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You can't plough a field by turning it over in your mind.
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Ben Higgins
30 years old
Born Feb-26-1985
Guitar (surprise!), Karate, cars (American and European), reading, weightlifting (sometimes), horses.
Joined: 11-March 10
Profile Views: 28.318*
Last Seen: Yesterday, 07:06 PM
Local Time: Mar 28 2015, 05:14 AM
12.929 posts (7 per day)
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Ben Higgins

GMC Instructor

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My Content
27 Mar 2015
Have you ever wondered how we musically put our stamp on something? It's got to be more than just what licks we use or our tones. It's also what moods we conjure up when we play.

For a long time I've been fascinated with the idea of a player being able to come along and completely enforce a different mood over a chord progression.For example, if you take a light hearted, happy sounding chord progression, is it possible for a player to make it sound dark and foreboding by what they play over it?

It would be like coming along to everyone's happy picnic and bringing bad weather and turning the conversation towards death for just a moment before everything resolves again. I'm really into the idea of stamping your personality over something. Injecting a few naughty words into an otherwise clean conversation.

Or what about the opposite? Say you've got some horribly extreme backing going on. How about adding some light to it? Can it be done without sounding obviously ridiculous?

Anyone could just play any old nonsense which would contrast harshly with the music but can it be done whilst still retaining some harmonic link to the backing? We wouldn't be changing the original chord progression either. That's what makes it so challenging and I'm unsure of whether it can be done. So this genuinely is a public experiment.

I think we should try it out. Not only that, but suggest other possible mood scenarios that could be juxtaposed with one another.

I'll make a start. Here's a positive sounding chord progression, ripe for major modes and good vibes. Can I add a sense of uncertainty and maybe anxiety into the mix?

Attached File  Inappropriate_Sounds_Thread_1.mp3 ( 1.05MB ) Number of downloads: 7

I start off by playing something that sounds appropriate over the backing. All nice and major sounding. Halfway through I try to add some mustard to the cake. Not sure if I got the level of disturbance I wanted at the tea party yet but it's a start. Some of the guests may start feeling uneasy at this point but I don't think our work is done until a few of them have gone home crying.

How much further can we disturb things?

The chord progression is D / A / C / G and here is the backing track for you to have a go:

Attached File  Inappropriate_Sounds_Thread_backing.mp3 ( 1.61MB ) Number of downloads: 4

Normally you'd be looking at the D Major scale or D Major pentatonic. I added some notes from D Harmonic Minor, possibly some from C Harmonic Minor and then G Harmonic Minor at the end. Or something like that, I'm not really sure. Try to think about the audio effect rather than worrying about theory at this stage. Try something, see if it works and then we can decipher it afterwards.

Go, create some inappropriate sounds! We can create more backing tracks as we go on with different moods etc
23 Mar 2015
This is V. interesting stuff from Lukather. I agree with everything he says and there were a few things that I hadn't considered before. I particularly love the 'Hit the Back Wall' point too


22 Mar 2015
Some people work really well under pressure. Usually, in these cases, we define pressure as a deadline, or some other specific conditions that make the person(s) feel like they have to come up with the goods or lose out.

So, some people thrive really well on this. Why ? I guess there's no greater motivator than knowing that you've got to do something otherwise you're going to be in a much worse situation than if you didn't. I read a phrase somewhere that said something about a person would climb out of a pit faster if he's avoiding the spikes at the bottom than if he were looking upwards to the light. Something to that effect. Pressure can force results out of people.

Let's say you're in the studio and you've got to lay down a guitar solo for somebody. The job was at short notice and the clock is ticking. With a few minutes of studio time left you say 'to hell with it' and just wing it. What comes out may be great because you weren't too picky and obsessive over the results, you just went for it. Sometimes pressure can make us prioritise in ways that can benefit the music.

Iron Maiden used to give themselves only 6 weeks to write an album. Steve Harris said that they just seemed to deliver the goods when under that kind of time scale.

But it's not for everyone.

Pressure can make us feel constrained and, if one is more prone to anxiety than another person, they spend so much time worrying about running out of time or not coming up with something good enough that they don't make any progress at all. All their energy is consumed by worrying about the conditions placed on them, either by themselves, others or circumstance. Sometimes, a mind really needs to be free in order to allow ideas to formulate. Inspiration usually happens randomly so unless a mind is receptive and open enough to catch it, it's very unlikely it can be forced.

Also, having the time to explore your idea means you can let it grow and morph into something else at its own pace. There's no conditions placed on it. I find it's easier to enjoy those kinds of projects that were not contrived in any way.

I've personally created stuff in both scenarios; under pressure and at leisure. I've gotten great results from both and mediocre results from both as well.

Ultimately there's no right or wrong way. You may prefer one over the other but can make it work with both. Or maybe you're cool with one but not creative at all with the other.

What do you prefer ? Which scenario gives you better results and why do you think that is ?
19 Mar 2015
You ever wondered how people like Joe Satriani get those really squealy pinch harmonics on high notes ? Have you tried to do it yourself using the normal pinch harmonic method and found it doesn't work so well on higher frets ?

Well, maybe you need to go 'the other way'.

Attached Image

I'm talking about using upstrokes !

Using a downstroke, a pinch harmonic works by striking the string with your pick and then lightly touching it with a part of your thumb so that it produces that chiming effect. If you add vibrato it turns into more of a squeal. Depending on where along the string you pick, the tone changes from a lower, deeper harmonic near the neck end to a higher, thinner harmonic towards the bridge.

If you try this method using an upstroke you'll notice that you can't utilise your thumb to produce the harmonic effect after striking the string because the thumb is moving up and away from it. So, what other part of our hand can we use to produce that effect ? The answer is your index finger. It's holding the pick anyway so we just have to shift the grip somewhat so that part of the fingertip protrudes from the side of the pointed pick end. The ideal situation is that your fingertip touches the string just as your picking it.

If you grip your pick in the 'normal' way, with a bent index finger and the pick resting on the SIDE of your finger, then you'll have to straighten your index finger so that the pick is gripped between the pad of your finger and thumb. In other words, the way that we DON'T teach people to grip the pick is the way you want to hold it for this technique.

To help you get an upstroke pinch harmonic, you'll have to find the sweet spot along the string to pick. If you're fretting the 12th fret, E string, then you'll want to pick the string somewhere close to the end of the guitar neck. As you move upwards from the 12th fret (trying each fret in turn) you'll notice that you'll need to move the pick away from the neck towards the bridge to maintain that sweet spot. However, the movements are very small. You've got to imagine that the guitar neck is extended for another octave but of course the frets will be so much smaller by then.

If you look at the guitar neck, an octave on one string takes up a greater distance from the 1st fret to the 12th fret than it does from the 12th fret to the 24th fret (or 22nd). You've got to imagine that this trend continues off the neck along the string. So, you'll have to do a bit of trial and error to find the sweet spot for the upstroke pinch harmonics, ok ?

As an example of this technique in action, I'm using it around 1:50 - 2:00. Notice how I change my pick grip as I move from the riff to the lead lines. I don't normally hold the pick like this as most of you eagle eyed viewers will notice but for this technique you'll see I'm holding the pick between the rear pad of my index finger and thumb. This is key if you want the flesh of your finger to touch the string, producing the harmonic.

So, if you like your high notes to scream and squeal like a piggie, now you know what to do !

I'm so good to you, aren't I ? When do I get the knighthood ? Could somebody write to HRH for me ? Anyone.........?
15 Mar 2015
Hammer-ons.. aren't they great ? We love 'em. Using the power of a fingertip to press a string against fretwire to produce a note. Lovely.

We use them all the time without thinking about it. Not only is it brilliant for single string licks like this:

Attached Image

But, when we combine them with pull-offs to perform legato licks, we can cross strings with only the power of our fingers. No picking needed ! Well, apart from the starting note, that is.

Attached Image

Now, let's try the exact reverse of the preceding lick:

Attached Image

Oh, that doesn't sound quite right, does it ? But we're playing the same notes in reverse so surely it should work just as well ? Not so. Here's why. In the descending lick, you're hammering on to a lower string every time, leaving the strings above it covered by your fretting hand. In other words, the strings above the note you're fretting are muted so there is no unwanted string noise. The strings that you are hammering onto are not being played, so they are silent until you fret them. This is why hammering-on works well for descending licks.

In the ascending lick, you are moving upwards from a previouly sounded note. So, for example, the D string has been picked to start the lick off. As you move to the second note in the lick (on the G string) you have to take your finger off the D string which then causes it to ring out. You may try to continue on the G string until it's time to hammer onto the B string but then guess what ? You lift off the G string and then that rings out as well. Ahhhhhhh !

Hammering on to higher strings is impossible. Damn it !!

Ok, it's not impossible but it is difficult. The key to hammering on to a higher string without causing too much string noise is twofold. Looking at the last lick let's pretend you've just played the 7th fret, D string with your 3rd or 4th finger and then you're going to play the 4th fret, G string, with your 1st finger. Got it ? You have to let your 3rd or 4th finger ease pressure off of the D string. Don't pull off. Just ease off until the note is no longer pressed down.

At the same time, you have to concentrate all your effort into performing a strong hammer-on with your 1st finger onto the G string.

So, to sum it up, you have to focus on creating a stronger note velocity than the one you are moving away from. Make sense ? Maybe not. Most of you have probably heard of hammer-ons from nowhere, where you hammer-on as the first note, with no prior run up, no picking etc.. well it's just like that except you also have to avoid causing open string noise by pulling off of a note on a lower string.

It can be done and there are some jazz fusion nutters who play like that but 1. If you use lots of distortion, forget it 2. Your time is better spent learning how to deal with it another way and 3. Screw those guys, they're freaks.

So, what is the solution to the ascending hammer-on issue ?

The answer is dissapointingly simple and you do it already. You pick those notes which do not work as hammer-ons. You can have a run that is mostly legato but when you encounter a string change that requires a movement to a higher string you will want to pick the higher note so the momentum of your tone is not ruined. If you can internalise this rule then you'll find a freedom with ad libbing all over the neck instead of feeling like you have to have your runs figured out in advance.

So, try that last lick again but pick the first note when you move to a new string.

Those licks are very basic but as long as you understand the principle you can figure out how you can do really cool legato runs that combine hammer-ons, pull-offs and occasional alternate picking (or O.A.P. as Hungry for Heaven named it)

So, a very common dilemma has a very basic solution !
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Todd Simpson
Welcome! :) Great to have ya!
9 Jun 2010 - 2:11
Ben Higgins
Thank you man !! :-)
5 Jun 2010 - 15:24
Welcome to GMC!!!!!!! I hope you enjoy your stay and I look forward to cool lessons! :)
5 Jun 2010 - 0:14


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