Tuesday, January 2, 2007

This week's Guitar Lesson

In my last guitar lesson I went over a Bach piece that makes for a great study in alternate picking arpeggiated chords - Bach's Prelude in Dm (BWV 999). I guess I have Bach on the brain, because this week my guitar lesson is yet again on Bach. This time it is Bach's Sonata For Solo Violin # 1 (BWV 1001 Presto).

Whereas the last guitar lesson examined a piece that maintained a fairly constant picking pattern, this piece is a whole different ballgame. We are talking pure randomness, no rhyme or reason, total non-linearity. But don't let me scare you - these are actually good traits because pieces of this sort are guaranteed to take your coordination to a new level.

Below are the first 11 measures. Believe me, you want to digest this piece in small chunks, otherwise you'll go mad.

Having recently began classical guitar lessons (though I am learning this piece on my acoustic), I have learned to appreciate standard notation. I know some of you may be wishing that I had simply posted tab, but to play pieces of this sort, you really need to understand your stenghts and weaknesses as a player. Are you able to make rapid position changes if it means playing a simpler pattern or do you prefer to stay in a confined part of the neck? Depending on your preferences, that will determine how you should approach it.

The above notation is actually much like tab in that it indicates suggested fingerings. For instance, in bars 10 and 11, the roman numeral V and III along with the brackets indicate that you should play these arpeggios at the 5th and 3rd frets, respectively.

If you are desperate to find tab, just do some google searches. Also, I suggest you listen to how others have played this piece. The piece is absolutely breathtaking on violin and there are some good classical guitar renditions as well. If you have a Rhapsody account, you can check out several versions.

Brian Huether

Sunday, December 24, 2006

New Guitar Lesson

Been hitting the classical stuff pretty heavy lately - Bach, Paganini, Heitor Villa Lobos. Some of their pieces are simply incredible on guitar and they force you to refine your technique. Forget about those lame chromatic exercises that seem to be popular in many guitar lessons. No - I prefer actual musical pieces for developing technique.

And developing technique doesn't always have to equate to playing as fast as humanly possible. In fact, some pieces simply can't be played all that fast because of continuous changes to adjacent and non-adjacent strings (check out Paganini's Caprice XVI for instance...). It is pieces of this sort that really do wonders for technique and coordination and playing them at medium speeds can often be more challenging than playing typical linear lines as 240 BPM 16th notes...

Today my focus was Bach's Prelude in Dm (BMV 999). Decided to use it as the basis of a guitar lesson on my website. Has you continuously alternate picking across adjacent strings (i.e. no sweeping allowed - sweeping is too easy). Feel free to check out the guitar lesson at http://www.guitar-dreams.com


Brian Huether

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Guitar Lesson - Swinging Away!

As planned, I hit the gypsy jazz pretty hard today and figured I may as well provide a guitar lesson. My first quest is to master Django Reinhart's Minor Swing. I am using the Moreno and Marina Quartet version as inspiration. Of all the renditions I have heard, I find their's the best (even better than Birelli LaGrene's). It is the perfect combination of melody and unreserved fire. I was trying to jam to along to it but I find whenever I jam to music that has a lead part, I get distracted by the lead lines. So I recorded the 16 bar guitar chord progression and jammed for a couple hours.

The guitar chord progression is simply

|Am  Am  Am  Am |Am  Am  Am  Am |
|Dm7 Dm7 Dm7 Dm7|Dm7 Dm7 Dm7 Dm7|
|E7 E7 E7 E7 |E7 E7 E7 E7 |
|Am Am Am Am |Am Am Am Am |
|Dm7 Dm7 Dm7 Dm7|Dm7 Dm7 Dm7 Dm7|
|Am Am Am Am |Am Am Am Am |
|E7 E7 E7 E7 |Bb7 Bb7 Bb7 Bb7|
|Am Am Am Am |F7 F7 E7 E7 |

Since I am not accustomed to swing, I recorded it around 145 BPM starting off and simply worked through arpeggios and scalar lines that fit the progression, being particulay careful to maintain a swing feel. After a while I re-recorded it around 220 BPM which is how this music is supposed to be played.

I find that a great way to improvise over this song is to learn arpeggios corresponding to the chords at various places on the neck. This has the added benefit of expanding your fretboard knowledge. For instance, as I improvise, I play Am and Am7 arpeggios shapes throughout the fretboard. Below are some examples.

Likewise I learn Dm7 arpeggios throughout the neck and the others as well. The end result is that I can blend these arpeggios into one another anywhere on the neck. And as you work up the tempo it forces your hands to quickly develop a 'memory' of these shapes so that as you are playing up to tempo, you don't have to think about where on the neck these shapes are - your hands simply find them. I am still trying to get there myself...

I hope this was a worthwhile guitar lesson. So get out your guitar and start swinging! I have created a MIDI file for your convenience for playing along to. If your MIDI player allows you to adjust the tempo then be sure to increase it as you progress. And if you want to hear examples of the types of lines that players use over these chords, then check out Django Reinhart's recordings as well as those of Birelli LaGrene and other gypsy players. You can listen to these players and countless others on Rhapsody.


Brian Huether

Saturday, December 2, 2006

What a waste of a day...

I decided this morning that it was time to implement some security features on my website to prevent people from saving my audio files. I figured, people can stream all they want but I don't want anyone saving mp3's to their computer. This had me delving into some of the finer points of web servers and PHP coding. In the end, I learned that if you allow people to stream your audio, they can save it. Plain and simple. Gee, if I knew that I would have played my guitar all day...

Tomorrow will not be a repeat of today. I have to learn some Christmas songs for a duet that a friend and I am doing for a work Christmas party. Having recently taken an interest to Gypsy Jazz I am hoping to gypsify a tune or two. Otherwise I will be painfully bored...

If you have never heard gypsy jazz, then do yourself a favor and check out Birelli LaGrene, The Rosenberg Trio or Jimmy Rosenberg (no relation to the Rosenberg of the trio). Listen to their renditions of Minor Swing. Talk about getting knocked on your ass. And this is coming from someone who considers himself pretty damn proficient technically...



Friday, December 1, 2006

Recorded a new tune

Man it has been a while since I recorded a new tune. Over the past year I have had a seeminlgy endless stream of song ideas. I'll launch Cubase SX (my recording software), create a new project, record a snippet and then save the project with revealing names like "new song with heavy chord progression". Yes - that is an actual project name. So over the Thanksgiving break I woke up one morning and said to myself, "Ok, you are finishing a song this weekend. If you don't then that'll really be pathethic. So get your act together!" I may have even said it out loud...

I named the piece Alien Quest. It is about an intelligent alien being who embarks on a grand and dangerous journey. It starts with a formulaic, hard rock chord progression. That is to say, intelligent aliens surely have discoverd rock and roll... The middle of the piece goes through a series of somewhat disconnected parts, representing the variety of encounters and detours the alien experiences. Finally, there is the taste of success and we return to the opening theme. The alien is finally able to relax and enters a state of pensive contemplation. During the outro I experimented with some odd phrasings to capture the alien's musings.

Ironically I will have to end up learning the piece since most of the parts were improvised (over many many takes...). I think some of the riffs are keepers. And I defintely am pleased with the tone.

I thank Peter Diezel for being the Amp mastermind he is. I didn't know superb tone until I stepped foot into Peter's world. I recorded this tune with his Einstein combo amp, which, incidentally, is named after his dog (with whom my wife and I played Fetch the Tennis Ball - I wonder how many of his customers can say that...).


Brian Huether