A-Z of mu­sic the­ory: S

This month Char­lie Grif­fiths Sali­vates over Slides, Stac­cato, String Skip­ping, the Su­per­locrian Scale and Sweep pick­ing. So don’t just Sit there!

Guitar Techniques - - Lesson: Rockschool -


Slide gui­tar is a pre­dom­i­nantly blues based tech­nique whereby a metal or glass tube is ap­plied to the strings to al­ter their pitch, rather than fret­ting the notes with the fin­gers. The tech­nique as we know it orig­i­nated in the Mis­sis­sippi Delta when play­ers like Blind Wil­lie John­son and Robert John­son used glass bot­tle necks placed on a fret­ting hand fin­ger to es­sen­tially act as a mov­able fret, to cre­ate the smooth ‘por­ta­mento’ tran­si­tions be­tween notes pre­vi­ously only pos­si­ble on fret­less stringed in­stru­ments such as the

Stac­cato String


vi­o­lin. The slide can be place on any digit, but most com­mon choices are the 3rd and 4th. Most slide play­ers pre­fer a gui­tar with a high ac­tion to avoid ac­ci­den­tally fret­ting the note in the con­ven­tional man­ner. Slide play­ing has con­tin­ued to evolve through play­ers like Duane All­man, Sonny Lan­dreth, David Lind­ley, Brett Garsed and Derek Trucks.

Stac­cato is an Ital­ian mu­si­cal di­rec­tion mean­ing ‘de­tached’ and sig­ni­fies that each note of a melody or riff be played as short as pos­si­ble, leav­ing si­lence in be­tween each one. This is shown on the no­ta­tion as small full-stop sized dots placed above or be­low the writ­ten pitch. To make stac­cato notes on the gui­tar, the most ef­fec­tive tech­nique is to palm mute the strings at the bridge. Rest the soft fleshy part of the side of your hand on the strings near the bridge and pick the string to make a short, per­cus­sive note. The tone varies a lot depend­ing on a cou­ple of fac­tors. First is pres­sure; if you press firmly on the string you may find this dead­ens the note too much and could even bend the string sharp. Sec­ondly is prox­im­ity to the bridge; if your hand is too far to­wards the bridge, this might leave the strings open; but too far the other way, to­wards the pick­ups, might sound too per­cus­sive. Ex­per­i­ment with these fac­tors un­til you find the stac­cato sound you like.

When play­ing sin­gle-note melodies or riffs it is nat­u­ral for most gui­tarists to move to the ad­ja­cent string to ac­cess other notes of the scale or ar­peg­gio you hap­pen to be play­ing. String skip­ping is an ap­proach whereby the ad­ja­cent string is avoided (skipped). This is usu­ally done for two rea­sons, the first be­ing in or­der to pro­duce wider in­ter­val spac­ing. Play­ers like Eric John­son and Carl Ver­heyen of­ten skip strings to cre­ate amaz­ing melodies that jump around in ear-catch­ing 6th and 7th in­ter­vals; this sounds rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent from closer scale tone play­ing that ad­ja­cent string shapes tend to en­cour­age. The sec­ond rea­son is a tech­ni­cal one em­ployed by play­ers such as Paul Gil­bert and John Petrucci as a means of avoid­ing two notes be­ing played on the same fret - for ex­am­ple, when play­ing arpeg­gios in an al­ter­nate-picked fash­ion rather than us­ing sweep pick­ing or fin­ger­style.



This scale is also known as ‘al­tered scale’, ‘di­min­ished - whole tone’ and the ‘Pomeroy scale’ (af­ter jazz trum­peter Herb Pomeroy). It’s the sev­enth mode of the melodic mi­nor scale and con­tains the in­ter­vals R b2 b3 b4 b5 b6 b7. When this scale is har­monised in 3rds we can see that the nat­u­ral chord type pro­duced is a m7b5. In the jazz world Su­per­locrian is hardly ever used in this con­text, but is greatly favoured over a dom­i­nant chord (7th, 9th, 11th, 13th). This works be­cause the b4 in­ter­val can also be thought of as the ma­jor 3rd, pro­vid­ing us with the core dom­i­nant 7th notes (R 3 b7). The re­main­ing notes can be given dif­fer­ent names and seen as the ex­ten­sions: b5, #5, b9, #9. When played against a ‘func­tion­ing dom­i­nant’ chord, jazz play­ers re­fer to these four in­ter­vals as ‘al­ter­ations’, hence the term ‘al­tered scale’.



The term sweep pick­ing refers to the ‘sweep­ing’ mo­tion of the pick over the strings. Arpeg­gios are per­fect for sweep pick­ing as the notes can be eas­ily ar­ranged ‘one note per string. When sweep­ing from string to string the pick moves in one con­tin­u­ous mo­tion, rather than lots of down or up strokes. The fret­ting hand is of equal im­por­tance as it re­spon­si­ble for sep­a­rat­ing the notes. To achieve the ‘one note at a time’ sound it is nec­es­sary to press each con­sec­u­tive string down while mut­ing the other five. The tech­nique re­lies on syn­chro­ni­sa­tion of the hands if one is to em­u­late the likes of Ja­son Becker, Frank Gam­bale or YJ Malm­steen.

Al Di Me­ola fa­mously uses a palm muted stac­cato sound

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