february 2010

Learn how to use implied harmony, syncopations, chord voicings, chord textures, tritones and more in your arrangements, plus a full, original arrangement from Bill Piburn.

Welcome back to another installment of "That Can Be Arranged." We are going to take a look at “City Blue,” an original written for this column. We are going to look at chord voicings, chord alterations, chord texture, ornaments, syncopation, tritone 7th and tritones used as altered dominate sounds. We will also discuss implied harmony. At times these points of topic may overlap, because multiple things can happen at once.

Implied Harmony
When dealing with harmony, one could say that a chord has to have the major or minor third to define the quality of the chord, and that is true in a textbook definition. In the real world of hearing music, whether or not a chord is major, minor, diminished, altered, etc. is often determined by the context; what follows or precedes is just as important, if not more important. Perception becomes reality because our ear perceives the sound. This perception is not only based on what precedes and follows a sound but is also affected by the expected harmony of the key center we are in at the moment.

A few examples of implied harmony are as follows:
Measures 1 through 8 imply a harmony, even though it’s just a bass line with no chord or full chord structures. This is a perfect example of implied sound. It’s about where the line leads and what precedes it. Notice the chord symbols in these measures and see if you agree.

In measure 9 the chord symbol indicates C minor; however, there is no minor third in the chord. Why does it sound minor? The answer is in the preceding bass line and with what follows. The second chord in measure 9 is indicated as an Ab7. Why does this imply the sound of Ab when there is no Ab note in the chord? The answer is in the key center which contains Ab. The flat 7th and third that follow also affect the perception. It’s about context and perception. You’ll see the very same thing happen on the G7 in measure 10.

The last implied sound I will point out is an altered sound that happens in measure 12. On beat three, you’ll see the chord symbol G9#5. The altered sound happens on the upbeat. This sound is perceived as an altered G only because of the reference of G that happens in the first beat of the measure. You see, we retain that musical reference. If I had played the same notes alone you might hear it as a B7th chord – why? They contain the same notes. The answer is reference; in other words, implied harmony. As you play other arrangements and arrange for yourself, keep it in mind to look for these implied sounds and use them to your advantage.

Syncopations are nothing more than playing the note or chord on the upbeat, a.k.a. the weak beat. They can be cut short or tied over into the following downbeat. Musicians refer to this as a ‘push.’ You can make the personal choice as to pushing the top of the chord, bass only or whole chord. For single note references take a look at the intro. Chord syncopations happen in several places within “City Blue.” First, take a look at the Ab7 in measure 10 going into measure 11 and then, take a moment to spot other syncopations. I encourage you to start using syncopations in your arranging and playing. It’s really a feel thing. Don’t overthink it, feel it.

Chord Voicings
Chords can and should vary in texture, meaning density or number of notes played. At times I choose to play full chords and other times just two or three notes. I like to vary the texture. This is always a choice done by ear. Use your ear but be aware of the choices you have.

Chord Texture
I only used a couple notes to outline the chord sounds in measure 9. As it moves into measure 10 ,you’ll see three note chords. In measure 14, you’ll see a four note chord on the Amin7 b5 and at the end of the piece in measure 35. I used several five note chords for a bigger and more dramatic ending.

A tritone is an interval a raised 4th. This interval distance is created and found in all dominate 7th chords. The interval of a tritone happens between the third and the flat 7th of the chord. It’s a great tool to use and understand that we can outline the sound of a 7th chord by only using those two notes. The root of the chord can be left out. Take a look at the Ab7 in measure 9 and the G7th in measure 10. Look for the tritone shapes on the fingerboard. They are very useful; built off of the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings.

Tritone Used as Alterations
I’ve found that the tritone shapes can be moved around the guitar to imply altered sounds. The key is to first establish the the chord sound, as I did in measure 12. Beat one outlines the G7th while a tritone shape moved up to D# and A outlines the sound of G9 (#5). This is a powerful tool! If you incorporate it into your arranging and writing you’ll be amazed at the sounds you’ll find.

Ornaments are slides, slurs, hammer-ons and pull-offs that can really help the phrasing and feel off the music. Especially when it comes to the blues sound. Where would Ray Charles have been without slurring into the notes, both in his voice and piano? Where would B.B. King be without the bent slurs? In “City Blue” I do not use bent notes, but I do use many other ornaments.

I’ve discussed several topics in this article that I believe will make you a better player and arranger/composer. I personally use this every time I pick up a guitar. Give it consideration and, if you apply it, you’ll open new and exciting possibilities for your music.

Download PDF of notation - Download MP3 of "City Blue"

Fixed, adjustable and “special” partial capos—which one suits your needs?

Guitarists have always been wild experimenters, using endless configurations of gear and gadgetry to get the sounds we’re seeking. Open tunings have long been a mainstay of that process, and recently partial capos have been letting guitarists get that open-tuning feel without actually going to all the trouble of tuning. With so many capo manufacturers offering this option, we decided to take a closer look and see what they have to offer.

A Partial Capo Primer
Before we dig in to the different models, it might be useful to talk a little about the different styles and applications of partial capos. The earliest experimenters, like Harvey Reid (who made himself a partial capo at home before there were any on the market, and helped to develop the Third Hand capo) would put their normal capos on either upside-down to leave the bass string open, or only part of the way across to get some droning treble sounds. Then some folks began to put multiple capos on, terraced down the fretboard, to create additional voices that could add bass or open-string style tension to a song.

If you want a crash course in what can be done with these gadgets, check out some of Harvey Reid’s music, or another early user, Ed Supple, who did a lot of session work in Nashville and used partial capos to create sounds that nobody has quite figured out yet. He also introduced Michael Hedges to the partial capo, and of course that opened up entirely new territories.

It takes a little adjusting to get the hang of playing with these capos, because although they do make the guitar sound like it’s in these altered tunings, it’s really not, and the chord shapes are not the open tuning shapes. With the DADGAD capo (because it’s really EBEABE, which is almost as much fun to say) or Open-G capo (which is really just a regular A-chord, and sadly unpronouncable— EAEAC#E), the open voice sounds like the tuning, but all the other chords are the same as in standard. Lead playing in first position is slightly complicated by having some of the strings ringing open differently, so they’re not terribly appealing for that purpose, but as a fingerstyle tool or in the hands of a great rhythm guitar player, they can give you a cool opentuning vibe without actually having to learn to play in one. Your guitar stays in whatever tuning it’s in, for example standard tuning, so you can play standard tuning chords and riffs above the capo and still have that open-tuning sound when you want. Some capos are low profile, allowing you to reach over to fret those missing bass notes, while others are not.

The Nitty Gritty
There are three broad categories: fixed, adjustable and, for the want of a better word, special. The fixed category contains the capos that block certain strings specifically, either from the bass side, or flipped to the treble side. The adjustable category contains the capos that cover all the strings, but allow you to choose which strings to leave open, basically giving you all the fixed capo options with a single device. The special capos don’t fit in either of these categories, and are unique unto themselves. We’ll be looking at three parameters in our evaluation: quality, ease of use, and usefulness. For these tests, the guitars stayed in standard tuning.

Kyser K’Lever
Fixed Kyser K’Lever
Kyser sent us four different configurations to play with: Drop-D, Double Drop-D, Shortcut-to- DADGAD and Open G. The Kysers are sturdy, work exactly like they’re supposed to, and have a very nifty addition they call a K-Lever, which lets you catch the low D-string with your index finger should you want to play an F#m chord, which you probably will (though it takes a little planning to make sure you hit it right, and yes, with a little practice you can get a lovely hammer-on/pull-off effect with it). All four models are lightning quick to put on and take off, too.

Quality Top notch, nothing to be desired.
Ease of use Ridiculously easy and quick, and the K-Lever is pure genius.
Usefulness I could see these becoming a regular part of somebody’s stage rig.

MSRP $40


Left: Woodie’s G-Band and G-Band II Right: Shubb
The Shubb is a DADGAD capo, covering the A, D and G strings at the second fret, but it can go upside-down and catch the D, G and B strings, too, which gives you an Open G sound. It’s quick and easy to use, and depresses the strings quite solidly. It will work anywhere on the fretboard if you want to use a conventional capo and then capo with the Shubb two frets higher. You can’t catch the Em chord by wrapping your thumb over as you would in DADGAD, but with a bit of a stretch you can reach over the Shubb to play it. For many fingerstylists, rhythm guitarists and singer-songwriters it would be a great flavor to sprinkle into a set.

Quality Shubb’s stuff is always great, and this does not disappoint.
Ease of use Adjust for your guitar’s neck and snap it into place at the second fret; nice low profile allows for “reaching over” with a little practice.
Usefulness A useful tool that gives you two voices, it has a solid place in a professional setting.

MSRP $27

Woodie’s G-Band and G-Band II
The G-Band is like a clip that you clench on to either side of the fretboard to cover the bass or treble side only. The G-Band covers one string, and the G-band II covers two. I played with these a bit and didn’t really get a whole lot from them, so I surfed around on their web site and watched their video demo, and I got what they’re going for. If you want a high drone in the key you’re playing in, sort of like a 5-string banjo, then you can set a G-Band up for that kind of feel (depending on your guitar, you may even want to use metal fingerpicks and pick way down toward the bridge for a really twangy banjo-like sound). You can tune your low E and A strings down to D and G and put the G-Band II on the treble side at the third fret for some terrifically funky DGDGDG pickin’.

Quality They seem solid and sturdy enough, but I had a little trouble getting the G-Band II to fret clean on my 1-3/4" wide fingerboard.
Ease of use Easy as pie on a 1-11/16" fretboard.
Usefulness I could see this come in handy as a flavoring, sprinkled judiciously on a CD or in a set, but I don’t see it as a workhorse.

MSRP $16

Adjustable Creative Tunes Spider Capo

Top: The Third Hand Bottom: Creative Tunes Spider Capo
If you’re going to get serious with partial capoing it would make sense to get one single unit that can give you all the variations you need. The Spider capo does that, and it seems to be a sturdy little thing. With its seriously hefty bolt and clever “finger handles” it is a versatile and intuitive capo. However, I found it a little awkward to put on—you really have to get it positioned exactly right and then screw it down—and it took a lot of adjusting and changing in order to get it to cover all the strings with equal pressure so it didn’t sound mushy. I also had to spend a lot of time just getting the finger handles lined up over the strings, and then readjusting the pressure to make sure each string sounded clear when I engaged the finger handles.

Quality The components seem high quality, and it is well made.
Ease of use It takes a little doing to get it just right, but once it’s on it works well. The pointy finger handles do not allow you to reach over it to catch the lower bass notes in open-D settings.
Usefulness Winner of the Summer NAMM 2009 Best in Show Award, it is a versatile tool, but I have concerns about the time it takes to adjust, and whether it’s really securely attached.

MSRP $40

The Third Hand
This is certainly the lowest-tech capo of the bunch. I have some of the same reservations about the Third Hand capo as I do with the Spider, although it’s a lot easier to put on. But it’s not a quick change, and it’s a little finnicky. Once you have it on at the correct height, and you adjust the rubber string stops correctly so they’re directly over each string, it works great and is easy to use, and I didn’t have any trouble with it sounding mushy at all. Once again it’s very handy to have all of the “tuning” options in one tiny little package.

Quality Well made of quality materials, if a little low-tech looking. The elastic band will wear out after a while, but at $16 you can afford to get a replacement every couple years.
Ease of use It’s really pretty idiot-proof, and once you have it set up for your guitar it stays there, which is great.
Usefulness If you want many “tunings” in one device, the Third Hand looks like the way to go, and is the most affordable as well.

MSRP $16

Special Bob Kilgore’s Harmonic Capo

Bob Kilgore’s Harmonic Capo
This capo really does something entirely different from the other capos—it plays harmonics. You put it at the seventh fret (or any fret where your guitar gives you great harmonics) and pick some strings that you want to chime, set the pads down until you hear the harmonic tone, and play. The Harmonic Capo doesn’t limit your use of altered tunings at all, in fact it fairly begs to be used with an open tuning, so it really belongs in a separate category as a completely different kind of tool.

I got along with this capo better than any of the others, to a point. You can still fret the notes you’re “harmonicizing” (for want of a better word), but it takes quite a bit of planning and adjusting to get used to working around a device in the middle of the neck. I was rather hoping to put it at the twelfth fret, but none of the acoustic guitars at my disposal were shallow enough at the heel for the strap to reach over for a solid connection. I had some fun with the Telecaster, though, and could imagine someone with an electric guitar, a room full of pedals and a harmonic capo plugging in and not being seen for days. For atmospheric, arpeggio-based melodic pickin’ it’s extremely cool.

Quality Simply made, low-tech and sturdy, Weasel Trap offers affordable replacements for all of the parts that tend to wear out over time.
Ease of use Once you get the hang of playing around it, it will likely force you write new stuff simply because you have it.
Usefulness I can’t imagine this becoming the next must-have accessory, but solo guitarists and singer-songwriters could have loads of fun.

MSRP $35

The Final Partial Mojo
Full disclosure time: I’m not partial to partial capos. As a devotee of altered tunings, I found these capos frustrating and confining. To my thinking, the point of an open or altered tuning is to get voicings that are impossible in other tunings all over the fretboard, not just when you’re open. Partial capos will not give you that, at least not in standard tuning.

But, if you don’t want to learn DADGAD or any other tuning, and you need to play convincing lead guitar and yet sound like you’re in one of those tunings, then partial capos may be a viable way for you to go. For solo guitarists and songwriters previously confined to the standard-tuning thing, partial capos may open up some inspiration, and for some, that’s worth the price of admission right there.

Jared Scharff plays Madison Square Garden - here''s what it was like.

On May 3rd, 2009, I found myself staring out at a sea of about 19,000 faces. Armed with a Bill Nash Strat, 65Amps London head/cab and a pedalboard, I was ready to rock them all. This special night held Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Celebration from Madison Square Garden – The Clearwater Concert. I was part of the house band, along with some of my SNL bandmates; we backed up a variety of music legends. Needless to say, it was a dream come true to play that stage with those artists.

The event prep involved two seriously long rehearsal days at S.I.R. studios. There, the SNL house band set up shop and artists came in and out like there was a revolving door. I used a 65 London head and a 2x12 cab for the rehearsals and gig. I ran it clean and used my SNL pedalboard to take me through whatever terrain I would need to cover (more on my SNL pedalboard in future columns). This event was being filmed and documented every step of the way. We ran through a slow blues and Bob Ezrin, who produced Pink Floyd’s The Wall, filmed us. From that first musical moment, it all counted.

Following that, we went through about twelve songs and a few different arrangements for many of them, all before the actual artists showed up. We spent time tweaking parts, figuring out dynamics—who should play when, and what parts, etc. When playing with a large house band, you really have to make sure there’s cohesiveness. Bob was key for making this all happen. Always listen to the producer!

One major highlight that first day was getting to meet and play music with Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule). Warren has always been one of my favorite guitarists and musicians. I used to memorize and play some of his solos from Live at Great Woods with the Allman Brothers Band back in the day. Of course, I never said that to him. Had to keep some sort of cool, right?

The other highlight was playing with Roger McGuinn from the Byrds. He walked in, took out that famous sunburst 12-string Rickenbacker and came right over to the SNL band. He asked if we knew the song (referring to “Turn! Turn! Turn!”) and started to play it! There it was, “that” sound. He played it very quietly, and we all joined in, while he sang acoustically, un-mic’d, staring right at me. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my entire life. I was hearing Roger sing those words with that voice, seeing him play that 12-string, two feet away from me. It was wild.

Arriving the next day, pretty wiped out, I walk into S.I.R. and who is sitting down soundchecking? Richie Havens, playing “Freedom.” That day was filled with a ton of work, and artists present to work on the material as well. I had never been involved in something of this magnitude. I was definitely excited by all of it and certainly worked as hard as I could to get the job done.

The third and final day, we arrived at the world famous Madison Square Garden. I plugged in and played one lone power chord. Hearing my guitar reverberate throughout the Garden might have been the most thrilling moment of all. That night, I saw, heard and played with such a wide variety of artists: Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, Ben Harper, Band of Horses, Roger McGuinn, John Mellencamp, and so many more. I was just a tad left of and a few feet back from center stage. To hear Bruce Springsteen’s voice and harmonica blast in my monitor as he sang to a silent crowd in MSG was pretty intense.

Overall, the gig was a huge success. The SNL band was prepared and professional, as always. We certainly had our fair share of roadblocks. With any large event where tons of people are involved you have problems. No matter how much you rehearse, soundcheck at the venue, etc., it won’t go as planned. With this kind of situation, adaptation is key. Arm yourself with the proper tools you might need and always have backups. I brought an extra guitar, extra cables and pedals (in case my pedalboard went down) and a spare amp. A funny side note: I rocked MSG with a small 8-watt 65Amps London head with the volume on 2! Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Celebration from Madison Square Garden – The Clearwater Concert aired on PBS’ Great Performances and I believe there is a DVD available. I’m lucky to have been a part of it, and I’ll remember those three days for the rest of my life.

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