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!
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