Seat­tle and be­yond

Grunge was to the 90s what punk was to the 70s; their vibe and at­ti­tude are still alive today. Learn 10 pieces in the style of grunge’s finest!

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Wel­come to the chaotic world of grunge gui­tar. The scene started in Amer­i­can cities such as Seat­tle in the early 90s but quickly be­came a global phe­nom­e­non. Grunge fuses heavy rock with in­flu­ences from 80s al­ter­na­tive rock acts, such as The Pix­ies and Sonic Youth. The mu­sic also has a strong punk el­e­ment and it was in part a re­ac­tion to the sta­dium rock scene at time where span­dex and gui­tar so­los were re­placed with a more ba­sic and di­rect ap­proach (much as punk had done with prog and rock in the 70s).

The over­driven gui­tar riff is a cen­tral as­pect in the grunge style. An­other key fea­ture that is of­ten used is a change in dy­nam­ics. The con­cept of hav­ing a qui­eter, softer in­tro­duc­tion or verse and a loud and heavy cho­rus was pop­u­larised by bands like The Pix­ies in the late 1980s and was adopted by many bands in­clud­ing Nir­vana and Ra­dio­head who had mega hits with Smells Like Teen Spirit and Creep, us­ing this very ap­proach.

As the mu­sic was a re­ac­tion to tech­ni­cally com­plex and self-in­dul­gent rock, grunge gui­tar is gen­er­ally fairly straight­for­ward to play. Tech­niques such as two-handed tap­ping, sweep pick­ing and legato were gen­er­ally viewed as no-go ar­eas. Lead gui­tar is still a fea­ture among many of the bands fea­tured, how­ever, such as the Hen­drix-style lead work by Pearl Jam and the fren­zied out­bursts by Smash­ing Pump­kins front­man and guitarist, Billy Cor­gan.

The main pal­ette to work from when writ­ing is the ever-pop­u­lar power chord and Pen­ta­tonic scale com­bi­na­tion. One el­e­ment that is pop­u­lar in grunge is the use of non-di­a­tonic har­mony (chro­matic chords from dif­fer­ent keys). Us­ing non-di­a­tonic har­mony can pro­duce dis­so­nant and sur­pris­ing riffs that sound dif­fer­ent to more com­mon chord pro­gres­sions cre­ated from one key. The es­sen­tial thing to fo­cus on here is the de­tail in the time feel and tone and the con­sis­tency of the de­liv­ery.

Many of th­ese GT lessons home in on a par­tic­u­lar tech­nique or con­cept, so here we are look­ing at the art of putting all the el­e­ments to­gether to per­form a full grunge song. As this style is all about the en­ergy in the per­for­mance, we recorded this month’s tracks live in a new stu­dio fa­cil­ity (Ap­ple Tree Stu­dios) in Dorset. We en­listed the help of rock drum­mer Alan Dale to per­form the tracks and main­tain that ‘live’ feel. Our au­dio fea­tures 10 record­ings with tabbed out gui­tar parts. There are also back­ing tracks with the gui­tar per­for­mances re­moved.

Many thanks to Uni­ver­sal Au­dio for the loan of the Apollo in­ter­face and to Alan Dale for per­form­ing the drums.

The GrunGe move­menT made an ev­er­laST­inG denT in The mu­Sic Scene and in pop cul­Ture

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