Last Updated on June 15, 2022 by Klaus Crow Today I have a nice short, mid-easy classical guitar etude for you with some beautiful sounding chords and a Klaus twist. I studied classical guitar from a private teacher for a couple of years and I learned a lot from that. These days I focus more […]
Last updated on May 21, 2022
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for blues music, but the blues scale can yield beguiling musical results that bear little resemblance to the traditional blues—particularly if one looks at (and listens to) the scale from a different point of view.
The idea of harmonization is relatively simple. It means is to play two or more notes together at the same time. Technically speaking, two notes performed at the same time create a dyad, not a chord. It takes three or more notes performed simultaneously to create a chord, although the one exception, the two-note so-called “power chord” in Ex. 1, skews this theory a bit.
So, which two or more notes should you harmonize? Any you want! But, if you desire continuity in your compositions and playing, it’s a good idea to harmonize notes from a specific scale.
Most musicians usually start with the major scale, stacking every other note of the scale on top of each other until a triad is created (Ex. 2).
From there you can start adding, or replacing notes, to create variations from these basic triads, as seen in Ex. 3.
I must point out that you can also arpeggiate these chords, playing the notes one at a time (Ex. 4). Since we are emphasizing harmony in this lesson, it helps to let them ring out.
That’s the most common way to create chords, but in this lesson we’re looking for something unusual. So rather than being so formulaic, let’s proceed with the basic idea that playing two or more notes at the same time will work as long as they all come from the blues scale.
The blues scale is just the minor pentatonic scale with one additional note, which gets labeled #4 or a b5 depending on context. Ex. 5 shows the most common “box” pattern for the A blues scale (A–C–D–Eb–E–G). After getting a hold of this scale, I recommend working on it in the key of E and D since many of the notes can be played with open strings.
There are two considerable disparities when it comes to generating chords from the blues scale as compared to the major scale. First, the blues scale only has six notes and second, the intervals between the notes in each scale are significantly different.
This means that the blues scale creates radical changes in chord construction and nomenclature, the theory of which is far beyond the scope of this lesson. For instance, Ex. 6 is a selection of relatively common chords you can generate from the A blues scale. Later on, we will get into more exotic harmonies.
For now, all you really need to understand about the theory is that, the chords, and the melodies I’ve composed to fit them, all come from harmonizing notes from the A blues scale.
When Theory, Intuition, and Creativity Meet
Once the concept of harmonization is understood, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. The following examples are just a few of the endless ideas you could generate. I have designed my examples to imitate the styles of well-known composers and guitarists and broken them down into how they are fingered on the fretboard.
Ex. 7 is a particularly fun place to start as this arpeggio is just the A blues scale, but the notes are displaced into different octaves to create chords.
For Ex. 8 I’ve rearranged the notes ever so slightly to create a slightly more uniform, pseudo-Slayer progression and melody.
The bent note at the beginning of Ex. 9 immediately made me think of Jimmy Page, so for guitar two, I mimicked Robert Plant’s chromatic vocal melody on “Misty Mountain Hop” to create this Led Zeppelin-inspired etude. Note that the first chord is labeled A5(#11) because it contains the D# almost an octave and half higher than the root, making it a #11 in relationship to the A.
Ex. 10 was a happy accident I discovered while playing around with this lesson’s concept. It’s unashamedly Nine Inch Nails meets Andy Summers. The second chord in the progression is a little tricky to label, so I went with D5(b9) as it contains Eb an octave and one half-step away from the root, making it the b9.
Ex. 11 demonstrates the power of playing unexpected, three-note chords over a static bassline, very similar to funk/fusion keyboard players in the 1970s (think Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea). To provide continuity, I’ve actually harmonized the blues scale using the same method discussed in Ex. 2. The chord labels I’ve chosen are derived from a combination of the chords and the bass line, though you’ll see there are really only two chords: Cm and Asus4, played with different voicings. And take my word for it, the fact that this progression contains both Cm and Am chords is highly unusual and worth more investigation.
Ex. 12 Is a pseudo-power chord riff a la Fugazi or other bands found in the post-punk/emo genres. I’ve started here with a variation of the A5(#11) chord. Perhaps this is the defining chord of the harmonized blues scale? The rest of the progression seems to alternate between variations of Am and G, but notice that the bass is playing different notes over the chords, providing harmonic variation. Also pay attention that B and C sections are slightly different.
Comprehend and Create!
I hope by now you’ve realized that the key to exploiting the harmonized blues scale is to include the #4/b5 in all your progressions. This is the vital element that distinguishes the blues scale from so many others. Make your own progressions, melodies, and songs based on what we’ve started here. You are only limited by your imagination.
Last updated on May 12, 2022
Rhythm guitar is arguably the most important aspect of guitar playing, and it’s also one of the most challenging skills to develop. The discouragement many players feel when working on rhythms forces too many of them to oversimplify the nuances, and this can reduce a performance from exceptional to fine. In this lesson, we’ll investigate why rhythm guitar can be so puzzling and look at a few ways to keep yourself motivated enough to persevere and improve.
Why So Hard?
In my many years of teaching I have found that students can learn the basic open-position chord shapes relatively quickly. The same goes for the pentatonic and major scale patterns. Even riffs and hooks like “Smoke on the Water,” “Crazy Train,” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” come relatively quickly to beginners. The biggest challenge for most guitar players is mastering rhythm guitar.
I’m not referring to the basics, such as four down strums in a measure of 4/4, a down and up eighth-note strum, or even the slightly syncopated strum of Ex. 1.
Rather, I’m talking about the rhythms in countless classic rock, folk, and pop songs, which are the mainstays—for better or worse—of every oldies station, cover band’s setlist, and many aspiring beginners’ guitar dreams. Why are these rhythms so challenging for most players?
Dictionary.com defines idiosyncratic as “something peculiar to an individual.” Well, there’s your answer. Many of our favorite songs and guitarists, such as Neil Young, Malcolm and Angus Young, Joni Mitchell, David Gilmour, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince, possess idiosyncratic strums. How can something peculiar to an individual be easily reproduced? It can’t. Imitation takes hard work, hours of practice and refinement, and highly developed listening skills. That is not to say that idiosyncratic strums can’t be reproduced, only that they can’t be imitated easily.
What Can Guitar Players do to Improve Their Rhythm?
The first priority is to confirm that you genuinely know how the rhythm was originally performed. In this day and age, with reliable, professionally created guitar transcriptions and instructional videos (as well as an abundance of isolated rhythm guitar tracks on YouTube), there is ample opportunity to both hear and see accurate rhythms. This doesn’t make the rhythm immediately easier to play. It will help you avoid practicing it incorrectly and allow you to generate modifications based on the original, rather than through guesswork.
Play the Part Correctly and Slowly
The second step I recommend is to endeavor to play the part correctly and slowly. This requires playing the rhythms with slower tempos and one measure at a time rather than the more common four-measure patterns. This second aspect is important as many idiosyncratic strums vary from measure to measure. Such a lack of uniformity adds to the artistry of the music, but it can be frustrating to imitate.
For instance, look at Ex. 2, which is similar to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” While the chords themselves, G–C–D–Am, are easy enough to fret, the strum pattern is a nightmare of mixed rhythms, with each measure not only containing a different pattern, but different string choices as well. (To make it even more tricky, David Gilmour continues to vary his rhythms throughout the song.) Let’s consider just the first measure. There’s only one chord, but three different rhythmic figures. It gets even worse than that. Sometimes the strum includes all six strings, other times one note, two notes, or three notes. Maddening! This is one of the most challenging aspects of idiosyncratic rhythm. And these types of variations show up over and over again in accurate portfolio transcriptions. Yes, it is correct, but it’s an ordeal to decipher.
Here’s a tip. First work on the strum, not the individually plucked notes and strings. Strum the entire G chord (Ex. 3). Next, isolate the lowest note in the chord (Ex. 4). If you can play this correctly then you can begin mixing it up with a combination of full chords, single bass notes, and partial chords. Trust me, Gilmour wasn’t thinking, “Gotta play just the top three strings on the 16th-note upbeat of beat two and the two bottom strings on the ‘and’ of beat four.” It’s idiosyncratic! Once you have measure one correct, move on to measure two, which is slightly different. Measures three and four are also marginally altered.
Hopefully you’ll find that one new rhythmic pattern on its own is relatively manageable. Having to generate four different patterns in the space of four measures? In that situation, strums become exponentially more complex. As this lesson moves forward, all the examples will be variations on this theme, in different contexts, and citing different specific artists. The idea here is to demonstrate the vast complexity idiosyncratic playing can generate.
Neil Young’s Strumming Patterns
In my experience, Neil Young has some of the most seemingly random strums one can find. He’ll play a song with only four chords but there will be 16 different strum patterns. It’s both inspiring and infuriating. Ex. 5 is an example of such an exasperating figure, based on “Heart of Gold.” There are four chords in two measures, each with a different strum, followed by variations on the same four chords! Brilliant and unbearable.
To make mastering this a bit more tolerable, as with the previous Gilmour-esque pattern, break it down into smaller parts. You’ll also want to add full chord strums on the Em and C. Ex. 6. and Ex. 7 demonstrate measures three and four of Ex. 5, isolated and repeated. Do this for the first two measures as well.
Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”
Another icon of individuality is Joni Mitchell, who deserves a lesson all to herself. For now, Ex. 8 will suffice. In this example, based on “Big Yellow Taxi” (although the original is performed in open-E tuning), there is the added complication of muted strums.
If these muted strums are new to you, I recommend you focus on the mutes, as shown in Ex. 9. Once that is comfortable, return to Ex. 8 and incorporate the barre chords into the pattern. As with all our examples thus far, break them down, making sure each measure is solid before moving on to the next. At the risk of belaboring the point, these strums are demanding—there is no instant gratification here. “Practice and refine” should be your mantra.
Let’s Talk About Jimi Hendrix
It would be impossible to write about either guitar icons or 6-string idiosyncrasy without mentioning Jimi Hendrix. Jimi’s use of his thumb to fret chords is alone worthy of attention. For now, let’s stick with his eccentric strumming patterns. A good place to start is probably Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe.” It consists of a three-and-a-half-minute loop of the circle of fourths chord progression C–G–D–A–E, yet Jimi finds a new way to play the pattern every time. Ex. 10 offers one of countless variations you can attempt. Ex. 11 demonstrates how to break it down.
While it’s true that most AC/DC songs feature the same riff or chord pattern played repetitively, you’ll also find that many of those patterns are four measures long, with multiple, highly syncopated rhythms found within each measure. “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Bad Boy Boogie,” and “Highway to Hell” are all excellent examples of this. Ex. 12 demonstrates Malcolm and Angus Young’s penchants for such patterns by imitating the rhythms of “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).” As you can hear, there are four measures with an immense amount of space in them and four different rhythmic figures. The key to perfecting this sort of rhythm is to not rush. Either tap your foot or use a metronome to keep your tempo steady.
Our final example isn’t exactly idiosyncratic, though the referenced artist is. While Prince’s music and personal style is incredibly diverse, he often wears his influences on his sleeves, whether those be James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, or Joni Mitchell. Nevertheless, he habitually put his own spin on the source inspiration.
Ex. 13 provides you with a funky rhythm that will improve your playing, no matter what genre you specialize in, as it features muted strings (similar to those in our Joni Mitchell example), a fast syncopated 16th-note strum, and a four-measure pattern that requires you to focus on the subtle variations found in the pattern. Once again, I’ll remind you to practice such patterns one measure at a time. Goodness, any one of these measures is funky enough on its own and would satisfy most funk musicians: It’s the idiosyncratic nature of Prince to go beyond.
Ex. 14 is measure three of Ex. 13 isolated and repeated. I’ve chosen this measure because for me it’s the easiest to play (always start with what’s easiest for you). Note that in Ex. 14, I removed the muted strums. We know they’re in the original and we can add them in soon enough, as demonstrated in Ex. 15.
Finally, let’s play all four measures without the mutes, as demonstrated in Ex. 16. It is this sort of compartmentalized, methodical, attention-to-detail practice that will improve your playing.
Words of Encouragement
Ironically, one of the best things I can tell you about practicing the guitar is, “Learning to play guitar is hard!” I don’t say this to discourage, but to give perspective. If it’s taking you a week to learn a certain rhythmic pattern, guess what? It might take you a month to really get it down. Still, the rewards are worth the effort. Good luck with your rhythms!
Strumming great rhythm guitar is a core skill. It’s never too soon—or too late—to get a solid groove going. With a few simple chord shapes, you can be up and running rather quickly. (You can even tune your guitar’s open strings to a chord and simply strum the open strings.) Players like Neil Young, Kurt Cobain, Noel Gallagher, and Jimmy Page all have an individualized approach to simple strums. Let’s dig in and tighten up our rhythm chops.
These music examples use a variety of basic chords and progressions, but if they’re still too challenging, don’t give up. Pick any chords you like and try them. Listen carefully to the recorded examples so that you can pick up details about the sounds we’re going for. Strumming is typically done with a pick, so I’ll recommend that approach. There are certainly strummed styles that use fingers, such as the elegant and sophisticated flamenco techniques and the unique and personal approaches of people like Jack Johnson or Tommy Emmanuel. Explore those but do try for some practice time with the pick.
Let’s begin with some basic symbols, terms, and notation systems.
We have downstrokes and upstrokes. A downstroke means the pick moves toward the floor. In this case it strikes the lowest strings first. Upstrokes are simply the reverse; you start by striking the higher strings first.
Let’s start by simply strumming an E minor chord with downstrokes (Ex. 1). We’ll strum once per beat. You can see the musical notation shows quarter-notes in 4/4 time. The downstroke symbol is used to remind you of the strum direction. Hold your pick loosely enough to pass quickly through the strings. We want the illusion that all the strings are being struck at the same time. Of course, the notes are staggered, but it shouldn’t sound that way. Strive for an “instant” sound.
A light grip of the pick and a swift strum through the strings gives us a rhythmically precise and tight sound.
Does your strum sound like that? Great! If it doesn’t, it might be because your strum is a drawn-out motion that results in a harp-like effect, which lacks crispness and rhythmic precision. Save this for the last chord of a song or for an isolated effect. Not much groove happening in this version.
Neil Young – Cortez The Killer (Acoustic)
Upstrokes are usually reserved for upbeats. Thus, it’s common to incorporate eighth-notes with up strokes. A rule of thumb: Use downstrokes on the downbeats (1, 2, 3, 4) and upstrokes on the “and” or each beat. If you are tapping your foot to the beat, the pick direction will match your foot’s movement. In Ex. 2 you’ll see the rhythmic notation with pick strokes.
It’s reasonable to assume that you must play all the strings with each stroke. While that’s possible, it’s not so common. Typically, the downstrokes favor the lower strings and the upstrokes favor the high strings. You don’t have to be super accurate. The beauty of this is that a bit of randomness makes it sound more human and more musical. Listen to Ex. 3 for the differences between this version and Ex. 2.
Nirvana – About A Girl (MTV Unplugged)
Let’s do another example (Ex. 4), but this time with a chord change. Notice that the very last chord before the change is simply a few open strings. No one can change chords instantaneously, so it’s common to “cheat” like this: Use the last upstroke as your time to change chords. If you listen closely to some favorite songs, you might be surprised to hear how often this happens.
Once the basic movements are comfortable, it’s time to add rhythmic variation (Ex. 5). Since we’ve been playing constant eighth-notes, we’ll now remove a strum—variety can be created via omission. Try this by “missing” the strings. In other words, keep your strum movement going, still up and down, matching the beat—just avoid the strings for a “miss.” Remember downstrokes are on the beat, upstrokes for the “ands.”
Here’s another common rhythm, where we are “missing” one more strum (Ex. 6). Listen for which strings are struck with the downstroke and the upstroke.
Noel Gallagher “Wonderwall” Live on the Stern Show (1997)
The previous two examples omit the sound of a couple of upstrokes, but we can also omit a downstroke (Ex. 7). This will create a syncopated rhythm. Syncopation is created by having an upstroke that is not followed by a downstroke. This helps to accent different parts of the measure.
It’s time to notice details about musical stresses—what we call accents. A typical acoustic groove often mimics the feel of a good drumbeat. The low strings can act like a bass drum and the high strings can act like the snare drum. Basic drum beats often have bass drum on beats 1 and 3 and snare drum on 2 and 4. Ex. 8 is a simple way to adapt that to the guitar. Accents can be achieved by playing a certain chord louder or by striking more notes in a given chord. Adding some upbeats to this approach is like adding a ride cymbal or hi-hat to the groove.
We can accent certain strokes and create interesting rhythms that way—even when there’s a seemingly bland rhythm, as in Ex. 9. Variety and interest are achieved through dynamics (musical volume) and accents. We can create a vibrant and intensely varied part that is anything but mechanical. The long wedge symbol is a crescendo, which means to gradually get louder. The symbols that look like “greater than” are accents.
Ex. 10 is a variant of Ex. 9. Instead of eighth-notes (two strums per beat), we have 16th-notes (four strums per beat). The tempo is moderately slow, but it’s still quite busy. Remember, you don’t have to strike all the strings of the chord. Downstrokes favor low strings and upstrokes favor high strings. As with the previous example, an interesting rhythm is created via accents.
Once you’re comfortable with your strums, it’s time to add rests. Rests are silences. We can use rests to add variety, since it can be tedious to have endless sound that’s not contrasted by silence. Rests are typically “played” by landing the pinky side of your hand on the strings. No worries if the rest makes a click sound, that can even be desirable. Try Ex. 11 for a simple exercise with rests.
Sometimes the rest gets replaced with a percussive sound. Think of it like a “crash” into the strings: Your palm lands on the strings and the pick hits right after. It’s fine for the pick to hit just a couple of strings. This is a good way to mimic certain songs. Check out Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” There’s no guitar on that recording but you can emulate the percussion by playing Ex. 12.
Ex. 13 is a good generic rock groove. I think of this as something akin to a basic drumbeat. This strum is useful whenever you need a driving groove.
Being able to do a steady, eighth-note strum with a good feel and stamina takes time, so be patient! Practicing with a metronome or drum beat (there’s tons of smart phone apps and loops on YouTube) is great for developing your skills, so definitely work that in. Have fun!
Last Updated on April 26, 2022 by Klaus Crow A Marvelous Major Pentatonic Blues Country Lick is heading your way. This blues country, country blues guitar lick is a great one for intermediate and beginner players, because you can split it up into 2 licks and play it slow and fast. Either way it sounds […]
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