Master Class(3)

June 1, 2004

Cool Aid - Spike Your Solos with Jerry Garcia's Trippy Approach Tones
By Andy Ellis

Like Stilton cheese, kimchi, or a double espresso, Jerry Garcia’s playing can be an acquired taste. Some guitarists scratch their heads over the late Grateful Dead frontman’s tone, intonation, and timing, while others hail him as the most inventive improviser to emerge from San Francisco’s psychedelic scene. While Garcia will likely always remain an enigma to non-Deadheads, one thing is clear: He could weave colorful passing tones into his lines like no other rocker.

In this lesson, we’ll explore techniques Garcia used to enrich his lines. Drawing on phrases found in his solo albums—which have been collected for the first time in a boxed set, All Good Things: Jerry Garcia Studio Sessions (see “Long, Strange Trip”)—we’ll discover how to extract arpeggios and intervals from a song’s chord progression and spin them into dense, prismatic melodies. As part of the dissection process, we’ll split each example into two parts: First, we’ll examine a lick’s essential harmonic framework—its genesis—and then see how Garcia filled in the blanks. Regardless of your stylistic predilections, you’ll find it easy to adapt Garcia’s twists and turns to your own solos—a surefire way to make them more compelling.

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EZ Street- How to Play Harmonics
By Andy Ellis

Neither fretted notes nor open strings, the bell-like tones we call harmonics combine elements of both. To play a harmonic, gently place a finger on a string—without pressing it against the fret—at one of several prescribed points, and then pluck the string. Called nodes, these points of contact divide a string into a precise fraction of its total vibrating length. Played correctly, a harmonic yields a higher pitch than its corresponding open string.

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Blues Guru - Robben Ford: Talking Guitar
As told to Jude Gold

It’s fun to focus on flashy turnarounds, interesting fretboard patterns, and clever fingerings, but guitarists sometimes get carried away with the technical, guitaristic stuff and end up playing licks that don’t go anywhere emotionally. What makes traditional blues such a wonderful school of music is its tremendous simplicity. Plus, blues is a storytelling music, which is another big reason why it resonates with so many people. The guitar is perfect for the blues because, in the right hands, it has a real vocal quality. If you’re really connected with the notes you’re playing, you can speak to people with your guitar. You can plead with it.

preview    download mp3 Intermediate

Rock Guru - Steve Morse: Harp Riffs
As told to Jude Gold

By combining open strings with fretted notes, you can make the guitar sound like it has more strings than it does. This approach gives riffs and melodies a flowing, harp-like sound that is very pleasing to the ear...As did last month’s beginner lesson (when we played the same major scale using three unique fingerings), the riffs in this lesson prove once again that the beauty and the challenge of the guitar is that it offers so many different ways of playing the same phrase.

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How to Play like Allan Holdsworth
By Lindsey Boullt

If you’ve ever taken a solo in public, you’ve probably experienced the simultaneous joy and terror associated with the art form we call melodic improvisation. Luckily, the more you perform, the more that fear tends to give way to joy. Also, the more you play, the more you’ll come across playing techniques that suit your style and your sound.

One guitarist who’s comfortable with a wide range of electric guitar techniques is Allan Holdsworth, undeniably one of the greatest improvisers the guitar has ever known. And if there’s one playing approach he absolutely owns, it’s legato technique. With low action, light-gauge strings, and an abundant use of slurs (i.e. hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides), he proves that guitar riffs can sound as slippery-smooth as liquid mercury.

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Reader's Challenge: One Scale, Two Hands
By Jude Gold

Tapping is still a dirty word among many purveyors of so-called “tasteful” guitar playing. But beware, ye pickers of the ivory tower, the hammer-on heyday of the late ’80s is well behind us, which can only mean one thing: Tapping is poised for a comeback. Don’t be surprised if the oft-lambasted shredder technique is soon featured in a catchy new radio single or on some buzz band’s hit video. And if this nostalgia-fueled wave of two-handed guitar licks indeed hits the shore, one guy who’ll be fully equipped to surf it is Brodie Cumming of Santa Rosa, California.

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Jazz Guru - Mike Stern: Chasin' That Burn
As told to Jude Gold

Chances are, when you’re talking among friends, you’re not literally seeing each phrase you speak ahead of time in your mind, as you might if you were in a foreign country trying to get by in a new language. Speaking in your native tongue, you probably rarely worry about verb conjugation, sentence structure, and all that stuff. When you get an idea, you just say it. That’s also a great goal to have when you’re improvising in music—to be comfortable enough with your instrument that you don’t have to visualize everything before you play it. Instead, melodic statements formulate as you play them. When the language no longer gets in the way of what you’re saying, the emotion comes through, which is great, because emotion is always the most important thing in music. Music should always be lively and exciting. Try to keep that burn happening at all times.

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Hot Guitarist Alert - Skip Heller
By Jude Gold

“I like catchy lines that have a really swinging sound,” says Heller. “And it’s worth pointing out that it’s not just the rhythm that makes a phrase swing. For example, if you focus on beats one and three of every bar, your playing may have a rhythmic heaviness that inhibits the swing. Similarly, if you always start your melody on the 1 or the 5 of the chord—for instance, on C or G of a Cmaj7—then your solo may have a certain harmonic heaviness that keeps your line from swinging and floating above the changes. The phrase ‘playing over the changes’ is a very accurate description of what a jazz musician does, because if you can play over the bar line, over the time, and over the harmony, you’ll get that feeling of no gravity.”


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