Char­lie Grif­fiths continues his A-Z with V for Vi­brato, Vi­vace, Voice leading, Vol­ume swells and the Voodoo blues scale. Va-va-voom!

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -


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

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.

Vol­ume Swells

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’

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