Lead Guitar Phrasing – Part 3 – Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

Welcome to Part 3 in our series on Lead Guitar Phrasing.  The subject of today’s study is the Mark Knopfler‘s playing on Brothers In Arms.  First, here’s the track:

So here are 5 key points we can take from this, to apply to our own Phrasing when soloing:

1) Leaving Space.  
We’ve discussed leaving spaces between phrases before, and referenced Miles Davis’ quote “It’s the notes you don’t play”.  However, on this track, and many others, Mark Knopfler takes this concept from a necessary technique to an art form.  During these spaces in the verses is arguably when his Guitar carries most weight and power, as when listening to the song, you can feel yourself urging and pre-empting the Guitar’s re-entry.  This combined with the Guitar being “high in the mix” (ie. noticeably louder than the other instruments), and a collection of concise, sparse and perfectly executed fills, makes for a brilliantly evocative Guitar part.

2) Minimalism 
This is a selection of short and medium length fills, there are no long fills at all.  This is an effective, controlled approach.  Rather like how you might stop listening to someone who’s been going on and on for 10 minutes, but take serious note when a silent type finally speaks up.  On a couple of occasions, there is no fill at all, and once the first verse, there’s a fill of just one note.  Even in the solos, there is absolutely no playing to excess whatsoever.  If you told any guitarist to solo over the Brothers In Arms Backing Track, you can be sure they wouldn’t play so little, or be anywhere near as effective, unless they’d already learned this lesson

3) Volume Swells 
Knopfler’s volume pedal is a big part of his sound.  Essentially a volume pedal is a foot pedal which sweeps from silent to full volume, and you can create similar effects using the volume knob on your guitar.  Using this he creates violin-like swells, notes that creep and fade in and out.  Essentially he’s hereby deepening the use and potential of dynamics in his playing.  Try it out with whatever you have at your disposal!

4) Pushing 
Pushing is coming in just before the beat, usually a quaver (or 8th note) before.  Knopfler does this a lot, coming in early with something emphatic, that sounds momentarily out of place, then soars as the music falls into place around his guitar part.  This adds expression, dynamics and the illusion of pace, and is exemplified by the solo-opening bend at 4:13

5) Fingerstyle 
The central, best-known aspect of Mark Knopfler’s technique is the fact that he nearly always plays with his fingers, rather than a plectrum.  Whilst this arguably has more influence over his rhythm playing, it does affect his lead playing in one major way.  The scope and range of expression provided by the fingers is much wider than with a pick.  This range extends at one end of the spectrum to a hard, plucked twang, and at the other to the lightest, feather-touch flick of the strings.  In general, there’s a soft, rounded quality to his tone that comes from his fingerstyle soloing.  Try it out!

Coming soon, the 4th and final (for now) part in this series.

Happy Knopfler-ing!

– Alex

Piano Lessons London

Guitar Lessons London

Advertisements

Lead Guitar Phrasing Study – Part 2 – All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix

Welcome to part 2 in Bruce Music‘s series on Lead Guitar Phrasing.  View Part 1 here.

Today’s  Jimi Hendrix’s innovative, brilliant cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”

So what can we learn from Jimi’s lead guitar phrasing on this recording, and how can we apply it to our own playing to incorporate better phrasing when playing, composing or improvising our solos?

– “On Edge” 
Like a large amount of Jimi’s playing, the phrasing and timing is “on edge”.  Right as your ear starts to detect his rhythm becoming loose, he nails an intricate phrase, ending squarely on beat 1 of the next bar, and right as you feel a phrase has gone off track, he twists it into an unusual resolution, making you realise he knew where he was going all along.  This is one of the central, magical principles of Jimi’s soloing, and what gives it such a soaring, but mellow freedom.  When you see live footage, he often gives the impression of just mindlessly stabbing and thrashing at the strings without a second thought, but what’s coming out is some of the most innovative and creative lead playing we’ve ever seen.  So what we can take from this is that the combination of security in your technique and fretboard knowledge, with a relaxed, free style, will take you a long way.  Essentially, it’s knowing your stuff whilst appearing too cool for school!

– 1.5 Tone Bends 
In the intro and the solos, Jimi’s using some 1.5 tone (ie. one and a half tones, or 3 fret) bends.  These are very expressive, as it’s even more of a climb and a stretch for the note being bent, and also very distinctive, as we’re so used to hearing 1 tone bends (2 frets).

– Variation 
If you add up the time spent soloing during this track, it’s probably about 90 seconds.  In that time, we’ve got rock and blues licks, a chordal soloing section, a wah-wah section, a slide guitar section, tons of bends and slides, slow fills, fast flurries and an ocatver effect coming on and off at different points.  What you should take from this is the variation that is afforded to you by a knowledge of different styles and techniques, getting to grips with FX pedals, and intertwining rhythm guitar aspects with your lead playing.

– Sustain/”More Time On The Ball”  
Here’s a great article on top sports stars seeming to have more time on the ball.  Jimi Hendrix is the musical equivalent.  His notes are held until the very last possible moment, aided by a practised, full-bodied, vibrato and sustain.  Yet he doesn’t seem or sound rushed.  Sustain your notes as long as possible, and try thinking one phrase ahead.

– Loose Call & Response 
We’ve previously looked at Call & Response and what exactly it is.  If you don’t know what it is, here’s lots of info.

Jimi’s at times using a very loose Call & Response technique, probably down to a natural musicality and love of The Blues.  Occasionally he is answering his own phrases very directly and symmetrically, such as the second phrase in the intro solo being almost a mirror image of the first.  But very often he’s using this very loose variant, almost as if the response is answering a mutation of the call, rather than the direct call itself.  This is how he manages to make his soloing have a very clear and unified style, without being repetitive.  give it a go!

Next Time – How Mark Knopfler plays almost no notes at all!

– Alex

London Guitar Lessons

London Piano Lessons

Lead Guitar Phrasing Study – Part 1 – Bird of Paradise by Snowy White

Welcome to part 1 in our new blog series looking at Lead Guitar Phrasing.  We’ll be studying some of the most beautiful moments in soloing history, from the classic, unforgettables, to the unheard of, obscure gems.

We’re breaking one of our own rules here, as for once, we’re not preaching that “it’s all about the song” – This time it’s all about what we can take from a solo to improve our own playing and phrasing, regardless of our opinion on the song as a whole.

No.1 – “Bird Of Paradise” by Snowy White.

We’re focusing here on solo. 1 at 1:57

This is something of a paradigm of phrasing and soloing for aspiring guitarists.  Below is a list of why that might be, and thus what we can take from it to apply to, and improve, our own playing.

– Dramatic entry and exit.  
The solo crashes in with a wailing bend with strong vibrato, and exits with an expressive phrase landing on the key centre of D.  These are powerful musical bookends.

– Building Throughout
The comedian Louis CK says that when writing and developing a new stand up show, he’ll take his finale, and make it the opening of his routine, so he’s forced to make the show grow from what was previously its peak, and raise the level of the whole act.  We can do a similar thing with our Guitar solos, whether composed or improvised.  Start strongly, and force yourself to build.

– Leaving Space
It might sound silly to say “You don’t have to play constantly” – But, you really don’t!  In fact, it’s much better if you don’t.  The analogy here is language, the use of full stops, commas, and the necessary drawing of breath.  Guitar wise, it’s impossible to create something memorable, singable or catchy without leaving spaces between phrases, ie. “PHRASING” your solo!  “It’s the notes you don’t play” has been attributed to Miles Davis and is often referenced in relation to Eric Clapton, and is seen in action here in this solo.  This solo is “singable” – it has all the melody of a great vocal line, but with all the additional expression that Guitar Techniques can provide.  Leave Gaps!

– Classic, with unusual twists
On first listen, this solo sounds like a particularly good bit of fairly common Pentatonic/Minor/Blues playing.  There’s one major difference, one big factor which makes the solo stand out, a little more difficult to transcribe, and extra-specially beautiful.  The point is, every phrase in this solo is so close to being a standard, well-played Rock/Blues lick, but with a twist.  With just the smallest amount of string-skipping, or root-note avoiding, or landing on an unusual note, the solo is transformed into one that really stands out.  So test yourself!  – Improvise over a backing track and ban yourself from ending a phrase on the root note, play all your usual licks but with one note different, ban all full tone bends, etc etc.  There’s only one way to get out of a rut!  (And get into a slightly more melodic rut!  Still, at least you have 2 ruts to choose

Coming up later in this blog series:  Hendrix – Over or Under Rated?  Mark Knopfler – Could anybody play any less?  And many more!

Thanks for reading and good luck!

-Alex

Bruce Music – Guitar Lessons In London

Bruce Music – Piano Lessons in London

How To Learn A Song By Ear

All over the internet there are sites full of tabs, chord charts and video tutorials on how to play just about any song.  So the idea of learning a song “by ear” ie. listening to it and figuring out how to play it, poses 2 questions in this day and age.  Why? And How?

1) Why? 

  • The majority of tabs/chord charts and even a good percentage of video tutorials are incorrect.  Some only by a couple of notes, yes, but in others you’d be hard pushed to find a couple of notes that are correct.  There are tabs out there of songs in the wrong key, or full of wrong chords played in unhelpful shapes and positions.  I’ve even seen some that bear little or no resemblance to the song they’re supposed to be.  There are lots of great, trusted guitarists and educators out there doing brilliant video tutorials, (search for Guthrie Govan, or Justin Sandercoe), but the vast majority should not necessarily be trusted with your development as a guitarist.
  • Aural/Musicianship.  Training your ear is really important, especially for performing live, improvisation, teaching or a career in music.  What you’re doing is developing the ability to hear in your head what something you do on the guitar sounds like.  So when you’re improvising, you can create melodies your ear feels should happen next, rather than something with a sense of randomness, based on scale shapes.  As a teacher, I know how to play a great number of songs but, logistically, given the number of songs in existence, the number i don’t know is almost infinitely bigger.  So if a student comes to me wanting to learn a certain song that I haven’t previously learned, I need to be able to work out how to play that song on the spot.  I can do that, and that’s down to practice.  If you’re in a band, and you hear a certain melody or line come from your singer or bassist that you want to echo or imitate, an aural understanding will enable you to do so.  Never ever underestimate how important developing your musical ear can be!

2)How?

  • Use The Information You Have  – What this means is, try not to guess blindly, try to use what you already know.  Say the song you’re learning is in the key of C Major.  You hear it go to a minor chord, what might it be?  Remember its relative minor is A minor, so an A minor chord is very possible.  What other minor chords might it be?  etc etc.  Does the next chord sound like an open chord or a barre chord?  Does it sound heavy and full like an open E major? Thinner and higher like an open D minor?  Then you hear a heavy riff come crashing in, if it’s a rock song it’s probably derived from the pentatonic scale, so start there.  And so on.  Starting to learn about music theory, chord formation and keys will help all this no end, as you’ll become aware of “packs” of chords that tend to usually come together, for example it is so much more likely that a C Major chord will be followed by a G major than an A major.  Head to our series on Music Theory to start discovering why.
  • Remember What You Learn From The Process – Is there a certain type of chord change that always catches you out?  Make sure you recognise that the next time it comes up.  What was the “breakthrough moment” in working out that song?  How did that come about?  Apply that in future.  Do you find it easier going over and over the verse section for 5 minutes repeating it and gradually uncovering it?  Or just all the way through the song in one go a few times?  This whole process is about momentum, narrowing down your options and gradually uncovering the harmony of the song.  The more you take from it, the quicker you’ll get the next one. 
  • Keep Style In Mind – You’re working out a blues solo, so look out for the moment it feels most bluesy and add your blues scale notes to your pentatonic.  Sad song?  Focus on minor chords.  Does it sound like every chord in the pattern shares a note, ringing out over the top?  Chances are it’s an open string, the e or b.  Heavy Rock?  Try powerchords, not jazzy inversions!  It’s all common sense really, but these are all applied ways of thinking that can help you quickly narrow down what might at first seem like a vast spectrum of chords and notes.

When you’re done, you’ll be accurate, satisfied, and a little further down the road to guitar hero status!  Good luck!

-Alex
-Guitar Lessons London

Lead Guitar Improvisation – Part 4

This is the 4th and final part in Bruce Music‘s Improvisation mini-series.  It’s about Listening.  

“‎Listening is the key to everything good in music”
– Pat Metheny

Listening is a huge part of your improvising process as a Guitarist.  Listening to recorded and live music, and listening to the rest of your band while you play.  Here’s how to use your listening skills to your advantage as an improviser.

1) Copying phrases by ear.
Listen to your favourite guitarists’ solos and try to repeat some phrases by ear.  There are two benefits to this.  One, you’ll improve your musical ear and soon be able to do learn songs quite quickly by ear, especially as you get more familiar with all the chord and scale patterns and shapes most commonly used.  And two, you can apply the skills learned to real life improvisation, as described in the next point.

2) Responding to your band.
This can be very subtle or very obvious.  Your Bass player just played a certain run of notes from a pentatonic scale.  Your listening and aural skills can allow you to respond by playing the same run yourself, or even a response or “answer” to it.  You hear your Drummer placing cymbal hits on a certain beat in every bar.  You can then adapt your playing to suit this.  Strumming more emphatically on this beat, or resting and playing nothing.  Whatever it may be, if you listen and keep conscious of the other musicians, you can compliment and adapt to their playing

3) Apply rules when jamming.
If you’re jamming with a friend or your band,  trading rhythm and lead every so often, you should determine that you will switch after a certain number of bars, or certain number of times around the chord pattern.  This is great practice at soloing while keeping the awareness of what else is going on.  It teaches you a stronger rhythmic feel, and an instinct for how different sections of a cycle “feel”.

4) Recognising styles/patterns
An extension of point 2 is recognising wider things, as a whole, when playing with a band.  If you’ve made yourself get used to certain familiar chord progressions, time signatures, styles etc. you’ll be able to recognise increasing numbers of things about the music your band’s playing.  You might not yet be able to recognise instantly what the specific chord progression is, but you should find things like, you can recognise major or minor chords, a rough idea of the beat, what style the music is in, and find the key you should be in.  You’ll be ready to go a lot quicker than had you not practised listening skills.

Other parts in the Improvisation series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Thanks for reading.

-Alex

Lead Guitar Improvisation – Part 3

Welcome to part 3 of our mini-series on improvisation.  Today’s post is 5 tips to improve your improvising ability and practice methods.

1)  Don’t just use instrumental backing tracks designed for soloing practice, use backing tracks of songs as well where possible, to practise soloing in context.

2) Record some of your improvisation sessions and listen back later.  What are you doing well? Where are you going wrong?  Pause at any nice phrases, figure out what they are and add them to your bag of tricks.

3) Practise switching back and forth between rhythm and lead during improvisation practice.  This works on your timing, listening awareness and gives you a chance to practise some experimental, improvised rhythm guitar playing too.

4) Practise the discipline of giving your phrases definite endings, so they don’t become one long ramble.  It’s especially good to consider ending each phrase on a targeted note (ie.  one that occurs in, or fits well with the chord happening underneath at the same moment)

5) There’s a “good” note on either side of every “bad” note.  (ie.  If a note on the 7th fret does not fit with the music, the notes on both the 6th and 8th frets will).  This knowledge gives you 2 opportunities.

Firstly – You can use it to never be lost when improvising in an unfamiliar area of the neck.  After a few bad notes you will have discovered enough good ones for a whole solo

Secondly – For added flair, and to avoid that period of having to play bad notes to find good ones, when you land on a note that doesn’t fit, just quickly slide or bend up to the note above that you know will fit.

Part 4 in our Improv series to come early next week.

-Alex

Lead Guitar Improvisation – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of Bruce Music‘s mini series on improvisation.  (Click here for part 1)

Today’s topic is Improvisation Exercises.  The exercises are designed to stop you getting stuck in a rut with your playing.  (Or help you out of a rut you’re already in!)  They’re also good for general practice, and you should learn lots along the way.

1) Improvise over the same chord progression, in different styles
This ensures the style you’re best at doesn’t take over, which is a very common bad habit when you’re improvising.  If you have recording software/a loop pedal/a willing friend, then record/have your friend play a chord progression in a funk style, while you improvise.  Then transfer the same progression to a jazz style for a little while, then rock, then country, and so on.  This approach forces you to consider the style you’re playing in.  You’re less likely to be repeating your soloing phrases because the chords have stayed the same, so the stylistic difference becomes more apparent. 

2) Restrict Yourself  
If you feel like your phrasing is becoming repetitive or stale, apply a restriction.  Only the first 5 frets, only the top 2 strings, even down to only using 3 or 4 notes.  This forces you to use all your techniques, expression and creativity to get the most out of what you have at your disposal.  It sounds like it should make your playing even more repetitive, but you’ll be surprised what you can come up with.  Better still, when you lift the restriction, the whole fretboard will seem full of even more possibilities than before.

3) Play Like Someone Else  
For example:  Take a blues/rock backing track and improvise over it 5 times.  The first time you’re Jimmy Page, the second Jimi Hendrix, the third Slash, the fourth Dave Gilmour and the fifth Eric Clapton.  (Examples only, of course you should change up your list and include your favourites.)
play as if you are the guitarist you have in mind, their style, their approach, their attitude.  You’ll get to grips with their different styles and learn all sorts of new things to add to your own soloing repertoire.
A twist on this is to make the guitarists you’re copying ones from a completely different style to the backing track.  How would they respond to a different style and how would they play?

4) Play In An Unfamiliar Position  
If you know your fretboard inside out, then great.  The chances are though that there’ll be somewhere on the neck that you’re not very comfortable improvising.  (Especially if you’re in an ‘unusual key’ ie. not E, A, etc)
This is a chance to use that unfamiliarity to your advantage.
You are now improvising in the truest sense.  Your bank of phrases and licks is gone and your ear is guiding you.  Play confidently and without worrying about mistakes and you’ll discover new licks, avoiding familiar scale patterns and improve your ear.  All the while gradually getting to grips with another area of the fretboard.

More to come in Part 3 later in the week.

Want Improvisation help in person?  Guitar Lessons In London

-Alex