The Power Of Polyrhythms

Often, when the topic of “lead guitar” trickery is raised, what follows is a discussion on how to add exotic jazzy licks into a solo or how to play blindingly fast licks with the minimum of effort. But one aspect of playing a great solo is usually overlooked – that of timing. What I’m going to show you today is a great little method of making an otherwise mundane repetitive lick sound a little more interesting, and all you have to be able to do is count… no scary technique!

Let’s begin by defining what a polyrhythm is. It’s easiest to describe it by looking at a lick with just three notes. Something like this for example:

groups-of-3

You could play this repetitively, once per beat which would sound like this:

 

Whilst this sounds OK, it does get a little bit boring after a few repeats. Simply by messing with the timing, it can sound that little bit more interesting. How you could do this would be by grouping this repeating cycle of three notes into groups of four. Instead of going:

EDB EDB EDB EDB

It would now go:

EDBE DBED BEDB

You can see that it’s still the same notes in the same order, but we’re now playing four notes per beat rather than three.

And here is the TAB:

3against4

And this is how it would sound:

 

You can do the same thing, in reverse, if you start with a four note lick… like this, for example:

groups-of-4

Played with four notes per beat, it sounds like this:

 

But, once again,we can rearrange the timing so that instead of going:

EDBA# EDBA# EDBA# EDBA#

It would be grouped into bunches of three notes per beat, like this:

EDB A#ED BA#E DBA#

Once again, here is the TAB:

4against3

And here is how it would sound:

 

These are examples of the kind of polyrhythms found everywhere in popular music. With a little bit of practice you can make use of them too. Here’s a couple of handy hints for counting groups of notes:

  • If you want to know what four notes per beat sounds like, just say “PepsiCola” on each beat & that will give you the correct rhythm to fit your notes into.
  • If you want to hear three notes per beat, say the word “Evenly” on each metronome click or beat, and that will give you the sound of three notes per beat (or a “triplet” as it is known).

I hope you found this useful & until next time…

 

Have fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

 

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Smart Phones

A break from the music stuff this time with some observations on the world of technology…

There was a story on the news recently which reported that 66% of people in the UK now own a smart phone. This is an increase from 39% back in 2012. A statistic like this would have us all believe that the Android, iPhone, Blackberry or Windows mobile phone is now an essential part of everyday life… or is it?

My situation is that it makes sense for me to be on a contract with my mobile. The inclusive minutes & texts save me money compared to if I were on pay-as-you-go. However, I do not need a smart phone, and I can’t believe I’m that unusual in this respect. Never the less, walk into any mobile phone shop and try getting a “basic” phone – one which is primarily built for calls & SMS messages – on a pay monthly contract, and you’ll see the problem. This kind of phone just isn’t readily available any more.

How many more people are out there, like me, who don’t need the extra functionality of a smart phone but are forced into owning one because that’s all that’s easily available? Think for a moment if this were the case with any other electrical appliance… say, coffee makers.

Despite being an Englishman to my core, I have no real love for our national drink, tea. Coffee is my favoured beverage & my requirements in a coffee maker are very simple… I just need strong, black filter coffee. I have no need for a machine which can produce cappuccino, frappaccino, mocha, triple-shot skinny Americano or flat white (whatever that is). But if I could only buy a coffee maker which did all this additional stuff, I would be part of the statistics which “prove” we were all becoming addicted to these metropolitan poseur brews. If I’m going to be that trendy, I might as well buy some skinny jeans, start wearing Brylcreem, stop wearing socks & grow a Grizzly Adams beard whilst I’m at it.

And this is how it is with the near ubiquitous smart phone. The lack of an alternative forces many of us into owning a phone which doubles up as a laptop, a telly, a stereo & a Kindle. I don’t need my phone to do any of these things on the grounds that I already own a laptop, a telly, a stereo & a Kindle.

Ah…” I hear you say “But you can’t take your laptop with you when you go out, can you? What about your email?”

Well… that’s true. But in my life, (and I suspect many other people’s), there is no email that is so urgent that it can’t wait until I get back from walking the dog or visiting the supermarket. OK, I work from home & can check my email pretty much any time I want and I realise that this doesn’t apply to everyone. But the point remains, does it really enrich your life to have your phone constantly bonging away to say that Argos have a sale on, or that eBay & Amazon have recommendations for you? How many of the emails which interrupt what you’re doing every day, as they land in your pocket, really need immediate attention?

And if it is an important email – presumably something formal which requires a response, how easy is it to type this kind of correspondence on a keyboard the size of a Rizla packet, often with sunlight obliterating your view of the screen? You see my point? Time & again, I would end up giving up on typing with my thumbs as I walked down the street, preferring instead to wait until I got home when I could compose my message on a “real” computer.

As for being able to watch “content” (as we’re supposed to call television programmes these days) when I’m not sat in front of my telly… Well, I have to tell you that most of the time when I am sat in front of the old gogglebox, I don’t even want to watch it then. Literally hundreds of channels of nothing but repeats, airhead-infested reality TV, the latest cop show/teenage vampires/Tolkien-esque fantasy “box set” we’re all supposed to be in raptures over & a plethora of cooking shows. I’d rather read a book or put some music on to be honest. So I don’t feel impoverished by having to leave the telly behind when I leave the house.

Social media? I don’t use it any more. I used to be all over Facebook & Twitter. At the time, I bought into the idea that it was a great way to drum up new custom. It wasn’t. I even got expert mentoring in using social media for marketing purposes under a government scheme set up to help sole traders like me. So it wasn’t as if I was blundering around making a hash of it – I was doing it right, and the results demonstrated this: I was getting likes, shares & followers. But in over a year of plugging away at it, it didn’t generate a single new paying customer. Not so much as an extra brass farthing in the till… nowt! Added to this was the fact that I just didn’t enjoy it – logging in was just another tiresome admin task to be carried out several times a day. Time I could have been spending with my guitar. Time & effort expended for zero gain. I closed all my accounts.

Then we come to the reliability issue – a mobile phone’s primary task is to be a reliable phone connection, right? Well my various smart phones had other ideas. Apart from the issue of a battery which would go flat if it wasn’t charged twice a day, they thought they were penny-arcade machines.

Here’s what I mean… again & again, after hours of silence, I would get a text message telling me I had numerous new voicemails. Even when I could see 5 bars of a full signal, whatever phone I had at the time would routinely dump calls into voicemail. Why? Often because it was busy performing updates to pre-installed apps that I didn’t use and was not allowed to remove. These were invariably games… “Angry Bejewelled Bubble Pet Candy Witch Farm Birds Saga” and the like. These updated versions of Space Invaders & Asteroids were apparently more important to my phone than letting me know that customers were trying to get in touch to book lessons with me. I actually lost work due to this!

Nowadays my SIM card resides in a reconditioned, second hand, Nokia talk & text phone, bought for pennies on eBay. When I finally gave up on my last smart phone in favour of this “dumb” phone, people looked at me as if I’d traded in an iPod for a wind-up gramophone. But I have a battery life measured in days (not hours), I never miss a call due to my phone being too busy to actually be a telephone, and direct sunlight doesn’t stop me being able to see the keypad I’m trying to dial on. Nor does my phone insist on “correcting” my text messages – Samsung used to think I live in a town called “Reducer” as opposed to “Redcar”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a gadget something which is supposed to make life easier?

And there you have it… my reasons for not being one of the 66% of the population who “need” a smart phone. Or maybe it’s “the 66% who own one because the bloke in the phone shop convinced them they needed one, because that’s all they sell.”

As Mark Twain once said “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

Until next time, have fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

10 Guitarists Who Leave Me Awestruck

Following on from my last post about the ten guitar players who I just don’t get, I thought I’d make this post kind of the opposite. This is my own personal list of the ten guitarists who, for one reason or another, send a shiver down my spine. It may only be one track, or even a single solo, which warrants inclusion on this list. Or it may be an entire body of work… let’s find out:

  1. Gary Moore. There are so many tracks that I could name… The Loner; Black Rose; King Of The Blues… the list is potentially endless. But for sheer musicality, feeling, jaw-dropping technique, and melodic fiery playing it has to be Blues For Narada. Gary seemed, to me, to be the perfect rock guitarist. He had the flashy turn of speed, that was so much en vogue in the 80s when I first heard him. But unlike all the “shred” guys who regularly graced the cover of Guitar Player magazine back then, he always stood out as being less “schooled” and more natural in his approach. Couple his fearsome speed with a gift for melody and an uncanny ability to find any emotion in those couple of millimetres between strings and frets, and you have the ultimate player.

  2. Jeff Beck. Perhaps the most unique of all guitarists… he has a touch that is unmistakeable. His use of the tremolo arm (something I’ve always shied away from) to create slide-like glissando sounds is masterful. He has always strived to evolve as a player, too… that trem arm technique isn’t evident in his earlier work, but it shows that, unlike many “rock gods” of the 60s & 70s he wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. If all you have ever heard of Jeff Beck is Hi Ho Silver Lining, then you owe it to yourself to check out his funk/blues/jazz/rock masterpiece album Blow By Blow. Genius.

  3. Hank Marvin. Quite simply, the man who made me want to play the guitar in the first place. Again, so many tracks to choose from… Apache; Atlantis; FBI; Wonderful Land… but if I had to choose my favourite Shadows tune it would be Theme For Young Lovers. I’d put the melody from this tune up alongside anything by Mozart or Beethoven. It’s THAT good.

  4. Eric Johnson. His second album Ah Via Musicom is a veritable encyclopaedia of stunning guitar technique, feel and variety. You go from the shred-tatstic, but hummable melodic Cliffs of Dover to the Hendrixian High Landrons via the jaw-dropping country of Steve’s Boogie through to the plaintive ballad 40 Mile Town to end with the smoky jazz of East Wes. One of those rare albums where you never have to skip a track… it just gets better from start to finish. Personally I cannot listen to any single track from this album. Like a good novel, I have to enjoy it from beginning to end in a single sitting.

  5. David Gilmour. Is there a better album than Dark Side Of The Moon? I think not. Every note he plays on this prog masterpiece is the exact perfect note for the space it fills. Much like Gary Moore, Gilmour seems to make the guitar “wail” in a way that beautifully invokes the emotional content of the music. I could have named any Pink Floyd album & almost went with The Wall, but Dark Side, for me, is the essential David Gilmour calling card.

  6. Mark Knopfler. The first five Dire Straits albums (Dire Straits; Communiqué; Making Movies; Love Over Gold, and the brilliant live album, Alchemy) remain among my favourite albums decades after I first heard them. Like many people in the late 70s, I first heard Knopfler’s playing on the hit single Sultans of Swing. It was unlike anything else that was around back then. All the other “guitar bands” at the time were either the loud, long haired “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” lads or the smouldering remains of burnt out punk enjoying it’s final death throes. Then along comes this gritty little laid back blues rock band telling tales about “Guitar George – he knows all the chords…” Couple this seemingly effortless story telling with deceptively tricky country-tinged illustrative strat licks and my 11-year-old jaw hit the floor. It still does nearly 40 years later.

  7. Andy Latimer. Not exactly a household name, I grant you, and many people haven’t even heard of his band, Camel. They are a prog rock band from Cambridge who still release albums & go out on tour to this day. They have a loyal fanbase who, like the fans of many cult bands, are ardent in their support of their idols. I’m not a HUGE fan of Camel, but they are responsible for one of the few albums that may just challenge Dark Side Of The Moon for the title of “Johnny Robbo’s Favourite Album”. The album in question is The Snow Goose – an instrumental suite of tunes inspired by the Paul Gallico novella of the same name. It takes roughly the same amount of time to read the book as it does to listen to the album. My old English teacher at school introduced the whole class to this album when he played it as a kind of “soundtrack” to the book when we read through it one lesson in 1978. The title track showcases Latimer’s gift for expression, feeling & melody and, even now, still excites me the same way it did when I first heard it.

  8. Joe Satriani. I never really got into the whole ‘80s phenomenon of shred guitar playing. All those widdly neo-classical, poodle-permed posers who took themselves much too seriously. They all sounded basically the same… Tony MaCalpine; Yngwie; Vinnie Moore et al. It seemed like they’d all been sent from central casting somewhere in one of those LA guitar schools. Then along came Satch… he was/is a melodic blues player with all the technique of a shredder & the theory knowledge of a music professor. But above all, his music made me smile. There was humour & warmth in his playing in a way that I just didn’t hear in the work of many of his contemporaries. If you haven’t listened to it lately, dig out your copy of his Surfing With The Alien album and be amazed all over again.

  9. Stevie Ray Vaughan. My favourite blues guitarist by a country mile. The music just seemed to flow out of him like he could turn on a tap. Lyrical, fluent, blistering solos that seemed to beam in from the stratosphere, alongside what has to be one of the best sounds ever coaxed out of a Fender Stratocaster. His tone was ballsy, sustaining and full without ever being overdriven to the point of fizziness. His style was equal parts Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, and Buddy Guy, all mixed into his own unique blend that has been much imitated, but never, ever equalled. If I had to pick a single track which sums up what I love about his playing, it would be his version on Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing from his posthumous album The Sky Is Crying.

  10. Tony Iommi. I wouldn’t say that metal is really my everyday cup of tea, but I do like to get a bit heavy from time to time… as & when the mood takes me. Black Sabbath, to me, are the originators of the genre. I think you can divide the history of heavy metal into two distinct eras: BBS (Before Black Sabbath) and ABS (After Black Sabbath). When I want to assault my eardrums with some gloriously heavy riffs, it’s just obvious to me that it has to be Black Sabbath – why bother with anything but the originators of the style? The other thing that truly inspires me, as a guitarist, about Iommi is the fact that he overcame a potentially career-wrecking injury to become one of the most influential electric guitarists of the modern era. As a young man, he was working in a metal pressing workshop and lost the ends of his fingers on his fretting hand in an accident. Spurred on by finding out about the famous jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt overcoming a horrific injury to his fretting hand, he doggedly persevered and regained his ability to play the guitar. Whenever I talk myself into believing that I’ll never master some tricky technique or lick, I take a moment to remember what Tony Iommi overcame & keep on practicing.

So there you are… the ten guitarists who, for various reasons, leave me awestruck.

Until next time… Have fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

An Interesting Comparison

After years of being a dyed-in-the-wool strat player, just before Christmas last year, I got a hankering for something a bit more “Gibson-y”. I’ve owned Les Pauls in the past but never really got on with them, however we all change as we grow older & suddenly my strat was starting to seem a bit “thin” sounding – even with a hot-rails in the bridge position. I wanted that rich, deep, set-neck, mahogany & humbuckers tone that only a Les Paul style guitar can deliver. Not having a fortune to spend, I trawled the net looking for a suitable LP style guitar that would fit my budget. I almost pushed the button on a Vintage V100 “Lemon Drop” guitar on eBay, but someone beat me to it.

Having read many great reviews, I settled on a Harley Benton SC450 Plus. A great LP style instrument from Thomman:

HBSC450Plus

You can watch a full review of this guitar, recorded on the day it arrived by clicking HERE

Anyway, as you can tell if you’ve watched that review, I was pretty damn impressed with the guitar. Without having a genuine Les Paul to compare it to, it gave a really good account of itself. But… there was always that nagging doubt in my mind: “Can a £120 guitar REALLY be a substitute for a REAL Les Paul?” I mean… sure, it sounds convincing & this is exactly how I remember my old Les Paul sounding, but what would happen if I put it up against “the real thing”?

Well, today I got the chance to find out. One of my students rolled up with a band new Gibson USA 2016 Les Paul Studio T. Check it out HERE

As you can see, this is a £1000 guitar. OK, so it’s not the Les Paul you want – that would be the LP Standard, complete with book-matched, figured maple top, edge binding, and about a ton & a half of street-cred. However, this is a genuine made in the USA, Gibson Les Paul, albeit the entry-level model. How does my cheap & cheerful Harley Benton £120 “knock off” measure up?

Well, at the end of the lesson, I borrowed the guitar from my student (Cheers Stuart!) and recorded a quick demo – some clean chords, a crunchy rock rhythm part, and some bluesy-rock lead with a higher gain setting. After the lesson, I recorded pretty much the same thing again on my Harley Benton. Here are those recordings just referred to as “Guitar 1” & “Guitar 2”. Just ask yourself, which guitar is the one that cost a grand & which one is the £120 copy?

Click HERE to listen. Both guitars were recorded through a VOX Tonelab ST with a “Dumble” amp model for the clean sounds & a “Soldano” model for the overdriven tones.

I received quite a bit of flak from the “Label Snobs” when I posted the initial video review of the Harley Benton… “Oh, if you ever play a REAL Les Paul, you’ll know the difference straight away…” that kind of thing. The assumption seemed to be that I am wet behind the ears & have never experienced the joy of playing a guitar as good as the one they paid a fortune for (not true, by the way  – I’ve owned two Gibson Les Paul guitars in my career). Well, as far as I’m concerned, the matter is now settled: My Harley Benton…

  • Is built from the same materials as a Gibson
  • Is finished to the same standard as a Gibson
  • Feels like a Gibson
  • Sounds like a Gibson
  • Has the adornments of Gibson’s “flagship” model (edge binding & figured maple)
  • Costs approximately 90% less than even an entry level Gibson

Looking at that list, if you still yearn for something with the “G-word” on the headstock, ask yourself why… are you interested in owning a superb musical instrument, or do you just care about the “brand attributes” & image that goes along with owning a “boutique” guitar? Me? I choose a guitar based on it’s performance as a musical instrument, not as some kind of “trophy”.

Oh… and by the way:

  • Guitar 1 = Gibson USA Les Paul Studio T
  • Guitar 2 = Harley Benton SC450 Plus

Listen again & see which (if either) you prefer.

Until next time… Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

 

 

Diatonic Enhancement of Static Harmony (DESH)

This is one of those scary sounding music theory terms that can put a lot of people off before they even start. Fear not, though, as it’s quite a simple concept which has been used by composers & songwriters as diverse as J.S. Bach and Percy Sledge via David Bowie. It also happens to be one of my favourite techniques for writing a killer chord progression.

So… what’s it all about then? Well, in essence, it involves writing a chord sequence which allows you to plot a descending bass line which moves down a scale. Take this example:

|D A |Bm D |F#m |A | (click HERE to listen)

Those of you with a keen ear might already know what it is, but let’s put a bass line under it which will make it a little more obvious. Here’s how it works…

First of all, look at the chords, not as shapes that you put your fingers into on the guitar, but as collections of notes. This gives us the following:

D = D+F#+A

A = A+C#+E

Bm = B+D+F#

D = D+F#+A

F#m = F#+A+C#

A = A+C#+E

All I have to do is place a D note under the D chord; a C# note under the A chord; B under the Bm, and an A note under the second D chord. This will give me a bass line which descends from the root note of the “parent scale” (D major) to the 5th, creating a very recognisable sound. Click HERE to hear this.

For anyone who still doesn’t recognise this yet, here it is again with a melody line on top (click HERE).

Bob Marley was another fan of DESH, and he used it in this next tune. Take a look at this chord progression:

|C G |Am F |C F |C G | (click HERE to listen)

On it’s own this is basically just the chord sequence from The Beatles “Let It Be” (albeit with a couple of chords placed in reverse order). But put the descending bass line underneath it and suddenly it becomes much more recognisable as “No Woman No Cry”. The bass descends like so:

  • C (under C chord)

  • B (under G chord)

  • A (under Am chord)… and a short linking G note taking us to…

  • F (under F chord)

  • C (under C chord)

  • F-E-D descending run (under F Chord)… taking us back to…

  • C (under C chord)

Here’s what it sound like with the bass line. Much more recognisable as the song, don’t you think? (click HERE). And here’s what it sounds like with the melody (click HERE).

You simply cannot talk about the use of DESH in popular music without mentioning “Whiter Shade Of Pale”. It is, perhaps, the definitive example of this technique at work in a classic rock tune. Procul Harem came in for a lot of flak for supposedly “borrowing” this tune from JS Bach’s “Air on a G String”. But I’ve always thought this to be a little unfair… a bit like saying that Stevie Ray Vaughan ripped off Glenn Miller when he wrote “Love Struck Baby”… it’s a 12 bar blues, the same as Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”, so you could easily point out the similarities. That’s missing the point though: Both parties used an existing, well established progression as the basis for their own original tunes. The same is true of JS Bach vs Procul Harem, in my opinion… but I digress.

Anyway… here’s the basic chord progression for Whiter Shade Of Pale:

|C G |Am C |F C |Dm F |

|G G7 |Em G |C F |C G | (click HERE to listen)

And here it is taking descending bass line into account:

|C G/B |Am C/G |F C/E |Dm F/C |

|G G7/F |Em G/D |C F |C G | (click HERE to listen)

As you can see there are not one, but two, descending bass lines happening here:

C to B to A to G to F to E to D to C in the 1st 4 bars (a complete cycle of the C major scale in the bass).

And G to F to E to D to C in the 2nd half of the tune – the bass descends from the 5th note of the C major scale (G) to the root, a C note. It is this movement generated by the bass, which is (in my opinion) as important, if not more so, than the melody when it comes to making the piece of music sound the way it does. Click HERE to hear the chord progression with the bass line & melody together.

Once you switch on to the fact that you can use a bass line to steer a chord sequence like this, you can have some great fun. Here, for example, is a little thing I came up with in next to no time. For the 1st 4 bars, I’m descending mainly chromatically – A to G# to G to F# to F to E to D, then back up to E again. For the next 4 bars, I use the same principle to ascend: A to B to C to C# to D to D# to E to G#. This chord progression weaves through many different keys & all I’m doing really is looking for a chord that I can link to next which will allow me the bass note I need. To explain the way this tune meanders around all the keys that have even a tenuous link to the A minor tonality is beyond the scope of this blog post, but trust me… it works! Click HERE to check for yourself.

|Am G#aug |G D/F# |F C/E |Dm E7 |

|Am G/B |C A/C# |G/D B7/D# |E G#dim7 | Am

Now… get busy with the DESH!

Until next time… Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

Capo Time!

The humble capo is a much maligned device. Often regarded as little more than a way of “cheating” by avoiding barre chords it is a valuable tool, especially for the home recording guitarist. I use my faithful SHUBB capo all the time to give depth and “fullness” to a rhythm guitar part. Here’s how:

Let’s say I have this chord sequence to lay down as a rhythm guitar part:

E

B

C#m

A

E

A

F#m

B

I could just play those chords without the capo, in fact I probably would. It would sound like this (click HERE to hear it).

Nothing wrong with that. But let’s see if we can make it a little better. Here’s what you do: Count BACKWARDS one fret at a time from each chord like this:

Fret No.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A#

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

B

A#

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A#

A

C#m

Cm

Bm

A#m

Am

G#m

Gm

F#m

Fm

Em

D#m

Dm

C#m

F#m

Fm

Em

D#m

Dm

C#m

Cm

Bm

A#m

Am

G#m

Gm

F#m

Basically what this table tells us is which chord shape gives us the chord we need at any given fret – for example: if you play a D shape with the capo on the 2nd fret, it will give us an E chord; a Dm shape at the 4th fret will give us an F#m & so-on.

What you need to do, then, is find the fret number that gives us the maximum number of open chord shapes. After all… what would be the point of putting a capo on the neck, then playing all barre chords in front of it? Why have the capo on if you’re going to do that? You’re not getting any benefit from it. Anyway… back to the plot: you should be able to see that by placing the capo at the 9th fret I can get my E B A C#m & F#m chord by playing G D C Em & Am shapes.

Fret No.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A#

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

B

A#

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A

G#

G

F#

F

E

D#

D

C#

C

B

A#

A

C#m

Cm

Bm

A#m

Am

G#m

Gm

F#m

Fm

Em

D#m

Dm

C#m

F#m

Fm

Em

D#m

Dm

C#m

Cm

Bm

A#m

Am

G#m

Gm

F#m

Here’s what that sounds like if I layer it over the existing chord track (click HERE to hear it).

I could also add another part. Placing the capo at the 4th fret will give me the shapes C G F Am & Dm. OK, so I have a barre chord to deal with here (the F shape) but it’s still predominantly open chords I’m playing. This gives me the opportunity to add all those little “twiddly” bits you can do with open chords… hammering on from an open string; adding a sus4 note etc. etc. I didn’t do this here, but it’s an option you can always explore if you so wish. Click HERE to hear all three guitar parts layered together.

If I’m just doing single rhythm guitar part, I’ll often double track it & pan both takes left & right for a really BIG stereo guitar sound. This is also what I do when I’m just playing one capo’d part – the non-capo version panned to one side & the capo’d version panned to the other side. For this 3-guitar track, I left the original un-capo’d part dead centre & panned the two capo’d parts left & right.

As you can hear, using the capo this way is a great method of creating a lush rhythm guitar part which can really bring a track to life. It’s worth investing in a good quality capo – those cheap ones with the strap & notched buckle thing are a nightmare in my experience: guaranteed to put your guitar out of tune. I also dislike the spring loaded ones with the “trigger grip” as they always seem to cause tuning problems too. In 1986 I bought a SHUBB capo for £10 & it’s still going strong… can’t complain at that!

Until next time… Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

Learning To Recognise Chords

Following on from the last post I put up about figuring out the chords to a song, I thought I’d share my method for identifying different types of chord. Last time we looked at just major & minor chords, but as we all know, there’s always some “awkward” or “odd” chord that can throw a spanner in the works when it comes to figuring out a song. What follows is a list of ten different chord types and the way that I recognise them.

Basically the idea is that you create a sort of mental “colour chart” or “mood board” with each type of chord having it’s very own characteristics… a feel or mood that you associate with that chord type. In the examples I’ve given, I’ve tried to express the mood that I associate with each of these chord types. These may (or may not) make sense to you, but that’s not the point: what you should do is come up with a way of describing them which makes sense to you – it doesn’t matter if it’s nonsensical to anyone else. If it helps you remember the inherent sound of that type of chord, then you’re doing it right. It can also help if you can associate that type of chord with a well known, or obvious, example of it being put to use as I have done in these descriptions. Anyway… let’s get started (click on the name of each chord to hear it being played – at the end of the post, you’ll find the shapes that I used for these examples):

  • The “add9” chord: a major chord with the 9th note of the scale added in. A really “pretty” and “warm” sounding chord. A favourite of Andy Summers – check out the first chord of “Every Breath You Take”. You’ll also hear this chord in loads of Steely Dan songs. Walter Becker & Donald Fagen had such a fondness for this chord that they actually gave it a name, the “mu-major” chord.
  • The “minor add9” chord: a minor chord with the 9th note of the scale added in. This has the effect of reinforcing the “bleak” or “miserable” nature of the minor chord. Great for writing songs about dark subject matter. The 1st chord in Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” is a G#madd9.
  • The “Major 7th chord: Want to make a major chord sound a bit more “sophisticated” or “wistful”? Add the 7th note of the major scale to it. Often found in Bossa Nova & other Latin styles of music. A good example of this type of chord comes from the classical world: Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No.1 is based around major 7th chords.
  • The “Dominant 7th chord: a major chord with a flattened 7th major scale note added in. Often just referred to as a “7th chord”. There is a very dissonant sounding clash between this note and the major 3rd already present in the chord which gives a “tense” or “unstable” quality to it. It’s like the cliff hanger at the end of a movie plot… it just begs to be followed up with a new chord. Best example I can think of now? Well, it has to be the line in Hey Jude where Paul McCartney sings “… And any time you feel the pain…”
  • The “Sus4” chord: This is either a major or a minor chord with the 3rd note replaced by the 4th note of the scale. Because it contains no 3rd, it has a somewhat “ambiguous” or “up in the air/left hanging” kind of sound. Although it’s not strictly a simple sus4 chord, the one that best sums it up for me is that clanging opening chord from “Hard Day’s Night”. You’ll also hear these scattered all over the intro to “Pinball Wizard” where Pete Townshend plays a succession of sus4 to major chord changes.
  • The “Sus2” chord: Similar to a sus4 chord, in that it is neither major nor minor due to the absence of a 3rd. This time, the added note is the 2nd note of the scale. These chords are often confused with add9 chords, but they do have a different sound due to an add9 chord having a 3rd in it. A really good example of sus2 chord in action is Andy Summer’s guitar part on The Police’s “Message In A Bottle”.
  • The “11th” chord: Quite a jazzy one, this… It gets used in a lot of rock & pop music too, though. Basically, think of it as a posher version of a dominant 7th chord, with perhaps a hint of “sus4” ambiguity. In effect, all it is is a root note with a major chord 2 semitones below super-imposed on top of it. It gives a more “sophisticated” sound than a 7th chord, but still can be used in the same way. For a great example of this one in use, listen to the intro of The Beatles “Long And Winding Road”.
  • The “Diminished 7th“ chord: A really nasty sounding chord. Great for creating tension in a song. Try playing one of these followed by a either a major or a minor chord one fret above and you’ll immediately get the idea… this chord creates instability which makes whatever follows it sound much sweeter. Because this type of chord is made up from notes which are all 3 frets apart, you can move the shape up in 3 fret jumps and the chord will remain the same. Remember the old silent movies, where the villain has the damsel in distress tied to a railway track? That’s the best example of this chord being used to create tension.
  • The “Augmented” chord: Another “nasty” sounding chord, this time made up of notes which are all 4 frets apart, so it will move in a similar way to the diminished 7th, but in 4 fret leaps this time. Quite a favourite in the rock n roll genre. In Dave Edmunds version of “I Hear You Knocking” that piano chord at 1:33 is an augmented. It’s also Chuck Berry’s “other” intro… that clanging dissonant chord at the start of “No Particular Place To Go” is a classic example of an augmented chord.
  • The “minor 7b5” chord: If flatulence could be expressed as a musical chord it would be the min7b5 chord, no question! It is possibly the “nastiest” of all “nasty” chords. It sounds (to me, anyway) like rotten eggs mixed with the fox poo that my dog seems to love rolling in. It does have it’s uses though… “ugly” chords like this are great for building tension which can then be resolved as part of the musical story you’re telling. Usually they are to be found buried in the midst of a chord progression & do not stand out as a feature. This makes it difficult to name many examples of prominent min7b5 chords, but the best one I can think of, once again, comes from the classical genre. The famous “Tristan Chord” from Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde” is none other than an Fm7b5. Here it is in context.

And there you have it… ten commonplace chord types and how you can learn to recognise them. As I said earlier the descriptions are simply what makes sense to me. As you gain experience, you’ll learn how to “tag” these sounds in your own way and come up with your own descriptive terms. Now, here are the shapes I used for them all:

chord-types

Until next time… Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist