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Blue Collar's Sneaky Little Tips For Ghee-tar And Bass, Vol. #1
By Mick Polich - 04/29/2008 - 10:11 AM EDT

Well, well, well: some ‘sneaky, little guitar and bass playing tips for chords, solos, ‘groove’ practicing, and melodies…. Been wonderin’ when I’d get the nerve and the gumption to do a column like this because of the intimidating talent collective we have here at the Muse's Muse website!

Everybody who has been playing a musical instrument, singing, or writing songs and instruction material for said stuff for awhile, no matter what level of technical expertise, has accumulated some tricks, tips, and knowledge in regards to maneuvering their way around. How to trill a note, how to scat-sing a melody, de-tuning for metal power chords – it’s all there, and each one of us has a little sumpin’, sumpin’ for bringing it to the table!

One thing I’ve enjoyed about music is the fact that it is always unfolding before my eyes and ears – there’s never a summation point; you can keep discovering as much as you need and want to discover. All art is like this, and it is the stuff of life, let me tell you, keepers of the flame! When you’re learning a musical instrument, this same process is available and can present itself to you when needed. Given all our modern resources, there is an exposure (and some say over-exposure) to instructional material for learning to play a musical instrument. So, let’s present the cases in point – guitar and bass – and get down on it, funkateers!

Just as the late, great Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi used to stress the fundamentals of football, so, too, shall I stress the fundamentals of music: rhythm, harmony, and melody.

First off, you can use all 12 notes of our borrowed European music system – an obvious comment, but you be surprised at how many folks just don’t ‘get it’. “What? Play in another KEY? What the bleepin’ bleep is THAT?!!”, “We’re playin’ country, son, you don’t need all them notes ta take a solo!”, “It’s rock, mate –just keep it standard, o.k.?” – yes, some clichéd, tired ol’ excuses to get out of learning all your notes. But you gotta realized how many people DON’T know all twelve tones – that would be Tip Number Uno, palies!

There are, as follows: C, C#/ Db, (see-sharp and dee flat – enharmonic equivalents, same notes different names: I’m Michael, I’m Mick!), D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab, A, A#/Bb, B.

Again, a major step: well, the same notes that Mozart used, Joan Jett uses, as John Coltrane, Pete Townsend, Sheryl Crow, Yo Yo Ma. Extremes in comparison, but there are the SAME NOTES USED TO CREATE!!! So, go ahead and learn all 12 notes –in fact, go do that right now – that’s o.k., I’ll wait….

(Reading, finishing “War And Peace” and “Ulysses”, hmm, hmm, uh huh, wrote book on Persian history, 953 B.C. to the present day, wrote doctorate on quantum mechanics, humming, twiddling thumbs, huh, er, o.k. AHEM!)

There, ya done? Good –test on that, 1st period, tomorrow, 8:00 a.m.!

Usually everyone that is my age, a bit older and a bit younger, everyone learned lead guitar techniques, particularly in rock and pop music, learned variations of the minor, and major pentatonic scale (with another added note, it becomes the ‘blues scale’). O.k., Peanut Gallery, can you play that well-worn and well-known scale in at least two octaves, from top to bottom, in all twelve keys, on a guitar or bass? Well, you should be able to – consider it’s only five notes – ‘penta’, meaning FIVE – then, lemme see, can you play the scales on one string, maybe two? Something to consider – this forces us out of the old box styles of playing,, and bumps our creativity up several notches when we can accomplish this…..

Here’s something for bassists (and guitarists might want to take note,too): try to practice any pattern against a book of rhythm or drum rudiments. Substitute the strokes for notes, and you’ve got some fresh ideas for phrasing and rhythm!

Guitar guru/teacher/artist Mick Goodrick (jazz cat – taught at Berklee School Of Music, taught Pat Metheny a thing or two) has a wonderful book out called “The Advancing Guitarist” (Hal Leonard Publishing) - you can get it on-line or through most Barnes and Noble or Borders stores. It’s full of great information – thing is, Mick says you need to take bits and pieces of the stuff, learn it, use it, then come back to the book for more (believe me, it’s definitely something that you don’t want to treat as a ‘standard’ method book – like eating a good meal, take it SLOW and enjoy every bite with the nourishment that comes with it, hoss…..). This is a great instruction/ reference book for anyone wanting to advance their guitar technique and music knowledge – Mick has a way of looking at creating and learning unlike no other guitarist that I know….

As Miles Davis said, “ If you continue to play music the same way, you’ll get the same results”, and a cat like him should know, brother. Sometimes thinking outside the technique and music box helps think about our approach to the instrument differently.

Example: take a simple chord triad, say, C – you’ve got C, E, and G for basic notes. Now, instead of approaching the usual chord forms on the guitar, randomly pick three strings that you will play the notes on. And be weird, it’s o.k. – put the E or the G note on the 6th or 5th string, don’t always put the root on the bottom strings. Play open strings against fretted notes, or if it works out, two open strings against one fretted note –this gives an interesting ‘drone’ quality to the chord structure. This is an exercise I do with my advanced students (and sometimes the beginners) – big fun, and cracks that third wall open for learning…  

Individual string playing for solos, scales, and melodies are a unique way to refocus looking at the guitar. Let’s say you wanna work out “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” – o.k., pick, say, the B string on the guitar – there will several different ways to play the melody, especially if you switch it thru all 12 keys. At least for my generation, we are so accustomed to the ‘box’ style of arranging scales and ‘blues-base soloing’, we forget to look at the other possibilities!

I’m looking at left - avenue ways to view music and the guitar  - some times, you gotta go with how you feel in your gut, and NOT with something somebody tells you is the right path!

Another approach is chord deconstruction – I like this because it opens up the harmonic possibilities of the chords (yes, chords on BASS, too –you’re allowed to do that!) against the other instruments in a group setting, or alone. People who can utilize all fingers and the thumb while fretting these gih-normous chords fascinate me – I can appreciate the approach, but if you don’t have those big ol’ fingers, then, what’s a mother to do? Well, start simple – it’s o.k., hey, it’s your gig, you do want you can! Again, take, say, an A minor chord (A, C, and E) – if you take out the 5th, or E note, then you have a minor 3rd interval which leaves a huge space if a bassist wanted to play that E on the basso. You’re playing the interval, which can lead to a more intervals for a solo fill or repeating motif in a song. Same with removing the C note – you’ve got the classic power chord interval –perfect 5th, A and E – let the bass play the minor 3rd in the chord. Very simple stuff, but all complex harmonies are based on a lot of simple note building – just break it down and take it to the core.

Here’s one to take advantage of a service like iTunes – unfortunately, it’s a great Chinese food buffet for me (ask my wife and our last AMEX statement – sorry, darlin’…). You can wrangle up all sorts of obscure stuff on iTunes – it’s just amazing. My thought is this: take a chance at 99 cents per song, and dive into some unexplored (sometimes, whole album downloads can be had for $7.00, $8.00). I found two groups last week – Taste, Irish blues great Rory Gallagher’s old band, and Thin Lizzy (I think the entire Lizzy catalog –no wonder I can’t find their CD’s anywhere – look on iTunes, schmuck!). But that’s a small sampling (and a cheap date – until, of course, you tally up a boatload of downloads.) – exposure to new music gives us a willingness to grow and develop.

Also, “string skipping” is an old idea that involves big interval jumps to other notes – we as guitarists, bassists, well, heck, ANY musical instrument or voice, will form the ‘same ol’, same ol’ ‘ patterns for melodies, solos, and riffs. Sax player, composer, and recording artist Jerry Bergonzi has developed an excellent book,” Inside Improvisation Series, Volume 2 – Pentatonics” (Advance Music) – Jerry deals with new ways to approach pentatonic scales involving interval skips. If you notice on any instrument (or have the ability to vocally reach a great range of notes), when you play, say, a low G note, and move at least in the octave to high B, the effect can be palpable. Many guitarists who employ ‘saxophone’ like lines in their improvisations – Eric Johnson, Pat Martino, and Allan Holdsworth to name a few – have this airy, kinetic energy when they solo, and a big part to my ears is their ability to interval jump.

Finally, listen to other instruments do their magic other than your own – yes, yes, I know you’re trying to study on your instrument to get better, but I’ve seen the pitfalls too often – your ears get stale, dulled, and you lose your vision, motivation. Well, for example, if ya play guitar, listen to sax players, if ya play bass, listen to tuba players!! Seriously – I used to listen to Howard Johnson, who is New Orleans jazz legend – before there was an electric bass to funkasize (and acoustic basses just weren’t cutting thru enough), brass bands in Naw O’leans leaned on the tuba to brought forth those hip-shaking low tones. Howard is the MAN – I’ve heard some tuba solos and lines that Jaco Pastorious would be hard pressed to act on! Open the ears and soak up the sun, kids!

Sometimes one little tip can change you perspective on playing, singing, and listening to music – hopefully, I’ve given a little insight on new ways to keep it fresh and happening on your own journeys and paths. Keep searching, and keep on keepin’ on, comrades and comrettes!!




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