Post your playing posers and technical teasers to: Theory Godmother, Guitar Techniques, 30 Monmouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at email@example.com - every wish is your Godmother’s command!
Ska Face Dear Theory Godmother
I’ve been asked to join a tribute band that covers the best of ska, Two-Tone and other reggae-inspired music. It’s great fun, but to be honest it’s never been a style that I’ve spent too much time listening to. I’m having trouble with the offbeat rhythms in that it’s very fast paced and has to be really tight in order to work effectively. The other guys in the band are being patient, telling me that it will just click after a few more rehearsals, but in the meantime, I was wondering if you have any tips on how I could improve my rhythm?
Chez The Two-Tone sound is, as you say, predominantly based on an off-beat rhythm. That means that you’re playing on the second eighth note of every beat (Ex 1). Normally, this would be played with an upstroke, so your first task will be to sit down with a metronome and practise hitting the offbeat squarely every time. If this proves difficult, set the metronome to eighth notes – two clicks per beat – and play on every second click. Try this slowly at first and don’t expect to get it on the first go. Once you can confidently play on the offbeat, increase the metronome speed gradually until you reach the tempo at which you’re expected to play live.
Ex 2 is a good test for your rhythm abilities. It’s a mix of straight rhythm plus a couple of reggae variations. Once you can play this at a fairly uptempo BPM, the rest will be down to some fine tuning in the rehearsal room with the other members of the band.
Exotic Scales Dear Theory Godmother
Sometimes, GT references scales as ‘exotic sounding’. Assuming this counts out the Major and Natural Minor scales, what exotic scales tend to be favoured in areas like metal or jazz? And what scales do you consider as being the most exotic, and why? And where can I hear them in a recording?
Ryan The equivalent of ‘vanilla’ in terms of music scales would be the Major and Natural Minor. These feature in everything from folk tunes to hymns, nursery rhymes, pop music and rock ’n’ roll. Even the Blues scale, with its dissonant flat 5th, has become ‘nonexotic’ since it hit the UK during the 1960s. But when Dick Dale brought out Miserlou in 1962, it challenged Western ideas about melody. Miserlou used the Double Harmonic scale (Ex 3) which features the distinctly Eastern flat 2nd interval also found in the similarly flavoured Phrygian mode.
Other examples of exotica in rock and pop include Frank Zappa and King Crimson quoting the Whole Tone scale (Ex 4); Zappa used it during solos and Crimson based a whole composition – Fracture from the 1974 album Starless And Bible Black – around it. When Yngwie Malmsteen introduced his brand of neo-classical
EEEx 5 metal in the early 80s, the Harmonic Minor (Ex 5) sounded new and exotic, despite having been around for years. Joe Satriani experimented with the Phrygian on his song War, missing out the 3rd so that it hints at the Phrygian Dominant as well (Ex 6), while jazzguitar legend Jim Hall wrote a blues based on the Diminished scale (Ex 7) called Careful; and Duke Ellington employed it on his tune Caravan.
Possibly the furthest that you can get away from convention in Western harmony, jazz pianist Bill Evans wrote 12 Tone Tune, using a ‘tone row’ where all the tones of the chromatic scale are written out in a certain order, and this forms the basis for both melody and harmony throughout the piece.
So music at all levels and styles is full of exotic scales. In the meantime, you might want to invest in a scale book and audition some of music’s wilder melodic vehicles for yourself.
Gauge Reaction? Dear Theory Godmother
I suffer from a weak, jangly vibrato. A friend said a lighter gauge would help me move the string more easily. It sounds logical, but before I mess around with different strings, I wondered if you have any input?
Barry Some players favour light gauges (Billy Gibbons likes .007s, and Brian May used .008s in Queen). Others like it heavy (SRV and Jeff Beck with .012s); while bluesers Robert Cray and Joe Bonamassa play .011s. All have greatsounding vibrato! Each has settled on a string gauge he likes, with techniques like bending and vibrato incorporated accordingly. My advice would be to book a few lessons with a good teacher, saying you need work in that department. With targeted help your vibrato should improve dramatically.