bill frisell

Photo by Joseph A. Rosen

The guitar legend passed away after a battle with cancer Tuesday at the Williamson Health hospital in Franklin, Tennessee, according to his wife, Deed Abbate.

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Improvised music can take many forms. From weird downtown punk-influenced riffs to unimaginably beautiful solo pieces, Bill Frisell has put his stamp on nearly every musical genre.


Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Spice up your solos with dissonant intervals.
• Create rhythmically compelling lines at blazing tempos.
• Learn how to imply altered sounds with chord clusters.


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

Bill Frisell is a masterful guitarist because, as he says, “I just try to get as deep into the music as I can.” It’s this outlook that best explains his superb musicality. Whether he’s playing free jazz, Americana, standards, or country, or doing soundtrack work, Frisell has an approach that is at once vulnerable and strong. In this lesson, we’ll look at how Frisell might play in a variety of settings and unlock some of his secrets.

Ex. 1 is reminiscent of his early work as a leader, and this example shows how Frisell might employ single-string playing and harmonics. While mostly in the key of D major (D–E–F#–G–A–B–C#), the melodic work focuses on chord tones with a little spice from chromatic approach tones (in the first measure) and chromatic lower neighbors (in measure 3).

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Through decades of performing and songwriting, Lucinda Williams has developed a strong, personal style of rhythm guitar that pumps blood through the heart of her albums and shows. Photo by David McClister

Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz unite with the songwriting giant to create a haunting, cosmic folk-rock guitar masterpiece built atop her own acoustic 6-string “launching pad.”

Most artists pan for gold when they record, but only a few consistently find it. Lucinda Williams has been a remarkably successful prospector since she made her landmark 1998 album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The daughter of poet Miller Williams had displayed her own gift for telling sharp-eyed stories since releasing her second album and first collection of all-original songs, 1980’s Happy Woman Blues, but with Car Wheels, she arrived at the crossroads of country, blues, rock, and folk that she’d been driving toward—in Cadillac style.

Since then, Williams has polished her articulate gemstones of song even more, cutting six albums through 2014 that cracked the Top 30 and established her as the queen of the song-driven, roots-based genre dubbed Americana. She’s also perfected a rhythm guitar style that’s ideal for the tension and release at the core of her powerful, buttermilk vocal performances. Syllables melt in her mouth, thanks in part to her Louisiana drawl, but they can also sting like the notes of a Stratocaster or a trumpet. And her guitar, which she beats like a thief, propels and lays back with similar flexibility and force. It’s not always metronomic, but exactly where it needs to be.

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