The­ory God­mother

David Mead ad­dresses your tech­ni­cal, mu­si­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal is­sues.

Guitar Techniques - - Guitar Techniques -

The Pick­ing Al­ter­na­tive Dear The­ory God­mother

I made a de­ci­sion last year to use strict al­ter­nate pick­ing as much as pos­si­ble, partly in­spired by the pick­ing styles of Steve Morse and John Petrucci. So I favour down­strokes on down beats, up strokes on 8th note up beats (in­clud­ing reg­u­lar off beat reg­gae rhythms), down/up/down/up for on beat 16th groups etc. The upside is, I feel my time keep­ing is bet­ter and note clar­ity is more uni­form. Thing is, when there is, say, an 8th note push into a beat or the next bar, should I use a down stroke to add punch, rather than a ‘cor­rect’ up stroke?

John As with all the ‘rules’ al­ter­nate pick­ing is a dis­ci­pline that’s open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. You’re right in the ap­proach you’ve out­lined, where down­strokes are placed on the stronger parts of the beat (see Ex 1); but there will be times when it be­comes ad­van­ta­geous to mod­ify the down/up ap­proach to suit the na­ture of the mu­sic you’re play­ing at the time. For in­stance, in Ex 2 you’ll see a stan­dard al­ter­nate pick­ing ap­proach to deal­ing with triplets. If you play through it, you’ll hear that the be­gin­ning of the beats where an up­stroke oc­curs isn’t as well de­fined as it would be when us­ing a down­stroke. The trou­ble is, the ‘up/ down’ prin­ci­ple doesn’t sit well with odd num­bers so I gen­er­ally ad­vise people to use the ‘down/up/down’ ap­proach out­lined in Ex 3 on each beat. Of course, this de­pends on what you’re play­ing and the speed re­quired.

In the in­stance that you men­tion where a beat is an­tic­i­pated, I’d be in­clined to use a down­stroke for added em­pha­sis, as an up­stroke will sound weaker (Ex 4). You’ll find that cer­tain riffs ben­e­fit from all down­strokes, too, due to the added dy­nam­ics on of­fer.

To sum­marise, keep prac­tis­ing us­ing al­ter­nate pick­ing be­cause it will in­crease your clar­ity and tim­ing, as you have al­ready found. But keep an open mind when con­sid­er­ing cer­tain mu­si­cal pas­sages - if the added em­pha­sis from us­ing a down­stroke would add a lit­tle fire to the pro­ceed­ings, then don’t be afraid to use one. It might even be a good idea to bear in mind the old adage “first learn the rules and then learn how to break them”!

Jazz Notes? Dear The­ory God­mother

I won­der if you could ex­plain to me why all the guys I know who are study­ing jazz keep go­ing on about the al­tered scale. A few of them have tried to tell me what it is and why they are play­ing it, but to me it sounds so dis­so­nant that I can’t imag­ine ever us­ing it. I’m al­ways keen to learn new sounds to use in my play­ing, but this one has got me stumped as to why I should ded­i­cate time to learn­ing it.

Paul One of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of any jazz style that had its ori­gins in the be­bop era of the 1940s and 50s, is that mu­si­cians will play ‘out­side’ the scale. That is to say that they’ll em­ploy the chro­matic tones that fall in be­tween those of any stan­dard scale, such as the ma­jor scale. If we go look­ing for those notes we find that there are five: the b9, #9, b5, #5 and b7 (see Ex 5). These are the notes that will give a solo that dis­tinc­tive jazz sound, so nat­u­rally a lot of em­pha­sis is placed on learn­ing where they are on the fret­board and, most im­por­tantly, what they sound like. As luck would have it, there’s a scale that con­tains all of them and it’s known as the al­tered scale, or the ‘al­tered dom­i­nant’ scale (Ex 6).

The al­tered dom­i­nant con­tains the root, b9, #9, 3rd, b5, #5 and b7 and is very sim­i­lar to the Locrian mode, so you’ll some­times hear it re­ferred to as the ‘Su­per­locrian’ or as the sev­enth mode of the melodic mi­nor scale.

So much for the def­i­ni­tion, how does it sound? Well, if you play through it with no ac­com­pa­ni­ment it sounds a bit ugly, to say the least. But if you take a ba­sic jazz chord ar­range­ment like the in­fa­mous II V I (in F that would be Gm7, C7 and F) and play the al­tered scale over the V chord (that is, the C al­tered dom­i­nant over the C7 - see Ex. 6) you’ll be able to hear the ef­fect it has and will agree it’s on its way to be­com­ing ‘jazz’.

Nat­u­rally jazz mu­si­cians don’t merely play the scale, as it wouldn’t be telling the whole story, in the same way as just play­ing the ma­jor scale up and down over the I chord would sound di­rec­tion­less and bor­ing. In­stead, they quote from it, of­ten us­ing it to link to­gether melody notes chro­mat­i­cally to add colour, ten­sion and res­o­lu­tion to a solo. As with any­thing, used skil­fully in the hands of a mas­ter it will sound per­fectly mu­si­cal - and some­times even mag­i­cal. But even the masters had to start some­where when they chose to go mu­si­cally ‘off road’, and the al­tered scale is the per­fect ve­hi­cle for ex­plor­ing this new ter­rain. So, if you want to add a lit­tle jazz tex­tur­ing to your play­ing, the al­tered scale is not one to omit from your prac­tice rou­tine. As I have said, it’s a mode of the melodic mi­nor scale so if that has al­ready taken up res­i­dence on your gui­tar’s fret­board, it shouldn’t be too dif­fi­cult to find fin­ger­ings for the al­tered dom­i­nant all over the gui­tar, as your fin­gers will al­ready know it.

Black­s­tar are giv­ing our star TG let­ter one of their bril­liant ped­als each month. Visit­staramps. and tell us which you’d like, should your let­ter be the lucky one.

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