Learning how to play jazz guitar means learning a number of ways to play maj7 chords and the related extensions, maj6, maj9 and maj7#11, associated with these chords. While these extended chords contain four, five and sometimes six notes, that doesn’t mean you have to learn big, hard-to-play fingerings that are difficult to grab and hard to insert into a playing situation.
A blues phrase is made up of three ingredients: what you play (the notes), when you play (rhythm) and how you play (your touch and sound). When players focus mainly on the what—scale patterns, arpeggios, picking technique and so on—the result tends to be a solo with lots of notes in constant motion, but if you change your focus to the when and how, you can deliver a breathtaking solo while barely moving your fretting hand.
In last month’s column, we explored a variety of ways to apply a modal approach to improvisation, with specific focus on minor tonalities and building from lines based on the E minor pentatonic scale (E G A B D) to ones based on the E Dorian mode (E Fs G A B Cs D), as well as E Dorian’s “parent” scale, D major (D E Fs G A B Cs).
Pete Townshend is a killer tunesmith who has penned such rock classics as “My Generation,” “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” But the Who guitarist and band leader is also among the most skilled and influential rock rhythm players in history.
This month, I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the guitarists who have influenced my playing and writing style. Many of these influences—the main one being Dream Theater’s John Petrucci—use seven-string guitars, and I’ve long been drawn to the instrument’s expanded range and how it can be used in a musical way. Many guitarists who play standard six-string guitars have replicated the seven-string’s low B string by simply tuning their low E string down.
When Bob Marley brought the Jamaican sounds of reggae to the U.S. in the early Seventies, he created a musical revolution. His first two Island Records releases, Catch a Fire and Burnin’ (both issued in 1973), included the hits “Stir it Up,” “Get Up, Stand Up” and the mega-smash “I Shot the Sheriff,” which when covered in 1974 by Eric Clapton helped catapult Marley to international acclaim.
Last month we examined the role of the picking hand, particularly the use of bare fingers, in creating dynamics and adding dimension to your phrasing. Early in the electric blues era, this bare-handed approach was especially popular among “down-home” (rural southern) players, who also developed a variation on bare-fingered technique called chicken pickin’. The musical potential of imitating hens clucking in a barnyard may be somewhat limited, but the technique also opens the door to a variety of funky, percussive phrases.