Feb 212015
 

Last time we discussed double-tracking problems you can avoid by doing Guitar 1 well, so this time we’ll cover the same for Guitar 2, with more modern home studio audio recording techniques and tips to help you record your guitar solos.

Aside from the difficulties mentioned under “Performance Issues” below, there are some disadvantages to double-tracking:

  • Some people feel a doubled performance has less character
  • It takes longer to record (which may mean more money)
  • If you don’t double track something challenging, other guitarists may assume you couldn’t
  • Mixing becomes more difficult if you want your rhythm parts to be heard clearly

Let’s tackle these one by one. It’s true that individual character can be overshadowed, but this will depend largely on your style. More improvisational players are more affected, but some find it easy to play something repeatedly. It’s a judgment call only you can make. In exchange for some individuality, you get a thicker, fuller sound. One or the other will be worth its weight in gold to you.

If you record in your own studio, the extra time for double-tracking won’t cost more money, but in either case, consider this: if it takes you 20 minutes to record Guitar 1, it will not take you another 20 minutes to record Guitar 2. In my experience, it takes a quarter of the time for Guitar 2 (5 minutes). This happens because your playing is already smoking by the time Guitar 1 is done. If you’re not improvising, you’ve also been playing the same line for 20 minutes.

As for guitarists assuming you couldn’t double track something, not every guitarist has this competitive attitude. Many are just good musicians who, like you (hopefully), care more about the song than their ego.

Mixing Issues

Problem: Muddled mix. If you’re a metal head, the traditional mixing approach is riffs hard-panned right and left, lead guitar straight up the middle, but the whole point of double-tracking is to have full stereo leads, usually hard panned, too. Now you’ve buried your rhythm section!

Solutions:

  • Be nice to your mixing engineer and make sure he knows what you want, for his skills can keep an interesting riff audible beneath double-tracked leads, using a combination of compression, tone tweaking, riding the faders, and careful use of that big reverb/delay you have on that solo
  • A well-chosen lead tone will help it stand out without burying your riffs
  • Write a simple rhythm section so there’s nothing to miss. If you’re the only guitarist, your bassist must hold down the riffs alone live anyway, so you may as well go for simple chords under your solo. For songs with vocals and a lone guitarist, this is the traditional approach
  • Double-track leads over simple chords, but single-track leads when the riffs are interesting

Problem: Mix balance during harmonies and dual-lead lines. If Guitars 1and 2 play in unison and then break into harmony, or into two completely different lines (Guitar 1 is a slow melody while Guitar 2 is a fast scale), both guitars may sound quieter overall.

Solutions: Both issues can be solved by double-tracking the original lead all the way (Guitars 1 and 2), then make the harmony/dual part into Guitar 3 (and maybe Guitar 4, if you double-track this, too). Be aware that you’re more likely to bury the riffs this way. A lesser solution is to raise the volume where needed, though this doesn’t always work.

Performance Issues

In the previous column, I mentioned using two different articulations for Guitars 1 and 2, in which case the performance will not be exact by definition. If you use the pick throughout Guitar 1 but use slurs within Guitar 2, for example, you may have to experiment with exactly what is different (and when) to make this sound good with full stereo separation. Sometimes there’s no choice but to put both guitars in the middle of the mix instead.

Problem: Timing. This is the most obvious issue with double tracking and is why most people don’t do it.

Solutions: Practice. Guitarists practice all sorts of things with a metronome, but you need to practice double tracking itself. There’s nothing like playing along with yourself to discover how inaccurate your timing is. You need to learn your own habits to fix them.

  • Find a rhythm guitar part (or entire song) with a fair amount of activity. What you need is something with both steady motion and briefly held chords, preferably in alternation. The reason is that you may speed up or slow down when switching. If the rhythm part is constant 16th notes, that won’t help much. Neither will long held chords. Without using a drum machine or click track, record yourself playing the rhythm(s) for several minutes. Then put on the headphones and double track it. Pay attention to every place where you rushed (or are rushing now). If you realize the original performance was bad, redo Guitar 1, then try doing Guitar 2 again. Keep doing it until you succeed or get better
  • Do it with many songs, harder songs, with lead guitar, and finally with a drum beat
  • Do it for weeks, months, and years. When you eventually lay down a smoking, complicated guitar part and then double it exactly before everyone’s stunned ears, no one needs to know how much you practiced

Problem: Headphones are cramping your style. Whether ear fatigue, the cord getting in the way of your windmills, or just a fashion emergency, headphones can drive people crazy when recording, so how do you double-track without them?

Solutions:

  • Don’t use them during Guitar 1, just during Guitar 2
  • Don’t use headphones during recording, only during playback to verify the guitars match. This can be tricky while playing (too many sounds might be bouncing around in the room, making it hard to focus)
  • After recording Guitar 1, turn off Guitar 1 altogether while performing Guitar 2 “blind” and without headphones. Verify they match during playback, using headphones. This is tricky but impresses witnesses. If you’re getting frustrated and/or feel your spontaneity is going away, this can also make you feel free again

Problem: Guitar 2 out of tune. Sometimes the guitar just goes out and you can’t get it back in tune with Guitar 1. Now what?

Solutions:

  • Recording Guitar 2 ASAP after Guitar 1 helps avoid this, but not always
  • If the performance has extreme bends at the end, record right up to that note, stop short of it, do the double tracking, then add the bend to both tracks via punch-in afterwards
  • Sometimes only a few pitches are off, so just record Guitar 2, then re-tune the offending notes and re-perform them via punch-in
  • If the notes on only one string are off, play those notes on a string that’s in tune. This may change the tone, however
  • If the notes are flat, you can try slightly bending them up when playing, but this may not work either because the note goes by too quickly or because you’re doing vibrato or something else while sitting on that note
  • The culprit might be the riffs, which can sound perfect until you play lead over them and a slightly bent string in the riff causes this
  • If all of Guitar 2 is out, you can save Guitar 1 and do another Guitar 1 and then Guitar 2. Otherwise, erase Guitar 1 and start over
  • Finally, you can always try for Guitar 2 on another day, but you may play differently then. In 20 years, I don’t think I’ve ever once doubled something more than one hour after I did Guitar 1

Problem: Final note doesn’t end at the same time. Sometimes you let go off the last note at different times for each guitar, or one has better sustain. We’re not talking huge differences here, but even small ones can sound bad, especially if there’s a rest in the whole band right then or your digital delay repeats the two slightly-off endings over and over!

Solutions:

  • Re-perform it. This is not good if the performance was otherwise great. Besides, you may miss again
  • Punch-in just to fix that. A good bet, though you can still miss
  • Fix it in the mix. Use the automation features of your recording system, ala ProTools, to mute the note that goes longer so it ends when you want it to. If your signal routing is set-up right, when you mute the offending guitar, its last note will still go into the delay unit to avoid an unnatural cut-off there. And yes, this is cheating, but so is punching in. To be accurate, mute both leads at once by grouping them. Your mixing engineer may have other solutions, such as fading out the notes before they end
To Double-Track Or Not To Double-Track

If you decide to double-track certain lead phrases and not others, it is good to know this in advance. After all, let’s say you decided to double something, did so, and change your mind later? Simple. You just turn off one guitar. But what if you didn’t double it and now wished you had? Can you get the gear set up (if it’s gone) and re-perform it days or weeks later? My solution is simply to double everything and make my decisions during mixing, but I own my studio and am a glutton for punishment.

So is double-tracking worth it? Here’s a final thought. It often sounds good to double your themes, which tend to be simple and easier, and not double your more solo-like passages. You keep spontaneity where you need it and get fuller sounding themes. It’s the best of both worlds.

Best of luck, and may your fingers fly true…both times.

Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 1

In an age when few want to play lead guitar at all, not to mention twice, an article on double-tracking guitar solos might seem pointless, but for those players keeping the faith, this one’s for you. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of double-tracking lead guitars and ways to get around common problems. For those […]

0 comments

Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 2

Last time we discussed double-tracking problems you can avoid by doing Guitar 1 well, so this time we’ll cover the same for Guitar 2, with more modern home studio audio recording techniques and tips to help you record your guitar solos. Aside from the difficulties mentioned under “Performance Issues” below, there are some disadvantages to […]

0 comments
Reamping

How To Re-Amp Guitars

If you’re like me, you’re not really an audio engineer despite all your research and efforts into capturing high quality sound in your home studio. Though it’s increasingly easy to buy quality gear, that doesn’t mean you have the training or experience to master it. Enrolling in engineering school, sound proofing your house, and upgrading […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

In an age when few want to play lead guitar at all, not to mention twice, an article on double-tracking guitar solos might seem pointless, but for those players keeping the faith, this one’s for you.

We’ll discuss the pros and cons of double-tracking lead guitars and ways to get around common problems. For those new to the concept, double-tracking is when the guitarist performs and records the same exact part twice, usually turning one performance to the left side of the mix and the other to the right. It’s frequently done for rhythm guitars, but less often with leads. What follows are some modern home studio audio recording techniques and tips to help you record these guitar solos.

How To Do It

First off, why double track? Lots of reasons:

  • Two guitars performing the same thing sounds fuller (like a chorus compared to a single voice)
  • Alternating between doubled and single-guitar creates variation
  • You can use two different guitar sounds for a new tone
  • You can use two different articulations (one legato, one staccato)
  • After a decade of no guitar solos in popular music, we have to double-up to make up for lost time
  • Impress other guitarists

If all of that sounds good to you (and I know the last one does), here’s how to do it.

The Method

For starters, you should be able to play the lead part note for note, so take some time to memorize it. Some feel this will rob their lead playing of spontaneity, but if you feel this is true, just improvise your first performance (“Guitar 1”) and then learn it for the doubling (“Guitar 2”).

In theory, double-tracking is simple. Just record Guitar 1 like any other lead part, then turn Guitar 1 all the way to the left (or right). Turn the live Guitar 2 to the other side. Then, wearing headphones, listen closely to Guitar 1 while recording Guitar 2. That’s it!

Problems and Solutions

If that sounds too easy, you’re right. There are a lot of problems to worry about, but you can avoid some by doing Guitar 1 well, so we’ll focus on that first.

When you record Guitar 1, be sure that there are no strange anomalies within your phrasing or timing that you cannot duplicate. The tremolo bar is a good example. You’ve got to repeat any dive bombs or other tricks exactly later. Pinch-harmonics are another problem, as it’s hard to get the exact harmonic you want. Any harmonic will often do the trick, too, so you’ve probably learned to not care which one you get. The good news is that getting a different harmonic (or none at all) on Guitar 2 can work fine or be better. I did this on purpose on “Still at Large” from my album, The Firebard.

 

Slides can be easier, since they’re sloppy anyway, but that only helps with fast slides. These should start from the same place (roughly) and go the same distance at the same speed. It helps to improvise a couple times and notice where you’re starting. If the slide is prominent and in the rhythm track, you can try one of my tricks, which is to start Guitar 1 from a certain note, such as A in A major, and slide Guitar 2 from C#, so they start in harmony.

Slow, expressive slides are more trouble. These need to start from the same place more exactly. The amount of finger pressure can be a factor in the slide’s sound, too. This is more problematic when that pressure must change as you go, and if the slide’s speed changes. All you can do is practice and be aware of speed, pressure, start and stop point, and the emphasis placed on the destination note (how much pressure and vibrato are you using?).

Bends are tough, too. If you’re not consistent and precise with the speed of your bend, hold, and release, the variation when you double will be out of tune. Quickly bent and released notes can be easier, but don’t count on it. You may be more consistent with a given technique, such as bending with your fingers, the Floyd Rose, or the old tuner trick, but you won’t really know until you try doubling and simply can’t do it. To make matters worse, bending is generally an expressive thing, so being controlled about it may rub you the wrong way. The solution is good technique through practice.

Vibrato usually isn’t an issue because most people tend to use the same vibrato each time they play a line, so you may be in luck here. It tends to be applied unconsciously as well, meaning you’ll do it the same without ever realizing it. Still, make note of what you’re doing and the speed of your vibrato. If the lead is almost painfully slow, with long drawn-out notes and vibrato that starts after a few beats, then changes speeds and vibrato types, these variations create more room for error. Then again, such a lead is so expressive that doubling is probably not wise anyway. This is one reason I didn’t double the final lead guitar on “Epic” (many slow slides were the other)

Finally, extraneous noise in Guitar 1 is hard to duplicate exactly, and why would you want to? If Guitar 1 was perfect except for some weird sound in it, you have ask yourself how important doubling is and how noticeable the sound is. A finger sliding on a string can be easier to duplicate, and if only one side does this, it can be okay. It’s a judgment call. With recording software like ProTools, it’s possible to fix it in the mix, but if you aren’t sure, double-track anyway and worry about it later. You can always turn Guitar 2 (or 1) off. You could also save the Guitar 1 with noise but re-perform it. >Maybe another attempt would be even better – and not have the noise.

If you’re starting to think all of this is an endorsement for speed, because that would reduce bends, vibrato, and slides as issues, not so fast. That’s when timing becomes the biggest issue of all. Without good timing on Guitar 1, you’ll really feel the pain later. Practicing with a metronome, while a good habit, may not help with a troubling passage. Maybe the drum groove or rhythm guitars are slightly off, or DAW-induced latency is disturbing your feel, or you’re just having a bad day and can’t do something right. What to do?

It sometimes helps to hard-pan Guitar 1 to one side while playing it, and/or wear headphones. This way, you can focus on the rhythm section on one side while fitting in your lead notes on the other. Turning down the lead guitar helps, too, for if the lead is too loud while you’re playing, it obscures the timing underneath. For latency, try reducing or eliminating it altogether with a no-latency setting. Be aware that on some days, your sense of timing will simply be different/off, just as you might like a guitar sound one day and think it’s terrible the next. Perseverance is king.

Coda

If all of this is starting to sound impossible, just wait until Part 2 of this column! Seriously, though, double-tracking is not as hard as it seems. With a little practice it can even be fun, and most of these ideas will help you get a great performance for Guitar 1 anyway. You also might be more ready for doubling than you think. Try doing it a few times and see what your problem areas are, then work on them. Next time, we’ll focus on the more problematic Guitar 2.

Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 1

In an age when few want to play lead guitar at all, not to mention twice, an article on double-tracking guitar solos might seem pointless, but for those players keeping the faith, this one’s for you. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of double-tracking lead guitars and ways to get around common problems. For those […]

0 comments

Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 2

Last time we discussed double-tracking problems you can avoid by doing Guitar 1 well, so this time we’ll cover the same for Guitar 2, with more modern home studio audio recording techniques and tips to help you record your guitar solos. Aside from the difficulties mentioned under “Performance Issues” below, there are some disadvantages to […]

0 comments
Reamping

How To Re-Amp Guitars

If you’re like me, you’re not really an audio engineer despite all your research and efforts into capturing high quality sound in your home studio. Though it’s increasingly easy to buy quality gear, that doesn’t mean you have the training or experience to master it. Enrolling in engineering school, sound proofing your house, and upgrading […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

In a previous article, Interval Riff Basics, we looked at and heard examples of using only two notes, or intervals, for rhythm guitar parts. The two main intervals are fifth and thirds, with the latter adding more variety and color to your riffs. Now we’ll look at ornamenting these two basic sounds with melody fragments. Doing so also introduces other intervals, including seconds, fourths and sixths, but each will be subservient to our core intervals of the third and fifth… at least for now.

Ornamenting Thirds

There are two types of notes in music: chord tones and non-chord tones. Our ornamentation will be done with non-chord tones, specifically the one called a “neighbor tone”. A neighbor tone is next to a current chord tone, and is approached and left in opposite directions. For example, if holding an E minor third (the notes E and G), and the upper note, G, drop down to F#, and then back up to G, the F# is a neighbor tone. See Example 1a.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex1

In this case, the F# is a lower neighbor. There is also an upper neighbor, which would be A. See Example 1b. Listen to this example of thirds ornamented with lower neighbor tones. Within the example are major thirds, a minor third, and major seconds, as shown in Example 2.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex2

Notice how there is a constant eighth-note pulse on the 5th string throughout this example, and that an interval of one kind or another is only sounded at certain accents, when both notes are sounded. At that moment, the muting from the right hand is lifted so the chord can be heard. This brief moment is one reason the relatively dissonant interval of a major second (E and F#) works. If you were to sound the major second and let it ring longer, it sounds much more dissonant.

Example 3 and its accompanying mp3 use both lower and upper neighbors to create a more active line. Of special note is the last measure, where an F# was used because it is in the key. With the C below it, it creates an augmented fourth, which usually sounds like it should resolve upward by step to the fifth, which is the case here. The F# is also a passing tone, not a neighbor tone, and such a motion is discussed below.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex3

Ornamenting Fifths

Just like thirds, fifths have both a lower and upper neighbor. The lower neighbor is usually a perfect fourth, while the upper one can be either a minor or major sixth, depending on where you are in the key. See Example 4.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex4

In most of Example 5, the perfect fourth is used, but listen again for the augmented fourth (the F#) above the C, as expected by the key of E minor. It is possible to use the perfect fourth above C and introduce an F natural.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex5

Connecting Thirds and Fifths

To connect a third with a fifth above the same root, such as E, another kind of non-chord tone is used: the passing tone; in this case, a fourth. A passing tone is approached and left in the same direction. For example, with E on the bottom continuously, G can pass through A on its way to B, moving from the interval of a minor third, through a fourth, to a fifth. The opposite direction works equally well. See Example 6.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex6

Of course, it’s not necessary to connect the third and fifth at all. You can simply alternate.

This final mp3 illustrates a riff connecting thirds and fifths as in Example 7.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex7

Coda

Adding ornamentation is a good way to introduce melody to your rhythm guitar parts, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what can be done. In a future article, we’ll explore counterpoint and see how to write two different lines for one guitarist to play alone.

In Part Three, we introduce counterpoint.

To hear and see some interval riffs in an actual song of mine, watch this video of my song “Crunch Time”. The riffs are in the upper left guitar part onscreen.

Interval Riffs, Part 1: Basics

Many guitarists use chords for rhythm guitar without considering another option: intervals. While a chord is three (or more) notes, an interval is only two. This might seem a trivial difference, but using just part of a chord lets you play intervals for specific reasons, and using only two fingers creates other more advanced possibilities. […]

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Interval Riffs, Part 2: Ornamentation

In a previous article, Interval Riff Basics, we looked at and heard examples of using only two notes, or intervals, for rhythm guitar parts. The two main intervals are fifth and thirds, with the latter adding more variety and color to your riffs. Now we’ll look at ornamenting these two basic sounds with melody fragments. […]

0 comments

Interval Riffs, Part 3: Simple Counterpoint

Counterpoint is defined as two or more simultaneous melodies that maintain their independence while still forming a harmonic relationship. A single instrument like classical guitar can perform counterpoint with three or four lines seeming like a single part. However, rock guitarists seldom do this for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean it can’t […]

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Structural Chord Progressions

A good way to make songs more powerful and structurally sound is to use chord progressions not only within sections, but also across them. This creates a harmonic relationship between sections and adds to the sense of forward motion, tension and resolution, and overall strength. A change of section can feel more logical and expected, […]

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Writing Guitar Licks

I always prefer to write a new guitar lick instead of using a standard one, but since anyone can throw in a bunch of notes that don’t sound good, how do you write something fast, impressive (they must always be that, of course), and musical? Through experience, I’ve developed an approach. To do this, you’ll […]

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Feb 212015
 
Reamping

If you’re like me, you’re not really an audio engineer despite all your research and efforts into capturing high quality sound in your home studio. Though it’s increasingly easy to buy quality gear, that doesn’t mean you have the training or experience to master it. Enrolling in engineering school, sound proofing your house, and upgrading thousands in gear is all time consuming and expensive. Fortunately, there’s an easy and fairly cheap way to record great sounding guitars. It’s called re-amping.

Re-Amping Explained

Re-amping is when you change the sound of a guitar amp on a recording after it was recorded, thus “re-amping” it. In order for this to work, the pre-recorded signal must be the one directly from a guitar. It can’t have already gone through an amp before it was recorded because the sound of that amp is permanently part of the recording. This requires a little planning and at least one special piece of gear.

The chief goal of re-amping is the ability to keep your performance but change the amp’s sound after the fact. This has several advantages:

  • Your great performance doesn’t have to be redone if the original sound quality was poor
  • You can experiment with sounds after performing, too
  • You can re-amp in a pro studio with top gear and engineers, and at a fraction of the cost
  • You don’t have to be loud when recording and yet can still use a loud, live amp
How To Record
Pro Tools 9 running on Windows

Pro Tools 9 running on Windows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the traditional approach to recording, the guitar signal goes through any effects you’re using, into your amp and then out the amp’s speakers. Microphones then transmit this sound to tape, often after the signal passes through studio effects. All of this happens in a soundproofed room with expensive gear.

With re-amping, the process is different. The signal from your guitar may still go through your effects, but most of this should be avoided. You can still add these effects later during re-amping. The exception to this is the wah pedal, since your performance is both your hands and what you’re doing with that pedal, but this can also be added during re-amping, though it can feel weird to do so.

The signal from your guitar should go into a direct box such as the SansAmp XDI, which converts the guitar’s high impedance output to a low one required by mixing consoles. It also reduces the chance of electrical disturbance from nearby objects.

After this, you have to get your signal into your recorder somehow. There are many options for this but since I’m no expert, I will focus on computer based recording as I did it on my new album, Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid. You should still be able to take the principles and apply them to your own situation.

My Setup For Recording

Re-ampIf you’ve already got a computer based recording system, you already have an interface for getting signals directly into your computer software. In my case, I am using Digidesign Pro Tools LE with the Digi 001 interface for it. The signal from my guitar goes through the direct box and then straight into one of the Digi 001’s inputs. From there the signal goes into the computer and Pro Tools.

There are two basic kinds of tracks I use in Pro Tools: Audio and Aux. The Audio tracks are where the guitar is actually recorded, but I don’t always want to record. Sometimes I just want to play along with other recorded tracks, and even when I do record I want to simply flip a button or two and be ready to roll, so I have several Aux tracks set up:

  • “Play” Aux (Stereo) – takes the guitar input and routes the signal to “Amp” Aux. No effects.
  • “RecordGtr” Aux (Mono) – takes the guitar input and routes it to bus 4 (the input for all Audio tracks). I can also control the level sent to Audio tracks with this. No effects.
  • “Amp” Aux (Stereo) – receives input from either “Play”; or “GuitarLeft” and/or “GuitarRight”, and routes output to “GuitarMaster”. Has noise gate and amp simulator plug-in on it.
  • “GuitarMaster” Aux – receives output of “Amp” and adds reverb.

Of course, in addition to these, I have the actual Audio tracks for however many guitars I need. Let’s keep it simple and say it’s two rhythm guitars: right and left. So I also have this.

  • “GuitarLeft” Audio (Mono) – receives input of “RecordGtr” on bus 4, and routes to “Amp” Aux. No effects.
  • “GuitarRight”. Same. One is panned left, the other right.

Since I generally perform rock music, I want it to sound distorted, so how do I do that without using an amp? I use an amp simulator. In my case, it’s the SansAmp PSA-1 software plug in that now ships with Pro Tools. This is only found on the “Amp” Aux track (indicated by “SAP1” on the picture).

You’ll notice there are no effects on any of these except “Amp” and “GuitarMaster”. This means the signal from the guitar is going to the hard drive bare as the day it was born. Only after that is it routed into effects. This is how you preserve the original signal and still hear distortion or whatever effects you have loaded on your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) as you perform. You simply place these effects after the audio tracks in the signal chain.

To go from playing along to recording, all I have to do is mute “Play”, record enable an audio track, and hit the record button. The latter two steps are mandatory for everyone anyway, so with this setup I have only one extra button to push. When recording a guitar hard panned to one side, I usually want to hear the guitar on both sides, so instead of muting I often just changing the panning on the “Play” track to be opposite of the recorded track, and these can include anything from flangers, to a chorus, reverb, delay, phaser, EQ, etc.

Re-Amping

ReampingNow that you’ve recorded your masterpiece with the raw guitar signal, hearing a workable amp tone in the process, it’s time to change your mind about what it sounds like. This is the real power of re-amping!

The simplest version of re-amping is this: launch the amp simulator, turn the dials, and viola: you have re-amped. If you really want top level results, however, nothing substitutes for a real amp cranked up and recorded with high quality gear by an engineer who knows far more than you do about what he’s doing.

There’s nothing unusual about this, with one exception. Just as you used a direct box to change the impedance and otherwise improve the signal quality going into your computer, you now need something similar to reverse it. The Radial X-Amp is designed for this purpose, and the pro studio may already have one. You just route the signal from the mixing console into this and out the other side, and then straight into your amp unless you want to go through your pedal board first, for example. Otherwise it’s pure traditional recording, except you’re twiddling your thumbs in the control room instead of sweating over your performance and how much your multiple takes are costing you. You and your engineer are also able to tweak your amp sound to fit better in the mix with the drums and bass.

When I re-amped my album, I decided to add a wah to one lead guitar phrase and easily did so simply by placing the wah before the amp in the signal path, just like normal. My engineer set this up so that I stood in the control room while doing it. If I had wanted to add other traditional pedals, such as a phaser, I could have done this, too, but I ended up using studio effect instead partly to further keep my options open.

Another cool trick we did was simulating the sound of a guitar with the volume knob turned down. We just turned down the volume control on the X-Amp. It sounded exactly like turning a guitar knob. I had recorded the performance (the opening riff of the sound clips below) at full volume.

Coda

In the independent artist community, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for doing everything yourself, like a badge of honor, but don’t get too swept up in this like I once did. You might be a better engineer than me.  I never kept track of the hours I spent recording Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid, but if done in someone else’s studio at a cost of $60, it would have cost thousands. I also would’ve had to record on someone else’s schedule and availability. Re-amping stereo riffs and a single lead guitar on ten songs only cost me $700. That’s $70 per song, or the equivalent of spending only about 1 hour to perform all the guitars on a song, not to mention setup and tuning. That’s hard to beat.

Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 1

In an age when few want to play lead guitar at all, not to mention twice, an article on double-tracking guitar solos might seem pointless, but for those players keeping the faith, this one’s for you. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of double-tracking lead guitars and ways to get around common problems. For those […]

0 comments

Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 2

Last time we discussed double-tracking problems you can avoid by doing Guitar 1 well, so this time we’ll cover the same for Guitar 2, with more modern home studio audio recording techniques and tips to help you record your guitar solos. Aside from the difficulties mentioned under “Performance Issues” below, there are some disadvantages to […]

0 comments
Reamping

How To Re-Amp Guitars

If you’re like me, you’re not really an audio engineer despite all your research and efforts into capturing high quality sound in your home studio. Though it’s increasingly easy to buy quality gear, that doesn’t mean you have the training or experience to master it. Enrolling in engineering school, sound proofing your house, and upgrading […]

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Feb 212015
 

Read Part 1 here.

Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:

  •   Knowing how to write variations
  •   Effective use of keys and more dynamic, sophisticated arrangements
  •   Writing multiple parts, including dual leads and harmony, more easily
  •   Significantly easier writing of lead guitar that is more melodic and does what you want
Writing Variations

An idea is the source of all artwork, and since a good idea is hard to come by, it’s smart to make the most out of each. This is central to classical composition technique, and one thing students learn is to find variations by studying the music. An entire five-minute piece can be written from a single idea less than one measure long.

Variation is all about retaining some element of the original idea while other elements are altered, keeping music fresh and yet familiar. The variation does not have to be recognizable as such, though it helps, but listeners of different astuteness will notice different things anyway. The most important thing is that if you made more music out of your idea, you have avoided adding a second idea to the piece just to finish the writing. That second idea could have been a song of its own. It is fine to write music based on two different ideas, and this “theme 1 vs. theme 2” approach is widespread, but both ideas are then used as a source of variations.

Cosmetic variations are simple and don’t involve manipulation of the material’s structure, which is why untrained musicians often opt for this approach. One example is changing the instrumentation, such as the singer performing the melody, and then the guitarist doing it verbatim. Even extreme changes in instrumentation by all band members, while effective, are cosmetic. Progressive metal bands excel at this.

Structural variations are typically more sophisticated and involve breaking down a musical idea into its component parts, such as its harmony, rhythm, and melody. The most important of these is the melody, which can be further divided into several smaller snippets called “motifs”. A motif is a short musical idea that is recognizable. A motif can be surrounded with different chords and keys, repeated at different pitches, and used as the basis for a new melody. The motif itself can also be varied, not simply repeated in different guises. This is an extensive subject to be covered in future articles.

Knowing how to write variations will not only make your music more compelling, but it can prolong your artistic life. Why waste ideas when you can mine the song for unexploited potential? How many bands sound like they’re out of ideas after three albums? Lead guitar ideas can often be derived from something within the riffs, too.

Dynamic Use of Keys

A key change can be a powerful thing – or it can be largely pointless. In classical music, keys are used to define structure, add tension in either subtle or obvious ways, and for variation. These ideas appear throughout a music curriculum but are most prominently studied in Musical Form class. Each classical form, such as a fugue, sonata, or minuet, is defined in part by its key changes, and while you might not want to write an allemande, for example, the harmonic ideas within such a piece can still be applied to other genres.

Defining Structure: Writing a verse in one key and the chorus in another helps distinguish the sections from each other. The average listener won’t be consciously aware of it, but it still affects them. Their sense of forward motion and the “You Are Here” feeling are stronger. Without key changes, a song may feel like it meanders. For two alternating sections of music, the most basic approach is derived from chord progressions and involves changing from I to V. In other words, if the verse is in A major (I), write the chorus in E major (V), so that when the verse (I) reappears, a V-I motion occurs. This is discussed in more detail in another article, Structural Chord Progressions.

Adding Tension: When a song remains in one key throughout, it goes nowhere harmonically. By contrast, a song with key changes feels more dynamic. The goal of chord progressions is to return to the home chord (I), which is why all progressions end with it. The goal of key changes is that, once left, the home key is a destination-in-waiting, and the desire for the original key to return adds tension. This is why it is used structurally, too. Another option is to surprise the listener with a more audible/noticeable key change. They may not understand what happened, but the jarring or colorful change adds drama. This is also discussed in Structural Chord Progressions.

Variation: Presenting the music in different keys makes it sound different because keys don’t sound the same. Switching between two major keys, or two minor ones, works easily, but going from major to minor (or vice versa) often works well, too. Which key depends on an understanding of related keys and how to use a progression to change keys, and personal preference. For example, from E major, some obvious options are E minor, B major, A major or minor, and C# minor. Each has structural implications, and knowing how to return to E major later brings things to a resounding close.

Every key falls on the guitar differently, opening up some possibilities and closing others. Adapting your theme to fit can cause subtle changes in how it sounds (this is especially true of riffs). Working in different keys also changes your thinking, keeping your perspective and your playing fresh.

Writing Multiple Parts

Guitarists enjoy cleverly written guitar parts, especially when there’s more than one at a time. Whether dual leads or layered rhythm guitars, writing such parts is much easier when you’re very familiar with the internal structure of chords and have studied counterpoint. Both subjects are taught intensely in a music curriculum.

“Part writing” in Music Theory class will make it clear that you can change chords simply by changing one pitch, not moving all of them. If you’re holding A, F, D (a D minor chord in 2nd inversion), you can drop the D to a C to create an F major chord (A, F, C) in 1st inversion. This might not sound like much, and as a single guitar part, it may not be enough change, but if this is an additional guitar part, such simple motions can make great secondary writing. If it’s a 3rd or even 4th guitar, the resulting sound can be rich, like this three-guitar and one bass example from my acoustic piece, “The Joys of Spring”. It works with distortion, too, not just acoustic guitars.

 

Another version of multi-part writing is having several distinct lines in addition to the rhythm guitar’s chords. This short clip from my song “Epic” demonstrates this with 5 guitar parts that enter one by one: the main riff, chords, a melody that becomes an ostinato, double-stops, the high E string, and finally a solo. This sort of writing is difficult without some training.

 

Dual or harmony lead guitar is much easier to understand as well. Classes in Music Theory, Counterpoint and Musical Form, with all the analysis and four-part writing, will make writing only two parts pretty easy by comparison. Playing a melody in strict 3rds is effortless, and writing two different melodies that work together (counterpoint), even over riffs that have melodies, too, is also more straightforward. Listen to this clip from my song “Journeys”, where two call-and-answer leads work over the riff melody.

 

Easier Writing of Lead Guitar

A classical guitar degree will have you knowing the notes below the 9th fret fluently, and this can (but may not) help you play better lead guitar lines. For it to help, you must be able to think about what you’re doing instead of playing by rote. This means abandoning the more common way of navigating the guitar neck for the second and more thoughtful way.

The more common approach among untrained musicians is to use scale patterns, chord shapes, and memorized fingerings to find your way. This helps players go everywhere on the neck, play the same thing in many keys just by moving the hand around, and compensates for unfamiliarity with the pitches. This is how most guitarists learn to play because we’re in it for fun at first. Why waste your time learning all those notes when there’s a shortcut? Because this can come back to haunt you later – as a crutch that prevents you from thinking about what you’re doing.

The second way is to navigate via the notes on the neck. Non-guitarists might be surprised to discover this isn’t how people do it, but old habits die-hard. Once you know the fingerings in E minor, it’s hard to ignore them and focus on which notes you’re holding, but there are reasons to change. Every pitch has a melodic and harmonic relationship to the root of the key (E in this case) and the other notes. For example:

You should be able to think, “I’ll play a D# because it’s the altered 7th of E minor, and it resolves up by step to the root if it’s in the outer voice, and it’s the major 3rd of the V chord in a V-I progression, which is what the riffs are doing in background. I’m on B major (V) now, and the next chord is E minor, so my next note should be E, even if only briefly. Maybe I’ll quickly move up to a G to emphasize the minor tonality of the key. Or maybe I’ll play a G#, making it sound like I’m in E major instead, though this will only work if the riff isn’t playing a G natural. Since the chord is an E5 voicing of E and B, though, it will work.” If all of this isn’t in the back (or front) of your mind before your finger lands on that D#, you are not playing by the notes on the neck.

It is not enough to be able to figure out what note you are playing at a given moment. You must have placed your finger at that spot because of its letter name and all the associated relevancies, but this won’t happen automatically even after a degree unless you change your thinking (how to do so is a subject for another article). Even so, this multitude of knowledge about what could be done with pitches, if utilized, will make you a far more melodic and powerful lead player.

Coda

A traditional four-year degree in classical guitar, or another music specialty, is extremely valuable to longevity, versatility, and overall effectiveness as a musician. This is true even for rock guitarists, but only if you are able to apply it to the rock genre. This requires some thought and ingenuity, and many of these subjects will be discussed in further detail in other articles. The techniques can be seen in virtually all of the music I write, some of which is available as a free download. The annotated tablature shows progressions, key changes, and variations, and comes with an explanation.  A Far Cry and download a separate PDF of the notes.

Be sure to read Part 1.

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

0 comments

Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a rock player, classical player, and composer, and what you can do with the degree and knowledge after.

Since I did not attend schools like the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) or Berkelee, no comparison is being made here, but this does not reflect a bias.

My Background

My pre-college experience with rock guitar was typical in that I generally ignored theory. Even when taught to me, I had little use for it and quickly forgot it. Then I took some courses at the local junior college and found it interesting, but as a budding classical musician, not a rocker. It still seemed largely useless except modes and progressions.

After two years of classes, I finally succeeded in merging classical theory into my rock playing. This means embedding progressions, structural elements and key changes, theme and variation, and two and three-part writing (on a single guitar). It also made it much easier to write melodies and solos, and to achieve what I wanted. I was suddenly a much better guitarist and composer. Two years later I graduated with a Bachelors of Music in classical guitar, Magna Cum Laude.

Colleges: Junior Vs. Full
English: Music theory circle of fifths diagram

English: Music theory circle of fifths diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Junior (or two-year) colleges are a good alternative to full four-year universities, for several reasons. They cost less, for one, but such schools are full of people who aren’t sure if the path they are pursuing is right for them. This makes it easier to change your mind and major. You can change specialties within the music curriculum or drop music altogether with less red tape. You don’t even have to follow the curriculum in order and can pick and choose courses, such as pursuing music theory but not ear training. Of course, if you become serious later, you will have some making up to do, but at least you can explore without committing. At some schools, you can even take music courses without being a music major. An audition may not be required, either.

At a four-year university, music teachers generally assume you are preparing for a future as a professional musician. There is more pressure and strict adherence to requirements. The caliber of musicians around you will be higher, but don’t assume the other students know so much more than you. Many know little about chord theory, modes, key changes, musical form, counterpoint, music history, and orchestration. Sure, there’s always that “violinist since age three guy”, but many started as teenagers and are as casual about it as you. This won’t be true at Juilliard, but the average school has average musicians, too. Don’t be intimidated. Remember, the whole point is to get educated. If they already know so much, why would they be there?

Prerequisites for Admission to Music College

This changes depending on the college, but four-year schools generally require an audition on your instrument regardless of what your major is (guitar, composition, music education, etc.) because they still want to know how good a musician you are. This is a stumbling block for rock guitarists, since a frequent requirement is to play three classical guitar pieces, one from each of the romantic, classical, and modern eras. You can’t go in there and play “Eruption”. One way around this is to start at a junior college, where an audition is often not required.

There is no prerequisite for reading music, so you can still be admitted if you can’t read at all. You’ll learn to read fluently during the constant music theory exercises and classes such as chorus, ear training, and your private guitar lessons, which provide no escape from the treble and bass clefs. With time, your ability to manipulate pitches will soar astronomically as a result.

During guitar lessons, you may have to memorize the music phrase by phrase. I did this for a long time and only used sheet music as a reminder of where I was in the piece. Your teacher will not expect you to simply start playing music put in front of you, even after 4 years. It’s just not realistic for most, though you will get faster. Guitar music is more challenging because the same notes can be played in different places, so you generally have to figure out what chord you’re going to be holding at every moment (the music does not have chord charts on it), which is one reason your instructor exists. Remember, you are there to learn, not to pretend you already know.

No knowledge of music theory or even the genre is assumed, and schools generally teach you from the ground up, from what a major chord is to who Beethoven was and where he fits in history.

Typical Curriculum

It can be safely said that the music curriculum neatly divides itself into the first two years and the last two years. One reason for this is that there are typically two years (four semesters) of music theory and ear training, which are basic courses along with class piano. You also have your private lesson (guitar) and large ensemble (chorus). The last two years are the more interesting and complicated courses: counterpoint, musical form, conducting, music history, and orchestration (guitar and chorus continuing). These are not the same everywhere, so check with the school.

Deutsch:

Deutsch: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Music Theory is a general term that lumps together many subjects but is all the nuts and bolts of notes. It explains and demonstrates key signatures, time signatures, scales (and alternate versions called modes), intervals, chords, keys, modulation (key changes), music notation, and how to write simple two, three, and four-part harmony. It starts simple and continuously builds on its own knowledge. It is typically four semesters long and the first one can feel the most difficult not just because you’re starting, but because there’s more memorization and less practical “hands-on” application. In my experience, the second, third, and fourth semesters were more similar to each other, with increasingly complicated chords and key changes.

Ear Training and Sight Singing is the most feared course ever invented and goes on for four semesters. Welcome to your own personal “American Idol” experience. This course goes in parallel to music theory partly because as you learn about something in theory, you are now trained to recognize what it sounds like. The teacher will perform things on the piano, such as a scale, mode, interval, chord, melody, rhythm, or phrase of chords, and you’re expected to write down what it was accurately (after hearing it maybe three times). That’s the easy part. What frightens everyone is that you have to demonstrate that you know what a melody on paper sounds like by singing it from your desk while everyone listens. Don’t worry, you normally get to practice as much as two-dozen melodies outside of class. The saving grace here is that everyone is as petrified as you, and this is how freshmen music students bond. Misery loves company. To practice, it is advisable to work with a piano, which is one reason you’re taking class piano.

Class Piano is usually required because it’s expected that all music professionals will have at least a passing familiarity with how to play a piano. It can be one or two years. You are generally in a room full of other players, each with your own electric piano that you can’t hear unless you put on the headphones. You won’t be expected to play great piano music, but if you think that’s a relief, consider this: you’ll probably end up playing stuff like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” harmonized with a couple chords. If you find this as horrible as I did, you may opt for private piano lessons, which while harder on the hands, is kinder on your soul. You’ll need permission, however, and possibly an audition. You may also have to face a performance “jury” as described below.

Playing guitar

Playing guitar (Photo credit: hugochisholm)

Guitar is the heart of your degree, so you’ll have an hour-long private lesson with your classical guitar teacher for four years. You’ll learn technique, exercises, etudes, and representative pieces of the classical guitar repertoire from the 16th-century to today. It gets harder and more demanding as you progress. At the end of each semester, you’ll face a “jury”: three faculty members who have a list of what pieces and exercises you are prepared to play. For ten minutes, they can make you play anything off the list. There are other performance requirements, such as a solo junior recital (30 minutes), a solo senior recital (60 minutes), and a small ensemble performance (such as a four movements sonata with at least one other performer). One of the greatest advantages here is that you will learn the notes on the guitar neck, at least below the ninth fret, fluently.

Chorus (Large Ensemble): As a guitarist, for your large ensemble requirement, you will be thrown into the college chorus for four years because the orchestra doesn’t have a place for you. The college chorus is made up of voice majors, theater majors, and “the others”: people who either don’t play an orchestral instrument well enough to be in the orchestra, or whose instrument won’t be in the orchestra very often (such as a harpist or even piano majors). Through practice, it is relatively easy to sing even complicated music at the same time as a group. The voice teachers seldom single out “the others” to sing alone. They know who you are and have some mercy, but they do expect to see you trying and gradually succeeding.

Variacija1

Variacija1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Counterpoint is two or more independent melodies and is often two different semesters: vocal or 16th-century counterpoint, which is different from instrumental or 18th-century counterpoint. You may only have to take the latter, which is more relevant. The four-part writing you did in music theory helped prepare you for this. There are rules for how the “voices” can move, and it gets harder as you reach three and four-part counterpoint. You will likely have to write things like a canon, invention, or fugue, though they only have to be technically correct, not musically enjoyable. Of great importance here is learning to spot variations on the theme through analysis of written music. If you’re a composer, seeing how the greats did this will greatly augment your ability to create more material out of your original idea. This is one of the most valuable things to gain from a music degree.

Musical Form explains the internal structure of all those things you’ve heard about: canon, fugue, sonata, symphony, and so on. These are larger scale structures that are made up of many smaller forms, all the way down to the phrase. Naturally, you start learning the simple ones and work your way up. These structures are defined by chord progressions, key changes, and variations. The elements of these structures can be used in rock music without the musical form itself, and can be extremely useful.

Conducting will give you an appreciation of the conductor’s job in training an orchestra to perform to his interpretation, but won’t help you much.

Music History is condensed into two semesters for an overview and frame of reference for everything you’re learning. You’ll listen to a lot of music so you understand what music of various periods sounds like. This is less technical, and on the level of personal enrichment, is possibly the most rewarding course. Now when you hear a snippet of classical music somewhere, you know it sounded like a Beethoven symphony, and what the significance of that music is, not to mention that if you wanted to hear the whole thing, you at least stand a prayer of finding a CD of it.

Orchestration will certainly challenge your reading ability. There are at least twelve staffs and three clefs, plus transposing instruments (the note on the page might say C, but it’s really a B flat). You’ll learn the instrument ranges and how to orchestrate for each group (strings, woodwinds, brass) and combine them. This may help not your rock music, except for seeing how material can be spread across multiple instruments, but will change the way you hear symphonies. You may have to orchestrate something and get to hear the school orchestra play it. You may even get to conduct it yourself.

A Better Rocker?
Music Theory Notes-e4

Music Theory Notes-e4

For a rock guitarist, there are so many benefits to a music degree that this section became a second article titled Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2. This is a second major focal point aside from the content of a typical music degree. These benefits in the next article include:

  •   Knowing how to write variations
  •   Effective use of keys
  •   Writing multiple parts, including dual leads and harmony more easily
  •   More sophisticated arranging of guitar parts
  •   Being able to create much more emotional, complicated, or sophisticated music
  •   Significantly easier writing of lead guitar that is more melodic and does what you want it to
After College

Some think that the only point of a degree it to later get a job, especially in that field. While this is true in the practical sense, you are an artist, too, and if you never hold a music related day job again, you can still benefit enormously from your training. How many other fields can claim that?

Still, possible jobs include composing, arranging (orchestration), performing paid gigs (such as weddings), and teaching private lessons. To teach at any formal institution such as high school or college, you’ll need a music education degree instead of a classical guitar one. If you want to teach college level courses, you’ll need a master’s degree and probably a doctorate, but positions are rare due to the tenure of existing music professors. Many working musicians hold multiple jobs and have little job security, so if this isn’t for you, what then?

That’s where working in another field comes in, a prospect that leads many to snidely claim a music degree is useless, but this is nonsense. For starters, a degree is a degree. You’ve still proven to prospective employers that you’re mature enough to see it through. Don’t discount this. It’s important. Do you think people go to college just to have specified knowledge? They don’t. Many people change careers several times throughout their lives and don’t have a degree in the field in which they are now working. The fact that you’ve got a degree can be actually more important than what the degree is in, and if nothing else in college appeals to you, a music degree is far better than no degree at all.

Coda

People like to make fun of music degrees, but at the risk of being ridiculed, I’m very proud of my degree, my experience, my musical knowledge, my understanding of a truly specialized field that few understand (which makes me feel quite privileged and lucky), and most importantly, that I am able to do one of my most cherished things in my life so much better than before. I was always surprised when other music students complained about their music classes when I took more music courses than required. Maybe I’m just a geek (yes, I did do the extra credit stuff), but I thought the details of music were fascinating. I had always been an average student, but my love of music made me graduate with honors. And yes, it is an honor, one that I wear on my sleeve, thank you very much.

Be sure to read Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2.

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

0 comments

Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

0 comments

Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

I always prefer to write a new guitar lick instead of using a standard one, but since anyone can throw in a bunch of notes that don’t sound good, how do you write something fast, impressive (they must always be that, of course), and musical? Through experience, I’ve developed an approach. To do this, you’ll need a song with which to play along, with a drumbeat.

For starters, it’s important to write to the music. It’s easy to write a lick that sounds good out of context, but then you play it over a song and it doesn’t quite fit. It’s too long or too short. The rhythmic groupings are off. The pitches just don’t sing. All of the above. Maybe breaking it down would help.

Step 1: Identify the core pitches of your new guitar lick. While the recording plays, slowly play lead guitar and identify two or three notes that seem to ring out well over the chord(s). Chord tones are a good starting place, so if the chord (or key) is E Major, try Es, G#s, and Bs. Try different registers to find notes that really sing.

Step 2: Identify the note grouping/rhythm. Will it be a three or four note grouping (or six or eight by extension)? Let the recorder play while you hold down one note, striking it at the speed you want your new guitar lick to be. I generally start at my top speed and work my way down, and I sometimes alternate between two pitches to help identify the grouping. You may have to stop the recorder and slow down what you’re playing to figure out what the grouping is. Let’s say you’ve realized it’s a six-note grouping.

Step 3: Invent possible patterns. With the recorder off, write some six-note patterns using mostly those three pitches. Here are some examples I tried over one of my songs.

WritingGuitarLicks1

Step 4: Improvise. When you’re ready, it’s time to improvise along with the music. This time, you have an advantage. The pitches work and the grouping fits. You just have to decide on the pattern(s), which might take time but is more fun now that it’s less frustrating. You’ll have to decide how many times to repeat the pattern(s) and how to break it near the end.

Step 5: Add some melody at the end. Part of what makes most guitar licks work is the ending, which is often a melody that’s a departure from the guitar lick itself. These little melodic snippets bring the guitar lick home. See the example below, from my song “Motif Operandi” from my CD, The Firebard. As I wrote the descending guitar lick (a three note pattern), I thought it was going well but seemed to dribble off into nothing, so I wasn’t going to keep it. Then I improvised the last four climbing notes and the whole thing worked. Many times it seems like a guitar lick is almost cool, but not quite. You have to end it well.

WritingGuitarLicks2

Coda

Even if you don’t want a stationary guitar lick, but one that moves (or a scale), the same techniques can get you started. Best of luck, and may your fingers fly true.

Interval Riffs, Part 1: Basics

Many guitarists use chords for rhythm guitar without considering another option: intervals. While a chord is three (or more) notes, an interval is only two. This might seem a trivial difference, but using just part of a chord lets you play intervals for specific reasons, and using only two fingers creates other more advanced possibilities. […]

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Interval Riffs, Part 2: Ornamentation

In a previous article, Interval Riff Basics, we looked at and heard examples of using only two notes, or intervals, for rhythm guitar parts. The two main intervals are fifth and thirds, with the latter adding more variety and color to your riffs. Now we’ll look at ornamenting these two basic sounds with melody fragments. […]

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Interval Riffs, Part 3: Simple Counterpoint

Counterpoint is defined as two or more simultaneous melodies that maintain their independence while still forming a harmonic relationship. A single instrument like classical guitar can perform counterpoint with three or four lines seeming like a single part. However, rock guitarists seldom do this for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean it can’t […]

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Structural Chord Progressions

A good way to make songs more powerful and structurally sound is to use chord progressions not only within sections, but also across them. This creates a harmonic relationship between sections and adds to the sense of forward motion, tension and resolution, and overall strength. A change of section can feel more logical and expected, […]

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Writing Guitar Licks

I always prefer to write a new guitar lick instead of using a standard one, but since anyone can throw in a bunch of notes that don’t sound good, how do you write something fast, impressive (they must always be that, of course), and musical? Through experience, I’ve developed an approach. To do this, you’ll […]

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