The­ory God­mother

Guitar Techniques - - Q & A - Take The Ear Train Dear The­ory God­mother Star LET­TER PRIZE Black­s­tar are giv­ing our star TG let­ter one of their bril­liant ped­als each month. Visit www. black­staramps.co.uk and tell us which you’d like, should your let­ter be the lucky one.

Post your play­ing posers and tech­ni­cal teasers to: The­ory God­mother, Gui­tar Tech­niques, 30 Mon­mouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at info@david­mead.net – ev­ery wish is your God­mother’s com­mand!

Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing your good self, has told me that ear train­ing is a vi­tal part of com­ing to terms with mu­sic, and I fully in­tend to launch into it as soon as I can. The thing I need to ask is, what would you con­sider to be stage one in the ear- train­ing regime? In other words, what would you con­sider to be the ba­sic starter’s pack that would form a solid foun­da­tion upon which to build for the fu­ture?

I guess that, ul­ti­mately, the ear should be flu­ent with ev­ery­thing in­volved in mu­sic – in­ter­vals, scales and so on. But the long­est jour­ney starts with a sin­gle step, and I’m in­trigued to know what you would con­sider that step to be…

Gary I’m sure a lot of people are be­wil­dered by the idea of ear train­ing, so I guess that out­lin­ing a sort of ‘ be­gin­ner’s guide’ would be help­ful. I’m told that many of the ear- train­ing apps avail­able for phones, tablets, desk­tops, etc are pro­gram­mable, so it should be pos­si­ble to limit your ini­tial stud­ies to just a few dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories.

As a start, I would say that be­ing able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween ma­jor and mi­nor is the first big step. This would cen­tre on the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two types of 3rd – the de­cid­ing fac­tors in ma­jor- mi­nor tonal­ity ( Ex 1). Be­gin with just the in­ter­vals them­selves, and then ex­tend things to ma­jor and mi­nor chords ( Ex 2). Af­ter your ear has fully ac­quainted it­self with the ba­sic ma­jor-mi­nor idea, it will be time to move on to scales. The dif­fer­ence be­tween a ma­jor and a mi­nor scale is not quite so straight­for­ward, be­cause there is more to it than just the 3rds chang­ing ‘ gen­der’ ( see Ex 3), but they still pro­vide the cen­tral de­cid­ing fo­cus, and give the ear some­thing to latch on to.

If you can, pro­gram the app you choose to test you on ma­jor and mi­nor scales, chords and 3rds in all keys, and once you find that your score is con­sis­tently high – aim for above 90 per cent at least – you can move on to the other in­ter­vals, scales and chord types. If you can work with a mu­si­cian friend to test each other – chords, scales, in­ter­vals etc – all the bet­ter. And re­mem­ber the ra­dio! Lis­ten to tracks and try to de­ci­pher if they are in ma­jor or mi­nor keys, and so on. It’s great fun and is a nat­u­ral form of ear train­ing.

Ac­ci­den­tal Eti­quette? Dear The­ory God­mother

Re­cently, at a band re­hearsal, we were talk­ing about the notes in a cou­ple of chords in a song we’re learn­ing, and I said some­thing about play­ing a D# and the bass player said that I meant Eb. I ar­gued that they’re both the same note, but he in­sisted that he was right and I was wrong. How can that be? When there are two ways to de­scribe the same note, how do you know which one to use? It’s been bug­ging me ever since the prac­tice ses­sion, and so I’d re­ally value your in­put on the ques­tion.

Carl Tech­ni­cally speak­ing, it all de­pends on the key of the piece you’re play­ing in, Carl. If you were play­ing in a flat key like Bb or Eb, then you would be right to call the note in ques­tion ‘ Eb’, as it’s in the key sig­na­ture ( see Ex 4) and, in fact, it’s in ev­ery flat key be­yond Bb. So, for ma­jor keys like Bb, Eb, Ab, Db and so on, you would nor­mally call the note that oc­curs be­tween D and E ‘ Eb’. How­ever, if you’re in a sharp key like E ma­jor ( see Ex 5) then there, we find D# in the key sig­na­ture, and so it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to use that ter­mi­nol­ogy in­stead.

If the note we’re talk­ing about is an ac­ci­den­tal, then we have to con­sider where it falls in the scale, and what al­tered in­ter­val it rep­re­sents. For in­stance, a ‘ sharp 9th’ in the key of C ma­jor would be D#, but a ‘ flat 5th’ in the key of A ma­jor would be Eb ( Ex 6). I ad­mit that it can be re­ally con­fus­ing to be­gin with, but, as al­ways with mu­sic’s funny lit­tle ways, there is some sort of logic that un­der­pins it!

Ten­sion­ing Up Dear The­ory God­mother

I’ve been get­ting into dropped tun­ings on my acous­tic re­cently, and have found that I’m hav­ing great fun in DADGAD, open C and a few more, too. The only thing is, I find that by slack­en­ing the strings off, I’m los­ing ten­sion, and this af­fects the feel of my gui­tar. I also think that it has af­fected the tone, too, as it seems to have lost bright­ness in the up­per reg­is­ter.

In the open C tun­ing es­pe­cially, I also think there’s a ten­dency for the tun­ing of the bass string to be very un­sta­ble. Is there a fix for this? Other play­ers I’ve spo­ken to at open- mic nights say that I’ll get used to it, but I’d like an ex­pert opin­ion as to any steps I can take to re­gain the feel and sound of the gui­tar.

Michael Well, I’d sec­ond the opin­ion that you will get used to it af­ter a while. But if you think it’s ac­tu­ally af­fect­ing the tone of the in­stru­ment and its tun­ing sta­bil­ity, why not use a slightly higher gauge string set – or even a hy­brid mix of gauges? A few string man­u­fac­tur­ers these days make ded­i­cated DADGAD packs where the strings are ten­sioned to feel more con­sis­tent across the set, mean­ing that the bass and top two strings have been in­creased in gauge a lit­tle so you don’t have the ‘ slack­ness’ or tun­ing in­sta­bil­ity prob­lems.

The only thing would be, if you use one gui­tar to tune to stan­dard and all the dropped tun­ings that you use. In that event, I would say that it’s a case of ex­per­i­ment­ing to find a string gauge that is a com­pro­mise, and which suits most even­tu­al­i­ties.

To il­lus­trate how drop- tun­ing strings can re­duce the ten­sion, a .012 gauge top E will cre­ate ap­prox­i­mately 10.67kg of ‘ pull’ at the bridge on a stan­dard-scale gui­tar. If you drop this to D, you lose over 2kg of ten­sion, which will be read­ily de­tected by the fin­gers. You don’t men­tion which string gauge you are us­ing, but if the bass in par­tic­u­lar be­comes un­sta­ble when dropped to C, then I’m guess­ing it might be a fairly light set.

I think you need to look at a set of .012s at the very least, with the pos­si­bil­ity of up­grad­ing the bass to a .056 and the top two to .013 and .017, re­spec­tively. You should find that the tun­ing be­comes more sta­ble, you don’t lose bright­ness in the tre­bles, the over­all slack­ness vir­tu­ally dis­ap­pears and you’ll be able to dig in with­out caus­ing bot­tom- string flap. Happy ( de) tun­ing!

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