Archive for November, 2007

Has Jimmy Page seen a ghost recently?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on November 30, 2007 by Staff Writer

2 pictures here about a year apart or less – the first from his photo shoot used to promote his new signature double neck Gibson EDS 1275 (yes Santa, I want one) with luscious curls as black as the Ace of Spades and the other from the cover of this month’s Guitar World magazine, all silver-haired Charlie Watts gracious refinednessness:






There are only two possible explanations for this kind of sudden change in hair colour – supernatural encounters with protoplasm-exuding spirits from the netherworld, or sudden and abrupt cessation of hair dye application. I suspect the former mainly because he’s wearing dark glasses in the last picture (you seldom see him in shades) – presumably to hide dark eye circles caused by fear-induced insomnia.

Just kidding Jimmy – please don’t turn me into anything unnatural with your Crowley magick. You do in fact look stupendously distinguished and very, very cool for a 62 year old rock dude. You are and always will be my favourite.

World’s most useless soloing advice – Part 2

Posted in chord changes, improvisation with tags on November 30, 2007 by Staff Writer

See Part 1 earlier for why the following advice does not qualify as useless. This excerpt was originally posted at: 

Recommend you read the whole thread to take in all the commentary and other viewpoints which all add up to be very rich and informative (well, most of them).


I don’t know how to use scales
can someone give me some pointers?
I am trying to just fill in some licks on a live version of Knockin On Heavens door by Eric Burdon , Rory Gallagher and David Lindley. I can do some licks but running out of ideas.
Thx enig


“How to solo and improvise” – quite possibly the biggest single open-ended subject in music today.

Ok – I assume you don’t want to play like Allan Holdsworth (master improvisor) over your “Knockin’ on Heaven’s” door song and want something more like 70s era Clapton (noobs look it up – he has a nice version).

Okay – a bit of Googling revealed the following chord chart for Clapton version (sorry – i don’t know the Burdon version, but I assume the chords are the same) –…s_door_crd.htm

So the chords are G D C Am, which means the key is G. (All chords in G would be G Am Bm C D Em F#Dim).

So, I make the assumption that you want to play a conventional solo with a matching scale in the same key and nothing too fancy at this juncture like outside notes, or changing modes on each chord etc.. which is a bit more advanced.

So, here’s my recommendation:
Learn the G Major scale. G A B C D E F#.

Start by playing notes from this scale along to the music. Try to break up your lines into phrases – in other words, don’t just play one continuous never-ending line (unless that’s the effect you’re going for). Clapton, for example plays short little bursts of notes, say, from 2 notes in a lick, up to between 6-12 notes. Now, the hardest part is this – you’ll notice that when you end your phrases, some of the notes either ‘work’ or they don’t although all the notes are harmonically valid within the key, at certain points, some of them sound better. The ones that sound better are the notes that correspond to the notes of the chord which is underneath at any time so:

G Major = G B D, so ending your lick on one of these notes (especially the 1st) will sound ‘strong’.
D Major = D F# A, likewise
C Major = C E G, likewise
Am = A C E, likewise.

Now, how do you do this? Well one way is to memorise all the notes on the entire fretboard – good luck, see you in 20 years. The other way is to memorise chord shapes along the fretboard (easier, but still several years of effort). So, you need to eventually learn, for example, all the different shapes of G Major over the entire neck in thr long run.
If this sounds too daunting, for your current needs, i suggest picking a couple of key positions and concentrating on knowing the chord shapes in those. E.g.

5th position, know an Am Chord and some of the notes of C Major
12th Position, know a G Major and a D shape.

Of course, you can choose whatever/wherever. To simplify things slightly more, superimpose the pentatonic shapes over each chord as it passes, and attempting to gravitate your lick end notes to the chord tones, so G Major – play a G Major Pentatonic in the 12th position, and when the next bar comes and it changes to D, then finsih your lick on one of the D chord tones. etc.

This is one way of soloing and applying scales to chords. I can’t say I’m particularly good at this myself because I don’t practice it enough. Like anything you need to do it a lot, but then, therein lies the fun. I’ve been trying to get this right for the best part of 20 years and I’m still having fun.
Happy journey!

World’s most useless soloing advice – Part 1

Posted in chord changes, music theory with tags on November 28, 2007 by Staff Writer

Quite often you will see newbie players posting questions on the online guitar forums such as:

“Help – how do i construct a solo?” or “How do I play a solo over Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door?”.

You’ll see some sensible suggestions from older players along the lines of “work out what the chords are in the progression, find a matching scale and maybe try to target some of the chord tones” or “associate a pentatonic with a particular chord and when that chord comes up, play that scale” and other stuff which while it may not be the most sophisticated approach in the world does state clear steps that the player can apply immediately to achieve some usable results. You might possibly also see some major overkill answer from some hardcore Jazzer that involves complex substitutions and polychordal harmony that use every scale and mode known to man which is years beyond the capability of the original poster, but the point of this post is that you will also see many, many more one-liner replies which will all be variations of:

“Just play by ear.”

“Just play with feeling – don’t worry about chords and scales and stuff.”

“Just play what you feel is right. Don’t worry about theory.”

and my personal favourite:

“…just play from the heart.”

These replies aptly qualify as completely useless advice and there is always a common thread that links the posters of these pointless gems, the two most prominent being:

  1. They generally eschew/reject music theory for a number of reasons (actually it isn’t difficult it just requires a bit of study) and are therefore afraid of it in the same way that a baby chimpanzee is afraid of fire. Theory is consequently categorized in their minds as useless and scary. Even worse, they will occasionally take a firm stance that music theory is bad and actually knowing some will harm your creativity. This is the worst stance to take by far.
  2. They never explain how to ‘play from the heart’ or ‘play with feeling’ or ‘just play’. This is the part that troubles me the most. When you challenge them on this and ask how this is achieved with clear applicable steps instead of some vague divine interventional guidance they are completely incapable of expressing it – instead they cite all kinds of examples of musicians with no training or musical knowledge and argue that if they could do it so could anybody else.

Of course, none of this is useful to the original poster who just wants some practical and usable advice to get his or her first solo off the ground. The thread subsequently degenerates into an ego-boosted pissing match and nobody ends up better off than before. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is subsequently abandoned and the original poster joins a punk band or takes up the triangle or bongo drums – worse, they may abandon music altogether and take up Performance Dance – “The World’s Most Pointless Artform”.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with telling someone to play with feeling or from the heart (by ear is actually something else which we will go into another time) – this is actually well-intentioned and pseudo noble counsel, but without any foundation, it’s far too high level advice to give to the beginner. The guitar has six strings with a range of 12 to 24 frets (36 for the Uli John’s of this world). There are 12 musical keys, dozens if not hundreds of scales with a myriad of applications – majors, minors, pentatonics, harmonics, melodics, modes, arpeggios, inversions, chords, chords on chords, chord progressions etc. etc. etc. all with different sounds“Ok Mr Teacher – you told me to play with feeling – where do I start?”  “Oh, just follow your heart.”  “Umm…. how?”.

Ultimately the solo should be some kind of musical statement (unless you are some avant garde weirdo deliberately trying not to make a statement [which is also some kind of statement in itself]) and the theory and knowledge of chords and scales and stuff is only a tool to getting you to a point where you can build this statement. Theory in and of itself is not worth knowing if it isn’t applied somewhere down the line to making music and this unfortunately, is where a lot of the arguing lies. Knowing some theory is never bad and will never harm your creativity. Theory is a framework and a jumping-off point which one can use as a safe and trusted ground for constructing lines and also provides known boundaries from which one can veer should one feel the need to break the rules. Once you know at least a little bit of theory you have started on a road where you can start to transcend it and will soon get insights and glimpses into this intangible feeling/heart thing.

There are of course a great many unschooled players out there who are immensely talented. I’m an advocate of learning theory but I don’t count it as an absolute necessity. Training of the ear is as (if not more) important, and we will go into ways to do this in future. The part I have trouble with is the manner in which this information on how to play is transmitted. By saying “play from the heart” you’re not giving anything usable.

In the next part, I’ll answer ‘How do I solo over Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’? – but in the meantime someone convincingly tell me how to ‘play from the heart’ with clear applicable steps and I’ll send them a packet of peanut M&Ms*.


* partially eaten.

Fender USA Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster

Posted in Shred Guitar with tags on November 27, 2007 by Staff Writer

2005 model here: Vintage white with maple neck – same configuration as Yngwie’s main 72′ ‘Duck’ Strat. Strung with 8s and tuned down a half step just like the Swedish shredmeister does. The colour is just beautiful – like a a block of New Zealand butter. Pickguard is a greenish-white colour that Fender refers to as ‘Olympic White’.

For your pleasure I include close-ups of the fabulous oversized 70’s headstock and a side-on view of the neck so the scallops show up nicely.  Pickups are a bit wimpy in their output for my liking but it does put out a very Strat ‘clang’ sound which you won’t mistake for any other guitar. Admittedly I’ve never whacked this baby through a wall of Marshall non-master volume 100W heads as Yngwie does so not sure what the tonal qualities of it will be under such circumstances, though I suppose it will be exactly the same as on any of the Rising Force records.

The guitar is easy and fluid to play with great control of bends and vibrato afforded by the scalloping, but the jumbo frets in combination with the loss of finger contact against wood on the fretboard can push your callouses to their limits. The risk of playing out of tune due to pressing too hard on the strings and inadvertently bending them sharp which a lot of people talk about is overstated in my opinion – clumsy big handed klutzes might, but most people won’t notice this happening. I recommend people try this guitar rather than relate some hearsay on this matter.

Hint to Santa: I’d also like a red one.

CIMG2797 CIMG2798

CIMG2800 CIMG2801

Too much gear…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on November 27, 2007 by Staff Writer

Someone sent me this….


Is Ralph Santolla the World’s best Death Metal lead guitarist?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 26, 2007 by Staff Writer

I think so.

Exhibit A: stepped into the shoes of the Hoffman brothers in Deicide (despite him being a practicing Catholic entering into the world’s most Satanic band) for the album The Stench of Redemption – a titanically heavy album with superb melodic shred playing that perfectly suits the Death Metal genre.  Ok – when I say ‘stepped’ into the shoes of, I’m not forgetting Jack Owen (former Cannibal Corpse guitarist) who’s not exactly a slouch on his axe either, but his lead playing while violent and fitting for this type of metal is not as refined and melodic (I know this sounds like an oxymoron in context) as Santolla’s.

Exhibit B: Replaced Allen West in Obituary for the crushingly heavy but beautifully adorned (with Santolla’s spiraling leads) album Xecutioner’s Return.  I always felt West was the weak point in the Ob lineup and had a minor celebration when James Murphy joined for the Cause Of Death album (sadly he left because he went mental from brain cancer). West’s leads just lacked that certain oomph and energy – neither weird, atonal or ‘sound effecty’ enough nor as melodic or technically accomplished in the shred realm to really round out Obituary to being totally crushing. Let’s hope Santolla stays in the band, or at least contributes as a hired gun in the great tradition of other revolving door DM guitar artistes such as Murphy, Andy LaRoque, Paul Masvidal… Anyway, go buy that album – an outstanding Death Metal release.

P.S. My company network blocks access to the Deicide website. Now that’s evil.

Lesson 2: On Secondary Dominants and Walking Basslines

Posted in improvisation, Jazz Guitar, music theory with tags on November 26, 2007 by Staff Writer

Yesterday’s lesson contained lots of stuff but there were two more prominent sections of note.

Part 1: Secondary Dominants

I’ve mentioned secondary dominants before and this time, Master (as he will now be known as) gave me some more explanation and some more concrete examples.

Let’s recap again – a secondary dominant is the act of approaching any chord with a dominant chord a 5th higher than it. Consider the I ii V progression GM7 | GM7 | Am7 | D7. The basic form is shown in bars 1-4 below, with different substitutions happening in each of the following 4 bar groups, i.e. 5-8, 9-12 and 13-16 below:

2ndry dom

In bars 5-8, I introduce the E7 chord which is the secondary dominant of Am7, i.e. a dominant chord with a root a 5th above the target.

In bars 9-12 this is varied into a ii V I (where Am is the I chord) by introducing the Bm7 chord (ii in Am) in front of the the E7 in bar 10.

In bars 13-16 this is simply shows a bunch of chord variations because I wanted to fill up the lower right corner of the diagram. 🙂

Part 2: Walking Basslines

This part of the lesson was very, very interesting. Master thought it pertinent to show me a bunch of foundational strategies for constructing walking basslines. his rationale was as follows:

  1. Bass players are the lynchpin in Jazz combo because:
    1. They define and keep the time (more so than the drummer actually).
    2. They pump out the root of the chord (or a defining note) at any one time.
  2. Understanding how bassists get from A-B i.e. move from one chord to a target note of the next chord using quarter notes (Jazz basslines are very often all quarter notes) is a useful way to understand how to solo.
  3. he used to be a double bassist in a Dixieland combo.

So here then, for your pleasure are some of the techniques we discussed with musical examples to follow in the context of a I vi ii V in G, so our old friend GM7 | Em7 | Am7 | D7.  Throughout, think of the bass pumping out quarter notes on each beat.

  1. First off, just play the root note, so G G G G | E E E E | A A A A | D D D D.  If you play this, nobody is going to kill you on the jam session stage. It’s perfectly ok to do this and it’s perfectly safe and effective. Do this when in doubt.
  2. Use the octave of the root. Works just nicely.
  3. The 5th is always clear. At any time you can inject the 5th of the chord and it will always work (I presume not when there’s a diminished chord over it though – Grasshopper must consult teacher on this…)
  4. Use the octave of the 5th – (so up a 5th or down a 4th from the root).
  5. Use the 5th on the 4th beat of a measure. This is because in many common progressions, the 5th is one tone away from a chord tone of the target chord. Seemed to work in our test progression anyway.
  6. Approach the target note (root of the next chord in this case) from a semitone above or below. We call this an approach note. This also now means that the 5th can move to beat 3 if we put the approach note on beat 4, e.g. R R 5 A.  Alternatively the 5th can be on beat 2, e.g. R 5 R A.
  7. Add the 3rd now. We can do a triad and approach note, e.g. 1 3 5 A, or 1 5 3 A. In a cycle of root movement progression, e.g. VI ii V I, the major 3rd is the leading tone to the next chord. (must explore further – not clear to me).
  8. Scalewise motion. In a cycle of 4ths, going towards the target notes in a scalewise fashion, i.e. sequential notes, when ascending there are not enough notes, so we need to include a passing tone.  In a descending motion, there are enough notes, but we can include an approach note instead of the last scale tone.