One of my favorite SRV stories is about his calluses. The story is that he practiced so much they would literally fall off. Well if you know how pink the skin is when you lose a blister you know how tender that skin is! No way you can play guitar on that…unless you are Stevie Ray Vaughan and you just super glue the loose calluses back on your fingertips. That is dedication to practicing for sure!
I always like to relay this to my beginning students as they work through the tender finger stage.
An ABC Award has been bestowed on yours truly and this humble blog, ’12 Notes & the Truth!’ Thanks so much to my blogging colleague on the other side of the pond…Heavy Metal Overload…a true music fan if ever there was one…make sure you pay his blog a visit!!!
Without doubt the hardest part of this ABC list was deciding on a topic. I have been so busy, performing, teaching and networking that I didnt have a lot of time to devote to this spot for a while. My first and favorite idea was to write a description of each musical key, A, B, C…. Even the novice can see the flaw in that theory. The musical alphabet ends on letter G what would I do with H-Z? And what about the ‘#’ & ‘b’ keys??…scrap that idea.
Went through a host of other blah ideas before it hits me! Why I am trying to be so cute just write about what I know…the guitar!!!
So here it is the A-Zs of the worlds greatest instrument…the guitar!
A, AXE- Ever heard the term axeman? Well unless it is some crazy Jack Nicholsonesque dude it refers to a guitarist(no jokes please)….the axe being his guitar. Of course every other instrument has had to steal the idea…there’s just something uncool about hearing a saxophonist saying he “needs to grab his axe.” Here is Michael Schenker an axeman supreme on, “Attack of the Mad Axeman.” BTW the ‘axeman’ on the left of the video doubling on keyboards is San Diego’s own Wayne Findlay and one of my music buds back in our younger days. Have I ever mentioned that? Haha, well guess I am just proud to see one of us San Diego kids living the Rock n Roll dream!
B, BLUES- Sure, blues is not necessarily a guitar term, but, can you imagine the world without blues guitar? No Robert Johnsons who influenced the BB Kings who influenced the whole Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton generation who influenced the whole Eddie Van Halen generation who influenced me and my generation…I would be calling my saxophone an ‘Axe’ if it wasn’t for this lineage. Oh yeah don’t forget Stevie Ray Vaughan!
C, Capo- A capo is a small clamp that guitarists place at different frets on the neck to change the ‘key’ of the guitar which facilitates easy transitions to other keys.
D, Dreadnought- A Dreadnought guitar is a style/body shape made famous by C.F. Martin. The term ‘Dreadnought,’ was used in reference to the British Navy’s large battleships of the day, early 1900’s.
These guitars are characteristic in having large ‘squared’ bouts and a booming sound.
F, Fifth-Now some of you are really interested! No not a fifth of Jack…the musical interval of a perfect 5th. The fifth is the skeleton of all chords(Maj. & Min.) and for rock guitarists extremely important for the formation of power chords which are made up exclusively of the interval of root & 5th.
G, Golpe- Golpe is a technique stemming from the Spanish/Gypsy Flamenco tradition. The guitarist strikes the top of the guitar creating a percussive sound while strumming with other fingers. Note the use of the previously mentioned capo in the video, as well.
H, Harmonics- Harmonics are not exclusive to guitar by any means but they do play a large role in playing guitar. The technique actually cuts off part of the overtone series(lower end) which make up a musical note. The resulting sound resembles a high, thin, bell like texture. The intro of Van Halen’s “Top Jimmy,” uses this technique.
I, Inlay- Inlays are part of the artistic design of a guitar. Inlay can be placed all around the sound hole(rosette) soundboard, front, back and sides of a guitar. Some of the fanciest inlays are put into the neck of a guitar. Sometimes just dots and sometimes elaborate as seen here.
J, Jimi Hendrix Chord, The ol’ Dominant 7#9 chord! Also called a V7#9. To build this chord you would take your root chord say C7 and add the note ‘#9’ which is the 9th note above C -C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D and raise that note one half step to D#. The chord symbol will appear as: C7#9, etc., for any root note. I call it the Jimi Hendrix chord cause he used it a lot and when I was a kid learning his songs is when I was first introduced to the chord. Check out Foxy Lady or Purple Haze for examples. The sound is a bit bluesy and has some dissonance with the #9 against the Major 3rd.
K, Keys- The guitar has a handful of musical keys that are conducive to the instrument and a handful that are not! Guitarists tend to like sharp(#) keys vs flat(b) keys. Flat keys take away the open strings making the guitar harder to play as noted in the letter O, Open Chords. Popular guitar keys include C, G, D, A and E (as well as, their relative minor keys). Any key with more than one flat is often avoided especially by beginners.
L, Lick- This is a great guitar word somewhat synonymous with the term ‘Riff.’ Guitarists practice hours on end trying to create new ideas and phrases which are, ‘Licks,’ and ‘Riffs.’ Licks are more of short phrases placed in improvised solos while riffs are more like a composed guitar part think of the intro to “Smoke on the Water,” or “Iron Man.”
M, Mute- The most common type of muting is done by placing the palm of the strumming hand against the strings near the bridge of the guitar. Notation is often ‘P.M.’ for palm mute.
N, Nut- The nut is simply the piece of bone or plastic, among other possible materials, at the top of the neck. It has carved slots for the strings to rest inside which keeps them inline as they lead up to and wrap around the tuning pegs.
O, Open Chords- One of the nice things about the guitar especially for beginners is the use of open chords. They are somewhat simple to play as they make use of a combination of fingered/fretted notes and open strings. Bar chords are harder to play as all strings need to be fretted.
P, Percussion- Believe it or not the guitar is classified as a percussion instrument, not a string instrument(chordophone.) By definition a percussion instrument is one that is put into vibration by being struck and consequently the pitch fades away. Piano is another such ‘percussion’ instrument. Electric guitars fall into another category, that of ‘electronic’ instruments. Electronic instruments can have their sound altered and lengthened through electronic means.
Q, Quadrant- This is a term I use to differentiate parts of the neck. I divide the neck into sections for study. For instance I will play on the bottom three strings first 6 frets. In this territory I will work on as many permutations of a particular scale, arpeggio etc. Then move to the top three strings same frets. Then down to fret 7-12 on each side of the strings.
R, Rasgueado- Spanish term meaning to strum. Usually associated with Flamenco guitar playing. Rasgueado is a rhythmic use of the fingers and thumb while strumming a guitar. It is a percussive strum by nature. In the video watch how his fingers fire in succession.
S, Solo- The beloved guitar solo! Ruined forever since the demise of rock. This demise can be traced to the weak musicality typically displayed in late 80’s hair/glam metal giving way to Grunge. Grunge was a movement that sought to distance itself from the aforementioned Hair Bands.
Maybe ruined forever is a bit harsh, but, music sure has changed since the early 90’s. I grew up on the rock guitar solo and it is not something I want to see go away. It is often the most musically adventurous part of most pop music. My music heroes were the guitar solo shredders…Eddie Van Halen, Michael Schenker, Jimi Page, Randy Rhoads, Tony Iommi, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani…. Here is the quintessential rock guitar solo Eddie Van Halen’s Eruptions.
T, the ‘Thumb’- The Thumb is the nickname given to jazz guitar legend Wes Montgomery. His unique technique employed a drastically positioned thumb. One of my all-time favorite guitarists.
U, Upstroke- An upstroke is simply a strum across the strings in an upward motion. Typically, upstrokes happen on a weak beat. A strum of down-up-down-up etc. would sound as STRONG-weak-STRONG-weak.
V, Vibrato- Vibrato is a technique employed by stringed instruments where the string is actually moved in a controlled manner either ‘side to side’ or ‘up and down’ to add articulation to a note. As mentioned before the guitar is a percussion instrument. Vibrato is one of the few ways we as guitarists can actually manipulate a note after it is struck into motion.
W, Whammy Bar- Also called a vibrato bar, tremolo arm…The whammy bar is a short piece of metal(a stick) inserted into the bridge which can either lift or depress the bridge forcing the strings into some ‘unnatrual’ sounds. The whammy bar in the hands of an amateur becomes a gimmick. In the hands of a skilled musician it becomes a devastating way to command a guitar with unique and angular articulations.
X, X Bracing- Have you ever dropped a pick inside your guitar? No problem you can just slide it out right? Nope. The top of a guitar, the soundboard, is braced underneath with a lattice of wood to help project the sound off the top of the guitar. One technique of bracing is called X Bracing.
Y, Yuquijiro Yocoh- Was a Japanese guitar composer (1925-2009.) Yocoh is most well-known for his variations on the theme of the traditional Japanese folk song, “Sakura.” I played the piece for my Senior Recital in college and still play it to this day. The video features John Williams on guitar. Listen for the previously mentioned palm mutes at :40 & 4:25 and harmonics at 2:25.
Z, The Flying Z- Most people even non guitar aficionados have heard or seen a flying V guitar. But, lesser known is the flying Z also known as a Destroyer.
Happy birthday to guitar man Eric Clapton, 68 today!
What is your favorite Clapton song? Are you a Cream fan, Derek & the Dominos, late to the party and love songs like “Tears in Heaven?”
I would have to say one of my all time favorite Clapton songs isn’t even a Clapton song. It’s the Beatles, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Yep, for those of you who did not know EC is the axe man on that incredible slide guitar solo.
The first song I ever knew by Clapton was, “Lay Down Sally,” so that is what I included here.
The blues scale is a great way for beginners to start improvising and an integral scale for all guitarists to have in their musical tool box. It is versatile and a bit forgiving in that it is basically a five note pentatonic scale with the added ‘blues’ note…the #4.
It’s easy to know which key to use the blues scale for a minor key. If you’re in A minor you play A minor blues, E minor-E blues…etc.
What is not so obvious is which major key to use the blues scale. Unless you are playing a straight ahead blues you can’t really use the same theory…G major= G blues, etc.
The answer lies with the ‘relative minor’ key. The relative minor is 3 half steps below the root of the major key. So the relative minor of C major is A minor. G major is E minor.
Once you know which relative minor you can rip away.
Here is a list of Major keys and their relative minors commonly used in guitar. A cheat sheet to get you started, but, you will NEED to know these intimately as part of your music theory repertoire!
Major key / Relative minor key(where to use your blues scale)
Did a quick 30 minute workout this morning, of course, with IPod on shuffle…all 8,000 songs. The shuffle was pretty eclectic, but, awesome. I feel lucky that I can listen to so many diverse musics and get a connection with all.
It went from jazz to classical/opera to Blues to Grunge to New Age to Pop to 70’s Spacey Synth.
“Nature Boy” -George Benson
Benson’s cover of the standard
“Ruckertlieder/1 Ich atmet einen linden Duft”-Mahler
I have never been much of an opera buff mostly cause I am just not into lyrics in general. But, Mahler, one of my favorite composers sets such a great orchestra arrangement to support the vocal.
“You Know I Love You” -BB King
BB doing his thing!
“All Secrets Known” -Alice In Chains
AIC is definitely my favorite of all the grunge bands and they are still going strong with a new album to be released in 2013. They may not have had the social impact of a Nirvana or Pearl Jam, but, in my opinion, were vastly superior musically to most of the top grunge bands.
“Rikki’s Shuffle” -Michael Hedges
If you are a guitar fan and don’t know Michael Hedges you really need to check him out! Although he falls into the New Age category, he was truly a virtuoso with a unique style. He is known for using a harp guitar, several tunings and lots of hammering techniques.
“Love Will Keep Us Alive” -The Eagles
The Eagles are the Eagles, many great hits, of course. But, when they wrote sappy songs they really went sappy! Of these songs my favorites are the ones sung by Timothy B Schmidt. Although he joined the band later in 1977 his voice has become an integral part of their sound ever since. Probably best featured on, “I Cant Tell you Why”
“Dream Weaver “-Gary Wright
I was always drawn to these spacey synth driven songs
If they heard my b5’s and minor 9’s I’d be headin’ for the unemployment line…”
I heard this song the other day and had to post it. Musicians all have to play gigs at times where the music means more to the consumers than the musicians(beats digging ditches I always say!) This song a jazz musician lets out his hardships about playing Xmas music for the holidays and not being able to throw in his favorite jazz licks.