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

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Music Theory Part 4 – Relative Major/Minor Scales

Welcome to part 4 in our series on Music Theory.  So far we’ve covered tones and semitones, the major scale and the minor scale.
Today’s post is about relative major and minor scales.

This is a way of grouping scales in pairs of one major and one minor.  Thus we’re left with a pairing of a major scale and its relative minor, or a minor scale and its relative major.  (Depending on which way you look at it, ie. the 2 scales are relatives of each other)

  • To find a major’s relative minor, go to the 6th step of that major scale.  (Which also happens to be the note 3 semitones down from your major root).
  • To find a minor’s relative major. go the the 3rd step of that minor scale.  (Which also happens to be the note 3 semitones up from your minor root)

eg.1 Starting from C Major to find its relative minor : 

I        II        III        IV        V        VI        VII
C       D        E         F         G        A         B

So C major’s relative minor is A minor,  and equally therefore A minor’s relative major is C major, as we’ll see below.

eg.2 Starting from A minor to find its relative major :

I        II        III        IV        V        VI       VII
B        C         D        E        F         G

So A minor’s relative major is C major, and equally therefore C major’s relative minor is A minor, as we’ve already discovered.

So what we’re left with is the following system of pairings, shown in the table below:

Relative Major                                          Relative Minor

C                                                                A
C#/Db                                                        A#/Bb
D                                                                B
D#/Eb                                                        C
E                                                                C#/Db
F                                                                D
F#/Gb                                                        D#/Eb
G                                                               E
G#/Ab                                                        F
A                                                                F#/Gb
A#/Bb                                                        G
B                                                                G#/Ab

Whether you learn this systematically like times tables, or let it assimilate naturally as you gradually learn and improve, or just rely on working a relative out on the spot by moving up or down the right number of semitones or scale steps, doesn’t really matter.  What’s important is that you understand the core of this :

  • Scales are grouped in pairs of one major and one minor
  • The two in each pairing are said to be “relatives” of each other
  • To find a relative minor, go to step 6 of the major scale, or down 3 semitones
  • To find a relative major, go to step 3 of the minor scale, or up 3 semitones

Finally on this subject, let’s just touch on what exactly makes the relatives related, and why that might be useful to us, taking the pairing of C major and A minor as an example again.

C major scale – C  D  E  F  G  A  B

A minor scale – A  B  C  D  E  F  G

The notes in the two scales are the same.  The A minor scale is essentially the C major scale, but starting on A.  Equally, the C major scale is the A minor scale, starting from C.

So all that differentiates between something being “in” C major or being “in” A minor, is whether it is “C” or “A” that is perceived to be the “root” or “tonic”.  A song may have a very minor, sad feel, with heavy emphasis on an A minor chord, so you’d say that is in A minor, rather than C major.  And vice versa.

What’s important to understand, as it’s something that keeps coming up in the study of music theory, is that these two things are just different versions of the same thing.

If you have any questions,  find our teachers on twitter and ask away!

Next time, building chords and understanding “keys”

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Music Theory Part 3 – The Natural/Relative Minor Scale

Welcome to part 3 in Bruce Music‘s series on Music Theory.  This time we’re looking at the Minor scale.  It is sometimes called the Natural Minor Scale (due to there being a couple of altered versions that we’ll look at later) or sometimes the Relative Minor Scale, (due to its close connection with the Major scale.)  More on this to come, but for now let’s look at how to build a minor scale.

Just as we used a certain formula of Tones and Semitones to build the Major Scale (In Part 2), there is another formula we can apply to build a Minor scale.  It is:

T     S     T     T     S     T     T

ie, for an A minor scale –   A——(T)——B——(S)——C—–(T)—–D—–(T)—–E—–(S)—–F——(T)——G——(T)——A

Thus, we end up with a 7 note scale, with all intervals numbered 1-7, as is marked using roman numerals.

I     II     III     IV     V     VI     VII
A    B    C     D     E      F      G

Next Time – Relative Major/Minor Keys


Music Theory Part 2 – The Major Scale

Welcome to part 2 in our Music Theory series.  If you don’t already know what tones and semitones are then Find part 1 here.

The Major Scale is the foundation of Western music.  All other scales are described in terms of how they differ with it.
It is almost built-in to our brains, being the “doh-ray-mi” scale, and the heart of all nursery rhymes, jingles and ditties.  The number of songs and compositions built upon the Major scale is uncountable, it is the beginning of all music theory.

To build a major scale we begin with a “root note”.  This is the note that gives the scale its name.  For example, the C Major scale begins from the note of C, the G Major scale from G, and so on, without exception.  From this root note, the scale is built by following a certain formula, taking steps of either a tone or a semitone.  So where T = Tone and S = Semitone, the Major scale formula is:
(root note)        T        T       S       T       T       T        S        (root note)

So, in practice, using C major this gives us:


Thus the C Major scale is –  C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

The steps of the scale are numbered, and this is usually using roman numerals.  Although the scale is often written out as above, finishing at the root note at the top of the scale, it is also very often just written as 7 steps, finishing at the note before the repeated root note, in this case B.  So let’s take this, (below) to be our finished C Major scale, and remember we’ve found it by starting from a root note, then following a formula.

I          II          III          IV          V          VI          VII
C         D           E           F           G           A           B


Summary – The Major Scale is made using the formula T, T, S, T, T, T, S  and leaves us with 7 notes, all numbered.


Next Time – The Relative Minor Scale

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Music Theory Part 1 – Notes, Tones And Semitones.

Welcome to the first blog in our series on Music Theory!

Before we can get into chords, keys, scales and modes, we need to understand the very basic components – Notes, and the distances, or “intervals” between them.

1) There are 12 notes in music.
They are:    C     C#/Db     D     D#/Eb     E     F     F#/Gb     G     G#/Ab     A     A#/Bb      B

“#” means “sharp”  and “b” means “flat”  –  e.g. C#/Db is one note, that is called either “C sharp” or “D flat” depending on various factors which aren’t important at this stage.  Just be aware that there are two different names for the same thing.

2) Semitones
A Semitone is the distance between any consecutive two of these notes.  e.g.   C to C#, E to F, or A to Bb
On the guitar, this is the distance of one fret.  So to move a note on the 7th fret up a semitone, you would move it to the 8th.  To move it down a semitone, you would move it to the 6th.

3) Tones
A Tone is a distance of two semitones.  e.g.  C to D,  E to F#, or A to B.
On the guitar, this is the distance of two frets.  So, starting with a note on the 7th fret, you would move up a tone to fret 9, or down a tone to fret 5.

Key Points To Take From This :

  • Be aware that a C# and Db are two different names for the same note, similarly D# and Eb, F# and Gb etc etc.
  • Note that there is no B# or Cb and no E# or Fb
  • Remember that a semitone is the distance of 1 fret and a tone is the distance of 2 frets 
  • If you haven’t already, start learning the notes on the fretboard, taking it one string at a time, or for example learning “all the E notes” then “all the F notes” and so on.


Coming Soon – Part 2, on The Major scale and how it is formed.