Tag: Bending

Chromatic Twang

chromatic twang

I find myself adding “outside” notes to spice up typical progressions or chords I encounter all the time. Just like a chef, you need to know when to use this technique, as too much spice isn’t always nice. I’m not trying to take you on a jazz odyssey or have you overthink your lines. We will simply use the entire musical alphabet to help us get from point A to point B in a different way.

I like to call these style of licks “ear twisters.” When you add a few more colors to a predictable country line it can take your playing to new and interesting places. Remember, taste is important in choosing how far you “go out” since you don’t want to lose sight of your musicality. We are basically using all the options on the table to create tension that will inevitably lead to resolution. The licks I’ve chosen are for static major, minor, and dominant 7 chords. These are designed to be a small part of a big picture, and any note is ok to use as long as we use it wisely. I’ll show you some ways to start thinking along these lines.

Ex. 1 demonstrates the possibilities within the C chromatic scale. I play the root note followed by the next tone in the chromatic scale. That way you can hear the interval. Intervals can be described as the difference between any two notes. The larger the difference in pitch, the greater the interval. There are a variety of ways to think about intervals, but typically they are referred to as being either major, minor, perfect, octave, or tritone. While this is relatively simple to play, it may be the most important example to not only understand, but master. Both the intervals and the sound they make played together (or consecutively) to me connotates a color or emotion.

Major = happy. Minor = sad. Tritone = tension. Octave and perfect = pure.

Next, I dive into a descending line over C with some chromaticism (Ex. 2). Keep in mind we aren’t necessarily using scales as a reference, we are using notes in relation to the chord itself. Everything has a relation to the chord. Reference Ex. 1 if you don’t know the names of the intervals that you may find interesting or just awkward. Your ear may need to take a while to get used to some intervals but in the grand scheme of chromaticism, any note is available.

Here’s an ascending chromatic line over D (Ex. 3). Ending this lick, we do a country bend, so make sure to bend down with the index finger on the 7th fret. You can phrase it like the recording and slow the final bend to add dramatic flair.

Ex. 4 has a definite Tele-twang feel with double-stops in the front of the lick and plenty of hammer-ons and pull-offs at the end. It works great over an A chord and I might use it over a train beat feel. Try to use it next time you’re jamming to “Working Man Blues” by Merle Haggard, or Vince Gill’s “Liza Jane.”

Liza Jane – Vince Gill (w/ The Players)

Chromaticism works just as nicely over minor chords, too. Ex. 5 is a bluesy line with chromatic notes functioning as small connecting points. The leading tone, A#, gives it an exotic sound before resolving nicely on a B minor triad.

Open-string country licks are some of my favorites. In Ex. 6, I especially like the “clash” of the open 2nd string followed by the C (minor second interval) and open E with D# (also a minor second interval). The key here to let each note ring out as long as possible.

In Ex. 7 we move to the G7 chord. You are going to find yourself using double-stops into a bend then incorporating open-strings to work your way down the neck for this twang banger.

The final example (Ex. 8) is the most complex. The half-step theme works nicely over an E or E7 chord. The back half of this lick incorporates a Bb major triad (Bb–D–F) into a bend, then resolves on B and D. The ending of the lick implies a dominant 7 chord and I use my middle finger for the bend on the 3rd string.

That’s a lot to take in without a massive amount of theory. If you feel lost but want to understand intervals better and, more specifically, what you liked about the chromatic notes then I would recommend a bit of deeper analysis. Print out the licks and write the interval underneath the fretted notes to gain a better understanding on what was used to make the chromatic connecting points. It’s an excellent way of finding out the “formula” to what you may like. You’ll notice most of these licks use chord tones, notes from a major or minor scale, or intervals that create tension. Chromatic connecting notes all have a relevancy to the chord and can be used anywhere and in any style with the right amount of knowledge.

Bending Steel with Your Bare Hands: A Pedal-Steel Primer

Let’s face it folks, pedal-steel is a pillar of the country music sound. It’s one of my favorite instruments—not just in country, but all music genres. The ability to play complex chords, the range of the instrument, the way you can manipulate bends (with knee levers and pedals), and the lyrical quality and tone add so much to the country sound. The textures and chord voicings can really beef up a rhythmic part, but also can make you cry in your beer with a single-note line that includes so much articulation and manipulation it can make your head spin. We are going to mainly focus on a one element that really makes the pedal-steel guitar special and very difficult to emulate on guitar: bending notes.

Most guitar players typically will bend with their ring finger. In some of these examples you will be bending with your index and middle as well—in a very foreign fashion. Think of it like lifting weights and adding more independence to each individual finger. It’s not easy and will take time if you’re not used to this technique. Keep in mind, you do not need any bender built into your guitar. Your fingers will do all the work. I also didn’t include any licks using a volume pedal although you could incorporate one if you desire

Now let’s break down these licks!

The first two examples will give you a good idea of how to start thinking like a pedal-steel player. Ex. 1 is a simple A major scale (A–B–C#–D–E–F#–G#) but certain notes are bent instead of fretted. Note the half-step bend on the 3 (bend that with your middle finger) and the full-step bend on the 7th fret of the 2nd string, as well as the half-step bend to get back to the A. Mastering playing in tune is vital to having that pedal-steel effect on guitar. I would also let the first note played in this example ring until you’ve reached the 2nd string. This will give the line a cascading effect. Listen to the audio example and try to match the phrasing and articulation of the line. For all examples a healthy dose of reverb helps notes “sing” more.

Ex. 1

Ex. 2 is a descending line that starts with a pre-bend. You will see this technique a lot. It’s a key component in getting the sound. Ring finger does all the bends on this lick.

Ex. 2

While there is only one bend in this example, you’ll need to hold the bend on the 12th fret of the 3rd string while moving your pinky from the 13th fret down to the 12th fret on the 1st string. This is a pretty standard type of steel lick that I always use in my playing. It works great over a C chord.

Ex. 3

The tricky part about Ex. 4 is connecting the two separate bends. You do this by releasing the bend at the 11th fret on the 3rd string and sliding down to the 9th fret then bending up again. It should be seamless and immediate to get the phrasing correct. All bends are done with your ring finger. This is just a great lick to play over an E chord.

Ex. 4

In Ex. 5 we add an element of chicken picking with a “cluck” or dead note before the first three bends. We work down the neck with a series of pre-bent double-stops. It’s a standard but effective pedal-steel technique, but it’s tricky. The first bend in measure 1 bends the 1st string up a half-step while the 2nd string goes up a whole-step. It sounds complicated, but because of the differing string gauges, it actually works pretty naturally. Just go for it. The next double-stop bend requires both the 3rd and 2nd strings to go up a whole-step. Attitude is more important than intonation, so do it with no fear. For the final Gsus2 to G bend, barre your pinky on the top two strings and use your middle finger to bend up a whole-step.

Ex. 5

Ex. 6 works well if you’d like pedal-steel bends over minor chords. This lick uses some open strings, which creates a nice tension that emphasizes the 9 (B) against the Am chord. As you work your way down the neck, you’ll need to bend with the middle finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd string. More notes in this lick but well worth the work.

Ex. 6

Ex. 7 is another pre-bend lick that uses unison notes, which is common for steel players. In this turnaround lick, use your in index to bend down on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string. You could think of this as an end of a tune lick so using rubato or a free feel is cool.

Ex. 7

Here (Ex. 8) we move into a repetitive lick with a triple-stop slide at the end barred with the index finger. Notice we start in a simple D minor shape. Adding a bend gives it lots of texture and once bent, the chord functions nicely as a G7. The middle finger is busy on this lick, bending up a whole-step on the 14th fret of the 3rd string.

Ex. 8

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed some of these licks. They aren’t easy but they add some cool textures, tension, and resolution to your guitar lines. Make sure to really try to nail the part as close to the recording as you can. It’s taken me years of practice and thousands of gigs to really have some of these ideas and licks under my fingers. This is just a small microcosm of the possibilities of these kinds of licks. Let them inspire you to try to write your own or fit them into a tune you already play.

I like incorporating pedal-steel bends into my playing because it makes me think about different musical elements. Experiment with half- and whole-step bends, as well as pre-bends, and learn to phrase more like a pedal-steel player. It’s fun and challenging and will add tons of color and options when creating musical lines.

Eric Gales’ Nasty Chord Substitutions

eric gales nasty chord substitutions

Eric Gales’ method of playing a right-handed guitar left-handed and upside down gives him a sound that’s distinctively his. If you watch videos of him playing, you’ll notice he plays with his thumb wrapped around the top of the neck, like Jimi Hendrix or John Mayer. However, since his guitar strings are flipped upside down, his thumb is fretting what would be the first string to most people. This not only puts your brain in a whirl when trying to steal licks, but it also opens the door for some truly unique chord voicings. Gales, who fuses blues, rock, and classical together, constantly manages to play some truly otherworldly licks and passages.

Gales’ speed and cleanliness are his bread and butter, but what sticks out to me in his playing are those chord voicings and substitutions he uses masterfully in his approach. He is one of the best at spicing up standard shapes. In this lesson we’re going to dig into Gales’ interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” using a pair of different live clips to showcase how he tends to mix up his chordal choices from performance to performance.

“I remember on this last tour me and Myles [Kennedy] were on the bus looking up stuff and we ran into some Eric Gales clips and we were just like, ‘This guy could be the best player on Earth.’” – Mark Tremonti

In Ex. 1, we’re checking out Gales’ performance from the 2019 Keeping the Blues Alive Cruise. When he kicks off the “Little Wing’’ intro, every note is the same as what Jimi Hendrix originally played. It’s worth noting that Gales also typically tunes down a half-step. It’s a straight-up cover, that is, until Eric does his “thing” when going from the IIm to VIm chords in the progression.

Eric Gales – Little Wing – Sail Away Show – KTBA Cruise 2019

At 0:26 in the video Eric uses a diminished triad to work his way up the fretboard, resolving on a Bm7 triad for just an eighth-note before moving to the Em7. His use of the open third string in the Em7 chord provides a nice jangle.

Ex. 1

At approximately 0:35 in the song, Gales uses (with a tasteful hammer-on embellishment) a Bbm9(11) and Bbm11 to descend to the IIm chord. He then gives an Am9(11) chord the same embellishment and voicing jump with an Am11. To end this phrase, Gales resolves an F6(9) to an Em11(b13), as shown in Ex. 2.

Ex. 2

The last nugget we’ll look at from this specific performance is pretty simple: a single F6(9) chord around the 0:51 mark. Shown in Ex. 3, Gales works this chord into his arrangement to build tension and grab your ear before beginning the verse of the song. As with the other examples, the notes being played are not difficult. It’s the application, however, that gets the listener’s attention. If you’re at all familiar with “Little Wing,” you’ll see that this chord comes out of nowhere in his arrangement.

Ex. 3

The next two examples are from a seminar that Gales did at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro Center for Creative Writing in the Arts. It’s clear that Gales is going a little out on this interpretation, and he is also tuned to E standard.

Eric Gales “Little Wing”

In Ex. 4 we’re looking at the same part of the intro as Ex. 1 (around the 0:22 mark), but Eric has a much different approach. He arpeggiates an Ebmaj7(#11) and uses a hammer-on to turn it into an Ebmaj7(#5). He then uses a pull-off to return to an Ebmaj7(#11). To complete the phrase, Eric uses a hammer-on to switch between an E7sus and an E9sus three times.

Ex. 4

The last example (Ex. 5) is a real finger twister. At 0:29 he plays an insanely tasteful Bm9 voicing and descends to a Bbm9 before continuing to an Am9. If you listen close, Gales is sprinkling in an open first string. Because he is playing a right-handed guitar upside down, he can add that extra open string to the chord voicings. If you play a guitar that is not flipped upside down, you logistically won’t be able to add that open string.

Ex. 5

Eric Gales is a completely underrated guitarist in my book. Nobody else sounds like him, and it’s refreshing to hear someone truly being different in the guitar community. You could spend countless amounts of hours picking out the licks and passages he plays. Unless you’re learning cover tunes note-for-note for a gig, try stretching your creativity in the way that Eric does. Now that you’ve seen how an old standard such as “Little Wing” can be dressed up with this chord voicing and substitution approach, run with the idea and see what you can create.