Alex Creese

Guitarist | Guitar Tutor | Occasional Blogger

Lesson: What Do I Know? (Ed Sheeran) | Love Yourself (Justin Bieber)

One of my students wanted to learn how to play What Do I Know? yesterday.  It’s one of about 19 songs in the current UK top 20 (!) that are from Ed Sheeran’s latest album.  Upon hearing it, my first thought was that it’s a lot like Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself:  same key, same kind of riff.  Coincidence? Hardly. After a quick glance at the internet I saw that Sheeran actually co-wrote Love Yourself.  Un-belieber-ble.

Anyway, I thought it was a good opportunity to take a look at the Emajor scale in 10ths. 10ths are really pleasing to listen to and by learning this scale you’ll have everything in place to tackle these two riffs (and in the process get your fingers around some new shapes).

E Major Scale in 10ths

I’ve highlighted the range of the scale that both riffs cover, and you might have noticed that I’ve extended the scale one degree above the octave (circled) .  This is just to accomodate the range of notes in Love Yourself.  Leave this out if you want to play an exact one octave scale in 10ths.

A 10th is a compound interval (which means it’s an interval greater than an octave) but it’s essentially the same as a 3rd.  If you’re not sure what that means:  play the 1st and 3rd notes of the major scale (Fig 1).

scale 3rds
Fig 1 – 1st and 3rd notes of E major scale (circled).

Then, without moving the 1st,  move the 3rd an octave higher (Fig 2) – that’s a 10th. 

3rds and 10ths
Fig 2 – Moving the 3rd an octave higher to create a 10th

You can read more about this by clicking here, if you like.  Here’s a link to a printable version of the scale:  Emajor Scale in 10ths.

Learn the scale, and you’ll be able to work out the riffs from the video (there are slow versions of each).  If you want to check out some other songs that use 10ths in a similar way, try: Holiday (Green Day); Scar Tissue (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Blackbird (The Beatles).

Thanks for reading!




Frank Vignola | Solo Transcription

Song: Cheek To Cheek (Berlin)

Album: Swing Zing

Frank Vignola (lead guitar) Vinny Raniolo (rhythm guitar)

I’ve met Frank twice at masterclasses in London and on both occasions he’s been very keen to stress the importance of strong, musical phrasing when improvising.  Upon listening to any of his works, it becomes very clear that he practices what he preaches. This has got me thinking about simplifying my approaches in the hope of achieving a more “musical” outcome.  Taking this short solo as an example I thought it’d be interesting to see what sort of themes are evident in Vignola’s approach.   The solo is only 16 bars long, so I’m just going to offer a commentary on each group four bars and highlight some of the rhythmic and harmonic features that I think are worth considering.

Fig 1:  bars 1-4

The opening phrases feature some fairly standard blues vocabulary, and are based largely around chord tones.  There’s a rhythmic figure of five notes in bar 2 (red) which is reapplied to a C major arpeggio in bar 3  (blue): this idea of repeating the rhythmic shape of a phrase but changing the melodic composition really helps build in some strong rhythmic interest.

Fig 2:  bars 5-8

In bars 5 and 6 (Fig 2) Vignola takes a more scalar approach placing chord tones on the beats and diatonic passing notes between, a standard tactic in jazz improv. The Bb in the middle of bar 6 helps to retain the bluesy sound by implying C mixolydian and simultaneously providing a b9 tension over the A7.  Instead of spelling out the ii-V in bar 7, Vignola opts for a straight forward blues scale run.  This is a great example of how one doesn’t have to follow the changes: there is tension, melodic shape, and resolution but it’s clear he’s not thinking about outlining the harmony in any specific way.

Note: The 16th note rest in bar 7 has been put there to illustrate that the note is played fractionally late. It’s not to be taken literally but I wanted to include it because it does have an effect on the phrasing by breaking up what would otherwise be continuous 8th notes (albeit in a subtle way).

Fig 3:  bars 9-12

Bar 9 is another example of the statement (red) and reiteration (blue) of a strong rhythmic motif. This time with an ascending and then descending arpeggio pattern.  In fact, these four bars are largely arpeggio based and as a result there is a wave-like contour to the phrase.  Vignola clearly spells out the ii-V-I in bars 11-12 with a straight Dm7 arpeggio followed by a chromatic line running from the 3rd to the b9 of the G7 (yellow).  Although this is a different approach to the ii-V (compared to what we’ve seen in bar 7) it’s similar in that the strength of the line lies in the uncomplicated nature of the rhythm and pitches used.

Fig 4: bars 13-16

Bars 13-14 feature a repeated rhythmic motif (similar to those already discussed).  Vignola recalls a grouping of specific notes that he has already used in bar 6 (fig 2) – shown in here in the red, this is the Bb, and G# creating tensions against the A7.  He finishes the solo with another C blues lick (yellow) in much the same way as he does in bar 7-8. This time anticipating the resolution by placing the C on the last 8th of bar 7th instead of the first beat of bar 8.

There are things that haven’t been dicussed here, though. For example, to what degree the solo may or may not be related to the melody; and I haven’t atempted any detailed anaysis of note choice. These things are for another post. What I hope I have done is identify a few useful devices that Vignola has employed in this solo that might be worth considering in the journey to stronger phrasing:

1: Use of rhythmic motifs, changing pitches on repetition to provide melodic shape/interest.

2: Use of confidently placed blues scale to “ignore” changes but still create tension and shape over a resolving ii-V (see fig 2, 4).

3: Use of chord tones and arpeggios to create robust lines that are strongly anchored to the underlying harmony (see fig 1, 2).

I hope you’ve found this useful and enjoyable. You can download the the full transcription here: Cheek to Cheek .

Thanks for reading!

My Next Amp (One Day)

A good friend of mine (a photographer and guitarist) was asked to take some promotional photos to go with a video shoot at Hamstead Soundworks.  I have been aware of this UK based amplifier company for about a year, but until today hadn’t even seen any of their amps in person.  Luckily, I was able to tag along for the shoot and the Hamstead guys were kind enough to let me have a generous play on their Artist 20+RT.

I have to say that is without question the best amp I’ve ever heard.  I had high expectations because their main endorsee is none other than Carl Verheyen (first-call session player and all round guitar legend) but even so, I was totally floored.  The fact is, they’ve got a really unique thing going on – for example the reverb has a tone control effectively allowing you to emulate a subtle plate reverb even though it’s a stanard spring tank in use.  There are other things, but that is something I’ve never seen on an amp before. Here’s a very short vid that in no way does any justice to this monster of an amp… I really need one of these in my life.


After 6 weeks and 65 shows Sleeping Beauty closed at Richmond Theatre on Sunday just gone (8th).  I really enjoyed it, it was a beautiful theatre to work in with a great cast and fantastic band.  Kicking myself that I didn’t make the effort to get some better photos… but you know…

Anyway, I’m looking forward to 2017:  new opportunities and hopefully doing lots of playing, and uploading some new teaching videos.  Happy 2017!

Sleeping Beauty!

Last week marked the start of a six week run where I’ll playing guitar for First Family’s annual Panto at Richmond Theatre.  Over 60 shows in total, with two a day and only about four days off between now and Jan 8th.  This year it stars Maureen Lipman, as well as Chris Jarvis (of CBeebies fame) who also does a great job of directing it.  It’s a really fun show and I’m delighted to be doing it, the rest of the band are all excellent, and really nice, too.

You can get tickets by clicking here! 

I’ve been dep-ing (covering) at Richmond Panto the last few years for my friend Dario Cortese. This year he has moved on to play for Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s new musical, School of Rock, which means I get to do the whole run – which I’m very grateful for!

New job!

A quick update to announce that I am now teaching at The Academy of Contemporary Music, Guildford!  It’s a great place with lots of very talented teachers and students.  I’m teaching on the brand new Level 2 diploma in performance and production.  You can read more about that by clicking here.

So far I’m really enjoying it but like all new things there is something of a learning curve and I think as somebody who teaches, it’s good to be reminded that you always need to be learning and adapting, whatever you’re doing.

Another AmpliFIRE vid…

A quick run through All The Things You Are just to check out a clean sound on the AmpliFIRE. 

This was “CleanLux” which is available in the firmware update.  It was designed by The Amp Factory, who do a lot of profiles and patches for Kemper and AxeFX.  I don’t think I edited this at all, other than removing the reverb so that I could use a one in Logic.  

The guitar is a 2004 Epiphone Zephyr Regent, fitted with a Gibson pickup that I don’t know the name of – last owner did it.  I really like it anyway!

Amps? Shmamps!

Recorded straight into Logic, with nothing else added. First impressions? Impressed!

I don’t really follow many of the technological developments regarding amps.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m an amp luddite, but it’s pretty hard to argue against a good valve amp… or even an average valve amp.  That is until the (quite recent) advent of Fractal’s AXFX, which I started to hear about around 2012; and the Kemper profiling amp, which over the last two years all my friends have been buying and raving about!

I’ve always felt (and still do) like as long as I have a decent guitar plugged into a decent amp I can cover all bases (with the addition of a few good pedals, natch). However, a few months back I got to use a Kemper on a panto gig and it was a real eye opener!  Not only did it sound every bit as good as a “real” amp but it sounded every bit as good as about 30 different amps…. AND was incredibly easy to use – a patch programmed specifically for each number in the show.  I was converted.

Problem is, that combination of high quality sounds and convenience rarely comes cheap.  So, I was very excited to learn about the Atomic AmpliFIRE, which is works very much like AXFX/Kemper but at a quarter of the price.  It’s actually like a grown-up version of the old Line-6 kidney shaped POD, which itself was a bit of a game changer back in the day.   So I got one!  Only had it a few days but it’s really easy to use and I’m really impressed with the results.  I still have lots of experimenting to do, but like a good amp it sounds great from the off – Now it’s just about the tweaking!  More to follow…

Introducing FRiSK


Recently some friends and I formed a new party/events band, we called it FRiSK.


A stripped down acoustic/festival type band.  A line up of male and female vocals (doubling on sax and flute) backed by guitar, double bass and cajon.  We play all the best tunes, and none of the rubbish ones.


If you book us, we will come.

Where?! or our Last Minute Musicians page.


God knows.  You’d think we’d know better by now.

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