This is one of those exercises / challenges which circulates around Facebook from time to time (much like the one which inspired a previous post about ten albums which inspired me). This one asked guitarists to post photographs of ten guitar players who had been the greatest influence on their own playing.
I find these thought exercises difficult – challenging is the perfect word! I feel like I could post forty pictures and still have missed out a key influence on my playing, yet here we are, in no particular order…
What do these players have in common? Some are strikingly different. The key characteristics I gravitate towards in other musicians are…
Tasteful or melodic solos
Blending of musical genres
Dazzling showmanship / inspirational technique
…and all of the guitarists pictured above have one or more of these traits.
As always, these are just my opinions. I may well delve into my influences in more specific areas in a future article. But what are your biggest guitar influences? Get in touch or leave a comment to let me know!
Single line lead guitar playing is great. But when you have six strings and four fingers to hold them down, why limit your playing to one note at a time? Throughout the history of guitar, players have used two notes (or more) at once, resulting in something halfway between a single note line and a full guitar chord. We do this for a few reasons:
It adds depth (useful in trio settings, for example)
To create a certain feel (which we will touch upon below)
To imply a chord through highlighting certain scale tones
To make certain phrases stand out
What is an interval?
An interval is he distance between two notes, in terms of pitch. Thinking of the C major scale (visualize the white keys on a piano), the root note (C) is 1, and the next note (D) is therefore 2, so the interval between C and D is known as a 2nd. More specifically, it is called a major 2nd because it is a whole tone away from C (whereas Db, only a semitone higher, is known as a minor 2nd). The next note in the C major scale would be E, which is called a major third (and Eb is the minor 3rd). I won’t bog us down in theory for this article, but if you need a more in-depth explanation, check out this video from Victoria Williams of mymusictheory.com.
It’s possible to use any interval when playing, especially lead lines. However, some are more effective than others. In this article, I’m going to stick to three types of interval: thirds, sixths and tenths, along with a few well-known examples in music. Go give some of these a listen and see if you can spot the intervals in use.
Common in any music with a Spanish in Latin twist, particularly on acoustic guitar. Try going up and down a major scale by playing each note with another note ‘two places higher’ in the scale on the next string up. For example, starting with a C by fretting the G string at the fifth fret, you ‘think up two notes’, skipping D, and playing E by fretting the B string at the fifth fret. The next note in the scale (D) would be played at the same time as F. Going up the fret board/scale, the notes should match up above each other like this:
It is also the most commonly used interval for twin guitar harmonies, such as:
Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town (recurring twin lead line after the choruses)
The Eagles – Hotel California (harmony lines at the very end, during fade-out)
One of my personal favourites, which I use a lot in my guitar playing. Sixths are essentially an inverted third, where the base note (eg, C) is played highest (such as one the E string at the 8th fret), while the harmony note (E or Eb) is played two strings lower (in this case, the G string, at the 9th fret for E, or the 8th fret for Eb).
They can highlight major and minor chords, and sound great when you slide into them up and down the scales you’re using, as well as chromatically (think of the stereotypical blues ‘ending’). They’re great for soul playing too, implying a chord or scale with only two notes (as with tenths – see below). I’m not alone in this – examples exist across the various genres that the guitar is used for, including:
Steve Cropper’s guitar intro to the classic Sam & Dave song Soul Man
Chuck Berry on the intro to You Never Can Tell
Steve Cropper’s guitar playing uses this time and time again, on many classic recordings from Otis Redding to The Blues Brothers. He had a knack for finding the right guitar line that complimented the songs he played on, without overpowering them, and rightly deserves his own article looking into his style in greater detail (watch this space)!
Tenths are essentially thirds, but with an additional octave between the two notes. This has the interesting effect of creating the impression of a chord, while still leaving a sense of space. It is the interval used in the opening phrase of the well-known classical guitar standard Lagrima. Here’s a chart to demonstrate where the tenth harmony for Bb (played alongside a D, two notes then one additional octave higher) across the guitar fretboard:
There has been a few examples of this in big singles recently. In each case, t tenths are used for the main guitar park in the songs:
Scar Tissue by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Love Yourself by Justin Bieber
Hold Back The River by James Bay
Tenths are also used in jazz. They provide a nice open-sounding stretch which is easy to play on guitar; they implied the chordal harmony while still leaving space for other instruments.
One thing that all three of these interval types have in common is their ability to reflect a major or minor chord. I think of them as the same interval, using a base note of C as an example again:
Third: C, played with an E (2 tones higher)
Sixth: An inverted third; C is played with an E a sixth lower (4 tones)
Tenth: A third, plus one additional octave between both notes; C, plus E (8 tones higher)
Each has it’s own feel and characteristic, and they are not always as interchangeable as you might think. Try playing around with them, across major and minor scales, then in your solos, and let me know how you get on!
Coming next: Part two of this subject will focus on intervals which can utilised over major and minor chords – fourths and fifths.
I love artists who create works that cross the boundaries of genre, style, and in some cases, medium. Most people do.
Others, of course, are faithful purists to their favourite genre. But for the rest of us who take our influences from all manner of avenues, how do we categorise our music?
There’s a good argument that genres are only useful to music journalists and lazy audiences. Why should everything be boxed up and potentially limited by increasingly narrower definitions? However, the key argument for explaining how your music sounds is simple: to build an audience.
Pick a genre (or three)
Truth be told, there is strong chance that your music could probably be catogorised under one of these common genres:
These terms are wide catch-all umbrellas, into which various sub-genres fall – just think of all the different kinds of Classical music or Jazz which exist! Try zooming out and imagining where you’d expect to find your music in a retail store. If you feel your music crosses between these larger genres, use more than one – but no more than three.
There exists another category, increasingly referred to as a genre, called singer-songwriter. This usually refers to a pop or indie artist performing acoustically. If that’s you, say so. If you’re in a band and you don’t know where you sit on the scale of rock to pop, and fear losing potential listeners, perhaps stick to the safe option, and go with Indie?
Of course, it can work the other way too. For every Gospel/Soul artist, there will be one solely residing in the musical world of Minimalist Math-Rock. In which case…
Find your niche
Picture credit: Fossbytes.com
The above image (from an interesting article you can read here) barely scratches the surface of the wide, weird & wonderful world of sub-genres.
You might worry about being too niche when describing your sound, but each of these categories has a huge number of fans around the world. If you insist on being ultra-specific when describing your music, you might as well to tap into existing markets such as these…
Remember: You don’t have to stay in one genre forever
The best artists started out doing one style, usually very well, and growing from there. The Beatles were a ‘beat’ group (guitar pop rooted in rhythm & blues), but they soon went far beyond this. Even the famously ever-changing David Bowie’s first few albums from the sixties were of the classic singer-songwriter + band vibe. Without a base to jump from, you can’t expect to get much further than where you are right now.
True, the music industry is very different now. Artists aren’t given the opportunity to find their voice over the course of several albums. But there is still the option of playing live* to an audience, as well as other bands on the bill.
(*or, should I say, there WILL be the opportunity to play live again once we are all out of lockdown – TH, writing in April 2020)
Regular gigging allows you to work on your songs and develop your sound with each passing gig. It should also bring you into contact with new fans, who will be able to describe your music (in terms of genre) much more efficiently than you may be able to yourself. You never know, they might even invent a brand new sub-genre just for you!