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Guitar Techniques - - News -

An­swers to your mu­si­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal is­sues.

On The Turn Dear The­ory God­mother

I’ve been con­cen­trat­ing on play­ing Pen­ta­tonic blues re­cently, and can usu­ally come up with some­thing half-de­cent, given a fol­low­ing wind and the cor­rect plan­e­tary align­ment. But the one area that still needs work is the turn­around. When I hear play­ers like Clap­ton, SRV and Robben Ford play, they sound right on the money, but when I reach that part in a blues I sound me­an­der­ing and a lit­tle bit lost. I won­der if you have any tips for how I could learn to fo­cus my ef­forts a bit more, and de­liver some turn­around licks that re­ally sound pos­i­tive?


In a turn­around of a 12-bar blues the chord changes come rel­a­tively thick and fast com­pared to the rest of the se­quence (see Ex 1). So if you’re us­ing the straight Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic scale over the top, it prob­a­bly isn’t quite enough to do the same job as the play­ers you men­tion. The best way to sound pos­i­tive and on topic when play­ing over any ar­range­ment is to quote chord tones. This way, you tie the melody in to the har­mony so that ev­ery­thing ap­pears con­nected; the prob­lem with the Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic is that it doesn’t quite go far enough, as it doesn’t have quite enough notes in it. Let’s look at a blues in A; over this, you’d be us­ing the A Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic scale (see Ex 2), con­tain­ing the notes: A C D E G. This rep­re­sents the root, b3rd, 4th, 5th and b7th of A. If we look at the A7 chord you’d be us­ing th­ese notes over, we find the fol­low­ing: A7 = A C# E G

1 3 5 b7 If you com­pare scale with chord, you can see straight away that we can do a fairly good job of out­lin­ing the chord in the melody line, be­cause we’ve got a lot of tones avail­able which are com­mon to both. Mov­ing on to the next chord, which would be D7, we’re again not too badly off in terms of ref­er­ence points: D7 = D F# A C. But when we reach the V chord, we’re a lit­tle short: E7 = E G# B D.

Only two notes in A Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic are present – D and E – and th­ese are just root and b7th, so the op­por­tu­nity to out­line the chord in the melody is all but lost. With­out the abil­ity to quote from the har­mony in your solo, the chances are that things will sound ran­dom and di­rec­tion­less. This is why play­ers like Robben Ford will ex­pand the Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic to in­clude more chord tones so that all chords can be rep­re­sented in their melodic lines. In or­der for you to hear what I mean, I’ve writ­ten out a blues turn­around melody that uses only the chord tones and you should be able to hear that it sounds far more rel­e­vant (Ex 3). In­ci­den­tally, if you think that Ex 3 sounds like a bass line you’d be right – now you know what they’ve been up to all th­ese years!

Of course, we wouldn’t just use chord tones, but they are es­sen­tial au­ral land­marks that tell the au­di­ence where you are in the se­quence and a lot about where you’re headed, too. I sug­gest that you be­gin by ex­pand­ing your scale vo­cab­u­lary to in­clude the Ma­jor Pen­ta­tonic as well (Ex 4: A B C#E F#). This will help fill in a few blanks and if you keep play­ing the arpeg­gios of the chords you should be fo­cus­ing on, you’ll get the sound in your head and quot­ing from them should be­gin to hap­pen nat­u­rally.

Dig­i­tal Dilemma Dear The­ory God­mother

I hope you won’t mind a ques­tion from a fum­ble-fin­gered begin­ner with fingers like a pack of dis­obe­di­ent chipo­latas! It re­gards the fin­ger­ing for chords; in most mu­sic books, the fin­ger­ing for Em, E, C, G and so on is pretty con­sis­tent, but oc­ca­sion­ally, I’ve come across songs that rec­om­mend you play some­thing slightly dif­fer­ent. For in­stance, take G: some­times it’s shown like ‘Ex­hibit A’, my rather crude en­closed draw­ing, but the other day I saw it shown as ‘Ex­hibit B’. Is any­thing set in stone here? Or are we ex­pected to amend and adapt chord fin­ger­ings to make chang­ing between them as smooth as pos­si­ble?


I’ve re­pro­duced the chords you drew in Ex 5. Both are fully work­ing ver­sions of G ma­jor; the only dif­fer­ence is that the sec­ond one has the D on the sec­ond string in­stead of an open B (G B D F).

So we end up with sim­i­lar notes, dif­fer­ently dis­trib­uted, that’s all. You are right in think­ing that the fin­ger­ing for chords isn’t nec­es­sar­ily set in stone and may al­ter slightly de­pend­ing on the con­text – where you’ve just come from and where you’re go­ing to next. So feel free to adopt and adapt as nec­es­sary!

Al­ter­na­tive Tun­ing Trou­ble Dear The­ory God­mother

I’ve re­cently been re­tun­ing my acous­tic gui­tar to some al­ter­na­tive tun­ings and have come across a prob­lem. The book I’m us­ing has an open G tun­ing as D G D G B D, but surely this is some kind of D tun­ing? Why not tune the bass string to G and the A to B? I think it’s pos­si­ble that I’m miss­ing the ob­vi­ous here, but to me, it doesn’t make sense as it stands.

Mike The rea­son why this tun­ing is re­ferred to as an open G is be­cause all the notes within the ba­sic G ma­jor triad are present (G B D); it’s just that the G bass note is on the fifth string and the open sixth string is the 5th (D). The al­ter­na­tive you sug­gest would in­volve tun­ing the bass string up a b3rd to G, putting ad­di­tional tension in the string and on the gui­tar neck. Mov­ing the A to B is a lit­tle less dra­matic, but it’s still go­ing the wrong way in terms of gui­tar and string health. Most tun­ings in­volve drop­ping the strings in pitch, as re­duc­ing the tension is po­ten­tially less harm­ful to both the gui­tar neck and string life. If you try the open G sug­gested in your book, I’m sure you’ll find that it sounds more like G than it does D in con­text, and that’s re­ally all that mat­ters! So treat the fifth string as your G bass note, and hear how lovely any D chord sounds when you play it with that rich and sonorous open D bass note.

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