Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Beg for Software Pointers

One way to learn something is to try to teach it. If you have a fuzzy knowledge of something, it has to be sharpened in order for you to teach it. And, as part of my How To Not Suck series, I need to get into talking about music. There's words for it, but there's also a written language, which I have a very fuzzy knowledge of. I want to sharpen it, and having to think things through and write about it will sharpen it.

So, I will want to be able to make images of staff notation. Unless there's a way to write it in HTML. So, please, are there good Free or Open or even just free ways I can write out something in musical staff? I'll more than likely be doing it on my work laptop (don't tell anyone) so XP-friendly choices are preferred, but not required.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Something Old, Something New

If you read anything about guitar history, you'll know that the first electric solidbody was a Rickenbacker "frying pan" lap steel, that amongst the first electric hollowbodies was the Gibson L-5, that Les Paul mounted pickups on a log and tried to sell that to Gibson, and that the first mass-produced solid-body electric spanish guitar was the Broadcaster/Nocaster/Telecaster built by Leo Fender. And, if you read the right books, you'll see that Paul Bigsby created a one-off solid-body for Merle Travis that was probably the first electric guitar as we understand them today.

What you probably don't know is that they're making them again. I'm sure it's out of my budget, but ain't it still pretty?

Speaking of pretty, I need to find a maker. I went to a show with my eldest son on Friday night, and the opening act had a Les Paul copy with a white pearloid top, silver Tele-style knobs (four, like a Les Paul should), and a black headstock. I did not get a good look at the headstock, so I don't know who makes it. I've had Dean, Luna and Daisy Rock suggested, and while there are elements that might pass over, I don't believe it's from any of those. I thought Reverend for a while, but no.

Is there anyone out there in gear-land who can ID a guitar on such a sketchy description?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Principles to Practicals

Ig from IgBlog brought up Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft and the Ten Principles behind it. I mentioned my knowledge of Guitar Craft, my dislike of some things about it, my respect for Robert Fripp's playing and his body of work, and my inability to understand how to apply some of the principles. Ig correctly noted that this had little to do with the ten principles. (I hate it when he's so right.)

So, here goes.

Act from principle - This is the one that confuses me. It seems more of a music business question than a music craft question. What is the principled way to pick a string?

Begin where you are - The other day, I was showing my son chords, and he was having problems. I said "Wanna learn a song?" His face lit up. Then I pulled up the tab for a Jonathan Coulton song, one with lots of chords all over. Last time I wrote this, I think I said "Skullcrusher Mountain" but I'm now sure it's "I Feel Fantastic". Anyway, after a while, the sheer complexity of a witty pop song overwhelmed him, and he said "Can we do something else?" I've seen, and even had, the same boggled-expression from watching Danny Gatton's Telemaster! video. It's usually around the time he pulls out the Lenny Breau-style cascading harp-like harmonics. That's when most guitarists' minds shut down. But I think that the opposite position is often true, too. A player is ready to take it to the next level but never does. Never even looks toward the next level, but thinks there's more he needs to learn from the last levels. At times, I fear that this is me.

Define your aim simply, clearly, and briefly - You can say "I want to play like Eddie Van Halen", but you have to break that down. How do you play like Eddie? You break it down. "I want to play two-handed taps." Even there, there's a physical aspect, getting good tone when hammer on with your fingers and when you pull off, etc, and a theoretical aspect, knowing what you're playing is essentially a big fast E minor arpeggio, for example. So it becomes "I want to understand chord theory relating to making things sound heavy" and "I want to develop two-handed tapping rhythms that will sound cool." Those are simple, clearly-defined action items.

Establish the possible, and move gradually toward the impossible Lorinator covered this, echoed by a now-removed Steve Vai bit from YouTube where he talked about Zappa saying he sounded like an electric ham sandwich. Troy Grady would argue that there's more to it than than, and if he ever finished his filming and released the DVD, I'd buy it and tell you a little about what that more is, but certainly, you can't become great without working on becoming great.

Honor necessity
Honor sufficiency - These two are combined. Necessity is the bottom: without these elements, you can't make it work. Sufficiency is the top: after this, you get no real benefits from throwing more at it.

Offer no violence - This one has me the most confused. Most of what I think of when I think of the craft of being a musician deals with interaction with your instrument. Offering my guitar no violence means I can't pound on the strings to get a sound or anything. Pete Townsend is right out! I can really see this as a band-survival or label-survival idea ("Don't slug your A&R rep just because he tells you to record a Diane Warren song.") but that doesn't work for me as a matter of craft. Except when you can't fret or hybrid pick because you bruised your knuckles on the A&R guy's chin.

Suffer cheerfully
Work, but not solemnly - Listen to The Seldom Scene Live at the Cellar Door. You will hear a group of people really enjoying each other's company, with a room full of people not just watching, but brought into the fun. You will also hear Mike Auldridge, Larry the Legend himself, amongst the best players ever to pick up a dobro. It is necessary to take your quest for craft seriously. It is not necessary for you to take yourself seriously.

Without commitment, all the rules change - I don't really get the point here. I'd say "without commitment, nothing gets done."

I'll also mention the GC Aphorisms page, which inhabit a space somewhere between zen koans and oblique strategies. And, of course, welcome all comments and questions.

Commuting Grrr

I try to keep this a music blog, but I feel I must vent.

You know clock position, right? "12 O'Clock High"? "Check your six"? Now, more than ever before in my driving, people have been sitting in my five and sevens, which is basically where the blind spot is, and staying there! What's up with that? Are you trying to cause an accident?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chapter 6: Don't Listen To Your Elders

This is easy. You like Eddie Van Halen. Who did he listen to? Who are his influences? Cream. So you pick up Disraeli Gears and like Eric Clapton. Who did he listen to? Who are his influences? The Three Kings: Albert, Freddie and B.B. Which leads to Elmore James and Robert Johnson.

Congratulations. You now have the same influences that everyone who ever bought an issue of Guitar World has.

Of course, it's good to listen to Van Halen and pick out what you can. Of course Eric Clapton's important. Of course B.B. King is great. Of course, Robert Johnson is just awesome. I'm not arguing against them.

I am arguing for a variety of influence. X is punk rock with Carter Family harmonies. Lee Roy Parnell is straight blues, but he's out of Nashville so he's Country. Clarence White (yes, I have to mention him) brought Country picking into Rock. John Five is bringing Hank Garland to a generation of young shredders.

So, listen to people outside your style. Integrate it. It'll help you not suck, and it might just help you out of a jam.

Chapter 5: It's a magic number!

I am so going to have to go back and reorganize these.

Story 1: My friend Philo and I stop at a guitar shop. We pull axes off the wall and start playing, when a guy in the next amp row starts playing "Spirit of Radio". It might not have actually been "Spirit of Radio", but it was Rush, it was Alex Lifeson, and it was well-rehearsed and perfect. Philo and I were impressed. We asked him if he wanted to jam a little, and started a blues shuffle in A. The guy couldn't hang. He just couldn't follow the changes.

Story 2: I was part of a pickup jam thing for a while. The bassist was another friend. Smart guy, but when playing bass, he had a distinct problem. All too often, we found that he could only count to three. So he'd consistantly make the change before everyone else.

For both of these, it's a matter of structure. The first one is a case of too much structure. He did one song and he did it very well, but he didn't have a second song. The second one was a case of not enough structure. He was trying to count out and keep track of changes in his head, not listening to the rest of the band as they went through the same changes.

This is distinct from timing. Listen to Ministry: The verse riff and the vocals follow incompatible lengths while keeping the same time. There, it's a hook. If you mean it, it's a feature. If you don't, it just means you suck, and this is all about how to not suck.

The solution with both of these includes the first suggestion. You have to play with others. Track one of Permanent Waves will always be track one, and the sweater girl on the cover will always look happy that her skirt is blown around by the wind and her panties are showing. But a real drummer will vary. A real guitarist will vary. A real bassist might count to three instead of four.

So, you have to listen. And the band will have many people who want to play different things. The 12-bar blues is a common and good structure, one you should be able to handle, with just style and intensity distinguishing a rockin' shuffle beat and a jazzier, slower bit. But there are others. Fiddle tunes often have two parts, one which mostly jumps from the root to the fourth and one which mostly jumps from the root to the fifth. In popular song, "Sleepwalk" by Santo and Johnny and the chorus to Asia's "Heat of the Moment" share V-vi-IV-I. In C, that would be G, Am, F, C. "Heat of the Moment" is in C#, in case you're curious, and Howe uses lots of cool inversions. (Things you pick up from Guitar Hero....)

And then there's Pachelbel's Canon in D.

The structure that gets me one that comes up on Wednesdays. You have, really a two-verse chorus, with each verse being four lines. And, at the end of the chorus, you might leap back to the beginning of the first chorus verse. Or you might leap back to the beginning of the second chorus verse. Or you might jump back to the beginning of the third line of the second chorus verse. And when I've sung it from the congregation, it makes sense to do it. When I'm in the band, it ties my head up.

It's good to know many structures. It's good to know how to pick up and remember other people's structures. Personally, I find it hard to pick up song structure without having it written out. And it's good to listen to the other people, going through the structure with them. By doing so, we can learn to not suck.

Chapter 4: Cutting the Chord

My good friend, Patrick, of Philo T. Farnsworth and the Glass Popes, offered this advice:
Practice every way to play that chord. Starting with the basic E and A barre forms, learn what you have to change to make it major, minor, maj7, min7, dom7, 9, sus2, sus4, and dim. Learn it so thoroughly you don't have to think about the best way to play that G#maj7, you just play it. Learn to transpose in your head, as you go.

Here is where I have commentary. One of the first times I played out, I found myself playing a song featuring G minor, while I was playing acoustic. Wednesday night worship gigs, you get the song list, you pull your chord sheets, and if you didn't know the song at the beginning, by gum, you knew enough to fake it by the end.

Anyway, I knew the E barre form of G minor, but when you're playing acoustic, you want to play open strings as much as possible. So, while I was playing the rest, waiting for the Gmin to come around again, I started thinking "What's a G chord? G, B and D. The Gminor is G, Bb and D. So, where are my Bs?" Next time I hit that chord, I did 310033. It worked, but it isn't a fun stretch for the index finger. So, 3x0033, muting everything that isn't a G or D. In a full band, one with two guitarists, keys and bass, you can do that instead of G7, G6, Gsus4 or whatever variation of G you need, besides diminished, because the rhythm guitar is more there as a tuned drum. Flavor the chords if you feel comfortable, but it isn't altogether necessary.

Let's start out with "Every way to play a chord". Thinking three-note chords, not jazz chords, there are five ways of playing a chord. You may have heard of the CAGED system. This is the point. There are five chord shapes. C, A, G, E and D. Put in that order because it makes a word, but also because of the order.

C-form C

E ||--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
B ||--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
G |X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
D ||--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
A ||--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
E |X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|

A-form C

E ||--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
B ||--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
G ||--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
D ||--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
A ||--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
E ||--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|

G-form C

E ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|
B ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|
G ||--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
D ||--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|
A ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|--|
E ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|

E-form C

E ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|
B ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|
G ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|
D ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|
A ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|
E ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|--|--|

D-form C

E ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|
B ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X
G ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|
D ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|
A ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|--|--|
E ||--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--X--|

(I've really got to write a PNG-creating Guitar Tool so I can imbed this stuff. Text-mode sucks.)

CAGED is considered a scale-learning thing, but it works for chords. The first song that showed me that you could barre more than the E and A was Richard Thompson's "Shoot Out The Lights", where he goes from a D-barre E (x00450) to a D and then standard E. "You can do that?", I asked. You can do that if it sounds cool, if you can get away with it.

I've seen a primer on jazz chords I'll cover later. But if you're worried about jazz chords, you're probably beyond what I say here. I'll also get to the basics of transposition.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Read Your Contract!

In the poll, I got three responses. All "Contractual Obligation".

OK. Read the rest of your contract, and give me more ideas on the subject How Not To Suck! I don't want to have to go through the redress of grievance procedures, people, but I will!

Chapter 3: Repetition and Stress

I've tried to play rhythm to a metronome.

Set it for a speed and it goes click ... click ... click ... click ... Then you start to play, and you're consistant, because you're consistant. But the clicks, man! click ... ... click click ... click ... ... ... click ... It's horrible how metronomes click right on time, every time, until you try to play, then they're all over the place!

That's the denial talking. I know it's me that's wavering. But most of your music isn't you and a clicking sound under a microscope. Most of it's much less structured than that. I've mentioned but not gone into detail about time, but the suck needle turns up higher when you blow time than when you blow pitch. In a perfect world, you'd hit both, but in a perfect world, Richard Thompson would rule the pop charts and Britney Spears would be working in a chicken ranch outside Pahrump, Nevada. Well, one of those could happen.

What I used to do, back when MTV still played videos, is to sit and watch MTV and strum along, holding the strings mute. The point wasn't to play along, to figure out the keys and the like. That was far beyond me. The point was to learn rhythm.

And when you do this, it's best to listen to the drummer, not the guitars. In funk, the guitar closely aligns to the snare drum. It's good to think of a guitar wider than that, but I think of funky rhythms like the Amen break and try to do that, with the low strings being the kick drum and the treble strings being the snare or hi-hat. Amen or Funky Drummer won't always work. For Country, it's boom-chick, with boom being the big strings. But breaking the rhythm into smaller pieces always works. That's why musicians speed up, because going faster means the chunks of time are smaller.

In my regular gig, I'm the rhythm guy with inconsistent and regularly-cycling drummers. So, I'm the drummer's drummer, the guy he picks up the rhythm from. Pribek (link to the right) says being that guy, being Mister Strum, is the way out of a bad situation. If you want to not suck, get good at rhythm.

Rivers Burn and then Run Backwards

It was 5:37am. I was awake but in bed, planning and scheming through my next move. "Do I take a shower now or lay in the dark for another 10 minutes."

I wasn't going to get up with the bed shaking.

Turns out, it was a 5.2 quake centered near West Salem, Illinois.

CNN will tell you all about it, I'm sure.

I immediately thought New Madrid, which made me think "New Madrid", but I'm told it was the Wabash Valley fault line, separate from New Madrid. Still, Mr Browning to the contrary, the Midwest is still somewhat tectonically unstable, albeit not remotely like the San Andreas. A friend rightly noted that a 5.2 in San Fran wouldn't even make the evening news.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

That Was NOT Fun

You work with what you have. And Wednesday Night is not the good gig, Sunday is. I know this.

Pastor is worship leader on Wednesdays. Except not today. The woman who got the nod is a harmony singer, and while she may be a great singer, she's a harmony singer. You don't lead worship by singing harmony, you lead worship by singing lead.

And, she doesn't know all the songs. I don't know all the songs, but I'm not leading worship, so I can have the chord sheet in front of me. She has nothing. So "Wonderful Peace" got pushed to the wayside. Half the set list got canned, but "Wonderful Peace" is a song I know by heart, chords and melody. I can jam on that song. And it went away.

This leads to an uncomfortable situation. It does get worse.

The drummer, one of three in rotation for Wednesdays, doesn't know the songs either. That's OK. He also had headphones with a short. We have in-ear monitors. So he couldn't hear anyone. It's hard to play music with someone who you can't hear. And it's hard to play with a drummer who can't hear anyone.

Normally, when the Pastor's away, the guitarists will play, and I'll play Tele instead of acoustic. I went to acoustic toward the end, because we needed someone to be Mister Strum, and it's my job.

At least we played songs in C and G. Good guitar keys. No E-flat. So, it could've been worse.

But it's rare that I feel that glad the set is over.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"There's hopes shattered every day"

This post edited out due to pointlessness. I never came to a solid point, so I'm taking it down.

Chapter 2: "No, not for months, actually"

Let's think of a song everybody knows.

Everybody knows "Happy Birthday To You". You know the melody to "Happy Birthday" better than you know the chorus riff to "Layla", the hammer-ons for "Eruption", the slinky lick for "Soul Man" — any piece of music you know, you know "Happy Birthday" better.

So try to play it.

All the way through.

Without mistakes.

It is hard. It is the reason for a lot of the stuff we do. We know scales because melodies, in general, come from scale notes. We learn the neck so, if we want a note, there it is.

Really, we make connections, learn positions, find licks, do all this so we can play stuff, but most of us, myself included, trap the music in our heads with our incomplete neck knowledge.

Which is why and how we suck.

I've been told that A-list players have been caught by this. Players whose day job is playing sessions. Players whose day job is playing instrumentals. Players whose day jobs are playing bluegrass instrumentals. (This is my bias: I consider bluegrass musicians the best popular music musicians out there. Not better than jazz musicians, although there is some overlap. Besides, jazz isn't popular music.)

If you come up with a melody line, a "skiddly be-bop", we should be able to play "skiddly be-bop". If we can't, we suck. By trying so, starting with "Happy Birthday", Patty and Mildred Hill's contribution to the arts, we can strive to not suck.

Do you have exercises or methods to help you not suck?

Friday, April 11, 2008

The book I should be writing

I was at a book store with a friend today. A book store with music section.

"You know", I said, "There's lots of books called How to Play the Guitar. There are two right there. What I need is How to Play Better."

"How to Not Suck", he helpfully suggested.


There are certain things you must do to condition yourself, to not suck. The first thing you must do, I believe, is to play with other people in front of other people. I suppose the 'with other people' part might not be necessary. I don't know that folkie fingerstyle singers really need to weave tapestries of DADGAD notes with other people, but 'in front of other people' is necessary. This is necessary because, when you perform, you must get it right the first time. When you practice and you blow a note, you can always start over. When you're one of a band, and especially when you're in front of an audience, you have to keep going once you've blown it. A necessary but not sufficient requirement of Not Sucking is playing through your errors, of disguising them and certainly not stopping. (See the Closer To Fine lesson for a great example.)

What are other ways to not suck? What else can I do so I, too, can not suck?

What's worse than sucky?

Looking forward to something, hoping it won't be sucky, then having it pulled out from under you, because someone failed to do things right.

My *hit list just got longer.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rainy Day Suckage, #12 and 35

Tonight, K and I are going to celebrate our anniversary. Hopefully it'll be better than the last time we tried, where I started feeling sick at the restaurant, we skipped the movie, and I spent the next day or two with a bucket or on the pot.

We're going for dinner and a movie. But there's nothing in town, really, that I want to see. There's things that I'm not in the mood for, like Prom Night, and things I wish to avoid with intensity, like Leatherheads. My beloved wanted to see the Tyler Perry movie, but it seems that it's gone.

And yesterday, we got a case at work. A swank new HP case. The quietest PC I've ever started up. All SATA. Everything perfectly arranged. It's the stuff. But, for the purposes it serves, it needs a full-length PCI slot. All 12 inches. And the drive cage butts into 1 of those 12 inches. So, I'm about to do damage to one of prettiest cases I've ever seen.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A while ago, after church, the other Wednesday guitarist asked me something.

He said "Gigs come and go. You can't limit yourself to just that. What kind of player do you want to be?"

That was a while ago.

I came up with an answer yesterday, while driving home.

I had "Late For The Sky" by Jackson Browne playing on my phone, adapted and extended to play through the car stereo.


That's when it struck me.

I want to play behind Jackson Browne.

I really don't: I don't listen to that stuff all that often, I like other stuff more, I don't share much if anything of his politics, I think he can sound whiney so back to #1, I have until recently kept a 20-year boycott of "The Load-Out", and I don't think he plays out much anymore anyway.

But, as a musician, I want to play behind Jackson Browne. I want to play spicy but not too distracting bits between verses. I want to play for the song and not get too technical. I wanna be Waddy Wachtel or David Lindley.

There's room, though. I could see being someone's Pete Anderson or Don Rich. I don't remotely think I'm man enough to be someone's Clarence White.

Who am I kidding?

I am so embarrassed for my guitarist self.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Taste the rainbow of taste flavors!

I've done some work on my Guitar Tool. I think I have the contrast issue taken care of.

And now it looks like I've poured a bag of Skittles on a guitar neck.


Monday, April 7, 2008

I think I mentioned this before

This one.

It's a Les Paul copy. Fretless.

This and a Sustainer would perfect. Neck volume, bridge volume, master tone, and sustainer intensity. The switches should be the only new holes necessary at the top. A bit of mojo and a push-pull pot and you'd just need one.

Fretless guitar just seems so ... free!

Good is gear

Fender is giving away a Telecaster in honor of the new Stones movie.

I signed up.

Hey, free gear, right?

But, Brian Jones has always been my favorite Stone.

Well, Bill Wyman got name-checked in a Smithereens song, and he somehow became his own grandpa. Gotta give him props for that.

Semi-seriously, I have a birthday coming up, and it's right near Christmas....

And even more seriously, ain't she pretty?

A Real Gone Jerk

Here's Tiny, playin' that jump blues with the train rhythm.

Don't sound a lick like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, does it?

Come to think of it, Joe Perry didn't play on the album take of "Train"....

A chord by any other name would sound just as sour

This is commonly called the "Hendrix Chord". x7678x. A music theory geek might call that an E7+#9. I associate it with Stevie Ray Vaughn and "Scuttle Buttin'", but a) it'd be an Eb7+#9, since he detuned a half-step, and b) after reviewing the tape, it's far more likely that he was using an open chord, like 02213x or the like, and it's just an E7.

There are other chord shapes I associate with Hendrix. For example, this closed Gadd9: xx5435. That's "Wind Cried Mary".

As an A5, 5xxx55. It was presented to me as an E chord on the 12th fret, but I moved it to A for ease of writing. 12xxx1212 would just be confusing.

A thing more associated with Cornell Dupree and Steve Cropper, but that I learned from Hendrix, is this bit, basically the verse to Monterey's "Like A Rolling Stone":

E ----------------------------------------------
B -----5------6------8----10-----12-------------
G ----------------------------------------------
D --5------7------9-------10-----12-------------
A ----------------------------------------------
E ----------------------------------------------
"Once upon a time, you felt so fine..." That's a walkup. C, Dm, Em, F, G. The root would come on the G string, but the third and fifth are strong enough chord definers that you can play this solo and it sounds full. The third, as you might tell, falls on the B string. Of course, with relative minors and such, xx7x6x also could define an F chord, and xx9x8x a G.

I know few other chord formations that are strongly associated with an artist. I know a "James Taylor" set of chords, G with D on the B string (320033), Cadd9 (x32033) and Dsus4 (x00233) are useful for quick switching, because you're leaving the B and E strings droning on the same two notes.

Then, of course, there's Freddie Green chords, which are their own master class. The key, I've been told, is that it's much more about the thunk than the note, that there's really only one note being held down to sound. For "fake" FG playing, the keys are to mute the A and high E strings and know inversions of 7th and 6th chords.

Are there any other "artist" chords? Chords that hook into Hillel Slovak? Fingerings that are nearly unique to Dave Matthews or Chet Atkins? Tell me.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

With a heave and a ho

I assume I'm mostly talking to guitar players on this blog, because that's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. So, consider this chord: xx5767. What is it? High-to-low, that's A C# F# A, so that's an A6 without the E. But, if you're taking out notes to consider the chord, it's a perfectly acceptable Dmaj7, having the third (F#), the fifth (A), and the major seventh (C#). Who cares if there's no sign of the root note? Do we really need a D note to make it a D?

That's a conversation I was part of in another forum, and that discussion came up, and there were people who insisted that it couldn't be, just because of that. This brings to mind a few pieces of structure that come to mind that take this concept to fuller expression.

You might know "Train Kept A-Rollin'". As a guess, I'd say you know the Aerosmith version, especially if you've listened to classic rock radio during the last 25 years. You might be familiar with the Yardbirds take, also known as "Stroll On". If you're truly cool, or perhaps truly geeky, you recognize it from Johnny Burnette and his Rock & Roll Trio recording, with the great Paul Burlison. And if you're really and truly a musical fiend, you'll recognize it as a jump blues from Tiny Bradshaw.

As a refresher, here's the Yardbirds.

Here's some of the structure as expressed as the bassline. Pretty much the Aerosmith version for this, but under everything, it's the same song.

E ---------|---------|---------|---------
B ---------|---------|---------|---------
G ---------|---------|---------|---------
D ---------|---------|---------|---------
A ---------|---------|---------|---------
E -3-------|-3-3-0-3-|-3-------|-3-3-0-3-

E ---------|---------|---------|---------
B ---------|---------|---------|---------
G ---------|---------|---------|---------
D ---------|---------|---------|---------
A ---------|---------|---------|---------
E -5-------|-5-5-0-5-|-3-------|-3-3-0-3-

E ---------|---------|---------|---------
B ---------|---------|---------|---------
G ---------|---------|---------|---------
D ---------|---------|---------|---------
A ---------|---------|---------|---------
E -5-5-5-5-|-7-5-3-2-|-3-------|-3-3-0-3-

Or something like that.

So, there's lots of Gs, lots of As, lots of Bs and a little bit of E as a passing tone. So it might be a surprise to you to find it's a blues in E. E is the relative minor for G, G is the minor third for E, so it's a substitution, or maybe an inversion. But play a 12-bar in E singing the song and you'll be convinced I'm right. That's why we have this song in E with hardly any E in it.

Which gets to a more fundamental cool thing. I heard it once, I think on a fiddle DVD. Fiddles have very few usable strings at once, normally just two at a time, so you play as much harmony as you can with as little as you can.

So, consider blues. All chords are assumed to be dominant seven chords in the blues. That's just how it is. So, in G, that's G (G B D F), C (C E G Bb) and D (D F# A C). All chords except diminished chords have the root and the fifth, so let's strip them, leaving the major third and dominant seventh. B and F, E and Bb, C and F#. So, you can play the blues on two strings. Shown four-to-the-bar slightly Freddie Green style:
E ---------|---------|---------|---------
B ---------|---------|---------|---------
G -4-4-4-4-|-3-3-3-3-|-4-4-4-4-|-4-4-4-4-
D -3-3-3-3-|-2-2-2-2-|-3-3-3-3-|-3-3-3-3-
A ---------|---------|---------|---------
E ---------|---------|---------|---------

E ---------|---------|---------|---------
B ---------|---------|---------|---------
G -3-3-3-3-|-3-3-3-3-|-4-4-4-4-|-4-4-4-4-
D -2-2-2-2-|-2-2-2-2-|-3-3-3-3-|-3-3-3-3-
A ---------|---------|---------|---------
E ---------|---------|---------|---------

E ---------|---------|---------|---------
B ---------|---------|---------|---------
G -5-5-5-5-|-3-3-3-3-|-4-4-3-3-|-4-4-4-5-
D -4-4-4-4-|-2-2-2-2-|-3-3-2-2-|-3-3-4-4-
A ---------|---------|---------|---------
E ---------|---------|---------|---------
Play it and be convinced that you can take out some complexity and the mind will fill it in.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Review of a Secret

They found Jaco Pastorius's 'Bass of Doom'.


I had thought that it was lost and gone forever.

Just, wow.

I'm just curious as to where it has been the last 22 years.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Standing up on the stage, giving it all his might

Pribek (link to the left, very much flaky to me on IE) asks for the greatest solos in pop music, leaving it to the reader to define pop music.

I've been listening to the Masters of the Telecaster CDs at work, and I've been generally tired, so I don't have the greatest recall. I can't recall the solo to "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet, but I recall that it was fairly cool. "Should've Known Better" by the Beatles is one I've learned but can't do today, and while it is more of a riff than a break, I'm thinking the one from "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" by the Hollies is pretty cool.

The solo I think is best, at this moment, is Clarence White's break on "Red Rocking Chair" from the Muleskinner live CD.


I'll step back.

In the 50s and early 60s, bluegrass and other folk forms had a fair amount of popularity. This was pretty much ended when Dylan met the Butterfield Blues Band at Newport. So, you have many talented musicians suddenly without an audience.

In this case, we have: Richard Greene, fiddle for Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys; Bill "Brad" Keith, chromatic banjo player and inventer of the Keith tuner, called Brad because "There's only one 'Bill' in Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys"; Peter Rowan, guitarist and singer for the Blue Grass Boys; David Grisman, mandolin player for Red Allen; and Clarence White, flatpicking master and member of the Kentucky Colonels.

During the 60s, they all went into rock projects, like Earth Opera, Seatrain and, most known then and still, the Byrds. They were brought together as the prodigal sons brought home again, opening for Bill Monroe for an L.A. video shoot, but the Bluegrass Special (aka the Bluegrass Breakdown) stopped working and Bill was unavailable. So they played the whole show.

"Red Rocking Chair" is a fairly common folk song, and I'm sure, either by that name or another, that it's on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. It's in E minor. Banjo solo, fiddle solo, no mando solo, and everyone stayed close to the melody.

Clarence didn't.

If I had a guitar here at work, I'd tab it out, because I learned this thing. I can't play it quite as well, but I can play it. I learned it because it had this lick:
E ------0---0-----0---0----------------
B --5-5---5---5-5---5------------------
G -------------------------------------
D -------------------------------------
A -------------------------------------
E -------------------------------------
Those who don't know the guitar might not get this, but he was playing the open E against E on the B string.

They should be the same note.

They are not the same note.

Because the guitar can't be tuned. You can get close, but you can't get all the way there. Feiten nut adjustment helps, but they didn't have that in 1970. Most guitars don't have it now. CW swung on two notes that should've been the same note, which at least my ears took to be at least a half step until I started trying to learn it. There was a gap in guitar theory, and Clarence just jumped right into that gap.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

This never gets older

Listening to "Broken Boy Soldier" by the Raconteurs. Man, that is so 1968 garage psychedelia, so Nuggets, it's unbelievable.

I'd find it on YouTube for you, but I'm at work and blocked.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Man Capable of Reason

I am a guitarist. I am also a programmer.

I needed to understand the fretboard. I wanted to be able to program with Scaled Vector Graphics and Javascript.

So, I made a tool.

The Guitar Tool. Better name pending.

Name a scale. Or a chord/arpeggio. Choose a tuning. Limit the positions or strings. now, you have all you need to know, right there on your screen.

If you run Firefox or Safari. IE can do some SVG, but not this. I just tested.

So, as I said, this is my tool. I had an idea, I implemented it, and I've done a fair amount of adding and modifying. So, you, the computer- and guitar-savvy audience of this blog, what would you change? What would you add? All comments are appreciated.

ETA Working on the colors for the dots. Are these better?

Won't buy back the beat of a heart grown cold

I knew this would happen eventually. Just not when.

I bought tunes off of Amazon MP3 Downloads. It could've been iTunes, except work blocks iTunes.

I've been a partisan on the mobile music side of MP3s vs CDs vs LPs debate, and (don't tell anyone) have downloaded an awful lot of music, but this was the first time I paid for anything.

"Down By The River", Roy Buchanan
"Five String Blues", Roy Buchanan
"The Messiah Will Come Again", Roy Buchanan
"Green Onions", Roy Buchanan and Steve Cropper
"Hot Rod Lincoln", Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen
"Sugarfoot Rag", Hank Garland

Yes, I finally got some Roy.

A big problem I've had with the music business for over 20 years is the death of the single format. When Born in the USA came out, I bought the cassette. I also bought every single, because they all had great non-album b-sides. There's a book called the Top 100 Rock'n'Roll Singles, but the last 2 in the book, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana and "Rockin' in the Free World", had asterisks because they never were released as a single.

We have albums. No, we have CDs. Albums, LPs, were limited to 15 minutes per side. At about 20 minutes and 5 seconds, you can fit 5 songs per side. Or, if you're the Byrds, the last 15 minutes of an extended jam on "Eight Miles High". A CD today can easily contain over an hour of music, which means you can, in one sitting, take in the whole "My Favorite Things" from Coltrane's Live In Japan.

That is, if you can sit through the whole thing.

So, people make recordings and first think they get to, and eventually, have to, fill the 700MB of space on a CD with music. The good thing of a singles market is that the mark is 2 minutes 50. If you can create something interesting in that time, you have a song. You get a heck of a lot of one-hit wonders, but that's OK. That's good. It works for diversity. And diversity, lots of different sounds put head to head to head, is good.

MTV was a good singles substitute, back when it played videos, but that's gone. What I see in MySpace is good, but there's no unification, no central marketplace that I know of, where the next One-Ders can take the Thing That They Do to minor stardom. Maybe Youtube. And anyway, MP3 sales bring it down to just one song again, which is good.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

If wishes were horses, Jon Butcher would be much better known these days

First, I have to report that I am falling down on my "learn lots of new songs" bit. I don't have a raft of new songs to put onto my repertoire list. I kinda have two to add, though. "Sugarfoot Rag" by Hank Garland, and "Buckaroo", the instrumental made famous by Buck Owens and his Buckaroos.

Except these are "Sugarfoot" and "Buckaroo" as played by a complete unknown with no lightning in his fingers. It's just sad.

I've previously mentioned that my queue for new CDs are topped by something comprehensive by Roy Buchanan and something representative and not Wilco by Nels Cline.

I'm tentatively adding Vertigo by John 5 to the number 3 spot. Or is it 4, behind Gram Parsons? Which is appropriate, I think. Parson's idea was Cosmic American Music. If "Cosmic American Music" isn't just Gram Parsons' music, like I'm convinced that "Harmelodic" simply means "played by Ornette Coleman", it's that the deep divides between genres aren't that deep, that they're connected. So, Ray Charles' country album is as Cosmic American as GP's "Dark End of the Street", and Whitney singing Dolly's "I Will Always Love You" would've just knocked his socks off. A good way of looking at country and soul is that they are deeply connected and nearly mirror images of each other. I have a Solomon Burke track that's nearly indistinguishable from early 60s countrypolitan Chet-Atkins-produced stuff. (I hate countrypolitan stuff and Jordanaires-style backup singing, but that's neither here nor there.) And southern rock was all about the combinations, about combining rock with jazz, country with rock, rockabilly with psychedelia, whathaveyou.

And then you have metal. Metal doesn't mix with anything but the power ballad. But John 5 seems to be able to combine Eddie Van Halen and Hank Garland. I haven't heard his "Sugarfoot Rag", but I've seen a dozen YouTube shredders try it. My "Sugarfoot" is Junior Brown's "Sugarfoot", except I haven't gotten far enough into it to where I need to start bringing in Hendrix.

Anything else I should add to the queue?