Rough Hewn Trio Pasadena Library – 1pm – Tues. 3/29/11

Pasadena, CA: The Rough Hewn Trio (Craig Bunch – Drums, Chris Lavender – Chapman Stick and Scott Collins – Guitar) will be playing a set of improvised and composed music at the Pasadena Library as a soft launch before our Tribal Cafe gig on April 15th.

If you’re in the Pasadena area, and like improvised dreamlike textures, cartoon music or odd time Balkan tunes churned through an instrumental trio drop on by.  If you were reading the negotiating a chord chart series – we’ll be playing Chris Lavender’s 232 chart as well.

Thanks for reading!

-Scott

A Lesson In Improvisation And Jargon From A Cooking Show

Improv lessons from a cooking contest show

If you’ve ever watched a cooking competition show – you’ve probably seen some real world improvisation.

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The Challenge

  • Contestants have an imposed time limit
  • They have an ingredient(s) they have to use
  • There is a mandated outcome – something that has to be done

How is this not improvisation?  You have a skill set that you need to employ to navigate a series of changes that may or may not be unfamiliar to you.

So how do they get through it?

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The Approach

  • Emphasis on fundamentals.  The chefs have the confidence to execute because they have the basic skill set to do what they need to do.  They have a command of knife skills, cooking techniques and have a developed palate to work from.  These are basic things – using a music analogy – there’s no obscure chord scale or advanced reharmonization happening here – just using the fundamentals as a basis to establish an area of comfort and familiarity from.
  • Emphasis on repertoire.  They have a number of other dishes that they’ve mastered to serve as a template for what they want to do.  If you’ve cooked several thousand past dishes and someone says, “I need you to make me a pasta dish” you’re not going to freak out because it’s in a comfort zone.  If you quote tunes in your solos or comping – you quote tunes that you know so well that you can adapt elements of them at will.  Those trills you use on that klezmer tune you play every set – works their way into a phrase, etc.
  • Adaptability and creativity.  This is really a combination of the two points above.  There’s a constant stream of  plays on things, “This is my play on mac and cheese.”  Previous dishes that are mastered are used as launching points for new innovations.  From a guitar standpoint – maybe those string skips you developed to get that piano solo under your fingers you liked are now being used in a different context for your thrash solo.
  • Being in the moment.  They taste their food.  They monitor multiple components and adapt as necessary.  It may be the closest analogy to improvising a solo over a rhythm section for a tune you’re unfamiliar with.  You listen to the drummer, and the bassist and whoever else is playing and while you create music that enhances that.

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What the unsuccessful chefs have taught me, is that an approach that works for one thing may not work for everything.   “Oh I want to wow the judges, I’d better use Truffle oil.”  which may or may not work in an ice cream.  I heard an mp3 of Eddie Van Halen jamming w. Holdsworth once and it was grim – because he was just doing the Eddie thing over Holdsworth’s comping and it didn’t work at all.  It sounded like the bleed through of two guys in adjoining practice rooms working on something different at the same time.

When you’re in some kind of timed artificial event (i.e. they’re forced to improvise) – this approach makes sense.  When dealing with something unfamiliar you go with what you know.  You pull out the well-worn licks that have worked their way into your vocabulary. That’s also when you find out just how well you know something.

It’s not just about learning licks to play over ii-v->I’s – improvisation is a mindset as well – if you look for it in sources outside of music – you will find things to adapt and bring into your musical improvisations. It  brings something different to the table than someone who’s learned every Coltrane and Bird lick and nothing else.

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And now as an example of what not to do: A drinking game

I don’t drink – but if you do and you’re looking for a drinking game here it goes.

  1. Turn on the Food Network.
  2. Take a drink whenever someone says , “Big Flavors” or “Flavor Profile”

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You’ll probably be drunk in an hour.  It is basically impossible to watch the Food network and not have someone talk about the merits of “Big Flavors” or on some dish’s flavor profile.

And what do these terms mean?  Is there anyone out there trying to cook with small flavors?  And “Flavor profile”?  Really?  How about just calling it “taste” instead?

The thing is, this jargon has been hijacked by foodies and now it’s difficult to watch anything regarding cooking and not hear those terms.  My beef with jargon is that it should serve the function of simplifying a process through language and instead typically acts in an exclusionary manner.

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Music and jargon

When I did my undergraduate degree I had to take several classes that dealt with post tonal theory.  As a starting point, what does “post tonal theory” mean to anyone other than a composer or an improviser?  Can you imagine seeing a CD cover with a label on it that says, “Now with Post tonal Theory!”?  In terms of accessibility to the layman, it goes radically downhill from there.  Where some of the music created with this mindset is vibrant and exciting, the language and jargon around it explains what’s going on only to those in the know.  It makes no attempt to make inroads to the causal listener, and statistically there are way more music listeners than post tonal theorists.

Music is a language and like any language if you break away the accessibility of it, you doom it to oblivion.  In the 1950’s people still actively studied Latin – it was even taught in high school until it was pushed further and further into the realms of academia (I know Chronicle of Higher EducationAcademe is the new preferred jargon – but academe is a poor shell of a word), and now is only taught in a increasingly fewer places.  It transitioned from a vibrant language to a patchwork of quoted phrases thrown out as part tricks.

The same thing happened to post tonal music.  Inside the hallowed halls of academia, there is a compositional indoctrination that occurs; a self-congratulatory high-five for music that is performed in student recitals to crowds of 10.  The theoretical language that is posted to describe these works often reads like a combination of a repair manual for a 1950s radio delivered with the melodramatic sincerity of an adolescent journal.  Taken on its own merits, it reads as intellectually aloof and emotionally underdeveloped and seems to be defensive before anything has even been sounded.

If the first thing people are exposed to is inaccessible, why would they take the effort to go on?  True, academia tends to support projects and approaches that reinforce the need for academia (i.e. peer reviewed journal entries that are so topic and jargon specific that only other academics will bother to read and understand (read: scrutinize) them); but this doesn’t help make the music more accessible.  It brings up the question of,

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Is it music if no one hears it?

Sure it can sit in a drawer or live on a cd.  But if no one is listening to it being played is it music?

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Music requires a performer and an audience.

Like any conversation it requires a speaker and a listener, and the magic is neither in the speaking or the listening – but in the communication itself.  If there’s no listener, there’s no communication, and no music.  This doesn’t mean that quantity equates with quality (it’s not a contest about how many listeners you have) iit’s about being inclusive rather than exclusive.

Just a thought…

Thanks for reading.

-SC

Favored Curry Or Spicing Up Chord Scales And Triads Part 2

In Part 1 of this lesson,  I went over how to create a chord scale for improvising over a specific chord (in this case C major)  chord.  As a brief recap – here is the chord scale I chose:

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C major chord scale with a # 2, # 4, and a b6 scale degree.

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To start this off – here’s a sample lick using this scale:

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Here’s how the scale sounds played slowly  (1/4 note at 90)

Here’s the scale faster (1/4 note at 180).

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The chords you say?

Since we’ve engineered this chord scale around a C major triad – we know that any licks we come up with will work over that chord – but to see what other chords can be used with this scale – we need to harmonize it.

Let’s look at the triadic (3 note) harmony first.

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C major chord scale with a # 2, # 4, and b6 scale harmonized in 3rds (triads)

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**Note the first 2 chords have been moved to the back three strings to facilitate playing:

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Here are  the chord formulas that are generated:

  1. C, E, G – Root, 3rd and 5th – C Major
  2. D#, F#, Ab – Root, 3rd and double flat 5th – non functional harmony*
  3. E, G, B – Root, flat 3rd and 5th – E minor
  4. F#, Ab, C – Root, double flat 3rd, flat 5th – non functional harmony*
  5. G, B, D# – Root, 3rd, sharp 5th – G Augmented
  6. Ab, C, E – Root, 3rd, sharp 5th – Ab Augmented
  7. B, D#, F#, – Root, 3rd, 5th – B Major

(Note:  even though these don’t have a triadic function they can serve a function enharmonically – I’ll get to that in the 7th chord section).

To recap –  any licks that we generate from this scale will work over C major, E minor and B major.

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Adding the spice

Since we started this approach with C major – let’s look at a lick that spices up a C Major Triad.

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Here’s an mp3 of the lick.  This is an example of something I might play as a backup accompaniment in the pre-chorus of a song.

To my ears even playing this over a straight C major tonality, the D#–>E really triggers an E minor tonality.  Try playing this over a C major –> E minor progression.

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Moving to E minor – here’s an approach I use a lot in rhythm playing.

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The first step is to take a set of three strings – in this case I’ll use the high E, B and G strings.

Starting with a sample chord voicing in the low register – ascend up the neck by moving each note in the voicing up by scale degree.  In this example:

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I’ve started with an initial voicing (Ab, C and E) and moved it through scale-wise motion.

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(Note:  I hear this as G# instead of Ab – you may want to see the section on enharmonics below).

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Here is an mp3 of the voicings.  In the audio example, I play a low E between each chord to establish an overall tonality.

Having done this – I see some cool dyads ( 2 note voicings) on the B and G strings that I can use to spice up an E minor vamp.  This is an example of the type of comping I might do on the verse of a song if the song chart just said E minor).

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Here is an mp3 of the lick.  Don’t be afraid to lay into the slides or add a little vibrato to make the notes sing a little more.

With a lot of these approaches – I’m not really conscious of what the specific functions of the notes are.  Once I know that the scale will work over a chord – it’s more about focusing on the sound of the notes and how they fit into the song.  On some tunes – these notes would clash with the melody and it wouldn’t work.

This process is about building a repertoire of sounds to have at your disposal.  Knowing the theory around it just allows you to adapt those sounds and approaches to make the fit where you want them to.

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Space is the place

Here’s a lick that takes the above approach of breaking chords up into different string sets and applies it to a melody line.  Here I’ve focused on the A, D and B strings and added in the high E string at the end.

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Here is an mp3 of the lick.  Note the slides, vibrato and slightly rubato phrasing at the end of the lick.  These are the little nuances that help make the difference between playing music and playing notes.

This next lick combines chord forms and melody by using artificial (i.e. “harp”) harmonics.  To produce these – a chord shape is held with the fretting hand while the picking hand picks and partially frets notes 12 frets higher resulting in a chime like timbre.  If you are unfamiliar with this technique – just google Lenny Breau (an absolute master of the approach) and you’ll get an idea.

For this specific lick:  I’m holding the D# with my second finger, the C with my 3rd and the Ab with my 4th so I can reach the F# with the fret hand 1st finger.

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Here’s an mp3.

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One of the secrets of this method is to strategically time the release of the fret hand notes.  The longer you can leave the notes held down, the more the pitches will bleed into one another – which produces the desired effect.  Before we go to the next lick I need to make a brief enharmonic diversion.

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An Enharmonic Diversion

An enharmonic is when a note is spelled differently but sounds the same (for example Ab and G#).  When playing this over an E drone – I hear the pitch on the first fret of the G string as a G# (i.e the third of the chord) instead of Ab.  It’s very difficult for me to hear that note functioning as a b4.

As a case in point, here’s another lick.  (This piece makes liberal use of vibrato bar scoops – listening to the mp3 of the lick for phrasing is recommended).

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I’ve notated this lick with both a G# and a G natural as those are the intervals I hear in the approach.

With this interpretation it makes the scale harmonically vague as it would then have both a major AND a minor 3rd.  If we go back over the initial triadic chord and replace the Ab with G#, F# for Gb and D# for Eb we get a couple of different chord options.

  1. C, E, G#-  C Augmented
  2. E, G#, B –  E Major
  3. G#, B, D# – G# minor
  4. C, Eb , G –  C Minor
  5. G, B, Eb – Eb Augmented
  6. Ab, C, Eb – Ab Major

To recap –  in addition to C major, E minor and B major – these licks can also be used with care over E major, Ab major, C minor  and G# minor.

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To finish this approach out for now – let’s look at 7th chords.

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C major chord scale with a # 2, # 4, and b6 scale harmonized in 3rds (7th chords)

**Note:  the stretch on the second chord should be approached with caution.  If it hurts – stop playing immediately!

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Here are the chord formulas that are generated:

  1. C, E, G, B – Root, 3rd, 5th and 7th  – C Major 7
  2. D#, F#, Ab, C – Root, 3rd and double flat 5th, double flat 7 – Enharmonically – this spells – Ab, C, Eb, Gb, – or Ab7 – but doesn’t serve a function from the D# pitch.
  3. E, G, B, D# – Root, flat 3rd, 5th and 7th – E minor (Major 7)
  4. F#, Ab, C, E – Root, double flat 3rd, flat 5th – Enharmonically – this spells – Ab, C, Eb, Gb, – or Ab7 – but doesn’t serve a function from the F# pitch.
  5. G, B, D#, F# – Root, 3rd, sharp 5th, 7th – G Augmented 7
  6. Ab, C, E, G – Root, 3rd, sharp 5th – Ab Augmented 7
  7. B, D#, F#,A  – Root, 3rd, 5th, flat 7th  – B7

This gives us a couple of new tonalities to explore – namely, C Major 7th, E minor (major 7th), B7 and Ab7.

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The final tally:

At a minimum, this chord scale will generate licks that can be used over the following chords:

C major, C Major 7th,

C minor, C minor (major 7th)

E major, E Major 7

E minor, E minor (major 7th),

Ab major, Ab7

G# minor

B major,  B7

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Next steps:

You will probably not like the use of this scale with all of the chords listed but, as is the case with any musical approach, the key is always to use your ears as a guide to what works and what doesn’t.

I hope this helps! 

Happy Holidays and thanks for reading!

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The material in the lesson is adapted from the material in The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Chord Scales book. More information about that book (including an overview and jpegs of sample pages) can be found here.

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-SC

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PS – If you like this post you may also like:

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MAKING MUSIC OUT OF SCALES

CREATING CHORDS AND LINES FROM ANY SCALE – A HARMONIC COMBINATORICS / SPREAD VOICINGS LESSON

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RECYCLING SHAPES OR MODULAR ARPEGGIOS FOR FUN AND PROFIT

GLASS NOODLES – ADAPTING A PHILIP GLASS ARPEGGIO APPROACH TO GUITAR

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MELVILLE, MADNESS AND PRACTICING – OR FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON PART 2

SOME USEFUL ONLINE PRACTICE TOOLS

POSSESSION IS 9/10S OF THE LAW BUT PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING OR PRACTICING PART VII

TESTING YOUR VOCABULARY OR PRACTICING PART VI

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY OR PRACTICING PART V

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DEFINITIONS AND DOCUMENTS OR PRACTICING PART IV

TENSION AND THE SODA CAN OR PRACTICING PART III

PROPER POSTURE IS REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE – PRACTICING PART II

PRACTICE MAKES BETTER AKA PRACTICING PART I

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MELVILLE, MADNESS AND PRACTICING – OR FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON PART 2

FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON

INSPIRATION VS. INTIMIDATION

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WARMING UP: FINGER EXERCISES, THE 3 T’S AND THE NECESSITY OF MISTAKES

“THE LIMITS OF MY LANGUAGE ARE THE LIMITS OF MY WORLD”

A BRIEF THOUGHT ABOUT MUSIC THEORY

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BOOKS

LESSONS

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Favored Curry Or Spicing Up Chord Scales And Triads Part 1

[This lesson uses material from The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Chord Scales which details all unique chord scales from 3-note cells to the 12-note chromatic set.  You can find out about that book (and the other GuitArchitecture books) here.]

When improvising over a C major chord, the first thought for many beginning improvisers is to use the C major scale as a melodic resource.  For example:  here are the notes of a C Major triad (C, E, G) broken up into a sample 2 string arpeggio:

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C Major Arpeggio

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One related chord scale for this scale is the C Major (Ionian) scale.  The reason for this is that all of the notes in the C major triad are found in the C major scale.

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C Major Scale

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While there is nothing wrong with this approach, in addition to being a fairly bland melodic color to utilize, it contains the 4th scale degree (F), which is often referred to as an avoid note because of its 1/2 step relationship to E.

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Option B:  Modal Interchange

One solution to this is to use modal interchange to find alternate scales that work over a triad.  For example, C Major is a diatonic chord in the key of G.  Playing a G major scale starting and ending on C produces a C Lydian scale.

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C Lydian  (Parent scale: G Major)


This scale works well with the triad.  In addition to containing the C major triad, it also has a raised fourth degree (aka #11), which adds a nice tension.

But this is merely scratching the surface of what can be found from this approach.

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Option C:  Creating your own chord scale

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Here ‘s a process for generating any chord scale based on a chord.

Step 1:  Start with a chord and write out the notes of the chord in ascending order.

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Note: the smaller the chord, the more scale options you will have.

Let’s now look at the C major triad as a chord formula.  Since it’s made up of the notes C, E and G  any parent scale for C major chord should contain these notes (at least for now).

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Step 2:  Between the notes of the chord, write in all possible notes for each additional scale degree.

For example, in the Ionian and Lydian chord scale examples above, the 2nd degree was D, but it could have just as easily been Db or D#.

Expanding on this idea, the 4th could either be F natural or F#, the 6th could either be Ab, A natural or A#, and the 7th could either be Bb, B natural or B#.

If we apply this idea to the all of the other scale degrees, we end up with a chromatic scale that looks like this in list form:

  • Scale Degree 1  – C
  • Scale Degree 2 – Db, D, D#
  • Scale Degree 3 – E
  • Scale Degree 4  – F, F#
  • Scale Degree 5  -G
  • Scale Degree 6 – Ab, A, A#
  • Scale Degree 7 – Bb, B

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or this in music notation:

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C Major triad with chromatic scale degrees

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Note:  If you are planning on harmonizing the scale, deriving modal arpeggios or pentatonics, I recommend you keep each scale degree unique (i.e. that you use either Db or D or D#,  but not more than one type of D pitch).

Likewise, there are several enharmonic pitches (i.e. pitches that are spelled differently but sound the same) presented in the full chromatic.   While you could use A# and Bb in a chord scale since they are the same sounding pitch the result will be a 6 note scale.

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Step 3:  Choose the scale degrees that sound the best to you.

Based on the above parameters, there are 32 unique chord scales for the C major triad.  Let’s look at one of them.

For this example, I’m going to choose a #2 for the second scale degree, a #4, a b6 and a natural 7 scale degree for a very chromatic chord scale. Here it is in list form:

  • Scale Degree 1  – C
  • Scale Degree 2 – D#
  • Scale Degree 3 – E
  • Scale Degree 4  – F#
  • Scale Degree 5  – G
  • Scale Degree 6 – Ab
  • Scale Degree 7 – B

and in music notation:

This scale has a # 2, # 4, and a b6 scale degree.

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Next Steps

In the next lesson – we’ll examine how the scale is harmonized and generate some licks derived from this technique.

Thanks for reading!

-SC

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The material in the lesson is adapted from the material in The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Chord Scales book. More information about that book (including an overview and jpegs of sample pages) can be found here.


PS – If you like this post you may also like:

.

MAKING MUSIC OUT OF SCALES

CREATING CHORDS AND LINES FROM ANY SCALE – A HARMONIC COMBINATORICS / SPREAD VOICINGS LESSON

FAVORED CURRY OR SPICING UP CHORD SCALES AND TRIADS PART 2

.

RECYCLING SHAPES OR MODULAR ARPEGGIOS FOR FUN AND PROFIT

GLASS NOODLES – ADAPTING A PHILIP GLASS ARPEGGIO APPROACH TO GUITAR

.

MELVILLE, MADNESS AND PRACTICING – OR FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON PART 2

SOME USEFUL ONLINE PRACTICE TOOLS

POSSESSION IS 9/10S OF THE LAW BUT PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING OR PRACTICING PART VII

TESTING YOUR VOCABULARY OR PRACTICING PART VI

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY OR PRACTICING PART V

.

DEFINITIONS AND DOCUMENTS OR PRACTICING PART IV

TENSION AND THE SODA CAN OR PRACTICING PART III

PROPER POSTURE IS REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE – PRACTICING PART II

PRACTICE MAKES BETTER AKA PRACTICING PART I

.

MELVILLE, MADNESS AND PRACTICING – OR FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON PART 2

FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON

INSPIRATION VS. INTIMIDATION

.

WARMING UP: FINGER EXERCISES, THE 3 T’S AND THE NECESSITY OF MISTAKES

“THE LIMITS OF MY LANGUAGE ARE THE LIMITS OF MY WORLD”

A BRIEF THOUGHT ABOUT MUSIC THEORY

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BOOKS

LESSONS

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I hope this helps!  You’re free to download and distribute any of the lessons here but I maintain the copyright on the material.

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Rough Hewn Trio – Some Live Excerpts

The Rough Hewn Trio –  an instrumental trio consisting of Chris Lavender on Warr guitar, Craig Bunch on drums and myself on guitar are getting back into the rehearsal cycle and gearing up for some shows this spring.  To get a feel for what the shows will be like here are some live excerpts from some improvisations we did this fall.  The live sets – will include a combination of pre-composed and improvised material.

For those of you who are interested – this session is all drums and laptops.  I’m running Pod Farm and Sooperlooper and Chris is using Guitar Rig. (an amp was used to re-amp the guitar in 1C – which had some gnarly digital distortion tho…)

Note:

mp3 playback is sometimes a little glitchy in Safari.  If it doesn’t play in your web browser – you may just have to reload/refresh the playback page.

Enjoy!

-SC

Improv 2b

Improv 2a

Improv 1c

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world”

If you want to be a great guitarist you should try to develop and nurture passion for other art or music that has nothing to do with guitar and adapt or assimilate those things in your playing.

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Story Time

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Please allow me to share a story with you.  This is a true story, but the names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Once upon a time, there was a doe-eyed child trapped in a 17 year old body who left his small town of 2,000 people and went to a big city to study guitar.  The institution of learning he went to study guitar at was a very big place with several thousand musicians.  At the absolute minimum it was completely overwhelming for him as an experience.  He went to the school knowing his ass was going to get kicked – but not knowing that saying his ass would get kicked would be more like telling the parachuter mid jump when his/her chute wouldn’t open he/she might break a bone from the fall when they “bounced” (yes “bounced” is the technical term for this occurrence and yes, it happens often enough that a term needed to be developed).

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It kind of broke him.

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In addition to the culture shock of being in a city, rather than a place he described as “Deliverence with snow”, he found the school had a real focus on Jazz and anything non-Jazz was looked upon with complete derision.  He was bombarded with fellow students and faculty telling him the music he liked – the music that was a part of his soul –  was trash and he was wasting his time with it because Jazz was the only music that mattered.  So he did what anyone from a small working class town would do, he became a walking middle finger to anything Jazz because he thought that it was the only way he could defend his identity.  The moment that door was shut was the moment his undergrad experience was doomed.

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Now to be fair, the blame for this was 50-50.  He had no understanding of Jazz as a style.  

Where he grew up in upstate NY, Classic Rock radio and top 40 was the staple and those were his primary means of musical exploration.  But the problem was the curriculum was based around an academic buy-in for Jazz pedagogy, so if you knew nothing about it stylistically – there was no easy way in.  It was just simply rammed down your throat and you either swallowed or spat it out.

In his lesson – a weekly 1/2 hour slot – he and his teacher went over a series of proficiency requirements that were necessary to pass the final exam.  The student asked questions about why he needed this material and how he could utilize the material in the rock and metal music he was playing –  but he was just told these were tools he needed to play Jazz.  And given what we’ve said about his (now visceral) reaction to Jazz you can imagine how well this was received.

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His second semester he found another teacher and this teacher was more understanding about what he was trying to do and who shared a lot of his interests.  The two of them started delving into Japanese modes and other concepts and he actually got excited about what he was doing.   The student asked his new teacher if they could just keep going in this direction instead of focusing on rote memorizations of reharmonized chord-solo renditions of tunes that he didn’t need solo renditions.  The teacher said to talk with the chair of the department and get his approval.

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The chair of the department was newly appointed, had a lot of work to do and was not happy with the prospect of meeting with this student.  The student explained he had a very specific direction that he wanted to go in his playing, that this direction didn’t coincide with the narrow parameters of the proficiencies and then asked the chair if there was any way that he could be accommodated.  The chair informed him that wasn’t what they did at the school.  The purpose of the school (according to the chair) was to have students master that particular school’s style and then when the student got out he or she would have the rest of their carer to develop their own style.

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The student said that while he realized he was only a student – the logic of the argument evaded him.  Actually, in the interest of honest reporting and to exclude any pretense of articulation what he said was,

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“Look I know I don’t know anything – but that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.  There’s only 12 notes – that’s the substance.  Everything else is style.  What is the point of having 800 people all walking out of here and all sounding exactly the same?  Isn’t my style the only thing that’s going to make me different from every other guitarist out there?”

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The student was then told that was the way it was and he could either take it or leave it.  

The student thanked the chair for his time, walked over to another office and submitted a change of major form.

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Music is a language.  If you learn it as a language – immersing yourself in it, learning vocabulary, speaking it to others as often as possible – you will gain fluidity in it.

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I want to discus vocabulary for a moment and then discuss the issue of style.  One way to think of licks is as musical vocabulary.  As a musician, you learn a bunch of licks so you can communicate with other musicians.  It’s similar to going on any trip or travel.  You might not speak a foreign language – but you should at least learn how to say a few words or phrases to try to get you by.

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If you only learn licks from one source –

it will be difficult to not sound like that source.

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If I go to a show and see a guitar player I can tell you usually in a song or two who he’s listened to.  If it’s only guitar players I probably won’t make it to song #3.  Going back to the language analogy, if you grow up in New Jersey and everyone you know and speak with is from New Jersey – you’re going to have to work hard to get a Texas accent sounding authentic, much less an Irish or Spanish one.  Do you have to learn other accents?  No.  No one is forcing you to do so but it’s important to realize that…

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all of your experiences influence how you communicate with other people.

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Hence the Wittgenstein quote in the article.  For those of you who remember Orwell’s “1984” – there was the idea of newspeak,  the language that kept getting smaller each year for the purposes of eradicating thoughtcrime.  The less you experience in the world, the less you are able to express.  This is why 13 year old children writing love songs do not have the lyrical content to truly plumb the depths of the soul, even though they are often supremely confident that they do.

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If your experiences influence how you speak with other people then it stands to reason they can effect how you play with other people.  If, for example, four guys in a room have only listed to, played and learned “Smoke on the water” – they’re not going to write “Giant Steps” on their own any time soon.  They’re going to play “Smoke on the water” and if they do write something new, it will probably have a lot of similarities to “Smoke on the water”.  (Traveler’s advisory – do not party with these guys.)

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Adaptation and the hidden agenda

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This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t learn other people’s licks.  It’s vital that you dobecause you have to develop vocabulary, but I highly recommend you vary your sources.  If you play guitar, try learning music played on other stringed instruments like violin, or from non-string performances like vocal lines.  My rhythm playing is rhythmically informed by things like drum rudiments, flamenco foot work and rhythmic phonetics.  My single line playing is rooted in rock, but there’s various Hindustani, Balkan, Arabic and Koto references that are specific to things I do.

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Almost every gig I’ve ever played I got because I put energy into learning things that weren’t guitaristic and adapting them.  You’ll never confuse my guitar with a Kayagum – but if I play a note with a sharp bend and crazy vibrato it doesn’t sound like a guitar lick either.  It crosses a boundary and becomes something new.  And here is the hidden agenda.

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When it becomes new, it becomes yours and things that are yours have extra value.

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In addition to this, try cultivating artistic influences from things that are not guitar related.  

The painter Francis Bacon probably influenced me at least as much as Hendrix and his works are a model for me in expressing motion and fluidity through art.  I’m passionate about books and films and I try to adapt anything worthwhile in those experiences into my playing.

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Acquiring tastes

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A funny thing happened to that student after he got out of school.  He started playing with a lot of other players who had opened their minds instead of closing them and those people hipped him to a lot of music – including Ornette Coleman and Ornette was making some of the most wonderful music he had ever heard.  The student found that when it wasn’t being force fed to him as the only viable form of musical expression that there were a lot of great artists and great music being made in the genre and years later (with a little maturity and perspective behind him) he became a fan and started adopting a number of ideas and approaches from the style into his playing.

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The important thing is to find things that you are passionate about and explore, adapt and/or assimilate them to the fullest level you can.

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The limits of your musical language are the limits of your style.

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As always thanks for reading!

-SC

Line 6 Pod Farm 2.0 Overview

I’ve taken advantage of Line 6’s free 14 day download of POD Farm Platinum 2.0 ilok version and have been working on formulating somethings for a review.  I won’t be able to post a full review now, but I wanted to post a couple of brief observations.

1.  The demo version was a little glitchy in standalone version, so I’ve been using it with AU LAB.  For those of you who don’t know about it (I had to find out about it on the super looper forum) – AU Lab is a free app that comes with the OSX Xcode Tools.  It was designed to test AU plug ins with but its a stand alone app with a fully configurable mixer ( inputs, outputs, effects busses) .  It records output and even generates midi clock!  Also it makes a very small cpu impact – so it’s perfect for hosting something like Pod Farm and say SooperLooper.

2.  2.0 supports midi – which means you can control it with a foot controller like the FBV shortboard MKII or the Behringer FCB1010.  I didn’t get to work with this yet – but this brings the live laptop rig very feasible for me.

3.  Stereo rigs which you can A/B/Y!!!  which alone would have been really cool – but you can use multiple effects in the same rig – something you can’t do on the POD for example.

Here’s a screen shot of a modification I made on the Outer Space preset.  I just added a preamp in the beginning of the chain.

So here is an mp3 of a guitar track I improvised with this setting:

Outerspace II

This was made with a FNH ultrasonic guitar, Behringer FCA202,  Macbook Pro (2007), and AU Lab.  No post processing.

So this particular sample doesn’t sound very guitarish – but that’s part of the reason I really like this approach.  You can create things that you never could create with pedals without a ton of gear and/or a ton of noise.

As with many other sims – getting usable clean tones is pretty easy and getting dirty tones that respond the way an amp would is a little trickier.  But the presets on all of these models are light years away from older line 6 presets that I’ve heard.  It’s pretty easy to get a tone in the ball park and tweak it from there.

Line 6 has some great audio/video demos on their site, so I wont go into too much here for demos as they’ve done it really well.   Also the May lesson uses the same signal chain for all the mp3s that will be posted there.

I need to also give kudos in that all of the sounds on the sites are included in the presets and they have also noted processed vs unprocessed sounds.  Yes there is a big difference between the two, and it’s important to note those differences so that when you dial up a preset you know what to expect.

The only thing I wish it had was a dedicated looper, but that’s not a deal breaker.

If you have an I-LOK I’d say to definitely check it out.  It’s more flexible than the POD and does some very cool things.

For further applications of this set up you can also  go here or here.