Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Taking it up to 11...

Last month was chord month for me, and this time I've been looking at 11th chord voicings.

A quick recap for those unfamiliar with extended chord voicings – chords are made from notes stacked in intervals of thirds, that is play the root, miss the 2nd, play the 3rd, miss the 4th play the 5th. That gives us a basic three note chord or triad. These chords can be extended using the 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th intervals (the 9th is the 2nd up an octave, similarly, the 11th is the 4th and the 13th is the 6th, each bumped up an octave).

As always with extended chords, there are many different variations but the three most important are the major, minor and dominant voicings – major will always contain a 3rd and a 7th, minor will always contain a b3 and b7, dominant will always contain a 3 and a b7. It's important to bear these rules in mind as we look at the practicalities of voicing these chords on the guitar.

So this gives us three chords to look at:

Maj11 – R 3 5 7 9 11

Min11 – R b3 5 b7 9 11

11 (for dominant chords, we just use the number of the highest chord extension) – R 3 5 b7 9 11

This starts to cause a few problems, as we're now needing six notes in the chord, making for some very unwieldy voicings. Time to trim the fat!

We need a root to base the chord off, so that stays..

We need a 3rd to define whether the chord is major or minor, so that stays..

The 5th, however, is the same for major, minor, or dominant, so that can go.

The 7th stays as it defines whether the chord is major or dominant

The 9th is the same for major, minor, or dominant, so that can go.

The 11th is our highest extension, so that stays.

Now we can voice our chord simply R 3 7 11 (major) R b3 b7 11 (minor) R 3 b7 11 (dominant)

Voicing the chord as four note chord means it can be inverted – built from the R, 3, 7, or 11. For example, C11 – R 3 b7 11, C E Bb F can be started from any of its four component notes.

Along the top four strings (D G B E) this will give us voicings of:

E Bb C F

F C E Bb

Bb E F C

C F Bb E

Notice that we've dispensed with the traditional rules of chord inversions – that stuff is for keyboard players who only have one place to play each note and two hands to grab their chords with. We're grabbing clusters of notes that fall under the fingers.

Getting to grips with chord voicings this way is an extremely cool way of mapping out the fretboard and learning which note is where, and for that very reason I'm not going to put fret boxes up here, I want you guys to do the homework! Once you've mapped your chord out on the D-E strings, try it on the middle (A D G B) and low (E A D G) string groups. Then try the minor and major voicings. Then change the key and do it again. Do that for a month, and you'll be hooked on the shimmery, sci fi, haunting ethereal sound of these chords, you'll almost certainly have discovered a few new riff ideas and you'll know the fretboard far more comprehensively than trying to memorise any fretboard map will ever get you!

Have fun – see you next month for the Kumoi Pentatonic...

Tuesday, 17 July 2018


Well, I was hoping to be writing this month's entry basking in the glory if a fairytale victory for a much maligned England squad.. alas it was not to be. But this latest “oh so near” did get me thinking about motivation, and how it relates to our development as musicians.

Right now, the England squad have two ways to view their situation. They can either a) rue a potential victory lost, one that could have propelled them to being only the second England team in history to reach the world cup finals.. what if they'd stayed more on the offensive after the first goal, maybe been able to score a second or at least keep the Croatians too busy defending to equalise? Or b) reflect on the fact that a squad nobody expected much of, which had no “celebrities” of the likes of Beckham and Rooney, was able to pull off their best result in 28 years – longer than most of them have been alive.

How does this relate to us jobbing musicians? Well, a few years ago, I was having a conversation with a drummer friend of mine who was at least a sheet and a half to the wind and bemoaning his lack of commercial success.

“I've been doing this for twenty years and where's it got me?”

Now, this seemed to me to be missing the point somewhat.

“Don't you enjoy it any more?” I asked.

“Yeah, 'course I do, I love it.” he answered.

“So – isn't that the point?”

He shut up after that, I'm pleased to say.

So what connects these two situations? Well, neither the England team or my drummer mate had achieved everything they wanted – winning the World Cup/ fame, fortune, hot and cold running groupies – but both have still managed to accomplish something impressive, 4th place in the World Cup and a pastime that has given twenty plus years of fulfilment, led to friendships and adventures with people you'd never otherwise have met, not to mention the simple satisfaction of getting good at something (don't tell him, but he is a spectacularly good drummer).

So next time your motivation drops and you wonder why you're bothering – remember, you're not playing music for fame, fortune and glory (and if you are, you're a moron) – you're doing it for yourself. We do what we do while other people sit in front of the TV.

Think about it this way – if you spend an hour practicing and you're 0.001% better at the end of that hour, that's still an improvement. If you spend an hour watching The Kardashians – well, you've spent an hour watching the Kardashians. Compare and contrast.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

It's Just One Thing After Another

This month's post comes from a question I was asked after a Dave The Rock Band gig back in 2015 (yep, quick off the mark as always) – I got chatting with one of the security guys after the gig and he revealed that The Final Countdown had always been one of his favourite songs.

“So how long would it take me to learn the solo?” he asked.


You see, the thing is, there are a big list of things you need to know before you can start learning a solo like that. A BIG list.

The solo starts with a flurry of arpeggios tracing the chord sequence of Bm, C# dim (implying A7) and G before moving to a scalic idea around Bm and B blues scale, and a melody slid along the G string following the B natural minor scale. So in order to play this properly, you're going to need to..

Understand what an arpeggio is

Develop the dexterity to play one, and quickly – and the ability to morph the shape to cover major, minor, and diminished chords

Understand and learn both the B natural minor and B Blues scales. You'll also need to map the B natural minor long the G string and master sequencing and legato ideas to very high level for the faster bits

Develop robust and efficient string bending (including harmony bends) and legato techniques (ver fast and accurate hammer ons and pull offs, as well as vibrato and picking.

If you've got ALL THOSE THINGS – then actually, it won't take you that long. When I first learnt it in 2006, it took me about half an hour.

If you haven't got those things though, you're in for a world of pain. It probably is just about possible to learn it note for note from the tab, practicing nothing else, going slowly and building up step by step, but it's going to be an incredibly difficult and frustrating journey, and even if you make it to the end you've learned one guitar solo, with no understanding of the concepts used in it and no ability to connect them up in different ways to do anything else (like, for instance, play a different solo... or the non-solo parts of the song...)

A good teacher puts these pieces in order and lays them out before the student in the right way, so that each piece connects to the next in a logical, clear and understandable manner, so that the learning curve is as shallow as possible and the frustration level is minimised. And so that by the time you have cracked this solo, you understand completely what you're doing and have also learned a great many other songs as well as the skills to teach yourself many, many more.

In truth, there is very little original material I teach my students that isn't available in places like YouTube, Ultimate Guitar, magazines such as Guitar Techniques and so on. The problem the student has is working out how to interpret the information, apply it and figure out how you can use it.

Another example – a few years back, a students signed up for guitar lessons at school at the start of September, wanting to learn to play “Eruption” for the school talent show.

In two months.

With no previous experience.


In the end I was able to compromise with him – Van Halen has frequently named Eric Clapton as one of his biggest influences. Eric Clapto, in his turn, named BB King as one of his. Now, for all his stunning deftness of touch and phrasing, BB was not a technical player. With hard work and application of major and minor pentatonics, you can get close to a passable BB-style solo in a couple of months and gradually build your technique from there.

Moral of the story – with the right skillset, you can learn anything you want. But it takes time and guidance to get that skillset. I accomplished quite a lot in my first couple of years teaching myself, but it wasn't until I did my Access To Music course and met my guitar Yoda (Brian Thomson, hallowed be his name) that I really started to understand what I was doing. The fog receded, I wasn't groping blindly in the dark any more, and everything started to make sense. Suddenly, I was in control

Thursday, 24 May 2018

In Deep With - The Diminished Scale (s)

So we're well into 2018 now and that means following my practice plan as laid out in my New Year's Resolution post back in January.. and that has led me to the diminished scale!

Now, there are two types of diminished scale, and for most of this blog post we'll be focusing on the half step/ whole step diminished – this is exacty as it sounds, a scale put together from a repeating pattern of semitone and tone intervals. Looking at it from the A root note, we wind up with this:

A – semitone – Bb – tone -C – semitone – Db – tone – Eb semitone – E – tone – F# - semitone – G – tone – A

Viewed from the traditional perspective of root, 2nd, 3rd etc., we get this:

R – b2 – b3 – b4 – b5 – 5 – 6 – b7.

Now, this actually makes for a very usable set of notes. For blues players, you have the b7, b5 and 5, as well as the b3, aaaand... the b4. Now the b4 is effectively the major 3rd, so that gives the interplay between minor and major 3rd which is so crucial for blues, jazz, rock, country etc. This makes it really a quite effective substitute for the blues scale (R-b3-4-b5-5-b7), and the minor pentatonic (R-b3-4-5-b7).

Not only that, but the presence of the 6th and b7 gives you shades of the Dorian mode, the b2 and b3 gives you elements of the Phrygian, and the b5 can imply Locrian.

Moving to a chordal perspective, this scale yields up a hell of a lot of triads:

A C Eb – A diminished
A C E – A minor
Bb Db E – Bb diminished
C Eb Gb – C diminished
C Eb G – C minor
Db E G - Db diminished
Eb Gb A – Eb diminished
Eb Gb Bb – Eb minor
Eb G Bb – Eb
E G Bb – E diminished
F# A C – F# diminished
F# Bb Db – F#
G Bb Db - G diminished

And when we extend out to 7ths, the palette gets even bigger:

A C Eb Gb – A diminished 7
A C Eb G – Am7b5
A C E G – Am7
Bb Db E G – Bb diminished 7
C Eb Gb A – C diminished 7
C Eb Gb Bb – Cm7b5
C Eb G Bb – Cm7
Db E G Bb – Db diminished 7
Eb Gb A C – Eb diminished 7
Eb Gb A Db - Ebm7b5
Eb Gb Bb Db – Ebm7
Eb G Bb Db – Eb7
E G Bb Db – E diminished 7
F# A C Eb – F# diminished 7
F# A C E – F#m7b5
F# A C# E – F#m7
F# A# C# E – F#7
G Bb Db E – G diminished 7

In terms of modes, the symmetrical nature of the diminished scale means there are only two – the half/ whole and the whole/ half, and each contains the other – for example, Bb whole/ half is contained within A half/ whole. But this symmetry also means something else – A half/ whole also contains C, Eb and Gb half/ whole scales and Bb, Db, E and G whole/ half.

A half / whole: A Bb C Db Eb E Gb G

C half / whole: C Db Eb E Gb G A Bb

Eb half / whole: Eb E Gb G A Bb C Db

Gb half / whole: Gb G A Bb C Db Eb E

So A diminished can therefore be a good fit over C Blues, Eb Dorian and Gb minor pentatonic!

Obviously it's not as simple as slapping a diminished scale over the top and hoping for the best, so in the meantime here are some practice exercises to familiarise yourself with this scale and listen to Robben Ford, Allan Holdsworth and Larry Carlton (among others) to hear how these players get the best out of what at first seems a dauntingly complex scale. But remember, like everything in music – it's simpler than you think!