may 2012

Guitarists Jonathan Donais and Matt Bachand give us the lowdown on their new album and their new B.C. Rich signature guitars, as well as what it’s like to navigate the shark-infested waters of the music world.

With a less-than-booming music industry and the economical realities imposed on bands today, many have no choice but to cut corners during the recording process. Shadows Fall lead guitarist Jonathan Donais notes that with the steep decline in record label budgets, “a lot of bands are putting out records a lot faster than they used to, and you can definitely see that it’s getting watered down, like, ‘I heard this before already.’” It may have surprised some industry insiders when Shadows Fall actually took a year off from the road to write and record Fire From the Sky, their seventh studio release. This was not an easy decision for the group. “You used to be able to sit back and write for as long as you needed, and be able to pay your bills,” says Donais. “You can’t do that anymore. You have to just get right back on the road to keep making money.” But the band refused to compromise on quality. “We’re not quick writers; we’re not one of those bands that come in with 20 or 30 songs. We concentrate on trying to get 10 or 11 really strong songs and then we’ll have one or two left over, if we’re lucky, ” explains Donais. While some bands use spare time together on the road to write, he says that this would have stifled Shadows Fall’s creative juices and ability to jam as a band on tour. “We don’t write on the road—we won’t even think about writing a record until that tour cycle is over. It keeps you excited to write again because you haven’t done it for so long.”

Shadows Fall went to great lengths to secure mega-producer Adam Dutkiewicz’s services for the recording. Dutkiewicz produced Shadows’ 1997 debut, Somber Eyes to the Sky, and soon after, both Shadows and Dutkiewicz’s band, Killswitch Engage, exploded on the scene, ushering in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement and injecting new life into the moribund metal landscape. Shadows Fall had wanted to get Dutkiewicz back in the producer’s chair for years, but scheduling conflicts continually thwarted these plans as Dutkiewicz became one of the most in-demand producers in the metal scene, having shaped the sound of influential artists like The Devil Wears Prada and As I Lay Dying, among many others. When Dutkiewicz hired Shadows Fall’s rhythm guitarist, Matt Bachand, in 2011 to fill in on bass for his project, Times of Grace, they were finally able to sync their schedules so that Dutkiewicz could produce Fire From the Sky. From all accounts, it appears the band’s valiant efforts have paid off. Dutkiewicz pushed the band to its limits and many consider Fire From the Sky to be the band’s strongest effort to date.

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Learn how to use inversions to create motion in your comping.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Advanced Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to use inversions to create motion in your comping.
• Play Freddie Green-inspired voicings over a blues progression.
• Create soulful rhythm sounds using 6th and 9th chords.

Click here to download the audio files from this lesson.

Here are the facts: Most guitarists have a very limited amount of chordal material to play when it comes to comping a blues progression. Once all the power chords, barre chords, a few strum patterns, and open chords are used up, most guitarists are tapped out.

On one hand it’s really a blessing. Pretty much every guitarist can play some kind of blues and be somewhat convincing in a couple of styles. But on the other hand, it’s a shame that all these cats are playing the blues with the same ideas and same sound. Very little changes other than the lyrics and maybe the tempo. Due to how the piano is laid out and how it is taught, it seems that pianists generally move around and develop harmonic ideas more easily than the average guitarist. However, the big-dog guitar players have a plethora of great ideas to keep this 12-bar form interesting and unique, while making profound artistic statements. In this lesson, I’ll provide a few harmonic “moves” that will help you at your next jam, gig, or writing session.

Let’s start with Fig. 1, which has a boogie-woogie feel. In this example, we are using two voicings, one on strings 6–4–3 and the other on strings 5–3–2. The first voicing is a traditional “four-to-the-bar” voicing that a lot of guitarists use when playing swing music. You might have heard these called “Freddie Green” voicings, since he used them constantly when playing in the Count Basie band. In order to create some motion we add a few chord inversions. Don’t be scared by some of the “theory” talk, an inversion is simply a different order of a group of chord tones. Easy, right?

In the key of G, the chords we’ll use are G7, F/A, and G/B. The latter two chords are called slash chords. In a slash chord, the left side usually indicates a triad and the right side tells us what bass note to use. We then transpose these shapes up to cover the IV chord (C7) and the V chord (D7). It’s important to play this with a very hard swing feel—like a triplet with the first two notes tied together.

Fig. 2 is another short little move that is related to the previous style. It works well when connecting the I chord to the IV chord, as in measure 1 or measure 5. Check out Fig. 3 to see how this lies on strings 5–3–2.

We use some close-voiced 9th chords in Fig. 4. Think of this over a straight eighth-note feel, like you might hear on some ECM records. In each measure we go between a rootless 9th chord and suspended 9th chord. Often, I use my thumb to grab the bass notes.

Things get a little sweeter sounding in Fig. 5. This slow blues in the key of G is great for backing up vocalists. We can think of the partial chords in a few different ways, but the easiest is to consider it as a move from a 6th chord to a 9th chord. The top notes create an interesting countermelody—contrasting the melody coming from the soloist or vocalist—and generate some harmonic motion.

Hopefully these examples will not only give you some stock “moves” you can use over a blues, but will also inspire you to come up with some ideas of your own. A quick way to know you have these examples down is to play them in other keys or grooves—even other time signatures.

There’s really no substitute for being inspired by the great guitarists who came before us. Anytime I feel like I’m in a rut, I turn to recordings by artists I admire and steal from them. The process of transcription will give you more ideas, provide a gateway to originality, and sharpen your ears.

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When Fender gave Marr a chance to come up with his own version of the design, he responded with a smart, thoughtful, superbly executed take on this much-misunderstood, and ultra-expressive instrument.

Guitar heroes don’t come much more atypical, or antiheroic than Johnny Marr. Apart from hardcore fans, there probably aren’t many who can whistle a Johnny Marr solo. Heck, in his time with the Smiths—still one of the most influential and adored English bands of the last three decades—Marr rarely played a solo, at least in the rip-snortin’, fire-breathing, Jeff Beckian sense. What Marr contributed instead, is a virtual holy text on how to craft a hook and support a song. While there may not be a lot of fleet-fingered fireworks in his oeuvre, licks don’t come much more delicious and clever than the intro to “This Charming Man.” And the menacing, chugging, tremolo-pulsing, Bo Diddley-on-nitrous riff that anchors “How Soon in Now” is heavy enough to make Tony Iommi green with envy.

For Marr and Smiths fans, Fender’s introduction of the Johnny Marr Jaguar might seem odd and enigmatic. As a Smith, Marr was most closely associated with Rickenbackers, Stratocasters, Les Pauls, and Gibson semi-hollows. And in his work as a solo artist and sideman, he was seen with SGs and Telecasters more often than not. But if one thing stays the same about Johnny Marr, it’s that he never stops changing. When he surprised many by joining up with indie-rock superstars Modest Mouse, he threw guitar-spotters a curve by embracing the Jaguar too. And when Fender gave Marr a chance to come up with his own version of the design, he responded with a smart, thoughtful, superbly executed take on this much-misunderstood, and ultra-expressive instrument.

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