I’ve noticed something about my soloing in the last couple of weeks. First, I’m not what you would consider a “lead guitarist.” I can hang, sure. But it’s not my area and I’ve never really been comfortable playing at higher speeds. That’s alright, because I make my musical living on the rhythm and layering side of the business. But I also noticed that I had some consistent problem areas as I moved across the fretboard.
Take any number of great players and ask them what the process was like, and chances are slim that you'll get any two who will tell you the same story. However, I would say there's a process or structure to learning the instrument. Just like with piano, there are foundational aspects of the instrument that we need to understand, which we then build on and develop as time goes on.
Intervals are simple, useful and helpful bits of knowledge. They’re a priceless musical commodity, being one of the most fundamental and applicable building blocks of scales and lead sequences. Yet, despite the simplicity, the related theory can get fairly involved.
For those who might not be familiar with intervals, we’ll start by reviewing the core concept. The term sounds kind of advanced, but an “interval” simply refers to the distance between two notes, while a harmonic interval is when you play two notes at the same time.
We can always memorize new chords. That’s not hard. But what if we learned the structure and the music theory behind those chords first? What if we put the time into gaining a complete, academic understanding of what we’re playing? People shy away from music theory because it’s hard. And I’m not going to tell you otherwise.
For most, the tendency when picking up the guitar is to “fiddle” or jam whatever song is in our heads. We seldom tackle the instrument with intentionality and aggression, unless we have a lot of time to play.
The mind of a songwriter is often wired differently than that of a guitarist. Though the two cross paths often, it’s rare to see a pro-level guitar player (particularly a lead guitarist) and a successful songwriter embodying the same human being. Some exceptions might include Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Clapton and Brad Paisley. But usually it takes two.
Modulation is a pristine effect. It’s subtle, not overly aggressive and best employed when it doesn’t substantially alter your raw tone. Distortion is different. While often loud and aggressive, distortion warps your signal, completely changing the demeanor of your sound. So the question is this: Can the two get along?
First, the purpose of this column is to help you do more with your power chord progressions. If you think it’s over-simplified or over-complicated, then please consider the possibility that it’s simply mismatched with your skill level, before you comment. We also must consider the context of the information. Power chords are fairly simple.