This riff-writing exercise will demonstrate how to create diatonic and borrowed chords based on a chromatic bass line while staying in key. For this example, I’m going to use the key of A minor and the harmonic minor scale as my guide for chord construction.
I often get asked about my chord work, particularly about the voicings I use. My chord style initially developed as a result of my dissatisfaction with the way traditional guitar voicings, particularly triads, sounded.
Trying to make a seven-string guitar play like a six-string is very tough. The “thumb over the neck” approach doesn't work as well. Also, some seven-strings sound like a middle ground between a guitar and a bass (like the one I used in this example), which makes openly strumming “cowboy chords” a terrible decision.
Little Walter served his musical apprenticeship in Delta roadhouses during the early Forties and intently studied the style and techniques of down-home blues harmonica masters such as John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, but he also took the instrument into new territory by emulating the jazz-tinged phrasing of jump-blues saxophonists.
Last month, we looked at the intro rhythm parts and the intro guitar solo to the title track of the latest Nevermore album, The Obsidian Conspiracy. This month, I’ll go over the remaining single-note intro theme and primary verse riff. As you’ll see, the latter is a lower-octave version of the final intro lick.
The concept of “preparing” instruments comes from the composer John Cage, back in the 1950s. He began by writing a series of pieces for piano. He would take a grand piano and put objects — found objects, hardware, various apparatus, in between, on, over and under the strings, producing all sorts of interesting sonic and percussive effects and changing the sound of the instrument without relying on electronics or other things like that.
One of my favorite ways to explore new riffs, chord patterns and melodic figures is to take one of the seven fundamental modes and use its structure as a guideline. In doing so, I often discover new chord shapes or melodic ideas that I may not have otherwise come across.
Percussive acoustic playing has been around forever, and it’s easy to see why. The guitar is essentially a drum with strings stretched over it. (Its cousin, the banjo, uses a drumhead to cover the body.)
As a lead guitarist in a heavy metal band, when I solo I like to go for licks that are simple and repetitive and “drive the point home” as well as take the solo and song to another level. The licks in this month’s column are designed to sound impressive while being relatively easy to play—which is important to me, because I’m drunk most of the time.