october 2016

A great song consists of more than just notes and rhythms. Here’s how to put the pieces together to create that extra sonic magic.


Chops: Beginner
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Create simple and meaningful blues phrases in the style of B.B. King.
• Understand how to emphasize chord tones over a blues progression.
• Learn how to use repetition to build tension in your solos.


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

It’s not about you. Don’t worry, though, it’s not about the bass player, keyboardist, drummer, or the singer either. It’s about all of you, and most importantly, it’s about the song. A fellow bandmate said to me recently that being in a band is the ultimate form of socialism, and I’d have to agree. I’ve been a “band guy” my whole life and it’s the place I feel most comfortable making music. When everyone checks their ego at the door, walks into rehearsal or a gig, and plays for each other and for the song, it’s truly transcendental. Since I started playing guitar, I’ve always been interested in arranging and orchestrating within the context of a band. The way the pieces fit together fascinates me and being the guitarist and singer in the bands I’ve performed with has taught me a great deal about the art of an ensemble.

Less Is More
You’ve heard this one ad nauseam. Our instrument—especially electric guitars—can take up a lot of aural real estate, so lay back. Don’t hit every note in that chord you’re about to play. Play a partial chord, an inversion, a countermelody, or double the bass line. Or here’s a novel idea: Don’t play anything. To illustrate, I’ll give you an eight-bar progression (Ex. 1) that pays homage to the Beatles. If the rest of the band is driving and filling up space harmonically and rhythmically, you don’t necessarily have to as well.

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A compact digital reverb that delivers deep tones and shape-shifts with ease.

Unless you’ve been marooned on a island, entirely apart from guitar-nerd media, you may have noticed that we are mired in a reverb arms race. Around the globe, pedal weirdoes are tweaking algorithms and stuffing knob upon knob of fine-tuning power to create the most distantly spacy, authentically springy, and perfectly plate-y reverbs.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the extreme, unnatural, and super-authentic sounds conjured by these tone obsessives. But how does the more practical player get in on the fun without devoting a whole season to a user manual and triggering episodes of knob navigation anxiety? The answer may be MXR’s new Reverb, a sample platter of reverb tones that run from very convincing spring emulations to cosmic-scale echoes—all in a compact, three-knob package.

Bouncing Auf Bauhaus
Compared to a lot of modern reverbs that cover this much ground, the MXR Reverb looks downright austere. In fact, the gunmetal enclosure and three-knob array seem designed to communicate the message that this pedal is as approachable and utilitarian as a toaster.

The tasteful, subdued neutral colors also make for an excellent set-and-forget reverb.

The knobs are a familiar and conventional set: decay, tone, and mix—essentially the same controls you see on a vintage Fender Reverb. The key to the wider universe within the MXR Reverb is the tone knob, which doubles as a push-button voice selector. Pushing the button illuminates one of the three LEDs in ether green or red. The color—and LED that is illuminated—indicates which of the six voices you’ve selected. One note of warning: You’ll have to use a light touch when making tone adjustments. The push switch is sensitive and it’s very easy to accidentally switch voices.

Shoot the Tube, Space Mod!
The six voices are familiar variations of what are now common reverb types in the digital reverb sphere. Plate, spring, and room emulations are more or less self-explanatory. Mod adds a dose of pitch and phase modulation to the plate reverb sound. Epic combines the reflections of multiple modulated reverbs—an effect not unlike watching light bounce off fragments of mirror. Pad adds octave-up and/or octave-down content in the fashion of a shimmer reverb.

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