In an attempt to get our promotional stuff in order, we organised a long overdue photo shoot for FRiSK at a great venue in N.London called Paradise. The photos aren’t back yet, but while we were there we shot a couple of simple live videos and they’ve turned out pretty well. It was an excuse to try out my new camera lens (Sigma 10-20, for anybody that cares) and I’m really pleased with it. We could have lit it better and the sound, whilst a perfectly decent recording from a Zoom H2n, probably would have benefitted from a couple of well placed “proper” mics… but all that’s a bit of a faff, really – we just wanted to press record and play! We did three impromptu vids which are all up on our YouTube page, but the one above (Brown Sugar) turned out to be particularly good fun!
Volume for neck and bridge p/up, .master tone control
Intonation? You what, mate?
My first proper guitar was an Epiphone G400 – a budget licenced copy of a Gibson SG – and I really loved it. I played it to death but when I got my first Telecaster a few years later, it got packed up, fell into a state of disrepair, and was more or less never used again. For the last few years I have really wanted to replace it with a proper Gibson. SGs are the only solid body Gibsons that I like playing. I just feel like Les Pauls don’t suit me and while I’d love an 335 they are absurdly expensive and for me, Gibson’s quality control has not been good enough to warrant the price tags. I have flirted with the idea of a new SG Classic, the current SG Standard or the various Specials, but I found them all quite underwhelming for the money. In addition I was massively put off by the g-force tuning system which Gibson has inexplicably decided to put on so many guitars. So I had given up on the idea of owning a Gibson.
Then I found this curious 2011 SG Special on Gumtree for a very modest sum and couldn’t resist it – quite heavily used, but with zero fret wear (possibly refretted?) and it plays really nicely. It’s a bit odd, because it has a wrap around one piece bridge (instead of the stop tail and tune-o-matic) and it has just one tone control, instead of the usual two. The most striking thing is the dark walnut finish which I’ve never seen before, and makes a great change from cherry red! It’s a genuinely great guitar and although it’s probably not going to be my go-to axe, but I reckon I’ll get a lot of use out of it!
I sold my 1996 Fender Floyd Rose Classic Strat on Gumtree to get this. Most would consider that a far superior guitar, but I don’t regret it in the slightest and the best thing is that all told, I’m still a couple of hundreds £s up!
Planning to post a video soon, so look out for that if you want to hear it!
Django Reinhardt (lead guitar); Joseph Reinhardt (rhythm guitar); Stephane Grappelli (violin); Louis Vola (bass)
Django recorded this Gershwin classic a few times in his career and from what I can find out, the one I’m looking at in this post is from a recording released in 1937. Django was a remarkable guitarist for many reasons: his virtuosity was matched only by his creativity; he was a groundbreaker, and his work with the Hot Club of France (1934-1948) gave birth to a whole genre – one that is still very much alive in the 21st century. This is a great solo for its own sake and that’s why I transcribed it, but I thought it would be interesting to add a bit of commentary. Here’s the original.
The solo as a whole features a lot of arpeggio work (something which is certainly key to the style) and Fig. 1 showcases Reinhardt’s ability to navigate the changes with long lines of connected arpeggios. He uses the arpeggios in a very linear fashion, ascending one and descending the next (bars 17-19) but a sense of melody is always present.
Bars 23-26 (fig 2) demonstrate a signature “Django-ism”. The tremolo chords are reminiscent of big band horn lines and could be an attempt at mimicking that sound. The triplet quarter note rhythms providing a forceful and angular juxtaposition to the constant “la pompe” of the rhythm section. The addition of the #5 and 9 of the chords adds to this angular sound*. The tremolo chords appear in many of Reinhardt’s improvisations and compositions and a notable/impressive example of this would be the opening of Mystery Pacific.
*the physical shpe of these chords would have been very natural for Reinhardt given the impairment of his 3rd and 4th fingers on his fretting hand. Reinhardt would often superimpose the same chord shape over different points of the underlying harmony. This can be seen in the last bar of fig 3: the shape is used to add alterations to the Ab7 underneith – in essense implying Ab13(#9), which then resolves to G. There’s a great article in the British Medical Journal (here) that explains more about this.
Figure 3 shows a visceral and idiomatic passage. Fretted notes are played in unison with open strings of the same pitch (in the same way that one might tune a guitar). This is an example of a specifically guitaristic improvisation – the aggressively played unison pitches resulting in a particular timbral effect. So he’s exploiting the quirks of the instrument for the sake of it, rather than emulating others or applying standard vocabulary.
In Figure 4 we can see a repeated rhythmic idea based on triplets and a bluesey string bend from C# up to D. Reinhardt likes this triplet idea and a very similar example can be found towards the end of I’ll See You In My Dreams[see approx. 02’19”-02’23”].
I hope this has been useful to you, there’s so much to talk about when it comes to Django’s playing (and Gypsy jazz in general). Technique is a big part of the sound, but something I didn’t want to get too caught up in with this post. You might have noticed that I’ve added picking directions in Figure 1 – these are my choices but I’ve also added bracketed directions that are consistent with Gypsy picking technique (though exactly what Django did, we’ll never know!). I’d strongly recommend a visit to www.djangobooks.com, Micheal Horowitz (the owner) has written some excellent books on Gypsy guitar playing – Gypsy Picking is an essential book for anybody learning the style. There are many other resources available there too, as well as a thriving online community.
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).
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).
Then, without moving the 1st, move the 3rd an octave higher (Fig 2) – that’s 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 .
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!
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.
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!
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.