Deep Water: Surf Survivor

Photo: Sponge

OK, you're facing down a couple of hundred die-hard underground-music fanatics, people who live to go to shows in club venues, because that's where the real action can be found.

In this imaginary scenario, you are armed only with your guitar and amp, no microphone for singing, and you share the stage with a drummer and bass player. It's up to you to rock them, romance them, not bore them, and to keep it rolling to a big climax.

You can set up a "bed" that will lay a foundation of rhythm and tonal color. In surf guitar, this "bed" can be notes individually picked to form a kind of matrix. The notes usually represent a chord, just played as single notes in a cadence.

It could be just two notes, like the low E string played open and a B played on the second fret of the A string. You could add a third note, like G, played on the low E string, third fret, to play something similar to the song "Pipeline."

Then it's time to step it up and hit them with a cool riff. A riff that's simple enough to be absorbed by the crowd and has some color and attitude. A riff with some clever little twist you drop into it, that is not so obtuse as to paint yourself into a corner.

Be able to play this riff effortlessly through I IV V changes; knowing the relative major key of your riff sure helps when you start to apply the riff to chord changes! This is a simple stuff, but keep in mind that you are facing down real people, in real time. Our little stock "blues bendie" things ain't gonna hold 'em ... break it down!

How do you get -- and keep -- their attention?


There can't be loud without quiet. Within a riff, or a musical passage, be aware of, and experiment with, keeping your right-hand picking power in the middle between the loudest and softest you can play.

Get in control so that you can make the sound "percolate." You know, playfully making certain chosen notes jump out. Visualize a boxer bouncing light on his feet, and delivering a blow. You can do this even while only playing one note with alternating picking to keep a continuous flow of energy.

What kind of sound will be effective to move this crowd? Big, and round, with lots of power, ready on demand, by just a little more force from the picking hand. You should be able to turn your amp up very loud, even too loud, and still keep things in control with just your right-hand attack. This will force you to get into the center of loudest to softest your guitar can be. This also inspires interaction with the other players.

Play softly by myself, rage with the drums and bass. There are limitless numbers of ways to set up this, "call and response"-type scenario. When facing down this crowd, you will need to discover as many ways as possible to survive! Do this in a cycle, and you draw in the people.

To keep them captivated, song to song, try going up a half step for each new bed of music you set up. This also helps create some musical opportunities that are unique to each key on the guitar. Then break that cycle by going to some eerie minor chord mood/riff. This will help you next to have a fresh, new place from which to jump into the next round of songs that you create, in on the fly, in defense of your life!

Guitarist Dave Wronski is one third of Slacktone, a Southern California-based modern surf band that has toured the world and elsewhere. He also has written and recorded music for TV-show themes, commercial soundtracks and films.

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