Charlie Griffiths continues his A-Z with W for Wah-wah, Walking bass, Waltz, Whammy bar and Whole-tone scale!
Wah- wah pedalThe wah-wah is one of the most used effects pedals in guitar history. The first wah-wah was designed by Vox in the late 60s and quickly gained in popularity due to
Walking bass is primarily a jazz based rhythmic approach which holds down the quarter note pulse. Rather than simply repeating the same root note over and over, the approach is to continuously keep moving to a different note, giving it that wandering, or ‘walking’ effect. More musical bass lines are based on the arpeggio notes of the chord which is happening at that moment. The idea is to make the chord changes as smooth as possible, so scale notes and chromatic passing notes can be employed to achieve this. On the guitar, walking bass lines can be played on the bottom three strings to connect larger chord shapes together.
Waltzinfluential players such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix demonstrating its expressive capabilities. The rocking of the pedal controls a pot much like the tone control on your guitar, which sweeps a filter up and down the frequency range of the guitar to create the effect. The wah of the name alludes to the similarity to the human voice; the heel down position is equivalent to the mouth being closed and the toe down position opens the mouth.
Walking bassThe term waltz dates back to 16th century Germany and describes a traditional ballroom dance where the participants spin and turn around each other in 3/4 time. Pronounced ‘three four time’, 3/4 is a simple time signature comprising three quarternotes per bar, so can be said to be in ‘triple time’. As with any time signature, the lower number denotes the type of beat you are dealing with: 4 is a quarter note, which we generally understand as being the ‘downbeat’ of a piece of music; that pulse at which you naturally want to tap your foot along with. The top number shows you how many of those beats there are per bar. It is counted ‘one, two three - one, two three’ and so on.
Whammy barThe whammy bar or vibrato system (usually wrongly called a tremolo) is essentially a movable bridge which allows you to smoothly change the pitch of a note by adjusting the tension of the strings. Pushing the bar down slackens the strings, thereby lowering the pitch, and pulling up on the bar increases the tension which raises the pitch. The design of the system has evolved since the 1940s Bigsby style tailpiece which was best suited to a ‘flutter’ style tremolo. The 50s Fender strat trem enabled players like Jeff Beck to employ pitch shifting more accurately on tracks like Where Were You and Two Rivers. This paved the way to the Floyd Rose style floating systems which reached the peak of popularity in the 90s with players like Steve Vai and Dimebag Darrell producing incredibly large pitch bends which were previously impossible on the instrument.
Whole tone scaleThe whole tone scale is exactly that - a scale made up entirely of whole tones, or the equivalent of going up or down two frets. So if you start from an C root, then go up a tone, you arrive at D. Now go up another tone and you arrive at E. Keep going up in tones and you get F#, G#, A# and finally back to C. So we have six equally spaced notes in our hexatonic scale, which is exactly half of the total of 12 notes available to us. This means that there are really only two possible whole tone scales: C and C#. The rest of the possible starting root notes are essentially ‘modes’ of either of these, but since they all sound the same, in practical terms there are only two. The scale sounds cool over augmented chords.
Jeff Beck: master of the Strat’s vibrato (whammy)
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