Charlie Griffiths continues his A-Z with V for Vibrato, Vivace, Voice leading, Volume swells and the Voodoo blues scale. Va-va-voom!
Vibrato is a form of expression applied to one or more sustaining notes. On the guitar we perform vibrato by smoothly changing the pitch up and down in a regular pulsating rhythm. Vibrato humanises the guitar by infusing a human quality, and much like the human voice is varied and idiosyncratic to the player. Vibrato essentially comprises two factors: speed (rate) and pitch (depth), and differences in these elements will create different effects. BB King’s vibrato for example consists of shallow bends and pulsates quite quickly; perfect for his brand of chilled out blues. At the other end of the spectrum, Zakk Wylde’s vibrato is wide and slow, producing a larger than life and aggressive sound. Experiment with different vibratos and aim to bend the string a tone for maximum effect and in shallower increments for more subtle styles.
Vivace is an Italian musical direction, usually found at the beginning of a piece of music. It means ‘play in a lively, vivid fashion’. We can interpret this on the guitar by playing the notes with clearly articulated picking and infusing the music with an ‘on the beat’ feel, meaning that the notes should land squarely on the click, which lends urgency and exuberance to the music, rather than the usual, cool ‘behind the beat’ feel, which we might usually prefer for blues playing. Vivace also assumes a faster tempo of somewhere between 130 and 160bpm. This would be suitable for folk dance music such as reels or jigs, an example of which we have provided for you to try.
Voice leading, put simply, is the smoothest possible route of changing between two chords. The ‘voice’ in the title relates directly to choral arranging and this helps understand the discipline in a practical setting. When we play two different four-note chords on the guitar, it is easy to forget the notes we are actually playing and think only about which fingering is most comfortable. But this doesn’t always translate into the smoothest, most elegant sound possible. Instead, imagine each string of your guitar as a member of a choir (a ‘voice’). When changing between chords, it is both more sensible and pleasant sounding when the chorister sings smoothly connecting notes, or even stays on the same note when possible. In the following example, we have arranged a IIm V I progression using voice leading. The chord tones on the top four strings only change when necessary and, when they do, the shortest possible route is taken.
The volume swell is also known by another ‘V’ word ‘violining’, in reference to the similarity in sound when gently bowing a note. The lack of any initial attack is contrary to most other sounds produced by our semi percussive instrument, so this makes for a welcome and useful contrast. Players as varied as Jan Akkerman, Yngwie Malmsteen, Allan Holdsworth, Larry Carlton and Gary Moore are all known for employing the swell. Some, such as Yngwie, use the fourth finger on the volume knob to swell the notes in, while others, such as Holdsworth or Carlton, use a volume pedal. The addition of a long repeating delay helps to sustain the notes and blur the gaps between the notes.
Voodoo Blues Scale This scale can be seen as a hybrid between the traditional blues scale, which all guitarists know and use, and the Dorian mode, which is equally loved among players. If we start with the blues scale intervals, we have: 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7. We will keep five of these six notes the same, but shift the b7 down one fret so it becomes a 6th. The presence of a major 6th in a minor scale strongly leans towards the Dorian mode. The ‘Voodoo Blues’ sound is most commonly associated with the bluesy jazz-fusion players such as Larry Carlton, Carl Verheyen and Robben Ford.
Steve Morse’s track Tumeni Notes is truly deserving of the term ‘Vivace’