Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The DADGAD revelation (really, the DGAD revelation)

Dude. It may well be that the rest of the world knows all about this already, but I think I just "got" the huge value of the DADGAD tuning (or at least the DGAD part).

For the investment of selectively ignoring a string and going to the next one, you can
  1. think of fifths-based scales normally (!!!),
  2. sound multiple open-string harmonics with the first string either representing the root ("GAD" as Dsus, "AD" as D or Dm), the fifth ("GxD" as G or Gm, or even "GAD" as Gsus2), or even the fourth ("AD" as Asus)...ideas can get crazier from there if you dip into the major-third harmonic too, and
  3. you get some really nifty options for close chord voicings in the upper register, while maintaining a wider separation in the bass where it does the most good.
I'm looking at some chickenscratch here for a basic tuning of C2-G2-D3-G3-A3-D4, and the head is spinning. Note that in that tuning you have ascending C-G-D-A strings to work with for melody;  you simply skip the third string to do it.  As an example:  if you're centric to D as a tonic, you can begin a scale run at the m7 on the open sixth string, run normally up through the fourth (D) string, skip the third string and pick up the upper tetrachord of the D scale on the 2nd (A) string, and complete the scale either stopped at the fifth fret of the second string, or open on the first. Major or minor, your choice.

Note, too, that in the DGAD sequence you have two pairs of separated fifths available: DxA, and GxD. Why lookee, that's V and I with a G tonic, and I and IV with a D. (Major or minor, again take your pick.)

For fingerstyle (which is really waking me up to some of these ideas), the concept is even more appealing, since notes on these non-adjacent strings can be easily sounded together.  And get this:  if I take that CGDGAD tuning and add a single Hipshot detuner to the third string, bringing it down to F, the open strings (and thus all those gorgeous open-string harmonics) become CGDFAD...and that gives me two three-string blocks with different Dm voicings (DFA and FAD, all in one octave!), not to mention "FA" as the relative major's root-and-third notes.  "FAD" is in fact the exact same intervallic relationship as the standard tuning's top strings, just a whole step lower.  As I've been discovering recently, that's a beautiful and useful voicing.

I've been trying to have it all, of course.  Melodically, because I first learned relationships in fifths (Guitar Craft's "new standard" tuning and then mandolin), I want to have that available for improvising, and four ascending fifths covers that just about as well as it can be covered. 

Next on the importance list is to have useful open-string harmonics for tapping and fingerstyle accents;  the standard tuning's "inverted fifth" that puts the root on top is hugely useful in this regard, and having either the m3 or the sus4 below that root, with supporting open strings below that, is great

Third, Michael Manring has really turned me on to the idea of detuning and retuning during a piece;  most people fixate on either the bass and/or treble string for that, but how about turning that idea upside down a bit and having the third string move...between a m3 and a sus4?  I think that just might work*. 

As yet another item in the mix (as if there weren't enough), I'm fascinated by the partial capo concept, which provides open strings for droning and accents but which does not disturb the string intervals for stopped notes.  (So, for example, if for my tuning of CGDGAD I did a partial capo of 220000, I get a true DADGAD on the "open strings", but if I want to improvise, I simply play the notes where they are in CGDGAD.  The only "affected" notes are below the capo.  That's intriguing, and if there does prove to be a drawback there, it would be that by capoing some strings you do change the available open-string harmonics.  Then again, that might prove to be an unexpected tool.) 

And finally, there's quite a bit of music for DADGAD out there;  just between Davy Graham (who seems to have pioneered it as a solution to playing non-Western music) and Michael Hedges (the Aerial Boundaries tuning is a simple but clever variation, C2-C3-D3-G3-A3-D4, almost a "double DGAD" since there are now three pairs of separated fifths, but at the expense of the CGDA sequence I want), I can certainly say that people I respect consider it a serious part of the vocabulary!

At any rate, I may have to string one of these git-tawr things up and give it a serious test.  The idea of a true "standard tuning" that permits logical thinking when improvising, while also permitting flexible changes to open strings and providing useful open-string harmonics, is really attractive, and this idea has more nice features than anything I've seen thus far.

Jeff Cooper had his Scout Rifle;  maybe his quest for the pinnacle of generalization just got under my skin beyond the realm of, er, "simple combustion engines".  I'd be real happy with that explanation.  (I'm not looking for "inventor" status--I'm quite sure that others have been here before--but rather, like Col. Cooper, I'm interested in arranging the best of what others have done, for my own purposes!)

*For those who haven't looked into it:  there are considerations of available physical space for the Hipshot Xtender detuners, and it is impractical to simply use detuners on all the pegs of a conventional guitar headstock--they need too much room.  Here, I'm looking at leaving roots alone, and featuring two mid-scale notes instead...although I may also consider a 6th string Xtender, to allow the really nice convenience of pulling the C note up to D;  for scales that feature a m7, that could even be done during playing to go between the m7 and the root.  On a 3-and-3 headstock, one detuner per side should work fine.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Standard tuning observations

In trying to learn a little bit about fingerstyle playing, using the rough-but-functional classical guitar graciously disposed onto me from Steve B., a couple of observations seem worth noting.

This is my first real exploration of the standard guitar tuning (E2-A2-D3-G3-B3-E4), since I have cut my teeth and done all my real learning with the Guitar Craft standard tuning (C2-G2-D3-A3-E4-G4).  So, this is probably really old hat to most people, but I find it interesting enough to document.  (Please, then, excuse the pedantry.)

I'm trying to learn a right-hand discipline that I do not yet understand, having trained myself to use a flat pick in mostly single-note mode.  Consequently, I've been thinking primarily melodically--or at least, monophonically, about how the string intervals should work.  It's really helped to have the regular intervals (ascending fifths, in my case), acting as an anchor point to develop and refine my sense of where those notes are, and in this effort it's quite nice if you have regular intervals you can count on.

But lo and behold, in looking more at some of even the simplest exercises of, say, "plucking chords" with thumb and three fingers, alternative ways of looking at this just kinda jump right out.  Multiple ways.  Polyphonic ways.  And so I never really noticed a couple of things about the mojo of the standard tuning, at least from a fingerstylist's point of view:
  • The top three strings are an Em triad, with the m3 in the bass and the root on top.  Wholly aside from having a convenient barred minor triad available, for someone who is very interested in open-string harmonics, here's a convenient way to play three strings at once and get a minor chord in harmonics, in a dramatic voicing, and the technique can quickly become automatic.  (A little improvising here made it immediately obvious how much has been done using exactly that little tidbit.  Again:  duh.)
  • Strings 4, 3, and 2 comprise a G major triad, with fifth in bass and third on top.  Further, that chord happens to be the relative major of the above Em of 3, 2, and 1.  Now that is handy, again especially when you may want to ring out the open strings or open-string harmonics.  And again, it falls right under the "home position" of the i-m-a fingers.
  • Breaking things down further into two-string pairs (as I did a chord-plucking exercise which featured "blocking" two fingers against the thumb, instead of three) yielded another way of looking at this.  Strings 2-1 are either an ascending fourth from I to IV, or an ascending fourth from V to I.  I'd never thought of looking at it that latter way, even though I've known for a long time that a fourth is an inverted fifth.  The voicing of V-I is a powerful voicing, especially on rising harmonics.  Double duh.  And then, suddenly, I could see how it is that the major interval in the otherwise-all-fourths tuning, actually produces a very useful minor chord once you exchange roots.
So, suddenly, I see a lot more logic in the "DGBE" intervals, and will be happy to work with them a little more.   It didn't take long to figure out that by using pairs of strings, I could create an effective polyphonic chord sequence out of harmonics:  12th fret harmonic for strings 2-1 (B-E), 7th for 3-2 (D-F#), 5th for 4-3 (D-G), produces a very useful VI-VII-I sequence--it certainly takes longer to write than do, and it's just right under the fingers.

So I'll be mulling on this one for a while, and hopefully trying a lot out.  I do need to find out the essential logic of how fingerstylists play fast melodic lines; if that can be integrated with the very simple things I'm seeing here, then this should be a pretty wild ride.

On a different note, I do notice that I am having a hard time applying these initial fingerstyle exercises to the acoustic fretless, and it seems to be primarily a function of string spacing.  I'm starting to get the logic, too, of the classical instrument's string spread at the bridge;  the fretless' spread is scant even by electric guitar standards.  Maybe that axe will wind up a five-string after all!

Okay, that got documented and my embarrassing secret is out--I may have missed all this before, but I'll start from where I am and go with it now.  :-)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Another inexplicable Pandora moment

Apologies, just felt the need to bitch for a moment.  This happened three times yesterday, and again this morning.  Now I've got nothing personal against one Duncan Browne, but check out why he was just selected for my playlist:

As I've said before, this is after a number of months of 100% whac-a-mole on anything with "a vocal-centric aesthetic".  It's hard to get more "fail" than that.  As well, Pandora's "folk" tag seems to be one of several "I don't know what to do with this piece, so I'll stick it in this bucket" classifications, almost as annoying as "world music", whatever in the holy living hell that means.  (I dig all kinds of music from all over the world, and you know what?  It's all different enough to have separate freakin' names!  And seriously, what counts as "world music" in, say, Armenia?)

Bela Bartok wrote "folk" music, but that doesn't mean that a Bartok fan wants to hear Peter, Paul and Mary knockoffs all day.  Likewise, someone looking for Joan Baez might get a little freaked out at a microtonal maqam, especially one with adjacent large and small intervals.

And so, despite really enjoying the things that Davy Graham did with his instrumental music, I really truly am not interested in having something like "Anji", "Buhaina Chant", or "Mustapha" followed by a Dylan-knockoff protest singer.  I'm really not, and it would be awful nice for Pandora to stop doing that so reliably.

Okay, vent's done now.  I'll try to work more on Aerial Boundaries today at lunch, to make up for it.  :-)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pandora Radio: a pedantic vent

Recently a friend described Pandora Radio's classification ontology as just wrong, but with no explanation. Needing something a little more concrete than "just wrong", I've started more actively looking at the tags that have been applied to some of the tunes that get put in front of me, both good and bad. Based on just a little of this, I must conclude that Nathan has a point. Today, Pandora selected a John Zorn piece based on a stated series of about twelve tags, not one of which could not also be applied to drippy lounge jazz, three-chord folk, or pretty much anything from the Classical period.

If they can't even figure out what makes John Zorn unique, then maybe several months of my whac-a-moling piano trios, Kenny G knockoffs and folk'n'blues singers really doesn't teach them anything.  (Okay, I admit I'm demanding when it comes to stylists.  But seriously, has it not yet occurred to the "intelligence engine" that I have reliably whacked EVERY SINGLE vocal tune that has come across my screen, usually within five seconds of hearing the singer's voice?  No, I've got nothing against singing, but see, I'd like this to be an instrumental station.  That would seem to be a rather fundamental sort of tag, don'tcha think?  But no, and it's invariably with the blues and folk singers.  Guys, I don't need Pandora radio to get my fill of that, ya dig?)

That said, it seems to come in spurts.  It will stick on the "percussive acoustic guitar" theme for a little while, then a Davy Graham tune will go by and suddenly the folkies and bluesmen show up.  Whac, whac, whac, this is not a blues station, people!  Then it kicks loose and goes to a Dan Crary, maybe the flamenco/Spanish guitarists for a while, then Avishai Cohen or John Zorn show up, and then it's on with the piano trios and the sheer noisemakers who thought they had John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman totally figured out. Whac, whac, whac.

Sigh.  Mostly it's just a minor irritation, from someone who always seems to be firmly ademographic.  In the end I'm still mostly happy with Pandora.  Thus far I like the interface a LOT better than last.fm, and I'll always be indebted to Pandora for awakening me to what Michael Hedges first suggested to my unsuspecting mind.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Instrument tunings - happy tweaking

Per that last post, it took me longer to get strings on things than I'd expected, and in the interim a couple of things have happened that have made me decide to tweak things a bit.  Lemme 'splain.  (No, there is too much.  Lemme sum up.  Yes, I assure you, the following is a summary.)

Ovation.  I'd planned to change this one's tuning to work on an Antoine Dufour tune, but then I started working on Aerial Boundaries again, and nope, this sucker's staying in that tuning for a little while longer!  And, since Dufour has several pieces that will work with standard tuning and a detuned sixth string (std, drop D, drop C), I'll use a single, other instrument to work on those.  (And now, I've found it, sitting right in front of me.)

Classical.  Steve Bambakidis donated me the beaten-up classical guitar that he had no use for, and I've been trying to figure out what to do with it.  It's rough, but then am I not experimenting?  Anyway, I'd thought I'd tune that up to work on Antoine Dufour's piece "Scratch" (via which I would learn how he approaches fingerstyle, and also learn about not only capoing, but partial capoing), but in stringing things up with a set of nylons, the limitations became obvious.  Neck is far from perfect, action is not at all ideal, the body fret is of course at 12, and there's a lot going on in "Scratch" that definitively takes advantage of steel strings.  And trying to bring a nylon sixth string out of a standard-tension set down to C2 is just...uh...optimistic.  But!  Now with the burrs on the frets cleaned up a little bit, the neck (really) rough-leveled and a new set of strings, and a decent action in first and second positions, what if I just make this instrument a standard-tuning knockabout?  It can serve for guests who want/need standard tuning, and I can use it with all the standard-tuning resources I have for learning standard approaches to fingerstyle/Celtic.  I'll just treat EADGBE as another alternate tuning to learn.  (I might even some day get jiggy with it and try all fourths, EADGCF, because I'm just that way, and you can get all fourths without bending much.  :-)  Anyway, the tuning is now standard and the strings are standard-tension ("High Tension") at 43w-35w-30w-40p-32p-28p.

SoloEtte.  I've not been perfectly happy with the Bb5 tuning on this axe (it's really cool in a few contexts, but it just feels like too much of a one-trick pony), and so this will become the "learn Dufour" instrument, starting with the "Scratch" tuning (C2-A2-D3-G3-B3-E4) and then migrate to the other pieces;  it will be nice to have an instrument that I can work with late at night without upsetting people.  I'm happy with this idea.  Gauges are 59w-46w-30w-22w-12p-10p.

Fretless.  Likewise, I've not been perfectly happy with either the NST tuning on this instrument, nor with the various half-assed options I've worked with so far.  So, until I get the chance to fashion another nut/saddle combination (and as a teaser, there is a whole lot of head noise going on about that concept), I'm going to try out DADGAD, but with a twist.  I'm going to do "CGCGFC", instead, both going down a whole step and swapping out the whole-step interval but keeping the pitches the same.  This little tweak will give me the chance to try out the sus4 tuning concept while still retaining:
  • Three adjacent pairs of general-purpose intervals, for scale work in different registers.  (Three of those, strings 6-5, 4-3, and 2-1, are a fifth apart, allowing one-octave-over-two-strings, and one of those, strings 5-4, is a fourth, both leading out of a fifth interval and into another one.
  • Top three strings defining the essential sus4 chord for the tuning.
  • Root on top.
  • Bottom strings defining a power chord.
I think it will be fun to play with this.  Since it's really tough to grab lots of strings at the same time for a chord on the fretless, having good open strings to work with should prove interesting.  We'll see!  (To document:  strings are flatwound steels for the basses--50, 40, and 30 at the moment--and plain steel trebles in 16, 17 and 13 for this experiment.  If this works out, I may be able to get away with using heavier strings.  I'm thinking of something like 56fw-42fw-30fw-18fw-20fw-16p;  that might be really rich in the harmonics!)

Anyway, now I can say that there are two instruments in the house that are in their natural tunings.  That's okay, I haven't lost my mind--yet.  :-)