Oct 27

The internet has brought about huge societal change. As a medium that allows for the free (as in speech) interaction of millions of users, it has modified the social conscious in ways that were never thought possible. In an interesting twist, it has had a profound effect on the transmission of musical ideas.

Take, for example, the emergence of Napster, then OiNK.cd and now What.cd?. By allowing music to flow freely, it has changed the face of modern music making. For example, right now, I have access to millions of tracks instantly (or nearly instantly) if I simply know where to look. When in history has that happened? In the past, you had to hope your local record store had a copy or you drove out of your way to find one. And often it wouldn’t be there either. The free transmission of music online has revolutionized music.

How does this affect musicians?

First of all, you can listen! Listen listen listen! My sweet lord, there are hundreds of tracks and each one is a new possibility of new sounds, new rhythms, new chords, new solos, new melodies, new mixes, new genres… I could go on and on…. The possibilities are endless. Inspiration has always been the key ingredient in music and now infinite inspiration is at your fingertips.

But be careful to download safely, some sites do break international and national copyright law. Be sure to know yours before you download. That being said, a careful torrenter on private sites will rarely (if ever) see repercussions.

What else can help musicians?

Well, we talked a bit about infinite inspiration through music downloads, but what about the possibility of infinite instruction? There are millions of online videos available for free and tons of sites that offer free guitar lessons. Just do a Google for what you are looking for and browse through the sites you find. There are hundreds of musical resources, check out this page on jazz resources. Check out the DMOZ listing for guitar education.

Remember, the inspiration is infinite online and so is the instruction. So get out there and do it!

Sep 29

The blues have a certain love affair with the flatted interval. Somehow, the tension created by both a major and minor 3rd interval lies at the heart of the blues. Classical theory shies away from such tension and color, instead using 4ths and 6ths to create the common color.  Today I would like to talk a bit about the different uses of tension intervals by mixing major and minor 3rd invervals.

Stacking 3rds: Common Chords

Before we start, the idea is to stack 3rd intervals, either major or minor, to create chords. Here is an example:

  • I to III: is this a major or minor chord?
  • III to IV: returns to a fifth
  • IV to VII: is this a dominant seventh or a major 7th chord?

A unique aspect of blues, and later jazz, is how the 3rds stack. Lets look at a standard C7 chord: C E G B♭. If we take each two subsequent intervals and examine them, we get this.

  • C to E: a difference of a major 3rd (resulting in a major chord)
  • E to G: a difference of a minor 3rd
  • G to B♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (resulting in a dominant seventh chord)

So, by stacking a major, minor and minor we get a dominant 7th chord (or just plain 7th chord, whichever terminology you prefer). The first stacked interval (C to E) dictates whether the chord is called major or minor.  The second interval (E to G) brings it back to the fifth and is the opposite of the first. And the third interval (G to B♭) dictates whether it is a dominant 7th or a major 7th.

I suggest we look at a Cm7 chord now: C Eb G B. Again, we will take each two subsequent intervals and examine them, resulting in:

  • C to E♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (resulting in a minor chord)
  • E♭ to G: a difference of a major 3rd
  • G to B♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (resulting in a dominant 7th)

I hope you can see the connections between the intervals chosen and the quality of the chord. Let’s try a Cmaj7 chord: C E G B.

  • C to E: a difference of a major 3rd (making this a major chord)
  • E to G: a difference of a minor 3rd
  • G to B: a difference of a major 3rd (making this a major 7th chord)

Stacking 3rds: Jazz Harmony

When you get involved with jazz, you get involved with some more interesting harmony. It is not, however, that difficult at all to understand. Lets try stacking some different 3rds and maybe an extra one on top.

Let’s look at a common Cdim7 chord: C E G B. Don’t let the B♭♭ confuse you, its just the proper way to flat a B♭. It’s really an A.

  • C to E♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (making this a minor chord)
  • E♭ to G♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (making this a diminished chord)
  • G♭ to B♭♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (making this a fully diminished chord)

So a fully diminished chord is simply a bunch of stacked minor 3rds. Pretty easy huh? Let’s try a close cousin, the Cm7(♭5) chord: C E Gb B. This is also called a half-diminished chord.

  • C to E♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (making this a minor chord)
  • E♭ to G♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (making this a diminished chord)
  • G♭ to B♭: a difference of a major 3rd (making this a half diminished chord)

Let’s take a short step back and then take two steps forward to add a 9th to our chords. For a regular 9th chord, you use the dominant 7th as a base and add yet another third. Alas, a C9 chord: C E G B♭ D.

  • C to E♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (resulting in a minor chord)
  • E♭ to G: a difference of a major 3rd
  • G to B♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (resulting in a dominant 7th)
  • B♭ to D: a difference of a major 3rd (resulting in standard 9th)

Taking that second step forward, lets try out a funnier chord. Here is a C7(♭9) chord: C E G B♭ D♭. Everything else is the same except the final interval:

  • C to E♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (resulting in a minor chord)
  • E♭ to G: a difference of a major 3rd
  • G to B♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (resulting in a dominant 7th)
  • B♭ to D♭: a difference of a minor 3rd (resulting in flatted 9th)

The usefulness of these chords is best learned through experience, for example, 7(♭9) chords work great as the V chord before coming back to the root.

The idea is to imagine chords as building blocks. There is no mystery as to how they are constructed. Spend a little time with a piano and get the feel for the correct changes and you’ll pick it up in no time.

Aug 14

The blues chord progression, or 12 bar blues progression, is a standard I-IV-V chord progression that spans twelve measures. While there are a few extremely common twelve bar progressions that repeatedly pop up, there are even more variations on the standard formula. Take a look at my earlier post about the 12 Bar Blues Progression for the basic outline and general information, because in this post, we’ll be looking at some of the common variations.

Standard Variations

These first two blues progressions are basic in their construction, only changing a few chords, primarily the durations of the V chords and placements of the IV chord. Take a look.

Simple Blues

This first progression is the most basic, but notice how I notate each of the changes. The changes are relative to each other.

For example, if one were to play in the key of E:

  • The I chord would be an E
  • The IV chord would be an A
  • The V chord would be a B

If one were to play in the key of C:

  • The I chord would be an C
  • The IV chord would be an F
  • The V chord would be a G

The keys of E and A are more popular with guitarists than with pianists, who prefer C or G, because of the tuning of the guitar and the number of accidentals on piano. Let’s look at a common modification to blues chord progressions.

Common Blues

  • Notice the addition of the IV chord in the second bar, this serves to break up the beginning of the blues progression. Without it, the progression can become stale while sitting on the I chord. This is the most common chordal variation on the blues progression.
  • Also notice the addition of the IV chord in the 10th measure, this serves to create more movement, leading to the return of the I or root chord. This is another very common variation.
  • And last is the addition of the V in the last measure, this serves as the “turnaround,” a common blues device that states the end of a progression.

Jazz Variations

The use of blues chord progressions is extremely common in jazz, especially in the big band or bebop genres. Below are some examples of typical variations, however, this time I’ve included the changes in the key of F for simplicities’ sake.

Big Band Blues (Basie Blues)

  • Notice the similar construction in the first four bars, the only changes are the addition of the diminished chord and the minor 7th chord which serve to create movement and color.
  • Again, in the 5th bar, we see the diminished chord following the IV chord. The basic idea behind the placement of the diminished chord is that the harmony remains relatively stable while the bass note raises a half step to create tension.
  • In the 8th bar, we see the chord change to a VI chord, a change uncommon in basic blues. This serves to create color and movement leading into the cadence (or last four measures).
  • In the 10th bar we see a distinct departure from the standard blues cadence, the IIm7 chord creates some tension and is an inversion of a V9th chord.  Again, we see implied chordal harmonies adjusting with changes to the bass note.

Bebop Blues

  • Notice the similarities in the bebop blues and big band blues? While they are very similar, bebop blues are designed to be played extremely fast. At these high speeds, the chordal harmonies often act as the melody. Each chord change leads nicely to the next.
  • The first four bars are identical, but the bebop blues is without the diminished chord.
  • The second four bars are very similar, but the bebop blues adds a IIIm7 chord before the VI7 chord, again, to create movement leading to the cadence.
  • The first two bars of the cadence are identical to the big band changes but the turnaround (final two bars) are not. They lead down in perfect major fourths to the root, A-D-G-C and finally back to F. This creates movement that anticipates the I chord.
Aug 6

A lot of folks tend to lump all types of blues in a super genre called “the blues.” However, there are quite a few distinct styles of blues that can almost be put into a different genre all-together. Quite a few more well known genres of music fall closer to the blues than one might think. I’ll go over several different styles of blues and illustrate how they eventually evolved into the common genre’s of jazz, rock and country.

Early Blues: Urban Blues, Delta Blues and Country Blues

The entire modern genre of blues sprung forth from the traditions of early African American slaves. In the early 1900′s they began to play and sign what could easily be recognized as the precursor to modern blues. Their blues were derived from and based on “field hollers” or traditional work songs found in African American slave communities in the south. This makes the blues one of the few uniquely American genres of music. Obviously based on African heritage, the genre rose to prominence as an accessible form of self-expression in the African American community.

Some examples of early bluesmen and women are:

  • Robert Johnson
  • Ma Rainy
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Blind Willie McTell
  • Bessie Smith
  • Leadbelly
  • and on and on…

To help you develop an ear for early blues and how it influenced the modern version of blues, I’ve included a few demos of early blues.

Black Snake Moan #1 by Blind Lemon Jefferson – Country Blues

Statesboro Blues by Blind Willie McTell – Urban Blues

Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Leadbelly – Country/Folk Blues

Downhearted Blues by Bessie Smith – Urban Blues

Bid Band Blues

In the 1920′s and 1930′s there was a sudden interest in dance bands and big bands that based many of their musical styles after some of the basic chordal movements of earlier bluesmen and women. A few of the more famous names associated with this era are Count Basie, Bennie Moten, and Duke Ellington.

Although not strictly blues in a the popular sense, big band blues and jazz are heavely based on early blues styles. The early styles of jazz in New Orleans developed alongside early blues. Many concepts and ideas flowed freely between jazz and blues before jazz went its own direction while blues did the same.

A few famous big bands and conductors:

  • Duke Ellington
  • Count Basie
  • Tommy Dorsey
  • Benny Goodman
  • Glenn Miller

Here is an example of common big band music in the 20′s and 30′s:

Black And Tan Fantasy by Duke Ellington

Electric Blues and Rock

In the 50s and 60s there began a huge shift in blues. The modern sound was being born and al the famous modern blues guitarists appeared on the scene. B.B. King released his first album in this time frame, as did Eric Clapton as part of John Mayall and the Blues Breakers.

Many of the famous rock bands began their careers in the 60s and were extremely influenced by these early electric blues players. Cream, Led Zeppellin and Jimi Hendrix all were known to cover numerous blues standards.

A few of the early electric blues figures:

  • Buddy Guy
  • Elmore James
  • Jimmy Reed
  • Muddy Waters
  • Howlin’ Wolf
  • Bo Diddly

Unfortunately, due to the copyrighted nature of material recorded from the 50s and afterwards, I can’t bring you much in the way of samples. I am sure if you check around the internet you can find some samples. Better yet, go buy a few albums and listen for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Jul 30

When it comes to guitar, there are a hundred, if not a thousand, tricks of the trade. These guitar tricks, or guitar techniques, can help stylize your playing. Each little tip should be worked on separately during improvisational passages or in rehearsed lines. After a little while with each tip, they’ll become second nature and your style of playing will improve drastically.

Breathing

Breathing may sound like a ridiculous thing to regulate on a stringed instrument, but think of it this way: why do musicians aspire to make their instrument “sing”? Is it coincidence that musicians wants to emulate the human voice? I highly doubt it. The human voice is by far the most emotional instrument we possess. Not only can it modulate beautifully, it can produce words that stimulate us intellectually as well.

Breathing is something that gives your instrument a human-like quality. Nonstop notes are cool in a sense, but gorgeous phrasing is beautiful on an entirely different plane. Speaking of phrasing…

Phrasing

Phrasing is a collection of notes that stand alone. The notes, taken collectively, are greater that the sum of their parts. Together they are more than simple musical notes, they are an melody that imparts a reaction on a listener. Phrasing goes hand in hand with breathing, where one phrase ends is where the breath goes. This is a natural way to listen to music. Melodies rarely just hammer one relentlessly except in very intense sections of song.

Bends

While breathing and phrasing are general musical concepts, bending is almost exclusive to guitar. A bend is basically when a guitarist stretches (or bends) the string upward (or downward) to raise the pitch of a sounded note. Bends come in many different sizes.

A quarter step bend’s target is off tonality, it sits between the first and second note chromatically (for example: between a Bb and a B) and doesn’t lift a full semitone.

A half step bend’s target is simply the next note chromatically (for example: from a G to a G#) and lifts exactly one semitone.

A full step bend’s target is two half steps about the bent note (for example: from an A to a B) and lifts two semitones.

Bends that are beyond a full step are not uncommon, but require lighter strings and a skilled musician.

Bend’s are extremely common in blues, rock, country, and pop genres of music. Bends are used often in solos and licks because they can blend between notes without distinctly separating. Often times they are used to move into a tension spot or resolve from a tension spot for effect.

Vibrato

Vibrato is another common musical concept that isn’t nearly as exclusive to guitar. Vibrato is the slight modulation in the pitch of a sounded note. Vibrato often sounds a bit “wavy” as the listener hears the pitch vary slightly as the musician rocks the note back and forth.

On guitar, vibrato can be performed like a mini bend, over and over. A small bend, perhaps less than a quarter step bend, would be sufficient to impact a listener. Another common technique is one pioneered by the famous B.B. King. King would often shake his hand around while keeping his finger locked to the string and fret he was playing. This would “push and pull” the string and make it slightly change pitch very quickly.

While some of these techniques are not exclusive to guitar, I hope you can understand just how important they are to master. Let me know if you can this of any other important concepts I might have missed.

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