediate Lesson Overview: • Learn how to imply chord changes over a 12-bar blues. • Understand how to use the super Locrian scale. • Develop an

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to imply chord changes over a 12-bar blues.
• Understand how to use the super Locrian scale.
• Develop an appreciation for slash chords.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

A good barometer of a guitarist’s musicality is the way he plays the blues. His influences and musical vocabulary are all exposed when you hear him solo over some 12-bar changes. The way he substitutes chords and scales reflects his ability to comprehend and infuse other musical possibilities and styles. In this lesson, we will look at 10 essential phrases that you can intertwine into your current vocabulary for the next blues jam session. In order to keep things easy to understand, all the examples are in the key of G—but make sure to learn how to visualize patterns and transpose them to other keys.

One of the first scales a guitarist learns is the minor pentatonic (1–b3–4–5–b7). It’s nearly impossible to develop an authentic-sounding blues vocabulary without becoming very familiar with this scale. Check out the fingering in Fig. 1. Learn it. Love it.

The two most common bends in the minor pentatonic scale start on the 4 (going to the b5 or “blue note”) and the b7 (bending up to the root). In Fig. 2 you can see a short phrase that can be used over measures five through eight in a typical blues progression.

The great Michael Bloomfield was one of the first guitarists I heard to bend the 5th degree of the scale (D) up to the sixth (E). The phrase in Fig. 3 starts off with a Bloomfield-approved bend before moving down to a bend that resolves the b3 (Bb) to the natural 3 (B).

Another Bloomfield trick was using a minor scale over a dominant blues. In measure nine of a typical blues form, you can set up a IIm-V7 sound by using A Dorian (A–B–C–D–E–F#–G) as shown in Fig. 4. We target the b7 and 6 in Fig. 5. Make sure to add a little snap on that quarter-step bend before resolving to the root on beat three.

When I was on the road with organist Jack McDuff, he was adamant about using a VI7 chord in the eighth measure of a 12-bar blues. This gives the progression some tension before heading into the final four measures of the form. Not only was the chord a dominant 7, but it was also altered—usually with a #9. Try the phrase in Fig. 6 in measures seven and eight next time you’re faced with an altered-dominant chord.

Another scale that works great over an altered VI7 chord is the super Locrian scale (R–b2–b3–b4–b5–b6–b7). There are a few ways to think about this. You can either go by the formula based off the major scale, as shown here, or visualize it as the seventh mode of a melodic minor scale. For our purposes (E7#9), that would be F melodic minor. You can see a quick and easy fingering for this scale in Fig. 7 and a lick that demonstrates this tense sound in Fig. 8. This sound works great over the V7 chords in a minor IIm-V7 progression as well.

Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker was a master of twisting in and out of chord changes. Many of his original melodies or “heads” are extremely valuable for understanding how he approached blues progressions. In Fig. 9 we can see how he would play over a minor IIm-V7 progression. Plug this into measure eight to really turn some heads and lead into the IIm chord in measure nine.

We finally hit the turnaround in Fig. 10. The phrase starts out with the A Dorian mode we looked at earlier before we get to a C/D chord. This type of chord is called a slash chord. A slash chord consists of a basic triad (the left side) along with a bass note (the right side). Our chord here is a C major triad (C–E–G) over a D bass note. This creates a D9sus-type of sound before resolving to G.

In Fig. 11 we use contrary motion to create a familiar-sounding ending. Contrary motion is when you have two musical lines moving in opposite directions. Check out how the lines split and move away from each other to open up the harmony. Work out the fingerings before tackling this at faster tempos.

There’s an entire universe of chord, scale, and lick possibilities for a 12-bar blues. You have to keep true to the genre of blues you’re playing (don’t use bebop lines in a Muddy Waters song) but it’s good to have a large musical vocabulary so you can choose your notes and be a more interesting improviser.

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Once upon a time, acoustic guitarists needed to haul a van’s worth of gear to a gig to amplify their instruments and vocals. Today’s sound-reinforcement gear is far more


Once upon a time, acoustic guitarists needed to haul a van’s worth of gear to a gig to amplify their instruments and vocals. Today’s sound-reinforcement gear is far more compact, yet it offers more features and clean headroom.

In my previous column [“Context is Everything,” January 2012], we were in the middle of a tale about a singer-songwriter— perhaps you—who was entering the world of solo gigs and wrestling with the many gear decisions we all face when performing onstage with an acoustic guitar. We left off where our hero had done a successful coffeehouse gig and was now preparing to buy the requisite gear for a series of pub gigs on a much bigger stage. Now, let’s continue with our story…

While you’re not really a gear guy, you realize that the boom-mic setup that worked so well in the coffeehouse just won’t cut it at the huge brewpub. So you head off to a music store to talk to Stevie, the acoustic guitar specialist. Once you explain your situation, you’re relieved to see he clearly understands your gigging requirements and is able to recommend a number of intelligent solutions. Not only does he talk you through the various available pickup options, but he also offers to set you up in the acoustic sound room so you can get first-hand experience with some of the gear and explore different approaches to amplifying a flattop.

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Chops: Intermediate Theory: Intermediate Lesson Overview: • Understand a few basic arranging techniques in DADGAD tuning. • Create open-string or campanella melodies. • Learn how to combine fretted and

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Understand a few basic arranging techniques in DADGAD tuning.
• Create open-string or campanella melodies.
• Learn how to combine fretted and unfretted notes to create flowing arpeggios.

Click here to download the accompanying mp3 audio example & a .pdf of the entire Prelude section.

When my friend Mike Marshall suggested I learn Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E major (BWV 1006), my first thought was “impossible.” That was shortly followed by “what if?”

I’d known the solo violin works for years, but however much I love Bach’s music I never considered it within my scope as a player. I’m a “folkie” and I play by ear. As more non-classical musicians are beginning to explore this incredible musical landscape, I figured now might be the time to dive in!

The well-known opening phrase is a great example of Bach running up and down a major scale—in a way that only he knew how. Now, in my experience as a guitarist, when I hear lots of linear scales or even fragments of scales, I immediately think of DADGAD tuning. Though in some cases an arrangement may not stay there. In this case the opening measures drew me so far into the piece that I stayed committed to this tuning even through some fairly hairy key modulations.

The key of E major is not the friendliest in DADGAD, but maybe even Johan Sebastian would have sanctioned the use of a capo. In order to preserve the intervallic spacing of the tuning, and make liberal use of the open strings, we will place a capo at the 2nd fret. When Bach transcribed this piece for lute he changed the key to F major to suit the tuning of that instrument. If you want to retune to E–B–E–A–B–E and avoid the capo then have at it—however, my medium-gauge strings would protest. Glenn Gould, regarded as one of the most significant interpreters of Bach in modern times, said that the point of this music is to be faithful to the harmonic ideas that Bach was exploring. And Gould mostly played Bach on the piano—an instrument that hadn’t been invented in Bach’s time.

Several times in arranging this piece I thought the difficulties in fingering were going to make it unplayable, only to eventually find an alternative that put me back on the rails. It’s an amazing piece of music, originally written for solo violin, but also arranged by Bach for lute. The lute version consisted of an astoundingly inventive series of key changes, often exploring the same idea in several keys and all delivered in a relentless torrent of consecutive 16thnotes— 1,560 of them to be precise.

In playing the first few measures in Fig. 1, I use two ideas that are worth exploring. One is the technique of playing across the strings. DADGAD tuning, with the whole-step interval between the 2nd and 3rd strings, lends itself to this very naturally. In fact it’s one of the main reasons for the enduring popularity of this tuning. The idea is to play consecutive notes on different strings so that these ring into each other. In classical guitar this technique is called campanella, which means “bell-like.” It’s often also compared to the sound of a harp where each note has its own string.

This first occurs in the fourth measure. The descending scale moves across three strings, then back to the open string. This can be a bit confusing, but the effect is both attractive and ergonomic. The fretting hand stays in one position and the picking hand can do the work.

The other idea worth mentioning is the use of an open string to get the fretting hand into a different position. This occurs throughout the piece, but the first instance is in the seventh measure, shown in Fig. 2. The open 1st string allows us to move from 2nd position to 4th position to continue the ascending phrase that ends with the B at the 7th fret of the 1st string.

Getting that transition smooth and accurate will take some work. One striking difference between stringed instruments— fretted or bowed—and the keyboard is that we have the same pitch available on different strings. The piano has only one middle C! Bach’s writing for strings exploits this frequently by “pivoting” between an open string and the same note on a lower string. The first instance of this is in Fig. 3, which begins at the 13th measure. The open 1st string alternates with the same note on the 4th string. This creates a great sense of movement around one fixed note.

In Fig. 4, the pivot note remains but the pattern changes and we are into a descending sequence of arpeggios that presents a real challenge. Remember, this piece was written around the capabilities—including the open strings—of the violin, not the guitar, in an altered tuning. When I first tried to figure out a way to play this section I found the notes easily enough, but once the arpeggios started to descend my fingers got tied in knots. Playing the section slowly only made the knots more apparent! I was trying to play the first part of the sequence up around the 12th fret, which is where the fingers naturally land from the previous bar. It was playable but somehow sounded clumsy and awkward whereas on violin it sounded natural and musical.

The solution is in the second measure of the figure, where the G# note moves from the 11th fret on the 3rd string (measure 1) to the 9th fret on the 2nd string. From there on the arpeggio sequence is so much easier. As the open top string remains constant, the outer notes modulate and then descend one at a time, with one note changing in each measure that fits under the fingers. This almost mathematical type of pattern is typical of Bach’s compositional style, but hopefully we can play it in a way that brings out the musicality rather than the technicality of it.

I found learning and arranging this music to be one of the most challenging and satisfying projects I’ve attempted. The music is difficult but rewarding and has opened many doors in terms of technique and harmonic awareness. I hope you get the same out of it!

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