january 2010

Let’s examine several important elements of a block-chord technique used by Wes Montgomery

The first time I heard Wes Montgomery, I was struck by three things: his melodic sensibility, his use of octaves, and how he played solos using chords. This latter technique allowed Wes to make the guitar sound almost like a big band.

Let’s examine several important elements of this block-chord technique, starting with two important considerations: First, we’ll limit ourselves to playing chords on four adjacent strings (string sets 1-4 or 2-5 work best). Second, all our harmonic choices will be dictated by the melody.

Take the basic melody in Fig. 1. If I were to take that same melody and apply a block-chord soloing approach I might end up with Fig. 2. You’ll notice that the melody remains the same and the chords I chose lie on the four adjacent strings. The melody is very diatonic and the only chromaticism occurs in measure 3, where the same chord structure moves chromatically to harmonize the melody from A7 to Bb7. Wes often used this device in his solos.
Download Example Audio 1...
Download Example Audio 2...

Wes was also fond of substituting a diminished 7th chord for a dominant 7th chord. In this type of substitution, you can replace a dominant 7 with a diminished 7 in four ways: You can substitute a diminished 7th chord rooted off the dominant 7th’s 3, 5, and b7, or plant a diminished 7 a half-step above the root of the dominant 7th chord.

For example, if you have a Bb7, you can use a Ddim7 (from the 3), Fdim7 (from the 5), Abdim7 (from the b7), or substitute a Cbdim7 (which is rooted a half-step higher than Bb7) for the dominant 7th chord. The main reason this works is that regardless of which diminished 7th chord you’re playing, the 3 and b7 of the Bb7 are always present. The 3 (D) and b7 (Ab) are known as guide tones, and these are the defining tones of any dominant 7th chord. When you use this substitution, the sonority you create is Bb7(b9).

In Fig. 3, I’ve taken the same melody and used the diminished 7 to substitute for the dominant 7 as described above. As you play through this, notice the rich sound that results from using these diminished chords. Also, in measure 2, notice how you can take parallel diminished chord structures and move them along the neck in minor thirds. Download Example Audio 3...

These examples are over the first four bars of the blues. Take these techniques and try to finish out an entire chorus of the blues. Listen to great Wes Montgomery recordings to better understand the sound of these concepts, and then strive to integrate them into your playing.

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Creating new licks and sequences using string skipping, barring, and hammer-ons from nowhere.

After covering various techniques and approaches over the past few columns, I figure it might be fun to combine some of these ideas to create new licks and sequences. In the following examples, I’ll combine string skipping, barring, and hammer-ons from nowhere.

Fig. 1
involves the use of a diminished arpeggio sequence that merges all three of the above concepts. The combination of big interval jumps generated by string skipping and the hyper-speed possibilities provided by the barre, creates the potential for an insane-sounding result.

To play these examples, I recommend hybrid picking (plucking strings with one or more of the available picking-hand fingers in addition to the pick), as it makes it easier for you to execute these ideas and make them sound tighter.

Fig. 2 is a long melodic exercise that also combines barring and string skipping. In this example, we’re outlining a classic chord progression in the key of D major using major and minor triad arpeggios. This passage is designed with a triplet feel and alternates between two very distinctive 12-note sequences.

The arpeggiated F# minor triad involves a huge stretch between the 10th and 16th frets. If you find this physically impossible, simply change the F# (16th fret, 4th string) to E (14th fret, 4th string). It will no longer be a genuine arpeggio, but it will still sound great. The overall concept is much more important than the actual notes.

Combining these techniques yields many possibilities, so I recommend experimenting on your own. You may be surprised with what you discover.

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Ultimate Ears 4 Pro Series offers the perfect solution for professionals looking for high-quality in-ear monitors

Perhaps it relates back to my over-protective Italian mother, but I’ve always been leery of loud stages. When in-ear monitors first began working their way into Nashville touring acts, I couldn’t wait to embrace this technology in hopes of saving my hearing while improving my live mix. I imagined in-ear monitors would transform a sonically cluttered stage into a studio-like, high fidelity headphone experience. Live stages are, for the most part, doomed to sound bad. The omnipresent bass muddies the mix, drums painfully bash away, that snare spiking your brain every two and four beat, which forces us guitar players to crank loud enough to cut through the noise. In-ear monitors, in theory, cure all of these wrongs. Regrettably, the first few in-ear monitor rigs I worked with made the wedge nightmare not seem so bad. Poor fitting buds never sealed out the noise and primitive bud design reduced the powerful, warm tube driven roar of my guitar to a wimpy, transistor- ish sigh. Vocal tone was equally bad, not just lackluster, but embarrassingly thin and lifeless. Sadly, that remained my experience with in-ear monitors for years. Slowly things improved, though I never reached the ear nirvana I had first imagined ... until now.

A Joyful Noise
The Ultimate Ears 4 Pro series makes good on the early promise of in-ear monitors. Imagine a world where guitars sound like guitars, voices sound like voices, and drums and bass reside in the mix rather than over the mix. The UE 4 are very transparent, giving you back an extremely accurate representation of the natural timbre of instruments and voices.

Now I understand why 75 percent of today’s top touring professional artists—including bands such as Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Van Halen, Sheryl Crow, Sugar Ray, The Killers and SwitchFoot—use Ultimate Ears custom in-ear monitors.

I test-drove the UE 4 on a large, open-air festival gig and a smaller 2,000 capacity club gig with a low ceiling, (a potential stage mix nightmare). In both environments the UE 4 Pros worked perfectly; they were comfortable and sounded clear and accurate with no discernible distortion. Being able to hear everything so well really made the gigs fun. The UE 4s sounded better than any in-ear system I’ve ever used. I was so impressed with the UE 4 Pros that I brought them along to a recording session where they soundedmuch better than the cans provided by the studio. My only suggestion is that the cord could be a little longer. It’s the perfect length for live work, unlike other in-ears rigs that give you miles of cord that has to be awkwardly stuffed underneath your shirt or pants. The UE cord makes for a short leash when you have to reach a mixing station, however. It was worth working around this small inconvenience because they sounded so great, and I’m told that a longer cord can be purchased from the website for $39.

Another unexpected pleasure came when I brought the UE 4 along on my last four flights. Usually in-flight movies are painful to watch because the poor sound quality ruins the experience. The UE 4 cut out all that loud ambient airplane noise, reproducing a clean audio signal with both the movies and the music I listened to. They were far easier to carry than noise canceling headphones, which cost about the same but don’t sound nearly as good.

The Final Mojo
At this point I’ve gone through probably six disappointing in-ears monitors. Had I started with the UE 4 Pros, I would’ve stopped right there and saved myself lots of money and aggravation. For those of you who have not yet owned in-ear molds, the fitting process may sound a bit intense, but it’s remarkably easy. Once you’ve decided to make the jump into in-ear monitors, schedule an appointment with a qualified audiologist. The UE website will help you locate an audiologist near you: ultimateears.com/_ultimateears/ support/audiologist_instructions.php. The audiologist shoots some pink goo in your ears and you leave with the impressions. Next, send the impressions to Ultimate Ears, where a pair of custom monitors will be created based on an exact replica of your ears. Plan on roughly a 30-day turnaround.
Buy if...
you’re just getting into the in-ear world or if you’ve had the same in-ears for five or six years.
Skip if...
you were born a wedge rocker and you will die a wedge rocker.

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